Halifax, Canada - Polarsteps
We scooted along the shore to Truro, where Kini's old treeplanting friend Maggie, her husband Chris, and their two small twins were set to host us for a couple of nights. Of the cities and towns we've been through, Truro might win our prize as the worst for cycling-- we only had two road choices coming into town, and one was the Trans-Canada Highway, so we chose the secondary one and ended up mostly all-terraining it on the loose dirt and crumbly gravel beside it, because it was narrow and packed with maniacal rush-hour drivers who didn't have enough room to go around us if we cycled on the roadway, or enough patience not to try anyway. It was a relief to get to Maggie and Chris's place; they welcomed us warmly and we had a fantastic visit and lots of playtime with the twins.
Our next stop was a family-owned campground in Shubenacadie that had just closed for the season but still picked up the phone, laughed at us for bike-camping at this time of year, and were happy to have us stay anyway; they put us under a shelter that protected us from the rainstorm that night, gave us access to hot showers, and the next morning we were visited by the goats that had free run of the property.
We had an important and time-sensitive vaccine date in Halifax (see the previous entry); we were ultimately headed to visit friends in the Annapolis Valley before looping back to visit Halifax and end our trip across Canada there, and we looked into a number of ways we could possibly pop into Halifax without having to divert our bike route into the city twice. Our bus and car options, though, looked expensive and limited, and left us with the problem of what to do with the loaded bikes. In the end, nothing made more sense to us than just biking to Halifax, doing a brief pre-visit before actually coming to the end of the road there, and swallowing the extra kilometres and in-and-out-of-the-city cycling.
Coming in from the north was rough; the roads aren't set up for cycling, or for the levels of traffic they see in a rapidly densifying small city, and our cyclist-recommended route on small, winding roads by the lakes coming into Dartmouth was packed with traffic including some transport trucks careening too fast around tight corners; we pulled over a lot, rode the gravel a lot, and took hours longer than we'd expected to cover a fairly short distance into Halifax.
A million thanks to my friend Aurora, who housed us first for a couple of nights on our vaccine stop, and then for a solid two weeks when we eventually came back; it was a giant help and a treat to live on your couch <3
There's a trail that runs along the north shore of Nova Scotia, and another that runs along the south shore; we wanted to take the former out to Annapolis and the latter coming back. The problem with that is that the trail route out of Halifax takes you to the south shore, and all road options from the city to the north shore are busy shoulderless highways-- we needed another way to cut from south to north.
That's how we ended up on Pipeline Road, a thin, winding line on the map running from the trail in Upper Tantallon on the south shore to Ellershouse on the north shore, where we could take the road west and eventually pick up the trail where it starts in Grand Pré. Roads like this are wild cards, and we knew the middle of the province was mountainous, so it wasn't really surprising that it wound up being a rocky dirt service road, mainly used by ATVs and dirt bikers, running over 30+ km of very remote terrain, up slope after slope so steep we could only walk the bikes up them. This was one of the sweatiest days of the trip, and one of the slowest; we hit the north end of the road just before nightfall and ended up pitching our tent out of sight a bit off the road.
Our goal that day had been my friend Evan's parents' house in Hantsport; we made it instead for lunch the next day, got talking a bit too long to carry on, and ended up staying the night anyway (Thanks, Marian and Art, for the visit!! You were wonderful company).
The trail from Grand Pré onward was a dreamy, easy-to-ride off-road connector between the towns along the north shore. We did a bit of sneaky field camping (all of the campgrounds were very much closed at this point), and had a sweet, cozy stay with another of Kini's friends from treeplanting, KP, her husband Jason, and their two tiny ones, in Round Hill.
Kate and Robin's house in Bear River has been mentally the end of the road for us for most of this trip; they moved from the west coast just over a year ago, and the last time we'd seen them in Courtenay BC we'd pulled up in the dark and been greeted by their dogs, which is exactly the experience we had arriving, finally, at their house on the other end of the country.
We spent a good week and a half resting, slowly gathering our logistics together, and doing little visits to the woods, a cranberry bog, the local cafe, Annapolis Royal, and the replica of the Maud Lewis house in Digby (we later went and saw the original, which lives in the AGNS in Halifax). We overlapped with another friend visiting from BC, and were able to hop on board her ride back to the airport in Halifax, to stop into the city and get our third and final rabies shots at a pharmacy. We shared lots of food, snuggled the pups, helped a bit with the house (which is under full renovations; we were all staying next door) and the garden, and watched the trashiest TV together.
