It was still fairly early in the afternoon and the bus with the majority of TNSTTTT riders hadn't arrived yet. First things first, showered and re-arranged my gear, since for the next week a truck would be taking everyone's baggage between stops and I would give the Yak a holiday and just use a saddlebag which had spent the last few days in the Yak bag. Dinner wasn't on the program until about 7pm so there were still a few hours to kill. As I opened the door to go for a stroll of the sights, there was my roommate for the week about to try the doorknob. I'm reluctant to use people's names on the Internet so I'll just use an initial or 2... So I met M, from Quebec City, and also R. M had the use of their official club vehicle for the duration of TNSTTTT-- I was amazed to learn of a cycling club having enough members, 3500 apparently, to afford that kind of support and infrastructure, but no surprise to me that if a club of that size can exist in Canada it would have to be in Quebec. Good for them.
The tour group consisted of softies like me who insisted on a proper bed and roof each night, and the hardier and more intrepid souls who would be passing most of their nights in campsites. R was one of the campers, so after M unloaded his bike and gear into our room they went off to the "campground" which for this day was in and around one of the local churches, to drop off R and do a bit of a meet and greet. I fell into pack cycling tactics and just followed wheels (i.e. went along). The bus with the main peleton had recently arrived so we did some social milling about and encountered names and faces quickly forgotten in the information overload but relearned over the days ahead. Back to the hotel for supper, the whole group in one room for the first time. Briefing by our intrepid leader JC of the general daily routine etc and specifics for the morrow.
Back in my room I watched enough of the Tour de France ascent of Mont Ventoux to know that Contador's yellow was safe and then logged out. An advantage of having been three days on the bike already was that I wasn't much disturbed by unfamiliar cohabitation issues. I was also past the stiffness phase- a bit on day 2, a bit more on the third day, nothing thereafter (well, until Solo Day 6 but that's a different issue as you will see).
NSTTTT Day1 Yarmouth-Digby (110km) July 26; in honour of Contador's triumphal entry into Paris this day, I wore my Astana team kit today, which I wear somewhat in irony given my lack of speed and uphill non-prowess; but I like the looks of it in a world of cycling team kits seemingly dominated by black. Breakfast, then loaded my Yak bag, tied my pink ribbon to it and another one to the Yak (pink ribbons were delivered to the roofed accommodations, the rest went to the campsites) and brought them to the baggage truck where I made sure F, the driver, knew that the Yak would not be needed until Sydney. A number of the other tour riders were Yak enthusiasts when they did unsupported tours, and A told me I should visit a motorcycle shop to get a bungee cargo net to fit over the Yak bag for securing things like raincoats and lunches without having to unhook and open the bag. A good idea, but I still have to act on it...
Baggage handled, I did my yoga and got on Banani to ride to "campground". Whoa!! the bike was wavering all over the road and refusing to go in a straight line! My subconscious was causing me to react as if the loaded Yak was still there, compensating for it's affect on the balance equations. It took the better part of a kilometer to restore normal trailerless reactions. Totally unexpected start to the day. It was rather like a sailor's attempts to walk on dry land after a long and stormy period at sea (and I've been there too), moving as if drunk but with zero alcohol in the blood.
Today we had a formal massed start which somewhat brought to mind all those Sunday mornings of my youth, batches of cyclists milling or standing around waiting to be organized and sent on their way; the main differences (apart from almost 40 years) being that back then one was lucky to gather 20 cyclists together for an event in Alberta and here we had 53 or so for the tour and several local cyclists to guide us out of town (a very good idea, since it was "kinda foggy") and of course there was no race (at least, not for most). At the appointed hour we had a couple of speeches and then were lead out in an informal procession by a Yarmouth cyclist riding an old high-wheeler! Nicely done. Our route out of Yarmouth was through quiet residential areas along or near the waterfront as near as I could tell in the fog. After a short while the high-wheeler pulled off to let us past, the speed started to increase and we split into smaller groups as we went. I couldn't tell you who I was riding with in the early parts of the ride although at one point I tried to latch onto a veritable express train of fast-rollers coming past (how did they get behind me in the first place? all was confusion) but after awhile decided it was too early in the day for the kind of energy that required. A number of us missed a turn at one point but were soon sent back to the main route... and that was all in about the first 10km. I continued to bounce around from one small group to another as the urge struck me in my restless and maybe even frisky (me?!) mood.
Eventually I settled in with S from Wolfville and SH and D from Quebec; they set a nice pace, challenging but not quite outside my comfort zone on the flats although I was definitely underpowered on steeper hills.
Pleasant backroads through small farmsteads until we ran came out onto Highway 1 (quiet enough in itself since most traffic uses the parallel and more inland Highway 101) at I think near Port Maitland, where we found the baggage truck waiting with water and drink mixes, fruit and various snacks to keep us going. A bit of sociable milling about, then we four set off on a little detour to showcase one of the finer beaches of the area, the Malvillette Beach. Not too far out of the way, and mainly downhill (not much) to the beach. Leaned our bikes up against a few rocks set at the base of the sparsely-grassed dune and followed a footpath up to the top (not very high or far) to take in a marvelous view of ---- fog. Well, we could actually see some 10m width of small rock leading down to the wet sand (tide out) and then about 200m of that. After a bit, one at a time the others got into their bare feet, walked down the rocky slope and out onto the sand where they slowly dissolved. I stayed put. Watching them walk off the face of the earth reminded me of the movie "The Lost Battalion" except eventually my companions regenerated, having followed their footprints in the sand back to shore. Just as well; I wouldn't have been able to ride 4 bikes at once anyways. In fact once we got back on our steeds again I had enough trouble just getting my own bike up the slope to the highway but eventually my engine got going again and they let me catch up (not for the last time that day) and we continued cruising on up the road.
The next 40km were through another very picturesque section of Acadian villages and farms, a bit rolling but mainly flattish. As we went, the low cloud formerly known as fog burnt off and the day became quite warm (at least for me; we had had a dismal and cold summer up to that point and although it was August and I had spent hundreds of hours on the bike already I hadn't managed much of a tan or heat tolerance!!) and I continued shedding layers. Along the way we came up with several groups which had leapfrogged ahead of us while we did the beach-and-fog detour. I never ceased to be amused with the way the little groups formed and de-formed (gracefully) according to individual whim or whimsy as we rode and stopped or not at different viewpoints and rode again. In this way we picked up a fifth in my roommate M, who stayed with us for the rest of the day, and at times one or two others for shorter periods.
One of the features of this Acadian shore is the large and ornate cathedrals along the way, and not all that far apart either. (Noticeably, when we got to areas settled by English ancestors the churches became smaller and more simple, while the primary houses became larger and more ornate. For whatever reason.) We stopped at a couple of them for a brief look within.
