Greenwich/St. Peters Loop

Sunday, August 30: Day Six of our Taste of the Maritimes cycle tour.

Taking a 35 mile looping ride along more of the Prince Edward Island Coastal Drive, we began our day riding a couple of miles to the Greenwich Interpretive Center, where we locked up our bikes to see a movie about the natural heritage of the spit of land on which the Greenwich National Park resides. Our interpreter, Javon, then hopped on his bike and led us into the dunes and stopped now and again to describe the flora, fauna, and geology we were observing.

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At the trail head, we had to get off our bikes and begin walking toward the beaches and the enormous dunes that are protected from deterioration by human activity via paths and interpretive signage and such, as part of the National Park mission. We walked along a trail and then onto a boardwalk that stretched across some marshland, and was even floating along the top of the brackish pond/lake we had to cross to get to the beach proper.

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Once we reached the beach, we talked for a little bit about wind and water and dune erosion, and then we had a tough climb up very fine sand to see a parabolic dune. Parabolic dunes are crescent-shaped dunes mostly shaped by wind. As the parabloic dune migrates, lines of sand are left along the sides of the dune’s path, creating two “arms” or “tails” that become anchored by vegetation when there is a lull in movement. When the dune migrates again, the vegetation forms a line where the former base of the dune was, creating a dune-tracking ridge. This repeated process forms a banded pattern of ridges recording the path and movement of the dune over time.

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They mostly occur in places where the wind is unidirectional, and mostly consistent wind velocity. They are also often associated with slip faces, where the vegetaion has slipped down or off the crescent or arm slopes. Javon told us that there are only about 5 parabolic dunes with similar migration band patterns in North America, and I remember he mentioned Michigan and North Carolina, but I can’t remember the other places beyond Greenwich, PEI.

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We hiked back to our bikes, and most of us rode the bicycle-allowed loop out to the point and back, where we left the National Park and headed on the Coastal drive ride.

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Folks could choose several routes from 12 miles through 35 miles, and Bruce, Jack and I again wanted to get some training miles in — we were all looking forward to the Cabot Trail and the legendary climbs we had all been hearing about (from locals) for days. So we grabbed a quick sandwich at Lou’s Take Out right before we got onto the Gravel Road From Hell.

This track was so wash-boarded and had such enormous gravel on it, we all thought we’d break a spoke or explode a tire before we were through. Thank goodness it was only about a click and a half (1.5 km). Even with the short length, I felt like all the fillings in my teeth were loose after the ride.

Then we really hit our stride. Another beautiful day on the cycle, on pavement, without too many cars to worry about. Travel simply doesn’t get much better than that.

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We rode out to Naufrage Harbor to check out the lighthouse and we found public washrooms and then turned around to map our way back to a new part of the Confederation Trail and wind our way back to St. Peters.

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Back at the Inn, we enjoyed another spectacular meal with our group of new and old friends. Jack and I shared a seafood sampler, and the sun set on another excellent day of cycling the Maritimes.

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It is with reluctance we shall say “goodbye” to the Inn at St. Peters, as it has been a lovely place to bide some time. I earnestly hope I can return sometime in the near future.

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Riding PEI #2

Saturday, August 29: Riding PEI #2
Today was scheduled to be the longest (mileage) ride of the entire trip: 57 miles. Certainly, there were options for folks who just didn’t feel like cycling that far — but you had to choose your route first thing in the AM, because shorter distances involved shuttles straight from Kindred Spirits.

Most everyone chose the long route, and considering we had all day to accomplish it, the long ride was not much trouble, just a long time in the saddle. Our weather the last few days has been absolutely perfect, and held for us today — some sun screen and breezes (a following wind today!) to keep the bugs off. Well a cyclist cannot ask for more.

The night before, several of us had discussed our approach to the ride. Since the entire beginning was a reverse of what we’d done yesterday, some of us decided that we wanted to get started and get that part over with as quickly as possible, so we could get to the “virgin territory.” So four of us, Jack, Bruce, Craig and I, formed up into a pace line and retraced our wheel tracks from yesterday. Our average speed during that part of the ride was well over 15 MPH.

