Québéc, New Brunswick, Maine - Moncton To St. John
Moncton was a needed respite. Those six days of steady riding begged for a break, if only from the routine it forced. The C'Mon Inn Hostel, a relative newcomer to the hostelling scene, would quickly prove the perfect restspot. It wouldn't take long to discover that, either.
For one thing, as I walked in the door, I immediately bumped into Simon again - leaving. I took this chance encounter as a good omen for my stay, nevertheless. We rapidly caught up, then he was on his way with a new group of hitchers in tow - he had found his "routine" as well.
If anything, Simon's departure - and the exodus of everyone else, too - showed that the morning hostel vacuum was in effect. This allowed me to leisurely check out my new home, grabbing a primo bed with no bunk above - a heaven, if only a modest. I immediately determined to stay three nights instead of two.
That was also testimony to the fact that owner/manager Cindy, all of 28 years old (I soon heard), had made a cozy and warm place. Those were two overused words, sure, but entirely appropriate. A fellow world traveller who had spent her fair share of time in hostels, she knew how to create an atmosphere that made you immediately comfortable.
It felt part yoga studio, part concert space, and part friend's back deck. Actually, it WAS those. Free internet and breakfast (actually with orange juice - a first) was included, always a sweetener to the pot. In spite of such modest amenities, I regardless surmised that Cindy offered something special.
Meanwhile Moncton certain wasn't a draw unto itself, by any means, despite my wanting to stay moments after arriving. It (along with its sister city Dieppe) was, nevertheless, practically the only growing spot in New Brunwick. I soon saw the corresponding evidence, too, in the form of a revitalization along the riverfront and Main Street. In that area were enough old buildings remaining to offer the possibility of some kind of historic (and thus touristic) district.
Making things awfully convenient, C'Mon Inn was physically right on top of this rejuvenation, in a historic house itself. For Cindy's efforts it had even gotten some write-ups. Still, I wouldn't call the area upscale yet - it'd probably would be that in 5-10 years. For the time being anyone could still get their crack and prostitute without ambling very far at all. If that was your thang. Hey - never knock convenience, whatever the flavor.
As usual, a cast of characters came and went quickly at the hostel. Joaf was from Israel, making his way coast to coast via thumb and bus. A guy from Cologne (Köln), Germany, was similarly busing and hiking his way to Newfoundland. Kindred spirits I could identify with easily, those two.
On the other hand, there was a girl I had seen in Tadoussac, now getting her drink on seriously with a newly-made and like-minded friend. In no time they became to the rest of us a version of clueless and clueless-er. I say this in a friendly way, of COURSE. They witlessly became our fodder only as soon as we noted that we were theirs, these two sophissssssssticated 18-year-olds out on the town together each night.
Rounding out the bunch for my short stay, a couple of talented indie guitarist-singer-songwriters sang some extra life into the house. There's always room for a troubador at the inn, almost by definition. Lastly there was Alex, the resident hippie bien-vol. He was studying to be a nurse, but in the meantime had turned into the helpful and kind fixture one sometimes finds in hostels.
Given the small size of this particular hostel (eight dorm beds, one private room, one private apartment), it was impossible not to know everyone almost immediately. Cindy herself lived in or used virtually all the same areas; her sharing the space likely had much to do with the quality of the joint.
In spite of the place's charm, however, Moncton's weak non-tourist-destination draw meant that many who came through only stayed one night. It was partially combat this that Cindy had nicely set up a stage in the lower living room. There she could host occasional musical, or otherwise cultural, events. For that, the old high-ceilinged house had great accoustics and thorough charm. It certainly wasn't to be for lack of a quality environment that someone would stay for less time.
In my case, I figured I had four things to do in Moncton: (1) check out the lay of the town (obviously), (2) replace my worn out rear bike tire (two days prior, only a dot of red had showed through, but by only the next day the red patches of inner rubber were visible everywhere), (3) catch up on journal-typing via the free hostel internet access, and (4) get my trumpet-playing lip back somewhat. I would succeed gloriously on all four scores, even though the tire proved more a chore than expected.
The greatest problem was that the replacement tire I purchased had extra-deep walls, making its mounting difficult. After popping two tubes with snake bites in thwarted mountings, I was in no small amount frustrated. Fortunately, Alex kindly reshuttled me over to the bike shop where I had bought the tire. There the service guy (who mounted it) admitted that it was indeed a pain in the ass to put the sucker on. I coulda told him that!
This didn't save me any money as I still had to fix/replace the tubes, however. Always a price to pay, no? I DID learn that I should inflate the tube a little before inserting it into the tire. This was something I meekly admitted to myself that I probably should already have known. Like with so much bike-servicing knowledge, I almost always seemed to learn the long and hard way.
In the meantime I got to know Moncton's tidy riverfront, and river-fronting Main Street, well. I traveled along their lengths several times. This was for good reason, if only because Main Street already had a nice little scene going among its brick or stone buildings. This was true even if some were still in the process of revitalizing.
Overall, the fix-up job looked mostly finished already. There was a healthy collection of bars and restaurants, an odd mix of galleries, and stores. Beyond those, I found some handsome, official-ish buildings in the melange (mix - your French lesson is nearing an end, I promise, with Moncton being the appropriate place to draw it to a close).