We stopped for lunch at a promising-looking eatery in Grosses Coques. between Church Point and Weymouth... the restaurant was full up with local customers, so we were able to convince Madame to let us eat at the picnic tables in the yard, but before there was time to take our orders a table opened up inside, thank Heaven because it was quite hot sitting in the sun without any wind. It took awhile to be served as it was still very busy of course, but this was Day 1 so lots to talk about (on later days there was even more to talk about). But I was embarrassed to discover that the French that I had last used 20 years ago was in deep hiding somewhere in my head and I hadn't had the sense to realize, when I saw on the early rider lists that many would be from Quebec, that I should have (and could have) spent some time in the winter doing some refreshing. Darn! However the Quebecois were usually fairly accommodating in switching to English at times to include the unilingual anglo's in parts of the conversation, and I was also quite happy to just listen to the cadence and accent of their French and eventually start to pick out the odd word so that by the end of the week I could get the gist of at least some of what was being discussed and even start to express simple thoughts (and be understood!).
Excuse the digression.
Lunch was excellent and soon we were back on the road. Not too long afterwards I think, we came to Weymouth, notable for the main climb of the day involving a descent into the river valley and then the trudge back up. I swear I was being held back by the lunch... And it didn't help that I got stuck behind a slow pickup truck on the downhill so had no momentum to start the uphill with. ..Wweelll, it wasn't all that much of a climb but it was steeper than anything I had encountered since halfway to Bridgewater, and the unexpected heat was getting to me, as was the pace that day. All of which made a staunch memory out of a piece of terrain that would fit in around Mt Uniacke as an easy bit.
Soon after Weymouth Hwy 1 merged onto the main highway 101 so the traffic increased significantly, but there was at least a narrow bit of pavement to the right of the white line, just wide enough for a bike. Mostly we just rolled along taking turns at the front, and it was fun to ride with people who were used to doing that; most of my riding is solo or with folks who don't or won't ride as a paceline.
Still some coastal scenery off the other side of the highway and the odd bit of a view topping small rises but mostly I was concentrating on following a wheel and was well into the mode of desperately seeking accommodations. Just at Digby we came up on J from Yarmouth while I was riding at the head of our group. Etiquette said I should ride past and let him, as a solo rider, join on the back of us for a rest, but instead I parked on his wheel and just could not get past it! Soon after, SH and D peeled off at the campground while the rest of us rolled down to the Mountain Gap Resort at Smith's Cove, checked in at the office, and headed for our room, a recovery drink, a visit to the pool and whirlpool tub and a refreshing shower. Then to the bar to hydrate with a de-hydrant (a beer, okay?) and bag of chips (salt! salt!) and generally hang out with the rest of the gang until supper was called at about 1900. A long wait. But a tasty seafood pasta at the end of it. At the time I thought it was a bit light on calories but it turned out to be just about right by the time digestion caught up with the empty feeling in my stomach. Afterwards, the obligatory meeting for notices regarding the next day.
And so to sleep, perchance to dream. Uh, nope. No dreams.
NSTTTT Day2 Digby-Wolfville (145km) (and the hottest day of the summer so far by a long shot). I had worked pretty hard on the bike on Day 1 so had decided to go with a slower group today. We were a bit later getting on the road than we would have liked due to breakfast scheduling (a common theme, actually, and even when touring solo it was hard to find a place open for a really early breakfast). So I set out with some of the folks from Centennial CC, with whom I often ride on Saturdays: GB, JB, JW; possibly a few others started out with us. To be honest, this was not only about needing a slower pace but also about taking advantage of local knowledge, a companion map if you will!
Having finished on a downhill yesterday, today started with an up (I'm a wimp first thing in the morning), after which we immediately headed down again along a nice quiet road until a tricky/interesting loopy interchange to bring us onto the 101, the only choice crossing Bear River unless one deviated 5km inland to the town (or at least map dot) of Bear River. But this was already going to be a long day, and we were, curiously and uniquely, on a schedule this day: the town of Annapolis Royal (27km from our overnight digs) and the County of Annapolis had laid on a welcoming ceremony and refreshments, by way of raising the profile of cycling as a recreation. After crossing Bear River and getting off the 101 the rest of the route to Annapolis Royal was coastal near the shores of the Annapolis Basin, pleasant terrain and surroundings on a quiet road. Into the town, where a welcoming banner pointed us in the right direction to get to the little park on the waterfront. A table full of appropriate snacks and drinks awaited us there along with several members of the county Recreation department and a few dignitaries. Just as my "group of the day" was getting on our bikes to continue on our way, we were all called to gather in for speeches, presentations and photos; I decided to stay (it was painless) but the rest slipped away. The ceremonies took about 15 to 20 minutes, after which some of the local cyclists escorted us through town including a nice quiet back street which I probably would have missed otherwise (in favor of a more major road).
Once out on the highway, I found myself riding with one of the two speedy groups on the tour, the younger set (which was already being called the Express) of one guy and 3 gals from Quebec and SL from Cape Breton. My thinking was that on the flat road from Annapolis Royal to about Middleton, riding with a tailwind, I might be able to draft off them long enough to catch up my intended group for the day if I worked like a madman; and upon catching I would slide off the back of the Express and have a nice rest for awhile. So I let them know I was only going to try to be there for awhile. (Like they couldn't guess!)
It would have been nice to have had a bike computer so that I could know what speed range they were working at; a couple of times I got a readout from SL so it seemed like we were moving at something close to 40kph (maybe not as an average, but at least at some points). I didn't (couldn't) take any turns at the front but it turned out they didn't work that way anyhow; the pulling was all being done by the one strongman. It was a real blast hanging on to their tail especially once we got off the causeway/bridge over the river and onto Highway 1 proper. Keep in mind that my biggest gear was only a 44x12, I was pedaling pretty darn fast when I wasn't coasting. There were a few little rises along the way and I unexpectedly wasn't spit out off the back on them-- actually the rises were a bit of a relief since I could slow down my cadence to a more normal rate as the speed dropped off a bit. The scenery along this section of the route was... well, a fine view of the rear tire of a nice new Specialized road machine! and not much else. But I had been there before and since, so I know it was fairly open farm country with a fine view of a small mountain ridge a few km to the left, another one some 5 to 10km to the right, and nearby on the right an intermittent view of the wide and lazy Annapolis River; occasional small villages and towns.
My plan worked out well, and it seemed that in no time at all the Express was pulling out to the left to pass my erstwhile companions, so I bad farewell to riding as if in a race and tagged into the tail end of a more sedate touring group. It did take awhile for the adrenalin levels to calm down though.
Soon enough we came to Bridgetown, where the instructions for the day directed us to the left up Church St to Route 221. However, we decided to keep on straight, keeping to the level ground rather than skirting along the ups and downs of the base of the mountain ridge. And so we did. Highway 1 did get a bit busier thereafter and the scenery more built up and less pastoral to some extent. Perhaps in hindsight I regret not having taken 221 the whole way but I'm sure I'll cycle that section of it some day. At Middleton, km 72 of the day, we found a pub for a lunch stop (uh, no beer for us though). In a basement. Cool! Literally; and while we were down there the temperature outside just kept going upandupandup.
After lunch we continued along Hwy 1 for some ways, and at some point decided we had had enough of the traffic, the semi-urban surroundings, and the heat of all that pavement and buildings; time to find a route with a greener roadside. Those who knew also knew that Route 221 was just about done with hills at this point, so we jogged left and a bit up, into farmland once again. Small rollers, and so at times cresting a little rise we would get a bit of a pleasant view.
