Friday, July 31, 2009


After our adventures on Cape Breton, H and I headed to PEI for a little more civilized fun. We traded our tent for a room in a B&B, the middle of nowhere for the middle of a city.
First we had to get from Cape Breton to Charlottetown, PEI. Our initial plan called for a six hour drive and an hour ferry ride. Instead of following the GPS directions, however, we decided to take the scenic route. H wanted to check out a Celtic Music Museum and eat at a place called the Red Shoe. This added about an hour to our plan. We got stuck behind two asphalt trucks in the mountains. Then we got to the ferry and had to wait for an hour before we could board. We finally arrived at the B&B around 9 pm.
The Snapdragon B&B is a great little place in Charlottetown. We stayed in the Fitzroy Room on the second floor. It was a great room. The breakfasts were also top notch. We had pancakes twice. They were light and tasty.

Our first day on PEI was overcast and misty. We decided that we would do indoors activities. On the north western tip of the island there is a large wind farm that H wanted to check out. There is also a Seaweed Pie Cafe that sounded interesting. So, we got into the car and drove the hour and a half to Tignish.
The wind farm has a nice restaurant in the visitor center. I got an excellent burger. There is also a small, but informative, museum at the visitor center. We watched some seaweed farmers collect Irish moss.

After the wind farm, we drove to the Seaweed Pie Cafe. The Cafe is also a museum about Irish moss harvesting. Irish moss is a form of sea weed that is the primary source of carrageen. Carrageen is a food additive that is used to thicken and stabilize milk products like ice cream. As part of the "tour" we enjoyed a piece of Seaweed Pie - a sponge cake with a light green whipped topping made using Irish moss.
The second day in PEI was our big adventure day. A couple we ran into several times on Cape Breton told us that the section of the Confederation Trail (The Confederation Trail is a gravel paved bike trail that runs the length of PEI. The province recycled the defunct railway routes to make the trail.) along St. Peter's Bay was the prettiest part of the trail. We also wanted to see the parabolic dunes and the PEI Vodka distillery.
So, we drove about 45 minutes to the National Park HQ in Greenwich. From there we road our bikes along the road back into St. Peter's where we could pick up the Confederation Trail. From St. Peter's the trail follows St. Peter's Bay into Morell where there is supposedly a great bakery (which is closed on Sundays when H and I want to get pastry after a bike ride). The views along the trail are pure pastoral prettiness. It is the most scenic bike trial I've ever ridden. The ride to Morell and back was about 25 miles.

After finishing the bike ride, we had a quick lunch. Then we headed out to see the parabolic dunes. The trail is well marked and goes through a combination of forest, coastal beach, and marshland. It takes about an hour an a half to complete the walk, but it is worth it.
After getting back from our walk we hopped in the car and drove to Hermanville to tour the Prince Edward Distillery. It is the only Canadian distiller of potato vodka. It is a small place and the tour ($10 a person) is short. To make the price palatable, they offer tastings of the potato vodka and the blueberry rye vodka. Both are very good. The potato vodka has a smooth, creamy taste. The blueberry vodka has a hint of blueberry flavor.

On the way back to Charlottetown, we grabbed dinner at a gas station. The Sheltered Harbour Cafe in Fortune Bridge is part of a gas station. We were a little skeptical of stopping, but the parking lot was full. Once inside, we were glad we stopped. The food was excellent and reasonably priced.
Our final day on PEI was a lounging day. We spent the morning strolling around Charlottetown. It is a small city, so there is not much to see. The waterfront is nice and the mall is oddly happening. There are a bunch of little shops.
In the afternoon we headed out to Cardigan for another bike ride and to visit a little craft center. This offshoot of the Confederation trail is also scenic as it runs along the Brudnell River, but it is not as pretty as the section along St. Peter's Bay.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Cape North

