Moose-ion: Impossible

5 Sep

In Vancouver, when you have a ferry reservation you need to show up a half hour before it leaves. In North Sydney, it’s two hours! We became aware of this minor difference 70 minutes before scheduled departure time and with 30 minutes of cycling still ahead of us. To add to the fun, our reservation was only for 1 bicycle. We had to go through a complicated cancellation and re-booking process while the attendant radioed to the ferry guys to wait for us. It all worked out in our favour, and although we love an epic tale for the blog, we’re happy that we weren’t delayed another unspecified number of days.

This is the final round: our 10th and last province. Let’s review the wildlife scores. Bear sightings are 4-2 with Anya taking the lead. Moose sightings are 2-0 with Anya again in the lead. Since Newfoundland is famous for its large moose population, Maria has a fighting chance to see one before she flies home. Though the scores will likely still be in Anya’s favour, Maria is on a mission to improve her moose sighting score from nil to at least one.

We’re moving fast, but the seasons are moving faster. Fall has arrived in Newfoundland: it’s colder, and the days are getting noticeably shorter. The cold is pleasant, for now. As for the daylight, we need to budget our time accordingly and leave on time in the mornings. Also, Newfoundland is on its own, special time zone. The time here is not an hour, but just a half an hour later than Nova Scotia.

With the ferry arriving an hour later than expected, we did not have a lot of daylight time to cycle. We camped in JT Cheeseman Provincial Park, just 10km off the ferry. In Ontario we would always avoid the provincial parks due to the insanely inflated prices. But we were pleasantly suprised: camping was only $15 a night, there was a hot shower, and each site has its own blue box for recycling!

The next day the forecast was not promising. We had breakfast at the beach and enjoyed the majestic view of stormy clouds. As we were leaving, the rain started coming down a bit. To our surprise, the storm never caught up to us. We cycled with the the wind blowing at our backs and did the 144km to the Barachois Pond Provincial Park with no problem.

The day after, though, the weather gods figured we needed a thorough wash. Perhaps they thought we needed a blow-dry as well, because we got massive headwind. Somebody should tell the weather gods that blow-drying is usually after, not during, a shower. We hadn’t used rain pants in a while and of course forgot to put them on at the relevant time. Cold, wet, hungry, and more tired than one might expect, we stopped at the first restaurant we came across. We had covered just over half of what we had to do in total that day.

We really didn’t want to go back out and face the elements but the restaurant had no wi-fi and we needed to post. (Be grateful as you peruse our writings from the warm comfort of your favourite armchair.) Besides, we had a couchsurf set up for that evening and needed to make the distance. This time we used our rain pants — an improvement, although not total relief. “Waterproof breathable” is an oxymoron.

Wi-fi was available just 15 km further, in Corner Brook. We drank gallons of warm beverages at Brewed Awakening, the coffee shop beside a bike shop. By the time our blog was posted, it was really time to get moving. Just then, the clouds parted and the rain stopped.

How glad were we about couchsurfing that evening? Words can hardly express it. We were staying with Bridget, although we had originally contacted her daughter through Couchsurfing. Bridget’s daughter was out camping, so Bridget offered to take us in.

After eating a hearty dinner, Maria had the audacity to mention that she’s on a mission not only to see a moose but also to taste one. In Ontario, we were told that it tastes really good. Bridget happened to have some at her house! So that’s what we ended up eating for breakfast. It tastes very similar to beef.

The moose that we tried at Bridget’s had been given to her daughter by a friend who hunted the moose. Hunting moose is neither easy nor cheap. First, you have to win the license lottery and purchase a license. Then, you need to shoot a moose and transport it out of your area. And finally, you need to have the moose butchered, which usually costs money. Last year, Bridget says, moose hunting was allowed in the parks as well, but nobody wanted that license because you were not allowed to use a truck to pick up your dead moose: just muscle power!

