Deer Island, NB

Deer Island

After a stressful day of mechanical problems and then almost missing the ferry, I was happy to be on the ferry munching my fish & chips. This photo was taken off the bow and looks toward the campground, which is right on the southern tip of the island. It was a short crossing and soon we were landing.

I came to Deer Island on the suggestion of a retired colleague who teaches sea kayaking at Seascape Kayak Adventures, one of the small businesses on the island. It’s situated in the Bay of Fundy between Maine and the New Brunswick mainland. (Not to be confused with Deer Isle, which is in Maine.) It’s officially in New Brunswick. The adjacent island, Campobello Island, is famous for being the summer vacation spot of Franklin Roosevelt, and his estate is still open to the public to view.

But while Campobello is touristy, Deer Island is rustic! Remote. There’s no potable water at the campground, and they don’t accept credit or debit, so make sure you don’t make my mistake and arrive with little Canadian cash and have to pay mostly in USF. Ugh! I was mad about that one because I make it a practice to carry cash when travelling, but stopping at the bank was literally the last thing on my To Do list and I just didn’t get to it before crossing the border.

I was tired, and the ramp up from the shoreline is loose stones, but I managed them no problem. What I didn’t manage so well was the final turn of the day. I don’t like parking the bike facing in at a site because then I know I have to turn it around before I leave in the morning, so I always try to do that U-turn before parking the bike. I did the turn okay, but lost my concentration at the last moment on the uneven ground literally as I put my foot down. It was a fitting end to a long, difficult day.

Fallen Bigbea

It looks worse than it was. It was a gentle roll onto its side on grass. I removed the top bags and easily lifted the bike back up, and soon everything was right again in the world.

Deer Island Campsite

After two long days in the saddle, the next day was a planned day of rest, so I spent it putzing around the island and checking out The Old Sow. The Old Sow is the largest natural whirlpool in the Western Hemisphere. It forms just offshore from the campground, the product of three water systems converging in one spot. The waters rise about 10 feet and there are some serious currents happening in these waters. It’s called the Old Sow because the water will actually make a sucking sound. I went down at high tide, and while there was some swirling water, I didn’t see a whirlpool. I heard from someone later that the best time is actually three hours before high tide.

The island is quaint and fun to ride with the hilly twists and turns, but there are parts like this one where something has been left to rot. No one’s going to take care of this mess, it seems. (Yes that is a collapsed ramp in the foreground.)Lords Cove

Yet despite these eyesores, the island has a charm about it. It’s very quiet. You can sit and be still and listen to nothing but birds, and that is something increasingly rare these days. There’s one restaurant, and no ATM machine, or so I was told, only to come upon one at the general store during my exploring. Oh, my chance to get some Canadian cash, I thought, but discovered there was no money in it because the person who tends it (same person who runs the restaurant) has been too busy to fill it. That’s kind of how life is like on Deer Island. It’s pretty in the summer, but I imagine it’s pretty brutal in the wintertime.

I was supposed to meet up with my ex-colleague and friends for dinner, but there was a problem with the ferries that delayed their return from a kayak excursion, so it was curried lentils for dinner. curried lentils

Not so swanky. I didn’t get many more photos of the island because I was mostly riding it. But this shot of the eastern shore at dawn will give you a good idea of how peaceful it is out there. I’m glad I visited and will go again when I’m out that way. There’s nothing quite like it.

Dawn at Deer Island



Moose Maine-ia

I’m going to start this series of blogs on my tour through the Maritimes in Maine since that’s where my trip began and ended. I decided to cut through The United States en route to my first destination, Deer Island, NB, just off the coast of Maine. I’d visited Maine before a few times and had fond memories of fish & chip shops, swimming in the ocean, and a pleasant ride through small coastal towns. Those associations with Maine were smashed this time round with ATVs, camo-fashion, RV “parks,” and crappy roads.

The first thing you need to know about Maine is that it’s a Gemini state, with the coastal areas very, very different from the interior. It’s only the coast I’d experienced before, and if that’s where you’re headed, I say “Go for it. Bon voyage!” There’s money on the coast, most of it probably not made there but imported from Boston or even New York. And when there isn’t money—the mansions that line Highway 1 in the Hamptons, for example—there’s at least the ocean and a certain quaintness that comes with colourful buoys strung up on the sides of buildings and decorative fishing nets in pubs, starfish decor sort-of-thing, and of course fish & chips, which makes everything look a little better.

The good folks at Camden Hills State Park seem to know this and charge $43 USF for a site and $7 for a bundle of wood. While I was registering, I heard some people on their way out say it’s the most expensive state park. (Is this in Maine or the US, or just the most expensive one they’ve stayed at? I wasn’t sure.) At any rate, with the dollar conversion, I paid about $65 to pitch my tent on gravel and warm my bones. I won’t be going back to Camden Hills State Park anytime soon. I only chose it because it’s close to Highway 1, my ride for the next day.

