Rain, Rain Go Away

After six nights, we left Gros Morne National Park on the western side of Newfoundland and drove to St. John’s on the eastern side with a night at Terra Nova National Park along the way.  While the sky was as gray as a World War II battleship, we remained dry until about halfway between Terra Nova and St. John’s.

Then the heavens opened and the rain came pounding down.  We bunked at a city park campground in St. Johns and set up camp in the rain.

Like good union campers, we each have our assigned tasks to perform.  Dianne has the inside job of setting up our living quarters.  I get the outside stuff, like turning on gas, connecting the water, electric cords and the gray water tank or sewer connection.  She stayed dry.  I didn’t.

I grew up in Arizona where rain means stay indoors.  My web-footed wife, however, wanted to see the sights of St. John’s, and all of the sights she wanted to see were outdoors.  After setting up camp, we drove up to Cape Spear to see the oldest lighthouse in Newfoundland and to walk to the easternmost point in North America.  The lighthouse was lost in fog and the easternmost point lay at the end of a rain-drenched trail.

Rain fell all night and didn’t let up in the morning when we took off to see more sights.  I pushed for the Johnson Geo Centre, which is an indoor science-oriented museum.  In addition to displays about rocks and oil, they had a section devoted to the sinking of the Titanic.  Dozens of storyboards and photos told the story of the designing, building, sailing and sinking of the famed ocean liner.  It was a perfect subject to study the day before we would set off on a 16-hour ferry ride through Iceberg Alley.  We read every word.

We then went to nearby Signal Hill, a former fortification site overlooking the entrance to St. John’s harbor.  Fantastic views, I suspect, could be had in good weather.  But not in today’s fog.  Then it was off to downtown St. John’s for lunch and a walkabout in a mere drizzle.

The next day, we slept in, packed up and headed out on a two-hour drive to the ferry terminal.  In howling winds and driving mist, we drove onboard, took our bags up to our cabin and raced down to the bar for brews.

And yes, we checked out the lifeboats.

My Cheating Heart

I must confess to committing an act of utter unfaithfulness.  I cheated on my vows.  I engaged in a night of pure pleasure, but it was simply a meaningless fling.  Nothing but a one-night stand.  Please forgive me.  I swear it will never happen again.

We abandoned our beloved A-Frame and slept elsewhere for the night on our drive to the northern tip of Newfoundland.   It sat lonely and alone in the campground while we dined on fresh fish and wine at a restaurant beside a lighthouse and snuggled up in a warm motel bed that didn’t require one of us to crawl over the other to get to the bathroom.  And it was our bathroom, not one shared with 40 other campers.

Yes, I vowed that for better or worse, we’d endure 101 nights of sleeping in the trailer and enduring public restrooms.  I broke that commitment.

Because it’s near the end of the season here in Newfoundland, we had three days without camping reservations.  We were originally going to move on to Terra Nova National Park on the eastern side of the island, but every time we looked at the map, we were drawn to Newfoundland’s Great Northern Peninsula.  Rather than drag the trailer on a 500-mile roundtrip, up and back, we decided to save on gas and simply drive naked and book a motel at our turnaround point.

The highway known as the Viking Trail hugs the rocky coastline. At L’Anse Aux Meadows near its northern tip sets a Canadian National Historic Site.  It was here that archeologists uncovered a small settlement built by Viking and Norse explorers a thousand years ago.

The visitor center tells about the Vikings and shows the evidence that archeologists uncovered to prove that the Norse arrived in North America 500 years before Columbus.  Guided tours, which go through the excavation sites, end at a recreated village with sod walls, grass roofs and costumed park interpreters that included a Norse lady knitting and a Viking man playing a lyre.

The trip up was largely under overcast skies, which meant fewer scenic photo stops.  The following morning the heavens opened and we drove home nonstop to our poor little A-Frame trailer in in pouring rain.

I hope it forgives us.

The Drought is Over

The drought was ongoing and apparently the Newfies were worried.  Not a drop of rain had fallen on us since Friday evening.  By Sunday, with the sun flaunting itself and temperatures soaring into the 60s, even the water-filled highway potholes were becoming dryer than a Mormon picnic.

Drastic measures were taken by the locals.  Push buttons operating the campground showers were set to stay on for 15 seconds or less, and a nearby restaurant requested that we save water by drinking wine.

Fortunately, relief has come.  The heavens have opened tonight and for 30 consecutive minutes, we were pounded by a Noah-inspiring deluge.  We saw fellow campers lugging in bags of firewood, presumably not to build burning blazes but to use as emergency flotation devices.  Our entry rug has become a sponge and our picnic table now centers Campsite Lake.  Fortunately, we and a few deluge-escaping bugs sit snug and dry inside our A-frame.

