Québéc, New Brunswick, Maine - St. John To U.S. Border
St. John didn't take long to leave behind once I had that flat taken care of. The 55km ride to Black's Harbor - where I planned to take a ferry to Grand Manan Island - was hardly a struggle. Sure, I was more or less forced onto NB-1, but traffic was light and the grade was easy. The well-shouldered road was a blessing; a slight tailwind made for a nice travel companion, too. For all of the above I cruised away, making only one major stop to play my horn and dry out gear. That took place under the sun-kissed and calm beauty of New River Beach, a provincial park.
Blueberries and pie made for a required pitstop, too, being a sucker for fruit stands - and I'd now see blueberries replace strawberries as the enticement of choice. Soon after that stop I left NB-1 behind, happily switching onto the meandering (and thus by definition scenic) route through Beaver Harbor.
That not-so-long-yet-winding road led ultimately to Black's Harbor and the ferry. I had a more direct option I could have rolled with, but with two ways in and out of a place - as was the case from NB-1 to Black's Harbor - I always took both for variety. I'd take the other road when I returned from the island, all of this consistent with my mentality of always taking the harder way the first time.
As was my usual luck with such things, I found upon arrival that the ferry would depart in 20 minutes. I mentally danced a jig over my good and unexpected fortune, my brain-blob bouncing boisterously in my hollow skull. Aboard, my luck would continue, too - the 1-1/2 hour crossing was beautiful, a brilliant show of sun and fog working in harmony to alternately reveal and hide various islands and lighthouses.
Grand Manan Island eventually revealed itself, too, as a study in fog with light rain when we anchored at 7p.m. By my reasoning this meant an immediate plan to go the fish chowder route. Shortly bellying up to my bowl, I ran into two Maine bikers that I had met on the ferry. As per the usual - it figured - their overall route was in the opposite direction - to Nova Scotia. Didn't anyone wanna go my way. Sigh - I sniffed my armpits, just to be sure.
Finally stuffed and thus content to think again, I next chose my campground from among three choices available... rather poorly. The ecological "Marsh Retreat" I chose didn't live up to its billing, I soon discovered. It only had one tent platform available, a rain-soaked "clearing" overgrown with weeds and nowhere to stake my tent properly. Foolishly, I nevertheless erected my tent anyway - if only momentarily.
It took only a minute of surveying my new kingdom to allow logic to kick in. This... sucked! Undoing my handiwork, I abandoned the site as the darkness now rapidly increased. Instead of going the tent route with imminent rain, I'd do myself the favor of using the retreat's gathering-place building/yurt. With no one else at the campground, it wasn't like there'd be any "gathering" this night.
Soon screened-in indoors, I hung my gear everywhere to dry yet again, ticked at the pathetic setup that the tent situation had offered. To be fair, though, the owner, who I had stirred from sleep, had mumbled that it was "half-assed" at best. How right he was, even if he had no interest in rectifying the situation. He immediately disappeared from the window where I had roused him and passed out again.
In a foul mood on account of the weather and the less-than-make-do situation I found myself in, I decided on a dubious tack which I wouldn't be proud of later. I vowed to wake up extra early and head out without paying in retribution. Mosquitoes and wet made for bedfellows of the worst agreeability sometimes. I huffed some more as I peeled my clothes off and eventually curled up into a ball in my sleeping bag.
Come morning my mood had softened, but I had no intention of sticking around for the owner to get up and chitchat. So it was at the crack of the dawn that I peeled out burning rubber at 5kph on soggy gravel. My conscience DID bother me sufficiently about the quick shower I had taken, yes, but that only occurred when I was some kilometers away. Indeed, scrubbing myself clean WAS worth something. What wrath would this bad karma entail, I wondered.
Meanwhile the rest of the world that was Grand Manan Island was still sleeping - even while I was now wide-awake. I thus headed toward the main town, Grand Harbor, in hopes of some miraculous stirrings-about. Of whom or what, I hadn't a clue.