It did, however, have “free” showers. I didn’t really need a shower but wanted to get a little more out of my $43 so had one anyways. Turns out I paid a higher price because while in the shower it started to teem and the tent got soaked; it would have to be packed up wet. I donned my rain gear and hit the road, heading up Highway 1 toward the ferry crossing to Deer Island at Eastport. It was raining pretty hard and very humid, and I rode through patches of fog. Soon I came to Fort Knox and the Penboscot Narrows Bridge. It’s won some awards for engineering and is pretty impressive. There’s a lookout to stop and admire the bridge but I had only been on the road a short while so decided to blow past; only once I was riding across the bridge, I realized just how impressive it is and decided I had to turn around on the other side, ride back over, and stop at the lookout for a photo. This turned out to be one of those fateful and almost disastrous decisions.

Penobscot Narrows Observatory

When I got on the bike again, it wouldn’t start! It’s never done this before. Aside from that first fall when I had the wrong oil in the bike for the cold temperature, my bike starts reliably every time. Now it would turn over and fire once then immediately quit.

Because of the weather, I was thinking electrical. While I was trying to start it, a guy who had also stopped at the lookout said, “That’s a frustrating sound.” As it turned out, he has the twin cylinder 650GS (2012) and told me the only time it “conked out” on him was in wet weather. He said he’d been riding it in the rain and stopped at his house and it just wouldn’t start again. So he was confirming the electrical/humidity line of thought. He said a few more things that would prove to be extremely important and useful. He suggested I just wait it out because, as he put it, “You’ve only got so many cranks on the battery.” So that’s what I proceeded to do. I decided to have my lunch and wait. I had to force myself to be patient, although given the situation, with so much hanging in the balance, obviously I had an urge to find an immediate solution. So I started pacing, watching the sky and hoping for a break in the weather, which never came. I’d return to the bike periodically and try it, with the same result. I was worried and started considering what I would do if I couldn’t start it and the battery died. I didn’t have any clear idea, but with the costs involved, it would probably mean an early end to my tour.

Dude said something else that I pondered while pacing. He said it sounded like it wasn’t getting any gas, which is true. The bike was turning over okay, and firing, albeit once. It just wasn’t continuing to fire. My first thought when he said this was—and I think I even uttered this aloud—could it have anything to do with the angle that the bike is parked on? The parking at this lookout was such that the bike was tilted back. I knew I had about a third of a tank of gas remaining, but perhaps that remaining gas was sloshed to the back of the tank away from the fuel pump. Eventually I decided it couldn’t hurt and I pushed the bike in a semi-circle so it was tipped now slightly nose-down. I tried it again and it didn’t start. So much for that theory.

Then along came a cyclist who was touring. I recognized an accent and discovered he’s from Quebec City. We struck up a conversation which was a welcome distraction from my dilemma. 15 minutes into the conversation I tried the bike again and it started! He must have been my ange gardien! I was so relieved! After this little incident, I decided to keep the tank topped up the rest of the trip. It happened another time later in the tour when the bike was tipped back, with the solution again being just to straighten the bike. So now I know: my bike doesn’t like to start unless level.

I knew my battery now was low but, although I wanted to fill my tank, I had to ride another hour to charge the battery before I felt comfortable stopping, and even then, I chose a station not far from a garage, just in case. I’d lost some valuable time and the rest of the day would be tight for catching the ferry to my planned campground. I rode hard, stopping only briefly for short breaks and snacks, but knew I had until 6:00 at Eastport to catch the last ferry. I pulled in around 5:15 and saw a sign announcing that the ferry was permanently closed. Another dilemma.

So I did what I usually do when I’m in a fix: I struck up a conversation with a local. He told me there’s another ferry at Campobello Island just past Lubec. His daughter looked up the ferry times. The last one is at 7:00, but I had basically to do a loop around the bay, back to Pleasant Point, south on the 1, left on the 189 out to Lubec, cross through Canada Customs, blow through Roosevelt’s old estate to the ferry at Welshpool, all in less than an hour. I did it with time to spare for take-out fish & chips. 


That was the pleasant part of my experience in Maine. It got worse when I returned on my way back.

Day 1

Day 2

Learning the S.M.A.R.T. Way

There are two ways to learn how to do something: trial and error, and getting some instruction. When it comes to motorcycling, I’m in for the latter. I’ve seen vids on YouTube of guys heading out onto the trails with their adventure bikes without any training. They seem to spend more time picking up their bikes and getting them unstuck from mud puddles than they do riding. It doesn’t look that fun. Then I stumbled upon Clinton Smout’s instructional videos and knew I would visit his school as soon as I got my licence.

