Monday, August 30, 2010

10 Weeks of Summer in 2 Weeks Time

Another whirlwind of chores, visiting, and activities, as we stopped back at home base for the past two weeks. It's been fun catching up with friends, neighbors and family, getting in some mountain biking on local trails, wakeboarding in the Connecticut River, and fishing in Long Island Sound. Ate some great sushi in Branford, dined dockside at the Blue Oar, scarfed pizza in Farmington, shish-kabobs in Rocky Hill, and had the BEST swordfish that ever passed my lips at the River Tavern in Chester.

Here's what our calendar looked like over the last 14 days:

Dinner with Scott & Kristen; Bike with Dan E; Sushi with David; Boating & dinner with the Lawrences; Dinner with the Shirley's; dinner with Lillian & Mike; with Lisa; with Scott & Kristen; Bike with Dan E, Dan S & Sean; Tea with Alyssa & family; dinner with Surkis' & Carney's; dinner with Clark's, Youmatz's & Rapp's; Fish with Jeff; dinner with John & Debbie; Party for Scott including Mom & Dad from Maine; BBQ at Carty's; River Tavern with Torops; evening cruise with Carty's.

I was grossly negligent in capturing most of our socializing on camera, but here is a sampling, mostly from our waterborn adventures: (Remember: photos will enlarge when clicked on.)

Athena, Nancy & Theonne en route to the Blue Oar:

Gene and I at the helm:

Austin passes the boat on skiis:

Jeff fighting one of the many nice fish on Bartlett's Reef, in Long Island Sound:

We lost quite a few flies to the sharp teeth of bluefish, until switching to wire leaders. Here Jeff displays one of the blues that we brought on board!

Nothing like the thrill of catching a striped bass on a popper with a fly rod!

Here I am enjoying the fight:

A nice, healthy striped bass, although still a few inches shy of a keeper:

Scott making turns on the wakeboard:

Kristin getting on plane:

Here I am carving a turn:

Scott's spectacular crash & splash:

Scott & Kristen on a romantic tube ride:

Family dinner - an early birthday party for Scott. Happy 27th!

Barbeque at the Carty's:

So tomorrow, the 1st of September, we embark on phase 3 of our journey. We'll head west from here, stopping in Cleveland and Chicago. From there, it's unclear which direction we'll go, but what is clear is that we're looking forward to getting back on the road!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Kingdom Trails

Kingdom Trails is an organization that builds and maintains a large mountain bike trail system in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. We camped just 20 minutes or so from East Burke, where they are located, so Saturday I drove up, purchased a day pass, and spent four hours on the trails. It was a beautiful day, and there were lots of folks in town to ride, coming from all over New England, New York, New Jersey and Quebec. There's over 100 miles of trail, so it was rare that I'd overtake another rider, and only once had to move aside for a group riding the other way. Riders congregated at the tops of some of the most popular trails, like Sidewinder.

The loop recommended to me was at least 12 miles long, with a lunch stop about half way, at the furthest point from the start. I felt good, and the bike felt at home on the trails. The trail builders have really done an excellent job designing trails that flow sweetly from turn to turn, and that take full advantage of the terrain. It's a joy to ride there. Amazingly there are almost no rocks, so its very different from riding in Connecticut, where some trails are nothing but rocks. Also, unlike most of the trails I ride in CT, if I didn't have to stop to check my map, I could ride their whole system without ever getting off the bike or putting a foot down. At home I'm off the bike walking over obstacles at regular intervals. So, its different, and very, very good riding.

My loop consisted of the following string of trail names: Harp-Coronary Bypass-Fence Line-Coronary-Loop-Bemis-Tap & Die-River Run-Webs-Dry Feet-West Branch-Hog Back-Sidewinder-Old Webs-(lunch at the chapel)-Border-Jaw-Maxilla-Sugar Hill-Ridge-Rim-Connector-Widow Maker-East Branch-Vast-Leather Wood-Peat Bog-Nose-Kitchel-Herb's.

