Waking up at 4:30 am, driving nearly 3 hours to then hike 20 km and returning back to the city is crazy for plenty of people - but not to my friend Chris and I! He only has certain days available for big hikes throughout the summer due to family/work/life scheduling commitments. Meanwhile, I am usually bound to the city as I’m currently still car-free but am almost always up for hiking opportunities. So when our schedules align (usually by planning months in advance) we are able to tackle what may seem impossible to others.
The Carthew-Alderson trail (or Alderson-Carthew trail depending on the direction taken) is part of the Triple Crown trio of trails in Waterton Lake National Park including Crypt Lake and Akamina Ridge (the latter which I've blogged about here). The Carthew-Alderson trail is a one-way, ~20 km trek that is rated as difficult by most trail rating sites. Although the terrain is a well marked and used trail with no serious scrambling, the distance and elevation gain, inevitably windy peak with plenty of shale to traverse could be tough for some to handle. Pre-booking a shuttle from Waterton to the trailhead at Cameron Lake, which is about 15 km from the townsite, is recommended and available through The Tamarack. We had booked the 8:30 am shuttle which brought us to Cameron Lake just a few minutes after 9 am. After a short informative trail orientation by the friendly shuttle driver and pictures on the dock with the very smoky conditions we were on the trail by nearly 9:30 am.
The trail begins immediately with a steady incline that turns into long switchbacks through the forest. The quick gain in elevation is a bit surprising and only 4 km in there is Summit Lake.
Not needing a break yet we quickly had a look and got back on trail. The trees began to really thin out and it wasn't long before we were on the exposed switchback traverse before the final ridge walk to the actual summit.
Heading back on the ridge walk turned into a quick run as the wind was blowing fierce and it was fun to quicken the pace with very little effort. We passed some other hikers who had decided to eat their lunch on the ridge which made no sense to me as the view was hidden in the smoke and the wind was whipping around. To each their own, I guess.
It didn't take long before we reached the middle Carthew Lake. There are three in succession and I bet on a clear day all would be popular with hikers enjoying the views. There were some flat-ish rocks not far from shore that were relatively blocked from the wind by a rock wall behind us, however, that didn't stop the wind from picking up tiny bits of gravel and launching them into my lunch.
The rest of the trail was a gentle descent back into the treeline and a look in to Alderson Lake.
I couldn't possibly finish this post without a mini-rant about the surprising amount of piles of horseshit throughout the trek. Why aren't riders required to pickup (or at least move off the damn trail!) their horse’s poops?!
Rant complete and back to trail goodness. The descent felt like it will never end when suddenly the trail opens up and the town of Waterton is right there!
Back in town we head to 49 North Pizza for a celebratory cider before heading back to Calgary. Great way to spend a Saturday and now I just need to decide what to hike next?!?
Oh! And lastly here are some screen shots of the Strava tracking and iPhone Health app:
Prior to this adventure, my previous backcountry camping experiences was a grand total of two times and neither were more than 5 km from a parking lot. Needless to say when offered the chance to really experience this kind of adventure I jumped at the chance. I had accumulated plenty of camping gear (mostly for comfort car camping to be honest) over the years so combined with a few upgrades I figured I'd be fine. However, I had never hiked for any distance carrying it all on my back!
Nearly two months prior to this trip my friend, Oliver, connected with me through Facebook asking if I had any interest in such adventures - and with no hesitate I said I'm in (I'd figure out the rest later). So with his awesome wife, Tania, over a dinner of burgers and fries at a local favorite, Burger 320, we discussed the plans to hike Ball Pass from Kootenay National Park in to Banff National Park in mid-August. All was set and we'd be in touch closer to the dates! Then this summer's wildfires started and continued to grow throughout the summer resulting in losing the Ball Pass trail and a new plan had to be hatched less than a week to trailhead time. Luckily there were still a few great options to be had and we were able to nab a sweet spot near Marvel Lake.
The night before departing, I had all my gear laid out thinking - this is going to be heavy. I also had no idea how long we were hiking or what the elevation gain/loss was going so I settled into the mindset of ignorance is bliss and we would get there eventually one step at a time.
Arriving at the Mount Shark parking lot at around mid-morning and it was time to gear up. While there though I ran into my yoga teacher instructor, Kim, who was out with a group for a day hike. Amazing! While chatting with Kim is when both Tania and I found out from Oliver that the day's hike to camp would be nearly 14km and only 80 metre elevation gain. Awesome and totally doable!
We headed out on the trail and the pace was comfortable and the views were great along the way. For lunch, there was a nice riverside beach halfway to camp. In the view to the west is the aptly named Cone Mountain.
Arriving at the camping loop we checked out the available spots (all but 1 out of 10 were empty!) and picked #7 as it was right beside the water source stream that flowed by the area. After setting up camp and storing our food at the bag hang area we went for a walk to check out Marvel Lake!
Back at camp it was time for dinner - bring on the ramen for me and Oliver and Tania rocked some amazing gnocchi and rehydrated pasta sauce!
The first night at camp was topped off with a game of cards, lots of laughs and stretching when it wasn't your turn to shuffle. Despite my exhaustion I didn't sleep so well which wasn't optimal but at least I wouldn't be carrying a heavy pack the next morning! Due to not sleeping well I ended up waking up early so I took this time to practice some Qigong and yoga by the river next to camp and read a bit. Great way to start the day that would be much longer than any of us expected!