One of the features of Route 221, and Nova Scotia roads in general?, is the habit of discontinuity. That is, the road comes to a premature end at a T-junction with no sign of which direction one has to jog to follow it. So one gets to use a coin toss and hope that the next road in that direction has a route number sign on it somewhere near the intersection. Well, yes one could use a map but that would require knowing exactly which jog one was at... all of the roads have names, and some of them are on the maps and some of them are different on the maps-- and some of them are even signed at some of their intersections! All very haphazard in a secretive sort of way meant no doubt to keep the riffraff out. Maybe this is a more widespread phenomenon and I have slandered the province where I live but I found it easier to get around in Japan...
Anyways... at some point of our wanderings we came to one of these discontinuities and the group decided to take the right-hand option (left was up a significant climb-- at least, significant by that time of day). But off to the left were a pair of cyclists probably from TNSTTTT. I decided to go their way and broke off from my companions of the last several hours. It was a terrible struggle but eventually I came up with the mystery pair, who turned out to be D&K from Bridgewater. Enjoyable riding companions with whom my path would merge several times over the next few days. Their being where they were when I was where I was (!!), was also felicitous in terms of scenery; when we finally crested out the main rise we came upon a fantastic view across and up the valley. Just don't ask me where it was or we were.
Later a sign: Grafton. Ah-ha, a recognizable place name, at which we were meant to start making some southing with intent to come out on Brooklyn Street. So we turn right, and then the next left again. If only it were so easy... that road was barricaded halfway along. It looked like preparations to replace a bridge and possibly passable for cyclists afoot, but after some debate we decided to turn back and detour to the next road south. Ah, but... as we retraced our tracks there at the mouth of the road were my earlier companions again. So, more discussion, and decided to try to go over/around/through the barricades. Which turned out to be no problem after all. Clear sailing after that.
Towards Aldershot (near km120) we came up with other TNSTTTTers in small groups. Some we would ride with for awhile, others we just went past, and some of those would take our wheel for awhile. All very random to an outside observer! The heat had continued unabated and I admit it was getting to me; add that to riding on familiar-ish roads (not that I knew where I was on them, just that I had been there several times with CCC): result, I was functioning okay but not putting much into memory anymore. We found out later that 2 of the TNSTTTTers had been stricken with heat-stroke and/or dehydration towards the end of that day; fortunately both recovered overnight and were able to continue but with reduced distances and extra caution.
Kentville at last, at which point my under-saddle tool kit had had enough and fell off. You'd think a rider might hear something like that, but no. Fortunately it didn't fall into my spokes, and DT was behind me and saw it. Those newfangled plastic clip-on bags are nice and light, but clearly the models which have an integrated strap around the seatpost have it for a reason. Mine now has a backup string ensemble (only one, not four-- I can't see dragging a string quartet around with me on the bike, not even for the entertainment and musicality of it). One hill from the bridge intersection to the community college and then a fast downhill on smooth pavement all the way to Port Williams, mainly a nice quiet green scene. Then the dash across the dike road much hated by many CCC'ers for the traffic (it's all relative) and into Wolfville and our stop for the night at Acadia University residences (even the campers). In some perverse sort of joke the residences are halfway up a darn steep hill a.k.a. the Wolfville Ridge. And somehow we had to get up there. 22x34 came in pretty handy... I don't know how everyone else managed it!
The thing about being in the university student residence: too many well-suppressed images of college years kept cropping up in tiny flashbacks. I felt like I was going to get dinged for a room inspection for leaving gear out on my desk (and not making my bed in the morning). (if that doesn't make any sense to the reader, don't worry about it, it was one of the "privileges" of going to the "boy's school" euphemistically known as our military colleges.)
After a welcome shower and change of clothes I got back on the bike to go visit a friend in Wolfville. He lived about 3 blocks over and at about the same altitude up the same darn ridge but there was no connector road in the middle, only at the top or the bottom. Curses. Well, the down part was okay though. Meant to be just a short visit but turned into dinner as well, and finally dusk set me on my way back to the res. The halls were deserted so I wandered over to our dining hall just as the daily meeting from which I was AWOL was breaking up; the main thing on the agenda was notice of road construction on a segment of the route and the advised detour. And the route plan for the escape from Wolfville.
GB had stopped off at home and picked up a speed/distance bike computer to lend me. But it was late, I was tired; so I didn't take the 3 minutes eventually required to mount the thing and get it working that night or indeed not until we got to Antigonish 3 days later. It didn't seem like a complicated job but with bikes nothing is ever as straightforward as it looks; and that was not entirely untrue in this case either.
It being such a hot day and warm night, it made sense that this was the only room of the 2 weeks which wasn't fitted with an air-conditioner unit (nor was the building itself). So we cranked the windows wide open, and with the room door open too a good breeze came through. I slept like the dead, waking only to pump bilges in the small hours of the morning, at which time I found the door to the room had been closed for us by someone; some kind of a hint perhaps?
NSTTTT Day3 Wolfville-Truro (137km) The longest day for some, not quite the longest (in distance) for others as there were some choices of route. But certainly the hilliest day for everyone. Morning showed every intention of the day being as hot and sunny as the previous day.
JC had asked those of us familiar with the roads to disperse ourselves amongst the departure groups to provide some guidance through the initial 35km of relatively convoluted navigation. I ended up waiting around to take the last group, which turned out to be just my roommate M. That was okay; we were pretty well matched for pace on the bike. The gang from Wolfville had mapped out some backroads escape route from the town which involved starting out uphill, but that was the one section of the route that I really didn't know so I took us downhill to and along main street for the escape, heading down to the lovely Gaspereau Valley at Maple Avenue (also a climb but at least by then we were a bit warmed up). Shorter by a few km and missed some of the scenery of the valley.
From Wolfville to Windsor I was pretty much on autopilot, since it is a route that I rode both ways several times each of the last few summers. The direct route from Avonport to Hantsport was chewed up by a road planer in preparation for repaving eventually (and poorly, as it turned out), so we took the "Bluff road" along the shore. Shorter hills but just as much ascent; nicer scenery too, and not as busy. However at Hantsport itself we still faced a km of chewed up road which we avoided by using the sidewalk, with due regard for the rights of pedestrians, had there been any.
Between Hantsport and Mount Denson we came up on the Express group (hadn't they just zoomed past us on the uphill out of Hantsport?!) having their second puncture of the day, and this time the tire itself was kaput. By lucky chance the "Sport en Tete" follow-car came up with us driven by A, and M was able to dig out one of the spare (but well-used) tires he kept in it in his bag of tricks. They asked if I could guide them through to Brooklyn, to which I replied sure, if they could go my speed because I could surely not go theirs; although I had hung with them by the skin of my teeth (thicker than I thought, that tooth-skin) on Day 1 that was a flat road and today's was many short steep hills where the disparity in strength would tell more severely. However, the route was theoretically simple, just stay on Hwy 1 through Windsor (one turn at an intersection) until turning left on Hwy 14, left at Brooklyn and again just outside it... so I just gave them verbal instructions and off they went. Simple.