The trails in bold were the highlights. Sidewinder is an amazing series of downhill switchbacks cut across a deep ravine, and is as much like a roller coaster ride as you can get on a mountain bike - a huge adrenaline rush, and worth the climb back to the top to do it again! Jaw had a series of wooden ramps snaking through the woods, most a comfortable 2 feet wide. My favorite was a long one, maybe 300 feet long, that started out at the roomy 2', but then narrowed to 1.5', and finally to just 1' wide. It was great because you're already on and committed to the ramp, so you can either ride it out, or fall off. (I rode). Kitchel caught me off guard - it was a steep series of highly banked turns that, if done at the proper high rate of speed, would put the rider horizontal at the apex of each turn. Another wild ride and total rush! About 3/4 way through the day, my legs were starting to ache, and climbing was painfull. I was afraid that I would get cramps in my thighs, so I had to keep moving. It was great to end with some rewarding downhill, and I finished up the ride walking stiffly but feeling great!

Here's a map of the Darling Hill section of trails, where I rode. My track is highlighted in a manly shade of pink:

Here I am half way through, at the lovely hilltop where a lunch stand was set up - great because it saved me from packing and carrying food on my back:

And here I am riding one of the serpentine ramps through the woods:

So, today we packed up and drove due south for home. It's nice to be back, but a little strange to break our ryhthm. There's a lot of work to do, and lots of socializing to fit in, so we'll be staying for about two weeks. The last day of August will likely find us heading into the Adirondacks, and I'm signing off until then...

Friday, August 13, 2010

Quebec & Montreal

So, once we learned about the free Cirque-du-Soleil show in Quebec City, we decided to stay a few more days, but not at the roadside trailer park. Instead, we moved up to the beautiful campground at Mont Saint Anne, which had been booked solid for the weekend, but could take us in starting Sunday. It was such a relief to hear only the sounds of the brook, wind and birds instead of racing motors. As I mentioned last entry, there was no internet there, but there was a Salle de Fartage, so that's always a plus:

And finally, we found fruit and vegatable stands, strangely absent in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Also strange is that both strawberries and sweet corn are in season at the same time, so we took full advantage:

I did some more riding during the day, and then Tuesday night we drove back into Old Quebec to see the Cirque show: Les Chemins Invisibles. From the highway overpass on the ride in it looked like no one was even lining up yet, so we took our time, parked, strolled over, stopping for a soft serve, and arrived under the overpass to find: a massive line of people waiting for the gates to open. We thought: No way everyone's fitting in there, and as we stood the line grew and grew until it was at least a city block long and 10 people deep. But, the gates opened and it was standing room only - no seating whatsoever, so the space absorbed the whole throng. If you've never been to a Cirque du Soleil show, you're missing out - they really are amazing, and worth the high ticket prices. This is a special free show they've set up only in Quebec, and just an hour long, but the same high level of skill and entertainment. They had a small scale spinning erector-set contraption that they guy jumps around on while it spins:

And the freaky chinese girls bending themselves in backwards U's while in a handstand, always a crowd pleaser:

And the crazy otherworldly sets with acrobats dangling all over the place, fire jugglers, becostumed stilt walkers, etc...

So satisfied we left Quebec City and drove across the province to Montreal. As we got closer to the city the landscape changed from endless corn fields, to endless industrial park complexes, and then endless urban sprawl. The traffic got very bad, mostly due to major road construction. The closer we got to our destination of Campground Domaine de Bel Age in Mercier, the worse it got. Finally we arrived, and it was not an impressive place, hardly one we could say we were relieved to settle in to. But, it worked out OK. We kept hearing what sounded like shotgun shots at regular intervals, thankfully not quite near or loud enough to reduce Toby to a quivering, drooling mess, but audible nonetheless. I decided that the source was bird scarers at the nearby corn fields: automated blank gun shells fired at intervals to frighten away birds and other pests.

We went into the city of Montreal in the late afternoon and evening, and really enjoyed it. It's huge and spread out, but has a nice downtown, old city, and port. Its well set up for pedestrian and cyclists, and also has a network of underground walkways in addition to a modern subway system. In the bitter Canadian winters the residents can walk to work underground and not have to dress for a trip to the summit of Everest.