I got up to use the outhouse around 5:30 and the rain was still falling. This was doubly sad: I was awake at 5:30am and rain meant that the paddle around Cape North was in jeapordy.
I woke up a few hours later and the sky was clear. The paddle was a go!
Mike, our guide from Eagle North Kayaking, wanted to get an early start, so we had to be quick about eating and gathering our gear. We were supposed to check in with him at 9am.
He drove by the camp site around 8:15 to tell us we would meet at Eagle North in a half hour. We scurried about and got down there in plenty of time.
We launched out of Bay St. Lawrence on the west side of Cape North. It is the only place after Pleasant Bay on the cape that offered reasonable kayak access. The next possible extraction point along the coast was our eventual take out 15 miles away. The coast between the two points offered a few pebbly beaches that could offer a respite in calm conditions and one haul out that was possible in rough conditions.
Fortunately, the weather looked like it would be kind to us. The ocean also looked kind.
Given the extreme exposure and possibility of nasty conditions, H decided to sit the paddle out and enjoy a placid, sunny day at camp. Mike tried to coax her into going along to offer some level of sanity to the group. I think we made him a little nervous. (As he later explained, he has seen plenty of paddlers show up with nice kayaks and big talk. Once he gets them out on the water he realizes that they can barely stay upright in ocean swells.) H was firm in her decision and decided to stay behind.
Once beyond the harbor sea wall, we were in the open ocean. The swells were not big, but they were powerful. It was perfect conditions.
The conditions also convinced me that H had made a good call. She could have handled the conditions with ease, but she would have been anxious the whole time. Based on Mike's description of the route, it would have been 15 miles of torture for her. For the rest of us (the crazy ones) it would be 15 miles of heaven.

The shoreline was tall rugged cliffs pocked with waterfalls. There were plenty of rocks to play in and plenty of swell to ride.
Over the course of the morning Mike seemed to relax and started playing more than guiding. That was perfect as far as I was concerned. We had hired him because we wanted his knowledge of the area, not because we needed to be babysat. Paddles are more fun when everyone is enjoying themselves.

We stopped for lunch just the main point on a beach that looked like it could offer some protection from a storm. It was a long hike over the mountains to get back to a road though. Mike told us that 30 odd years ago a freighter carrying dried peas floundered on this beach and as the sea water flooded the cargo hold, the peas expanded bursting the hull and turning the ocean green for many days. To lend credence to his story, the beach was littered with flotsam.

After lunch we explored a couple of large sea caves and played in the rocks some more. BH nearly died several times, but always made a beautiful escape.
I played a little bit. My mojo is still off this season though. Everything seemed to be slightly off. So I didn't push too hard.
It was an awesome trip. Mike did a fantastic job pointing out stuff to us and telling us stories about the area. I was glad he enjoyed himself. I definitely enjoyed the trip.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Rain Day

Our fourth day on Cape Breton was the worst. It started raining sometime over night so by the time we were ready for breakfast the camp site was already soggy. I was all for going out to get breakfast, but the rest of the group was hardier than I. H lit the stove and made us a nice meal. The big screen tent worked surprisingly well as a rain shelter for our meal.
Once we ate and cleaned up, we decided that we would drive over to Cheticamp and check out the scene. H's Lonely Planet guide made it sound pretty interesting.
The drive from Dingwall to Cheticamp is rough. The Cabot Trail, which is the only road, goes over two steep mountains. In good weather the drive is challenging due to the crazy switchbacks and lack of shoulder. In the wind and rain it is miserable.
I cannot imagine doing the same drive on a motorcycle or a bicycle. We did, however, see multiple people on motorcycles and bicycles. The bicyclists looked the most miserable pedalling like mad to drag all your clothes and camping gear over a mountain. We didn't see any bicyclists going down hill, but I imagine they changed from miserable to terrified as they careened down the switchbacks with water slicked brakes.
Cheticamp is a big town for Cape Breton. The main drag had a number of shops and restaurants. We ate at a traditional Acadian joint that doubled as a gift shop and a rug hooking museum. The food was good but did not make up for the wait.
On they way back to camp we stopped back at Eagle North for a weather check and to see if Cape North was a possibility for the next day. The forecast predicted that the rain would end over night and the winds would die down. Mike seemed pretty upbeat about our chances of doing the trip.
For dinner we drove over to Neil's Harbor to check out the Chowder House. H got a bowl of seafood chowder that earned rave reviews. The rest of us got fish and chips that were excellent. The fish was fresh and not too oily.
The day ended with a furious thunder storm. It was the rains final fury.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