On my way, however, I hedged my bet of actually bumping into an awake soul. I decided on a stop behind a lonely church, a reasonable place for some yoga stretches and muted trumpet intervals. Why not? What the hell else could I do at 6a.m., adrift in the middle of a sparsely-habited island? Tucking out of sight to do so, I also took stock of my surroundings in the process: hey, I thought... My next night's camping had resolved itself.
Now I ready to head over to the local's cafe, happy to see a place open where I could get joed up and my day begun. That ever-worthy task accomplished, now I could roll with the proper attitude to see my way about the isle. Have coffee, will travel - if hadn't been my motto by now, it should have been.
Over the succeeding unraveling of the course of the day, I'd put in perhaps 30km. The idea, ultimately, was to find myself at the road's furthest extent, but only after taking various offshoots - just to see where they would lead. The answer, generally: nowhere. No, not much was going on on Grand Manan - surprise!
Fishing boat coves followed one after another, only to promise more of the same. Keeping them company, I saw heaps of lobster traps and fish weirs, the odd boatyard. Beyond those, only a scattering of vacation homes made up the rest of the scenery. This was by no means a sorry state of affairs, but the drawing power of such after a month and a half nevertheless flagged somewhat.
Given the lost-in-time nature of the place, dining possibilities were unsurprisingly limited. Indeed, only one restaurant existed on the island's southside - where was I making my way down to - McLaughlin's. Thinking ahead of my gullet as was my wont, I stopped in. In no time I received a great impression, courtesy of speaking with McLaughlin's owner. That was enough for me to reserve for dinner - I was already too late for lunch.
But, conversation aside, the place had even more going for it. The restaurant or, more accurately, the Bed-and-Breakfast, sat in - or on - Seal Cove. Setting, as is often the case when chosen well, would obviously serve any meal or drink here well. The place sat amidst a collection of old and well-maintained fish wharf buildings, all standing sentinel in the village's heart. Moreover, the low tide - per the Fundy usual - almost dried the place out on a regular basis: if there was fishing village charm, this was it.
A glorious future of grubbing assured, I now continued on to the island's SW tip with confidence. Hey at least I'd eat well if not otherwise wowed. Rolling on, I next took in a few vantage points from the clifftops. In both directions were high seacliffs of rock, some oddly shaped and resembling chimney stacks pressed together. Over the eons they were slowly crumbling into the sea; others would take their place.
Meanwhile, the U.S. coast of Maine was in the not-terribly-far-off distance, a discernable line on the horizon. Soon enough, I thought. The afternoon now continued to wear on as I chose a few spots for lazing about. Eventually the magic hour approached, though: time to make my way back for dinner! My earlier peekaboo had heightened my expectations of culinary intoxication.
As hoped, the experience proved excellent in quality. This was true both for the meal (salmon cakes, african peanut soup, chocolate-peanut butter pie,...) as well as the setting (from the middle of the wharf, surrounded by water, and with rustic views to all sides). I loved it when a brilliant plan came to fruition!
After milking the moment, not to mention the meal, for all they could possibly be worth, a more curious expectation was up for testing. I made my way back to my chosen campsite poach, where I had exercise muscle and trumpet both behind the church of the morning. No one seemed around at the lonely place, fortunately, so I merely waited for traffic to die and night to fall. Then I set up my encampment behind it.
When morning came, I had that gut feeling that it was time I to move on to the next islands. Something about the poaching felt stealthy, certainly, even if it wasn't illegal. Maybe it was because I didn't feel I could leave my camp set up and go away for the day. Thus, with my camp shortly folded up and located back onto the bike - and with any sense of "home" upended completely - the logical tendency was to move on.