Or not. Coming through Windsor ourselves a bit later I discovered that there was no signage to indicate where Hwy 1 turned up the main street (what was it I wrote about signage of the valley roads? Here too!). Sorry, guys, for not realizing that detail. And indeed we found out that night that they had zoomed straight on out of Windsor onto the 101 (a stretch that I find hairy enough in a car, thanks); but they got off at the next exit which was still Windsor, and were set back on the right route by asking directions of a passersby.
I needed a few bananas to get me through the day, so M and I stopped in at the Windsor Sobeys, where by mad coincidence we found the baggage truck dispensing water and pocket snacks and about 10 TNSTTTTers milling about. But everyone seemed to leave in the same packets they arrived in.
Windsor has extended outskirts in the direction we were going, tidy and pleasant. Once onto Hwy14 it was farmland with little housing clusters at close intervals, then Brooklyn with its 2 sharp hills, one coming out of the town and the other after crossing Herbert River. At the top of the second, decision time.
The options were to take the longer (by about 42km) and scenic coast road through Summerville, Walton, Noel etc to South Maitland; or the shorter direct and less scenic inland route through Kennetcook. I was leaning towards the coastal route, but M wasn't keen on the additional distance and there were no other groups around just then to make the decision for us (when there are wheels to follow, cyclists can be like sheep). So inland we went. As far as Clarksville we were mainly in farming country, lots of horse ranches too, and being along a shoulder of the Kennetcook River it was fairly flat. Between Clarksville and Kennetcook there was construction, with more planed road (also freshly tarred sections, we found out that night, although too late some of the riders who opted to go through there discovered that the traffic control Follow-me truck was happy to ferry bikes (and their riders) across the messy bit) so we opted for the detour through the various Gores, which added about 6km and a gradual climb to nearly 200m elevation, but then a marvelous swoop back down to the river valley. Partly wooded, partly farmed; some stretches of broken pavement but a lot of the worst bits had been decently patched since the last time I had been there so it was a pleasant surprise.
At Kennetcook we were due for some lunch so we stopped at a little cafe there (possibly the only one). Afterwards I tried to get M to consider going to Noel and getting at least a bit of the coast road (and avoiding the really rough pavement and somewhat boring scenery (not that one can take in any scenery while dodging the holes) of the Kennetcook-South Maitland road, the one piece of highway in my local haunts that I really dislike), but no dice. Oh well.
Again a climb by stages to about 175m, which should make for a nice descent eventually, right? But no, with this road the way it is the uphills are the easier bits, the downhills a real bone-shaking brake-dodge-weave chore. If someday the province decides to re-pave it, this will be a nice route for cycling (notwithstanding the relative lack of scenery); in the meantime North American bike companies needing to stress-test wheel and frame designs before the Paris-Roubaix road race can save time and expense by using this road instead of going to the cobblestones of northern France. Well, there is A smooth stretch of pavement, toward the end of it, on a downhill so one can get a good bit of speed on. Not!! the road butts into a T-junction at the bottom, big red Stop-sign facing the downhill traffic.
So that is the entry to South Maitland, the only chance for a store between Kennetcook and Truro. But we find it closed (just for the day or out of business? Can't tell.) Parked under the trees of a front lawn next to the dysfunctional general store we come across our friends of the Express, who had of course gone by the coastal route, and had enjoyed it; there was an onshore breeze which kept it cool, whereas the inland route had been sweltering. Indeed we found out that night that TB, who had started very early (foregoing the breakfast for a few snacks along the way) was frequently riding in fog along the coast; although for myself I think that had I started out as early as he did I would have been riding in a fog no matter where I went...
After a rest in the shade the 7 of us headed out across the flats (barely above sea level) together but that only lasted until the approaches to the bridge across the wide and tidal Shubenacadie River, which arches up quite high, and they were gone. After descending the far side of the bridge we turned in their wake onto the partial coastal road to Truro (about 30km to go), a bit rolling and mainly agricultural with a lot of dairy farms in the mix. Pleasant riding despite being "a bit" fatigued. Finally we entered the flats along the mouth of North River emptying into Cobequid Bay (the site of the tidal sights) and the build-up commenced, along with traffic and all that other city stuff. Came up with J (again in the final km's of a stage; funny coincidence) and between us managed to muddle through to the Best Western Glengarry inn on Willow St.
Here, bikes were to be stabled in a barn (well, really a conference room with plastic spread over the floor to catch whatever evil fluids the bikes would leak before they escaped-- perhaps they already knew of the fresh tar by Kennetcook). So I found a piece of wall for Banani and settled him in for the night. Then off for a welcome and much needed shower, out to the yard to lounge around in the pool and later in a chair with a beer and some salty things (not sailors).
Late dinner that night (I keep saying "late" but for ordinary people it probably was a fairly normal time, just that having been burning energy all day a 2 or 3 hour hiatus (even longer for the faster groups) between cleaning up our bodies and cleaning up our plates seemed like a cruel and unusual punishment. That being said, we were rather spread all over the road by each late afternoon and some riders were barely getting in by the time dinner was ready for us. So there is necessary a trade-off, which I suppose should have included going out in the wild streets to hunt for aperitifs rather than lounging by a pool sucking on beer. But that would be at the risk of losing the appetite which had been diligently fostered throughout the day. Decisions, decisions...
Anyways, dinner was a fine and varied buffet and the pans in the steam table were emptying about as fast as the staff could ferry in replacements. Afterwards, a wee speech and presentations by some of the town dignitaries; then the nightly info meeting at which highlights and options for the next day were outlined. Day 4 (already?!) would be fairly straightforward except for getting out of Truro and a single short/long decision soon after.
I don't remember sleeping like a log that night, so I must have.
NSTTTT Day4 Truro-Pictou (97km): a short one (and that's the long option; short option a mere 64km). First order of business in the morning was to lay in a sandwich or something for lunch, since we were advised there mightn't be many well-positioned places en route. So after a bit of milling around I followed TB (he seemed to know where he was going) and a few others to a recommended sandwich shop near Hub Cycle where I got something made up for me and then we carried on. Soon after I peeled off...
...to visit the marvelous Rock Garden up at the NS Ag College, Bible Hill, to feed my inner gardener and zen out with some plants for awhile. A bit late in the year to see much in the way of exotic blooms and too early for the autumn flush, but the foliages are always nicely varied and the layout amongst the rocks is fine too; it had been about 3 years since I was last there and the plantings had come along nicely. Spent some time talking to some of the volunteers who were working at removing, moving, thinning out, replanting, weeding... i.e general rock garden care and maintenance. After about 3/4 of an hour, back on the bike and on my way, solo but then I don't mind that. Initially rode through farmland, then into scrub and woodland when the road headed up the rocky spine between Truro and the north coast.
I figured to catch up with some of TNSTTTT eventually, but was somewhat surprised to see a good-sized gaggle of bikes pulled up at a little store at Earltown already, only about 30 km along. So I merged with them when they left. I figured to ride a bit with JC and M who ride a tandem, but it was an independent sort of machine which ran away on downhills (and even on the level bits) so I ended up sticking with some 2-pedaled bikes.
