29.1 mi / 10.9 mph / 860 ft. climbing
Home: Brudenell River Provincial Park Campground
The morning opened with sun replacing yesterday’s clouds, and Prince Edward Island rising unpretentiously to meet our extremely high expectations. We began by heading east along the southern coast. Similar to Baja, the roads here usually stay a significant distance from the water, but that didn’t inhibit the beauty. Instead, it amplified it, with the space between us and the blue being painted with every other color of nature’s palette, mostly in the form of wildflowers carpeting the open fields, but broken up with lines of evergreen trees, or a mustard-painted farmhouse.
When we turned north, away from water, the forest/farm ratio shifted more to the former and the scenery became slightly less-unbelievable, but even the woods here exhibit variations obvious at small-scale bicycle speeds. Before arriving to PEI, probably 80% of people we talked to said how beautiful it is, with the remaining minority declaring it “boring”. But as I suspected, the rolling-hill farm-country landscape that might not excite some like a wild mountain peak would, is perfectly attuned to trigger both of our beauty-receptors, receptors which were trained in our younger years by similar landscapes in Wisconsin and upstate New York. And unlike those pastoral regions, Prince Edward Island does add in the extra attraction of blue water as the backdrop of nearly every scene. Already in our first full day, Rett declared that she wants to live here.
Prince Edward Island’s population statistics are oddly counterintuitive to an American. With only ~150k people, it’s the least-populated of Canada’s 10 provinces. But due to its small size relative to Canada’s other massive provinces, it ranks #1 in population density. It’s almost twice as crowded as Ontario, despite having only 1% of Ontario’s population. It’s four times as packed as Quebec, which contains 50 times more people. So the whole island must feel like Manhattan, with wall-to-wall humanity, right? Well, no. If PEI was a US state, it would rank #31 in population density, between Minnesota and Vermont.
So PEI, in its rural normalcy, really serves to highlight the nearly-incomprehensible population imbalances of the rest of Canada. Ontario would rank #41 in population density as a US state, behind Utah and ahead of Kansas, despite having a population nearly equal to US states #41-50 combined! Nearly all non-PEI provinces have large urban centers, balanced by vast unpopulated regions, whereas PEI’s “urban” area, Charlottetown, has only 80k people, with the rest of the province’s people sprinkled relatively-evenly throughout the island.
One upshot of all of this is that PEI likely has the densest road network in Canada, largely due to the fact that much of its land area is put to productive use (farming), and as cyclists, we’re happy for the opportunity to piggyback onto those many options for low-traffic farm roads.
But, traffic did pick up as we reached Montague, the 4th-largest population center on the island. It’s big enough for a brewery, where we had lunch, and a Sobey’s grocery store. We walked our bikes between the two places, and I had to laugh with happiness when Rett expressed frustration at how long the walk was, and how we probably should have hopped aboard and rode. It’s the best sign so far that she’s recovering from her “yips”; this morning, she started riding right from our campsite on the pitted, curvy, gravel campground road, something she would have walked for a mile to avoid a couple weeks ago, and now she was feeling the inefficiency of walking vs. riding in this relatively-chaotic in-town situation.
Leaving town, I decided it might be a good idea to check out the Confederation Trail, a gravel rail-trail that crosses the entire island. Would it be unrideable like Nova Scotia’s abandoned rail lines, or actually usable for us over the coming days? And more importantly, had Rett’s cycling recovery progressed far enough to allow her to feel comfortable on it? It started smooth and flat and wide, but soon grass started encroaching, which made me say “uh oh”, but Rett just kept sailing right on through. Excellent!
At the relatively-empty Brudenell River Provincial Park we got a giant wooded campsite, had a nice chat with a couple on the island to Canadianly see their grandson’s hockey tournament, ate a hearty StoveTop stuffing-based dinner, and walked a bootpath from the back of our site that took us to a view of the shallow sunset water. Excellent welcome, Prince Edward Island!