28.6 mi / 9.9 mph / 1478 ft. climbing
Home: Shawkat’s VRBO
How small is our world, really? It’s small enough that, using only the power generated by our hearts, lungs, and muscles, we have been able to cover the western side of its 4th-largest country, the entirety of a major peninsula of its 13th-largest country, and bounce around three different subdivisions of its 2nd-largest country. In terms of population, there are few enough humans living on this world such that, for most people we meet, we’re the only example of bicycle-based-nomads they’ve ever heard of, and so we’re able to stand out as extremely unusual people, by simply doing something most people are technically capable of.
On the other hand, the ~5000 miles worth of road we’ve rolled over in the last year would be enough to cover less than 0.2% of the roads in just the United States alone. And there are so many people around the world doing roughly what we’re doing that we’re just a speck in the crowd; our (less-than) 200 Instagram followers are a testament to the fact that, on a global scale, we’re just a speck in the crowd of nearly-identical “extremely unusual” bike-traveling people.
But, today, that world is small enough that, when a red Volkswagen van pulled over in front of us on the road this morning, and a man jumped out and yelled “stop!”, it wasn’t anything especially surprising or unusual to us; likely just someone who had biked-toured before, and wanted to offer assistance, or just chat and learn about our story. In fact, we’re so used to the routine that, without communicating between ourselves, we already knew that Rett would keep riding, while I would stop, chat with this guy, and then catch back up.
But the man, seeing Rett ready to continue forward, raised his voice to a “Stop NOW!!” And rather than hearing that as a frightening command, it allowed his voice and his visual form to assist the high-speed pattern-recognition search subconsciously running in the background through the larger-than-we-can-imagine but small-enough-to-be-searched-in-2-seconds human-being database in both of our brains.
ALERT – Pattern Matched: “GEORGE?!?”
Now even Rett slammed on her brakes, but it was her voice that did all the squealing. And there was Penny too, excitedly hopping out of the driver’s side. It still took a few more seconds for our brains to comprehend what was happening. The last time we’d had any communication with George and Penny is the same as the last place we saw them: waving goodbye as we rode up and away from a beach in Baja, a continent away (2900 miles as the crow flies) from this point on the Earth. Or, seen from the larger world of our solar system, some 184 million miles from this spot, since that was six months ago, when we were all on the opposite side of the sun.
WHAT ARE THE CHANCES?!?
George and Penny were the couple who had warmly welcomed us to the beach on the Bay of Conception where we stayed for five of the best days and nights of the last year. They had immediately taken us under their wing, out on the water, out dancing, and even taught Rett to play ukulele. Yes, they’re from Canada, but all the way over in Alberta, nearly as far from this point in Nova Scotia (~2300 miles) as Baja is. And somehow, in this small world, on this random day, our separate paths through time and space once again crossed.
This was probably the craziest “small-world” moment of my life, but it also made us realize that, since it’s far from the only such moment, near-misses must happen constantly. One of the first things George remarked upon when we met him in Baja was Rett’s “cool hat” (her Da Brim sun-shade that fits around her helmet), and that’s also one of the things that helped them recognize us as they drove up behind us on this road. Without that recognition, or even if they’d both just been looking at something besides the right edge of the road, they easily could have still come within inches of us, but not reconnected.
Furthermore, our route had us on this section of NS-1 through Windsor for only 0.7 miles. If I hadn’t had to go back to pee one last time in our AirBNB, we would have easily already made it the two blocks to our next turn before they had a chance to come up behind us. Or if I’d needed to do a #2 instead, they would have been ahead of us before we even turned out onto the road, and none of us would have had any idea that we were even in the same province, much less in the same town on the same morning!
But wait, it gets better. After working through our mutual excitement and amazement (all while the owner of the house we’d pulled over in front of wondered what the hell was going on in her front yard), we asked George and Penny what their plans were regarding Hurricane Fiona. They hadn’t particularly figured anything out, but given that their rough goal was to head east to Cape Breton, currently in the direct line of the storm, an alternative idea could certainly be useful. Well, we have a whole three-bedroom house rented for the next four nights, and if they didn’t join us there, it sure would seem like an awful waste of space!