Pretty soon we were going down off the spine and got into more farmland and then suddenly could see the coast. Turning right onto the coastal highway we had to find a public beach for TB to get his feet in some saltwater (I'm not sure if it's a fetish or just a de rigeur thing). Easier said than done; all the roads leading in the direction of the water were conspicuously marked as "private"; even the un-aptly named "Public Beach Road" was signed "no public access" or something to that effect. The highway was right up close to the seashore so there were nice views wherever the rude signs didn't get in the way. Lots of nice tidy cottages. About Marshville, well-named, we finally came across the provincial beach park and in we went. Some went on to the water's edge across a long boardwalk protecting the dune from erosion by foot traffic, but most of us parked by some picnic shelters to have our lunch in a bit of shade; today was also bright and sunny, but not as hot as the past two days thanks to the breeze off the water. On leaving the park we got splintered, and I found myself riding with J even though it wasn't anywhere near the end of the day's ride. A nice variation. A little ways along we came to River John, a tidy town with a number of well-maintained heritage buildings, one of which was made over into a cafe and art shop. It had a couple of familiar-looking bikes sitting in front of it so we figured it would be a good place to stop for the tea and sweets which had been missing from my packed lunch. Excellent deserts. So I got some extras for a few days to come.
After River John the scenery got a bit ordinary although the road stayed close to the coast, but some of the time we were going through wooded areas. We were now a threesome, having joined up with D of Antigonish again (a few times through the day). We kept seeing signs for the ferry to PEI but it never seemed to get any closer. Yet somehow we missed a turnoff at Three Brooks and continued straight on along the Sunrise Trail to Pictou. The planned route would have taken us past the campground and been more circumspect and a bit longer for the inn traffic.
So here we are at the Braeside B&B in Pictou, a marvelous old building with zillions of intriguing knic-knacs and pieces of oriental art on display in the various common areas. And a rather abrupt driveway which caught me in the wrong gear (but I managed not to fall over stopped). More of what I would call an Inn rather than a B&B but I suppose the definition of the two is a legal thing. Once again the bikes would be able to party together overnight in a conference room cum bike barn.
Still rather early on a bright sunny day (3 in a row-- was this really Nova Scotia or had we somehow slipped into another province?) and suddenly for some reason I craved a soft ice-cream cone. So I headed down to the waterfront (tourist zone) expecting to find one. But before I did I was grabbed by the arm on passing the patio of a bar... The "short route" crowd were well ensconced at a table of empties (okay, not a lot of empties). But I was a man on a mission and not to be deterred even for a beer, so with the famous MacArthur salute ("I shall return"; recently revived, to my disgust, by a certain Armstrong) I went on my way. Success was achieved within 100m and boy did it go down good (the ice-cream, not the success (well, okay maybe that too, but I was less used to ice-cream-- though many would disagree with that little trumpet squeal)). Moustache suitably frosted I set my autopilot back into beer-seek, turned immediately towards the bar and joined the crowd at the table. Although beer is not the best chaser for ice-cream, it had been a short day and there was extra time to slay before supper so since my stomach was lined I doubled my daily beer allowance and actually had a couple!
Supper/dinner was laid on at the B&B (which I suppose made it temporarily an S&B&B). I broke my habit of eating with the same group I always did and picked another table at random, which also allowed me to progress my mental adjustment to French. Still not understanding a lot, but getting the gist of some passages of conversation. Occasional brief initiatives into English to include me in the conversation, much appreciated, but I was content to keep a listening brief. The second-language immersion did pretty much wear out my brain by the time supper was over, which helped me zonk out for the night since my body wasn't quite as tired as usual.
NSTTTT Day5 Pictou-Antigonish (130km) Breakfast was a bit of disorganized; I don't think the staff were quite up to the near-simultaneous descent of some 25 or so hungry cyclists trying to down a half-day's worth of calories and get on the road without spending too much time at it. But it came out all right in the end. I had breakfast at a table with A and G from Hubley, V and M from Quebec City, D from Winnipeg and others. It soon became apparent that A and V had some kind of a history together, as indeed all 5 mentioned there. V had a GPS on his bike, and the route out of Pictou and along through New Glasgow was said to be convoluted so I figured I could do worse than tag along with them. Suitably warned that they moved at a sedate pace, off we went. If you haven't already guessed, one of my minor objectives was to spend at least some time riding with as many of TNSTTTT riders as possible; in the end I don't think I managed to ride with everyone, but close to 80% wasn't too bad.
It was a fun morning, A and V verbally sniping at each other, the GPS not cooperating at setting a useful route. Somewhere along the way I got some of the story of their background and (given mine) I found it ironic that I had hooked my wagon to the star of a helicopter pilot as far as navigation was concerned. (more on that later, maybe; for now you'll just have to take my word on the irony). I didn't see much of the scenery; was concentrating on the hijinks. We made New Glasgow without too much damage to psyche and none at all to bodies or bikes, although once we crossed the bridge there it seemed like a hockey game almost broke out between A and V a few times in the course of deciding which roads to wind through. But, wind through we did, probably using a different route from anyone else, and once we were on the main road out of the place we stopped at a shopping center to get some fruit etc for lunch. We were soon joined by another group being guided by one of the local club cyclists, and then even the baggage van showed up too. When we set off again, I let my guides of the morning know that I'd be deserting them for a different group...
...which turned out to be the Express bunch, plus R and maybe one or two others. For the first 5 or so km the pace was set by our local guide, brisk but not a problem for me as tail-end charlie. Finally we came to an intersection where we had to follow the main highway (here, the 104) for about a km before turning off to the left. We were also entering it from the left, and there was a fair bit of 110kph traffic. Great "fun", less said about that hair-raising few minutes, the better. This was also the point at which the route options for the day diverged, those opting for the more direct, shorter inland route (83km vice 98km) turning off the 104 to the right.
Once off the 104 the pace picked up. First we had a bit of a hill to climb, and I was surprised by how much of a draft benefit I was getting from a group of 7 or 8 fast riders. I can't say I got sucked up the hill exactly, but I was still hanging on without yet needing any tooth-skin when we got to the top and the pace settled in fast for good. Other than R's, or sometimes SL's back tire (the order of riding was pretty much set in concrete in this group), the scenery was mostly woodlands, occasional houses or small farms and rolling hills. The hills were interesting; downhill and on the flats, with my small big chainring I was alternately pedaling like mad or coasting (also having to brake slightly on downhills), then as the road went up there would be a symphony of clicking and clunking as everyone else shifted to lower and lower gears while I went from pedaling too fast to pedaling comfortably without having to shift much and often not at all. It was great fun and quite invigorating! I really didn't think I would manage to hang on as long as I eventually did, especially since I was traveling with 4 waterbottles and a pannier with some gear in it, while they all had only 1 or 2 waterbottles and bikes essentially race-ready but with clincher tires/wheels. I think R was having a bit of a problem with how I was riding, for which I can't blame him; I kept over-lapping his back wheel with my front as I yo-yo'd about in my alternating twiddle/coast routine. I usually pulled wide when I overlapped but still it must have made him uneasy trying to keep track of where I was in case he had to manoeuvre if something happened ahead of him.
After awhile we saw the baggage truck pulled over at a lay-by so we stopped to fill bottles and take on a few snacks, except one of the girls continued on. The second fast group was also there, and left a bit before we did. Then suddenly our engine was getting back on the road too so we all scrambled to get on the wheels; once the formal part of the train was settled in (hangers-on like myself understandably on our own hook) the pace went back up and away we went. A bit harder than before.