But just in case, we’re still drinking wine.

Finally, a Moose!

Ever since we got to Canada, we’ve been seeing signs warning us about meandering moose.  From British Columbia through Nova Scotia, we’ve been diligently searching for one of Bullwinkle’s brethren, but spotted nary a single one.

Finally, on a scenic cruise up Western Brook Pond, a fjord-like lake in Newfoundland’s Gros Morne National Park, we sighted our first moose.  It was about as far away as the average flight path of a North Korean missile, but we still saw it.

Of course, we celebrated by downing a couple of Moosehead Brews.

Hello, Newfie

Choose your reading material well, I always say.  The first book I read on my around-the-world cruise was the story of the Mary Celeste, a ghost ship found adrift and deserted in the Atlantic back in 1872. 

For our ferry crossing from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland, I was reading “The Mighty Fitz, the Sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”  I made sure to check out the lifeboats before we set sail.

We departed about noon Nova Scotia time and docked in Newfoundland around 6:45 p.m. Newfoundland time.  Unlike normal time zones which are an hour apart, Newfie time is 30 minutes ahead of Atlantic (Nova Scotia) time.

The sailing proved to be non-eventful.  We had calm seas, which I calmed even more with Iceberg beer, a craft brew from Newfoundland made with 20,000-year-old iceberg water.  It even comes in an icy blue bottle.

I think I am really going to like “the rock” as Newfoundland is called.  The west coast is rugged and sparsely timbered.  We’re seeing mountains that are more impressive than anything we’ve encountered since leaving Alberta.  And yes, we’re seeing mountains, not a corridor of trees lining the highway. 

The weather, however, is changing more times than Dianne’s dinner menu.  It’s rain, then sun, then rain followed by more rain and even more rain before the sun pokes out and the rain starts again.  At least with a total population of just over half a million people, the highways are nearly empty.  And by Canadian standards, the pavement is, well, sort of good.

We camped last night in a mere drizzle at the Grand Codroy RV/Tent Camping Park, a commercial RV park about an hour up the road from the ferry terminal.  Sites had all three amenities (water, 120-volt electric and sewer) and were well spaced (it was a former provincial park).  Not only were the showers free, but so was the firewood and the campground gate keeper even delivered a batch to us. 

If only they had offered a communal campfire and boiled mussels, it could rank as the best RV park we’ve encountered in Canada, and maybe anywhere.

Another Island

After a well-deserved catchup day at the Hyclass Ocean Campground, we took off for Cape Breton Island.  This huge hunk of rock forms the northern end of Nova Scotia.

Our campsite for three nights was at the Broad Cove Campground in Cape Breton Highlands National Park.  Even though we don’t have a potty onboard, we camped in the full-service section of the campground surrounded by motor mansions, fifth wheel and long, long trailers.

Three nights gave us two full days to explore the island.  Our first mission was to drive the famed Cabot Trail.  The 185-mile-long “trail” is really a motorway that circles the top half of the island.

It ventures close to the coast in places, nearly touching rocky shorelines and sandy beaches, and it winds over hills and through interior forests.  Spur routes connect the Cabot Trail to fishing villages and summer home enclaves.  Exposed drop-offs in places cause some flatlanders to find the route too scary for comfort.  We pray these people never come to Colorado.

We drove the entire Cabot Trail and nearly every one of its spurs our first day there.  While the scenery was exquisite and fellow travelers constantly raved about the drive, we both found it a bit underwhelming.  Maybe that’s the result of becoming jaded after spending 2½ months on the road.

Dianne has been constantly harping about wanting to spend a day at a beach.  Up the Cabot Trail a few miles from our campground, we found a gorgeous arc of sand at Black Brook.  My lovely wife suggested we spend our second full Cape Breton day there, and even though I knew I would be visually assaulted by a host of cute young things in skimpy beach wear, I agreed to go.

It proved to be a delightful day.  We sat in the sun, toes in the sand and listened to the surf gently roll ashore.  It reminded me of Cancun without the monokinis, Maui without the mai tais or Jamaica without the ganja.  But it was still nice.

Maybe Cape Breton Island is a pretty neat place after all.

Hello, Nova Scotia

Prince Edward Island has a great racket going.  Getting there is free, whether it’s over the 12.9-kilometre-long Confederation Bridge or taking the ferry over from Nova Scotia.  Getting back is another matter.  The bridge toll for our car and trailer was $54.50.  The ferry would have been even more.