For nature's part, the river was an oddly pretty thing. I found it a truly complementary feature to the Main Street that traced it. Not that it was of stereotypical beauty. Indeed, it was so muddy that its real name of Petitgougac was in less use than a far more commonly-used moniker, The Chocolate River. The name was entirely appropriate.
Here indeed was a swale's open vein, guided by deep reddish-brown banks of mud. These mucky sides were sometimes crested with salt deposits, a visual tic that contrasted well with the blazing green of its surrounding salt marshes. This was especially true in the charmed light of dusk and dawn.
For its personally-chosen path to the sea, inasmuch as it ran by Moncton, anyway, The Chocolate River cut a wide and unruly swath. Fortunately this had not been messed with by a typical wall of concrete, as growing towns tend to like to control things. No, in this case nature was left right at the door of the city. Perhaps it was an oversight, but a thing like that would be treasured as the city grew inevitably larger still.
As for Moncton's offerings with regard to civilization, There was a scattering of museums and music venues. I wouldn't take advantage of these, true, but even in ignoring them Moncton struck me as a pleasant-enough place to visit. Perhaps I could even live in the place, if only for a short while. Such are the typical musings of a tourist wandering through during summer...
What summer really meant, however... was beach. Iconically so, too, at any patch of land in the Northern Hemisphere within a couple hundred miles of one. Good fortune would smile my way in that regard, if only for the more practical of reasons. On my second full day in Moncton, I was the only guest for the greater part of the day. Thus, when the athletic Cindy had an ultimate frisbee game at Parlee Beach, I was invited to join her. Duh: ye-ah!
This was for an afternoon actually back in Shediac again, with the two bein-vols who rounded out the hostel's complement-of-the-moment. Parlee was, by coincidence, the beach I had practically slept on top of without checking out. Apparently the gods were not pleased with the oversight; the situation begged rectifying.
Sure! With the sun out this was a great call, with the added bonus of being late enough in the afternoon to obviate the need for sunscreen. Ah - perfect warmth! One might think this a trivial detail, but I was more than a little tired of applying sunscreen every day by this time. This was virtually a necessity with my prolonged periods of biking exposure. Arriving at the evening's hostel/campground always had the extra allure of being able to wash the chemical muck off immediately.
At the beach, us non-ultimate-frisbee-playing three played frisbee for a good while in the mildly gusty wind. Talk about a lightweight item well worth the trouble of carting along. For a few mere grams of weight, a frisbee would be a good accompaniment in Australia, wouldn't it? The concept of actually having someone to throw it TO escaped my reverie for the meantimel. Cindy, however, further suggested its merits as a plate or bowl to save on other gear. This was something she had done on her own bike tour in New Zealand. Hmmm.
More important than such soliloquies, I dipped my toes in the water a few times, eventually letting the liquid make its way up to my knees. This was a beach, after all. Hey, that really DID feel great, this "warmest water north of Virginia." They should put that on a brochure... or thousand.
Eventually I walked the shore's length, too - does one have a choice? Does anyone actually NOT like walks on the beach, however cliché? I marvelled, too, at the quick tidal changes that rapidly transformed a wide expanse of flat beach. Ah, yes - the Bay of Fundy approacheth, that of phenomenal such variance in the sea's encroachment on land. Other than that, however, there wasn't much more to survey. The beach was ultimately like a million others, in this case notable mostly for its length, beach depth, and clarity of water. Of more import: nothing topped a beach in the mellow afterglow of an afternoon.
It wasn't as if there wasn't a highlight for me, though, one that was totally unexpected. That came in the form of watching a crab war, held in 4-inch water right after one of my extended kneedips. The furious battle was amazing to stare at, one crab taking on another with snapping claws. Now this I wasn't used to, in spite of having seen something approaching a zillion crabs on beaches around the world.
Wow. This was like watching my own nature show, as up close and personal as possible. I watched keenly how, in each entanglement, the two would eventually fall to rolling together (mating?) repeatedly. Each of these claspings were in turn followed by a violent separation... before more of the same, side-shifting all the while.
Tiny crabs, for their part, weren't left out, either. They nipped at the heels of the bigger ones (warring or loving, I'd never know), similarly fighting with each other at times, too. My own underwater scene from Braveheart or Excalibur played out dramatically and entertainingly, minus the squirting blood.
Love in the time of claw notwithstanding, we finally made our departure as the sun retreated ever further to the west. Marking a highlight of my stay in such a calm fashion, I knew upon our return to Moncton that it was once more time to start heading on. Although still only a rhythmic murmur at this stage, I heard that clock a-ticking.
My guesstimate of schedule to get to York Beach (Maine) without a pressured finale dictated the terms. So it was, then, that come the next day I was headed toward Alma on the Fundy Coast. That lay about 75km away. The route would stay simple, however, as I would follow the Chocolate River out of Moncton and on to Fundy's land-locked end.