Once everyone was up, breakfast was eaten and the day's plans were hatched. We'd hike the Wonder Pass to the Assiniboine Park border and have a look. Since the park had been closed due to fire we wouldn't be able to enter but it could be worth the view. So back to Marvel Lake we went and connected to the pass trail. Along the way we tried some amazing trailside berries: raspberries, strawberries, black currants (aka "compromise berries" according to Tania unless larger and in the sun as we found out!), blueberries, black huckleberries and grouseberries (the last three were in huge supply at the higher elevation switchback portion of the trail too!)
When we reached the park border we looked in to the area and it was all blue skies! Tania jumped the line thinking she'd be a law-breaker but just a few minutes later, while we were starting to have a little lunch, a pair of people came over the ridge! Kind of shocked we started chatting with the two and found out the park had opened, we could go to the Assiniboine Lodge to buy a few beers and see the majestic Mount Assiniboine in its glory! I didn't know that this park was a UNESCO World Heritage Site either!
After our quick lunch of Clif bars and granola we got back on the trail in to Assiniboine. The trail was very well kept, there was a surprise waterfall, and we descended in to a larch forest with some very large old growth too!
The trail continued to impress as we came to a number of small bridges over a stream that meandered into the valley. Then we came upon the Naiset Huts! These adorable log cabins are 0.5 km from the Assiniboine Lodge and are basic shelters with a separate hut to cook and store your food. We all agreed that another trip would need to be planned for a winter snowshoe adventure - and has now already been booked for February!!
We arrive at the Assiniboine Lodge and am in complete awe of the mountain, the lodge and the group of guests all enjoying afternoon on the deck. I think I have found a beautiful heaven. A quick procurement of some cold beers from lodge (non-guests can buy tea/coffee, wine or beer but no food items) and we found a great bench with a view that deserved a cheers!
One of the guests joins us and is a teacher from Crowsnest Pass. I mention I know a family from there, the Shentons, and she taught their youngest son Alex! Another small world connection!! She shares with us that her family has been trekking in to the lodge for the past few years and this year she hiked herself and her kids solo while from the same trailhead we started from (27.5 km!) while her husband helicoptered in the following day due to a scheduling conflict. Needless to say she and her kids received plenty of praise from us as that would be quite the challenge!!
As we were chatting with our new friend the lodge staff started to prepare dinner - tenderloins on the BBQ! They smelled way too good and we still had a lengthy trek to get back to camp so we got on the trail leading to the Assiniboine Pass to complete a full loop for the day - a nearly 24 km loop as it turned out!
Returning back to camp took longer than expected with lots of chatting about how good our ramen dinners were going to be and sporadic hollering to scare away hungry bears/moose/any other bigger than us animals. Reaching camp at dusk, we all devoured our dinners, did a hasty clean-up (I may have had ramen remnants in my morning coffee water...), and headed to bed.
The night was much chillier than the first night. I was toasty warm in my sleeping bag but my nose was cold and kept me from sleeping soundly. Despite various sleeping bag hood cinching and sleeping positions I couldn't find the best way to just relax and sleep well. Guess I'll just have to keep trying on future adventures!
Our final day started a bit earlier than our second with camp pack-up and breakfast with some new campers to the loop who were from Washington D.C. on a week long backcountry adventure! Very cool.
We started back to the trailhead and since it was slight decline for most of it our pace was relatively quicker than on the way in. Stopped at the same lunch stop for some snacks and wine - as we didn't end up having any with our dinners (clearly will need to fix this "problem" on the next trip) - and got back to the car-park just as it was beginning to rain. Epic timing!!
The last part of the adventure required a stop in to Canmore to cap off the weekend with some burgers! We checked out a place none of us had been to before, Hogshead, and they had mimosas on special... so burgers and mimosa for three is was!!
Well now I can't wait to get off grid and in to the backcountry again. This was an awesome experience and am looking forward to many more in the seasons to come!
A few weeks ago my friend Chris and I embarked on the Akamina Ridge hiking trail in Waterton Lakes National Park where we knew the basic details: 20 km loop, plenty of gorgeous views with the elevation gain and spending time in BC's Akamina Kishinena Provincial Park along the trek. There were no updated trail reports that could be found online or any warnings at the trailhead about any adverse conditions that would require additional equipment. As it turned out, and we agreed at the end of the day, that had we known what conditions the descent held (and a significant portion of the ascent mind you) we would likely not have gone through with the day's hike... This was the best and most character building hike I have ever experienced.
Let's back up a bit though. Akamina Ridge is part of a hiking challenge called the Triple Crown which also includes the Crypt Lake and Alderson-Carthew trails. Having completed Crypt Lake last year, we chose to start with Akamina as it was the longest (may as well just get it done, right?!) and the trail didn't require additional shuttle or ferry coordination to access the trail head (more on those details in future trail report posts).
To participate in the Triple Crown challenge you simply need go to Pearls Cafe in Waterton and sign your name in to a binder for the summer season and complete the three hikes - taking photos as your evidence of completion - between May and September. About a dozen or so people already signed in prior to the binder but as the completion board above shows no one had finished it yet this year.
After checking in at the cafe we made our way to the trailhead which is about 13 km off the main entry road in to the town of Waterton. On the way in we saw the local wildlife enjoying an early morning roadside salad ;)
Happily the bear sighting was the only large animal we encountered throughout the day!
