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Road Report #23 – Cape Breton and New Brunswick

The ferry from Newfoundland to Sydney, NS pulled in to dock at around 9am on July 3rd.  I hit the road to start my drive of the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island.

It’s a well known scenic drive that loops around the northwestern part of Cape Breton Island.  It was scenic for sure with steep, forested hillsides plunging down to the ocean and sandy beaches tucked into protected coves.

Someone had recommended checking out a place called Meat Cove.  It’s the town that is farthest north in Nova Scotia.   To get there, one has to divert off the main highway and drive a gravel road for several miles.  My tour book said that Meat Cove only gets 8,000 visitors per year.  Sounded like it was off the beaten path, right up my alley.

Well, it’s off the beaten path but a good number of people are making the effort to get there, certainly more than 8,000 visitors per year.  I arrived at the campground to find it looking pretty full.  It’s a privately run campground, set up on a hill above the beach, with a spectacular view of the coast.   The set up is a little hinky.  Level spots to camp or park are hard to find in some areas and no spots really have any privacy.

I picked a spot that had a gorgeous view of the coast and the beach.   My neighboring campers came over trying to help me find the best level spot to park Greta.  As it turns out the best spot placed us basically bumper to bumper but they insisted it was a-ok.

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Camping at Meat Cove, NS

My kindly neighbors, Janosh and Christina,  were a couple from Lichtenstein who had had a small van outfitted for camping and shipped over from Europe.  They had just recently started their North America adventures.

Roo had a hard time warming up to Janosh.  Guys with beards seems to be a challenge.   She growled at him most of the time.  It REALLY annoyed me that she was being such a jerk to the guy who had let us basically share their campsite.

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Roo guarding ‘her’ picnic table at Meat Cove.

Janosh and Christina were a very interesting, young couple and it was great to hear about their travels so far and plans for the upcoming months.  They’ve got some great pictures and recaps of the travels on their blog.  (It’s in German but Google Translate will help you out.)

In the campground was one of the most bad ass travel setups I had ever seen.  The rig was owned by a well travelled American retired couple from the DC area.  Their setup was super swank.  This vehicle is meant to get into wild and woolly places yet had all of the conveniences of home.  I had rig envy.   They travel with their cat and the cat is allowed to roam free and will follow along with them on hikes.    A cat that hikes… now that is a cool cat.

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Bad ass rig at Meat Cove campground.

Over dinner, I swapped travel stories and commiserated over U.S. politics (despite our efforts to stay off the topic) with the badass rig couple.  The campground has a restaurant with a deck with killer views of the coast where you can sit and sip a beer, soaking in the scenery, while enjoying fish and chips or lobster or a burger.

After dinner, Roo and I wandered down to the beach.   There was a very friendly vibe in the campground and lots of people wanted to meet Roo.   I chatted for a while with two cousins out camping for the weekend.  No one else in their family is in to camping and they’ve bonded over their love for camping and have become camping buddies.  They invited me to share their campfire that evening and with Janosh and Christina in tow, I headed over to their campsite as dusk turned to dark.    We sat around the fire, swapping stories, laughing, enjoying the scenery and the conversation and then out of the blue we were treated to a fireworks show from the beach below.    Ooooohs and awwwwws  and applause went up from the campground at the end of each little round of fireworks.  It was great, great fun although Roo didn’t think it was so terrific.  She’s never had issues with fireworks before but this was the first time she had a front row seat for the show and she didn’t care for it at all.

That evening we talked about how the campground was perfectly situated for the sunrise.  I set an alarm before heading to bed and I woke to see Janosh and Christina already up and taking in the incredible view.

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Janosh taking in the sunrise at Meat Cove

I pushed off from Meat Cove on July 4th and continued the scenic Cabot Trail Drive.  I didn’t have long to drive that day before coming to my next intended destination, Corney Brook Campground.  A few travelers had recommended this spot to me along the way and I was not disappointed.  It’s a sweet little first-come, first-served campground right on the ocean.

It was hot out and I decided to brave it and go for a dip.   At the end of the beach was a  perfect little swimming hole in the brook, just before it let out into the ocean.  The brook wasn’t as cold as I feared it might be.  It was fabulous to gently tread water and ride the current towards the ocean and then take a couple of strokes upstream to repeat the loop.

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Hanging out on the beach at Corney Brook Campground along the Cabot Trail Drive.

It was another very friendly and congenial campground scene.   A nice couple offered to grab groceries for me while they ran into town and then we hung out and chatted while sipping on beers after their grocery run.  Another couple in a Westy shared their snow crab and beers with me that evening as we talked about our love for Westy’s and swapped VW travel tales.

As the sun went down, we all settled in to watch the sky turn shades of pinks and purples.  Corney Brook Campground is known for being a good spot to see the sunset and it did not disappoint.

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In the morning, Roo and I hiked the Corney Brook trail up to a little waterfall before hitting the road.

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Waterfall at the end of the Corney Brook Trail.

From Corney Brook I continued the drive down the coast and landed at the campground at the end of town in Inverness.   Roo and I enjoyed some play time down at the beach and I was amazed at how few people we saw.

The evening I visited the Glenora Distillery and Inn outside of town to do some whisky tasting and grab some dinner.  Delicious all the way round.

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After the whisky tasting, I headed back into town to the Fire Hall to catch a ceilidhs,  pronounced ‘kay-lee’, a social event with traditional music, dancing and story telling.    I expected that the performers would be older folks but to my surprise and delight, the performers were young people of the community, ranging in age from 11 to 32.   Many of the performers were siblings.  There was a brother and sister, he a fiddler, she a pianist.  Two brothers were dancers.  Three sisters played a variety of instruments and sang and danced.  I could only imagine how musical their households must be.   At the end of the performances, I lingered for a bit and watched how everyone socialized with each other. It struck me how the kids didn’t end up on one side of the room and the adults on the other.   Folks of all ages were engaged in conversation, laughing and kidding around and enjoying each other’s company.  It was a really charming experience and a great note to end on for my travels in Nova Scotia.

On July 6th, I pushed off from the campground in Inverness and started the final phase of my road trip, the return drive to the Pacific Northwest.  I was hoping to be back in Seattle by July 28th to join some friends for our 10th annual garden tour.   I was giving myself only 3 weeks to cover a route approximately 4000 miles in length.  Yikes – not the typical way I like to roll.  I was definitely going to have to break my ‘no more than 4 hours driving time per day’ rule.

It was mostly highway driving for me that day and in the afternoon some nasty storms rolled in bringing pouring rains.  Sheets of water poured off the highway and most of us smart drivers took our speeds way, way down.   A couple of not so smart drivers ended up hydroplaning off the highway when they failed to check their speed.  They looked a bit shaken and sheepish as the rest of us drove by in the downpour.

Almost all other fellow travelers had pooh-poohed New Brunswick and indicated there’s not much to see or do.  And granted, most of what I saw in New Brunswick was from the van but what I did see I really liked and if I get a chance, I will definitely go back to poke around more.    I drove through beautiful, rolling farmland and forested hills at times.  When I diverted off the highway for lunch or a potty break, I inevitable ended up in a cute town with a charming little historic downtown with art galleries and restaurants.

I had booked a room at a BnB that evening in a town called Sackville, which I thought was an awful name for a town and sounded pretty dreary.  I didn’t really care.  It was cheap and it was the right distance along my route.  I arrived at my lodging, a room in a large, rustic farmhouse just outside of town and was immediately smitten with the beauty of the rolling farmland of the area.  Roo couldn’t have been happier running around in the fields around the house.   My hosts were a very interesting, down to earth older couple and asked if I was going into town.  My GPS had taken me into town on a backroad and I thought, what town?  They started rattling off all of the things to do and I thought, heck, I better go check this place out.  It sounds great.  So Roo and I got back in the van and drove into town via Main Street to find a cute little college town.   The small downtown area has some nice historic buildings and fun pubs and restaurants.  From downtown, you can connect to a trail system that goes through the town’s waterfowl park and Roo and I enjoyed a nice walk after dinner and beers.  Sackville turned out to be pretty great.

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Romping in the fields with Roo at our Airbnb in Sackville, NB

July 7th, I headed back into the town of Sackville to check out their coffee scene and farmers market and again, was not disappointed.   I then hit the road,  headed to Rivier-du-Loup on the Saint Lawrence River in Quebec.   I really wasn’t ready to be leaving the Canadian Maritimes behind.   I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I got a little teary when I crossed the New Brunswick/Quebec border.  I felt a strong desire to turn around and head back to the beaches of Nova Scotia and start figuring out how to convince the Canadian government to let me stay permanently.    But I pushed those feelings down and drove on and decided to back burner plans to emigrate to Nova Scotia… for the time being.  🙂

Road Report #22 – Newfoundland

The ferry arrived into Channel Port-au-Basque, Newfoundland at 7am on June 12th.  I couldn’t believe I was in Newfoundland.  It hadn’t originally been on my list of destinations.  I thought it was too far out of reach.  It’s way the heck out there.  

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That’s where I was from June 12 to July 2.

But I started looking at it on maps and doing a little research and my interest kept going up and up.  Newfoundland is approximately 42,000 square miles, roughly the size of New York State, but has a population of only 525,000 people, 20% concentrated in the city of  St. John’s, 51% on the Avalon Peninsula which is the chunk of land that makes up the eastern most part of the island.  I figured it would be pretty wild and wooly which simultaneously intrigued me and scared me.  I wondered if this place was the best place to be traveling in Greta.  If something happened would I be able to find a mechanic to help?  

The more I looked at maps the more I wanted to go.  I encourage you to pull up Newfoundland in Google maps and check it out for yourself.   You’ll see that the island’s coast is made of deeply cut coves and the island itself is pockmarked with water.  It almost doesn’t look like solid land.  My curiosity beat out my cautious side and I became obsessed with getting there.    

As I drove off the ferry, and started driving up the Trans-Canada Highway, I was pleasantly surprised to find the weather sunnier and warmer than expected.  The island has earned the nickname ‘The Rock’ and it seemed fitting based on my first impression.  The landscape was rough and raw and barren and little houses dotted the hillsides surrounding the harbor.

From Channel Port-au-Basque I started making my way north along the western coast, passing by scrubby, rocky, rolling hills.  The trees were contorted and small, an indication of the harsh conditions they had to contend with.   Below is a picture that illustrates what most of the plants in Newfoundland have to work with: mere inches of top soil on top of rock.   Plants must be real survivors to make it here.

fullsizeoutput_18a9 It’s common to see gardens plots just off the side of the road, where folks are cultivating the land.  Not because they want to garden next to the road, but because that just might be the place where there’s actually enough topsoil to feasibly cultivate a garden.

