45.0 mi / 11.6 mph / 1061 ft. climbing
Home: Trish and Shaun’s AirBNB
Rain started in the early morning hours, and it was still raining when it was time to get up and moving. It had been in the forecast, but the rain’s actual presence, falling from the sky, revealed that we had been in denial about it. We knew the difficulty and abject unhappiness morning-rain-in-camp brings to our traveling life, but somehow were hoping it just wouldn’t happen. I can’t remember the last time we faced this particular challenge (we generally try really hard to avoid it), but one data point is that I wore my new pair of rain pants today for the first time, which I bought in…January.
Due to the denial, I had barely even come up with any contingency plans, so after burning a bunch of time waiting for the rain to let up, somewhat on-the-fly I decided to send Rett to her idea of the big open barn/rec-room that we saw on our way into the campground yesterday, where she could set up stuff on the dry picnic tables inside, and I would meet her there when I finished packing up. Luckily there was a period of nearly-stopped rain for most of the packing, but it started again as I was taking down the tent, which I guess wasn’t a big deal because it was getting packed away soaked and filth-covered anyway.
And then, Rett texted me to let me know that the barn was closed and locked, and there was no one in the office. Fuck. She said she was just going to start riding. So I finished up as fast as I could, dashed out to the road, and caught up just as she was heading out in the rain. Major elements of my morning routine ended up skipped, like brushing my teeth and cleaning my contacts (at least I got used to riding in my glasses when I lost my contacts in Mexico). Oh, and, breakfast.
We’re in a pretty unpopulated area, but I knew there was some sort of general/grocery store five miles in, so the hope was that we could stop there and get some sort of food into us. Carl’s Store appeared in the gray, and it matched much of the “Maritime architecture” we’d seen here so far, whose primary feature seems to be “no overhangs”. Why the hell would they build all the buildings with no fucking overhangs here? It’s not like it never rains!
And that was the last straw for Rett. She collapsed into anguish and tears, hating this thing that we were doing so much that my mind immediately shifted to figuring out how we could get back to Yarmouth and transition out of this bicycle-based life.
But even at this monumental tipping point, food was still a priority, so we trudged inside, dripping, to see if we could scrounge up anything breakfast-related. There was a microwave and Keurig machine, so without even asking anyone I just started making us hot coffees, and we huddled around the microwave while I poorly-heated some breakfast sandwiches I yanked out of their freezer section. The air-conditioning made it too cold inside (and there really wasn’t anywhere to eat anyway), so we went back out into the wet-but-warmer option.
I felt bad that we had to quickly shut down all the other friendly customers coming in and out, curious with the usual questions about what we were doing. But I bet that “we’re thinking of ending this thing you see us doing because she hates it so much” is not really the story they were hoping to hear anyway. At least their friendliness told me that it probably wouldn’t take us too much time before we would be able to find someone with a pickup truck willing to take us the ~10 miles back into Yarmouth.
Because the impossibility of getting back on the bike and restarting it was probably the main thing that had brought Rett to this end. We had hoped that Canada would provide a magic fix, and thus, the disappointment of the continued deterioration of her biking skill, combined with the broken promise of better weather, crushed that stupid bubble of hope into nothing.
While I couldn’t directly relate to Rett losing a skill that she’d had no trouble with for years, I could understand how it was inexorably grinding down her normally-indefatigable spirit. If starting the bike was nearly-impossible, it meant that once-started, the idea of stopping triggered terror, and so that terror kept her chained to the bike, forever pedaling, unable to rest. And then more-broadly, she knows that every day, for hours, she will be trapped, having the wolf by the ears. That knowledge is a stone that will grind down even a diamond’s light and make every day dark.
But, whether it was the food, her innate stubbornness, or just the fact that she couldn’t bear us eating the cost of a couple nights we’d already booked, she eventually declared “forward” was the only way. It definitely wasn’t the only way, and I’m not even sure I agreed that it was the best way, but that’s the way we’re taking for now. At least once she got the bike going again, which took five or six heart-wrenching tries.
