Bay Of Fundy Tour – Nadine Czapalay

nadine mark czapalay
Nadine has been on several ACC tours. This write-up of the first few days of her Bay of Fundy Bicycle Tour was on the Cyclemania web site, that collected contributions about cyclists’ experiences.  

Cycling Through Paradise
The winter of 2008 will go down in my personal history book as one of the longest waits for bike commuting season. Ever. With each snowfall that blanketed the city, my hopes of starting an early season were buried deeper and deeper. This left my husband, Mark, and I with plenty of time to plan our summer vacation. The destination for 2008 is on the Atlantic Coast – specifically the Bay of Fundy. For nine days and approximately 900km of hills and thrills we will be going as far off the grid as we can possibly get.

Based on previous tours with ACC (Atlantic Canada Cycling), this is as close as you can get to an unsupported tour without loading up your bike with twenty pounds (or more) of extra gear.

Pitch your tent. Get some sleep. Enjoy a full day of cycling.

Typically, route maps are handed out at 7:00pm. Meals are not provided, so we have to ensure that we have enough for the next day’s ride. Along with the route information, they provide a list of restaurants along the way and the location of the grocery pickup store (more on the food system later).

The rules are simple. Leave when you want (just make sure you get your luggage to the baggage truck by 10am or else you’ll have to figure out how to transport it to the next campsite!) so long as you’re in before the sunset. If your bags are still by the truck, the tour organizers will send a rescue party…the sag wagon.

Read along and see how Mark and I manage nine full days of cycling (July 19 to 27).

Cycling – New Brunswick Adventure – Day 1 – Saint John to St. Martins

Packing! But wait, what about the kitchen sink?

I haven’t mastered the art of light packing. I wish I had thought of taking a picture of the mountain of stuff that we had piled up in the living room the night before leaving. But, as you’ll find out, I’m not very good with documenting pictorially for the purpose of blogging. So we’ll just have to rely mostly on words and my ability to translate the images I see in my head. I suppose I should apologize in advance.

Thankfully, Gary from ACC touring doesn’t restrict the amount of stuff we bring. There’s no weighing of bags. No size limit. The downside to this is that the more stuff you bring, the longer it takes to get ready in the morning – at least this is my theory.

We packed the standard camping gear, minus the cooking gear (which is provided).  Clothes — more clothes. Too much clothes! Cycling gear. Rain gear (more on this later). After much organizing and sorting and re-evaluating the need and value of every item, we managed to stuff everything into a LARGE hockey bag and two of these containers (which I recommend highly).

We stayed at a local Comfort Inn, which was supposed to have been close to our meeting spot but ended up being much further than expected and navigating in Saint John proved to be challenging ‚ even with a GPS. Eventually, we met up with the rest of the cyclist at the UNBSJ campus for the tour kick off. Twenty-four eager cyclists filled the room, eating breakfast and catching up with old friends from previous tours. We were happy to see Len and Ar as well as Ed and Denise from the St John River tour the year before. Ed and Denise ride a tandem with such ease and grace. It’s really quite amazing to watch them zoom past you on flats and hills. I’ve often wondered how Mark and I would fare on a tandem – something to add to the list of things to try before I die. Mark isn’t convinced this is a good idea.

Gary handed us the maps and did is traditional welcome speech, which I must say is always entertaining. He warned of many things from sunburns to saddle sores and wished us the best of luck (the maps are always a little off, it really can become an adventure at times). We dropped off our gear at the baggage truck, labeling each item (this is their tracking system to figure out who’s still out on the road towards the end of the day).

Let the riding begin!

The weather was wonderful, a bit on the cool side and cloudy – a perfect biking day. Saint John is a hilly city; it took us a good 15km to get into a rhythm of sorts. Our bodies may still have been suffering from spending over 16 hours in the car on the previous day – maybe.

The hills and the terrain were manageable. It was a very pleasant ride (except for the 2 km stretch of construction and gravel road). We got into camp relatively early. The campsite was close to the beach and we took advantage of the low tide to do some rock hounding. We had dinner at a lovely family restaurant.

We stood by the campfire later that night and were able to talk to some of the other cyclists; everyone had had a great day. Only a handful had gotten lost (a temporary state which occurs when you confuse your left and your right). By 8:30, the sun was starting to set, it was getting cooler out and the majority of us called it a day, crawling into our respective tents and glancing at the map for Day two. A 90+km day with a lot of hills. Finally, Mark and I would be able to put our hill training to the test! 