At the trailhead parking lot there were two other groups at the trailhead heading out. As it turned out, later in the day it was important to have the tracks of the groups ahead to navigate the descent.
The trail starts off relatively calm with a gentle elevation gain and a wide trail. A little less than 2 km in we enter in to British Columbia!
About a kilometer past the Alberta-BC border there's a junction to go check out Forum Falls which is less than a kilometer off the main trail and is certainly worth it. It seemed that in the thick of summer this would be a very popular place to visit for sure.
Along the trail before Forum Lake there were a few small bridges over streams. Some we used - others there were alternative options that were used.
Back on the trail we started seeing a snow piles in the shades of the trees... then we arrived at an opening in the trail not long before Forum Lake. Then there was a lot more snow!
The snow pack lead to Forum Lake that still had ice floes on it! Beautiful spot though. Then the trail really started to show us what we had in store for the ascent. Steep, snow and scrambling.
Once we reached the ridge it was time to trek to the peaks after some much needed lunch and enjoying the views all around.
There were so many beautiful lichen, flowers and a small group of trees holding on despite the wind above the tree line!
When we nearing the descent we could see down to Wall Lake. Taking in the views was amazing but then reality set in that there was a lot of snow below still and we'd likely have to go through some. Little did we know...
Once off the trail it felt like the longest drive back to the town of Waterton for some much needed pizza and ciders. We shared our stories with the staff that were avid hikers wanting to know the conditions. One of the staff told us that she and a group of her friends had done all three of the Triple Crown trails in ONE DAY last year. Phenomenal feat but that's certainly not something I would like to attempt.
It was a long day on a trail that I would most certainly do again - but far later in the season to avoid the potential of so much snow pack in the earlier part of summer.
On March 8, 1987 a tragic event occurred that forever changed the lives of a young family. At this time of year the memories are overflowing but the connections are always growing. I never know when I will meet someone who will share their memories and connection to this day. This year I was reminded of just how small the world is when a co-worker at my new job came to my desk and told me that at the beginning of his career as a journalist he was a reporter in Fredericton and covering this event was his first big story. Amazing.
This past Monday the story of this day was featured on the front page of the Fredericton newspaper. Here is the story:
30 years after murder, no forgiveness
The Daily Gleaner Mon Mar 6 2017
Byline: Michael Staples
“My dad was a great guy by all accounts.”Those words, a reflection on a parent now gone, take on a new meaning when spoken by Valerie Aucoin.She didn’t get a chance to know her father too well - he was gunned down at close range on a wooded stretch of highway about 20 kilometres southwest of Fredericton 30 years ago this week.When the body of New Brunswick Highway Patrolman Const. Emmanuel (Manny) Aucoin was found, a half-written speeding ticket in his hand, seven-year-old Valerie’s world shattered.“So much has happened over the past 30 years with plenty of ups and downs,” Aucoin recently told The Daily Gleaner.“For a long time, I didn’t fully understand just how much that tragic day had created such a deep-seated anger and unhealthy childhood coping mechanisms that took their toll. However, over the past five years the upswing of positivity in my life has been substantial and I believe I am a much different person now and in a much better place by all accounts; physically, emotionally and mentally.”The man who killed her father, Long Island, N.Y., resident Anthony Romeo, remains in Dorchester Penitentiary, still considered a menace to society. When Manny pulled Romeo over for speeding on March 8, 1987, the American was on the run, wanted for another murder in the U.S.Aucoin had been a member of the New Brunswick Highway Patrol for three years and was stationed at the Harvey detachment.After killing Aucoin, Romeo fled the murder scene.A car matching the description of Romeo’s was seen crossing the U.S. border at Calais, Maine, but no one had been alerted to its possible involvement in a crime.Later that same day, officials learned Romeo was on a plane headed to Boston. He was arrested at the airport there when he exited the aircraft. Canadian authorities succeeded in extraditing him to Canada where he stood trial.Romeo was eventually found guilty of first-degree murder in 1988, but his conviction was appealed before the Supreme Court of Canada and a new trial was ordered. He was found guilty again in 1991 and sentenced to life in prison.In November 2005, Romeo was returned to the U.S., where he admitted to the murder 20 years earlier of John Starkey, son of a former aide to former governor Mario Cuomo on Fire Island, N.Y. After plea bargaining to the New York murder, Romeo was sentenced to serve seven to 21 years concurrent to the life sentence he received for Aucoin’s murder.While he was subsequently returned to Canada, he appealed the New York conviction, arguing the 19-year delay deprived him of his constitutional right to a speedy trial. The conviction was overturned on those grounds in February 2009, according to an article published by the New York State Law Reporting Bureau. The bureau is an online library of New York State court decisions dating back to 1956. At a 2012 Dorchester hearing, board members denied Romeo’s application for parole.The Daily Gleaner has learned that Romeo waived his right for the parole hearing last year and the next is scheduled for 2021. Valerie hasn’t forgiven, or forgotten, the man who killed her dad.“My feelings towards Romeo are mixed at best and extremely harsh at worst,” she said. “I had hopes previous to the first parole hearing that he would prove that he had some sense of remorse and had genuinely tried to do anything he could do behind bars to attempt at becoming a better person. My hopes were tossed as it became quickly obvious he was still a horrible person and I have not forgiven him in any way.” Her father, meanwhile, still holds a special place in her heart. “My dad was a great guy by all accounts,” Valerie said. “He did everything he could for anyone he could help. We always had everything we needed and he worked really hard putting himself through police academy. Everyone who has ever told me a story about him only have had high praises for him.”About seven years after the murder, the Aucoin family left Harvey and moved west.