For returning to the mainland, the Grand Manan ferry schedule ran every two hours. Neither bad nor good, but at least I wouldn't have to sweat that detail. Per my stomach-first reasoning, anyway, this meant that I could take advantage of yet another local bakery on the way. Such pastry-coffee stops were consistently one of my don't-misses at each locale, right along with the most local of the locals' cafes and main park of a town. I had become practiced at loafing and lounging, no question.
All told, I would take three ferries this day. On the bike, I traveled 6km to the Grand Manan ferry (1-1/2 hours, pay one way), then some 25km further to the Back Bay-Deer Island ferry (every 1/2-hour, free). From there it was another 12km of biking to the Deer Island-Campobello Island ferry (every hour, $3), then a final 5km to my campground. My version of planes, trains and automobiles was localized to a bike and ferrymobiles.
Since my wacky rig inescapably attracted attention - I was an embodiment of the Beverly Hillbillies on two wheels by any reckoning - I found myself in conversations each time I stopped. First I chatted for a while with a Canadian couple on the way to their summer home on Deer Island. Then I met with both a Dutch and then a German couple. Each was slightly disappointed, as was I, in reaching the Old Sow whirlpool at high tide. Time and tide waits for no one, as they (damnably!) say.
Although the whirlpool conveniently lay by the ferry dock, itself located at the south-end bottom of Deer Island, it was best seen at two-thirds toward high tide. We were nowhere that blessed hour - shucks! Not entirely thwarted, however, we could still plainly see the swirling action of the current in the area where the action lay. In meagre compensation beyond that, perhaps, I chatted up the ferry operators, too. For their part, I probably just out-rated sheer boredom.
Back on the Grand Manan ferry, earlier in the day, I had had a great yapping with a fellow trumpet player. By some level of Pacific Northwest coincidence - such as it was - he used to teach jazz trumpet at Nanaimo, B.C. Located in the general Vancouver-Seattle sphere, he was thus familiar with the Seattle jazz scene.
What did that mean? Well, not much, but it served to illustrate that apparently I didn't have to do much more than be my odd self to attract attention. The conversationalists came out of the woodwork about as soon as I parked my bike or unstrapped the horn from it.
Beyond such intriguing dialogues, however, each ferry and dock was merely a succession of studies in quiet transit. Of the three I'd take for the day, each transported fewer people and cars than the last. In fact, the last ferry only portered my bike and the ticket-taker's car. Didn't anyone wanna join me on Campobello?
Perhaps I needed to look at this on a more grand scale. To put it biblically, then, Grand Manan begat Deer begat Campobello Island. Simple, calm places, where fishing and summer tourism made for the entire realm of commerce. On each island were only a few places to get food, a few places to eat out, and a provincial park with some camping. Not many options left you with no choice but to slow down. In other words... perfect!
This was also a good time to thoroughly unpack and repack everything from inside my tent. I had just succumbed to another book's temptation, Styron's masterpiece The Confessions of Nat Turner - yet I eagerly looked forward to its tossing of weight, too. Time and again, while backpacking and cycle touring, thoughts turn to lightened loads.
Now with sufficient cycle-touring under my belt, I had a good idea of what wasn't going to be on the bike in Australia: the dozen books I had started this trip with would instead be only two or three. Granted, by this time I was down to a manageable five, including a French dictionary and grammar book, but I MIGHT not need a dictionary in Oz. Then again, if Aussie-English varied as much as Quebecois-French,...
Beyond the books, I reasoned that the camp stove, perhaps the water filter, and some spare things should get the boot, too. On a roll, I next sold myself on a much smaller sleeping bag and a more form-fitting trumpet case. This weight reduction was not only to be practical, but probably necessary thing: I had noticed that the bike's ballast-weight was taking its toll on the hooks, straps, and brackets. This was something I was not going to be repeating Down Under. A lesson was being learned... if slowly.
My first overnight on Campobello Island was an exciting barrage of thunder and lightning, one which yielded infrequent bursts of rain. Such situations typically left me a little afraid to lift things off of the tent's floor. I suspected that in doing so I'd only find water - but it looked like I got away with it again this time around. Whew.