So with numbers exchanged and directions given (they still travel old-school without mobile Internet, instead marking up a paper map), we once again went our separate ways, still marveling at what the fuck just happened.
After a brief detour through Windsor, we returned to winding NS-1 where we crossed its bridge over the Avon River and then continued along the really hilly coastline. Part of the in-progress “Blue Route” cycling-network, they had recently added shoulders to the road in this section (making it nicer than the route into Windsor from the east!), though the asphalt seam in the middle of the shoulder and other obstacles made it less-ideal than a road that had been initially built to this width all in one piece. But we’ll still take it!
The topography of this north coast of this western lobe of Nova Scotia couldn’t be more different than the south coast we rode on the way in. The latter was an endless string of lobes jutting into the sea, with bays and rivers cutting up perpendicular to the overall line of the coast. On the north is the Annapolis Valley, a long, broad valley between two linear mountains that all run parallel to the coast. The morning section of our ride had us climbing up and down over the eastern edge of “South Mountain” before we could turn west along the valley floor.
We ate lunch on a small convenience store bench, but it didn’t have a toilet so we continued on to the Visitor Center of the Grand-Pré National Historic Site to use their facilities. And there in the parking lot I heard a distinctive coyote-call, made by…George! Encountering them again some 18 miles and 2+ hours from our last meeting would have been a fairly remarkable coincidence even if our initial meeting had not been, and I guess it was space-time’s way of letting us know that even if that initial meeting had been a near-miss, we had multiple shots at this thing! We chatted again, getting a quick summary for the Historic Site that we didn’t have time to visit ourselves, and confirmed that their intention to come stay with us tomorrow night was genuine, and not just an artifact of that initial excitement.
The Harvest Moon Trailway brought us the rest of the way to our destination. It’s a combination of trails controlled by 10 different jurisdictions, so it has unusual changes in composition and character every few miles (it’s mostly unpaved, but then one of the paved sections is in one of the most-remote areas!) Rett’s biking confidence had returned for the day, and she did an amazing job of technical riding. She navigated almost all of the narrow car-stopping gates at slow speed, stayed upright and forward-moving through spots where the gravel got deep and squirrely, and even powered up a 6% hill on gravel, something even I have never encountered on a “rail trail” before (obviously that was a section where the trail was moved away from the old rail line, because no train ever made it up that hill!)
Our VRBO was less than a mile from the center of town, but since it was on a street perpendicular to the valley/mountain lines, that meant an immediate and vicious 11% uphill the whole way once we turned off the main road. We weren’t able to make the left turn onto that road without stopping first, so Rett ended up just pushing her bike the whole way up.
We settled in a bit, and then we went back down the hill for groceries, with Rett walking, and me bringing my empty-pannier bike as the cargo carrier. In a bit of a shock, the grocery store right in the center of town was closed. Like, walled-off-with-a-fence closed! Ugh, that was kind of critical to our plans; it looked like it might have been a recent closure, perhaps due to a fire, but it seems like they could have updated their website or Google to mention it! We checked out a drug store a couple blocks away that we could have made work if forced into it, but in the end, I sent Rett back home and went on my own to Foodland, which was back up another steep hill on the opposite side of the main drag. One final stop at the liquor store at the bottom between the hills nearly did me in, because all that glass and liquid made my load even heavier than normal, and an 11% hill is never normal. But I made it without tipping over or having an aneurysm. I asked the clerk at the liquor store if she’d noticed a pre-hurricane uptick in buying, and she said not really, but maybe tomorrow (as the warnings were just starting to get widespread publicity today).
While I was out, Rett met one of our hosts, and mentioned the possibility of George and Penny staying with us. Shortly later, we got a message saying that we would be charged $40/night for the extra guests. Even though this was a pre-stated policy of theirs, it felt like a gouging (if we would have just booked for 4 guests to begin with there would be no extra charge), so that soured Rett’s mood on what otherwise had been an unexpectedly exciting day.
We settled in to dinner along with Episode 2 (Spring) of Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life on the biggest TV we’ve had in a long time. Two nights until Hurricane Fiona falls upon Nova Scotia.