“I did visit Fredericton, the [murder] site, and Harvey Station nearly six years ago,” said Valerie, who now lives in downtown Calgary. “I think of that day less often throughout the year but, as March nears, memories and thoughts are far more frequent.”Valerie said her life now revolves around being active outdoors and having a creative, art-focused life. “I really do love living in Calgary,” she said. “It is an amazing city full of energy and possibility. However, my heart is in the east coast. I still visit often and, I suspect, had the murder not occurred I possibly would have lived there for the majority of my life ... I try to visit the east coast at least once a year but am usually drawn to P.E.I. as that is where the bulk of my family lives.”Valerie said her brother Jeremy and mother Esther are both living in Canada’s north, but prefers not to divulge exactly where. Both have declined to comment on the incident as the 30th anniversary nears.But, in a 2011 interview, Manny Aucoin’s wife Esther said time has a way of easing the intense pain, but she can also picture every aspect of that day and thereafter.“Manny was the centre of our beings,” she said. “He was a very spiritual and peace-loving person who carried his duties well on duty and off.”Also in 2011, Jeremy Aucoin said the most noticeable side-effect of his dad’s death is how he’s incapable of trusting others well.“I have an extreme short list of friends that I would give my life for,” he said.Wondering what her life would be like if her father hadn’t been taken away is something Valerie has thought about a lot, especially when she was younger. But she still feels like it’s a loaded question. “I wouldn’t be who I am today had none of this had happened, for better or worse.”© 2017 The Daily Gleaner (Fredericton)
This morning I spent some time in a popular coffee shop between appointments reading and having a late breakfast and latte. I had the fortunate experience of sitting next to a table of two middle-ish aged men having a coffee catch-up. As I read and ate, I overheard snippets of their conversation transition between current events, US politics, world history and the well being of one of their dog's after a recent diabetes diagnosis. What really piqued my interest though was when they began talking about global warming and how they didn't really believe it. There was mention of someone of an authoritative position quoted as saying the Earth is in a warming trend anyways, therefore, it's part of the natural cycle and any real effects wouldn't be apparent for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. However (and this is where I fully stopped reading and really eavesdropped on their conversation), if they were shown their real individual impact on the environment perhaps it would make more sense to them but otherwise there's nothing they could (would?) do to make any difference... so what's the point in changing anything they do day-to-day? This brought to light one of the many disconnects between the scientific evidence of global warming and the skeptic, in which there are many from countless angles. Much of the real science and data that I've seen is on such a huge scale that many individuals simply do not see their part in it... let alone believe the facts that have been repeated and amplified over the years that global warming is real, it is happening at an ever increasing rate and humans are the root cause of a lot of the problem. There are over 7 BILLION people on this giant blue marble spinning around in space so how can one person feel that they could (should?) do anything to make any significant impact? When you live in a land locked province, in a clean city and are generally shielded from the devastating environmental effects occuring around the world (and in our own country & province mind you) it sure is easy to just carry on with consuming and enjoying our decadently fueled lifestyles.
Living in the post-oil market crash economy has been especially interesting lately. There seems to be a growing divide between energy resource exploiters and environment caretakers despite how industry or governments spin their latest sound bite. Capitalism and economic growth are continuing with the same mindset that got us in this situation in the first place. The concepts of "degrowth" or thinking differently about how our future energy needs will be met is tough to have conversations about when 30% of the local workforce are struggling due to lay-offs, lack of good paying jobs to support themselves and being hit with a carbon tax that has been calculated on last year's income. Governments continue to use terms such as "technology", "green energy", and "diversified economy" meanwhile they don't practice what they preach and continue to purchase gas-guzzling vehicles at tax-payers expense because they are "safer"... which is total bullshit.
Many of the big name energy resource exploiters really are using their technologies to be more efficient despite the overwhelming environmental damage that is done in the meantime. However, these companies are not in the business of "protecting the environment". Their goal is to make money for themselves and their shareholders. Also, and obviously, there's a huge demand for energy here and around the world in which they are in the business of supplying and can do extremely well when the markets are available to them.
Most of us are living lives fueled and funded by oil, oil derivatives, and natural gas here in Canada... myself included. We can just flip a switch and lights turn on. If we have a question that needs answering many of us have access to the internet on super computers found in our pockets. When we're hungry there are hundreds of choices at the grocery store brought to us via an unbelievable logistics network from around the world. Want strawberries in January? Sure... they're available at the local Co-op for only $3 a pound!
So what can we really do as individuals though and will any of it make a difference? Well since living off-grid and having little to no negative impact on the environment is next to impossible here are a few ideas to get started: Consume less. Buy local. Eat seasonally. Think critically when deciding on purchases. Organize clothing swaps with friends. Walk, bike or take transit whenever possible. Visit the library and check out books before buying new ones. Use reusable bags. Choose less processed and less packaged products whenever possible. Recycle, reuse or repurpose everything you can. Educate yourself with real science and environmental news. Watch documentaries.
Plant a tree. Grow your own garden.
I honestly don't know how much less carbon any of these ideas produce but I bet there's a study out there with this kind of data. What would happen if every individual made more everyday choices that included the forethought of "how does this choice affect the environment today? Tomorrow?" Again, I don't know the answer but I do know that someday in the future when my body takes it's last breath I will know that I lived a life that tried to do more good to the Earth than harm.