For the most part, roads across Nova Scotia have been the best we’ve found in Canada.  South from the New Brunswick border, we were on a smoothly paved, divided highway that would put most American interstates to shame.  What they didn’t tell us is that about halfway down to the first major town, we’d be ambushed by a toll booth.  At $5.25, it was far cheaper than the per-mile tolls on the ring road around Denver.

After a night in an RV park near Truro where we did laundry, we were off for Kejimkujik National Park (locally known as Keji) in the middle of southwestern Nova Scotia.  Needing a potty break along the way, we stopped at a visitor information center located near the remains of an old bridge across the Shubenacadie River.

“You’re just in time,” the chief visitor informer told us.  “The tidal bore will occur in about 30 minutes.”

It seems the Shubenacadie empties into the Bay of Fundy, home of world’s highest tides.  When the tide rolls in, the up-flow of seawater overwhelms the downflowing river and a giant wave forms across the river narrows.  We joined a few dozen others at an overlook built atop one of the old bridge abutments and watched the action.  The Banzai Pipeline it’s not, but it was an interesting phenomenon to observe.

Dianne’s been longing to do her Lewis and Clark thing and paddle a canoe, something we’d been weathered out of doing so far.  Finally, she got her chance.  Under blue skies, we rented a craft and paddled our way up the slow-moving Mersey River.  Shoulder and hand surgeries have kept me from doing upper body weight workouts for over six months, and after two hours of paddling, my arms were as sore as a starting pitcher’s after nine innings.

From Keji, we went to Halifax where we camped in another commercial RV resort for two nights.  On our layover day, we drove to Peggy’s Cove, a world-famous site that draws in tour busses faster than a fresh horse pucky draws flies.  After a few hours of tourist dodging, we went back to the car and did a drive around Saint Margaret’s Bay.

Our first and last stops on the drive were memorials to the victims of the 1998 crash of Swissair Flight 111.  The plane took off from New York on its way to Geneva.  Somewhere around Halifax, a fire onboard apparently took out the flight controls and the plane went down a few miles beyond St. Maggie’s Bay.  Memorials to the victims stand at Peggy’s Cove on one side of St. Maggie’s and Bayswater on the other.

Next stop was a night at Murphy’s Camping on the Ocean, a commercial RV park in Murphy Cove owned and run by Brian and Marilyn Murphy.  Our site was on a big open lawn next to a post that had a water faucet and a 15-amp electrical hookup.  The water failed to meet health standards and came with a boil-before-drinking warning, and the electrical hookup was so weak, we couldn’t run our microwave or space heater.

Despite all that, Murphy’s will go down as one of our favorite commercial campsites so far.  Every night at 8:00 p.m., Brian builds a campfire down near the water.  Like breakfast at a B&B, it allowed us campers to meet each other and share information and stories.  Along about 8:30, a huge pot of mussels arrives and is boiled on the fire.  I’m not a mussel eater, but Dianne was in shellfish heaven.

As for the water and electrical issues, it turns out we still had plenty of good water in our freshwater tank and we managed to survive without heat or microwave popcorn.

From Murphy’s, we headed north up the eastern coast of Nova Scotia, visited yet another lighthouse at the end of a dirt road pitted with potholes big enough to swallow a MiniCooper and took yet another ocean cruise – this one a five-minute ferry ride across a small cove.

Our drive ended at the Hyclass Ocean Campground near where we’ll cross onto Cape Breton Island.  The name is a bit boastful, but the water is drinkable, we can run the microwave, space heaters and heat-pump furnace and there’s snail-paced free Wi-Fi service available that even sometimes works.

But there’s no communal campfire here and no boiled mussels.

Bathroom Break

After 67 nights in 29 separate national park, provincial park and commercial campgrounds in Canada, I’m ready to share a few observations about Canadian campground restrooms.

First of all, they’re not called “restrooms.”  In English-speaking Canada, they’re “washrooms” or “comfort stations” and in French-speaking Canada, they’re “toilettes.”  It doesn’t matter.  The man and woman stick-figure icons are universal.

Almost without exception, the facilities are extremely tidy with crews often cleaning twice a day.  Most of the time, they’re closed to entry when being cleaned, but not in Québec where the cleaning staff, which often featured members of the opposite gender, cleaned with the facilities in use.  It’s surprising to emerge from the shower or stall in the men’s room and find a young lady washing the sinks.

Speaking of sinks, we’ve yet to find a campground washroom/comfort station/toilette that didn’t feature hand-soap dispensers.  A few had paper towels for drying, but most of the time, it was just a blow dryer that often didn’t work or featured an output so anemic as to be worthless.

