Monday, September 28, 2009

Mira to Antigonish, Nova Scotia

Tuesday September 1, 2009
Off we go again. Another moving day. As far as we can tell it's Nicky's fifth birthday, so Happy Birthday Nicky! For presents she got a couple extra Pupperoni treats as well as an extra long walk.
Left Mira River and Cape Breton. We recrossed the causeway, linking the two parts of Nova Scotia, and started for Halifax. It was a long day and we seem to stop more than drive, plus the road signs are a bit unusual. Instead of showing the typical English/French names, this part of Nova Scotia uses Gaelic and English. Anyway, around 6 o'clock we took the Antigonish exit and discovered yet another charming little town. Carol, consulting the handy dandy camping guide found a private campground nestled in the downtown area. Once inside the gate you would never know there's a bustling little town so close by. We pulled into our campsite to find a bubbling brook right behind us and trails and woods to explore in the morning. Whidden Park even had wi-fi which we appreciated and made great use of. The only knock on the place was that it was really cold at night, almost providing another one of Carol's “I don't think I'm gonna make it” moments.

Historic Louisbourg, Nova Scotia

Monday, August 31, 2009

Woke up to a picture perfect day, just in time for our visit to the Louisbourg Fortress. After a late start but a hardy breakfast we set off for the fort. The actual nearby town of Louisbourg had clearly seen better days. However, it was charming in a needing a second coat of paint sort of way. Anyhow, the fortress was great. It was sort of a Canadian version of a Williamsburg in Virginia. The staff were all dressed in period costumes and spoke accordingly. We learned about its history and of course the battles fought outside the walls between the French and English forces. One must still marvel at the bravery of the British troops as they must have faced a withering fire approaching the walls.
One of the demonstrations we watched was the firing of a long cannon. Obviously they fired a blank, but regardless, was it ever loud. One can only imagine what it must have been like when a hundred or more of these, on both sides, were going off. No wonder battles back then were so chaotic. The soldiers and sailors were deafened by the sound of the explosions. Nobody could hear a thing. It was every man for himself because anybody shouting orders would be wasting his breath.
We had a long conversation with the village blacksmith and watched while he made hooks and other pieces that were used by the establishment or sold in the gift shop. Standing in his workshop I thought about building a similar forge in Arizona. For years I have collected ore bearing rocks from the various mines I have visited. One of these days I'd like to smelt it all down and pour my own metal. That would be awesome.
After several hours wandering up and over the battlements we stopped in a restaurant and had a terrific authentic 18th century meal. Fresh haddock, carrots and potatoes. It was great. We were given one large pewter spoon for the entire meal. We had to cut the fish with it as well as use it for the vegetables and soup. We sat at a long common table and were served by women dressed in outfits of the day. Truly, one of the best meals I've had anywhere on this trip. And that's no fish story.
All in all we had a great day. Around five o'clock we had to leave to get on the shuttle that brought us back to the visitor center.
Back in the town of Louisbourg, we stopped outside a campground located next to the fishing pier and hooked into their wi-fi. For an hour or two we sat in the van, checked and sent emails, updated the blog and enjoyed the infrequent opportunity to surf the Internet. Then we headed home.
Back in the Casita, tired from the expedition, I at least went to sleep early. Carol wound up staying up most the the night. Unbeknownst to me there was a regular cacophony going on in the woods outside. She later reported listening to loons and wolves crooning for several hours. I hear storms, she hears wildlife; between the two of us we've got it covered. What a pair!