Here is a shot of the city taken from a clock tower in the port:

OK, I see a lot of chickens and chicken parts, but what the HELL is that thing in the middle???

Scenes of downtown and Old Montreal:

They have these Bixi bikes docked at rental stations all over downtown. You pay $5 and get a code to unlock a bike, ride it around, and return it to any dock in town. Its a great system, and after a nice meal at a tapas place with two-for-one mojitos, we couldn't resist taking a little spin around the port:

So, it was a good experience in Montreal, and so we left Canada on a good note, crossing the border today back into the good ol' USA. We had a beautiful drive through the islands in Lake Champlain, and took the Whale to Burlington, VT, where we bought it, to have the water heater fixed, as it no longer operated on propane. They took care of it right away, and we drove on again to a nice, quiet campground in Saint Johnsbury, Vermont, not far from Kingdom Trails, where I'll do some nice mountain bike trail riding tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


We left Escuminac, drawn to move on by a mail delivery in Presque Isle, Maine, and looking forward to Quebec City. It was hard, though, to leave the beautiful beach park for only $11/night, our cheapest rate of the trip so far.

We drove across New Brunswick, leaving civilization for the middle two hours of the drive - we saw few cars, no houses, and three moose. Trees and logging roads... We arrived at our next camp, River Country Campground, and were disappointed to find it to be another seasonal stronghold, closely packed and not catering as much to transients. I did find some logging roads to get a quick ride in, climbing up into hay fields with a great view of the St. John River valley.

We drove into Presque Isle, Maine, to pick up mail, and also to stock up on groceries, diesel, and a couple of bottles of booze, all of which are much more costly in Canada. We crossed into Maine on a tiny dirt road, with a railroad-crossing style gate, and trailer/customs office. Once into Maine, we drove through massive potato farms and to the relative bustle of Presque Isle. Got all stocked up and headed back to the border, arriving at the gate at 4:07 - it was closed and locked! We decided not to bust through, and drove back and up to the next crossing at Perth-Andover. Here we learned that you can't pop into the US for booze without paying a heavy tariff on the way back into Canada. It was so high ($25 tax on the gin, $10 for triple sec) that we forfeited the gin - just not worth it.

The next day we drove north and into Quebec. Suddenly all signage was in French only! On the way we passed what must be a truly funny place: Saint Louis-du-Ha!Ha!

But it was a nice drive, especially in the St. Lawrence river valley, and we arrived at our next camp, Camping Erables in Montmagny, to find that they could only accommodate us for 1 night. Too bad, because they put us on a great site on the very corner of the campground, backed up to open fields. So, we had to move again the next day, this time driving through the city of Quebec.

Here is Toby in the field behind our camp:

I was low on fuel, having forgotten to fill up before hooking up, so we paused at a rest area so that I could empty my 5 gallon can into Gigantor. But a traffic jam in the city put us on E again, and I was worried that we'd run out before getting to camp. We made it! Camping Turmel is a big, crowded place, almost all seasonals, and right next to a busy roadway. We were put on the outskirts, in a field not really set up for camping, and overflow area, really. We scabbed onto other sites' electric and water. The road noise is terrible, and our power has popped off several times. The seasonal campers are unfriendly, although this seems to be typical of most Quebecois people. Except in business, they mostly do not make eye contact, and if they do, just stare un-smiling. They are also generally uninterested in the dogs, which we haven't seen before. It's very strange and not very welcoming.