On the advice of Jen at Eagle North Kayaking, we decided that our second kayaking trip in Cape Breton would be out of Pleasant Bay. This is where most of the whale boats launch because whales are most common along the eastern shore of Cape Breton. Most of the tours guarantee that passengers will see a whale.
Jen's advice to us about finding whales was to follow the whale tour boats.

The books say, and Jen concurred, that there is a launch fee to use the ramp at Pleasant Bay. However, there is no obvious place to pay the fee and nobody tries too hard to collect it. We used the ramp and the parking lot without any trouble or any fee. Since Pleasant Bay is a working harbor, we were advised to make sure our cars were parked out of the way. The lot is very large and it was not an issue to park off to the side. Besides we are used to being deferential to power boaters at the ramps back home.

Five minutes out of the harbor H spotted two pods of whales. The pods were a good distance off shore, but we didn't care about being too far off shore. We wanted to paddle with whales.
A whale tour was heading toward the whales. Whale fever was in control.

We reached the whales just after the tour boat, but in plenty of time to see the whales. I took out my camera and started just pointing and clicking without really paying much attention to what the camera picked up. I wanted to enjoy watching the whales, and figured if I took enough pictures I'd get at least one good one.
The pod breached all around us for a good five minutes. On several occasions they surfaced within feet of a kayak. The whole experience was indescribable.
Once the pod began moving out to deeper water, we decided it was time to let them be. We had our fun. We all joked that we could just paddle back to Pleasant Bay, break camp, and head home. Our vacation was complete.
We did begin paddling toward shore, but not in the direction of Pleasant Bay. Instead we continued down the coast toward Fishing Cove. The coastline was rugged cliffs that offered few places to land even in calm conditions. The few beaches we saw were steep, shallow patches of round pebbles with dumping surf. Storm swells-really any swell over two or three feet-would make landing difficult and staying dry impossible. The waves would cover the beaches and wash a camper out.
We did stop for lunch on the best beach we could find before Fishing Cove. It was deeper than the rest and sheltered slightly by some shallow rocks that broke up the surf. Still you could see that the sea frequently pounded the rocks. They were carved into round inverse wave patterns. One piece of granite had a perfect wave pattern etched into it's side where a harder white vein of rock held fast.
After lunch we headed a little further towards Fishing Cove. H was concerned that we might get back too late to discuss our Cape North trip with Mike at Eagle North if we continued, but the rest of us wanted to go around the next headland to see if we could find Fishing Cove.
Surprisingly enough, our navigation skills using a terrible map were spot on. Fishing Cove was just around the next headland. Fishing Cove is a tiny protected hamlet tucked into a notch among the mountains. You can either hike in from the Cabot Trail or kayak in from either Pleasant Bay or Cheticamp.
We didn't spend much time exploring the cove. H really wanted to get back. She did not want to get back to Eagle North, or camp, too late and it was already five in the afternoon. We had at least an hours return paddle and a thirty minute drive back to Eagle North.
We hightailed it back to Pleasant Bay. I think our average speed was close to four MPH.
Sadly, when we got to Eagle North Mike told us that the forecast for the next day called for high winds and rain. The trip around Cape North would have to wait at least one more day.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Coastal Trail

