Who in their right mind would go to Florida at summer's end? I've been asking myself that question for the past week. It made sense when I planned it -- to celebrate my birthday with friends, leave my car in a safe spot while abroad, and glean the cheapest airfare found among five airports. A no-brainer!
It's a bit more than two weeks since I rolled out of New Brunswick toward South Florida, and I had planned a series of both scenic and utilitarian stops along the way. Thankfully, the travel time and traffic eased as I moved south, but it's been interesting to weigh the expectations I had for each location against reality. From St. Andrews, I thought a 7-hour push to the middle of Massachusetts would be okay until that turned into a 9.5 hour drag. New England, you have serious traffic issues! I arrived, I slept, I moved on.
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania was a three-night stop to meet a few deadlines, and catch up on the life list before returning to the serenity of the woods. I did work a 6-hour day, but wasn't I surprised to find that Harrisburg has a 22-mile greenbelt that takes you along the riverfront, by the state house, and through a beautiful preserve. Delightful, but more of a surprise was my Airbnb stay with an interesting singer/songwriter/artist who I definitely knew in another life. We spent two mornings over coffee in three hours of conversation, and the last night, shared dinner with a friend and other guests. When I left, I felt like I had been at home for a couple of weeks.
In just three hours, I arrived at the Meadows Campground in Shenandoah National Park for 5 nights. It was my first visit, so I chose to stay at a popular campground to be able to walk to the Visitor's Center, Ranger Programs, and numerous trail heads. Suffice to say that "popular" is an understatement, and this Park is in dire trouble. In addition to every type of lodging, there are 5 gifts shops, 5 restaurants, 2 "taprooms with live entertainment", a gas station, and a strong encouragement to enjoy the views by automobile. Yes, the epitome of what America's National Park's are becoming can all be found here.
On the mornings I biked, I would return with a sore throat from breathing the polluted air. According to their literature ("What's up with the air?" published in 2003), 90% of the problem is air pollution blowing in from nearby metros, but leaving your auto running idle and cigarette smoking appear to be the cultural norm here, too. I know that "Virginia is for Lovers" but breeding with first cousins is beginning to show. I left after 4 nights, so suffice to say, Shenandoah National Park is #2 on my list of places I won't need time to revisit.
Onward for 5-nights of Airbnb camping! I fell upon this little spot in Albemarle, North Carolina and they let me come early! While I was setting up my tent, two guys from Switzerland were leaving, so I ended up the sole camper in a large, quiet space near the renovated barn that was kitchen, bath and seating area. The lovely host family live on the acres next door, and came by daily to check in, The cycling between small towns here was lovely, but I was also just a few miles from Morrow Mountain State Park with more than 15 miles of hiking trails. I'd never heard of the Uwharrie Mountains, and they're little more than high hills that average less than 1,000 feet in elevation. In fact, Morrow Mountain is the high point at 936 feet, but nevertheless, an enjoyable spot to hike with a lovely lake. So, one never knows!
On August 23rd, I rolled into St. Augustine, but that's a story for tomorrow.
While I was feeling language-challenged in the southern region of the Acadian coast, I wasn't at all prepared for the culture along the northern peninsula. Home to nearly 50,000 people across almost 2,000 km, more than 95% of the population here is Francophone. I had chosen to make two stops in the area -- Shippagan, so I could enjoy both Lameque and Miscou Islands, and Caraquet, known as Acadia's capital.
Shippagan lies between the Bay of Chaleur and the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and is New Brunswick's commercial fishing capital. Il y a beaucoup de poisonneries ici! During my stay, I was constantly on the move, and mostly by bike. The main reason is that the Veloroute de la Peninsule Acadienne is a wonderful combination of planned cycling paths along scenic places. Unfortunately, the other reason was the impossibility of sitting at camp with hordes of mosquitoes! Initially, I assumed it was the combination of woods & waterfront, but was told that the area had nearly 10 feet of snow last season, creating springtime breeding sites. I'm seldom bothered by mosquitoes, and during this week, I used my campsite to simply sleep.
Thankfully, at my next stop (just 30 minutes NW) in Caraquet, this was not a problem. I enjoyed camping at La Maison Touristique Dugas, a quiet spot with access to the sea from a wooded nature trail. This lovely place has an interesting history, and has been in the family for 5 generations. The area is just delightful, and one of the many cultural aspects I love is that you can still go to the boulangeries, the patisseries, the poisonneries, and the cordonneries, instead of Walmart.
Much to my surprise, the week of my arrival in Caraquet was also the opening of the annual Acadian Festival, so there was much happening, and many people visiting from the region and Quebec province. I enjoyed music and a film en Francais, but shied away from the more "difficult" events like poetry! Mais, j'assistais à une messe tout en francais at a historical chapel. Surprisingly, I also did the tourist thing by spending a day at the Village Historique Acadien that portrays the Acadian way of life from 1770 - 1949. I was particularly interested because it is not a "model" -- they are actual Acadian homes and businesses that were moved here for preservation with period interiors, clothing, cooking, crafts, etc. I believe I was there for 5 hours!