In no time, I found myself moving into Fundy's heart steadily. The chocolate waterway widened into the Bay proper, creepingly offering its waters to the sea as I bounced up and down hills on a moderately trafficked and shoulderless road. At some point the two waters converged officially, of course, but at a place that would remain a mystery to me. Eventually I gathered that I was exclusively on the Bay of Fundy, my inland detour complete.
The Hopewell Rocks, at 30km from Moncton, was an obvious first stop on the route. I almost had written them off as an overplayed tourist thing - until I reflected that they were the most famous image of New Brunwick. Not without reason, probably... and here I was on their doorstep. Or beachstep.
Stopping to check them out, I was instantly glad and rewarded to have done so. That was obvious even from above on the cliffs - there were a lot of people here! Are masses and mobs ever wrong? Perish the thought! Soon chatting with a ranger, about where to stuff my bike safely among the tourist masses assembling in the park, she confirmed the glories I would behold. I headed down to the sea: time for a close look at this natural marvel.
Pretty damn cool - my first impression. Indeed, located between the massively-shifting tide of Fundy and a dramatic cliff-edged shore, these pillars of mud and stone were majestic. Part-time islands, they were more colorfully called flowerpots. That name came on account of the tufts of shrub and tree sprouting out of their tops, a bursting of foliage conjoined with their terracotta-colored bottoms.
Over time, measured in chunks of years, these things were toppling - but broken flowerpots exist just as commonly as their whole counterparts, too. In any event I immediately understood why the crowds were here. Odd begets curiosity. This was so true that, at the focal access point where one reached the beach, it was be a challenge to get a photo without someone in it.
At sea level and making my way down the shore, I slow-walked it from the midpoint entry to the formation's extent to the left. Then I returned back to the midpoint only to make my way to the other - and far more distant - extent to the right. Few of the crowd ventured to this latter, southwestern edge, most likely since it required scrambling over jumbled rocks for several minutes. For me, though, escaping the crowds had obvious appeal - if only to admire an uninterrupted view in calm.
Moreover, this unpopulated area allowed for some (still admittedly self-conscious) horn playing into some cavelike hollows. I found pleasant accoustics in a number of them while being simultaneously paranoid that I might spoil someone's "moment". To avoid the latter I generally waited until no one was around each time, but... it's funny how folks can materialize from nowhere.
Meanwhile, in the 2-3 hours in which I otherwise walked this beautiful shore, the famous tide steadily moved out. Over not much time at all it revealed a broad expanse of mud. The flatness of the land made it all the more dramatic, allowing the mucky earth to extend out to the horizon. This made sense - these WERE the highest tides in the world... and this was perhaps the best place to admire them.
At 5p.m., I knew I had to get a roll on, however. This wasn't where I planned to pass the night - and I had 45 unknown-terrained kilometers to Alma remaining for the day. Abike again, I continued following the coast to the upcoming park (beyond Alma). With the day's headwinds and hills for most of the way, though, this would not be a speedy thing. Stopping for random pics, and pausing to take in the bay, grasslands, and covered bridges probably didn't help, either - but that's what I was in the area for, too.
On this stretch I noticed that the few cars moving through were mostly tourists in rental cars. These seemed to come only in addition to the occasional local vehicle, traveling invariably in a pickup truck or old American car. Sleeeeepy. The towns were tiny, bucolic places, often not much more than clusters of farms with small roadside appeals to the passing tourist. One was invited to buy or pick strawberries at fruit stands (in season all over New Brunswick at the time); there even was a tearoom. Beyond those were only a handful of miniscule museums dedicated to a man or an obscure historical event, none of enough cachet to induce me to halt.
After the first few towns - those that actually could be noted as actually BEING towns - I had no idea when I passed through the next few. This New Brunswick thing, in not giving signs for towns or distances, was consistent if nothing else. Thus, I was rather surprised to suddenly find myself in Alma when I did. This came after a rather easy 15-20km, where the road had flattened and the winds calmed.
Being dusk, I HAD been hoping for a moose spotting - but instead got a town. Indeed, over the course of my entire bike tour, signs depicting moose had formed quite a collection of illustrations. I only belatedly wished I had photo-journalled them to note their differences in artistic rendition. Among the many designs I did remember one detail, anyway: only one seemed obviously female, rackless. No, for wildlife I would have to settle for a fox which raced across my path.
In Alma, I stopped at the general store. I needed to get something small for my evening's dindin, but more importantly I also needed to obtain the local's lowdown on camping. I was at the edge of Fundy National Park. From the locals inside, I quickly convinced myself to camp just inside the park. This would allow easy access to Alma come morning for a good breakfast - food always was near the top of my agenda. In this respect, perhaps, almost all travelers could call themselves brothers and sisters.
With night on the way, too, now the fog was rapidly rolling in. I acted quickly in setting up my tent, dubiously aided by a young Belgian kid at the next site who offered to help. Uh... sure, buddy! Although I typically greatly enjoyed exchanges with children, I was regardless glad when he gave up after staking my ground tarp. That had taken some guidance while the remaining sunlight was at a dusk's premium. Fortunately, pounding in four stakes had proven a sufficient distraction for the kid, anyway. One has to thank Attention Deficit Disorder for SOME things, no?