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I diverted off the main highway shortly after arriving to check out check out the Codroy Valley Peninsula and to walk Roo on the beach.  I was surprised to find these magnificent vistas of the snow capped Long Range Mountains to my right and views of beaches and ocean cliffs to my left.  It was stunning.    

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My first view of the Log Range Mountains
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The beach at Codroy Provincial Park

Along the way, I stumbled upon Chap’s Garage, a remarkable collection of memorabilia on display in a guy’s (I assume Chap) garage.   

Driving around this peninsula loop, through little towns, it looked pretty rough and raw.  Roads were in pretty bad shape.   Towns were neat and tidy for the most part but no nonsense.  Places seemed to be just coming out of the grip of winter and it was clear that winter was no picnic here.

I knew the surprisingly nice weather I was experiencing wasn’t going to last.  Weather reports indicated a nasty storm was on the way and I decided I better get myself snuggled in to some accommodations up in the Gros Morne National Park area.  No way was I planning on camping in the cold, rainy, windy weather that was supposed to arrive that night.  So I just put the pedal to the metal and trucked up the Trans-Canada Highway as fast as I could.

I landed later that afternoon in this tiny little seaside town called Trout River.   It was the closest town to two hikes that I had hoped to do while visiting Gros Morne so I figured best to be there so I could get out hiking as soon as weather improved.   I was surprised at exactly how small and rough the town appeared when I rolled in.  After I drive around town to scope it out, I almost decided to leave, I was so underwhelmed.  But I’m glad I didn’t.   The space I secured at a BnB was perfect.  Clean, spacious, updated, and with a jacuzzi tub and along the water front street.  It was perfect for weathering out the crummy weather.   

I hiked up to the point on the north side of the cove that eve and then enjoyed a tasty seafood dinner at the Seaside Restaurant.  It’s the one restaurant in town, a family owned operation that’s been around for decades, with a reputation for serving the best seafood in the area.

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The town of Trout River

The weather rolled in that evening and the rain and wind started.   When I took Roo out for her morning walk the next day I couldn’t believe how miserable it felt out.  It was bone chilling cold and the wind was relentless.  The crummy weather plus the stress of traveling for the past couple days caught up with me and I came down with a migraine.  Roo and I basically spent that day in bed in Trout River, only going outside when absolutely necessary.  When we did go out, I was cold and wet in no time and even Roo wanted to get back inside quickly.

The following day I woke up to find that the weather had improved vastly.  Roo and hiked up to the lighthouse on the south side of the cove that morning and enjoyed beautiful views of the mountains and town.

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View of Trout River Big Pond.
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Trout River cove

After checking out of the BnB, Roo and I set out to hike the Green Gardens Trail in Gros Morne National Park.   The guide books indicated it wasn’t the easiest of hikes so for the first time on the road trip I decided Roo should carry her own water in her doggy hiking pack I had brought along.    Well, she wasn’t having any of that and I didn’t get more than 30 yards up the trail before I knew it was going to be a no go.

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Roo already starting to get into stubborn donkey mode before we’ve left the parking lot.

The hike took most of the day and Roo and I were absolutely snookered afterwards but it was worth it.  What an amazing hike!   The views up and down the coast from the top of the sea cliffs were incredible.

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Green Gardens Trail – Gros Morne National Park
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Green Gardens Trail – Gros Morne National Park

To my surprise, we ran into sheep on the trail and got chased by three mama sheep that didn’t like how close we were to the lambs.   The dang little lambs were curious little creatures and actually came towards us.  Three of the big ewes came out in formation and started to bum rush Roo and I.  Of course Roo thought that was fantastic.   I finally managed to drag myself and her across a little stream and that seemed to put a sufficient barrier between us and the sheep to satisfy the mama sheep.

After the hike, I made a quick stop in the cute lakeside town of Woody Point for some excellent fish and chips.   As I drove out of town to hunt up a campsite, I just couldn’t believe the views.  When I had driven in a couple of days ago, everything was socked in with clouds.

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View near Woody Point.

After a night at Berry Hill Campground,  I drove a bit farther north in the park and stopped to take the boat tour of Western Brook Pond.  ‘Pond’ has a very different meaning in Newfoundland as you can tell from the videos and pictures below.  This boat tour was freaking amazing.  An absolute must do if you ever get to Newfoundland.  

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Boat tour on Western Brook Pond
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Western Brook Pond
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One of the many waterfalls viewed from the boat tour on Western Brook Pond.

From Western Brook Pond, I continued to push north up route 430 and stopped that afternoon to camp at Shallow Bay Beach, a lovely long crescent beach with views of snowcapped mountains as a backdrop.   I saw no one else out on the beach when walking with Roo, other than a nice Newfoundlander out camping with his 4 yr old son for the night.   After enjoying a nice sunset from the beach, I spent that evening sitting at the campfire with them, learning more about life in Newfoundland and getting tips on how to best experience the island. 

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Chilling with Roo and my uke at Shallow Bay Beach, watching the sun set.

Roo and I enjoyed another beach walk in the morning and again, we had the whole dang beach to ourselves.  Just ridiculous.

Then it was back in the van to continue our push up the west coast.   The drive north out of Gros Morne was very scenic.  The mountains went on and on and the road traced right along the coast.   Beautiful blue ocean to the left,  snowcapped mountains to the right.  

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Scenic view along route 430, north of Shallow Bay Beach.

First stop of the day was Port au Choix National Historic Site  Port au Choix is known for the rare plants that grow only in the limestone barrens in the area and for the archaeological finds that cover at least 4 separate indigenous cultures.  

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I don’t know if this is one of the rare plants at Port au Choix or not.  It could be an invasive weed for all I know.  But its yellow flowers looked so pretty against the blue of the ocean.

From Port au Choix I continued north and stopped for a quick walk at Flowers Cove to check out the Thrombolites.  These are the remnants of the first forms of life on earth.

As I drove farther north up the western peninsula the Labrador coastline became visible across the water and I started to see chunks of sea ice floating in the water.  Roads got rough (and trust me, they had been no picnic so far) and I kept my eyes peeled for potholes as well as moose and caribou.   The terrain turned into rocky, scrubby, rolling hills, dotted with small little ponds.

Finally, after two hours of driving, I arrived at Pestilot Bay Park for a night of camping.    As I checked in for camping I inquired about the picture of a polar bear on the wall behind the desk and to my shock was informed that the last polar bear in the area had left just 7 days earlier to cross back to Labrador via the sea ice.   What the what??   I had no idea that I was in polar bear range and that they might still be hanging around in June.   As I drove to my campsite I could see that the campground still had quite a few patches of snow around.  It was quite nippy out and I cranked the furnace in the van that night.  I thought, if this is what the weather’s like in June, what is the winter like?? 

In the morning it was a fairly short drive to L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site which was one of the reasons I had made the trek up to the northern end of western Newfoundland.  Declared a UNESCO world heritage sight in 1978, it’s the only identified Viking settlement in North America, dating back 1,000 years and it’s the first known evidence of Europeans in North America.

The tour given by the park ranger was fascinating.  He had actually grown up there, his family’s house on the coast visible in the distance.  He had played on the earthen mounds as a kid before anyone had identified them as the remains of a Viking village.   His insights and stories of what life was like there were as fascinating to me as the history of the Vikings in the area.  The park has done an admirable job of replicating buildings to represent what the Viking settlement might have looked like. The fact that the backdrop to all of this was beautiful blue water chock full of sea ice and icebergs made the experience all that more memorable.   

From L’Anse aux Meadows I made my way to the town of St. Anthony and checked into a motel.  Cold, windy, rainy weather was on the horizon again.  While the news on TV talked of the first major heat wave hitting the U.S. and Canada, I was donning a layer of long underwear under my clothes…in June.

I was mainly in St. Anthony to find out more about the Grenfell Mission.  My maternal grandfather volunteered here as a doctor in the 1930’s.  My hope was that I might catch a glimpse of him in one of their photographs on display.   Sadly I did not but I still found the displays fascinating and I learned a lot about what life was like in the late 1800’s, early 1900’s.   Not easy to say the least.   When Sir Wilfred Grenfell first came to Newfoundland in 1892, 30,000 people lived in Newfoundland and Labrador without medical or dental services of any kind.  Life was pretty much subsistence living.  Out of that, the Newfoundlanders have developed a very strong sense of community.  It’s just par for the course that everyone looks out for each other and they are generous with what they have.   Life is hard enough here and if you don’t band together with your community, life is just that much tougher.  Roo and I went to check out the lighthouse in town before the weather got super nasty and found the waters around St. Anthony chock full of sea ice and icebergs.

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View from the lighthouse in St. Anthony

Greta was in need of an oil change and the weather was nasty for traveling, so I decided to extend my visit in St. Anthony and take advantage of the fact that one of the few Newfoundland recommended mechanics listed on the roadhaus.com forum was in St. Anthony of all places.  Maurice, the owner, came out of his office to chat with me because he didn’t recognize me and figured I must be from out of town.  We had a great chat and it was a perfect example of the friendliness and hospitality that the Newfoundlanders are known for.

After Greta was checked out and I felt good that a major van issue wasn’t imminent, I made a last stop in St. Anthony to check out the Jodi Bonet tile mosaic in the rotunda of the hospital.

From St. Anthony, I decided to check out a town or two on the eastern side of the northwestern peninsula before making my way back down the way I had come.  These roads were pretty remote and I was expecting to see some wildlife.  I was not disappointed.  Three caribou crossed right in front of Greta. 

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On the way to Conche

I made a turn towards the town of Conche and found myself driving on a gravel road.  As it went on and on, I thought, what have I gotten myself into and considered bailing and turning around.  But I pushed on and I’m glad I did.  I came up and over hill to see the little town perched on the side of the bay, surrounded by blue waters speckled with icebergs.  There was a French Shore Historical Center there that had a great exhibit on the history of the area and a 227 foot tapestry created to illustrate the history.  It was quite something.  Basque fisherman started coming for the rich cod fisheries sometime in the 1400’s, possibly the 1300’s.  The world wondered where the Basque were getting all of the code that they were getting rich off of and eventually the secret got out and the French and English and Irish started coming as well, as early as the 1500’s.   The result is that some areas of Newfoundland have deep connections with French culture and language, some to Ireland, some to England.  From area to area in Newfoundland, the specific speech pattern, accent, and sayings were indicative of which European country dominated settlements in that area. 

The folks that I met in town were SOOO nice and friendly and made sure I knew about all of the sites in the area and the hiking options.  I really have to give Newfoundland credit for the availability of hiking trails.  Pretty much every town has a trail of some sort.  Hiking options abound.    Roo and I did a hurried hike through the mossy forest along the top of sea cliffs before hitting the road.