Bridget said that her daughter only eats organic meat or non-farmed fish. Thanks to her daughter, Bridget has switched to a pescetarian diet herself, and avoids eating farmed fish because of the health risks of eating a fish brought up on an unnatural diet. But you won’t find Atlantic wild salmon in the supermarket: commercial fishing for salmon is not allowed here anymore because the stocks have been depleted. A personal fishing license only allows the holder to catch 6 salmon a year. With that kind of limitation, people tend to ration out their salmon for special occasions like holidays or birthdays, instead of mindlessly munching on it daily.

Salmon are not the only over-fished species: trout and cod stocks are also low. Bridget said that the cod stocks were depleted because of insufficient regulations as well as too much foreign fishing in the nearby waters. For many people here, cod fishing was their livelihood. But before you rush to ship parcels of food to your Atlantic friends, don’t worry! There are new iconic Newfoundland foods: moose and unique local berries.

Mmmm. Bakeapple cheesecake — delicious and unique local flavour.

Coasting Along the Cabot Trail

1 Sep

The day we hit our 8,000km mark we also arrived on Cape Breton Island. The highway loop around the northern part of the island is called the Cabot Trail. Like Anya’s bike, it is named after the explorer John Cabot, who set sail from England over 500 years ago. After risking his life and enduring great difficulties, Cabot (probably) found this beautiful place. Today, getting here still poses a challenge for the cyclist: the loop is famous for its steep hills as well as its breathtaking views. In the clockwise direction, the most intense climb is North Mountain, with a 13% grade for 3km and a total elevation gain of 445 metres over 4km. Although it was possible to avoid this loop en route to Newfoundland, we accepted the challenge on our quest for rugged coastlines.

We started out on the scenic Trans Canada Trail along the coast. In Judique, we camped on the beach without setting up a tent. It gets quite windy around here. When we tried cooking on the beach, the lighter wouldn’t light, so we had to take it to the sheltered picnic table, where it worked just fine. We made a mental note to buy some matches at the first opportunity, just in case the lighter was running low on fuel.

Luckily, the next day our Warm Showers host, Kevin, cooked us a warm dinner with freshly caught mackerel. Kevin goes fishing for mackerel in his kayak practically every day. He says it’s a very cost-effective vessel. Though it lacks some of the comfort and reassurance of a sailboat or motor boat, and the locals think he’s crazy, Kevin loves fishing out of the kayak. He strives to enjoy life without excess, so that he doesn’t need to work a job that causes a lot of stress and takes away all his time. A lot of people, he says, work and save until they are old and unable to enjoy their savings, or they buy useless things just to be like the neighbours. The mackerel feeds Kevin both directly and as a bartering item: he trades his homemade smoked mackerel for fresh organic vegetables with a local farmer. To reduce cost on other things, he hunts thrift stores and garage sales for quality and unique household items.

Kevin told us about the limited work opportunities here. Tourism and fishing are the big ones and they’re seasonal. During the winter, an overwhelming number of people rely on unemployment insurance. Many people leave to work elsewhere, especially in the tar sands, where they earn big money. But Kevin wonders whether they are able to control their materialistic urges when they are suddenly given so much freedom.

The next day we summited two mountains, including North Mountain. We arrived in Cabot’s Landing and got ready to cook dinner on the beach. Again, the lighter was not cooperating. Of course we hadn’t bought any matches. Anya, who is not a big fan of pasta, suggested that perhaps a salad for dinner would do just fine. But Maria was outraged, and managed to light the stove just by using the sparks from the flint in the lighter. That’s what happens when you desperately want a warm dinner!

In the morning we woke up to see the sunrise and walked along the big spit closing off Aspy Bay from the Gulf of St Lawrence. We found some birds. We swam naked. It was pretty.