In any event, with my regular assembling/disassembling of the tent, by this time I could completely put it together in about three minutes. That was likely true even with my eyes closed. So, about three minutes later, I probably was already asleep inside. Overhead, the fog continued its task of smothering the land with its chilled blanket. Z. Zz. Zzz....
Back to Alma it was, come morning: I was primed for that heaping breakfast. Considering how eggs, toast, coffee and the like didn't vary too much, this appeal should have been curious by this point. Except it wasn't - was it all about the potatoes? Whatever - my butt found its wooden soulmate below when I found myself sitting in the cafe I had been recommended (by the general store, owned by the sister of the recommender of course).
Just getting ready to leave, I bumped again into Vernon - the very guide from Hopewell Rocks I had chatted with the previous day. Small towns and small worlds indeed. Back at the Rocks Vernon had offered me his front yard (in Alma) for camping come nightfall, but in a missed connection at The Rocks when I left I had lost that opportunity for a local's contact.
He would have been a good source of information, too. If anything this was demonstrably evident - he was wearing a cast from having broken a tiny thumb bone mountain biking. Naturally this led to bike talk covering the area's trails, something of interest to me even if I had no gear to accomplish a proper ride. Yet again I found myself in an interesting conversation just before leaving town - early starts would never be my thing, apparently.
I got some info of (small) use, at least - a warning of strenuous hills ahead to Sussex Corner for the day's ride. But, mostly, my new friend proudly described a local mountain bike trail he was developing. It was located in some forgotten lands adjacent to the park. Hmm - this was an attractive idea to me as well - building a trail - if ever I found myself living in a place near public land, that is... and out of the reach of lawsuits!
Coincidentally, Vernon also had been involved with the former hostel at Alma. This was one I had disappointedly learned in Moncton (over the internet) to be closed. I strongly urged him to reopen it - the more hostels, the better! Both of us had heard recently of plenty of interest in its existence to merit this, too. Hell, I had hoped to use it myself! Nothing beat a hostel for lodgings with a local flavor - beyond the other appealing qualities of price, a kitchen, and (hopefully) good company.
The conversation had delayed my day's start a good deal by now, but since such conversations made themselves so much a part of the trip's purpose I didn't care. They were always a legitimate excuse for dallying, and this case it delayed some pain: as predicted, it was a very (up)hilly affair to get to Sussex Corner. Not only that, it was sunny without wind. I sweat a literal river on the climbs. Ah, that salty, mucky taste of suncreen and sweat that dribbles down one's face in such circumstances - lovely, lovely, loverly!
The road inland through the park was almost completely desolate, too, with only sparse traffic to break the pedalling monotony. I was also going through logging country, something which may or may not have given rise to my map's reference to the nonexistent town of Mechanic Settlement. Supposedly it was just outside of the park. I whizzed through the area confused: maybe it was that house I passed by, that one on one of the larger dips in the road...?
As had come up previously in the New Brunswick portion of my travels, I now again got a chance to see some of the holdings of the Irving family. THE Irvings, as in the ones that seemed to own everything in Canada's maritime provinces. These ran from logging to gas station/convenience stores, to potato farming, and even on to people (it was joked). Often referred to in conversations, these robber barons of Eastern Canada were Canada's own Rockefeller/Carnegie scions. At the time of my passing through, though, I had no idea yet if they had a philanthropic arm planned for posterity. That seemed to be the traditional method used to cover exploitive tracks. [Yes they did indeed, I would find out later.]
After 40+km of occasional and rather brutal ascents, finally I reached the rounding point of Springdale-to-Sussex. This was a refreshing and relatively flat stretch of 20km. As warned by Vernon, though, there wasn't anything going on this area - I'd long since that conversation made my mind up to continue to St. Martin's on the coast. That, in contrast, was a universally well-regarded place.
From Alma's location on the coast there had been no road choice to get to St. Martin's but one. That was to go inland through the Appalachians, thus my hilly climbing to this point. One reached the town of Sussex at the route's inflection point only to drop back down to regain the coast. That glorious moment roughly occurred at St. Martin's.
But first I needed to load up a little more energy, and here was McGabe's homemade icecream to do the trick. He had chosen what seemed to be a very odd location for an ice cream store, in what felt like the middle of nowhere: Springdale and NB1's intersection. Not that I was going to make a stink about THAT. Ice cream! (And quality stuff at that.)
With only occasional customers stopping by (and none while I was there), I spent over half an hour speaking with McCabe. Slightly curmudgeonly, he was happy to find someone to gab with about politics and travel in the U.S. and Canada (and Costa Rica, where his wife was from). All the while, I enjoyed every lick of my vanilla scoop cone. (Is the plug accomplished, Mr. McCabe?)
Again I lent an ear to hear yet more complaints about the currently asinine rules in the U.S. These primarily concerned the fact that Canadians had to reenter security and customs in the U.S. even while in airport transit and without intention of leaving the airport. What could I do but completely agree? My government was an embarrassment. Abroad, George W. Bush was reviled 100% consistently as the devil, and deservedly so.