On our second day in Cape Breton the group decided to hike. After much discussion we settled on doing the Coastal Trail. It is a 7km hike along the coast near Neil's Harbor. It also offers what looked like a few interesting side trips.
Getting to the trail turned into a mini adventure. The trail head is on the Cabot Trail, so it was easy enough to find. As we were donning our boots, I noticed a big hole in H's kayak. The rear hatch cover had blown off between the campground and the trail head. After a brief, but intense, moment of panic, we retraced our route. Fortunately, the cover was sitting in the road a few km away. BH ran into the road, and retrieved it.
With H's kayak back in one piece, we hit the trail. It starts off easy and leads down to a sandy beach. After the beach, however, it becomes more challenging. There is a section through woods that is steep. This is followed by a stretch along the shore that is broken up by round stone beaches.
The views along the shore are beautiful. The beaches are great for strengthening ankles and balance. The ocean has ground the rocks until they are rounded. Crossing the beaches are like an obstacle course out of ABC's Wipeout.
After the hike we found a local swimming hole a short distance from the trail head. Across from the actual trail head a path leads into the woods along a stream. A 100 meters up the path the stream runs through a rocky area and forms several big pools. We took advantage of this to cool down before driving back to camp.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Testing the Waters

Sunday morning we started scoping out paddle locations.
The campground owners told us about a put in adjacent to the campground that provided access to the Aspy River and Middle Harbor. The put in was a little rough and the road access was questionable. If we had a real 4x4 truck we could easily manage. With the Forester and the Box we'd be asking for a tow.
Our second stop was Eagle North Kayaking. Jen, the propriatress, gave us a few charts and enough information about the area to get in trouble. Eagle North also has a nice put in along South Harbor.
We decided that paddling out of Eagle North, through South Harbor, and along the coast heading north was a good first day outing. The probability of trouble was low. The entire trip is along sandy, surf-free beaches and ends at a waterfall. The only tricky part of the paddle was getting from the harbor to the ocean. The barrier beach is cut by a narrow, constantly shifting channel that is often choked with sand.
South Harbor was flat and uninteresting. We found the outlet without much trouble. There was a little surf, but nothing to worry about.
We paddled north along the beach at a slow pace and checked out the shore. There was a long beach that was split by a good sized cliff. After South Harbor was Middle Harbor, and then Dingwall Harbor.
Along the way we spotted a storm cloud of gannets flow out from the cliffs. They started circling about a half mile off shore. Suddenly a number of the birds fell out of the sky like darts. From our vantage it looked like a rain storm of gannets. The view was made even more spectacular by the a angle of the sun. It hit the diving birds such that their wings shimmered as they fell into the water.
We decided to lunch in Dingwall, so we slipped into the harbor through the stone breach way. We found a nice sandy beach and set up camp. H was starting to get a headache so she wanted to rest a bit. CC and BH hopped the causeway to look for sea glass. I started to get antsy.
Eventually, I roused H and convinced her to explore Dingwall with me. There is not much to see in Dingwall. It is a small fishing harbor lined with rundown buildings.
After out brief tour of Dingwall, we regrouped and headed home. Getting back into South Harbor was a little more tricky than getting out. The surf was still small, but it was pushy. CC found the narrow path through the surf. H got caught by a wave and was pushed into the beach. She did a great job riding the wave in and just carried over the beach.
Once back in South Harbor we were back on flat water. The paddle back to the put in was uneventful.
Back at Eagle North we talked to the Jen's husband, Mike, about doing a day tour around Cape North-the roughest portion of the coast. He was game to do it later in the week.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Late Night Dinning in Cape Breton

It was 7:30 before CC and BH had there tents set up and were ready to eat dinner. We were all hungry, but unwilling to drive very far. This meant that the larger towns like Neil's Harbor and Igonish were not an option.
The first place we saw was Angie's place. It was a small hole in the wall, but the menu looked fine. I was ready to grab a seat when H told me we were leaving. BH noticed that a number of people had that desperately waiting for food look.
So we set off down the road to Dingwall. We came across the Celtic Lodge pizza place but decided against stopping. Celtic and pizza don't sound like a good combination. Dingwall also has a nice fried fish and ice cream shack that is open late. The desolate parking lot where the shack sits scared us a little bit.
Eventually we ended up back at Angie's. It is the only place open past nine in the Dingwall area. As it turned out the food was pretty good and the service was fairly prompt. It would be decent even if it wasn't the only game in town.