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Hiking near Conche

I got back on the road and started driving as fast as I could (which wasn’t very fast) back down the western peninsula, hoping to make it to Norris Point in Gros Morne National Park.  

I didn’t make it that far because I lost the light and wasn’t comfortable driving too far into dusk.  Everyone was warning to stay off the roads between dusk and dawn because of the vast number of moose that come out during those hours.   I had seen a couple of moose off to the side of the road and I definitely didn’t want to have a collision with one of those.  They’re as big as Greta. 

I did make time to pull into Arches Provincial Park for a very quick look as the sun was starting to set.   Worth a stop.

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Arches Provincial Park

I found a little boondocking spot in a gravel pull out at a overlook of the ocean and called it a night.  Two other vehicles were doing the same.  This was my first boondocking night in Newfoundland. (For those who aren’t familiar with the term boondocking, it essentially means to camp for free, ie, not in an established campground without any services.)   Many travelers I had met were taking that approach and were a little mystified I wasn’t doing that myself.   A police man in fact had told me it was fine to just park anyway for an evening.   I figured, time to give it a shot.  

My first boondocking night in Newfoundland was a success.  Slept as sound as could be and I was hooked on the idea of not paying for camping anymore.   Camping is surprisingly expensive actually.  I estimated that if I camped for a month it would cost around $1000 at month.  Double that if staying in private campground versus provincial parks.  

I had another LONG day of driving to do as I was trying to get off the western coast and start covering some ground heading east.  I stopped briefly in Norris Point to see what I had missed out on.  I literally stayed for no more than 10 minutes and then moved on but man, what a view! 

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View from Norris Point in Gros Morne National Park.

I picked up a hitchhiker as I was leaving Gros Morne.  It was a guy that I had met on the tour of L’Anse aux Meadows a few days prior. I had seen him walking on the road up to L’Anse aux Meadows and when we got to chatting I learned that he had hitchhiked from Quebec!  I was so hoping I was going to get a chance to give him a lift because we kind of got interrupted in our chat and didn’t cross paths again after the tour finished.  So when I saw him on the side of the road with his thumb out I pulled right over.   It was nice to have a company on the drive, even if just for a bit.  We were sort of heading in different directions and I dropped him off within an hour. Roo loved having the company and sat on his lap the whole time.  It was fascinating to hear about his adventures and how he negotiates his way around as a hitchhiker.   Most of his rides had been provided by locals so he had had some wonderful conversations and really gotten some insight into life in Newfoundland.  

After dropping off my hitchhiker friend in Deer Lake, the majority of that day’s drive was along the Trans-Canada Highway heading east towards St. John’s.  It was sort of pretty but also quite boring and the drive that was supposed to take less than 5 hours felt like it took an eternity.  My objective was the town of Twillingate,  known for being a good place to see large icebergs and I was also planning on taking a whale watching tour.   

By the time I arrived in Twillingate I was exhausted from the drive and hungry.  When I coasted in to town I immediately started to get crabby.   Compared to western Newfoundland, the place felt busy.   Tourists were walking around, there were lots of BnBs and motels with ‘NO VACANCY’ signs up.  I started to feel like an easy night of boondocking wasn’t in the cards.   

I drove up to the lighthouse, thinking I might find a place to park it for the night there.    Roo and I did some hiking around on the trails around the lighthouse and the views were amazing but unfortunately some jackass was flying a drone around which did nothing to improve my bad mood.   For a few minutes I thought about bailing out of the Twillingate area.

I took a minute to collect myself and poked around a bit more and a turn out that I had blown by just down the road from the lighthouse turned out to be a wonderful boondocking spot right on the coast.  WOO HOO!

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Boondocking near Twillingate Lighthouse.

I got Greta set up and then Roo and I (beer in hand) blazed off on the trails that traced the tops of the sea cliffs, out to one of the points, and settled in to watch the sunset.  To my delight, I could see and hear minke whales in the water below. 

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Hiking the trails around Twillingate Lighthouse.

After watching the sunset, Roo and I returned back to our camp spot to find that we had acquired a neighbor for the eve.  Super nice and funny young guy, name of Matt, a Brit, driving around in his blue Volvo station wagon, dubbed Lucy, who had lived in Newfoundland for a bit and was out for a couple of weeks of road tripping around Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, testing out his vehicle and set up in preparation for a longer tour around Canada and the US.

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Matt, Lucy and Roo

Roo and Matt hit it off right away.  He was missing his dog back home in the UK and was thrilled to get some pup time.  We swapped travel tales and tips over beers that eve.  I had to reflect on how my crabby mood had almost caused me to bail on Twillingate which would have been a shame.   Another lesson on the importance of not getting upset and just hanging in there.  Things seem to have a way of turning around for the good. 

I realized part of my crabbiness that day had been due to the pace I was setting for my travels in Newfoundland.  I had not allowed enough days.  Newfoundland is huge, it’s got beautiful nooks and crannies, calling to me to be explored, and when weather turns to crap it gets really crappy so I had had a couple of unexpected down days that had thrown my itinerary off.   I was trying too hard to cram everything in.  The pace just wasn’t doing good things for my mood and state of mind.  

I decided I needed a chill day and break from driving.  I had seen these signs for the ferry to the Fogo Islands on my way up to Twillingate.  Some quick Google searches piqued my interest.  Population of just 3,000 people but a world famous inn and restaurant? Hmmm… I wondered what that was all about.  I made a snap decision to cut my time in Twillingate short, cancel my boat tour, and catch a ferry to the Fogo Islands the following day to do a little hiking and hanging out on the beach.   

As I drove to catch the Fogo Island ferry the following morning it started to rain, hard.  I thought, what the heck am I doing?  Is this a good idea?   Matt pulled up at the end of the ferry line.  He decided to risk the rain and give the islands a try to.  When we got to Fogo Island it was still raining but we decided to try for a hike called the Lion’s Den and by the time we had parked and started walking the trail the rain had stopped and the sky was lightening.   The sun came out not too much later and the scenery was truly truly gorgeous.

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View along the Lion Den’s Trail on Fogo Island.

After the hike, we headed to Sandy Cove over by the town of Tilting, and found a beach side park to boondock it for the evening.  

The town of Tilting was freaking cute as hell.  Little fishing shacks dotted the shoreline and perched out on rocks in the water. 

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Tilting

We drove back into town to see if we could find fish and chips.  On a recommendation we popped in to the The Scoff restaurant and were delighted to find a creative and fun menu, farm to table style, with some really good vegetable dishes.  Yeah!  Vegetables!  My eating out options had pretty much consisted of fried fish or burgers, perhaps some moose stew.   Western Newfoundland isn’t strong on cuisine options.  The menu at The Scoff was a very welcome change of pace.  After a delicious dinner, it was back to the beach for a chill evening.  Entertainment that eve was playing with Roo on the beach and then watching this fantastic storm system move through just to the west, making for a dramatic sunset.

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A second storm system moved in,  but this time passing directly overhead.  The rain started coming down hard and Matt and I dove into our vehicles to hunker down for the evening.  

The rain had stopped in the morning but it was gray and chilly.  I packed up Greta, and went over to the Fogo Island Inn for a tour of this famous inn that I had read about.  From afar I was surprised at how big it looked and how jarring it was on the horizon.  It looked like an iceberg or ship. 

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Fogo Island Inn

A couple of locals I spoke to weren’t keen on the aesthetics.  An eye sore as they put it.  But after touring and seeing the place up close and from the inside, I came to like it quite a bit.

It was very interesting.  Simple and minimal architectural approach but warm and cozy.    Quite a place, with a lot of thought given to construction and supporting the community and to education.   For example, the movie theater shows films and documentaries on the culture and history of Newfoundland.   There’s been a huge effort to source as much possible materials and labor locally.

I wish I could afford to stay there sometime.   Unlikely as it’s $1500 – $2000 per night.  OUCH!  But honestly after seeing the facilities and seeing what they offer as experiences during a stay, I don’t think I’d feel like I overpaid at all. 

After touring the inn and before queuing up for the return ferry, I decided to cram in a quick hike to see one of the 4 artist-in-residence studios on the island.  The studios were designed by the same architect as the Fogo Island Inn.

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One of the artist in residence studios on Fogo Island

Man I liked Fogo Islands. I would loved to stay for another night or two.   Oddly, I saw three other VW Westfalias while on Fogo Island.  I hadn’t seen many of them lately and I thought it so odd that Fogo Island is where they’d reappear. 

After disembarking from the ferry, I was back to boring driving along the Trans-Canada Highway.  I pulled up in Terra Nova National Park to camp for a night.  I had finally hit the point where I couldn’t go another day without washing my hair.  I thought my shorter hair might just look kind of punk rock and sassy after a few days without washing it but nope, it just looks dirty and bad crazy. 

The bugs were awful in the campground at Terra Nova, the worst being the biting black flies.  I couldn’t take it and hopped in the van and headed down to Sandy Cove beach, just a little ways down the road from the campground.  As I hoped, there was a breeze down at the beach and it kept the bugs away.   Roo and I poked around down at the beach until sunset and only when it was really finally getting truly dark did I head back to the campground to park it for the eve.

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Sandy Cove beach outside of Terra Nova Park.

I awoke to an absolutely beautiful sunny and breezy day .  I fit in a short hike with Roo  to a viewpoint with an amazing overlook of the surrounding area before hitting the road again.

I was back on the road, intending to loop around the Bonavista Peninsula that day.  It was to be another long day of driving and there wasn’t any room for much dilly dallying along the way.  The drive up the west coast of the peninsula was much more scenic than I had expected.  Large expansive views of the Bonavista Bay, plunging cliffs, icebergs in the distance.  I rolled into the town of Bonavista, not expecting much, and found it quite charming.  I was starving and The Boreal Diner caught my eye.  Oh man, what a nice find!  Excellent, interesting food, celebrating farm to table. 

After lunch I drove north out of town to go check out the lighthouse at the end of the peninsula and found stunning views with humpback and minke whales and icebergs in the surrounding waters.  It was absolutely gorgeous and I decided then and there that my plans for the day had to get thrown out the window.  There was just no way I was hurrying through the Bonavista area… it was too pretty and interesting to rush.

I got on the phone and was able to push my ferry departure from Newfoundland out two days.  Woo hoo! That gave me a little more wiggle room and I could slow down my pace.  I set out to explore the Bonavista area further.

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View from Bonavista Lighthouse

From the lighthouse, I headed over to Dungeon Rocks Provincial Park for more stunning scenery and to check out a collapsed sea cave.  