Such rain-insecurities were a result of never trusting my staking and tent positioning that much. Perhaps that was merely a legacy of a childhood spent without ever passing a night outdoors. Meanwhile, while having failed to drowned my tent, the morning was replete with dense fog and drizzle. This would be less than ideal for clothes drying, I thought, should I do my overdue (and how!) laundry. So... coffee!
My first choice of restaurant - the nearest - was closed. Actually, it had never even been opened for the season - someone needed to notify the numbnut who made the Campobello Island brochure. In its stead, however, I found the only island bakery - which happened to serve breakfast. This was a very fortunate accident, I'd soon realize.
In short, the Sweet Time was a treasure. Faced with an array of equally-sounding tasty options, in the end I couldn't pass up on the fish cakes, the cinnamon swirl, or their version of an Egg Mcmuffin. All told, this also meant that, calorie-wise, I wouldn't have to eat again for like a week. Sure, that would have been a convenient time and money savings... except for the fact that eating was always a travelling highlight. So - sigh - gluttony it would have to be. I suffered for my causes.
Eating begat thinking (once again, I max out on my capacity for biblical prose), thus I realized that laundry still had to be done. Oh... that. Once again I took to the sink for some scrubbing. There can be a sordid side to this primitive, bike-styled living, it need be said. Just as need be mentioned that it was not for fault of logic this I only had a few changes of clothes made more of plastic and nylon than cotton - easy warshin'.
With the fog, however, I decided to take advantage of a dryer for once. This was a first time luxury of the trip, a combination of practicality and resignation as my bohemian resolve faltered increasingly near trip's end. Plus, I had time to kill. This might remind my fair reader about the time you just killed to read a paragraph about washing clothes... but you need to suffer for causes, too. Read on, shall we not? YES.
An elderly couple from Boston was waiting the weather with washing as well (say those last eight words five times quickly). This allowed for a nice conversation as the suffering machines grumbled away the scum of our clothes. For my part, it was nice to see a wife willing to travel on the real down-low (they were traveling out of an OLD conversion van-camper). Even as we hadn't much in common to say to each other of value, that was my foremost thought in the exchange of words.
This unwillingness to travel on the low ground was a pet peeve of mine, perhaps formed my inherent cheapness, sure, but solidified from what I saw in the vast majority of relationships I was reasonably acquainted with. Sometime around the time a house was bought and a first child born, far more wives than husbands never wanted to see the inside of a tent or traveling on the cheap again - and it only got more expensive from there.
This elderly couple, however, had traveled for a month each October for most of their married lives, including all the years with their three kids (aged now 35,36,37). The children would always return from vacation ahead of their classmates in their studies, had spent far less time studying in the meantime, and had experienced new and interesting things while having a great time. This was my version of a heartwarming family narrative.
These two reminded me of a couple I had met in the rice paddies of Viet Nam, traveling with their 2- & 4-year-old children. Here was a similar glimmer of hope regarding possibilities in the game of mating mayhem. It wasn't as if I had turned sexist or defeatist in this regard, I hoped, but observing many previously outdoorsy or adventurous women hunkering down shortly after marriage was scary stuff. The whole "right school, right neighborhood" crock - and the income(s) required to support it - felt anathema to any concept of being a lifetime traveller.
In the meantime, with a heavy fog and threatening rain on "bike tour of Campobello Island day", I had no alternative plans of great adventure in store. Practicality moved to the fore, then, I used the local library to unload my (completely full) camera and catch up on my journal. Finally, with the weather picking up a little at least rain-wise, I headed out on my baggageless bike to get a lay of the (is)land at low speed.
At most I just wanted to head to New Brunswick's most famous lighthouse. I wasn't far away: it was on Campo's northern tip, the East Quoddy Lighthouse. I arrived there without much do, as an ever-thicker fog pushed in and competed with me for time. Indeed, by the time I got there I was pretty happy to that I got to see the structure at all. It disappeared completely in five minutes. With fog that thick, it probably hasn't resurfaced to this day.