Okay, I see what's going on here, there was a bit of a race to catch up with the Deuxieme Express. We did, and then after awhile they passed us again, and then we passed. Somewhere in there we caught up to the rabbit who hadn't stopped at the van, and shortly after that the pace of the Express went up a whole lot, the hammer well and truly down. I tried to hang with them but once my heart rate had gone anaerobic and stayed there for about 5 minutes with no sign of a slackening of pace I sat up; my plans for the day did not include riding to exhaustion with some 30 or 40km still to go!
So while I'm tooling around waiting for my heartrate to get down into recovery zone along comes 2e Express, inviting me to join with. Which was my intent anyways. This was a group with no single engine, but which formed a paceline and rotated through the lead. I stayed at the back trying to recover, but only lasted through one rotation of their set before I had to sit up from them too, my heartrate having settled not that much below anaerobic, so still not a workrate I could maintain with such a distance to go. Maybe if I had joined them the first time we passed... but we'll never know.
Now I'm riding solo again, somewhere near Lismore (probably just east of it), a lot slower and recovering. After all that effort, time to grab some lunch as soon as I find a likely-looking spot for a picnic. Conveniently, Arisaig Provincial Park hove into sight about then, or at least it's signboard did. Not too far into the park I found a nice grassy spot with a view (over the treetops) of the Strait and of the lighthouse maybe 50m below.
Lunch done, decided to do a wee explore of the park, see if I could get to the shore. So there I was on my roadbike going down walking paths carpeted with pine needles over tree roots, fairly definitely mountain-bike territory. Some pretty steep sections, and a few seeps to make life exciting. Just as I thought I must be getting close to sea level, I came out at a lookoff and discovered I was barely halfway down. The trail was also starting to tend more to round rocks and less to pine needles so that became my excuse to go back up; easier said than done but managed it without walking (that ridiculous 22x34 again!, not so ridiculous after all). Leaving the park I met one of our group going in.
I had hoped to find potable water in the park, but it's starting to seem like there is some liability issue with tap water, so there was none that I could find. Not long after leaving a sign points off to the right, to Arisaig Lighthouse. Well, gotta go there! Downhill of course, and somewhat further than I thought it would be, about a km. Fair-sized settlement on and around the shore in behind the breakwater, tidy little place, big fish processor that may or may not still be in operation. Lots of fishing boats. And a nice neat little lighthouse, with a huge fresh breeze blowing in off the cold Northumberland Strait. First thought, should have come down here for lunch. Second thought, too late now; besides, it might have blown away on its way to my mouth. However, there was a little canteen in the base of the lighthouse, and although their tap water wasn't fit for drinking they could sell me a few bottles of water. So that worked.
I was happy to have deviated from the route to go down there, and the climb back to the highway was a bit of okay too, with a few dozen kph of wind pushing me with all its might.
It seemed only moments until I came to Malignant Cove (what a name! and people live there!), the point at which the day's long route turned inland to Antigonish. But in his briefing last night, while I was paying attention, JC had mentioned the road out to and around Cape George with its coastal approach to Antigonish (the route dubbed the "Mini-Cabot Trail") and I flipped a mental 2-headed coin and went thataway. Distance added turned out to be about 32km.
The next 20km were mainly through woodlands, and not unlike what I'm used to around the Rawdon hills although with less elevation change once up to about 60m and with the odd distant glimpse of the Strait. Then finally there is a long slope up to about 100m at the Cape, and right at the top the view finally opens out. It was a fairly clear day so I could see across St George's Bay to the west coast of Cape Breton Island, in the vicinity of all the Judiques. The Cape sticks out a bit to the east so the road turns back on itself for the downhill; the drop-off is quite abrupt on this side, and sheltered from the winds so has become more built up and settled. With the result of marvelous scenic views on the way down. From the map it's about due south for some 30km to Antigonish from here although on the day I didn't know what the distance was, the road hugging the coast quite closely and at a low elevation with of course sharp rollers where inlets and streams interfere. About halfway along, around Morristown, the road veered a bit to the west, just enough to pick up a bit of headwind. At the town of Antigonish Harbour I started to get my hopes up, but I was off my map so didn't know that there was still another 10km in front of me, through the farmland along the water feature of Antigonish Harbour; pleasant countryside were it not that I was getting a bit tired out and didn't know where I was in relation to the map.
Just before Lanark I was down to just 1 more waterbottle so when I saw some older kids hanging out in a front yard I stopped to beg for water and to find out where Antigonish had been put; only about 10 minutes, said their dad; which I interpreted as about 5 miles, so I hadn't really needed the waterbottle filled but it was nice and cold so I preferred it over the bottle that had been warming in the sun since the lighthouse detour at lunchtime. After a short chat I was on my way again. Sure enough, soon it started to look like I was in the outskirts of something bigger and church spires were showing in clusters in the near distance. Then cresting a rise suddenly I was definitely into traffic and a sizable town. I got channeled onto main street, or at least a main street, a lot of quaint 3- and 4-story (maybe more, I wasn't counting) shops, many of brick, built up against each other. I still wasn't on my map so I stopped and randomly picked a pedestrian to ask for directions, which were simple enough except that some street names turned out not to be posted (big surprise). Back on the map at last I had just passed the turnoff to the campground where half of TNSTTTT were overnighting when I saw JC going the other way; did I know where I was going, he wondered, to which I could (finally) say yes; and so eventually came to the Homeward Inn. Somewhere in the last 30km it had clouded over with a threat of rain; I got in dry, but by the time I had showered and set out on the daily beer hunt ritual an intermittent light rain had started. There was still time to kill before supper so I installed the bike computer, a quick and easy job as it turned out. Except that the battery was dead. Oh well, get one at a hardware store tomorrow.
Supper that night was a very good buffet at a nearby Chinese restaurant. Then the nightly briefing. Still a bit early for sacking out, so I hunted down the lender of the bike computer to abuse him for lending defective equipment, all in jest of course.
That was a pretty full day, and tiring, but rewarding, so again no trouble sleeping until the alarm sounded off.
NSTTTT Day6 Antigonish-St. Peters (120km) The rain came and went before morning. Our motel was right next to a Tim Horton's so that was the first stop after breakfast, to lay in something for a lunch along the road. My plan for the day was to diverge from the route and do the loop into Pomquet (an extra 10km), a quiet and picturesque village I had been to during a previous and tragic interlude in my life a few years back, and then diverge again to take the coast road to Tracadie which I had also ridden during the Pomquet visit and knew to be another quiet and picturesque alternative.