The southeast coast of Nova Scotia is comprised of a line of “lobes”, rounded peninsulas that jut into the Atlantic. Highway 3, the “Lighthouse Route” is a shoulderless but low-traffic route that tends to wind along the coast of the lobes. Highway 103, the “Fisherman’s Highway” is a newer highway that cuts straight across the tops of the lobes, and thus is more busy. Last night we’d considered exploring the lobes, but today’s reality meant that we’d be taking the shortest path possible to our destination.
Luckily one of the last well-wishers who stopped to chat at the store were Sam and Sam’sGirl (sorry I never got her name!), a couple from Quebec on a short and very-lightly-loaded bike tour of Nova Scotia. They said they were also going to take the 103, the less-bike-friendly highway, so that helped make us not feel like we were crazy idiots (and simply seeing them out riding in this stuff too probably helped too).
We were able to take Highway 3 for another 10 miles, which was pretty relaxed, and the rain had mostly stopped. We got onto 103 before it diverged from 3, so sooner than we really needed to, and learned that its tiny shoulder unfortunately hadn’t been widened since the last StreetView. Traffic was fairly light, but Canadian drivers definitely aren’t as guaranteed to move into the oncoming lane to pass as Mexican drivers are (though they’re better than Americans!) The rain by this point had mostly been replaced by fog, fairly dense, so we were thankful for the earlier rain that had us wearing our bright-colored rain jackets and our bikes wearing their bright-colored rain covers.
I saw another cyclist coming up from behind in my rearview mirror, but it turned out to be Sam from the grocery store again! I guess our earlier hop onto 103 let us leapfrog them? We chatted for quite a bit more as we rode, and somehow us as a chaotic threesome (with Sam not bright-colored, and not helmeted) got a lot more respect from the drivers; could they sense he wasn’t American? I finally asked the obvious question: what happened to his girl? He said, oh, she’s probably a kilometer or two back, at which point he wheeled around and went back to find her. Definitely a different form of pairs riding than our joined-at-the-wheel style!
Since the 103 is a relatively new highway, it just cuts straight through forest, forest, and nothing but forest. For miles and miles and miles. It’s not even clear if it’s owned by anyone in particular, and there are no businesses or houses, no cross streets, no driveways, and not even any pull-offs wider than the (consistent) 6-foot-wide gravel shoulder. Nothing but asphalt, gravel, a line of underbrush, and then trees, dense armies of trees. So I actually had to do a SatelliteView to scout out any place for us to pull over for lunch. The spot we found was a big unmarked parking-lot-sized square of asphalt, with no explanation for its existence. But we were happy to have it, so we set up our chairs, made some lunch, and I laid out our soaking-wet tent to see if it would dry out, which it miraculously somehow did, despite the fact that there was still a light mist in the air.
As we ate, who rolled in to join us but…Sam and his girl! Well, they didn’t actually stop to join us for lunch; instead, Sam had gotten a flat tire just moments before, so our asphalt square along the constrictive ribbon couldn’t have been more-perfectly timed for them. This time we got to talk more with Sam’s counterpart, who is a rare person from the Magdelen Islands of Quebec (another spot we’ve been hoping to visit while in this area). We were really lucky to have met them and have these continued encounters with them where we could hang out and commiserate (about the rain/endless-forest/peeing-as-a-girl), it made the day feel a bit less like a nightmare.
We flew (on our own again) through the final fifteen miles, with either the shoulder getting better or traffic getting lighter. We exited the highway a few miles before our AirBNB, stopped to pick up some frozen pizzas for dinner, and then we walked several blocks and around a couple turns before Rett was able to find another place where she could start the bike again.
Our hosts for our shared-room AirBNB had headed out (to Yarmouth, so they likely saw us on the road), but they told us to let ourselves in and make ourselves at home. And then as we were loading in we had our fourth and final encounter with Sam and SamsGirl, who were staying at another B&B just a few houses down! We took our hosts at their word, baking up our pizzas in their oven, doing a load of laundry in their machine, showering, and spreading all of our wet bags and gear around our cute farmhouse room (trying hard not to make a giant mess of it).
So, we had made it forward. But to what end? Continuing on while being this unhappy, and being unable to start the bike outside of a narrow and carefully-selected subset of conditions, is clearly unsustainable for the long term. And now we’re even further from anywhere. But how can we change it? How can we fix it? Oh god, I wish I knew.