Following that lively exchange accompanied with its creamy treat, apparently my healthy stop was not yet complete. I next stopped at a similarly lonely - but well-stocked - gingerbread shop on the other side of NB1. Got sugar? Check. Springdale was indeed a strange corner of the world, but it wasn't like it served no purpose. My sugar high kicked in as I thought of the downhill to come.
Little Sussex Corner, shortly reached on the other side of the flat, connecting stretch along NB-1, immediately confirmed my decision to push on. I tried unsuccessfully to make some phone calls at the general store there, then resumed my now primarily downhill course. Into the rain I now went, too, but I reminded myself that at least I was mostly descending. This way I could not only colossally wipe out, but do so at high speed.
Over the succeeding 20km I succeeded in primarily getting really dumped on. For a second time on the same day I got to enjoy all the sweat, dirt, and sunscreen that dripped in and stung my eyes. Clean rain had replaced sweat as the conveyance of choice, but somehow I was having fun, too. Hopelessly wet, I even egged on the skies to bring it on. Really, I did - I loved a warm rain.
Meanwhile it was more hilly terrain in the rain - the big downhill would take a surprisingly long time to arrive. Sigh. Fortunately, with more down than up, I sometimes got the rollercoaster effect happening as compensation - hill cycling as I liked it. This went for a while, anyway - I eventually got tired near the end as the kilometers added up. I became more and more hopeful of an easy approach into St. Martin's, like what I had experienced getting in to Alma.
NOT! EVEN! Nearing St. Martin's, I was rewarded with what I what come to term the bastard hill of my trip. Certainly that was the case since the famous Charlevoix hills of Québéc. To requote my foul language, foul beast as I was: Fuck. Fuckity fuckity fuck! That summed it up succinctly. Then it was over - and the downhill finally arrived.
Now I belatedly rolled into St. Martin's, where I found that the fog had likewise rolled in. True, this WAS a Bay of Fundy trademark - and it kept away mosquitoes, too. Sold - as if I had a choice, anyway! I was beat. As a result of these pesky low clouds in my face, too, I found the temperature cool, if not quite cold. Hopefully this gray would be prove to be an aberration to - and not the bulk of - the upcoming daylight hours I hoped to pass in the town.
Shelter even coming before food, I shortly stopped for some info at a general store. There some locals gave me camping and restaurant recommendations both. That worked - I was ready for a hot shower and meal ASAP. Most importantly in the nearest term, I soon set up camp sans mosquitoes for an amazing fourth day in a row. This had been coming to be a marvelous new trend to behold.
Following my established pattern, I showered and set out for my chowder reward meal for a good day of biking. If only - here my reward system would be shatteringly foiled! Full of hope when I left my campsite, I found nothing but utter disaster when I entered each of the two promising seaside restaurants... as they closed. Dadnabbit! Nothing like looking forward to something all day - and being denied.
Instead I'd have to console myself with fresh strawberries (fair enough) from the general store, a late addition to supplement the can of beans (not fair to anyone else) left in my food stock. Sigh. Feasting on the beans, I reflected that - at least on some days - the fresh and open air of camping truly made the most sense.
Earlier, the walk along the shore during my ill-fated chowder quest confirmed one thing: St. Martin's was a charming bay town. Sea caves, a shore trail (the famous Fundy Trail which led all the way back to Alma), beaches, seafood, covered bridges and, of course, the biggest tides in the world. Not a bad laundry list, and taken together this rendered a considerable addition to the standout beauty that came from the stark revelation of territories daily recaptured from the sea. I'd unquestionably give St. Martin a full day. That'd be regardless of the bluffing gambit I tried with the campground owners, where I suggested that I was prime to move on if I didn't get a second day deal. [I did - half price.]
The next day I figured that I'd Fundy Trail it, at least doing some paltry amount of the coastal trail that ran from St. Martin's back to Alma. I first retraced my steps through town toward the chowder houses. Actually, it WAS surprised I was given any deal whatsoever on my campsite: I found out now that St. Martin's was starting its "Home Week" with a ridiculous number of garage sales. These were of no use to me, being on a bike and all, but people apparently came from all over the province for the downscale shopping. I shortly rued the fact that I had missed the fiddling contest the night before, also a part of the festivities.
Beyond the town proper I made my way again to the covered bridges that connected the town's areas. I shortly found that each made for only so-so accoustics within. Still, I was content with the attempt. I was more than willing to give up on trumpet hijinx in favor of merely marveling away the day at this town's shore withs its rocks, caves, and stranded boats. I could get used to being continually caught in the grand flux of Fundy's tides. Whenever nature offers largescale drama, I'm a willing participant.
On my way again, I noticed that a reconstructed lighthouse between the two covered bridges served as an info center. Always curious to see what more was around, I wandered in to see what was the what. Nothing proved new to me, alas, but the woman working there spotted my trumpet while I nosed about. She immediately began to repeatedly entreat that I busk out front. Huh? A REQUEST to busk? That was new.
Perhaps she was just doing her job. Some cruise ships and tour buses were headed in, she told me, further assuring me that I would soon be wealthy. Why, the town had just hosted Rosie O'Donnell - whose gay cruise ship had stopped in just the previous day! Woo woo. (Only later did she note that Rosie had stayed in St. John for some unfathomable reason - details!)