Then a quick drive over to the Elliston.  I stopped into the visitor center and had a fantastic chat with the two guys inside.   One told me an inspiring story.  Like much of Newfoundland, the main industry in Elliston had been cod fishing until a moratorium went into place in the 90’s.   With the shut down of the cod fishing industry, communities plunged into really rough times.  Many people ended up on unemployment and many people ended up having to move away.   Communities were on the brink of collapse.  The town of Elliston didn’t have enough tax revenue to cover basic infrastructure needs and the power company came in and shut off the street lights.  When this happened, the community said enough is enough and rallied.  The community organized and started a successful tourism industry.   Historic houses are being renovated, interesting restaurants are starting to open.  Visitor numbers are increasing year after year.  “From the dark came the light” is how this gentleman put it and I could sense the pride he had for how his community had come together during tough times.

After my lovely visit with the guys at the visitor center, I toured around the town to check out root cellars and the puffins.  Elliston claims to be the root cellar capital of the world and they just might be. 

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They have quite a few and you can actually go into some of them if you like.  I did.  It was dark and cool and I got freaked out and boogied back out.   

Then I went to see the puffins which is what Elliston is really known for.  This was just amazing.  You can walk out the edge of a cliff and just across is a rock where thousands of puffins were nesting.  

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Puffins!

They are just the cutest, clumsiest birds.  Like potatoes with wings as someone described them.  I sat for quite some time watching them with my binoculars.  It was quite amusing to watch them take flight and negotiate their way down from the top of the rock to the water below.  Not graceful in one bit.  When I turned around to glance at the other people enjoying the same view, I realized we were all sporting the same goofy, silly grins.

After taking in the sights in the Bonavista area, I decided to make some progress down the east side of the peninsula before calling it a night.  I made it to Port Rexton, intending to boondock for the evening and hike the Skewirk Trail first thing the following morning.  It’s supposed to be one of the top 25 hikes in North America.  I figured I better not pass that by without checking it out.

Before trying to find a camping spot for the night I popped into Port Rexton Brewing for beer and dinner.   It was a fun scene and folks were super friendly.  I felt like I was in Portland.  Fun vibe, everyone hanging out and having a good time.

From the brewery I set off to try to find a place to boondock it for the evening and it was a little trickier than I had hoped.  Places recommended by some locals had signs  indicating ‘no overnight parking/camping’, first of those types of signs I had seen so far in Newfoundland. The signs looked pretty new.  Dang it.  

A search on freecampsites.net (good resource for travelers to Newfoundland) turned up a possible spot in the area.  A short drive out a gravel road on government property led to an open gravel lot off the side of the road that would do just fine for the evening.  A fox came to see what we were up to.

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Fox visitor outside of Port Rexton

The wind was really blowing hard and I didn’t dare pop the camper top for fear of damage.  Even without the top up, Greta was getting buffeted around by the wind and as I fell asleep that night I felt like I was on a boat out on the water.

I woke to find that the nice weather from the day before had evaporated.  It was cold, gray and foggy.  I headed off to tackle the Skerwink Trail.  Man, I wish I had knocked it out the day before when it was clear.  The hiking trails traces through the forest, along the edge of dramatic sea cliffs.  It’s litterally just feet away from the edge in places. 

I’m sure the views would be stunning on a nice day.  But the weather wasn’t the best and I had fuzzy views of rock formations obscured by fog.  Roo and I enjoyed it nonetheless, especially the little play time on the beach at the end.

I had built up an appetite and after the hike I went to try the Two Whales Coffee Shop in town.  YUM!  Great coffee and healthy, delicious, inventive vegetarian fare. 

From Port Rexton, I headed south to the picturesque, historic town of Trinity.  Roo and I enjoyed a stroll around the town, checking out the historic homes and church.    Definitely worth a stop.

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The town of Trinity

From Trinity I pushed on for a few hours of driving, through some miserable and heavy rain, to arrive in Heart’s Content later that afternoon.  I had made my way here so that I could do some research on family history.  My dad’s family hails from this town, by way of England, and I apparently had relatives in the area.

I had a couple of names, no phone numbers or addresses.   I rolled in to find a small, pretty, tidy little town on the edge of a bay.  I stopped in for a bite at the restaurant in town and when I asked after the two people I had names for I was directed to one’s house and told the other was away and out of town.  How’s that for a small town?! 

I went over and knocked on the door of my ‘cousin’ and was invited in.   The surprised look on his face when I told him that we shared the same great great grandfather was priceless.    He hopped in his car and directed me to the cemetery in town where I might find some gravestones.  Unfortunately the church had burned down in the 90’s and records with it and the cemetery had fallen into bad disrepair.  Sadly I wasn’t able to find any headstones that aligned with my family tree.

I enjoyed a quiet evening of boondocking out at the lighthouse and listening to minke whales in the bay.

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The following day I decided to check out the Heart’s Content Cable Station.   This town was the western terminus of the first Transatlantic telegraph cable.  The equipment used is preserved and on display and it was fascinating lesson on the early days of telecommunications.

From Heart’s Content, I drove a bit north to check out the wooden boat museum in Winterton.    It was a really good exhibit covering the history of wooden boat building in Newfoundland, with examples of some of the different types and designs.  It also provided information on the history of the fishing in the area and how advancements (such as the outboard motor) had influenced the designs and types of boats used on the island.

It looked like another nasty weather system was blowing in so I decided I better high tail it over to the St. John’s area and find a Airbnb spot to snuggle down in during the nasty weather.    I hit the jack pot and found myself staying in the guest’s quarters of a couple’s house in the town of Bauline, northwest of St. John’s.   Their house was right on a little lake and Roo and I had a nice down day while riding out the storm.

While Greta was parked in the wet driveway, it became clear that Greta had an oil leak as a shiny patch slowly surrounded the ground around the van.  My hosts were concerned and got me connected with a mechanic in the area and actually came along for the check up.  Yep, an oil leak but minor and something that could wait for permanent repair until I got back to the Seattle area.

I headed out to spend a couple of nights in the St. John’s area.  I had a list of things to explore in the St. John’s area based on recommendations from folks I had crossed paths with in my travels and I set out checking things off the list.

First stop was to check out The Rooms, an archive, art gallery, and museum celebrating the history and culture of Newfoundland.  It was pretty amazing and I recommend that you fit it in if you ever visit St. John’s.  It’s a location where they hold ceremonies to swear in new Canadian citizens and watching that day’s ceremony ended up on my list of favorite Newfoundland experiences.  It was very moving.

I headed over to check out Quidi Vidi, a little neighborhood of St. John’s crammed around  Quidi Vidi Lake.

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Quidi Vidi

Had to stop for a tasting flight at Quidi Vidi Brewing Company.  Delicious and great location!

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Quidi Vidi Brewing Co. right on the lake.

Out back I found some ducks enjoying the left overs of the brewing process.  One appeared to be keeping a look out while the other gorged on left overs.

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Ducks like the left overs at Quidi Vidi brewing.

It was great being back in a town where a good latte was easy to find.  Mornings started off with either a visit to Fixed Coffee & Baking or The Battery Cafe. or perhaps both.

Signal Hill is a popular place for hiking and the views of St. John and the harbor and sea can not be beat!

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View of St. John’s from Signal Hill
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The scene at Signal Hill
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View from Signal Hill – yowzers!

Up at Signal Hill is the Johnson Geo Centre, a geological interpretation center with exhibits explaining the geological history and features of Newfoundland and Labrador.  It was way cool and it would have been really nice to have visited before I toured the  island.

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Roo patiently posing with a statue of a Newfoundland Dog and Labrador Retriever outside the Geo Centre.

On June 29th, I went to do a zodiac boat tour of the Witless Bay ecological reserve.  Wow!  This was amazing! There were only 5 of us on the boat.  Hundreds of thousands of birds nest on the little islands just off the coast and we were literally surrounded by birds.  I can’t believe we all didn’t come back covered head to toe in bird poop.  Our guide did suggest that we kept our mouths closed when looking up.  Ha ha.

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Witless Bay Ecological Reserve

This video shows the ‘single scene’ of the puffins world.  The puffins looking for mates  are the ones hanging out on the bare rock.   Ones that have found a mate are nesting up in the grass.

On the boat tour, I met a woman from Calgary out traveling on her own and we decided to do a little hiking after the boat tour to the ruins of the town of La Manche, originally settled in 1840’s and abandoned in 1966 after a storm surge during a wicked winter storm demolished the majority of the town’s infrastructure.   A newly constructed suspension bridge, connecting sections of Newfoundland’s famous East Coast Trail, spans the narrow gorge where the town used to be.

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View from the suspension bridge at La Manche.

Later that eve, I went out hoping to find some live music.  St. John’s is known for a being a music town.  George Street is the place to go according to tour books but talking to locals, it didn’t sound like my scene.  It has a reputation for being a bit of a drunk fest.  So instead I spent some time drinking beers at The Ship Pub and The Black Sheep Pub, favs of locals.  I caught a good music night at The Black Sheep featuring two singer song writers that had some hilarious material, my favorite being the ‘instructional reggae’ tune on cod fishing and a tune, Joe Batt’s Arm Tarts, about some bad-ass, dart playing ladies that can’t be beat from the town of Joe Batt’s Arm, which I had actually recently visited when up on Fogo Island.

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Catching singer songwriter Kyla Tilley in action at The Black Sheep Pub

About a 20 minute drive from St. John’s is Cape Spear National Historic Site.  From the lighthouse, the spouts of whales were visible off in the distance.    This is the eastern most point of North America and it felt kind of cool to put that on the list of ‘accomplishments’ for the road trip.

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Cape Spear Lighthouse, the eastern most point of North America.

Before I left St. John’s I had to check out the MUN Botanical Gardens, the highlight being catching a bed of Himalayan poppies in full bloom.  Oh, that electric blue is to die for!

After my few nights in the St. John’s area, I pushed off to do a tour of the Grand Colinet Island peninsula before catching the ferry back to Nova Scotia.   First stop was the Salmonier Nature Park, an environmental wildlife and rehabilitation center.   A boardwalk takes visitors through exhibits where you can view animals.  The animals in these enclosures, open to public viewing, are animals that have been deemed unable to be returned to the wild.  Other wildlife that is actively being prepared for return to the wild were kept in separate enclosures, away from people.   It was a pretty neat way to see some animals up close.  The female Canada lynx was out and that apparently is pretty rare.

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Caribou
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Canada lynx
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Napping moose

After the nature park tour, I kept driving south down the peninsula and had expected a pretty boring drive.   Folks had kept saying, oh it’s just barrens down there.  Well, yea, it was barrens but I found it just gorgeous.  Views and views of the wild barrens.  I was hoping to catch a glimpse of the herds of caribou that roam down in that area but unfortunately I did not.