After cycling a long 15km, we stopped to feast on the deservedly famous fresh oysters on the half shell at Hideaway Campground. Continuing our seafood mission we took an ‘alternate scenic route’ (aka, hilly detour) off the Cabot Trail. We suffered on the uphills, but were generously rewarded. Stopping at the Chowder House was a particularly sound decision: we ate crab, clams, scallops, prawns, haddock, and mussels.

We were rather late getting to our next Warm Showers host, Rosie. Her friend, Mary-Beth, was visiting from Newfoundland. Mary-Beth told us about the ferry trouble that had been happening since the previous weekend: one of the two ferries was out of commission, causing overbooking and delays. We checked on the internet, and sure enough, the following morning was booked solid, even for cyclists. The next available space was not until two days later. So we were forced to take a rest day the following day. After all those steep hills, it wasn’t such a bad thing.

Rosie’s house has a composting toilet. Yep, inside her house. There are haiku instructions for how to use it and following them, we were able to set its wondrous mechanisms in motion ourselves. What an experience.

Rosie also keeps pigs and chickens, and grows vegetables. Her pigs will reluctantly eat store-bought animal feed, and they will not eat Rosie’s vegetable scraps which go in the compost. But they love the fatty or doughey food scraps, like the ones Rosie gets from the nearby cafe. It’s her first year of pigkeeping and she’s been pretty successful so far. But the big challenge lies ahead: she’s going to ask for help in killing and butchering the pigs in exchange for gifts of knitted things and bacon.

On our unexpected rest day, we visited a bookstore, conveniently located next door to Rosie’s. The store owner played his fiddle for us. He said the young people aren’t learning to dance, although fiddle music is meant for dancing. Later, we went to hear some local fiddlers in the nearby church. Sure enough, everyone was stomping their feet but both the audience and the performers were an older crowd, and nobody was dancing.

In an effort to keep their Celtic heritage alive, Cape Bretoners added the Gaelic town names to the English ones on all their highway signs. Oh, Canada, land of many cultures and heritages. Most people are confused enough by place names derived from French and various First Nations languages — and now this? Here’s a pronunciation guide.

In the end, taking a later ferry worked in our favour: we waited out two days of mediocre weather, and a reporter contacted us for an interview. We made a brief appearance on the Cape Breton Information Morning show on CBC Radio. It’s on one or several of the the Aug 30 shows, but only our most dedicated viewers would listen to hours upon hours of radio just to find it…

Setting Sail for Nova Scotia

28 Aug

Avast ye, mateys! Lower the sails and drop the anchor. We approach a new land.

Aye aye, captain! Though we did not land in the port city of Halifax, we did spend a few days there. Anya’s friend Hamdi showed us the multitudinous ice cream and drinking establishments. We also went for a stroll along the vibrant waterfront boardwalk.

We even explored the Halifax harbour on a 30-foot sailboat, circling around Georges Island. The island has a fort and many, many snakes. We are told that an underground tunnel connects the island’s fort to the Citadel, which towers over Halifax.

It was time to replace our chains again, and we stopped by the Bike Pedaler bike shop in Dartmouth. The shop is involved in promoting cycling culture. For example, they have free bike parking for anyone working in downtown Dartmouth.

The shop owner, Marc, told us about an unfortunate new law that has aggravated cyclist-driver relations: drivers must give cyclists 1m distance when passing. The law is not enforced and cannot be regulated: even evidence like helmet camera footage cannot be used in court, although some have tried it. With the passing of the law, drivers feel like they’ve had some privileges taken away from them and now drive more aggressively, giving cyclists even less space when passing them and generally being unfriendly.

We took the scenic route out of Halifax, passing through the Salt Marsh and Shearwater Flyer trails. The trails are part of the Trans Canada Trail and are built on the old railbed. Birds love the salt marsh and you can see them feeding on small aquatic life. It’s also neat to see the tides rush through the narrow spots and into the shallow warm pools of the salt marsh.