Kit list post!!! One final blog post listing all the gear I brought on my first bike tour cycling west-to-east across PEI via the Confederation Trail/Trans Canada Trail and various roads throughout. I suspect I'll refer to this in the future as nearly everything was used (minus items marked with an *). However, those items went unused because I didn't have any emergencies or had to truly camp any evening.
The starting point of my own packing list came from an extensive list found here which was honed down to what I ended up bringing listed below. As I was semi-supported throughout the tour but carried most everything with me throughout I believe I would do pretty much everything the same if I was going on the same type of trip. Before the next trip I will invest in a proper handlebar bag so I don't need to carry a backpack next time. Also, I will find a suitable front pannier rack to distribute some weight to the front of the bike. Otherwise, this is it:
2 tank tops – Lulu Lemon
1 long sleeve - Marmot
2 pair padded bike shorts – MEC
1 pair mtb shorts with thigh pockets – MEC
1 blue long sleeve jacket
1 pair cold toes over shoes - Castelli*
1 neck warmer
1 pair leg warmers
1 thin wind jacket*
2 sports bras – lulu lemon
2 pair cycling ankle socks
1 pair cycling shoes - Shimano
1 t-shirt, cotton
4 pair underwear, cotton
1 pair shorts, cotton
1 pair yoga pants – Lole
1 pair thick socks*
1 wrap sweater
1 pair thin jeans
1 pair flip flops
1 bathing suit
Bike Rain Wear
Cycling rain jacket - Sugoi*
Water resistant pants - MEC*
Over-shoe rain protectors - Sugoi*
1 shower cap*
1 helmet - Nutcase
1 Rocky Mountain Solo Cyclocross bike
2 Marathon Plus tires
1 Arkel rear pannier rack
2 Ortlieb rear pannier bags
2 bottle cages and water bottles – Specialized
1 Filzer tire pressure gauge
1 CO2 cartridge holder
3 CO2 cartridges
1 hand bike pump – Planet Bike Micromite
2 tire levers
1 bike multi-tool
2 spare tubes
1 small container bike lubricant
1 front bike light – MEC
1 rear bike light – MEC
1 rear bike light reflector
1 bike mojo – Harold’s puppy collar
1 6mm allen key - for pedals
1 bike lock
1 tent – MEC Tarn 2
1 sleeping bag – North Face -7C
1 sleeping pad – ThermoRest
1 thin sleeping toque
1 length rope with 8 clothes pins*
1 4x6 orange tarp
1 half roll toilet paper in Ziploc
1 thermos – MEC
1 k/f/s set
1 small tealight emergency candle *
1 package wind/water resistant matches*
Toothbrush & toothpaste
Small containers for: face wash, toner, moisturizer
1 small soap in Lush container
1 tube 60 SPF sunscreen – Neutrogena
1 after-sun aloe spray
1 small container coconut oil
1 container deodorant
1 small container chamois cream*
1 half tube arnica cream*
1 thin camp towel – Namaste
1 foldable yoga mat
1 lacrosse ball
1 book – Marcus Aurelius - Meditations
1 pencil and pen
iPhone SE & charger
1 bike light charger cord
4 bungee cords
Various zip ties
1 Leatherman Multi-tool
1 First-Aid kit*: 1 tensor bandage, various sized adhesive bandages, anti-septic wipes, 1 small tube Advil 400 mg, 4 Benedryl pills, 4 Claratin pills, 2 gauze pads, 1 roll adhesive tape, 1 reflective blanket
1 pair sunglasses/case
1 thin wallet with ID, health card, debit/credit card and cash
1 small flashlight
1 small can pepper-spray*
Travel Foods – supplemented with food box and misc local purchases
6 packaged assorted baby food purees
1 package small tortilla wraps
1 half-package pre-cooked seasoned chicken
4 Clif bars
4 dried meat sticks – Valhalla
1 package smoked cheese
4 premade overnight oats in Ziploc bags*
1 tube NUUN tablets
The one item I didn’t pack and wish I had brought!
1 ball-cap or brimmed hat for afternoon/evenings
*Items I didn’t use
Bike shops that helped me gear up for this trip
B&P Cycle & Sports
Mountain Equipment Co-op
McQueen’s Bike Shop (Charlottetown)
It all feels like a dream. I've re-read my blog posts, scrolled through my photos and put away all my gear. It really happened and I'm still in awe of it all. This is what I learned:
1 - Set the Goal. Make the Plan. Do the Steps.
This whole bike tour trip idea started last spring as a way to reconnect with my roots after I learned of a memorial being held for my Dad at the Atlantic Police Academy on September 1st. The day was going to be a very emotional; bringing together lots of family, friends and former colleagues of my dad to the unveiling of a memorial wall at the Academy. So how was I going to process this event and connect with as many family members as I could? I had wanted to do a bike tour so the idea of cycling across the Island seemed like the best way to combine a lot of good things together. The goal was set and a plan came together as I took the steps to get there. Simple when it's broken down but really daunting when I first set out on this idea.