I made it to the Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve.  This was such a cool stop and worth the effort it took to get there.  There are tens of thousands of birds that call this home during the breeding season.  A hike goes out to the edge of the sea cliffs just across from Bird Rock with amazing views of the nesting birds.

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It was actually terrifying for me to be out there.   You literally stand on the edge of a cliff and one wrong step, you take a fall long enough to have a moment or two to contemplate your death.  Unsettling.  I sat for a while taking in the views and my fear of heights eventually got the better of me.  Rather than getting more comfortable, my sense of vertigo and nausea got worse and worse and finally I gave up and moved back up the trail until I my knees stopped shaking.

I found a great boondocking spot just off the road leading into the reserve.  We roamed the surrounding fields and Roo romped along the burbling brook and it was a really nice quiet spot to spend our last evening in Newfoundland.

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Boondocking at Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve
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A happy pup!  Just give her some grass to bound thru.

It was July 2nd, 3 weeks since I had arrived on the other side of the island, and it was now time to catch the ferry back to Nova Scotia.   I drove up the coast to Argentia and the ferry pushed out that afternoon heading back to Sydney, Nova Scotia.  From Argentia the crossing takes 16 hours!  I got Roo tucked into the kennel area and my stuff settled into my sleeping birth and then I went out on deck for my last views of Newfoundland.

I have to admit that I actually teared up a bit as I took my last look at Newfoundland.  Newfoundland is one of my favorite places I’ve ever had the pleasure to visit and despite touring around for a full 3 weeks, I still felt like there was more I wanted to see and experience.  And the people… so nice and friendly and hospitable.  I encourage everyone who has a hankering for wild and woolly places to put Newfoundland on your travel bucket list.

Road Report #21 – Nova Scotia

I caught the ferry from St. John, New Brunswick to Digby, Nova Scotia the afternoon of June 3rd.  The 2.5 hr ride crosses the Bay of Fundy, known for having the most extreme tides in the world. 

 From the ferry terminal in Digby, I drove southwest along the Bay of Fundy coast to spend my first night camped out behind the Cape View Motel at Mavillette Beach.  The owner of the motel, Russell, was fantastic and hilarious and it was my first taste of the famous Nova Scotian hospitality.

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Mavillette Beach

Roo and I walked the beach that evening and the following morning, both times having the beach all to ourselves.  I spent hours checking out rock formations and tidal pools and waterfalls trickling down off the cliffs.   There were these little slate rock formations that jutted up out of the sand, covered with bright green moss, that looked like little miniature mountain ranges to me. 

It was very peaceful and beautiful and I had a moment on the beach that evening when it hit me.  Wow… I was in Nova Scotia, a destination that had just been a vague pie-in-the-sky idea when I set off last year.

June 4th I started poking my way up along the Bay of Fundy coast, an area where the communities have strong ties to the early French settlers.   I popped in in out of the towns, stopping to check out lighthouses and churches, including North America’s tallest wooden church.

For lunch, I stopped back in Digby, where I had arrived via ferry the day earlier,  in order to try the famous Digby scallops.  Two thumbs up!

As the day progressed, the weather took a turn for the worse and got quite cold and wet and I decided to motel it just outside the historic town of Annapolis Royal.   I settled in to an evening of binge watching TV. 

June 5th started off miserably wet and cold.  I bundled up and headed out to explore Annapolis Royal.  The town itself is tiny but chock full of things to see:  3 historic sites including Canada’s oldest wooden building, 150 registered historic houses, and North America’s only tidal powered power plants.  Throw in charming cafes and art stores and it proved to be a good place for a rainy day.

From Annapolis Royal, I drove just a short distance down the road to another historic site, Port-Royal, believed to be the first lasting settlement north of Florida.  They’ve done an amazing job of replicating the fort that was first erected there in 1605.  

As I entered the park, I was greeted by a park staff member dressed up in historical garb, including wooden shoes.  I had to know more.  How could wooden shoes be a good idea in cold and wet weather?  He claimed that they were in fact quite comfortable and good insulation from the cold and wet, especially when lined with thick wool. He then told me that these wooden shoes, known as sabots, were thrown into machinery during worker rebellions, which led to the word, sabotage.    How fun is that! (I know, I’m a nerd.)  Wikipedia disputes that this is the exact source of the word but damn you, Wikipedia!  I prefer the park staff member’s version.

Anyway, on my way out of the Annapolis Royal area,  I stopped to take a tour of the tidal power station. The tour, led by an engineer, was informative and technical and I found it fascinating.  The tidal power plant is an experiment that’s not likely to be replicated.  Although it’s extremely cheap to operate, the negative environmental impacts are too great.

I meandered that afternoon, driving around to check out more towns.  I drove inland a bit to check out the town of Bear River, which turned out to be this adorable, sleepy little riverside artsy village with a great coffee roaster.  From there I went to the town of Wolfville.  Loved the vibe there.  Acadia College is there and there’s good food and art to be found.  Enjoyed some of the best Mediterranean food ever.  I walked along their little waterfront park and got a good idea of how extreme the Bay of Fundy tides really are.  

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Low tide along the Bay of Fundy Coast.  It’s very low.

Late afternoon I drove out to the Blomidom Peninsula which took me through the main agricultural area of the island, known as The Valley.

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Blomidon Peninsula

I get the sense there’s a strong farm to table movement on the island as I passed numerous farm stands along the drive.  Unfortunately, the bout of cold weather that had blown in was doing a number on the crops.  The news was reporting that the frost that morning had impacted 90% of the crops.  Yikes!

That afternoon, I arrived at Blomidon Provincial Park to camp for the night.  Roo and I hiked that evening and the following morning, checking out a waterfall and the red cliffs and red sandy beaches.

I retraced my route back down the Blomidon Peninsula on June 7, stopping in the tiny town of Port Williams to hit a restaurant that had caught my eye the day before, The Noodle Guy. 

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Oh my lord, this place was amazing.  Hand made noodles, served in both italian and asian inspired dishes.  I ordered a variety of take out dishes, filled up the fridge in the van, and my camping lunches and dinners for the next couple of days were STELLAR!

I decided to head across the island to a section known as the South Shore.  My first stop was the the very picturesque, historic town of Lunenberg.  Roo and I walked around checking out the old buildings and the collection of historic boats on the waterfront.   

I continued south along the coast and landed at Risser Provincial Park for the night, with a camping spot right off the beach.  The beach was fantastic and they had a neat boardwalk that traced the river and tidal marsh. 

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I spied kite surfers off in the distance while walking the beach and I jumped back in the van to try to go get a closer look . 

They were just up the road at Crescent Beach.  Wow!  So fun to watch. 

I kept following the road out past Crescent Beach and was delighted to discover that it connected to Bush and Bell Island and I poked along the roads checking out the picturesque little coves and bogs.

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Bush Island

Roo and I returned back to our camping spot at Rissers and repeated our beach and boardwalk walk during the sunset hour.

The following morning, I headed south from Rissers further along the coast to Thomas Raddall Provincial Park.  I was really surprised (and delighted!) at how light traffic was every I went on the island.  It was the weekend and the weather was gorgeous and I was so surprised at how I could drive stretches of highway without seeing another car in either direction for minutes at a time.   It was just easy, mellow going and perfect road tripping conditions for Greta.   

There was hardly anyone at Thomas Raddall park and Roo and I spent a couple of hours that afternoon poking around on a beautiful crescent beach, with a river letting out into the bay and never saw one other person.  Crazy!

That evening, Roo and I hiked to another beach and bay on the other side of the park to watch the sunset.   It was amazingly peaceful.   During this road trip, I’ve deliberately sought out locations free of any artificial noise and it’s surprisingly hard to find.  So often after sitting in a place for a while I’ll realize that I can hear the buzz of some machinery off in the distance.  But that evening, while Roo and I watched the sunset from the beach I realized we had found it.

The following day started with a long hike which traced the shoreline of a peninsula at Kejimkujik National Seaside Park.   The water was remarkably clear and would turn shades of turquoise when the sun came out from behind the clouds.  Seals rested on the rocks off shore and a curious baby seal came in close to shore to play and eye the curious tourists while her nervous mama hovered in the water near by, giving out a series of sharp barks every now and then.  

After the hike, I returned to the car and started a thorough check of myself and Roo for ticks.  I found 3 on myself and 12 on Roo.  YUCK!  One thing about the island, it’s crawling in dog ticks. Over the next 24 hours following this hike I would find more than 30 ticks, mostly dead in Roo’s dog bed.  I guess that’s proof that her tick meds are doing their job.

After the hike I started to retrace my path back up the south shore, stopping to check out a sculpture garden behind Cosby’s Garden Center outside of the town of Liverpool.  It was weirdly wonderful.

Later that afternoon I landed in the charming, tiny town of Petite Riviere to spend a couple of nights camping in the yard of a couple I had met at a Canada Information Center in New Brunswick on my way to catch the ferry to Nova Scotia several days earlier.

My visit with Jane and Stuart was fantastic.   I met up with Jane one afternoon at her art studio to get a lesson in rug hooking. 

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Evenings were full of music (Stuart is a very accomplished musician) and we sat around playing the uke and guitar.  One evening I tagged along with them to the community baked ham dinner.  The communities are constantly hosting dinners and brunches as fund raises for local services such as the fire department.   During the days I poked around the south short more, finding good eats at the Le Have Bakery and the Broad Cove Cafe and experiencing more fabulous beaches like Cherry Hill Beach, a surfing favorite for locals.

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Cherry Hill Beach

June 11 I pushed off from Jane and Stuart’s, reluctantly.  I was really enjoying the south shore and starting to fantasize about finding a long term rental and staying put here for a bit.  I was completely smitten with Nova Scotia, despite all of the ticks.

I had a long drive ahead of me that day.  I was catching the ferry that night to Newfoundland  and the ferry terminal was on the north end of Nova Scotia, about 6 hours away.  I was breaking my rule of no more than 4 hours total drive time in a day.  But I figured I had all day and didn’t have to be in the ferry line till 9:45 pm so I was making an exception. 

About an hour and half into the drive, I decided I had plenty of time to check out Peggy’s Cove, outside of Halifax, a must see according to all tour guides.  Yep, it’s pretty dang picturesque.  And it’s crawling in tourists.  Still worth a stop.   

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Peggy’s Cove
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Peggy’s Cove

I got back on the road and was coming around the north side of Halifax when all of a sudden my gas petal went limp.  I coasted into a pizza joint’s parking lot, called my mechanic in Seattle and as I suspected, the probable culprit was a broken throttle cable.   I figured I was going to miss my ferry but experience told me not to panic, just start working the problem and trust that things would work out.  Well, miraculously they did.