In Antigonish we stayed with the Ten Brinkes: Charlie, Ronny, and the kids. They’re actually a family of 5, it’s just part of their last name! Charlie is really energetic and inspiring lady who’s involved in everything. Between working at the university, getting the kids to hockey practice and such, cooking for the family, and acting with a dinner theatre troupe, she also does a tonne of sustainability stuff.

The Ten Brinkes live just outside town, on a big beautiful piece of land. It hasn’t always been this nice: they built the house themselves and transformed the property from a rocky, rather barren field to a wooded area and garden. Charlie loves the trees and made a network of hiking trails for the kids. The wild critters love the trees too, and at one point Charlie had her yard certified with the Backyard Habitat Program. At the time, she ran a daycare where the kids could play around and connect with nature. Her two boys, Jesse and Jamie, have a fort in the trees. Charlie helped them build it using recycled materials.

Charlie also grows herbs and vegetables in her yard, to avoid the rising food prices. Feeding three kids is not cheap, especially if you want to give them fresh, organic vegetables. She also involves the kids in gardening. The two boys each have their own square of vegetable garden. At first, it was just a small patch, but this year they asked for a bigger area and now have a considerable garden plot each. Charlie says the boys feel very proud when the family eats vegetables from their garden plots.

In Antigonish there is a small but dedicated group of people who organize various talks and events to promote sustainabiity. The group is great for exchanging ideas, but as Charlie tells us, they have trouble reaching out to the rest of the community and getting them to see the importance of moving towards a sustainable lifestyle. Case in point: Charlie and Ronny recently hosted a 200-person picnic and Charlie decided she wouldn’t use any single-use dishes.

Yes, read that sentence again. 200 people. No plastic cups, plates, or anything. Let it sink in.

Anyway, Charlie said that people were so used to disposable dishes and so unaware of what she was trying to do that some of them threw her dishes in the garbage. She had to fish through the garbage at the end of the event to get her dishes back. These are the challenges she and the Antigonish sustainability crowd is up against.

With her kids, of course, it’s a different story: day in and day out, Charlie teaches them about recycling and not wasting water or electricity. Some days the kids still throw the compost in the garbage or leave the lights on in the entire house. But it’s not about getting it right each time, it’s about creating consciousness/awareness and instilling values. Charlie hopes to make the kids think about sustainability because she believes it’s important to their generation.

The Microprovince

26 Aug

We hereby claim intellectual property rights on “PEI is so small” jokes. For example:

PEI is so small that the bridge to the island is bigger than the island itself!

PEI is so small that if someone doesn’t know you, they’ll ask your last name because they probably know your relatives! Actually, this one’s not a joke. But it’s still funny!

PEI is so small that it doesn’t have a provincial welcome sign. Wait, that’s not a joke either. We did not find any provincial welcome signs. We had to take a picture at Granny’s Tea Room instead:

The tea room is conveniently situated just off the Confederation Trail, a cyclist’s paradise. It’s an impeccably-maintained gravel path, built atop the old railroad. It covers the entire island and is used by pedestrians, cyclists, and cross-country skiers in the wintertime. It inherits the convenient railroad grade, avoiding PEI’s many hills.

On our first of two nights on the island, we couchsurfed with Sebastian and his mom, Marianne. Marianne has an amazing food garden in her yard, as well as a chicken coop. She’s got two kinds of chickens: some for laying eggs and some for eating. We were there at just the right time: the chickens had just been slaughtered and we ate really fresh chicken for dinner. Marianne grows enough food for two and a half households. She does a lot of food preserving so that she has food from the garden through the winter months. This involves freezing the chickens and preserving a lot of the vegetables.

Sebastian is in PEI for the summer working on an organic farm, but lives in Halifax for the rest of the year. He travels between Halifax and PEI a lot, but since he doesn’t have a car, he hitchhikes or takes the bus. However, the inter-provincial bus company providing service to the Maritime provinces, Acadian Bus Lines, will stop running this November. This will significantly limit the travel options between cities for people who do not own cars and will certainly increase traffic.