As for paper, the Canadians have perfected the art of making super thin toilet tissue, which is thinner than the individual layers in two-ply Charmin.  It comes on giant rolls, which is good because one has to use an abundance of it to get the job done.  And while it’s not quilted like half-ply Charmin, it is relatively soft.

All the national and provincial parks we’ve stayed in have featured showers.  They’re free in all the national parks we’ve sampled, and also come for free in Ontario and New Brunswick provincial parks.  Not so in Manitoba and Québec provincial parks where they’re coin operated, typically four minutes for $1.

We generally avoid commercial RV parks in the U.S., so our American experience is limited.  But we’ve never been charged to use the showers in a commercial campground south of the border.  Not so up here in Canada.  Of the eight commercial RV parks we’ve camped in, three have featured coin operated showers.

I’m convinced that people who design campground showers have never used one.  With few exceptions, campground showers up here come tighter than Superman’s phone booth and lack benches, shelves, hooks or soap trays.  Shower curtains are rarely seen and dressing area floors are almost always wet.  We take our own portable, wooden shower platforms so we have a dry place to towel our toes.

Now, of course, none of this would be an issue if we had a real trailer or motor home with full hookups or holding tanks.

But then what would be complain about?

Two more Provinces on the Map

We left Québec, crossed into New Brunswick and spent the night at Sugarloaf Provincial Park near the border town of Cambellton.  In the winter, Sugarloaf is a one chairlift ski resort.  In summer, their two-person lift is used to haul mountain bikes up to the top of the hill for what is apparently a thrilling ride down.

From Sugarloaf, we headed south to Mirimichi where we bunked two nights in our first RV park since Ottawa.  For a commercial RV park, it wasn’t bad, and we were entertained every afternoon and evening by the seemingly 600 pre-teen kids who chased through the park like a pack of rabid wolves.

After an oil change in Mirimichi, we headed south to Kouchibouguac National Park on the coast.  Our first task there was learning how to pronounce the park’s name (Koo-shee-boo-gwak) and then how to spell it without looking it up again on the map.

The park sported a long, sandy beach that Dianne longed to go to for a sun soak.  Unfortunately, we didn’t see the sun much during our stay.  Instead of a day at the beach, we hiked a riverside trail, photographed lobster boats, talked to lobster fishermen and caught a free concert by two Acadian musicians doing their versions of bygone American rock songs (remember the dead-teenager song, “Well, where oh where can my baby be…” by J. Frank Wilson & The Cavaliers?).  I can’t get the damn thing out of my head.

Next stop was a two-night stay on Prince Edward Island, a place we bicycled across on the abandoned rail-line Confederation Trail ten years ago almost to the day.  On that trip, we had excellent weather.  On this trip, it was overcast on our arrival day and sopping wet with rain falling on our layover day.

Instead of wasting away, ensconced in our 84 square feet of A-frame living space, we took off on a mission to photograph the vertical-axis wind turbine electrical generator that supposedly resides on the island.  Google hinted that it was on North Cape, so we went there first.

The test units that were originally there had apparently been torn down, but we were told a working one could be found 45 minutes away at West Point.  A drive there provided a rainy look at a lighthouse, but no vertical-axis wind turbines.

Tomorrow, we head back across the 12.9-kilometer-long Confederation Bridge to New Brunswick.  Nova Scotia, our ninth province, lies just beyond.  I’m looking forward to applying yet another provincial sticker to the map on the back of the trailer.

Back Off!

“It’s your own fault,” my always-right wife, Dianne, tells me.

I hate tailgaters, those people who cruise 65 mph down the highway a mere 10 feet from my bumper, or in our case, the trailer’s bumper.  I’ve heard of too many people who have had their trips turned into insurance settlements by some tailgater who failed to stop in time.

Unfortunately, it seems that along with hockey and curling, NASCAR-style tailgating is a national sport up here in Canada.

“They’re just coming in close just to check out the maps you put on the back of the trailer,” Dianne suggests.

Our decal maps of the U.S. and Canada showing which states/provinces we’ve camped in do bring in a fair amount of attention.  At our last campsite, for example, our neighbor popped over to ask why we hadn’t colored in Nova Scotia.

“Haven’t been there yet,” I explained.  “But it’s next on the list after P.E.I.”

Nova Scotia was his home province and we proceeded to talk about places to go and things to do while we’re there.  At other times, we’ve used the maps to show where we’re from and where we’re going in Canada.  The Canadians use them to tell us where they’ve been in the U.S.

I just wish they wouldn’t study our maps from 10 feet back when we’re cruising down the highway at 65 mph.