Fine - I'd do my thing, and just in time: a trio of young violin-playing girls soon approached, too, only to turn around after spotting me. The dreaded competition! Perhaps the encouraging info lady was simply tired of their maudlin chamber music. I dunno, but I proceeded hencewith to make my soft racket for an hour or so. I entertained the one(!) tourist bus happening by, plus any number of folks in rental cars stopping to get their courtesy maps.
This turned out to be a gratifying experience. People seemed to linger and enjoy the music, especially when I got a two-year-old girl to dance to Irish jigs. Being Indian, she if anything proved the universality of music. For further reward, some pocket change rolled in, too. Why, soon I was exactly C$8.34 richer and looking to spend it all in one place. That'd be for fish chowdah, belated but no longer deflated. With a fantastic apple pie to follow the chowder, thus further congratulating myself on my impromptu earnings, soon I had both exhausted and exceeded my new income.
Whatever - a man's gotta eat! And hike the Fundy Trail, too. It was still another 8km to the trailhead following the coast. This sounded like a distance easily achievable walking, so I set out. Nevertheless, with an eye to making up for my busking detour, I also figured that this was an ideal place to thumb it, too. I gave it a whirl for the first time since the end of the Gaspesie Peninsula. Over the next hour or so some 20-30 cars passed me by, without one even slowing for inspection. I eventually made my way to the last kilometer before the park, giving up the hitching ghost.
Then my luck changed. I spotted a man walking in the opposite direction, loudly attired in a bright red jumpsuit. Now here was one guy who didn't wanna get hit! In reality it turned out that he owned all of the land just before the park - he was merely clearing some brush out. This explained the work jumpsuit, although perhaps not the shocking color.
My new acquaintance was an affable, calm man, recently retired from Toronto. When we got to chatting - as I always seem to - he soon offered to lug me en voiture (by car) into the park. NOW I get a ride, when almost there, I thought. Still, a kilometer saved is a kilometer earned, or something like that.
My new benefactor also got us through the front gate for free, I happily noted. He was a local and thus was privy to such access; I'd later find that my walking in might have been free as well. In any event, my new friend took me on to the first lookout, Foxhead. There he pointed out numerous things on the coast before finally shaking my hand with a "good luck" and farewell. That had worked out rather well, even if I was starting to go blind with that red jumpsuit blinding my vision.
With my poor hitchhiking luck I had used up the morning, however. This as a consequence led to deciding to only tackle a short section of the trail before heading back. I still wanted to see St. Martin's seacaves at low tide in a few hours, an otherwise impossible (i.e. flooded) occurrence during the high tide period. I took to the dirt trail now however late.
Right away, a "flowerpot" lookout, reminiscent of Hopewell Rocks in quality while only numbering one in quantity (that I could see), was picturesque. Next a trail offshoot next me to a beach cove, where I spotted some caves. Hmm... I had to try out the accoustics - of course. Soon I was playing the ever-schmaltzy and not-for-public-consumption "Misty" with gusto, figuring no one was around - I hadn't seen a soul in the park.
Au contraire, de nouveau! Or, more appropriately in the English-speaking part of New Brunswick, wrong-o! I had just started to put my horn away from this improvised and abbreviated concerto when a woman rushed up out of nowhere. Wha-a-a? She surprised me, but immediately took to pleading with her hands up to stop my motion. "Don't stop! More!" Huh?
Thus I met Danya, a Ukrainian St. John transplant. In minutes I came to meet her husband Vasil as well. By then, however, she had clasped her hands in a praying fashion, even getting down onto her knees. Good gravy - I better play! How could I have any other choice? Monk's "Reflections" and a requested "Summertime" soon pleased Danya, but then it was that I realized the time. It'd be a dark walk back soon - I had to say goodbye and make my way back to the road.
A minute later after leaving, however, Danya was once again breathlessly running after me. She wanted to offer me a ride back to St. Martin's, but with a small catch. We'd first have to continue further down the coast to the Big Salmon River. There they, plus two other carloads of Ukrainian expats, were to await three hikers expected very soon. They were currently out doing the rugged 50km Fundy Trail in two days, timing the tides to allow progress. Ambitious, I agreed.
With a ride back to town and a friendly couple to keep me company, meanwhile, I had an easy decision to make - I was in. Amazingly, the hikers popped out of the woods about 20 seconds after we arrived - I was quite impressed. Were these really Swiss in disguise, these two Ukrainians and one Russian? Whatever the case, they deserved a salute - so I blew some heraldic strains on the horn to announce their arrival.
The trumpet surprise was met with wide approval. Yes, and it proved, too, that if nothing else I could pursue a career as a carnival attraction. Perhaps it was in exchange for the arias - it likely wasn't my charming smell from my hike - that my belly soon met a beer and a variety of homemade Ukrainian treats. This was worthy of a second salute - had my hands not been otherwise occupied, full of things on their way to being consumed.
Hikers now in tow, we soon headed back to the sea caves, where I had asked to be dropped off. All of my new friends tried to convince me of doing a sauna with them west of St. John the next day, but I ultimately had to say no. That was strictly based on the logistics of either making a hole in my coastal bike journey... or them having to come back out to St. Martin's to return me to camp. Instead, I assured them that I would be up for a beer the following evening in St. John. Done.