2 - Self Doubt is Insignificant when You are Supported
I cannot accurately express just how much I self-doubted myself throughout this whole process. As I neared the departure date I was struck by ridiculous fears of complete failure and a lot of "what's the point" downward spiral depressive thoughts. Until the moment when my aunt was driving away, after sharing a heart-felt prayer for me at the North Cape lighthouse, and I started pedaling on my own it all seemed like it would never all come together and that I was actually going to bike across a whole province. Luckily I have an amazing support network of friends and family that were cheering me on throughout the this journey in a variety of ways. From texts and family group messages sent full of support and encouragement, phone calls and social media comments from near and far asking how I was doing while planning and on trail, to words of wisdom and insight from bike shop staffers and fellow bike tourers. It was more than I could have ever expected and my self-doubt died peacefully on that trail. It didn't matter how far I went each day or even if I finished... the fact that I did the work to get there, started when I said I would and ultimately completed a goal that I set myself out to do is what ended up mattering the most to me. This bike tour was, by far, the biggest goal (adventure, personal or professional) I've accomplished and I think that's pretty fucking awesome!!
3 - Prepare for the Worst - Hope for the Best
I brought along a lot of gear that I ended up not even using once throughout the whole trip. However, had I needed any of it when needed I would've been extremely pissed off knowing that I wasn't prepared. Rain gear for inclement weather that didn't happen. CO2 cartridges for flat tires that I didn't have to deal with. Random pieces of camping gear that I didn't have to use because every night I either had a roof over my head or access to a cottage/home's facilities. Although I carried all the extra weight of the self-supporting gear when I didn't need it most of the time, I now like to think that it was preparing me for my next adventure. I learned about balancing weight on my bike, how to pack pannier most efficiently throughout this trip, and how I'd organize myself better for the next adventure. All very valuable knowledge! I started with this list and crossed out a lot of it as it didn't pertain to this particular trip. Then trimmed that list further. Afterwards, I figured out what I already had vs. what I would need to buy or borrow. Nearly everything fit in two Ortlieb pannier bags but I still needed to carry a backpack for some lighter items that I wanted to have easy-access to (cell phone, sunscreen, sunglass/glasses case, etc.). Carrying a backpack for the trip was not optimal but trying to find a bar bag that would fit around my handlebars' special configuration (it has two sets of brake levers) turned out to be a far greater challenge than I expected. Of course, I left this key decision to the last minute, as time and money were running short. So I used what I had and it worked.
4 - Have a Plan but Go With the Flow
There was a very short list of what I had planned for this trip:
- Start pedaling on September 2 from the west end/North Cape
- Bike until I reached the East Point.
Seriously. I gave myself an 8-day window to complete the journey and there was one big family event and an invitation to attend a wedding that I was going to try to attend but neither were a priority. I hadn't pre-booked cottage stays (with family or otherwise) or pre-planned any camping locations. I had an idea of how far I could bike in a day but had never ridden this bike with as much weight as all my gear added up to for any distance on a gravel trail. I had no idea what was going to happen. I went with the flow, accepted invitations to dinners and night's stays as they were offered, ate trail-side lunches on my own or with other travelers at restaurants and altered my route when it felt right. Going with the flow with whatever came my way turned out perfectly. These things cannot be planned but being open to opportunities sure can.
5 - You're Stronger Than You Think
I've been a proponent of mind-over-matter thinking for a while as it has worked well for me (for the most part) in the past for other physical challenges. Training for a multi-day bike tour is possible but nothing could have really prepared me for what I experienced. Currently living and cycling in Calgary and area certainly helped my legs and lungs be ready for the flat trail and hilly roads at Island's sea-level altitude. However, the humidity and heat was not expected midway through the trip. Had I consistently checked the weather forecast I certainly would've succumbed to defeat under the sweltering humidex temperatures. Lots of water with added electrolytes, sugary food fuel and plenty of breaks under shade was the magic combination for me and it worked. Forecasts be damned!
Throughout this amazing journey I strived to stay present and enjoy every moment because I really had no other place to be! It was wonderful and the next adventure is still in the idea stage but it's a growing goal :)
After a restless sleep under the stars due to humidity and excitement I was packed up and ready for the last leg of the tip-to-tip! I stopped in at the information centre to ask where along the way I could pick up some snacks and any highlights on this section of the trail and was bluntly told that there was nothing. "Just farm fields" she tells me. Not great so I head to the town's gas station for some coffee, orange juice and some blueberry pastry things to fire up the engine for the day's ride.
The trail is actually much like the rest: awesome. Long stretches of tree lined trail and a bunch of spots open to the fields beside. I hear all sorts of birds and crickets galore.
Just before Harmony Junction I stopped at a huge conservation area. Two other cyclists were already there and we start chatting and I learn that they are siblings (probably in their late 50s), born and raised in the area and they cycle together whenever possible on the trail. We talk about other parts of the trail I've seen, the wildlife and bugs. I learn that the Island had a significant bat population that was struck with a disease that nearly killed them all. They are slowly coming back but the effect of losing these key players in the local ecology created a huge influx of bugs that were no longer being eaten by bats. I had noticed a lot of dragonflies while cycling throughout the trip and wondered if the lack of bats surged their population to try and keep some balance. It was a great talk and I get back on the trail and take a photo at the junction trail marker just around the bend.
At my cycling pace the final 15 km would take me just under and hour. I felt all sorts of emotions about finishing and posted the trail marker sign to Facebook and Instagram to share my location with all who have been following me along this journey. A few minutes later my phone rings and it's my biological father (aka bio-Dad ;), Gerard, calling from England to tell me he had seen my recent post and wanted to let me know he was proud of me. Oh man... the waterworks were in full effect. It's just a quick call and we say our goodbyes so I can finish what I started and the last few kilometres did not disappoint! The overhanging trees were gorgeous and I even saw a hawk of somesort flying overhead for a stretch. So cool.