One of my last days in the region, while riding my bike, I realized that I was thinking about something in French! There is still hope, and yes, an immersion course is in my future! I'm now on my final day in New Brunswick for the season, and back to the loyalist town of St. Andrews that I so enjoyed three years ago! Salty Towers is still open and affordable, the historic district is still preserved and humming, and the views are still stunning. Am I really going to "cross over" tomorrow?
Back in my Tent at Last
When I rolled out of Rothesay on July 15th, I camped for 6 nights in Parlee Beach Provincial Park at Pointe-du-Chene. The residential area is a small, quiet community of cottages with a large, popular beach known for having "the warmest Canadian salt water north of Virginia."
What's seldom mentioned is that it's a very shallow body of water along the Northumberland Strait, so hence, easily warmed. If you're a true swimmer, you probably have to walk out about 1/8 of a mile for any depth. Not an issue for me -- I wade! It's been lovely summer weather here, so while I didn't note the water temperature, I'd guess 70's (for me to go in).
Pointe-du-Chene also has a sweet wharf area that's been active since 1840. At one time it was one of the most important harbors on the East Coast for shipping goods to European, Caribbean and Asian markets. Today, it's still home to commercial fishermen, sailors, and tourists enjoying the view, with a handful of shops, restaurants, boat cruises, and a delightful little coffee cafe.
The nearest town is Shediac -- home of the world's largest lobster! While it doesn't compare in size or tackiness to Old Orchard Beach, Maine or Ocean City, Maryland, it certainly has that flavor. You'll see gorgeous 1800's period homes next door to the No Frills Supermarket; so city planning was definitely not on the agenda here as it grew.
While a busier place than expected, I enjoyed being outdoors day and night, walking, reading and napping on the beach, and meeting camping neighbors. Cycling was pleasant, too, as I pedaled the coastal route south toward Petit-Cap for small town scenery and water views.
This stop was also a good time for me to acclimate to the French-English environment. Nearly everyone says "hello" here (even children & teens), but whether to say "hello or bonjour" is always the question! With camping neighbors, I could usually tell by the license plate which language to choose, but elsewhere, not so easy. While I've finished reviewing my French phrase book, and am now reading a middle school French novel (What's the plot?), my attempts at conversation continue to be embarrassing.
Kouchibouguac National Park
My week of camping at this glorious place has come to an end, and I certainly could've stayed two. One morning I awoke wondering about a summer volunteer program here, then realized I'm not Canadian (yet!). The Park was originally home to the M'gmaq, then comprised seven villages of nearly 1200 people when formed exactly 50 years ago! It's now a preserved 92 square miles of rivers, lagoons, salt marshes, dunes, sandy beach, bogs, and forests.
I've been waking to the smell of pine trees and birds singing at 5-5:30 each morning, then activity-filled days that have me asleep at dusk (9:30ish). The Park is actually a Dark Sky Preserve, but I couldn't stay awake late enough to appreciate it! With over 60 km of biking trails, walking trails, a visitor's center, a gorgeous barrier island beach, and interesting programs, there is much to do here. I really need to get more comfortable on the water, too, as I was dying to kayak the lagoon. Fellow campers have also been amazingly quiet and considerate, so simply sitting in my wooded site, relaxing with a book, has been a joy.
There's more than 225 bird species here, and the Park is home to 15 protected species, as well as being a research lab. I was hoping to see wildlife like black bears, moose or fox, but my wildlife experiences weren't within the norm. On one trail, I took a large partridge by surprise that started spreading its feathers, squawking loudly and running beside me. I ran faster! I'm not sure who was scaring who but it would've made a great video clip! Then, one evening I awoke from a dead sleep to the smell of skunk! I'm not sure what that skunk was spraying, but I was really happy that my tent smelled good & fresh in the morning!
It's been great fun being here and seeing people of all ages biking, walking, kayaking, and in cheery moods! Best of all, I've met an interesting gal from PEI, and as the universe would have it, she's of Croatian descent (kismet!). Our paths will surely cross again.
Next stop, just about 100 miles north in Shippagan.
Last day of a month-long visit to this beautiful area. I've been out & about every day in the past two weeks -- from celebrating Canada Day and the 4th of July to trail walks, historic walking tours, ferry and bike rides, and semiweekly outdoor concerts in the park. Oh, and a little bit of work showed up! Top that off with future travel planning and I've been a little bit busy, though not too busy to sit by the beautiful river with a good book and enjoy the view.
I do believe I've taken enough photos to tell this story in captions. Tomorrow morning I roll to the Coast in a little more than an hour, then back into my tent at four stops during the next three weeks. Looking forward to the outdoor, solo life.
Cyclist, writer, teacher, avid reader, bike/ped advocate, nomad, pie lover