Left Antigonish with D and JW, joined by a few others along the way. We stayed on a backroad as long as possible but eventually Hwy 104 was the only option for a stretch, a built-up section which was not particularly interesting although very hard on motorcyclists (or at least one specific one). After about 10km I created some confusion by pulling off to Pomquet at the Taylors Road intersection; the map showed the same quality of road going up the left side of the Pomquet peninsula but my memory was that it was gravel and indeed it was and I didn't really want to spend time on gravel if I could avoid it, hence the second turnoff. At Pomquet proper I turned left towards Monk's Head although I knew that in a short distance the pavement would give way to gravel roads. But it was a nice quiet morning, not a breath of air to ripple the stillness of the harbour mirror; mostly just a spread out residential area, lots of lawns, gardens, every house different from the neighbors. Just before I ran out of pavement I was passed by a NS Power line truck looking for something; apart from that I saw not a soul. I turned around at the gravel's edge and went back. Passed by the line truck a second time but thankfully that was the last I saw, heard and smelled of it. At Pomquet church I took the left fork so as not to completely retrace my tracks of the morning and continued amongst small farms and residences towards the highway. Just before I got there I was surprised to encounter D, SH, S, and D&K and a few more; they had mistakenly turned in at the 3rd Pomquet turnoff and I guess if I hadn't been there they would have gone on to near Monk's Head before realizing things weren't quite right. So I got them all turned around and headed back to the 104, which we followed down through the cleft holding the Pomquet River in place; up the other side I called my farewell to the group and took the next left towards Bayfield. Next thing I knew I had an unexpected tail as everyone decided to follow me, although a few decided after a brief conflab to go back to the promulgated route. So then we were 6. It was great to ride with my companions of Day1 and the back end of Day2 again, and we all enjoyed the route as it passed through a varied terrain of woodlots and farms with lots of open views of the coast. And a bit of a tailwind to keep things rolling easily.
We had been told that the Cape Jack/ Havre Boucher loop was another nice ride which didn't add much to the distance of the day, so I was planning to go that way too but missed the westerly turnoff. A bit later, coming up on an intersection we had our first and only "inattentive motorist" encounter of the tour, which given the number of cyclist-kilometers we rode was quite surprising. A car which stopped at the intersection then pulled out across our path to turn left onto the highway. For some reason there was just something about the way the car approached the intersection, so that all of us had suspected something would happen and we had all slowed down by some form of telepathy; we were able to brake in good time and without having any wheel-bumps. It was a bit of a head-shaker but no words or gestures were initiated or exchanged. Not that I make a habit of them anyways, although sometimes a hot word or fist-shake does escape me in a moment of panic.
A few km later, a sign for Havre Boucher pointing off to the left jogged my memory so I dodged down that road. Another lovely small descent into a picturesque little harbour village, which I recognized as the place where my mom and I had gathered sea lavender flowers during her first visit to NS (and long before I got into gardening or the plant nursery game). But this was when I discovered that I had missed the western entry to the peninsula, so it became a very short out-and-back diversion rather than a loop. Turning around at the end of pavement, I discovered that D and SH and S had decided to follow me, even though I had told them earlier that I no longer knew where I was going, Tracadie having marked my furthest foray east by bike before today. I guess they were following me out of curiosity (perhaps appropriately, since I was wearing my Curious George jersey), since they said they had liked the last road I led them onto well enough to see where else I went! We all enjoyed this little detour too.
We were now nearing the causeway and after a few bridged crossings over the 104 a nice long downhill run took a sudden hard left and emptied onto the 104, rather rudely I thought; I hate turning all that nice gravitational kinetic energy into brake heat! We went into a couple of directions for lunch, D and SH and I heading directly across the causeway and then stopping in the shade of a tree in a churchyard in Port Hastings, with a view across the causeway. A good location, well-spotted by my companions.
After eating I headed over to the main Cape Breton Tourism office to make some changes to my itinerary for Sunday night. JC and M showed up there too, and I discovered that although maybe not everybody in Cape Breton knows everyone else on the Island, a heck of a lot of them know JC! A busy guy. By coincidence while I was in the Tourist Bureau D&K came up with us and so our group somehow re-coalesced for the most part. D of D&K was having some problems with the chain coming off his chainrings so we had a few unscheduled stops. The other D did a bit of adjusting to it and that seemed to help at the time although it turned out to be temporary.
Through Port Hawkesbury: quite a change to that town over the couple of decades since I was last there. Where Hwy 4 and 104 diverged, we went with 4 (but found out that night that 104 had more coastal scenery and hadn't been that bad for traffic, the opposite of the usual case). The scenery along 4 for the next 30 or so km was fairly unbroken woodland, and hot. Eventually we got back into coastal areas, an improvement in the view for the last 20km of the day. We added in a little detour to River Bourgeois, another nice little inlet and picturesque (sorry if I overuse that word...) village.
And so eventually we come to St. Peters, where I stopped at the hardware and drugstore to get a battery for the bike computer (no luck: it needed one of the less common camera batteries of the pre-digital era) while the rest of the group continued on to the campground at the Provincial Park just up the road. My mission failed, I carried on to the Bras D'Or Lakes Inn, where us softies were accommodated. It's quite the place, looks small from the highway but there is a lot more to it out of sight. Bikes in a common room here too.
As before, riding with today's group had involved a higher work rate than I could comfortably maintain over consecutive days, so I was a bit tired although far from unhappy, and with a good sense of accomplishment.
After cleaning up and a wander into town to buy some groceries for the next day's lunch, tried to find my way to the bar. I could see several of TNSTTTT sitting out on a deck with some cool frosty ones but I was darned if I could figure out how to get there (failed "Sailor 101" that day!). Eventually got it figured out and joined them.
Dinner that night was special, a magnificent and delicious buffet with numerous gourmet dishes. And then the deserts... This being our last night, it served as a farewell banquet so all the campground gang joined us as well. Met a few more of the road gang that I hadn't talked to or ridden with yet (yes, there were still a few). It was a great evening all around, and I think the only night that I had trouble getting to sleep-- too full; too much good food. Ahh, the trials and tribulations of the roving cyclist.
NSTTTT Day7 St. Peters-Sydney (118km) Today we had a massed start. Not by design, but because the swing bridge in the highway, across the St Peters canal and locks connecting the Bras D'Or Lakes with the Atlantic, started opening just as some of the first of us got to it (it was only a matter of metres from the Inn), and was still closed by the time nearly everyone had set off. There may have been a few earlybirds escaped across the bridge before or late starters but it sure seemed like all of the soft gang were there. A number of the campers came up their road which paralleled the canal on the far side while we were standing around on our side, and waited for us.
During our leisurely start I was chastised for not having worn my Curious George jersey again; apparently some folks were planning a camera ambush... But I'm sure anyone downwind of me appreciated that I didn't wear the same jersey two days in a row.
There were a couple of little yachts going each way, and as typical yachtsmen didn't bother untieing their lines until after all the opposite traffic had passed them. Well, they weren't in a hurry so why should the road traffic be? Ahem. There was also a pretty huge luxury yacht inbound, I'm guessing about 2000Tonnes with the bar and wine cellar fully stocked, somewhat less otherwise. Very nice. Crew only, no owners or other passengers aboard at the time. Some rumor later that it belonged to some McCartney character who was giving a concert somewhere soon, but I wouldn't know about that.
Today there was again a choice of two basic routes, one (85km) along the shores of Bras D'Or Lake which proved to be the more scenic route but was reported to be clogged with another construction zone involving planing and tar again. The alternative was coastal until just past Fourchu and then struck off overland to Sydney (118km). I still didn't like the idea of sharing the road with messy construction crews, so soon after crossing the canal veered right at the turnoff to the coast. We were about a half-dozen by then, but there were some coastal groups ahead of us and some behind.
