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?
Cyclist, writer, teacher, avid reader, bike/ped advocate, nomad, pie lover