Mira River, Nova Scotia

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Even with noise canceling headphones on it was tough to sleep. Torrents of rain battered the Casita. Not quite as bad as a tin roof but loud nonetheless. The vent on the roof started leaking sometime in the wee hours. I had to get up and put a cooking pot on the floor to catch the drips that fell from the ceiling. Then there was the wind. Every so often a gust would hit us broadside and rock us pretty good. Carol, on the other hand, slept through the night like a baby. “Oh.” She exclaimed while rubbing the sleep from her eyes, “Did it rain last night?”
Fortunately, by morning the worst was over, only a light drizzle remained. There was not much to do but stay put, read, drink tea and wait it out. By early afternoon, all traces of the storm had passed and the sun broke through. It was still a bit chilly but we took advantage of the changing weather to get out and ride the bikes around. The campground is located on a promontory so it is surrounded on three sides by water, with numerous hiking and biking trails slicing through the wooded areas. Under better circumstances this might have been the best provincial park we had thus far encountered. Due to inclement weather, I never got a chance to get the boat out or do any swimming, however, I'm going to file this park away for possible future reference.
Anyway, we had a great ride through the woods. At one point we were escorted down the trail by a very friendly little bat. It seemed like he wanted us to follow him because he flew directly in front of us at eye level, then would fly ahead and wait for us to catch up. Once we closed the gap he would fly off again and wiggle his wings in a manner almost suggesting “Hey. Come on now. Follow me.”
Back in the Casita we had our afternoon tea and crackers. Later we took our customary stroll through the now completely deserted campground. It felt as if we were on a movie set playing the part of the witless couple oblivious to the surging tsunami or the imminent arrival of a gigantic meteorite that everyone else knows about and had wisely fled. However, that notion quickly passed as we walked down to the river and sat on the picnic bench to watch the sun drip through the vermilion clouds as it made its way down under.

Moose on the beach, Cape Breton, NS

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Another moving day. Heading north toward the tip of Cape Breton, we intended visiting a Buddhist monastery that Vince had recommended. We took the Red River exit and began up the windy, narrow road to the top of the mountain. About half way up, I saw the sign. The monastery accepts no visitors on either Saturday or Sunday. Tough break, but we got over it quickly. Everywhere along this road were turnouts that offered spectacular views of the ocean. The whale watching here is hot and heavy. The trick is to track the tour boats. They are filled with tourists and the skippers know where the whales are. Getting out the astronomy binoculars I set up the tripod and looked in on several pods. Pretty amazing. I only wish I had the kind of binoculars that one can take pictures through. Someday. Driving further up the Cape I happened to spot a moose on a beach. Pulling over to get a better view we were soon joined by several other motorists. The scene reminded me of Yellowstone. Anytime there's a buffalo sighting the highway becomes an instant parking lot. Well, pretty much the same here. We got out and walked to the beach for a closer look. After a few minutes I starting feeling sorry for the old bull. Not long after the “officials” arrived I assumed they'd help him get to wherever he was going. Nice to see wildlife even if it isn't very wild. The way the world population is expanding there may come a day when zoos will be the only place such animals will be permitted to exist, and even that might just be a short reprieve before a mass extinction. Over the next hundred years mankind will make the choices that will determine not only the fate of wildlife but our own as well. Superstition, ignorance, greed and religion will be difficult forces to overcome. If Obama can't get a health care reform bill passed, then what chance is there for meaningful changes in any future American policy?
Meanwhile back on the road, things were getting dicey. The mountains we had to cross were no trifling matter. They were more like The Rockies than what you'd expect on a small island. The downward grades were so steep that I had to pull over several times to let my brakes cool. The brake control for the Casita wasn't on a high enough setting to do any good. Once I got that set, things were better, but I have a feeling I'm going to need new brakes by the time we get back to Sierra Vista.
To be a successful traveler, one must be flexible. Originally, we thought we'd be spending the night in a Buddhist monastery; however, we now found ourselves still on the road and no definite place to stay. OK. No problem. Going to Newfoundland was still on the table so we headed for North Sydney. Somewhere along the way, we both came to the conclusion that, considering the weather, it might be advisable to save New Newfoundland for another year. Going another couple hundred miles further north did not seem like a good idea. Consequently, we resurrected our previous goal of visiting Louisbourg, a historic site on the east coast. One of the many things Carol is good at doing is consulting the North American Camping guide while I'm driving. It contains most of the pertinent information one needs in selecting a good campground. With that criteria in mind, she located the Mira Lake Provincial Park, just 10 miles from the historic fortress. To get there we had to take a ferry across a fairly narrow body of water, then traverse some of the worst roads Nova Scotia has to offer. And that is saying something. In all our travels, this part of Canada wins the dubious award of having the largest pot holes and the worst roads overall.
Before we reached the campground, we stopped for lunch at the Clucking Hen. It was here we discovered Cape Breton's one and only weather station. Now the reason I included the picture of the Weather Stone will become apparent shortly.
Once we arrived at campground, we went into the front office to pay for our site. Here we were surprised to learn the park was near empty. The reason for this is that another hurricane was fast approaching. Yeah, another freaking storm. “Nothing for it,” I said to Carol. “We'll just have to batten down the hatches and ride this one out right here”.
We worked quickly and steadily and got the Casita set up before the wind started to really blow. The rains would come in another hour or two and that's when we got fully acquainted with Hurricane Danny.

Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, beautiful trail

Friday, August 28, 2009
Weather, like time, changes everything. In a visitor center I'd seen a satellite picture of Cape Breton in winter; not surprisingly, it was completely covered in snow. I got up this morning at the usual time. It was the coldest I'd felt this entire trip, and when Carol woke she refused to believe it hadn't snowed during the night. In spite of my numerous entreaties, she refused to budge from her warm cocoon until the sun got about its business. Finally, by early afternoon, things had warmed sufficiently to venture forth. After a careful review of our options we elected to take a bike ride up a trail that followed a salmon spawning creek. The ride and views were, as usual, extraordinary. In spite of sunshine, the day remained cold and windy so after about 6 miles we returned to the Casita to revive ourselves. Nothing like a hot cup of tea on a blustery, cold day to set things right. Later, we rallied and set out for a short hike that we had considered taking earlier. It turned out to be a pleasant loop that overlooked the campground. Nothing special, but one segment did remind me of the picture that often accompanies Robert Frost's poem, “The Road Less Traveled”.
We were so invigorated by the days doings that we decided to attend that evening's Ranger program. Accordingly, after a tasty, hot meal, we hopped onto the bikes and set off into the sunset to learn more about Cape Breton's wild cats. After a brief consultation with the ever trusty park map, it looked like finding the amphitheater would be a cinch. Not only did all of our shortcuts fail to be short, but by the time we arrived we discovered the program had been canceled. Disappointed, we pedaled back to the visitors center to check the outside bulletin board. Could we have possibly missed such an important announcement? No. We missed nothing because there was nothing. For a national park to treat such matters so cavalierly bordered on the outrageous. Anyway, we headed back home as Jupiter beamed down on us. So much for being disappointed. The mere sight of stars and planets and their implications have a way of redirecting one's thoughts.
Before turning in for the night, we usually take one last stroll through the campground to give Nicky a final opportunity to complete any unfinished business. That was when we heard the howling. At first we thought it must be a dog crying to be freed of its tether. However, after several hours of unabated wailing, we understood. This was no dog. The animal in question was deep in the woods and in it's death throes. We imagined a pack gathered around it's mortally wounded member, guarding helplessly as it lay dying. The agony lasted well into the night; however, by morning the stillness was almost as eerie as the wailing had been.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

To Cape Breton, Nova Scotia

Thursday August 27, 2009

Another moving day. With great reluctance I initiated the process that would take us away from this wonderful provincial park. Once we got the Casita ready for departure, I went back to the beach for one last swim. What made the departure bearable was knowing that we'd cross over to Cape Breton and start on another fantastic journey.
As the afternoon wore on the weather started to change. It soon became noticeably colder, as well as windier. Undaunted, we pressed on. Now that might seem like an ambivalent statement but when one is pulling a trailer, ignoring high winds can have dangerous consequences. Crossing the isthmus that separates the Cape from the rest of Nova Scotia was thrilling. A large ocean going vessel was docked directly in front of us either loading or unloading an immense cargo.

