Dates of Trip:
In June 2018 it was my great honor to receive a 2018 Sean A. Collier Adventure Grant to sponsor my cycling adventure around the province of Nova Scotia. In keeping with the grant program’s mission to honor Officer Collier’s enthusiasm for the outdoors and his commitment to tackling new challenges, I sought to use this grant to support my growth as an adventurer. This summer, after finishing a masters program at MIT, a few friends and I planned our first-ever self-supported bicycle tour, from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia to Halifax and back. We completed the 500-mile round trip in 10 days, with at an average of just over 50 miles per day. The ride started with a trip to the ferry terminal in Portland, Maine on June 24th. After a 6-hour ferry ride to Nova Scotia (itself a real pleasure), we started pedaling!
To complete this journey, I adapted my old Giant Defy aluminum road bike (I call her “Sea Level”) to carry a bit of weight: two panniers on a back rack, a bungee-corded bivy tent, and a small frame bag on the front. This setup is not totally ideal for touring, but the price was right and I managed not to break any spokes. In fact I only had one flat tire during the whole tour and it was completely my own fault for nailing that huge rock in the road! The total weight of the rig was about 55 pounds, which made for some slow climbs. Otherwise it was pretty comfortable rolling on flats and descents.
Other than one night in an AirBnB in Halifax (camping options there were very limited and a little bit of luxury didn’t hurt either), we lived on the cheap: eating oatmeal, camping, and eschewing showers. We stayed in several Provincial Parks (the Canadian equivalent of the state park system) that were generally beautiful, quiet, and affordable. Two highlights were Blomidon Provincial Park, which offered incredible views of the Bay of Fundy’s famous tides (the most extreme in the world), and Valleyview Provincial Park, with its famous outlook (known as a “Look Off” in Canadian English) of the agricultural Annapolis Valley.
While the climbs up to these particular campgrounds were fierce (as much as 500 feet in 1-2 miles), the headwind was the true villain of the trip. While hills offer rewarding views and refreshing descents, headwinds offer no such reward. Our first day (70 miles from Yarmouth to Bear River, NS) featured constant headwinds exceeding 30 kilometers per hour. Considering the rule of thumb that every 5 km/h of headwind reduces your speed by 10 percent, we were certainly crawling that day.
The roadside scenery in general was astounding and surprisingly diverse. We passed through golden fields in the Annapolis Valley, impressive cliffsides along the Bay of Fundy, fertile dykelands, wildflowers, urban Halifax, salty seaside towns, and the sparsely populated Atlantic Coast (think Maine, but emptier). We learned all about Acadian nationalism, the long and bitter rivalry between the French and the English, and the rich maritime legacy of the fishing industry.
Other than the tail winds, the weather was generally favorable and I have no complaints about the tour! Perhaps the greatest joy of the trip was engaging with local Nova Scotians along the way. They have a reputation for friendliness and they certainly delivered in this case! In fact, we termed conversations with locals “Stop and Chat’s,” and at times they were so numerous and lengthy that it was hard to get any miles in. Many Nova Scotians were interested in the fact that I live in the Boston area and commented on the close ties between Nova Scotia and Massachusetts dating back as far as New England “planters,” or colonists who settled Nova Scotia as part of an 18th century English effort to compete with French influence in the region. Although many Bostonians may not realize it, this connection is alive and well! Each year the City of Halifax donates the large Christmas tree displayed on the Boston Common. This is in commemoration of aid provided by Bostonians after the Halifax Explosion of 1917 destroyed large swatch of the city (which remains the largest non-nuclear blast in world history).
Another highlight of the trip was the (mostly unpaved) series of trails along the former railway that once connected the towns of Nova Scotia’s southern Atlantic coast. We rode well over 75 miles of trails without seeing a single car – a real luxury! The trails crossed bridges every few miles, many of which offered extraordinary views and some very cold swimming.
Another privilege of this trip is that we rode through the Canadian countryside on Canada Day itself! While not quite the patriotic July spectacle we are used to here in the United States, experiencing Canada Day was along with our neighbors to the north was a real treat. I (temporarily) tattooed my calf to commemorate the occasion. We also visited the Bluenose II, a legendary schooner immortalized on the Canadian dime (a pilgrimage nearly akin to visiting Independence Hall on the 4th of July) and took a detour to kayak the LaHave Islands, where we spotted seals and osprey.
After taking the ferry back to Portland, Maine, I concluded the tour with a 125-mile ride back home to Somerville (my longest single-day ride ever!). Temperatures were much higher in New England than they ever were in Maritime Canada, but I was happy to be back in familiar cycling country. All in all, it was a challenging but delightful trip and it has inspired me to plan to my bike tours (Blue Ridge Parkway 2019 anyone?) and it’s even got me thinking about getting into “backpacking” (strictly off-road bike tours).
Yours in the Outdoors,