First of all I was starving and I had coasted into a pizza place parking lot.  That was a good sign.  Then Canada AAA showed up within 30 minutes and towed me to one of the few VW mechanics in Nova Scotia that turned out to be just 20 mins away (no joke!). 

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Greta hitching a ride in Nova Scotia.

The garage didn’t have the throttle cable in stock I needed and it was going to take a few days to arrive but when they got under the van they realized there was enough excess cable remaining that they could repair the existing cable.  I was back on the road before they closed for the day and I drove straight to the ferry, making it to the ferry line by 10:30 pm, just squeaking in under the wire. 

WHEW!  It had been a long and exhausting day and fortunately I had been granted a sleeping berth that I had been on a wait list for.  After loading onto the ferry I went straight to my berth and crawled right into bed.  Before falling asleep I thanked my lucky stars.  I could not believe how the day had gone. Unlucky to break a throttle cable but SO lucky how everything worked out after that.  I’m convinced someone out in the universe is looking out for me and has my back at each turn on this adventure.  

I slept like the dead and did not wake until the announcement came 7 hours later for passengers to prepare to return to the cars.  I  was about to lay eyes on Newfoundland…I was SO excited… but I’ll save that for the next road trip post.

I LOVED my time in Nova Scotia.  It is one of my favorite places I’ve ever had the pleasure to visit and I fantasize about returning for a much longer stay at some point.   

Road Report #20 – Maine and New Brunswick

Monday, May 28th I set off from my aunt’s cottage in Amenia, NY to Portland, ME.  Arrived late in the afternoon and immediately set out with Roo to explore downtown Portland, ME.  Found lobster rolls, beer and live music down on the water front.  My kind of town!  Liked this city.  Small, industrial, historic, happening water front.  Clearly a vibrant music and restaurant scene.  I would love to come back for a few days with some friends and just eat my way through that town.

After 2 days of kicking it around Portland with Roo, I set off for Bar Harbor, ME.  Along the way stopped to check out the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden in Boothbay.  WOW!  This place was incredible.  Beautiful landscaping and interesting plant material as well as neat art installations. Thought the kinetic wind sculpture titled Wind Orchid by George Sherwood was absolutely marvelous.

Spent 2 nights camping outside of Bar Harbor.  Had a great campsite with a beautiful view from which to enjoy the sunset.  Checked out two more gardens, the Ascitou and Thuya gardens. Ate more lobster. Super dog friendly place.  Roo was even able to come along on a nature boat tour.

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Sunset view from Bar Harbor Campground.
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Harbor seals relaxing in the sun.

Friday, June 1st I pushed off from Bar Harbor, ME and was glad of my timing.  That morning a cruise ship had anchored just off shore and was shuttling passengers into town and the traffic coming on to the island was already getting heavy.     I was headed to the Roosevelt Campobello International Park in New Brunswick, Canada but before I crossed the border, as I was passing through Machias, ME, I spied the Schnitzel Wagon and screeched to a halt to check out this little road side gem.  If I ever try my hand at a food truck I’m knocking off this concept.

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Early afternoon I crossed over the US/Canada border into the park and Roo and I spent that afternoon checking out the island.  Had a fantastic beach side campsite and Herring Provincial Park. Night and day difference to Bar Harbor, ME.  Sleepy sleepy island and hardly anyone around.

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Herring Cove on Campobello Island

Saturday, June 2nd,  I crossed back into the US and made my way north along the Maine Coast.  Stopped in Eastport, ME to poke around.  Cute historic town but oh so very quiet.

 Stopped at the St. Croix Island National Historic Park.   Had a great chat with the Park Ranger about the history of the area and life in northeast Maine.  Crossed back into Canada at Calais and made my way to New River Provincial State Park.  Nice beach but not a great camping experience.  My neighboring campers were not the most respectful and I had to have a confrontation with them at 11:30 pm when they started chopping wood.

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Lepreau Falls along the drive to Saint John.

Sunday, June 3rd, I drove on to Saint John, New Brunswick where I was to catch the ferry to Digby, Nova Scotia that afternoon.  I had just a little time to poke around Saint John but it seemed like a cool town.  Nice historic downtown, nice waterfront.  I stumbled upon a farmers market in a downtown park and it had a nice, laid back vibe and super good international food offerings.  Best falafel I’ve had in ages.  Checked out Reversing Falls where the Bay of Fundy and the Saint John River collide, creating some fierce currents and whirlpools.  

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View of Saint John, New Brunswick from Reversing Falls

At 1pm Roo and I drove onto the ferry, bound for Nova Scotia.   Can’t wait!  Already met some folks who have given me travel tips and offered me places to stay.  I think Nova Scotia is going to be fabulous.  Stay tuned!

Road Report #19 – From NC to NY

Well, surprise surprise…I’m way behind on updating the blog again.  In the last 34 days I’ve put about 3500 miles on the van and travelled through the states of NC, TN, KY, VA, MD, WV, DE, PA, NJ, NY, VT, MA.   You’re about to experience a lame blog update as I scramble to post pics.  Sorry in advance…Too much to see! Too much to do! So here we go…

April 23rd and 24th. Cumberland Gap National Historic Park.  Walked in the footsteps of Daniel Boone, Abraham Lincoln’s grand father and father. Hiked to THE gap and walked on THE trail that hundreds of settlers followed hoping to find a better life in the Ohio Valley.

 

Grappled with feelings of pride and shame as I mulled over the complicated history of the U.S., founded on principles of freedom and independence, fueled by exploitation of people and places.

Hiked in the rain, enjoying the pitter patter of raindrops through the forest canopy and the pastel palette of the eastern forest coming to life in spring.

 

Hiked to the point where the states of Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia converge. My right foot is in Kentucky, my left in Virginia.  I made Roo sit in Tennessee.

 

 

Checked out the historic town of Cumberland Gap, TN and stumbled randomly upon a bicycle museum.

 

April 25th on to Charlottesville, VA for a few days.  Stopped at Natural Bridge, VA for a quick hike with Roo.

 

George Washington supposedly carved his initials in the rock.  Didn’t find his but found other ‘graffiti’ dating back to the 1800’s.

 

Made new friends, Kim and Adam, friends of friends, kind enough to let me park it in their driveway in Charlottesville, VA for a couple of nights.  Checked out the historic part of town and the statues of the Confederate war heroes still standing, sight of riots in August 2017.  Hard to imagine the grotesque hatred and violence that invaded this space.

 

Enjoyed strolling around the pedestrian zone in historic downtown, and enjoyed stumbling upon public art installations. Had the best bagels in years at Bodos bagels.

 

Thursday,  April 26th, did a fabulous hike up to Humpback Rocks, trail off the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Amazing 360 degree view.

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Friday, April 27th, drove over to Richmond, VA to meet up with Norie and see her AMAZING garden, Eden Wood, famous for mosses.

 

That evening my friend, Kat, drove down from NJ and we stayed at a rental just outside Charlottesville, VA for 2 nights on a 220 acre horse farm.   Roo was in heaven!

 

Saturday, April 28th, we visited Thomas Jefferson’s estate, Monticello.  Parked next to a VW Westfalia in the parking lot and returned to find a nice note and flowers.

 

 

Sunday, April 29th, Kat and I stopped at James Madison’s estate, Montpelier, on the way north out of the Charlottesville, VA area.  View from the front porch is amazing.

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Camped that night in Shenandoah National Park at the Big Meadows Campground. Hiked on the AT trail.   Enjoyed the amazing views and meadow hikes.

 

Monday, April 30th, drove around  the Virginia countryside and did some wine and cider tasting then back to Big Meadows for another night of camping.

 

 

Tuesday, May 1st goofed around with time lapse on my camera as I drove the Skyline Drive north out Shenandoah National Park.

 

Then on to the historic town of Harper’s Ferry in West Virginia. Another point of intersection with the Appalachian Trail and another point where 3 states converge, West Virginia, Virginia and Maryland where the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers meet.

 

 

The hike down to the historic town and back up to the visitor center wiped Roo and I out.

 

Wednesday, May 2nd trekked around the historic Civil War battlegrounds in the Harper’s Ferry area and then on to Antietum National Battlefield.  Very peaceful and beautiful setting.  Hard to imagine the violence and gore.  Witnesses described bodies layered like fallen timber and fields nothing but a sea of gray and blue and red.  23,000 soldiers killed, wounded, missing in 12 hours of fighting in one day.

 

Many, many monuments scattered throughout the park, commemorating various divisions from the states that participated in the battle.

 

Stumbled upon Cooker’s VW along a country road.  These guys are SERIOUS VW restorers and had a great chat and watched some hilarious video of them drag racing some old VW buses retrofitted for that sort of thing.

 

On to Fort Frederick State Park in Maryland for a night camping along the Potomac. Amazingly well preserved fort from the 1750’s.

 

From Fort Frederick I tried to explore the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Historic park but it turns out to be a park that’s probably better and more easily visited on a bike rather than via car.  The old barge towing path has been converted into a bike trail and it’s possible to bike miles and miles and miles along the old canal.  Roo and I did our best.

 

Thursday, May 3rd I drove to Princeton, NJ, to visit with friends for a few days.  I arrived in time to catch my friend, Paul, play a gig at The Ivy Inn, Princeton’s dive bar.

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At the Ivy Inn, Princeton’s excellent dive bar.

We hiked the trails in the area, and took scenic drives to visit the many adorable, historic towns that line the Delaware River on the NJ/PA border.

 

We tried our hands at kite flying at Terhune’s Orchard’s Kite Day and laughed as Peter hammed it up for photos.

 

 

Got my hair cut short (MISTAKE! Bangs are hot!) and dressed up for an 80’s party Saturday night.

 

Took the dogs for a run at beach.  Jersey Shore, baby!

 

On May 9th, headed south to Mickleton, NJ to meet up with Kat again.  Hung at her house for a few days with her girls and Hunter, their beagle.  Hunter and Roo became good napping buddies.

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Saturday, May 12th, Kat and I headed to our  hometown of Boonton, NJ.   Roo loved sharing the front seat with Kat.   Drove around town, checking out our high school and grade school, childhood homes, favorite roads.  Surprisingly little had changed.  Town looked good.  Stopped into the Resevoir Tavern for some chicken parm.  A picture of my high school basketball team  hung on the wall next to our table.  Ha!

 

Saturday night, met up with friends from high school and caught the band playing a gig at a local bar.  (I’ve seen these guys play gigs since high school days. They ROCK!)

