If you want a good point of comparison between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, just take a look at their tourism offices. The first time I passed through New Brunswick, I was fresh off the ferry and rode up the 172 and joined the Transcanada Highway (Route 1) at St. George. No sooner was I on the highway when I saw the ? sign indicating a tourism office. I decided to pull off and pick up a map. It was the 176 heading down towards Blacks Harbour. I rode for about a kilometre but it was early morning (in fact, I saw a few deer cross the road ahead of me in the mist) and I was sleepy and after a while I figured I must have missed it. So I turned around and headed back toward the highway, keeping a closer eye out for the office, only when I reached the highway again I realized I hadn’t missed it—it was just further from the highway than I’d expected. So back I went, down toward Blacks Harbour. Surely the tourism office isn’t this far from the highway, I kept thinking, but it was, and more, a good 5 kilometres at least, and when I got there, it was nothing more than a shed, really, with a girl not out of high school the single employee. She had some maps, and I was happy to take one, but she didn’t know much about them. “How long would it take me to ride the Fundy Coastal Trail?” I asked. “Hmm . . . I don’t know,” she replied, “but I’ve been to Moncton on the highway and it takes a few hours.” Gee thanks. I didn’t ask if she was the one driving.
Contrast this with when you cross the border into Nova Scotia. At the side of the highway is not only a ? sign but a lighthouse announcing the office. You can see it from the highway and the exit ramp takes you to the parking lot, which is huge, as is the modern building, with flags in front, and gardens, and picnic tables, areas to run your dog, poop bags for those dogs, and the lighthouse across the field, which you can tour at certain hours of the day. You walk in to the main building and no less than five employees are waiting behind a massive desk to answer your questions. And then there are the spotless bathrooms, and the wall of documents. I didn’t venture deeper into the tourism office but there are other rooms waiting to serve you. Nova Scotia knows where its bread and butter is.
So the first time I passed through New Brunswick, with less than reliable information, I did not ride the Fundy Coastal Drive. But heading back, I figured I’d do it no matter how long it took. I left Fundy National Park and headed up to Sussex for a second breakfast before doubling back to the 111 where the drive begins. It cuts diagonally down toward the coast and offers a pleasant if not inspiring ride through farmland and rolling hills, over a mountain range and, at one point, about 15 kilometres of unpaved gravel since, like everywhere, it seems, they are repaving. Good thing I have a dual sport bike. What would other riders do?
The trail is clearly marked and even includes some tourist attractions. At one point, I saw a sign indicating a covered bridge a short ways off the main road and decided to go check it out. If you’re a motorcyclist, you have to ride through a covered bridge at least once. In this case, it had to be twice because the road led to a dead-end so I turned around on the other side and experienced another century a second time.
I didn’t take a lot of photos on this ride. I was acutely aware of how far I had to go and how ignorant I was of how long it would take me to get there, so paused only briefly, such as when I rounded this corner overlooking a beautiful bay.
But really there is just the one road through New Brunswick and, as the saying goes, all roads lead to Route 1. A section of the Fundy Coastal Trail is Route 1, through and just west of Saint John. It’s not exactly the coast, nor a trail, but it gets you further west, if that’s where you’re headed. They are crazy about their ATVs in New Brunswick, and there will be several parked at the local Tim’s. I was eyeing the ATV trails that run parallel to the highway and, to my disbelief, cross the highway! One kid scooted in front of me as I nearly shit my pants; his buddy showed more prudence and waited until I passed. Perhaps it would have been safer if I’d taken that trail instead of the official one.
Soon I was at Saint Stephen and it was time to cross back into The United States. This meant no more data and no more Google Maps. Fortunately, I’d packed an old car GPS that would prove to be a huge help getting through Maine.
Maine. Before this trip, the word conjured associations with Stephen King, cedar shingle homes, charming coastal towns, and seafood. But now I realize that is just one part of Maine, namely, the coast. The interior is very different, and since I was cutting a B-line through to Montreal, the interior is where I was headed—in particular, Big Eddy Campground, somewhere on Golden Road. Draw a line between Saint Stephen and Montreal and Big Eddy will be on it, which is why I chose it when planning. The only problem was I didn’t really know where it was. It was in the middle of nowhere. It was in the Maine bush.