My friends off, it was time for me to check out some sea caves. No big whoop, it turned out, after all of the hullaballoo and buildup in my head. Perhaps it was their interiors' fallen cone shape which led to what I unexpectedly found to be so-so accoustics. Blowing louder didn't make it that much better, either, but it always does at least a little. This is called trumpeter reasoning.
Making up for my disappointment somewhat, I made the day of a couple of young girls and their mother also inside the cave. I performed grandiose renditions of "Twinkle, twinkle..." and "Rubber Ducky" that stunned one and all. Well, maybe it wasn't all that, but it DID go over well even if no one peed their pants over it.
Otherwise, checking out my surroundings, I had to admit that one sea cave was pretty much like the next. Without accoustics it was pretty much a dark, rocky hole. No Lascaux cave paintings here, no Blackbeard's treasure. So... okay then: a lobster roll would have to substitute the joy. It did somehow, too, what with the earlier busking money the now with the hitched ride back to town. It felt free and, more importantly, tasted both fresh and good. That made it a night as far as I was concerned.
The biking to St. John the next morning was to be a straightforward 45km affair. This wasn't a great distance by any means, regardless of nasty headwinds and hills - of which neither would be in abundance. Looking up ahead to St. John, I even had heard that this was the final day of a busker festival. How timely! I was primed to go, and with potential busking in mind I warmed up my horn in St. Martin's. Simultaneously I told myself to remember to stay hydrated, stay hydrated, stay hydrated.
I pulled out my axe on a park bench by the general store, running through some lip drills in anticipation... until I was spotted again. Whatcha doin'? Indeed, what a freak show I was turning out to be! This time, my inquisitor was a guy mowing the tiny cemetery behind me. He soon had an excuse to give that a rest, peppering me instead with questions about my horn and my rig. I willingly obliged, soon giving up on a proper warmup.
Turnabout is fair play, however, so I soon found myself in the ancient boneyard. It turned out that my new acquaintance was an 8th or 9th generation member of the Moran family. This was the family of shipbuilders who pretty much had first settled the St. Martin's area. He fell to him to take care of the cemetery these days, slowly restoring headstones and learning to tell their history, too - a chunk of which I soon heard. For a rootless person like me, I thought, here was my polar opposite in rootedness. That was something like three or four centuries!
My departure once again took a big delay, naturally, but I figured this one wouldn't come back to haunt me. It was a short riding day, no big whoop possible with no appreciable winds. It wasn't, either, as I finally got going. This was especially true if one took out the (well-warned-of) Quinn's Hill, about 10km into it.
Even the mighty Quinn wasn't too crazy in difficulty. Nevertheless, I did my usual hilltop reward plan when I topped it out. I made vanish the remaining strawberries of "bean night" two days previous, now suitably finished with their ripening - I'm ever about perfectly ripe fruit.
Soon the outskirts of St. John were in view, too. And, still anticipating a grand entrance and triumph at the busking festival, I thought ahead to making a busking sign. I stopped at a convenience store in town and, with a borrowed pen and a scrap sheet of paper, made a proper placard: "Montréal - Québéc City - Tadoussac - Gaspé - Moncton - St. John - (South Coast of Maine)" it stated plainly. Ready!
Well, not quite yet. Timing a tide wouldn't once again play a factor in my decision-making. See, St. John's main attraction was Reversing Falls, a section of river that ran in two directions based on the powerful Fundy tide. I had entered St. John exactly at high tide.
Knowing what came ahead in St. John, the tide chart was something I had taken note of for the coming days. Helpfully, all of the Fundy tides for the entire year were in the St. John tourist brochure I had picked up in St. Martin's. And now I had arrived just as the natural phenomenon was ready to do its thing - I couldn't pass up my good timing.
Thus I rolled right through downtown St. John and on to the falls directly. I passed amidst the odd mix of old buildings with nice architecture; I looked over and dismissed the Irving industrial wasteland beyond. Getting to the falls themselves, however, would make that last thought moot: they were fronted by a massive Irving pulp mill. Strange.
Still, that was easily ignored: the force of the water was impressive. More interestingly, time and again some hundreds of birds would fly the hundred meters of the falls area upriver only to plunge in. They then went for a ride down the fast rapids before reaching its end and immediately and briefly taking to flight again upstream for a repeat ride. How about that, I thought.
Certainly it looked like fun: I could do that all day long, too... if I didn't drown first. In fact, the current was notably dangerous since their discovery by non-Indians. The first westerners to the area had rounded this very bend on ships back when and learned quickly. They tested the waters by dropping logs into the mysterious current, only to watch them quickly sink. Wisely, they turned around.
After some time gazing at the patterns of the falls and the birds, I eventually turned around now, too - busker festival! I reversed my rig back into downtown St. John, guessing the two main squares there to be the obvious busker locales. But both were deserted. In fact, one could say the same of the town in general, its forelorn look an odd mix of restored and forgotten glories. One could kindly call it a restoration in progress, although perhaps that had been taking place over many years. But never mind that - where were the buskers?
