Setting Off

Gillespie_photo_bikeIt’s been over a month since my last post and only the third really this season. Yes, I’ve been a bit lazy lately as a writer but only because I’ve been hard-working as a rider. Ideally I like to write about my time on the bike as soon as possible afterwards, but this year a few commitments got in the way. One in fact was some writing for Ontario Tourism’s Ride the North website. I enjoyed that writing, but it’s for a different audience, and I had to do a lot of editing to shape it for that audience. I’ve been looking forward to writing a more extensive treatment of my travels here.

Readers who read my last post on trip planning know that this year I tried something different: my wife and I travelled together—she in the car, and me on the bike. We then separated and I had a short solo trip for another four nights. We decided to circle Georgian Bay counter-clockwise starting at North Bay, spending time on Manitoulin Island, which neither of us had visited before. Now you can take the 401 to Toronto and then head north on the 400 . . . if you are a sucker for pain and like sitting in stop-and-go traffic . . . or you can take the 417 into Ottawa where it turns into the 17 and takes you all the way to North Bay. I’d read about this route in Neil Peart’s book Ghostrider and knew immediately I wanted to do it. So at 10 o’clock—the time my wife and I always seem to depart on road trips, regardless of all other factors—we pulled out of the driveway and headed, of course, to Herb’s Travel Plaza. With a name like that you’d think it was from another century. Certainly the single-engine airplanes in various stages of disrepair and decay at the side of the “plaza” as decoration are. But its quirkiness is part of its charm. Herb’s is the best gas bar the other side of the Ontario border and our designated meeting spot should we get separated in traffic.

After both vehicles were filled we bombed through Ottawa and on to The Little Coffee Shop in Cobden for lunch. Now what do you do when you have packed a lunch but want to buy a coffee and a snack? Do you eat the sandwich in the restaurant with your coffee or eat it before going in, out of respect for the owner? This is always a dilemma for me. Once in Austria, I think it was, I was asked to leave a McDonald’s—a McDONALD’S! of all places, because I pulled out my prepared lunch while my friends ate their Big Macs. That was 30 years ago but the trauma remains today so I usually eat first. There were a few tables outside on the sidewalk and I thought sitting there, as opposed to in the cafe, would be a good compromise. I put my sandwich down and went inside to order, only once inside it was so casual and the owner, who serves behind the counter, so friendly I just asked and before she could answer she said I’d better go rescue my sandwich because a seagull was trying to get through the cellophane. That seemed to settle the matter.

I don’t remember much of the ride into North Bay except that it was hot and long and I was tired and later hungry and that’s probably why I don’t remember much. I was in that auto-pilot “just-get-me-there” mode. Our destination was Restoule Provincial Park, only because it was (suspiciously) the only park not completely booked when we did our planning. When you are camping in the Muskokas, you have to book your campsite six months in advance. Yes, six months! And not just the campground but the specific site! We heard stories during our trip of families strategically getting each family member on a separate computer at the same time, exactly six months prior to the desired date, because that is the earliest you can try, and everyone simultaneously trying to reserve a site. It’s like trying to get concert tickets to Led Zeppelin’s single reunion concert through Ticketmaster. I don’t know if I’m going to be alive six months from now so Restoule it would have to be.

By the time we arrived I had only one thing on my mind: dinner. But as luck would have it, the stove would not light. I’ve had this stove for about three years. I bought it when I bought the bike with moto-camping in mind. And I remember at the time I had a choice between the Optimus Nova+ or the MSR Dragonfly stoves. They are basically the same, or so the salesperson told me, using essentially the same design to burn a variety of liquid fuels (naphtha/white, kerosene, unleaded gas, diesel).


And looking at the two, you’d think they are pretty much the same. I bought the Optimus because it looked a little sturdier and packed up slightly smaller. I have to admit it was the wrong choice. Of all the gear I’ve bought for my camping, this stove is the only regrettable choice I’ve made. Aside from a stretch of 12 days during my tour last summer, this stove has acted up in a variety of ways. One repeated way is that the valve gets stuck closed. Then you have to twist the feeder line so much you’re sure it’s going to break until it gives and releases. This time it would not give so it broke instead, which is to say I had to use pliers to open it and stripped the internal brass threads in the process. In the meantime I missed the sunset that my wife was enjoying down at the beach.


Sunset on the beach at Restoule Provincial Park

I can’t remember what we had for dinner that night but my wife worked some magic from the food bag. Lying in the tent later, I used the last ounce of energy to search on my phone for an outdoor store in North Bay or Sudbury. It was the first night of a two-week camping trip and I didn’t have a functional stove. The adventure begins.

Day1-Mtl to Restoule

Day One route: Montreal to Restoule Provincial Park

Marine Drive to Peggy’s Cove


I left Boylston Provincial Park early and headed south along Highway 16 that hugs the coast and curves west. Given how hot it was the day before, I did not make the same mistake but wore my water and dressed lightly. But this is Nova Scotia, after all, and you never know how to dress. In fact, mist hung along the coast and the air was cool, which on the bike is cold. I was freezing. I stopped in Canso for a coffee and to zip the liner into my jacket and change my gloves. I think I might even have turned the heated hand-grips on.

I doubled back along the 16 then turned left onto the 316 that took me west along the southern coast. The ride was magnificent, with inlets and bays on either side of the road.