Cycling – New Brunswick Adventure – Day 2 – St. Martins to Fundy National Park – 108 km

As we sat by the campfire at the end of the first day, Len (an area native) described a hill we’d be climbing as a “Wall.” Now, Len’s a pretty quiet guy, a natural climber by shape and size. So, for Len to even comment on the up and coming terrain left me and others wondering what was in store for us the next day.

I must have been eager to tackle the hills (or jolted out of sleep from a nightmare) because I was up at the crack of dawn. According to Mark, five o’clock is not a socially acceptable time to get up and start tearing down the tent – especially when a group of twenty-four share about six campsites.

We eventually got everything packed up – it must have been close to nine before we were able to set off. The route was fairly straightforward with only a few turns – this always take a bit of stress off. No one likes to be ‘the one’ who got lost.

I’ve also come to the conclusion that I need about fifteen kilometers to warm up and come to grips with the fact that I will be spending a significant portion of the day on my bike. Unfortunately, the Wall made it’s appearance at the ten km mark – hiding innocently around a bend and a bunch of trees. Surely, no sane human would build a road there! Len had not done this thing justice – I didn’t realize I’d be climbing to the sky at a ninety degree angle (not that bad, but CLOSE!)

The hill was every bit as brutal as it looked – making every other hill I’ve climbed in my life pale in comparison, mere bumps. I managed to climb about an eight of it before declaring it the winner. Pride aside, I got off the bike and walked it. Most of us did. The handful that made it suffered all the way up. My hat goes off to them, one day, once the memory fades, I’d love to try it again. *coughs*

I had been looking forward to the ride into Fundy National Park since the day we signed up for the tour – it’s one of my favorite parks in Canada. You can get a close up view of the highest tides in the world, the hiking trails are quite impressive, and it houses some really good hills (the highest was a 365-meter climb (about 1200ft). Well, I hadn’t really been looking forward to the hills. After a bit of research, the hills are part of the Caledonia Highlands and Kent Hills. I don’t know how they rate in terms of cat 4 or 3, if at all, but in my books they’re going down as absolutely nasty. I just checked with Mark, he agrees. Did the hill training help? Absolutely. Could I have done more training? Absolutely!

We ended the day with a four km downhill section – steep with lots of twists and turns. Which was quite the reward after a 30+km string of rolling hills. The roads were a bit wet from a recent shower and the brakes weren’t as responsive as I would have wanted them to be. All went well. Ed and Denise (on the tandem) hit 80+km/hr! YIKES!

With clouds looming overhead, we decide to walk to the town of Alma (maybe a kilometer away) for a group dinner. That night…it rained. And rained. And rained some more. And…well, I’m sure you get the idea.

A note before ending this one. Hills have always been a challenge for me (mentally) and with hitting a long string of them at the end of a day, I think I managed fairly well. It wasn’t always pretty. There were some ugly moments when I wondered what I had gotten myself into. It’s amazing the amounts of emotions you can experience over the course of a day – especially the days that are just a little above you’re skill level, whether it be hills, distance or both. For me, this isn’t just about riding a bike, it’s about living healthier, learning what my weaknesses are and to help me establish goals for the next year. These tours are my measuring stick (reward?) while trying to become an ex-Athena, but realizing it’s going to take time.

Cycling – New Brunswick Adventure – Day 3 – Fundy National Park, NB to Amherst, NS (160km, 110km or 50k)

Today’s word of the day: RAIN (see how many times I can use it in one post)!

It’s raining, it’s pouring!

We woke up to rain. A lot of rain. This is normally the type of day that makes me cancel a planned bike ride, or even *gasps* take the bus into work. You really don’t have that luxury on an organized tour, even one as relaxed as this one. Regardless of the conditions, you have to keep moving.

We learned quickly enough that the Bay of Fundy has its own micro climate. Threats of a tropical depression were inundating the weather forecasts and the thought of three solid days of rain left the group in a rather defeated state. Mark became known as the weatherman (being somewhat attached to a Blackberry device), luckily everyone was able to tell the difference between the message and the messenger.

Given the grim forecast, we were happy that the tour supports two accommodation options – camping or/and indoor (B&B or hotel). You can flip between them anytime you wish (so long as they haven’t packed up the van for the day! Mark decided to book us a room for the night at least we’d be able to dry the tent. Forecast for the night: RAIN. Surprise!

The day I’m singing in the rain, just singing in the rain! I’m okay with getting caught in rain or foul weather if I’ve already started a ride, but I found that setting off in a torrential downpour to be very difficult.