Horseshoe Riding Adventures is located in Barrie, Ontario. I recognized the location from my teen years of skiing at Horseshoe Valley. Since I now live in Quebec (and start time is 8:30 a.m.), I decided to ride out the day before and camp nearby. I looked up the KOA in Barrie and gulped when I saw they want over $50 for the privilege of sleeping on a patch of their ground. Then I saw Heidi’s Campground at $18.50 and booked for the night before my class.

I was blessed with good weather and had a glorious ride out—once I got going. Two minutes into my ride I discovered a crack in my windscreen radiating from one of the mounting holes, the byproduct of a close encounter with some mud at the Dirt Daze Rally the previous month. I decided to turn around and fortify it with some super glue and add a rubber washer to allow some movement of the screen. This required a stop at the Rona in Vaudreuil for longer hardware. When I finally hit the highway I also hit the mandatory lane closure, this one at Coteau-du-Lac because, well, this is Quebec, and that’s the law! I lost another 45 minutes there and couldn’t get out of Quebec fast enough. My gas light was on for the final 40 kilometres before I limped into the MacEwan in Lancaster. (I knew I was cutting it close but had extra fuel on the back of the bike. I put 13.4 litres in the bike and the tank is 13.6, so I was close!)

Finally with these stresses behind me, I settled in for an amazing ride up Highway 34 from Lancaster to Alexandria, then west along the 43 which turns into Highway 7 and takes you all the way to the shores of Lake Simcoe, where I turned north up 12 and over the top of the lake. This ride took me through the farmland, scrubgrass, and vacation area of SE Ontario (in that order). I noticed that the driving gets more aggressive as you approach Toronto, with people forcing their way past a line of vehicles on a two-lane road, only to encounter the same people in beachwear and flip-flops at the next gas station. I was several hours behind schedule so kept my breaks short, arriving at Heidi’s just in time to pitch in the last of the light.

But all this is precursor to the raison-d’être of my trip: the full day class of dual-sport instruction. Since I’m on teachers’ summer schedule (groans please), I was able to visit the school on a Tuesday so had a smaller class than what I expect they have on Saturdays. I was in a group with two other people: Cheryl, who wanted to get more comfortable on her 800GS, and Bruno, who rides a Harley but felt he needed a little something extra; yes, dirt riding makes you a better and safer rider on the road too. Our instructor for the morning was Graham, one of Clinton’s sons and who, by virtue of his good genes, had the best summer job of any of his classmates, I’m sure. We would be on Yamaha 230s for the morning part of the class. He had us start by just riding a few laps of a course laid out in what staff refer to as “the pit.” It’s a large, open area of dirt and some sand with a few jumps, surrounded by a grassy hill with trails cut into the bank to practice hill climbs. After assessing our abilities and needs, Graham started with the instruction.

I had a burning question going into this day, one that stemmed from my experience at Dirt Daze, and Graham provided the answer early on. While riding the back roads of New York, I’d experienced the front end sometimes slide out while peg-weighting and wondered how you prevent that. Graham demonstrated that you actually hold the bike up with your thigh while counterbalancing. So if you want to turn right, yes, you weight the right peg—I knew that much—but you lean your body to the left (as the bike tips to the right) and prevent the bike from low-siding by pressing your inner right thigh into the tank. Later during a water break, Clinton came by and suggested we try standing pigeon-toed on the pegs; this position presses the thighs into the tank and stabilizes the bike. But where YouTube, reading books, and listening to instruction is helpful, the real learning happens when you get to practice specific skills in a controlled and relatively safe environment. The little dirt bikes allowed us to try things without all the weight (and potential expense!) of our own bikes to deal with. We did some slalom in the dirt, some hill climbs, and different types of descents. Then the real fun started: we headed out onto the trails.

There’s little that I’ve experienced that’s more fun than riding a dirt bike on forested trails. I won’t make comparisons with sex, flying, writing poetry, scoring, or music—my other passions—because such comparisons would be impolite to some and unfair to others. But it’s really, really, (really) fun, and that’s before you get to the mud ruts. I went down in the mud a few times at Dirt Daze so was under-confident and nervous about riding in the mud. Horseshoe Adventures provided some “deep-end” opportunity to get over this fear quickly, again, in a controlled environment, on a smaller bike, and with the guidance of an instructor. We were given three options for getting through a huge mud rut. One was to paddle with our boots on either side as we ride through the rut; the other was to ride seated but feet up, and the third was standing. I was going to do the easiest, but once into the rut I felt comfortable enough to ride it out and didn’t paddle. The second time through I stood and made it through without dabbing! Okay, it was better than sex, maybe like sex in a mud puddle while watching the World Cup and listening to Sex Pistols.