About the time we turned off we were attacked by a spatter of rain. The sky looked like we were experiencing the beginning of rather more wetness so on with the rain jackets (it didn't look like full rain gear would be needed). But it fizzled out after a few km's and I stopped unnoticed to shed the jacket, which took rather longer than expected (lack of practice? I hadn't used it since Shelburne) and then I had a nice long tailchase to catch up the group, which fortunately was at a sedate pace (I needed an easy day after the efforts of the previous two). Eventually they stopped at an intersection to shed a layer or two as well, and I came back up to them.
Most of our route was through woodlands, with occasional coastal stretches and scattered villages. The weather remained overcast and cool, a nice change from the heat of the past week and I never thought you'd catch me saying that.
A couple of times along the way the Express zoomed past, apparently going too fast to negotiate some of the intersections where a change of road was required. But they did cover a lot more road than we did.
Between Framboise and Fourchu we were looking for a spot with a bit of a view for a lunch stop. Coming to a salt marsh we spied the baggage truck ahead. That made our choice clear; rather than sitting comfortably in a grassy spot we mostly lunched on our feet hanging around the truck, exhibiting all the individual instinct of a sheep in a flock; I don't know why. But there was that nice view over the marsh just yards down the road.
Lesson learned at lunch: I had bought a package of pre-sliced Provolone cheese, the slices separated by little waxpapery dividers. But even though it wasn't a particularly warm day to that point the stuff managed to fuse into a solid chunk around the edges of the waxpapery slips. So much for slices!
While we were there a few small groups consolidated and during the rest of the day we shuffled around amongst the same several riders, separating, merging, reseparating differently etc and in my mind I checked off a few more names in the "rode with" column.
Soon after lunch we passed a nice little church with a large porch and a view over some water, the exact spot we had given up looking for not so long ago. One of Murphy's Laws of cycling I'm sure. Further along at a lakeside village we passed a big birthday party, the yard crowed with little kids in their party clothes, a pony saddled for rides... We were all a bit keen to crash the party, the guys looking for cake and ice cream, the gals more interested in a pony ride (were they serious? after a week on a bicycle saddle?) Discretion being the better part of valour, we talked a good talk but did nothing but ride on by.
Progressing inland, we once again encountered the baggage truck stopped by the roadside, with a Game Warden also parked there and talking to F. I don't recall, if I ever knew!, if there was anything other than curiosity going on (visions of "lets see what you've got in the truck", since it was still full with everyone's baggage as well as snacks and drinks. Could have been interesting.) However as one bike after another pulled in perhaps the Warden decided he was outnumbered or more likely he had other business, so away he went. So then we did.
Along the inland route the rock was a bit crumpled so there were a number of longer climbs and descents. Going up one of these I was riding alongside one of the women and was a bit alarmed at her gasping and rasping breath and suggested she might want to ease off a bit. A bit unfair of me, talking to someone who obviously can't talk back... After cresting the hill and getting her breath back she let me know that she had only one lung, since birth. I was, and still am, astounded and impressed that a person would take on TNSTTTT with only one; another of the few quiet heroes one encounters in a lifetime, in my view. (I haven't used her initials here as I don't know if she wants people to hear about this second-hand)
As we were getting closer to Sydney we started to split up a bit more. TB and D&K had drawn ahead by a fair bit, and suddenly as an uphill came in view I decided that I would jump across to join them (a slow-motion jump, no doubt, but it's all relative!) So off I went. Some initial good progress, then they crested the hill and by the time I got up there they were out of sight again (or still, if you want to get technical). But when I got to the bottom, there they were, just partway up the next one and closer than when I had started. Funny how hills do that. So another big burst and eventually I caught up, not quite done in but ready for a rest. The four of us kept on together the rest of the way to Sydney.
D's chainrings started giving him grief by shedding the chain again, and although he had had advice and help from a number of the riders I eventually convinced myself that maybe I might have some insight into it. I'm pretty sure he was sick of advice by now (I would have been) but he was good natured about it and tried a few things that I asked of him. After that I had a look at the shifter mechanism and concluded that either the cable or the cable housing was rusted or dirty which meant the spring was unable to move the derailleur inwards smoothly (the cable remained partly slack when putting the shift lever into the 1 position). I had seen this before on my mountain bike and also on the bike of one of the CCC riders. The only solution would be, as far as I could see, to replace the shifter cable and cable housing. I don't know if he did that since we haven't crossed paths since that day, but I hope he got it solved. I haven't written this to embarrass anyone, but rather to point out a maintenance aspect that gets overlooked; most of us automatically look to the adjusting screws and barrel adjusters when a derailleur starts acting up and forget about hidden corrosion effects. And that includes bike shops. So I hope someone who reads this will remember it and save themselves some grief some day. Okay, enough soapboxing! On with the ride...
Eventually we came up to the Sydney Bypass highway, hard to miss, and then into the suburbs of Sydney itself. After which it wasn't long until we got to the downtown area and the Day's Inn. The campers were sited about 8km away by road, but barely further than across the harbour as the seagull flies, in JC&M's back yard. Although most of us weren't heading home until the next day, a few left soon after arriving so the farewells and tears and choked throats were in full swing by the time we pulled into the parking lot. We were there, we'd done it, 7 days and the length of the province on a bike, some 860km, more for some, less for others.
After checking in I managed to lock my key card in the room almost immediately. Apparently it wasn't in record time, or at least the girls at the front desk were seeking to ease my embarrassment, but in short time I had a new key card in my hand. Didn't find the first one until the next morning; I had managed to put something on it which kept it out of sight despite a search.
Somehow that evening we discovered that MA from Edmonton had a bike computer that used the same battery as the one GB had loaned me. And, since he was done riding for a few days he kindly gave me his battery.
Supper was interesting; I was at a table with A and V who were back at it again (or more likely had never stopped). From the conversation I started to get the sneaking suspicion that A had piloted not just any helicopter but navy Sea Kings. And flew them off the decks of RCN ships at that. As it happens, during my previous life I had been an Anti-Submarine Air Controller, a type of minor air-traffic controller who sits in a ship and directs helicopters and other ASW aircraft in their tactical employment by the fleet. And thus, after almost 20 years of ignoring that previous life I had cycled for a week across NS in order to resurrect the old airman/sailor rivalry of the wardrooms with a bit of the old jesting in a hotel dining room in Sydney. Strange how life goes. Of course formerly there were a lot of barbed arrows in the jesting (and sometimes spectacular fireworks), depending on who the personalities were, but now it was all in fun.
And thus we came to the parting of ways, although not until breakfast.
A brief retrospective on the group tour: Everything was very well organized and the accommodations were stupendous for the price we paid. Traffic, with that one exception, was very good to us. The riding was great, and we had the best week of weather of the summer to that point, almost an inverse of preceding weeks. And of the riders themselves, well, this was such an easy group to get along in; everyone was easy-going and comfortable to talk with, some more so than others of course but there were no grouches or slouches. It was a fantastic experience and my only regret is that I didn't resurrect my ailing French during the preceding winter/spring.
The fun continues with my riding back home via the Cabot Trail... check the archive index for more if this is the bottom of your page.