The general idea was to reach Cheticamp, situated along the western coast, and stay in Cape Breton National Park. I was hoping to arrive long before dusk, which makes setting up easier, but once again the scenic beauty of the land thwarted my intentions. The road winds along the shore much like Highway 1 along California's rugged north coast. We were forced to periodically pull over to gaze in mute rapture at the titanic struggle unfolding before us. The now howling winds were driving the heavy waves onto shore, exploding into a thousand pieces as they crashed into the giant rocks that dotted this part of the coast.

Meanwhile, as the last rays of sun disappeared over the horizon, we pulled into the entrance to the park. The staff at the booth were as friendly as ever. No doubt, charging us $90 for two nights stay contributed to their good humor. The site they assigned us was too small for the van and Casita, so I had to race back on the bicycle in dire weather to get it changed. Eventually, we got it sorted out and settled in for the night. Carol and I were both delighted to have electricity. She cooked up a tasty bowl of chili while I checked on the Blackberry for the days' doings in the stock market. Since the wind was blowing pretty hard we elected to forgo our usual evening stroll. There's a lot to be said for staying inside while a storm rages outside. The more the wind rocked our little trailer the warmer and cozier we got beneath the covers.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Caribou Beach, Pictou Resort, Nova Scotia

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

It's just glorious, that's all. The swimming here as well as the beach, in my opinion, is the best we've thus far experienced. The water is crystal clear, chilly and ever so refreshing. I didn't need to wear sandals because there weren't any rocks or sharp shells, just nice soft sand. Carol, to everlasting loss, remained on shore. Nicky, however, at least did some toe testing. Not sure if it's the weather or if we're just lucky, but we had the beach, for the bulk of our time, to ourselves. Out in the distance one can easily see Pictou Island and farther away one can see the outline of PEI. In my minds eye I see giant, tall, three masted ships with billowing white sails dotting the horizon; however, in reality, I see the building block outlines of car ferries from Wood Islands. I wonder if someday in the distant future, someone will have a similar reverie thinking back to the glorious days of square, building block looking, car ferries.

About a mile and a half further down the beach is the famous Pictou Resort complex. They have a wonderful, first class restaurant, overlooking their beach. Although I love my wife's infinitely creative cooking, I thought tonight we'd do something different. Donning our best outfits (Carol, anyway) and grabbing two flashlights, we locked Nicky in the Casita and started down the beach. It was still twilight so the going was easy. The sound of the waves rolling up the beach blended perfectly with our conversation. We passed a lovely mermaid in the sand and said hello. We are like salmon in some respects: we came from the sea and we return to the sea. It calls us like no other siren. Why do 75 percent of the worlds' population live on or near large bodies of water?
The buggy outside the restaurant evoked the old world grace and charm that we were soon to discover inside. The giant fireplace and wood beams reminded us of our time at the Yellowstone Lodge. The food, Carol had salmon, I attacked the catch of the day, was superb. We took our time, we enjoy each other's company. I thought about my father and all the meals we had at the Mariner Sands Golf Club. The same, formally dressed servers attending to our every need. I miss him.
After paying the bill, without any tempting treats on the dessert tray, we strode out into the pitch black night and onto the beach. The first part of our return journey was uneventful. However, somewhere in the middle leg, my flashlight went blank and Carol's starting getting wobbly. In the meantime, the tide had come in forcing us up toward the rocky part of the beach. Like two lost children holding hands in the forest, we inched our way back. Once we were safely back inside the Casita could we laugh about it but when the outcome was still undecided, there were a few moments of, “I can't believe this is happening.” We only hoped that the mermaid survived the evening unscathed.