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Sections of Marine Drive carve inland through forested terrain as well, and I was keeping a watch for moose and deer. I took a break at the interpretation centre at Goldboro, where I struck up a conversation with a local who told me the local mine had been bought by a large company and was going to re-open. I can’t remember what kind of mine, but given the name, I guess it was gold. He wasn’t too happy about the prospect of massive trucks rolling past his house at all hours of the day.

Shortly after leaving Goldboro, I turned left onto the 211 and caught a ferry across the inlet. Ferry at Issacsville As I started the bike again when we shored, my gas light came on. I was surprised because I thought I had about another 90 km left in the tank, but then remembered I was off by 50 km. My bike doesn’t have a gas gauge, so I have to keep track of how much gas is left in the tank by using the trip odometer; every time I fill up, I reset it so I know where I’m at. At least, that’s what I always intend to do. For some reason, often I forget this crucial step in the filling process. I don’t know why; it just hasn’t become habit yet. And often there’s a distraction of some sort—the receipt doesn’t print, someone starts asking me questions about the bike, I’m dying to take a piss—and only remember after I’m back on the bike riding. Then I have to reset it while riding, which obviously isn’t ideal.

In this case, it was 50 km into my next segment before I remembered. I made a mental note to add 50 km onto whatever the odometer is reading, then promptly forgot . . . until the gas light came on 50 km “early.” Now I’m in the middle of nowhere running on reserve. I rode for a while but there were no signs that a town was near so I stopped to consult my phone/GPS. Not only was there no gas station, there was no cell service. I was beginning to worry. I had a litre extra on the back of the bike that was good for another 30 km. Then what? I guess start walking.

Just then a guy pulled out of a driveway in his truck. I waved him down and asked where the nearest gas station is. To my relief, I was close. I just had to go a little further, turn left at the T-junction onto Highway 7, and there are two in Sherbrooke. Boy, was I happy to pull into that first station; I’d dodged another gas scare. On this day, I abandoned my goal of finding a nice lunch spot and sat on a public bench at the gas station, de-stressing with my Lunch of Champions.

Lunch spot

The ride in the afternoon was along Highway 7. It really is, as Eat, Sleep, Ride describes, “twisties galore.” But now inland, it was hot, and it got hotter as I neared the end of Marine Drive in Dartmouth. I stopped in Lawrencetown to see the famous beach and, a little further on, the kite-surfers.


Kite Surfers

By the time I entered Cole Harbour, thinking of hockey, it was easily 30 degrees Celcius and who-knows-what on the humidex scale, probably upper 30s. Then I hit traffic. Ugh! It was rush hour so I decided to skirt Dartmouth and followed a route that looped over the top through Bedford on the 213 that took me to within 15 minutes of Peggy’s Cove at Wayside Campground.

I’d found Wayside online when I changed my plans at Baddeck and decided to visit Peggy’s Cove. The reviews said it was a campground run by the same family for generations and was very family-oriented. In fact, one reviewer had given it a bad review because his group had apparently been refused a site on the suspicion that they were there to party. (Is that a negative or positive review? I guess it depends on if you like peace and quiet at a campground.) At any rate, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I pulled up on my motorcycle. I was greeted at the office by several of said family members sitting on the porch. The manager was super friendly, and as I was filling out the paperwork, her son showed me a photo on his phone of a cousin’s BMW ADV bike (I think it was the 800GS) and told me a story of an aborted trip to Alaska. Seems I would not be refused a site for being a trouble-maker biker, and good thing too because I was hot and exhausted. The manager clearly knew a thing or two herself about bikes because she warned me about the rocky hill to get to some of the tent sites on the plateau.

Remembering my dismount mishap at Deer Island, I made sure to concentrate right until the kickstand is down. Not long after it was, another camper named Walter wandered over from his RV and handed me a cold can of beer. I’d say he must have read my mind, but his knowing my needs actually has a simpler explanation. Turns out he used to ride a Kawasaki KLR 650, so knows every biker’s first thought at the end of a long, hot ride. He was retired military from the Air Force, and he and his wife Barb summer in Nova Scotia.

The next day I woke up early (like, 6 a.m.), and although I planned to leave that day, I decided to drop everything and head to Peggy’s Cove after a quick breakfast. I have to admit, I wasn’t all that drawn to Peggy’s Cove, but thought I should check it out because it was such an iconic tourist spot. I envisioned busloads of tourists crawling over the rocks (if the sea doesn’t wash them off first) and tacky tourist shops filled with plastic replica lighthouses. Thankfully, that vision was entirely wrong! It’s actually a very pretty little fishing village that has been carefully preserved. I did manage to catch the lighthouse before the throngs, and the image above is my proof.

The rest of the village is almost as pretty.



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The memorial to the passengers of Swissair Flight 111 is also tastefully done. It’s just on the other side of the cove in a quiet spot more suiting to reflection and remembrance. Two disks are placed on end and angled such that if you look down them, one points to Bayswater and the other out to the crash site on the horizon. The three geographical points, including Peggy’s Cove, form a triangle that was instrumental in the investigation as the area covering the debris field.

I’m sure the final moments of those unfortunate passengers were terrifying, but there are few prettier places to leave this Earth in bodily form. I’m glad I went to Peggy’s Cove. My prejudice of it and private campgrounds like Wayside were happily quashed.

Day 9

Next day, Bigbea gets an oil change in Moncton and we head to Fundy National Park.


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