These parts are not very populated. You can ride on open, straight roads for hours. It’s a good place to see what your bike can do (which I didn’t do—fearing those state troopers of Smokey and the Bandit fame), or to learn clutchless shifting, which I did do. I’ve been upshifting for some time now using a technique I read about last winter in Lee Parks’ Total Control: High Performance Street Riding Techniques. You put a little upward pressure on the shifter and when you pull in the clutch the bike pops into gear. It’s a lot quicker and smoother than rolling off the throttle while pulling in the clutch, lifting up on the shifter, then rolling back on the throttle while letting out the clutch. In fact, with my adventure boots on, which feel like ski boots and are about as flexible, it’s pretty much necessary for me to do this to get from 1st to 2nd and avoid false neutrals. So while riding the empty straight roads of Maine, I got to thinking: what if I put that upward pressure on the shifter and rolled off the throttle but didn’t pull in the clutch? I don’t know if I’d read this somewhere or seen it on You Tube or if it was by pure genius but when I tried it, to my surprise, the bike popped into the next gear. It only works for upshifting and you have to be easy with the roll on otherwise the bike will lurch, but you can upshift in the blink of an eye this way. After some practice it feels like you are “flicking” the bike into the next gear with the throttle. (I have since seen conflicting videos on You Tube saying this is harmful/harmless to your gearbox, so do at your own risk. Perhaps a subject for a later blog?)
At one point, I came upon civilization. Actually, it was just some cars parked at the side of the road and lots of people gathered for some kind of event. I stopped to check it out and discovered it was a pow wow. I’ve never been to a pow wow so was curious. The women were doing a traditional dance where they kind of walk arm-in-arm in a circle to a simple double-beat. I found it interesting how easily you can see, even with such a simple dance, who has a sense of rhythm and who doesn’t. As I was standing alongside several others minding my own business a little girl, playing with her friends, suddenly pointed at me and asked “Who are you?” I felt like I was in a Hitchcock movie but I was actually just in Maine. I thought it was time to push on.
Soon I came to another attraction that looked like it was from another century. Willard’s Garage. It was a garage in the middle of nowhere that looked like it had been abandoned for 100 years. I pulled off and took a look around. Had I just slipped through a time hole like in The Twilight Zone and landed in a 1950’s gas station? There were cars from the mid 20th Century abandoned there, and what looked like the skeleton of a Model T, the first car ever mass produced. Then I looked inside the windows and there were more surprises there—old oil and other products, books, what looked like bookkeeping, was that tobacco?, and hot rods!—it was bizarre. But then, I was in Maine.
The folks in Maine like their ATVs even more than the folks in New Brunswick, so much so that they use them as their primary means of transportation. When I stopped for gas, along came two ATVs with four people in each, a canopy overhead, heading somewhere for their Sunday outing. And observing them, I have to say, I could see how someone like Trump could get into the Oval Office. These people seem to have a few abiding values—freedom, independence, patriotism—held so strongly they become a guiding ideology, almost a religion. Anyone or anything that appears to challenge those values is deemed an outsider, an enemy. Is it coincidental that the fashion de rigeuer in these parts is combat camouflage?
I was so fascinated by this hillbilly culture I missed my turn and had to loop around to the 157. This turned out to be fortuitous because in doing so I happened upon Highway 2, my favourite highway and one I knew would take me to the Canadian border at Rouses Point the next day. I followed my GPS but I didn’t have an exact address. I did, however, have the name of the road, so took my best guess for the number and followed the directions. (Note to self: write down the full address of your destination before crossing into The States and losing data.) It took me to a dirt road that deteriorated into gravel, then loose shale. I ventured a few kilometres up Golden Road before realizing that it was not so golden and any campground further down that road is not one I want to stay at. I turned back and while topping up my gas I struck up a conversation with some guys who had just come from Golden Road. Yeah, they knew of Big Eddy Campground, but it turns out it is about 17 kilometres further along, and they got two punctures in their truck tires from the shale. I’m glad I turned back. With my back tire balding fast, I could easily have ended up with a slit tire.
I’d seen another campground earlier so decided to head back to it and hope they had a site. It was Katahdin Shadows Campround. By this time I was beginning to get a hate on for Maine. I pulled into another ubiquitous RV campground but didn’t care, was only happy they had a site because I was hot, hungry, and tired. The only thing I craved after such a long hot ride was a shower so I grabbed a change of clothes and headed to the main building. Unfortunately, for some reason, when I got there the power was out, but I was craving cleanliness so much I decided to shower in the semi-dark anyway. Then some guy in knee-length camo shorts and some cryptic heavy metal black T-shirt (the dress code for Maine) with his hairy gut sticking out the bottom waddled in behind me and proceeded to throw a wreaking, groaning dump in the stall next to my shower. That’s pretty much how I now feel about Maine.
That evening after dinner I decided to light a pipe and take a walk through the campground. These RV parks are popular everywhere now, but this one took the prize. They actually had named the lanes and one was called Paradise Hill, but was far from Dante’s Paradiso. The Maineiacs like to accessorize their RVs by stringing up LED lights, adding lawn ornaments, a roof, a deck, a bar, and firepit. Someone bombed past me on an ATV with a martini in his hand. Somewhere a baby was screaming relentlessly. As I was marvelling at this paradise, from out of the dark a voice asked “How’s she goin’?” I didn’t answer truthfully.