Thus, instead of reveling in the thrill of watching a lightbulb flash on and off from a tower, I had to content myself with a buncha seals popping about in the water. Some were even swimming inside of a nearby fish weir, frankly making a mockery of that fishing technique. Still, I was happy with what passed for a show, taking in stride what I was given. That was a philosophy I'd always recommend heartily... except when otherwise promoting my other philosophy of making the world what you want it to be.
Idling away at land's end, I befriended a small family from Niagara Falls (Canada). Well, not all of them - the daughter too busy to make my acquaintance, incessantly insisting "Let's GO al-REA-dy!!!" Proving that entertainment does indeed vary, I chuckled (to myself!) as she produced an ensuing litany of similar remarks.
The cause of the horribly extra long stay of a few minutes was that a whale had just passed by. The parents were risking the last ferry to Deer Island (and the daughter's other outfits of clothes apparently) to get another glimpse. For them the alternate route back, through the U.S., was out of the question: "They don't like me down there" stated the father, a genial man. Perhaps a draft dodger of the 60s?, I wondered. Without getting into details, he confirmed as much.
With the lighthouse blotted out, and any possible fill of seals I might've had sated, I headed back south. Some 20 minutes lazing at the point was evidently sufficient. Sure enough, though, and only a few kilometers after leaving, the sun came out in a blaze to illuminate all. I refused to return for another, sunnier view: lighthouses were old hat by this time. And the sun didn't stick around all that long, anyway. FOG!
The land officially surveyed, I beat my retreat to camp. In this I was more than a little happy, too, to not arouse the ire a second time of a german shepherd. The beast had given long chase when I had passed by earlier. Although generally a proponent of exercise, the form where I flee for my life had steadfastly remained unappealing.
Back at camp I returned to... well... trumpet on the beach ought to fit the bill, right? Yes, that DID sound great - particularly with an idyllic view of fog rolling in and out, all proceeding under a still quiet at water's edge. Such natural bliss, the blessing of nature... ah.
Ooh. Apparently the sand flies and 'skeeters didn't give a damn about such tranquility. Soon as my scent was evidently about, they pestered me ad nauseum. Confundamatation! More positively, though, several kids kept me company in the interim between bliss and blasted. Four girls, aged about 3-5, and a boy of about 11 were curious about the music I was making. In response I changed direction to stylings more of their sensibilities. Rubber Ducky, the Chicken Dance Song, a circus diddy: all were enthusiastically received. I knew my peeps!
Not that such conversion was immediate or automatic. The boy took a little coming 'round, too cool for school, flinging suspicious and sarcastic remarks regarding a fool with a horn on a bench. Instead of clubbing with said instrument, a reasonable response, I plied my trade on. He sooned lightened up and joined the rest. He had been a tough nut.
Moreover, I figured that chubby dude needed to smile. Just the day before I had seen him jogging around the campground, shirtless and panting, his father slowly following behind him on a bike as a relentless weight-reducing taskmaster. Perhaps if he hadn't been on the bike it wouldn't have looked so bad... but it did.
Now, of course, this very father shortly stopped by my concert bench. He wanted to enjoy the horn, too, and - fair enough - I found him very friendly to chat with. Still, I didn't have the gumption to ask about the military regimen I had previously witnessed. Why can't people just be good and evil? Nuances made for such work!
Night meant still more rain, but morning's recurrence of fog only meant one thing in my small reptilian brain: another fishcake topped with relish, another cinnamon whirl, and coffee. Ah, that Sweet Time bakery! This time I only nominally put a limit on my gut (skipping on the egg sandwich). I did this both to ease up on the caloric barrage and to use up every last remaining cent of my Canadian cash. The border approacheth, so, as far as I was concerned, this was a masterstroke of travelling genius.