Our rain gear was next to useless. If you wish to share the name/brand of your favorite foul weather gear with me I’d be very grateful. I’m in serious search of something that will keep my feet reasonably dry.

Without getting into a lot of gory details (and there are many that you don’t want to read and I don’t want to relive) our 160km ride had a shuttle service offered between Hopewell Rocks and Dorchester, which would trim off about 50 kms. Everyone opted for the short ride. And, by the time we arrived in Dorchester, most of us suffering (certainly) from the early onset of hypothermia, dishing out an extra ten dollars for a lift to Amherst proved to be a really good investment.
The glitch
Because we, as a group, opted to drive to Amherst, it threw a nasty wrench in the tour organizers’ plans to shuttle the bikes and the bags. The bikes arrived about an hour after we did, but the bags didn’t show up until 10:00pm. A good six hours later.

Only one person did the full 160km “Mike”, but I’m certain he would have done it had it snowed. He’s pretty hardcore about his cycling! The stretch of road between Hopewell Rocks and Dorchester was busy and involved a few kilometers on the Trans Canada Highway.

The days are what they are; you have to take the good with the bad. This wasn’t a great day, but you know, we were still out there, riding our bikes. So that – in itself – makes it a good day!

Cycling – Maritime Adventure – Day 4 – Amherst, Nova Scotia to Spencer Island, Nova Scotia

There couldn’t have been a more perfect day for cycling. The weather cooperated, and we had a nice long stretch of almost perfect road (and by this I mean that it had been paved within the last couple of years and was smooth and pothole free ” perfect). Let’s just say that this isn’t a characteristic of most of the roads we traveled on in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

Here’s an example of the day’s maps. They also list (not shown here) the supported grocery pickup for the day and recommended stops for lunch. We get these handouts the night before and try to plan how much stuff we need to carry with us ” pack a lunch or will we luck into finding some little hidden treasure along the way.

Notice the distance on the map? It’s off by almost 10km. Not a big deal, but when you get yourself ready for an 86 km ride and are suddenly faced with an extra 10km, it’s all part of the adventure.  It was a pretty quiet day, with very little map reading ” there was bound to be a least one perfect day! We rode past Joggins ” a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site – my words can’t do it justice.

In the coming days, we’ll have biked all the way around to the other side!

This is a pretty remote area of Nova Scotia, with hardly any traffic or houses for miles on end ” not even a telephone pole” just a road and 24 cyclists making their way to the next campsite.

The campsite was at the bottom of a hill – RIGHT ON the beach! I thought this was the greatest thing (and it was). Except, as the tide came in through the night, it was surprisingly loud (washing over the rocky beach)! I spent most of the night worrying about washing out to sea!

Cycling – Maritime Adventure – Day 5 – Spencer Island, Nova Scotia to Hilden, Nova Scotia

I’ve been dreading the write up for Day Five. It was an emotionally complex day on many levels. Even though a fair amount of time has passed since our tour ended, the memories and emotions from Day Five are still quite fresh in my mind.

So, point form to keep it simple (and much shorter):

– Mark’s father passed away three years ago, the road on Day Five went right into the town where he was laid to rest.

I made a decision not to ride for the morning, hoping to shake whatever was bothering me. Mark set off on his own like a trooper. A fellow cyclist and I grabbed a ride with Paul-the-sag-guy who has to be one of the most interesting people I’ve met in the long time. We talked for several hours and I managed to get an opportunity to see the tour from a different perspective.

I am happy to report that there were no emergencies while I was part of the sag crew. In Parrsboro about 40kms from the start – my fellow sagger and I decided to explore the town and find a place to eat while Paul worked (waited for everyone to check in or ride by). We had a nice walk to the restaurant. However, note to self – next time you ask someone “How far?”, don’t forget to specify that you are walking. Five minutes by car is MUCH longer by foot!

Paul dropped us of at Great Village, I was feeling able to make the 50 kms to the campsite. We  had just passed Mark, so I waited for him and we rode the rest of the way together. (ps. He had a nice visit with his father.)

The good thing about this day: Mark already had 90+kms behind him, it was nice that he was a “little tired”. I was able to keep up without a problem! Mark was reasonably tired when he got in, but I really believe he could have kept riding. He’s a machine!

After setting up our tent, Mark’s mother and our daughter (8) picked us up for supper. The just dropped off our son (10) with his cousins who were on their way to PEI for a few days of camping. It was really great to see them, but it was really difficult to say goodbye. Four more days to go!

Bring on the Valley!


Participant Experiences