Sebastian has also done tree-planting in New Brunswick and mentioned that a lot of forest there is owned by the Irvings. As Amanda told us earlier, in the Maritimes there are several powerful families with a lot of money who own a lot of land and businesses. The Irvings are one such family. They started out with just a few gas stations, but now they own most of the forests, mills, trucking companies, gas stations, and newspapers. Since the Irvings own the entirety of the newspaper business, from the raw material to production and distribution, it is difficult to get independent newspapers in these provinces. Of course, the Irving-owned news media is biased in reporting on Irving-owned industries.

On our second day on the island, we visited Charlottetown. We met Guy, a guitarist from Montreal who comes to Charlottetown for the summer to busk. He asked us to watch his guitar and amp while he went to grab a snack.  When he came back, he had some cool drinks for us. We ended up talking to him, sitting around for a few hours enjoying the sun and the sea. It all ended with Guy passing the guitar to Maria, and her classical tunes brought in some cash. Still got it!

L’Acadie Sur Mon Bike, C’est Awesome

18 Aug

Tour de Sustainability’s team has temporarily increased in numbers. Amanda, one of the original team members, joined us for the weekend. As luck would have it, just then we hit three consecutive days of rain and headwind, after weeks and weeks of good weather. In 4 days Amanda covered 471km, without prior training — impressive! Stay tuned for her side of the story: she’ll be writing a guest entry in our blog.

As we headed further south-east, towards Acadia, the French accents became less and less intelligible to our untrained ears. Thankfully, Amanda, who is New Brunswick born and raised, is bilingual. As our local tour guide she made sure we visited all the not-to-be-missed spots, and she also taught us how to eat this traditional NB snack food. Believe us, it requires a special skill.

In Charlo we stopped for lunch in a quaint seaside restaurant called Le Moulin A Café. Amanda was very eager to get a copy of the paper, because she was supposed to be in it. By coincidence, the paper also had an article about the restaurant, as well as a bike event that we saw along the way! Talk about relevant news.

To translate and summarize: back in Moncton, Amanda and five others are opening a co-operatively owned bike shop, La Bikery. Members will have access to the shop and tools, a cheaper and more hands-on option for basic repairs and maintenance. This will make it easier for budget-conscious people to cycle more and let people practice their bike mechanics skills. La Bikery will also promote cycling culture in the Moncton area by putting on bike mechanics workshops and cycling events.

Our arrival in Moncton was timed just right for August 15 – La Fête Nationale D’Acadie! On this day, Acadians wave their flags and there is a parade called the Tintamarre, with everybody making lots of noise, whether it’s with the traditional pots and pans or some party noise toys from the dollar store.

Where the parade ends, the afterparty begins. We biked to the nearby Dieppe for their superior afterparty, and got to hear some awesome music live including the Hay Babies and Radio Radio, who sing in Shiac, a dialect of French that’s only found here. We also got to hear a little too much of the extremely popular Cayouche. And we felt like real Acadiens:

The Fertile Banks of the St. Lawrence

14 Aug

Cycle touring is great because you often stay in rural places. Our St-Vallier hosts, Dany and Maïté, live in a part of town that’s not even connected to the town’s water supply. The house’s water comes from their well, but it’s not pleasant to drink because of a light sulphur odour. Many people purchase expensive filtration systems, but Dany and Maïté make trips to the nearby woods where there is a natural spring, and get their drinking water from there. Just what we needed after a full day of cycling in the sun!

Maïté has a beautiful vegetable garden in their backyard. She grows variety of veggies including some extra large and very tasty zucchinis. She was full of creative ideas for her garden.

Maïté figured out a three-stage compost system that’s suitable to their house. First, they collect the compost in a bin. Once the bin is full, usually after a year, they transfer it to a raised bed; this year, she planted some zucchinis and geraniums on it for aesthetic appeal. After another year, the ready compost goes into the garden.