Afterward I somehow waddled back to camp in spite of my reduced stuffage. There I made an attempt at reasonably drying out my gear while simultaneously holding a conversation with a Francophone couple from Moncton. We chatted mostly about the RCMP, military life, border guards - odd topics for me, indeed.
But maybe it wasn't, either. That the man was training to join the national police was one thing, sure, but there was this entirely real possibility of encountering an authority-out-of-whack nightmare at the U.S. border. I was moderately bracing myself for such annoyances, an upcoming formality looming in a mere matter of minutes.
I had heard enough horror stories about border crossings, particularly on this trip. The Canadians, it need be said, had had it with their foul crossing experiences. Being an American, at least by passport if not stereotypical mentality, I was obviously fertile dumping ground. With their two large - yet trained - hounds, we soon compared notes about dogs that chased cyclists. That was a topic once again near to my foremost thoughts after the heartrate-enhancing german shepherd experience.
Engrossing stuff, all this yapping... and once again I left camp a good deal later than planned. To the border!, I reminded myself. Get a move on! Off I went, thus, passing the old Roosevelt summer estate by on the way out. I only glanced over at it as I whizzed by, imagining that I was supposed to be engrossed about the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Yawn - big lawns, big rooms, oversized tea sets.
Shortly after this, I reached another of the benchmarks of my journey: the border! Or, rather, the border guard! That'd come soon enough. After a last few vacant miles of Campobello Island, I finally traversed the lonely bridge over to the U.S. and its entry point of Lubec, Maine.
To mark the occasion, the bridge struck me as a ripe time for a picture. The changing-of-the-country part of the trip, a one-time occurrence over two months, had arrived! Not that such commemorative protocol was so giddy to officialdom, however: still two cars back from the official crossing booth, ready for a final picture before my entry, a stern guard looked up at me from his current victim's American Inquisition. With a nasty yell he harshly upbraided me: "No pictures of the 'port'!"
"The what?!?", my look conveyed in return. (Of course I knew, but hey.) "You mean the border station?" I yelled back in my fake confusion. Why couldn't the guy speak common English? When did border stations become ports? For that matter, when did radios become "listening devices" and cars "ve-HIC-les"? Yeesh. This crossing was going to be a joy.
As soon as the other two cars departed, I had my personal dressdown astride my bike. Following the thread of our previously engrossing exchange, the unsmiling emblem of U.S. authority made me scroll back to any pictures I had taken of his fabulous port. Good, upright citizen that I was, of course, the one he had yelled at me for hadn't been actually taken. Granted, that was just a chance matter of timing, but I'd be the last to admit that to The Man.
I had, however, taken one from the atop the bridge at a distance. He scrutinized this for a good while. Assuredly, he appraised it of all the über-confidential top secrets revealed. Finally he handed me back the camera with a grunt, but not without a stern warning about my future photo activity of ports. Sure, buddy.
I took him at his word, however. I'd never again take a picture of Boston Harbor or the car docks of Seattle. Those were MY definitions of a port. I left it to my own discretion as to whether I'd imbibe a bottle of the red stuff in the future, though.
For all the seriousness made of my entry, I didn't have the heart to tell him the obvious. It wasn't like someone couldn't have barged into the country with a six-shooter. Make that a pellet gun. Indeed, this was as lonely a border crossing outpost as there could possibly be in the sense of the word "forgotten".
We still had some formalities to go through in the meantime. I next received a barrage of questions to ascertain where I'd been, was going, my employment (unemployed street musician was a frowned-upon answer), former employment, time in Canada, reason for coming back, foot size, the tourist sites of North Dakota, the words to the Star Spangled Banner, and a recitation of all state capitals in order. Having to sing the anthem a capella was a bit much, but I was all about obedience. I was in, of course, what with the lovely rendition with which I gave justice to the melody. In such a silky voice, too!
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