As it happens, a big annual bicycle ride, the Grand-Fondo, was scheduled on this day also. Some of their ride was along our route, and we were able to take advantage of their signage, some of the Transportation workers (who were on roads to stop traffic for the cyclists especially for left turns), and some of the locals’ “feel good” about cycling (we were cheered a few times by residents along the route).

As we climbed the very first hill out of Kindred Spirits, there were Transportation workers at the traffic light and they asked if we were part of the Fondo, and were relieved that we were not very early harbingers of their work for the day.

At another point, again, even though we were earlier than the official registered cyclists, the workers stopped traffic so we could make a turn. Signs along most of our roads said “Caution: Big Cycling Event Today.”

We really appreciated the help.

When the four of us made it back to the point in the National Park where the paved trail began, Craig stopped to take a photo and we stopped to use the washrooms. There was also a boardwalk over the dunes we’d not walked yesterday, so we did that and came back. By the time we’d finished, Craig was nowhere to be seen.

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We picked him up again, well after we’d waved as we passed Dalvay by the Sea again, and Allen and the rental van that we all call the Starship Enterprise (it is an Enterprise rental) was waiting for us in Mt. Stewart, not far after we had joined the Confederation Trail, an unpaved but vehicle-free path through the trees and marshlands of Eastern Prince Edward Island. There, we also re-united with Craig.

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Allen directed us to the Thoughtful Squash cafe, which offered excellent victuals, but they took forever and forever to get us served. Just after the four of us had ordered (Craig had a PB&J Hamburger — sounded foul but he said it was pretty good–I had a bacon cheeseburger), the rest of the gang, all those doing the long route, plus those who had been shuttled, came in also and the wait time increased. Allen even took on some of the plate-delivery duties to speed things up.

It made Bruce crazy to wait, so when he was done, he bolted up the road with his wife, Linda.

Craig, Jack and I left shortly before the rest of the gang, and the remainder of the ride along the Confederation Trail was just lovely, really nice to be vehicle-free, and reminiscent of the New River Trail back home (except we met extremely few other users). Nice and flat.

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We saw many cool things along the way: songbirds galore, a yellow-shafted flicker, a nest full of 2 young begging osprey chicks (just prior to fledging) and many great blue herons hunting in the shallows of the St. Peter’s Bay. Some of the herons stayed still as tree stumps long enough for a few pix, but many would have none of it and they flew away. They looked like teradactyls.

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We also saw several fields of the same type of low-bush blueberries we’d seen when we were dropping off Roomba with our friends in East Gore. There was a huge combine-like machine harvesting, and stacks and stacks of neon-colored packing crates in the fields. They were on both sides of the Trail and one un-harvested field offered a lovely show of fat blue berries.

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Two of the views along the Confederation Trail where the woodsy area broke and you could see the shoreline.
Two of the views along the Confederation Trail where the woodsy area broke and you could see the shoreline.

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We rolled into St. Peters around 3, I’d guess. The community of St. Peters dates to the early 1700s, having been settled by the French. In 1953, the village was incorporated into the Community of St. Peter’s Bay. It is quite a lovely place well-geared for tourism and visitors, as we rolled through the harbor area and climbed up the side of the Bay opposite from where we had been riding on the Confederation Trail, to get to our lodging.

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The Inn at St. Peters is a beautiful setting on a hill above the Bay, with lovely gardens, a gazebo by the water, cabins with porches where you can sit and watch the sun set, and a spectacular dining experience. Part of what you pay for here is a 3 course meal, but each of our sub-groups (we had to arranged ourselves into 4-somes) had to have different seating times.

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While Jack and I waited for ours, we showered, did some of our laundry in the tub (and hung it all out on the porch) and then later, invited Allen and Mary over for a glass of wine as the sun set. We ate with Allen and Mary, and while Mary had the salad for a starter, the rest of us had pork tacos to start. I had duck, Jack ate pheasant, Allen had beef and Mary had crab cakes. One of the best meals I’ve had in a very long time.

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Gaye and Woody were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, so we all gathered in the bar after dinner (while our table enjoyed our desserts with the group) to toast them with champagne. It was a very fun gathering. As some drifted away after the celebration, Jack bought a final round of drinks for those remaining, including Woody and Gaye, Allen and Mary, and Dave. It was a fine finish.

Perfect ending to a truly spectacular day.

So glad we get to stay here another night!