The family does without a lawnmower. In the spring, they buy some rabbits and set the rabbit cage on the grass. Once that area has been ‘mowed’ they move the cage to the next area. In the fall, they eat the rabbits, although their 5-year-old son, Matéo, doesn’t know that yet, but is starting to catch on that the rabbits each year are different and it makes him sad.

They also do without herbicides for killing dandelions, and in the early summer their lawn turns bright yellow. Instead of stressing about it and working against nature, they enjoy it.

When you come to a small town on a weeknight, you don’t necessarily expect a beach party. But that’s what we found in Kamouraska. Our hosts, garlic growers from the nearby St-Germain, were celebrating a friend’s birthday, and we were invited!

At the afterparty, we talked to Jesse, who works for Greenpeace. He is cycling around Quebec with a colleague, encouraging people to get involved with Greenpeace. Many people have been very receptive and welcoming, he tells us. However, in Canada people are reluctant in having convesation about the environment: many of them have jobs in industries like mining or oil extraction that are damaging to the environment. So they feel a bit guilty or responsible and do not want to get themselves into a conversation where they will be blamed or accused.

One of the friends had recently butchered his goat, and some of its meat was roasting over the fire. Our conversation naturally turned to food. Jesse had grown up on an organic farm, where fresh, organic meat was a big part of his diet. When he moved away, he realized that grocery store meat is not nearly as good as what he had been eating all his life. He gradually learned to eat mostly vegetarian and stopped buying meat. But Jesse does not promote strict vegetarian diets: he likes to challenge vegans and vegetarians on their values. For example, can a vegetarian eat roadkill, which already died anyway, and is going to waste?

One day Jesse would like to learn to hunt. He says if people got their meat hunting, they would better understand the value and ecological context of the meat they were eating, and would adapt their diet accordingly.

Fruits and Vegetables du Terroir

10 Aug

After two culture filled rest days in Montreal,  we stayed with Cedric and Anika in Joliette. Cedric works at the farm market and gets fresh local vegetables, which we got to try in the form of tasty homemade quiche by Anika. The farm market is unusual because people order their food online. On pickup day, the farmers bring the requested goods to the market, and people come to pick up their orders. As Cedric explains, this helps the local economy and in particular, the local farmers.

What better way to get to a car race than on a bicycle? We arrived in Trois-Rivières just in time for the Grand Prix, and the sound of racing cars created a constant background noise during our stay. Our hosts, Sharon and André, were not very pleased with the route of the race track, as it passes between the seniors’ homes and the hospital.

In response to hearing about the Tour de Sustainability project, Sharon told us a story she read in the paper. In Drummondville, a couple decided to grow their own vegetables to start eating healthier food, and the only place sunny enough was their front yard. After a season’s worth of hard work, they set up a wonderful garden. But the municipality has a law requiring 30% of the front yard to be grass, so they were told to remove the garden and put back the lawn. The couple is fighting with the municipality for their garden, but the prospects are grim: the municipality is planning to introduce a law banning all vegetable gardens in front yards.

The story seemed to have gone viral, and a lot of our hosts had opinions about it. As Sharon and André said, the people who had vegetable gardens in their backyards sided with the couple: to them, a garden is a beautiful thing. But the others sided with the municipality. Dany, our St-Vallier host, suggested that the ridiculous law is due to conformist mindsets. To some people, it’s just important that everybody’s house and front yard should look the same.

Thanks to Anya’s parents, who came to visit for the long weekend, we were able to go sightseeing in various places along the north shore of the St. Lawrence. We saw Quebec City, Portneuf, and one of the oldest streets in North America.

We also enjoyed some of the produits du terroir (French for local food). For example, we discovered the ground cherry (cerise de terre) at a fruit stand, and found it very addictive. We also tried ground cherry liqueur, which was almost as delicious.

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