24.0 mi / 9.8 mph / 1557 ft. climbing
Home: Quality Inn
Thanks to our return to Cavendish (known as Avonlea in its fictionalized version), we were able to tick off some of the final bits of Anne of Green Gables tourism. Rett had picked up some postcards a few days ago, and now was ready to mail them, so where better to do that but the Cavendish Post Office that was within walking distance of our cottage room? It’s both a re-creation of the home-based post office that LM Montgomery lived and worked in, and a genuine Canada Post location. Well, at least we think it was genuine; the worker inside was so cheerful, animated, attentive, and friendly (well beyond the standard Canadian friendliness) that it nearly felt like we had passed through a portal that separates the real world from the parallel universe of the CBC’s ‘Anne…‘ movies, and he was here playing the role of “Jolly Postmaster”. The fact that he showed an excited Rett how her postcards would be stamped with a “Green Gables” postmark just made me further question whether the portal was two-way, and if we’d be able to return to the real world!
Proof that we were successful at leaving Avonlea and returning to Cavendish, was our final stop (appropriately): the final resting place of Anne’s creator, Lucy Maud Montgomery. Even though she hadn’t lived on Prince Edward Island for the last 30 years of her life, we’ve learned enough of her over these days to know that she truly felt bonded to this island, so this would obviously be where she would return after her final journey.
The tragic story of her death seems relatively unknown, I think due to cultural taboos regarding suicide, but I feel like it’s a story with a lot of value. Whether or not she actually killed herself, it’s clear that in her later years she suffered from serious depressive episodes, with external factors (e.g., the brutality and terror of World Wars, the shitty book business, her husband’s mental illness) appearing as likely triggers. Her primary character (and kindred spirit) Anne felt everything so strongly, but was generally successful at leveraging her optimism and imagination to rescue herself from the depths of despair. Anne’s adoptive mother, Marilla, was the cautious opposite, discouraging such flights of passionate excitement, partly on the grounds that the inevitable disappointments of the real world would be that much more crushing when they collapsed her soaring dreams from towering heights than if they simply suffered a slight, controlled deflation. I’m biased, but it almost seems that Montgomery’s Marilla won the argument in the end, with the grinding realities of the real world eventually wearing down even Montgomery’s well-constructed defenses of passionate optimism.
The unanswerable question is whether the total lifetime sum of Anne’s/Montgomery’s(/Rett’s?) happiness, with its high peaks scored by deep valleys, still exceeded the happiness scribed out by Marilla’s(/Neil’s?) smoother but less-inspiring Great Plains. And even if we had mathematical tools of Emotional Calculus to integrate our way to an answer, those tools still wouldn’t be able to tell us if it’s even possible (much less, whether it’s even desirable) to turn an Anne into a Marilla, or if a person’s emotional topography is locked-in at birth.
It’s a question not-unrelated to our lives over the last year: the high-point thrills and experiences of this nomadic life surely exceed the levels of anything we would have felt in a more-conventional home, but are those high points sufficiently excessive to counter the abnormally-high stresses we also experience as a cost of this lifestyle? Is our integrated volume of happiness over the last year greater than it would have been if we’d simply stayed in Washington? I think the answer is “yes”, but not so obviously “yes” as to make the question itself sound ridiculous. And it’s something constantly in the back of our minds as we try to determine if we’re doing this life “right”, or if we can improve on it by changing things up.
Ok, enough introspection, we have riding to do. Today we would cut south across the middle of the island in a beeline to Charlottetown, PEI’s capital and largest city. We had a beautiful day with 73-degree temperatures, light winds, turned to tailwinds by the end, but a load of hills to battle.
Many people (drivers!) on Nova Scotia told us how flat PEI is. Well, they’re wrong (and luckily we had been told the truth by a cyclist before we got here, so we haven’t been surprised). Yes, if you’re in an airplane 5000 feet up, PEI looks like a rubber stamp, a flat block of land slightly raised above sea-level (differing significantly from the lumpy more-mountainous landscape of Nova Scotia). Descend closer, and you see that the height of that rubber stamp is only about 200 ft., so even though the closer inspection reveals that the stamp’s surface is far from flat or uniform, you never need to climb more than 200 feet in one go (and usually far less, which is a big difference from most other places on Earth). But you need to do those climbs (and descents) constantly, which meant that the day’s 65 feet of climbing-per-mile was the most we’ve done since March, when we crossed the slopes of a volcano in the desert of Baja! It makes sense that drivers don’t even realize how much climbing they’re doing (I’m quite confident there isn’t a descent with a “Use Lower Gear” sign anywhere on the island), but it smacks you straight in the legs when you’re on your bikes.
And so even though we were crossing the “middle” of the province, water still frequently added itself to the vistas, with long bays reaching in to make valiant, but ultimately futile, attempts to bisect the land. Despite the continuing beauty, the ride ended with Rett pretty frustrated by the endless hills, and as we approached Charlottetown, by the traffic and challenging intersections. But we arrived to our downtown hotel for our first multi-night non-camping stay after ten days of constant motion.
We needed to get here because Rett had bought tickets more than a month ago for the season’s final performance of Anne of Green Gables – The Musical at the Confederation Centre of the Arts. In the last couple weeks, I’d had two different men rave glowingly to me about it, both of whom had seen it as kids, and then recently returned as adults. I didn’t really need the “don’t worry, it’s not just a girl-thing your wife is dragging you to” pep-talks, but it was encouraging to hear their positive reviews nonetheless.
Compared to the CBC movies (which are quite good), the musical presented a even-more-heightened, manic version of Anne, which took some time to adjust to, but after I decided to interpret it as “what the verbal and emotional hurricane that is Anne feels like to Marilla and the other staid residents of Avonlea”, it all fit better. The dancing and songs were great, and it was just fun to be at the first big live-performance shared-experience event we’ve been to in years.
Our customary veg-out in our hotel room second day, with me making only a few short walking excursions to pick up food.
Our chance to see PEI’s largest city, population 39,000. We routed our own walking tour past elegant houses and churches, down to the waterfront (where we finally learned some of the “birthplace of Canada” history the town likes to claim) and out to the battery in Victoria Park. We both acquired a locally-crafted product: pewter earrings for Rett, and fingerless wool mittens for me, as the encroaching autumn chill and Rett’s evangelism for them as a practical camping accessory has really started to make sense!