Just when I think there couldn't be anymore surprises along the trail I come across an information placard describing a natural spring that is accessible from the trail. So I lean my bike on the placard pole and go for a little walk up a sandy dirt road to find the spring. I'm not 20 paces in and I hear some cyclists come up behind me and it's the brother and sister I met at the conservation spot before the junction! We find the spring not far up the road and I get my thermos out to use the lid as a cup. The water was so refreshing and exactly what I needed to finish this trip. I couldn't capture the bubbling of the water up from the earth in a photo but this place was certainly magical and I hope to come back!
The three of us head back to the trail and the siblings go off ahead of me as I was slower than them with my gear and I wanted to experience the last of the trail solo.
From the springs it was only 9 km to Elmira. As I neared the end I felt sad that the tour was coming to an end but was so pumped that I actually did it, in my own way and enjoyed every moment to the fullest.
With the trail behind me I only had a few kilometers left to reach the lighthouse at East Point. I wasn't sure what to expect when I got there as many tourist attractions shut down after Labour Day weekend. Happily I found this place was hopping with visitors and the shop and cafe were busy! Also, the couple I met in Greenwich who were cycling on tandems were there too! They were a bit shocked that I'd make the whole leg in a day and I guess 56 km is a bit of a stretch but after all I'd done it didn't feel that far at all.
First order of business when I arrived was to get food! Lobster Mac n' Cheese and a celebratory beer... Yes, please!
After my delicious lunch I walk around the grounds, take some pictures and see the ferry that goes to Îles de la Madeleine round the point.
My awesome cousin Laura comes to pick me up, we pack my bike and gear in to her vehicle and headed back to Charlottetown. We chat about the trip and how the last two days went. It feels like we're travelling at lightning speed after being at a bike pace for so long. Ha!
This adventure is technically over but the stories and memories will last forever. It's taken me a few days to write about this last tour day as it didn't seem real that I did it or that it was over. I had set out on a goal, asked for help when I needed it, had the love and support of wonderful friends and family throughout the whole process and I cycled over 400 km on this bike tour! It's been quite the journey and I'm excited for what's next :)
After a hearty breakfast and coffee I was heading back to the trail a bit after 8 am. Since the day's heat was forecasted to be close (aka hot and humid to the non-Islander ;) again I figured it would be wise to get a slightly earlier start to the day. Honestly, it didn't matter too much because I still ended up exploring by bike for hours after I reached my destination... But there was a solid wind throughout so it wasn't too bad after panniers were dropped off in the afternoon. I should start from the beginning though...
I stopped a few times along the trail to read more information placards. Learned about salt marshes, the first white settlers and the Island's farmed shellfish industry history.
When I arrived in Morell I stopped at the cutest train station turned information centre with a coffee/ice cream shop/book store/canoe/kayak rental place called Kingfisher Outdoors. After I wrote about Day 5's adventures on the shaded deck space I figured an ice cream was in order. Of course, I get chatting with the lady working there, Donna, and find out she runs the place. We have a great chat and she asks me where I've been staying overnight along my trip. I mention all the family homes and cottages I've been able to include on this tour but that I was aiming to stay at the St. Peters campground. She then offers the yard of her cottage that is maybe few hundred meters west of the campground! Classic and heartwarming hospitality!!
I do get that ice cream cone and Donna shows me what her cottage looks like on her facebook page as it's available for rent through too (Will add the link once I find it again!). I eventually get on my way as the day's temperature is getting quite warm and the humidity is rising which made the whole day feel slow and tiring. Nonetheless I had a destination to get to and more exploring to do!
Along the trail between Morell and St. Peters is quite beautiful since a large portion of it has views of the bay to the north. I make it to the cottage at around 12:30 pm, set up my tent, and get prepped for an afternoon of cycling and exploring the Greenwich Sand Dunes National Park on the other side of the bay.
I start my journey to Greenwich and the wind is fierce... And I'm also hungry! Along the road to the park there's a small place called Lin's Take Out. Kinda like a permanent food truck style where you order at the window and have a number to pick it up once it's ready. I get the seafood platter which is all deep fried (usual preperation method on the Island) and a pickeled egg! I devoured nearly the whole meal too... Cycling calories, right?!
A couple also having lunch spark up a conversation with me as being a solo-woman traveller on a bike certainly piques people's interest. They recently moved to NS from Ontario, have family ties to the Island and love the East coast vibe. We chat about the pace of life here, the need for creative businesses to spark the economy and the societal issues of being "from away". They were so sweet wishing me well as we said our goodbyes before parting ways :)
I carry on with a belly full of grease and it's a hard push to the park with a headwind that won't quit. No matter though as I had no time limit and just enjoyed the views for the next few kilometers.
Upon reaching the park I notice that the entrance road is named the same as the lane that lead to my aunt and uncle's place from the day before!
I head further in to the park and find the trailhead to the floating walkway and sand dunes. Oh my... What a sight!!
I spent some time just walking along the water, taking photos and enjoying the sites. The wind didn't really allow much sitting on the sand time as it would sand blast everything in it's path.
I start to head back to my bike as I left it at the start of the floating boardwalk and find a note from a couple that I had chatted with on the way in to the dunes! We had crossed paths twice already (once at Emerald Junction and they saw me as I was cycling through Rustico area the day before!). They left me their names and address to keep in touch! Loving the travelling friend vibes and connections!!