Driving to Cape Breton

When planning our vacation to Cape Breton, we figured that could do the drive in two moderate days. H planned on leaving at 9am Friday morning. We'd arrive at our first stop, the Stuart House B&B near Amherst Nova Scotia early in the evening. Saturday we'd have a leisurly six hour drive to Hideaway Campground near Dingwall. If all went according to plan we'd be set up in time for an early dinner.
Friday morning we got on the road around 10am. We were moving slow and everything was difficult. The bike rack was uncooperative. The last minute items were well hidden and multiplied like rabbits.
We had to make a planned stop in Portsmouth, NH to return a bike bag. We figured that we'd make a "quick" stop at Kittery Trading Post because it was right up the road. The return went smoothly. The Kittery Trading Post stop was, as expected, not quick. I couldn't decide on which dry bag to buy. I was distracted by the shiny helmets. I couldn't find the Five Fingers. H looked for knives. She also started a quest for brown, dressy, casual sandles that didn't look too gramma'ish.
After escaping the Trading Post we went in search of a transmitter to make the iPod play through the car stereo (We took H's car on this trip because Egg 2.0 cannot support a trunk-mount bike rack). This search lead us to a Clarke's outlet (yes no connection but there are brown sandals!). We also made a stop a Brookstone. Neither stop produced any results. We left Kittery with two new dry bags and a stainless steel water bottle, but without an iPod adapter or sandles.
By now it was after noon and we'd traveled about an hour and a half....
H declared that there would be no more stops-not even at L. L. Bean to look for Five Fingers or a camp stove. We did pretty well until Portland. I had to make a relief stop. We found a Subway that happened to be near a Radio Shack and a hardware store. While I relieved myself H went to the Radio Shack and secured us iPod integration. Then we stopped at the hardware store to look at knives, or scissors, to replace H's kayaking knife. The hardware store was a bust.
Finally, we were on the road to stay. It was pretty smooth sailing. H only triple checked the GPS directions a few times. Traffic was light.
The ease on this leg could not make up for the lost time earlier in the day. We didn't get to the border crossing at Calias Maine until 6pm. We called the B&B to tell them we'd be later than expected but not too late. Then we waited in line to cross the border for 40 minutes. Then we hit heavy fog. H drove through pretty heavy fog until St. John's.
We stopped to grab food and regroup at a McDonalds in St. John's. Our new plan was to call the B&B and cancel our reservations if the fog held. We could find a motel along the way.
The man at the B&B was very nice. He suggested that we drive to Moncton before we made up our minds. There were plenty of places to stay in Moncton and it was about half way between St. Johns and Amherst.
Ten minutes out of St. Johns the fog cleared. We cruised to Moncton where we called the B&B. We told them that we were still coming and that we would be there in about an hour. It was 9:30, so we didn't feel too bad about keeping the inn keeper up until 10:30...
I don't know why but I asked H if we had changed time zones. She was pretty sure that we hadn't. I was pretty sure we had. So she checked the cell phone to see what time the cell network thought it was. The cell phone said it was 10:30. The time zone changes at the border. Now we felt like jack asses. Not only were keeping the inn keeper up until almost midnight, we were too stupid to know it until it was too late. There was no way we were going to call a fourth time and make matters even worse.
Fortunately the drive from Moncton was uneventful. We did get caught in a random police check point on a desolate country road, but that was it.
When we arrived at Stuart House the inn keepers were very nice. They were used to Americans. Another family from MA had arrived just a half hour before us after a day of sightseeing.
The inn was lovely. Our room was large and quaint. The bed was a little soft and the shower was a little whimpy. The breakfast, however, made up for everything. The muffins, rolls, and farmer's breakfast were divine.
Our drive from Stuart House to Cape Breton was uneventful, but longer than anticipated. We stopped at Heather Beach to get a picture of H with the sign. We also took an unexpected little ferry ride at Englishtown.
The GPS said to turn left when the only thing to the left was water. At the last minute a small road appeared. At the bottom was a small ferry that shuttled cars across a 100 yard wide channel.
We arrived at Hideaway Campground around 5:30pm. We got two nice tent sites with spectacular views of South Aspy Pond.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