By the time we were cycling back to Halifax the trees were bare and the nights were downright winter-cold; at a higher elevation crossing down to the south shore we caught some snowflakes coming down, and knew it was time to finish cycling in Canada. We wild-camped our way back over three days, first staying in a clearing where some ATV trails converged off our trail that had gone pretty quiet and remote crossing between shores, and on our final night, tenting in the trees between the trail and a lakeshore. We covered well over a hundred kilometres the last day, a distance that had for a while been impossible to do in the narrowing daylight window; because we were on the trail, we just set an alarm for the early hours of the morning and rode a few hours in the dark with our bike lights, just stopping to catch the sunrise and have a coffee and breakfast by the harbour in Mahone Bay. We hit Halifax just after dark and ended up walking the bikes across town from where the trail let us off to Aurora's apartment on Brunswick Street; the roads heading that way were congested, chaotic, and didn't have bike lanes. We got in the door having spent all the energy we had that day; it wasn't the most elegant conclusion to bike touring coast to coast, walking on sidewalks because we were afraid of the roads and then inhaling a pile of greasy pizza, but it's the conclusion we chose, and we'll take it.
The last two photos are of 1. Kini's hat brim that's been collecting pins along the way, and 2. having coffee and giant croissants at Two If By Sea in Dartmouth, where I did a long stint as a baker.
We made it to Halifax! It struck me when we crossed the MacDonald Bridge because it felt like the bridges we had crossed in Vancouver. Wild! Coastal cities with similar feels but the oceans were different. It is so funny coming to the end of a trip, or a segment of it, because it really is just a day by day experience of getting on your bicycle and going for a ride. Just moving forward and then suddenly you're in a place quite far from where you began. So for me, taking in how far we have come comes in moments, it isn't an overall, all encompassing feeling.
We were lucky to have a friend in town, Aurora, who was generous enough to let us stay with her not once, but twice, and for weeks at a time. Thank you so much, Aurora (and Lunchbox)! Getting logistics done was possible/ super stress-reduced because we were welcomed into your home.
I call our little extra trip up to the Annapolis Valley our "glory lap" to the end of our trip on the continent. We both had been in the mindset that this segment of the trip was offically done when we reached Kate and Robin in Bear RIver. Along the way we stayed with Marian and Art in Hantsport, the sweetest people ever! Parents to our friend Evan. We travelled on the Harvest Moon Trail; sleeping in fields just off the trail (and somehow not getting any tick bites while doing so. I did get my first tick in Round Hill, but my friend KP is a pro and a mama so she knows exacly how to take care of such things). We also stayed with KP, her husband Jason and her little ones, Adelaide and Oren. I really love when we get to make friends with our friends' kids; children have such a vast imagiations and are full of energy. They bring out parts of you other adults just can't; it is nice . Also nice to have that in doses, full-on with children is so much hard work and attention. There have been so many kids on this trip that see us pass by and they are so stoked to see us; waving, saying hi and in some cases trying to run towards us but thier parents catch them so they dont run into us, haha! I wonder if they think we are like a small parade or from the circus or something; between our hi-vis colours and being loaded up with so much stuff. It's quite deightful, they are so curious and just completely unguarded with how they are feeling. I am almost certain they had not seen people on fully loaded bikes before and I hope they remember these encounters; what a fun memory to have :)
Being in Bear River with Kate and Robin was as amazing as I felt it would be! It is an artsy little community full of rural queers! So you get that mix of community with living in the country; win, win, win. These two are also fully gutting/renovating the home they will be living in, which is so neat. There is such a level of skill here that is completely foreign to me , so it is extra impressive. Robin has the master skills in that department and Kate is a full blown wizard when it comes to baking and cooking. I was able to do quite a bit of bicycle repair, swapped out components, put on brand new touring tires and did tune-ups.
I t was really hard leaving here, like it is most places we stay for more than a couple of days, but a bit more. I am loving the trip but I am also realizing how much i do like having a big nest to go home to at the end of the day. The tent is our nest now, which I am always for grateful for, especially in adverse weather conditions, but is always just nice to have a fully functional kitchen, space to move around indoors, a cozy couch, wood stove etc. It is also funny to be so in tune with the moon and daylight hours; we would be going to bed by 6:30 because of the darkness outisde. And with nights of bright, full moons it is always a little strange to have the tent light up a bit from the moonlight and know you're not completely hidden by night. I love being this in tune though, it feels like there is a certian primal cleverness to it.
The last three days back to Halifax were a bit rough; between the cooler temperatures, the rough trail because of ATV damage, the distance on the rough trails and having lost not one, but two spare tires I had folded up for donating to a used bike shop (whoever finds those on the trail is going to wonder wtf that's all about) I was ready to go to bed. We unceremoniously arrived back in Halifax, walking the last few kilometers to Aurora's place because the traffic was seriously bananas. We ordered pizza and all the yummy, greasy sides, planted ourselves in front of the tv to watch The Witcher (great show it turns out! I was a bit crusty about it only because people who had been living outide, roughing it in that show looked so clean and rested. Bullshit.). Then I slept 11 hours. The end (of our cross-Canada trip).
🚲 Bike Jaunt 🚲