I cycle around another trail at the park and read more information placards. A few of them actually included Mi'kmaq language translations! This Island has over 10,000 years of Mi'kmaq history so to finally see a few acknowledgments of their story was a great sight... But clearly more should be shared with locals and visitors alike.
As I was starting to feel tired I figured it was time to start heading back to St. Peters for some dinner. Happily though the wind stayed at my back and it was a quite whip back to town. Haha!
Made my way to the famous Rick's Fish and Chips but couldn't take anymore deep-fried foods... So ordered a marinated mussel salad with a side of oysters and a locally brewed pint to top it off. So good!
I head back to the cottage camp spot and meet the sweetest Aussie friend of Donna's who was staying there. She tells me that she was heading out shortly to meet up with Donna for wingnight at a local pub and asked if I wanted to join! Well of course!! So I get cleaned up from the day's riding and exploring and put on my best travel t-shirt and yoga pants (so classy, huh!) and we head out for the night.
We listen to some great local talent playing covers of classic songs, chat about travelling and brain-storm business ideas to get me back to the Island and making money! Great laughs with fun new friends :)
Back at the cottage camp spot I take off the tent's fly as it was unlikely to rain overnight and I was able to sleep under the stars again. Amazing end to another amazing bike touring day.
After a restful sleep at the cottage I was packed up and on my way by around 9:30 am.
It didn't take long to get in to a nice pace on the road and settle in for the morning's ride. As I made my way through Bedeque I stopped to say hello to a man who had a cute dark brindle Boston Terrier named Annie! I think she and Harold would be great friends!
Not far afterwards I knew I would be crossing the highway so I picked up the pace to warm up the legs. As it turns out there is a speed detector sign on the road and I was clearly under the limit ;)
I made it across the highway with no problem and I was on my way to Freetown where I would reconnect with the Confederation Trail. Of course, there are no shoulders on any of these roads. At one point I went off the road on purpose because there were so many cars. However, when I was only a few meters from getting back on the trail I nearly got clipped by someone who needed all the road and could not have slowed down for a second to get to where they were going. Many loud words and hand gestures were directed at the driver but I suspect they didn't even bother to look back.
Feeling a bit raged from the near-miss I worked on getting back in the flow on the trail. Happily not even 5 km later I crossed paths with a large cycling group out for a holiday Monday ride together. We discuss my tour and the general bike culture on the Island with the need for more visibility from the cycling community and guided change of mindset from the population to include cyclists rights to use the roads. It's a change and the Island is certainly not a fan of change...
I carry on and enjoy the views on the trail. From flat fields to rolling hills along the way with cows and steep shoulders off the trail.
After a small bite to eat at Emerald Junction, I realize that I'm over half way on the trail distance. Since I've done off trail and a bit of detours this isn't all "official" but thought it was quite the milestone to reach on my halfway day!
Not too far after lunch I planned to go off-trail again to pay my respects to family buried at Floral Hills. This detour would take me on another major highway but not for long and the shoulders were wide. I most certainly felt safer here than on the country roads!
I reconnected with the trail in Fredericton (yes... On PEI) and made my way to Hunter River. From there I wasn't too sure where I was going to go or how I was going to get there but figured it would work itself out. And boy did it ever!
As I arrived at the trail/road intersection I stop to read a bunch of the local history placards and notice a group of three 30-somethings in the parking lot with vintage cruiser-style bikes. We start chatting and one of the fellas owns/works a bike shop in Halifax (which I cannot remember the name 😒) and was delivering a new/old set of wheels to his buddy on the Island with his girlfriend. We have a great chat, they share some trail-hoots and recommend a bakery up the road in Hunter River. We bid farewell and I venture in to town to find the bake shop. I lean my bike outside and start fiddling with my phone to stop tracking on the Strava app as I walk in the shop. When I look up I see my cousin Sue who was at the family get-together the day before at the cottage! We laugh and she buys me an ice cream cone (awesome!) and we go chat with her folks who were waiting for her in the car outside. They headed off to continue their touristy adventures and I head back in to the bake shop for another bite to eat.
As I eat my sandwich and fries and text my cousin Laura and she tells me that she and our aunt Liz are in Cavendish and asked if I wanted to be picked up. Well heck ya! The road from Hunter River is narrow, windy and, of course, no shoulder. Sadly a lady was killed by a drunk driver a few years ago while on her bike here so getting to Cavendish and the North shore is treacherous for cyclists and walkers. Having the pick-up completely removed that danger and it gave us more visiting time! We stopped for some snacks in Cavendish and I horsed around ;)
According to my map there was camping near Orby Head and it looked like a great spot to watch the water and chill for the night. Well the map was wrong but Laura has connections with the folks that run the White Sands cottages nearby and I splurged for the night! The access road connects to the shore road in the park so once I was changed out of the day's cycling clothes I got back on the bike to explore the park a bit and find some wine and snacks for the evening.
Smelling much better from a shower and a belly full of local snacks and ferments I get to bed early and have a great sleep.
I'm finishing this post as I sit on a bench on the east side of the park with the Gulf of St. Lawrence out to the horizon, listening to all sorts of birds chirps and cricket calls, and now a group of chatty francophone women cyclists have gathered in the parking lot. Amazing morning :) Heading to Tracadie Bay today!