H and the Currents

We finally got H to play in the currents. She wanted to go on one more paddle before our trip to Cape Breton and the only option was to join TM, PB, BH, and I on the Westport River. RS also joined us. It was your typical Westport paddle. Before lunch we played in the rocks just south of the river while we waited for the current to build. After lunch we played.
The race was not as active as in the past, but it was good enough for some fun rides. H slowly poked her bow into the race a few times. She caught a few rides and looked good doing it. She is more skilled than she believes.

Friday, July 10, 2009


H and I, along with TM & CC, took stand up paddling lessons at Osprey Sea Kayak. It was a load of fun. The instructor, Mike Simpson, kept things fun and informative. In no time at all H and CC were walking all over the boards and doing pivot turns. I was the only person to take a swim. The first time I walked too far forward and flipped. The second time was a pivot turn gone bad.
Stand up paddling is fun and I could see it as an alternative to kayaking if you've only got an hour after work to enjoy the water. It will never replace kayaking on the ocean. 

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Just Crazy Enough

Home life has been stressful the past few weeks, so a sunny long weekend was a gift from heaven. There was going to be kayaking. Oh there was going to be kayaking...
The only scheduled paddle was in upper Narragansett Bay which didn't really interest me, but it would have done in a pinch. Fortunately, BH was also looking for a little more action than the upper Bay would offer. His idea was to take advantage of the big tides and the constriction at the Quonny Pond breech way.
BH tried to enlist TM, PB, and myself. TM needed to get day care support. I was hoping to get H on the water and wasn't sure which day she would be up for it. PB wanted to do some cycling on the best cycle-day of the weekend. TM was able to secure a few hours of grandparent support. H planned to visit with a friend on Saturday. PB decided the day was perfect for cycling.
Saturday morning the three of us showed up to test our mettle. I was forgoing the mighty stick for my scoopy Kinetic Touring blades to battle the big water.
Things looked pretty calm in the pond, but we knew the real action was at the mouth of the breech way. The water rushing out of the breech into the incoming waves would make for action...
When we rounded the corner we met some flat water. There were a few bumps and some little swirlies. It was enough to make the hull bounce and rock. It made turning a little difficult. It was enough.
We decided to move down the shore and see what other trouble we could find. There were rocks to dodge a and small waves to ride.
Along one beach we found some very nice surf waves. The wave were just a few feet tall, had long breaks, and collapsed well before the beach. Perfect for a few early season, cold water rides.
So we could tell stories of mayhem later, I "volunteered" to be a train wreck. After surfing into the beach, I made a graceful turn into an oncoming wave. The wave was no problem, but it left me sitting parallel to the beach and the surf... The second wave hit me an as I braced, my paddle snapped. I was upside down with a paddle in each hand. Fortunately, the water was shallow and I managed to get myself upright and side surf into the beach.
I spent the rest of the day using H's Kinetic S. It is a nice paddle. It doesn't have the same power as the full size Kinetic Touring, but more than enough to handle most conditions. Compared to the mighty stick it is a club.
The rest of the day was pleasant. We bopped around the coast playing when the opportunity arose and otherwise just enjoying the feeling of being on the ocean. We quickly realized (or was it rationalized) that the mild conditions were perfect for an early season outing. There will be plenty of time later in the season for mayhem in big water.
Back at the put-in, we did (mostly) successful rolls. I blew one, but completed several others including a picture perfect off-side roll. Not bad for being out of practice and using a new paddle....