 

 

Sunday, May 13th, back down to Kat’s in South Jersey and then Monday, May 14th, hit the road again, heading north.  Meandered north along the roads that trace the Delaware River and stopped at Easton, PA on the PA/NJ border to look at my alma matter, Lafayette College, and grab a beer at Porter’s pub, a fav hang out of mine during college years.

 

Monday night, camped at High Point State Park in in the far northwest corner of New Jersey, where the Appalachian Trail briefly crosses through the state.

 

Tuesday, May 15th, I set off to check out the Catskill Mountains of New York.  Plans for hiking were quickly ditched as I scrambled to find a campground when alerts regarding severe weather started popping up on my phone.   I hadn’t done my research and most NY state parks hadn’t yet opened for the season.  I arrived at the KOA campground just outside of Woodstock, NY at the same time my phone beeped out a warning of possible tornados and large hail.  I scrambled to cover Greta with tarps, my yoga mat, anything I could find that could (hopefully) prevent any major damage to the van.   Damage to the van became the least of my worries as the front blew in and the trees started whipping around and crashing into each other.  I lay on the floor of the van watching the trees bend at alarming angles, watching the weather radar feed on my phone and counting down the minutes until the worst had passed.  Fortunately no major damage done.  Whew!

Wednesday, May 16th, I checked out Kaaterskill Falls and then pushed on to Lake George in Adirondack Park in NY for a night of camping.

 

Thursday, May 17th, I headed north and found one of the few open state park campgrounds outside of Lake Placid, NY.   It was a beautiful drive and beautiful country.  Rivers and waterfalls and lakes and hiking galore.

 

 

On my way out of the Lake Placid area on Friday, May 18th, I saw the ski jump area off to the right and pulled over to investigate further.  Bought a ticket to ride the lift up to the top of the jump.  So cool!

 

From Lake Placid I took a route east towards Lake Champlain and then headed south along the NY/VT border.  Just beautiful. Mountains, lush rolling farmland, AND water views.   Stopped in the adorable town of Westport, NY where Roo took a dip in the lake.  Stopped at both Crown Point State Historic Site and Fort Ticonderoga.

 

 

Then on into Vermont to stay 2 nights with family in East Dorset, VT.  Beautiful, beautiful country.  Historic homes in great shape. Rain moved in and orange newts emerged and were everywhere.  Hiked with Roo along Otter Creek.

 

Sunday, May 20th, on to Burlington, VT area for 3 nights. Greta went in for an oil change and overall checkup at Craig’s VW.   I explored the town and tried to determine if it might be a future landing spot.  I gravitated towards the Winooski Falls neighborhood, with it’s riverside setting, historic buildings and good eating and drinking options.

 

Wednesday, May 23rd, I pushed off from Burlington, VT heading south.   Stopped in Jamaica, VT to camp for the night and Thursday, May 24th started off with a fabulous hike along the West River to Hamilton Falls.

 

Continued heading south after the hike and stopped in North Adams, MA to check out the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.  WOW!  WOW! WOW! Amazing place!  Wish I had had more time.

 

That evening, I arrived at my aunt’s cottage in Amenia, NY and Roo to hang out with family over Memorial Day weekend.   Beautiful farmland and nice walks on the bike trail with Roo.  Enjoyed poking around the town of Millerton, NY.

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My aunt and Roo. Looking out over the farmland behind my aunt’s cottage.

Now I’m off and making a push into Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and Labrador and I’m SO excited for this leg.  The Canadian Maritimes look a little wild and woolly which is right up my alley.    Stay tuned…

 

Road Report #18 – North Carolina

On Friday, April 13th, I pushed off from Clayton, GA to start making my way to Asheville, NC.  Before getting to North Carolina, though, I was going to make one more stop in northwestern South Carolina for more sheep herding.

Along the way, Roo and I stopped to check out Toccoa Falls, GA.

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Toccoa Falls, GA

That afternoon I arrived at Red Creek Farm outside of Townville, SC, owned and operated by Carol Anne Bailey, the daughter of Mr. Hubert Bailey, who Roo and I had just done some sheep herding in Dawsonville, GA.

Roo and I had our sheep herding lesson that afternoon and then set up camp on the farm and watched as Carol Anne and friends prepared for sheep herding demos they would lead at the local Tractor and Car Show the following day.

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Carol Anne and Brian prepping for a herding demo as the sunsets at Red Creek Farm.

I loved hanging out on the farm.  It’s a wonderful menagerie including sheep, herding dogs, guard dogs, chickens, a pig, cats, peacocks and Turk, the tame wild turkey.   Turk is hilarious.  She has a TON of personality.    There are two peacocks on the farm and the alpha peacock has claimed all of the peahens for himself so the other peacock has decided that Turk is his lady and follows Turk everywhere, much to her disgust.  She’s very curious and friendly and likes to hang out with people and dogs, perhaps to get some buffer from the attentions of her peacock suitor.

 

On Saturday, April 14th, we headed down the road to the local Tractor and Car Show, a fundraiser for the local fire department.  I watched as Carol Anne and team put on herding demos with the dogs and ducks and sheep.

Here is Brian during one of the demos.  FYI, each dog is trained to a unique set of whistles.  That’s how he’s able to give commands to multiple dogs during the same session.

 

Between demos we walked around and checked out the very cool collection of old tractors and cars.

 

I really enjoyed hanging out with everyone and taking in the scene at the show.  Carol Anne and crew are just the nicest bunch of folks.   I reluctantly pushed off that Saturday afternoon to make my way towards Asheville, NC.

I headed north and the drive got a little crazy as the road wound up into the mountains through National Forest land.   Brevard, NC  was my next stop,  a super cute little town, set in the mountains of western North Carolina.  Brevard is a mecca for outdoor activities, music and art.  After strolling around downtown Brevard and grabbing a bite for dinner, Roo and I headed to Davidson River Campground in the Pisgah National Forest, just outside of Brevard, for an evening hike and a night of camping.

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Hiking along the Davidson River in Pisgah National Forest outside of Brevard, NC.

Sunday, April 15th, after packing up camp, Roo and I got on the road and drove into Asheville, NC.   I was excited to finally be rolling into Asheville.  EVERYONE I had met along the way had told me how much I’d like Asheville.

As I drove around, getting the lay of the land, on first impressions I was reminded of old Seattle.  A little gritty and industrial in parts; scruffy, fit, outdoorsy folks roaming around; brew pubs galore; good restaurants and little coffee shops easily found.  The city exudes a laid back and liberal vibe.  Geographically it’s quite hilly and deep gullies run through some neighborhoods.   Little craftsman style cottages line winding streets and perch on the rims of the ravines.   Like Seattle, Asheville’s become very popular and everyone in town I talked to was struggling with the rapid growth, rising real estate prices, increasing traffic congestion.

I gravitated towards the River Arts District,  an area of old brick industrial buildings along the river area taken over by artists.  The Grey Eagle Taqueria caught my eye and I popped in for lunch and found that I landed at a staple of the Asheville music scene.

From the RAD district, I wandered over to West Asheville and found a hip little main drag lined with coffee shops and restaurants and bars.

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Roo enjoying one of the many funky murals to be found in Asheville.
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Roo thinks West Asheville rocks!

I arrived at my AWESOME Airbnb later that afternoon.  Miriam and Jake were my hosts and they were amazing.   The property was tucked away down a gravel road and they had built the house themselves using almost all recycled and reused materials.  Roo loved roaming their property and got along with their dog, Stinky, just fine.

Monday,  April 16th,  the first task of the day was to drop off Greta at Westy Motorwerks. Greta had been making an awful knocking noise periodically and the brakes were feeling a little off.  Fortunately Asheville is VW van territory and I had excellent resources at hand.

I picked up a rental car and set out to explore Asheville over the next few days.  Weather was nuts!  That Monday was bitterly cold and it actually snowed.  It was just plain uncomfortable to be outside which gave me a  good excuse to hunker down and warm up with good coffee and food. (Not that I need an excuse.)

 

West Asheville became my go to neighborhood.  Morning’s started with a latte and bagel at  Izzy’s Coffee Den.   Gan Shan West, with really good Asian fusion, was my go to for a warm bowl of ramen or dumplings.  Asian fusion isn’t so easy to find on the road so I was taking advantage while I could!

The weather took a dramatic turn on Wednesday, April 18th and temperatures were already in the 70’s before noon.   Roo and I started the day by checking out the Biltmore Estate.   WOW!  Built by George Vanderbilt in the late 1800’s, it’s the largest privately owned house in the US at 178,926 square feet and the estate is a whopping 7,000 acres.   The entry fee of $65 is a little shocking but if you are ever in the Asheville area, it’s worth a visit.

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Biltmore House – stupid big.
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Visiting the Walled Garden on the Biltmore Estate.
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The Italian Garden at the Biltmore.
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Looking out over a portion of the estate from the Biltmore House.

From the Biltmore Estate, Roo and I drove back south, down to Brevard area again, to meet up with Mr. Dwight Parker for more sheep herding. (Yea, I’m addicted.)

Mr. Parker has a farm with sheep and cattle tucked up in the hills outside of Brevard.  These were the feistiest cattle I had ever seen.  They were running around in the pastures, chasing the sheep.  Spring fever, I guess.

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Cattle at the Parker farm.  Feisty!

It was a great herding lesson.  We focused on trying to teach me how to ‘bend’ Roo away from me and the sheep.  Roo’s been trained to come towards me when I’m giving her commands so this was difficult for both her and me.  Once she settled down and I got relaxed enough to give her some space to work, she did really well.

Thursday, April 19th, Roo and I strolled through the the Montford Historic District  to admire the beautiful big old houses and wonderful gardens.  Dogwoods, cherry trees, daffodils, tulips, etc were putting on a show and the neighborhood was infused with the scent of blooming viburnums and lilacs.

That afternoon, I picked up Greta from the Westy Motorwerks.  After some work on her rear axles and a replaced master brake cylinder she was road ready again!  Thank you Wes, Nathan and Zack!

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Friday, April 20th, I set off north from Asheville and on a tip, stopped at a tiny mountain town on a river that I may need to call home in the future.  It was awesome.  I can’t tell you the name out of respect for the person who gave me the tip and wants this place to remain off the radar as long as possible but I’ll share a photo from the brew pub’s deck.

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From the tiny mountain town on the river that will remain nameless I pushed on to Hot Springs, NC, another beautiful tiny mountain town on a river.

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I checked into the Hot Springs Resort for a soak and massage and then got settled into the riverside campground.

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Hot Springs, NC – riverside campground off to the right.

 

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View from my hot tub at the resort.

Roo and I wandered into town after setting up camp and walked around admiring the old houses built of stone.