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Riding Prince Edward Island

Friday, August 28: Riding PEI
We left Charlottetown via van/trailer to hit a good entry point to the PEI National Park’s paved bike/multiuse trail. We began at Dalvay by the Sea, a National Historic Site. Upon arrival we were encouraged to go into the mansion, now a resort originally built/owned by Alexander McDonald. McDonald was born in Scotland in 1833, but immigrated with his family to the US, where he entered the oil business.

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Following a series of wise mergers and acquisitions, he became president of Standard Oil of Kentucky in 1892. He built Dalvay as a “summer house” and get-away for friends, business acquaintances, and family. Alexander Graham Bell had already built a summer home in Cape Breton, and the same construction company built Dalvay.

Built in the architectural style known as Queen Anne Revival, it was well suited to summer inhabitation due to the interplay of many design features. Those who stay there can see the changing light and shadow patterns as the sun moves and alights upon different elements.

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McDonald died in 1910 and left $15 million to his granddaughters. The inheritance had disappeared by 1930 due to mismanagement by their father. A former employee of the McDonalds acquired Dalvay by the Sea, and during several subsequent exchanges of ownership the furniture all disappeared. The provincial government was interested in having Dalvay become a part of the park system, and ownership was transferred in 1937, when PEI National Park was created. The Park Service has since restored, renovated and re-opened the summer getaway.

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We had excellent weather and rode the beautiful coastline bike path. It runs along the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and many of us took the time to walk through the dunes (in designated areas) to overlooks and beaches to get the breezes and the views. While the bike pathway is majority flat, there are some long climbs, and of course, we had a serious headwind all day. But none of our group were deterred, and we really had an excellent ride of about 35 miles.

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In a quaint place called Rustico, we stopped at the Farmer’s Bank museum for our lunch. Rustico was an enclave of Acadians who had been exiled from Nova Scotia by the British, and to get themselves out of poverty, they pooled some resources and began the Farmer’s Bank, the forerunner of today’s Credit Union concept.

The Farmer's Bank Museum is in a gorgeous setting near the bay.
The Farmer’s Bank Museum is in a gorgeous setting near the bay.

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The Docet House, a reconstructed period home, is similar to those the Acadians lived in when they came to PEI, historians say.
The Docet House, a reconstructed period home, is similar to those the Acadians lived in when they came to PEI, historians say.

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The handwriting reads: The farmer is the man who really creates wealth. He is the nourishing father of the body politic: from him the baker gets his flour, the weaver his yarn, the shoemaker his leather, and the butcher his beef . . . take his bank from the farmer and you will be throwing him into the rapacious clutches of the usurer, that social blood sucker who holds in misery that class worthy of respect, the farmers.
The handwriting reads: The farmer is the man who really creates wealth. He is the nourishing father of the body politic: from him the baker gets his flour, the weaver his yarn, the shoemaker his leather, and the butcher his beef . . . take his bank from the farmer and you will be throwing him into the rapacious clutches of the usurer, that social blood sucker who holds in misery that class worthy of respect, the farmers.

The Board of Directors of the foundation supporting the Farmer’s Bank Museum got together to hire an excellent storyteller and chef to serve us a traditional PEI soup, sandwiches on homemade bread, cornbread with homemade molasses and/or whipped honey, fresh veggies from the chef’s garden, and we topped it all off with a blueberry cinnamon cake with locally-made ice cream on top. It was splendid, and gives one’s heart a boost to know you’re helping a worthy nonprofit. The chef came out and regaled us with stories of his family, of the customs of PEI, and his background as a hotelier. He was a hoot!

We made our way, partly on busy roads (Rt. 6) and partly on bike trails, farther west from there to Cavendish, our overnight stop, and our hotel (Kindred Spirits) was within walking distance to the Green Gables Heritage Museum — the author of the wildly popular young adult series of books involving the fictional Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maud Montgomery, was born and died in Cavendish. She drew inspiration for the fictional world Anne lived in from her experiences as a child, living with family on an idyllic farmstead with red woodland pathways, like the Green Gables Heritage place.

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Jack and I chose not to accompany the group on a tour, as neither of us had a childhood mythology that included Anne. So we lubricated our chains and got some rest before we all gathered again for a happy hour and pizza party in the “rumpus room” of the Gate House at Kindred Spirits. We played pool and ping-pong, and had a lovely time telling tall tales and getting to know one another better.

