Day 77 – I made two big decisions this morning: I booked a place on the ferry for me and my bike across to Newfoundland (they only run three times week) and then I booked my flight home. Now all I have to do is get to both places in time. From the moment that I received the airline’s confirmation email, my trip changed from free, open-ended and subject to any whim that takes me, to finite and back in the real world of deadlines and schedules. I’m sad to lose that feeling.
- Today’s Distance (miles/km): / 53
- Time in saddle: 2h 30
- Max/min temp (°c): 29°/19°
- Climb/descend (feet) : 708 / 686
- Calories used:
- Cafe time: 1h 31
New Brunswick is the only officially bilingual Province in Canada, but, sitting here in the Shediac Tim Hortons early on a Sunday morning, the only language I can hear is French. My problem is understanding the accent. It’s quite different from the accent in Quebec, and listening in here they throw in many more Americanisms, or rather Canadianisms, (hockey game, flatbed, ca va? Long time no see!, plus plenty of familiar expletives) which only serve to confuse me. Swearing in French is very flamboyant but Shediac prefers the hard edge of Anglo-Saxon.
Everyone in here seems to know each other really well. Each time the door swings open there’s a hail of saluts and a new conversation begins. The guys on my right are clearly very old buddies, and laugh as much as they talk. I pick up the odd phrase, mostly to do with jobs they’re working on at their properties and how everyone rips them off and does work of mauvais qualité.
I thought these get-togethers might have been a sort of pre-church gathering, but the way some of the conversations are going suggests that they’re not thinking about church right now! I’m sorry to report that I’m just about the only person on my own in here, so I get the occasional wave and bonjour, because Canadians everywhere don’t like to let anyone feel left out, one of their most endearing qualities.
Interesting fact of the day: the earliest surviving recorded swear word in the history of recording was in French, and said by a musician. Not just a musician, but a violinist. No ordinary violinist either – he was also the virtuoso composer of the piece he was playing. Henri Wineawski, a superstar of his age, was recording one of his show pieces back in the era of the wax disc, and he saw that the disc was nearly used up but he still had quite a few notes to fit in. So he and his accompanist played faster, and faster, until the performance finally collapsed in disarray. There was just enough wax left to record Henri muttering “Merde!”
It was short day again today, and started later than usual, because of needing more time tomorrow to get across the famous Confederation Bridge and then on to meet my friend David Powell, cellist in the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, who has a family holiday home on PEI. It’s actually illegal for bicycles to use the bridge, so they provide a shuttle bus service that you call up for from the start of the bridge. I have a note here in my calendar that says “Av. 30mins wait. Can be 10 mins or 2 hours depending on traffic/weather” So I’m trusting my own research and leaving plenty of time to make the crossing and then probably get a late breakfast once I’m over.
I kept to the quieter coast road today which took me very directly to my campground on the beach shortly before the bridge. It’s a peaceful and serene stretch, with small villages here and there and some fine wooden buildings, old and new:
I passed a farm stall by the road and took the chance to get some nice fresh produce – a big bag of peas in their pods, a knobbly-type cucumber and a punnet of peaches. The owner came out as I bought them and we chatted for while – I told her that I’d cycled through the famous Peachland in BC in early June and how un-ripe the peaches had been back then. She couldn’t believe I’d come so far, and as I often find when I have a conversation like this, neither can I. I don’t really think that way the rest of the time as I’m more preoccupied with the present and the immediate future. She promised that the peaches were perfect, and she was right.
“Still Life With Peaches” August 2017
I cycled to nearby gas station to get a few things and bought two scoops of salted caramel ice cream. The lady serving realised I was on a bike, and said “Cone, bowl, or would you like it in a coffee cup and a lid to keep it cold to carry with you? It’s what I do for several senior citizens- oh, I mean, not that I meant…..!” I told her I’d love a coffee cup. I brought it back to the campground, and looking at the peaches, I thought “Mmm – Peach Melba coming up”.
Murray Beach Provincial Park is a promontory of land with sandy beaches all around and this lovely site. I’ve now stopped and camped at many of the Canadian Provincial Parks, and a pattern emerges: you would expect these sites to be the most friendly, and the commercial ones to be more, well, commercial. In fact it’s not that way at all. Provincial Parks are stunning spots, without doubt, but the offices are often manned by kids doing a summer job, who seem to me to live in fear of any question that takes them out of their very narrow comfort zone. So a sort of surly unresponsiveness emerges, even though they’re clearly competent, and there’s no chance whatsoever of a question from them concerning your visit, for the reasons above. In the short summer season they’ve already learnt to quite dislike dealing with real people. Whereas the independent sites are a business, and a bit of conversation here and there makes for a more interesting day for everybody, and increases the chances of a return visit.
I thought I’d get a picture to show you all the kind of vehicle that you see quite a few of in Canada, although not all as outrageously vast as this one. This was the size of tour bus that entire orchestras spend all their spare hours in. Two people were on holiday in this vehicle. If you notice, in the background there is a humble old fashioned caravan with dog outside, and its owner filling a large glass water jar at the tap. He sighed deeply as he did this, before he saw that I was watching. His dog was asleep in the open back of his van earlier, but looked up as I walked passed, whined gently, then closed his eyes and went back to dozing.
As I tried and failed one last time to get emails this evening I met Jo, and then Brian, two amazing New Zealanders also crossing Canada this summer. They’re both retired after what sounds like an amazing life of top-level rock climbing (Jo) and countless expeditions over decades as guides for scientists and film-makers in the Antarctic (both of them). As Brian said, that kind of work resets your judgement of what isolation and remoteness are. This trip has been neither for them, despite taking a more northerly, and more sparsely populated, route than I did. Jo is originally from Sheffield but after working in British Columbia she moved to NZ. Brian, to my surprise, said “Ben the Blog guy?” when Jo introduced us. We swapped stories of our impressions and experiences of Canada this summer, and agreed that riding around on touring bikes was a very different game, in every way, than the road bikes that all three of us were more used to. They have climbed most of the major peaks of the Alps and many others besides, on holidays to Europe during the antipodean winter. Another feeling that it gave me great pleasure to find to be common to us all was that of winding down. The knowledge that most of what needs to be done to cross the continent has been done, which kindles a kind of steely determination of its own; the intense wish to enjoy yourself.
Thanks to me mum for sending another poem (limerick) that’s doesn’t have a perfectly formed last line:
There was once a young man from Dundee
Who got stung on the nose by a wasp
When asked if it hurt
He said no it can do it again if it likes.
I’d like to offer one more in the same vein:
There once was a bard from Japan
Who’s verses they never would scan
When told this was so,
He said “Yes, I know,
But I always have to fit as many words into the last line as I possibly can”
If you’re like me you’ll have checked and noticed that I’m only on page 125, after months on the road (I bought this back in Golden, BC). I haven’t read every day, but that’s not the only reason that my progress has been so slow. The last time I read this extraordinary book I read it quickly and only scanned many of the impenetrably dense philosophical sections. This time around I find I’m almost a different person reading a different book, and love nothing more than to find a passage I can’t grasp right away (and there are many!) but then take the time to close-read it, very much in keeping with the subject of the book – a study of the meaning of quality, and how we think. The book is ideal on a journey such as this, and an inexhaustible companion.
Today’s sign-haul is fairly respectable:
This is for my pal Amos Miller, with whom I once spent three weeks travelling all over South Africa. We, with our boss Marilyn, were the education team of the English Chamber Orchestra, and we started most days, whatever the strange location, with a duet for violin and trombone. Aaaah. I can hear it now.