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Old rock house and bridge in Hot Springs, NC.

 

The Appalachian Trail literally crosses right through town and the town provides services to the thousands of hikers that attempt the trail each year.  It’s a fun scene in town with people swapping travel and hiking tales over beers at the local pub or over breakfast at the cafe.  I found myself checking out real estate and fantasizing about running a bakery/coffee shop to fuel the hordes of hungry hikers.  Hmmm…

Saturday, April 21st I set off south from Hot Springs along route 209.  The road wound up and down through the mountains, periodically running parallel with the burbling clear waters of Spring Creek, and through these incredibly beautiful farmland valleys, dotted with old wooden barns.

My target destination was Cataloochee Campground in the Cataloochee Valley of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  The narrow, windy, gravel 11 mile long approach road was a bit intense at times but it was worth the effort and Greta tackled it like a champ.

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View of the Smoky Mountains on the way to Cataloochee Campground.

The Cataloochee Valley, surrounded by 6,000 foot peaks, is absolutely beautiful.  When the park service took over the area in the 1920’s, the valley was home to approximately 1,200 people and the park service has worked to preserve buildings from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.  Walking around and checking out the old structures, sort of felt like stepping back in time.

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The park is a great place to see wildlife.  The elk are not shy!

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This guy came running through the campground during cocktail hour.

Roo and I had a great time at Cataloochee campground.  It was a really friendly scene, with folks walking around, chatting each other up, swapping travel stories.

FYI – This is what dinner time generally looks like in Greta lately.  Triscuits, summer sausage, horseradish cheddar cheese and sweet gherkins with a Manhattan side. The pickles count as my vegetable, yes?

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Sunday, April 22nd, I set off from Cataloochee Campground towards Cosby Campground. The drive was INTENSE.  28 miles mostly on steep, narrow windy, gravel roads.   April was proving to be a great time to visit.  Trees hadn’t fully leafed out yet and I had views of the valleys and mountains.  I couldn’t get over the variety of wildflowers lining the road and kept stopping to jump out and snap pics.

At about the 16 mile mark, the road drops down into Big Creek and I took a break from the drive at the country store.   The woman at the store couldn’t have been nicer.  She brewed me a fresh cup of coffee and she invited Roo in for a visit.  Love that southern hospitality!

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Roo wasn’t sure what to make of the mounted black bear at the country store.

From Big Creek, I pushed along the crazy windy steep road and finally arrived at Cosby Campground where I intended to spend the night.   As I set up camp I discovered that something had come loose during the drive and I had developed an electrical issue and had no power connection to the auxiliary batteries which power the refrigerator and furnace when the van isn’t running.  After an hour of tracing through electrical connections, trying to find the root cause, I was still at a loss.  Out of cell phone range and unwilling to run the risk of waking up in the morning to find the van wouldn’t start, I headed back towards Asheville, back into cell phone range.

Fortunately for me, my mechanic in Seattle was kind enough to answer my call on a Sunday and helped me identify the root cause of the problem.  A quick run to an auto parts store and a replacement of a broken battery cable and all was right again.

By now, rain had started and I wasn’t feeling up to retracing my steps back into the national park so I found a campground near Asheville with hot showers (heaven) and settled in for the night.

And that bring us to today, April 23rd.  Ha! I’ve finally caught up on blog posts! Roo and I woke to pouring rain so we’re taking it easy today.   I’m back at Izzy’s Coffee Den in West Asheville enjoying lattes as I type this.  We’ll push on to Cumberland Gap this afternoon and then onto Charlottesville, VA and Monticello and Shenandoah National Park later this week.  That is, if Greta stays healthy.  Fingers crossed.  Stay tuned.

 

 

Road Report #17 – North Georgia

On Friday, April 6th I pushed off, heading towards northern Georgia. I intended to kick off this next big road trip push by visiting the trailhead of the Appalachian Trail.

The first night out we camped at Hickory Knob State Park on the border of South Carolina and Georgia. Roo and I did a little hiking and admired the dogwoods and wildflowers in bloom sprinkled through the forest. 

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Hiking at Hickory Knob State Park.

The next day I drove into Athens and was immediately charmed. Historic downtown, good eating and drinking options, artsy vibe. Lots of big old houses with pretty yards.

Athens is home to the University of Georgia (Go Bulldogs!) and I got the impression that downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods have a big college party scene.

I hit the farmers market which had a really nice selection of vegetables and meats and crafts from local growers.  Lots of shiny, happy people milling around. Live music played and the market had a festive atmosphere.

After the farmer’s market, I checked out the Georgia Art Museum which had a nice collection of art and crafts, both contemporary and classic.

Then on to the Georgia State Botanical Gardens where I was finally able to identify some of the plants that I’d been seeing on recent hikes.  The fragrant azaleas knocked my socks off!

After checking into my hotel, Roo and I set off to explore downtown Athens.  There were two music festivals going on downtown and lots of folks out enjoying the entertainment.

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Athens City Hall and the famous one of a kind double barrel cannon.

That evening I opted to explore the Normaltown neighborhood, a little removed from downtown and the UGA campus, hoping it would be a little less collegiate.   Cocktails at The Old Pal and food and music at the Hi-Lo Lounge proved fun.

On April 8th I headed out north from Athens, to Helen, GA, a town posing as a Bavarian village, hoping I’d find decent German fare.

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Helen, GA.

I lucked out. After stuffing myself with Wiener Schnitzel, spatzle and red cabbage, I grabbed a campsite at Unicoi State Park just outside of Helen and did a little late afternoon hiking with Roo.

As I pulled into our campsite, a little commotion outside caught my attention and I found that a pileated woodpecker had landed on Greta and was checking out his reflection in the tinted windows.

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North Georgia is quite hilly and water is plentiful. There are lakes and ponds and rivers and creeks and waterfalls every which way you turn.

Anna Ruby Falls near Unicoi State Park, GA.

On April 9th, Roo and I pushed off from Unicoi State Park.   We stopped to hike to Duke’s Creek Falls.

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Duke’s Creek
Duke’s Creek Falls

I landed at Amicalola State Park that afternoon to camp.  As I drove into the park, a mama black bear and two mature cubs were hanging out in a clearing just off the side of the road.

Amicalola is where people start their hike of the Appalachian Trail if hiking south to north.  My hope was to go the trailhead Appalachian Trail and do a little hike but getting to the true trailhead was more difficult than I imagined. It required a 4 wheel drive vehicle or 16 mile round trip hike. So I settled on hiking along the approach trail and taking a picture of the sign.

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Over 2000 people have started their hike from Amicalola State Park so far this year and I watched several people set off to hike the Appalachian Trail as their family and friends saw them off.  And then I watched as the hikers slogged up the trail with their packs on to tackle the 600+ stairs to the top of Amicalola Falls.  Brutal start!

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Amicalola Falls

Wildflowers lined the trails and being a complete plant nerd, I was sort of freaking out.    I’m sure more than a few people wondered about the woman getting down on her hands and knees to get up and close with plants.

I took off from Amicalola State Park on Tuesday, April 10.  I cruised through the scenic, rolling hills of northern Georgia and wandered the backroads.  The town of Dahlonega, GA was a pleasant surprise.  Very cute small historic town set up in the rolling hills of north Georgia. The first US gold rush happened here in the 1820’s so you can imagine some of the fantastic old homes and buildings to be seen.

That afternoon I landed at the farm of Mr. Hubert Bailey, in Dawsonville, GA. I had met Mr. Bailey in March at a sheep herding trial in South Carolina and was really happy that it was working out that I could reconnect with him on my travels through Georgia.

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At the Bailey Farm.
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I see you!

Mr. and Mrs. Bailey were kind enough to let me camp on their farm for the evening.  Roo worked sheep that afternoon and then I watched Mr. Hubert work a couple of his younger dogs.   It’s a remarkable thing to watch.

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Floss.  Possible future champion??
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Sheep, we’ve got you surrounded!

The morning of April 11th, a group of local community leaders rolled came to the Bailey Farm on a tour of local agri-businesses and I watched as Mr. Hubert and one of his students did demos for the group.   His student did a demo with her dog and Indian Runner ducks.   Pretty amusing!

After the demo Mr. Hubert and his student and I headed into town to the Wagon Wheel Restaurant for a good ol’ southern style buffet.  Everyone seemed to know everyone and the local sheriff went around the restaurant saying hi and shaking hands.

After lunch, we headed back to the farm and Mr. Hubert and we took a quick jaunt up back into some of the pastures.  The views to the distant mountains were incredible.

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Cruising the farm.

That afternoon I reluctantly pushed off from the Bailey’s and headed northeast to Tallulah Gorge State Park.   Roo and I hiked along the gorge rim trail that afternoon and then settled in for a night of camping.

On April 12th, Roo and I left Tallulah Gorge State Park and drove north to the town of Clayton, GA, based on a tip.   I loved Clayton, GA.   Lovely, historic downtown in a beautiful mountain setting.  People were super friendly and good food was easy to find.   I lunched at Fortify Kitchen and Bar.  Delicious!!

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Greta parked in front of Fortify on Main Street in Clayton, GA.

Just outside of Clayton, GA is Black Mountain State Park.  It’s Georgia’s highest state park at an elevation of 3,640 ft.

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View from the visitor center at Black Moutain State Park.  Smoke from a controlled burn off in the distance.

I got one of the best campsites so far on the trip with views of the distant mountains.  Roo and I hiked that afternoon and then watched the sun set.

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Roo sacked out at our awesome campsite.
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Sunset from Black Mountain State Park, GA.

April 13th, I packed up camp and did some more hiking with Roo.

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Roo romping in the creek.

 

 

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Black Rock Lake

After another stop in Clayton for a quick bite and beer at the Universal Joint in Clayton,  it was time to leave northeastern Georgia and start making my way towards Asheville, NC.   I was a little sad to have to be pushing on.  I’d gotten so many tips on other cute towns and beautiful places to see but I just wasn’t going to have time to check everything out.    Another time!  I’d love to come back to see the fall color.

I’m SO grateful for the time I had in northern Georgia.  The area of the country hadn’t really been on my radar and if it wasn’t for meeting Mr. Bailey at that sheep herding trial in South Carolina in March, I probably wouldn’t have ventured into this neck of the woods.   It’s just beautiful, more rugged and wild than I’d expected.  Cruising the backcountry through the farmlands, along the rivers, past waterfalls and through the mountains had been excellent road tripping time.

I’d really gotten a taste of what southern hospitality is all about and it’s a wonderful thing, something I wish could be bottled and passed out to other parts of the country.  The kindness, generosity and welcoming spirit of the people I encountered on this leg of this trip is something I won’t ever forget.