And where was some grub? Ah - East Coast pizza, Italian style. That did the trick. From the pizza stop, too, I learned that the buskerfest was actually located on the main boardwalk. That was over by the New Brunswick Museum, located not far away. This wasn't a bad thing at all - I had wanted to check that out, too. All seemed to be coming together, however accidentally.
Nope, not really - again. Buskerfest turned out to be a buskerbust as far as I was concerned. This only took a minute after arriving to decide: there were no musicians at all! No, instead there were just a handful of acrobat and fire-breather types. Nothing on them, but - sigh - there would be no big oodles of coinage or making 2-year-olds dance for TripTrumpet. Not with each act having its own boombox to provide their theme music. In my narrow-mindedness of buskers, I hadn't allowed for any possibility outside of musicians. Doh!
At least there was still the museum to check out... or not?!? Oddly, it was in a mall of sorts, nevertheless adjacent to the fest as had been advertised by the pizza guys. In I went, thus, apologetically rolling my rig through the interior of the mall to gain entry to the 'Zeum.
For my efforts I found that I was arriving near closing time - I would have to stroll rather quickly through the exhibits. That'd prove no loss, however: I rapidly ascertained that I would have probably cruised through even if I had come earlier. Either I wasn't in the mood, or it just wasn't that interesting. Indeed, I soon judged a 1950s era photo exhibit from the Canadian plains as the most interesting display. It provided a snapshot of another world, largely gone by if strongly inducing an odd nostalgia for something I hadn't partaken in myself.
Disappointed, I soon rolled out as I had come in through the mall. From there I searched for and found an enclosed bus stop outside - there I could blow my horn in peace as I weighed my options. Realistically, I surmised, it was obvious: I was already done with St. John. That is, I was save meeting my new friends and checking out the low tide at Reversing Falls.
For the former of those points, phone tag with the Ukrainians eventually paid off. It was thus at 9p.m. or so that I heard a car pull up to my tent in Rockwell Park, a surprisingly conveniently-located campground in the middle of the city. "Dave? Dave?" I heard. Actually, I had been drifting off to sleep, but in short order I found myself back with the same group I had met the previous evening. In no time we were at Vasil and Danya's house.
Ensconced in this far cosier redoubt than my tent, we talked some hours away on travel, Canadian-American differences, Russian-Ukrainian differences, diffidently diffuse and different differences... it was all in there somewhere. Good company all, my companions reminding me a lot of my Czech friends back in Seattle. Past midnight, though, everyone was tired -they had sauna-ed the entire day as they had predicted. After exchanging contact information, I was eventually re-deposited back at my tent far better for the wear and lack of tear.
The next morning's mission was simple: see Reversing Falls at low tide... then bail. My wakeup timing was perfect for once, including wrapping up camp in record and early time. This would be good for a number of reasons, starting with the rain that shortly came. Hard. Fat. Wet. Indeed, in a mere five minutes of riding, once again I had acquired a full soaking. No misty, drizzly west-of-Cascades weather, this.
Still, it couldn't affect Reversing Falls but only for the better, I figured. Off I went, then, allowing no deviation to seeing part two of the phenomenon. Wetty or not, here I come, I boldly lisped. Soon enough I was where I had been the previous day, waiting for a sign of... something.
Truth be told, it was not the sight of the rapids themselves that made for a neat sight (outside of the birds). All of the magic and mystery played out in the oddness of seeing the water flow in both directions separately. Which (by the way!), I noted, rain didn't do. It only came down. And how. Onward!
Ridiculously wet, I decided to at least take temporary shelter in a Tim Horton's before leaving town. Although this achieved the modest goal of filling my gullet, I was perhaps more successful there in leaving puddles everywhere I went and on everything I touched. Many a look my way said "Who IS that drowned rat?" Ignoring the probing stares, though, I stuffed my face instead... before returning into the wet. More fun would surely be on the way.
Oh yes, it was: the rain eased only just in time to acquire my first flat of the entire trip. A telltale wobble shortly meant I was riding on a rim, never pleasant nor all that steady a feeling. Fortunately this occurred while I was still on the outskirts of the city. Almost immediately upon exiting the main road, I spotted a Harley motorcycle place, too. Hmm.
I reasoned bikes weren't that far removed from motorcycles. Sort of, anyway. Could it be...? Nah. Sadly, I found no great luck in tire repair kits there, but for my troubles I quickly became a curiously conversational exhibit. That I was to all within and without the store's windows against which I found myself doing repairs.
Fortunately I hadpicked up a spare tube in Moncton when (at the time) I couldn't find my mysteriously-missing patch kit. Wow - I did something right in the realm of bike preparedness! Thus, only 20 minutes later, I was ready to roll again. Aiding my efficiency, thankfully, the rubber of the now-not-new tire had become more pliable now that it had been used a bit. There'd be no repeat of my troubles putting it on as I had experienced in Moncton.
As a security measure, too, I quickly snagged a patch kit at a Canadian Tire store nearby. This seemed a prudent thing to do before leaving town. Just in case, as well, I patched one tube outside of the store. I was now ready to resume my journey. I had entered the final Canadian stage: U.S. or bust!
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