But we made the best of a couple of days there, going to visit Chute-Montmorency, a 272' tall waterfall (apparently 98 feet higher than Niagra):

I wend to nearby Mont Sainte Anne which has major system of mountain bike trails, both Cross-Country and Downhill. I did downhill, as I can XC anywhere. The top of the mountain is serviced by gondola. I made three trips up and back down, and that was enough! The trails were 5, 6 and 9 kilometers long, technical and sometimes very steep, with some small drops, wooden ramps & platforms, dirt burms, and lots of bumpy dirt track. It was a huge workout for my legs, which are still very sore days later. I enjoyed it thoroughly - it was a huge adrenaline rush, and very demanding of my concentration and all of my Trek Remedy's full suspension. An awesome adventure! Also, I noticed that the people there were much friendlier than those in more urban settings. It made me feel better about the Quebecois. Here I am riding the gondola up the mountain:

And here is a view of the Saint Lawrence river valley from the gondola:

Then we went into Old Quebec. After some stressfull driving around the city looking for parking in our massive truck, we walked to the old walled city and joined the throngs of tourists packing the steets. Here is Nancy in front of one of the gates in the wall:

And here is a view down a street blocked to traffic, jam packed with tourists:

We walked along, admiring the cities architecture, old world feel, shops and street performers. We came to a high overlook and gazed out over the city's port and the St. Lawrence River:

We walked the governor's promenade along the walls of the city's fortification, the citadel, and then went back into town to find a place to eat. We ended up at a creperie on the backside of the massive Chateau Frontenac:

There we were poorly served mediocre food, but the setting was magnificent, and there was a musician performing there who was very good, so not a total loss. Also, the River Tavern in Chester, CT, has set the bar so high for us that almost every other restaurant is a let down! Here we are waiting for service:

We walked off our meal finding our way back to the truck,

and finding it we drove around trying to find our way out of the city, passing along the way a Circue-du-Soliel production going on under an overpass. We know now that it's a free show, and we'll be going in tomorrow night to check it out. We hurried home, trying to get there before an international fireworks competition begen echoing through the valley, reducing our dogs to quivering wrecks. We made it in time, and turned out that we could hardly hear the booming over the traffic anyway!

Now we are camped over near Mont Saint Anne, in a MUCH nicer place, but no WiFi, so I write this from a cafe in Beaupre. More later on the remainder of our visit to Quebec!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Escuminac Beach, NB

We've left Nova Scotia, moved back into New Brunswick, and are camped at Escuminac Beach Park, not far east of Miramachi. We stopped near Truro NS for a couple of nights, but found nothing there to capture our interest, and the campground was uninteresting and crowded. So, we found ourselves back on the beach, this one many miles long, bordered by sand dunes in part, and peat bog farther out towards the point. The folks are friendly here, even though many speak French :) Plus, the cost is half what we usually pay for a campsite. We'd stay longer, but we're off to pick up mail in Maine, and would like to see Quebec City and Montreal before stopping back at home for a couple weeks. Turns out its hard to avoid falling into a timeline on a trip like this. It's a nice idea to just "go where the wind blows", but in reality, the road beckons, and appointments get made which urge us forward.

Its funny how whenever we move we notice that as we leave a place, others are arriving, and as we head west down a road, other campers are heading east. We all want to be somewhere we're not; we search for the greener grass, the most stunning vista, the best climate, the nicest environment. And while we're out looking for that ideal in some far off place, there are doubtless people who have travelled many miles to visit our home town. Perhaps some of us will find some new place that will be a new home, and some will return and know that they already live in their ideal place. And in each special place we find along the way, no matter how much we love it, there are people there that feel trapped and wish for a way out. What a complicated lot we are...

Here are some scenes of Escuminac:

The boardwalk and dunes along the beach in front of the campground:

The lighthouse at Escuminac point, where a half-dozen or so locals have set up permanent camps:

Most of the point is peat bog, many feet deep, and in some areas the sea has eroded its way into the peat, revealing its full cross section, hundreds of years and generations of sphagnum moss and the preserved tree roots and other remnants within. Here is Nancy wondering at the spongelike, waterlogged consistency and countless layers of peat:

The snails are doing very well here:

The town has a large fishing pier, which was bustling with activity in anticipation of the opening of the lobster season in a few days:

And here is a memorial to the 30-some fisherman who died in a freak storm back 1959. Our campground host was out with his father fishing in that storm, but they were smart enough to come in rather than try to weather the storm at sea. They had a rough time of it, and had to repair their rudder during the storm, but they made it to the wharf alive.