Troop Movement to Prince Edward Island

Thursday, August 27: Troop Movement Day
All of this day of the tour was devoted to getting our bicycles, gear, suitcases, and selves off of Nova Scotia and onto Prince Edward Island (PEI). We left the Victoria Inn pretty close to our target of 8:15AM, and the final task of Freewheeling until we get back from Cape Breton was to haul everything to the Ferry at Pictou Harbor, and Caribou, NS.

It had rained overnight, and the sky was thick with impending rain. Still, it managed to hold off until after we made the ferry crossing (saw a seal and a porpoise, but no whales). As the enormous ship entered the PEI dock, about a bazillion cormorants were sunning on the pier and as we approached, some of them got nervous enough to fly away.

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Our bicycles were parked on the lowest level of the ferry, next to all the semi trucks and huge tour busses headed our way. It was interesting and somewhat frightening to be with these enormous vehicles — happily, they let us off first.

We met with our support crew, George and his son, Daniel, with a trailer into which we stacked our bicycles and all piled into the vans for the ride to Charlottetown. Allen and Mary drove the “Starship Enterprise” so we made quite a convoy.

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As we rode, the heavens opened up and all the pent-up rain came crashing down. George recommended a local eatery, so we donned our various rain gear and all ate lunch at Pappa Joe’s — a fave of the locals. The food was quite good.

Still raining and filling the streets like bathwater as we left, but by the time we crossed Charlottetown, it had stopped, and we left all the bikes on the trailer but unloaded our suitcases at The Great George right in the heart of historic Charlottetown.

The Great George
The Great George

Once the rain let up, it was fun walking around Charlottetown. There was a blues and jazz festival happening down by the waterfront, and the restaurants appeared to be packed with visitors and tourists.

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We paired up with Gaye and Woody, Linda and Bruce (although Bruce went to hear a jazz concert and only joined us later) for our dinner, and we had a fun time walking around. Finally settled on dinner at John Brown’s, on what they call Victoria Row.

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We ate outside and Jack and I had some of the best meals of the trip so far, while the others felt their seafood chowder was a little to creamy and thick and a little to light on seafood. I had a pulled lamb sandwich with a salad, and Jack had perfectly cooked salmon and some of the famous PEI potatoes.

Just as we were paying the bill, the rain began again, so everyone eating outside along the entire street was picking up their meals and heading into the restaurants or under a larger umbrella. It only lasted a small while (even though it got seriously heavy at its peak), and we managed to capture the rising full moon over the glistening night streets.

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Charlottetown/PEI History: The largest city on PEI and the capital of the province, Charlottetown is widely noted for being the seat of the Canadian movement for unification as a nation. Between September 1–8, 1864, Charlottetown hosted what is now termed the Charlottetown Conference. a week in which delegates from PEI, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and the colony of Canada met to discuss ideas, challenges, and agree in principle to the unification of the colonies.

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Although many of the meetings and negotiations which would lead to Canadian Confederation were held in Charlottetown’s Province House (closed now due to renovations), various social events spilled over into the surrounding community. The Dominion of Canada was declared on July 1, 1867, with the passing of the British North American Act.

An exiled Acadian community came to PEI from NS but were a small group mired in poverty in the profoundly British PEI for many years until the Farmer’s Bank started up and became a micro-lender for the Acadian farmers so they could rise from their destitution. This became the first of what we now know as “credit unions” in North America (more on that tomorrow).

Prince Edward Island entered Confederation/Dominion of Canada on July 1, 1873.

Aside from being the seat of colonial government, the community came to be noted during the early nineteenth century for shipbuilding and its lumber industry as well as being a fishing port. The shipbuilding industry declined in the latter part of the nineteenth century. In August 1874, the Prince Edward Island Railway opened its main line between Charlottetown and Summerside. The railway, along with the shipping industry, would continue to drive industrial development on the waterfront for several decades to come.

PEI was the first Canadian province to finish its section of the Trans-Canada bike path, and has converted all possible rail beds into bicycling/multi-use paths. There are still some sections that do not “meet” across waterways, but the infrastructure and attitude toward cyclists is quite good.