Graham also had us practice tight turns, throttle control, log crossings, and some pretty big hill climbs and descents in both rocks and sand. This is where the practice in the pit really helped and I could see the application of skills learned there in the real world of trail-riding. After a full morning, it was time for lunch.

In the afternoon, I headed out with a new instructor, Emily, on my own bike. I was a bit nervous because of my 85/15 tires, but was assured they’d be okay for what we were doing. A few times around the course and I immediately began to see how the skills I’d learned in the morning on the dirt bike were applicable to my 650GS; it’s just more weight to manage. Emily took me to another network of trails and we began bombing through them on our dual-sports (she was on an 800GS), that is, until I misjudged a turn, drew on asphalt muscle memory, hit the front brake, then the dirt! Umph! Lesson number one: you can get away with that shit on a 230 dirt bike with knobbie tires, but not an a 650 with street tires. The next lesson, then, was emergency braking in the dirt. We went to a dirt road and Emily had me lock up the back brake, getting used to the back end fish-tailing; then she added a little front brake.  Her first question to me when I’d picked myself up off the dirt after my fall (after “Are you okay?”) was “How many fingers did you have on the brake lever?” I couldn’t remember but probably all of them except the thumb. A hand-full. Two fingers only, she advised. Graham had said the same about the clutch hand in the morning.

We also did some rocky descents, 2nd gear, a little front brake. Then back to the trails where I found my redemption when Emily took me through the same infamous corner that had bested me before. We also did some pretty big whoops at speed, some of them muddy, and some more climbs and descents but this time on the trails, not the road; each context changes the skill slightly. It’s like how they say a dog has only learned a command if it can reproduce the desired behaviour in five different contexts. This was made more evident in my next exercise, which was throttle control, doing figure eights in a small grassy area with uneven terrain. I’d practiced this fairly successfully in the gravel parking lot back at the pit, but doing it on uneven ground with a slight grade made me realize I’m more confident with my right turns than my left. I needed to reproduce the body position I felt comfortable doing on my rights—hanging out with my right calf against the bike holding me up—but with my left. Emily also spotted that I needed to twist my body more; small, subtle changes made all the difference, and soon I was turning both ways full lock.

Back at the pit, my final exercise was recovering from an unsuccessful hill climb. This is a skill for when you’re partway up and realize you’re just not going to make it and want to bail. You use the back brake, stall the bike, but let the clutch out and the engine will hold the bike. Then you turn the handlebars, feather the clutch to let the bike roll back in an arc until it’s perpendicular to the hill, all the while leaning the bike uphill and keeping your uphill foot down. Then rock the handlebars back and forth until the bike is positioned where you can safely pull in the clutch and roll down the hill. You can see Clinton demonstrate it here. Emily showed me how it’s done and it looked so easy-peasy I was overconfident when trying it. It’s actually a lot harder than it looks! You have to keep concentrating the whole time because if you lose your balance and want to plant that downhill foot, you’re in trouble. That’s what I did, and then muscle memory kicked in and I did what I always do when riding and get into trouble: I pulled in the clutch. Doh! Next thing I knew the bike was on its side and I was on my back. We couldn’t rotate the bike because the crash bar had dug in, so we grunted it up, and I finished the manoeuvre. Then I tried it again, and a third time, until I was confident I could do it when needed in the field.

My experience at Horseshoe Adventures was everything I’d hoped it would be and more. As it turned out, Emily is from Cape Breton, where I plan to tour next week, and she gave me some recommendations on restaurants and trails. There’s one called Highland Drive (of course) that traverses Cape Breton from Wreck Cove to Chéticamp, and another from Meat Cove, where I plan to spend a night. Of course I’ll do The Cabot Trail with the Harley boys, but then I’ll cut back through the bush and do it all again. I have a bike that is not restricted to pavement but my skills were holding me up. Now I feel I have the skills to ride these roads safely, which is exactly why I went to Clinton’s school.

I can’t praise the instructors at S.M.A.R.T. riding adventures enough. At lunch, Clinton and I got talking pedagogy, and he said they spend a lot of time choosing and training their instructors. It’s evident. Yet what makes this place special is not just the level of instruction and professionalism of staff but how you immediately feel like family. That sounds cheesy, I know, but there’s definitely a personal touch to this school. Clinton is always around, flitting in and out, asking how the day went and making sure all his clients are happy.

With my bike re-loaded and my head filled with new skills, I headed off toward Guelph, where I planned to spend a few days with my parents. There’s some beautiful geography between Barrie and Guelph, and my GPS took me through Creemore, Orangeville, and Fergus along county roads. Halfway towards Guelph, with the sun low and glowing across the farmers’ fields and massive wind turbines rotating in slow motion, I realized I was riding with two fingers on the clutch, two fingers on the brake.