Mark Hamilton - From Atlanta to Atlantic Canada

It’s summer. It’s hot in Atlanta. The job is getting on my last nerves. Time for a road trip with the wife! But we’re not loading up her minivan with a lot of unnecessary junk for an air-conditioned, cruise control maintained, and disconnected-from-the-world drive to Florida where it’s REALLY hot. No! For this trip, we’re taking a Kawasaki Concours north to Atlantic Canada, where even summers are chilly.

It’s 06:30 Saturday morning. Time to leave. The temp is 72oF. In a few hours Atlanta will be enduring wet blanket humidity at 90 oF. We really need to get away!

07:45. Ok, now after a few false starts, we’re finally leaving. Passing through North Carolina and Virginia, we see lots of motorcyclists heading south to Knoxville for the Honda Hoot. Let them drive a few hundred miles to park their bikes and get drunk. Not us. We’re driving a couple of thousand miles to park our bike and get drunk! Actually, make that 750 miles on our first day. At 09:30 that evening, we check in at a Newark, Delaware hotel. After getting settled in our room, we hit the inn’s bar, have a few drinks and listen to some other alcoholics sing karaoke.

The next day brings the thrill of passing through the biggest cities on the I-95 corridor. Philadelphia is an exciting ride. They’re rebuilding the interstate. Drivers are fast and wicked, despite the many twists in the road caused by construction. Sometimes the road is so narrow between apartments that you can just imagine kids playing catch across the highway. We chose to avoid some of the tolls on the New Jersey Turnpike and take the interstate to Trenton. Of course, when we get to Trenton, I make a wrong turn and end up going 30 miles on U.S. 1. The couple of bucks I saved on tolls are now spent on gas. We eventually pick up the Turnpike anyway for a short, fast run to New York. I’m doing 65 in heavy traffic when a diving pigeon just misses my head… Well, it’s just part of the New York experience. At the George Washington Bridge, we spend 45 sweat filled minutes waiting to pay the toll (another part of the New York experience). It’s a good thing that we’re wearing mesh jackets, leather would be miserable now. Finally we’re moving. We hit mild traffic jams in Connecticut, but nothing too bad. The drive through Providence, Rhode Island is fun! Traffic runs quick and smooth on the curvy downtown interstate. We’re taking inner city routes to lessen the monotony of interstate driving. Unfortunately the Boston freeway is underground. There our interstate travel monotony is replaced by a fear of driving through enclosed spaces at 60 MPH. At York, Maine we depart I-95 for a quiet road leading to Cape Neddick Lighthouse. The homes along the way are straight out of Murder She Wrote. The people here are so pleasant! Which one of them is a killer? Just in case, we’re spending the night in Portland. At the lighthouse, everyone is wearing shorts. This is despite the fact that it’s 60 degrees. Of course it IS summer, so you’re supposed to be in shorts! Cape Neddick lighthouse is one of the most photographed lighthouses in the world. And it is easy to see why. Here in the late afternoon sun, it absolutely radiates warmth and beauty. Its pedestal is a grass- covered island measuring 100 yards across. The manicured lawn ends at cliffs rising 50 feet above the water.

The next day finds us playing tourist at Acadia National Park. We fork over the $20 admission fee and enjoy a relaxed day prowling the park. The parks property was donated to the National Park service a hundred years ago by Rockefellers and other notables of the day. They wanted John Q. Public to have easy access to the east coasts’ biggest rock Cadillac Mountain. I wonder if they envisioned a $20 entrance fee... To be fair though, the fee is good for a weeks’ worth of admissions. We drive up the mountain, a 1500-foot chunk of granite overlooking the Atlantic. After reaching the top, we park the bike and take in the scene below. There are a few islets with sailboats moored alongside. A ferry is heading out to sea. Bar Harbor, a small town just outside the park, barely manifests itself among the many trees. Also below us is Thunder Hole, so named for the thunderous explosions of water against its rocks. Today it’s more like a golf clap. One great thing about the park is the Park Loop Road, which was built with low bridges to deny access to port-o-homes (RV’s), a real bane to motorcyclists. Around several curves of it, we’re greeted by low mountains and black water lakes. Eventually we make our way into Bar Harbor, a place owing its survival to tourism (you Southerners just think of Gatlinburg without pickup trucks, but WITH yachts). There’s the usual assortment of tacky shops with junk gifts for your closest friends and loved ones. But then there are a few nicer things such as the softly lit open air café where Paulette and I enjoy a lobster dinner. Having never eaten lobster before, I proceed to mutilate mine and then spend a few minutes trying to figure out what you’re not supposed to eat (hint – if it has color, don’t touch it!). Having provided the evening's entertainment for the other restaurant patrons, we depart for the coldest summer ride of our lives back to Bangor.

On Monday morning, we catch the Cat ferry to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. Taking it eliminates 300 miles that would have come with a land route. And our butts need a break. Though it’s a bit pricy ($55 for a motorcycle, $60 per person), this ferry is worth the money. It travels at 55 MPH and crosses 100 miles of ocean in a little over 2 hours. You can eat a hot meal on board and watch a movie. There are two theaters; one showing kids movies, the other showing immature adult movies (i.e. Adam Sandler flicks). After disembarking at Yarmouth, Paulette nearly gets a real butt break when she stumbles getting off the bike. She’ll have a tennis ball sized bruise on her fanny in a few days. To make matters worse, the customs officials don’t want to let us go. For some reason, we’ve been red flagged. Three officers separately interview us and check our bags. It’s true that we could open a pharmacy on the road with all our medications, but they really are legal! Eventually, the border patrol relents, and we’re granted free access to the frozen north.

After resuming our journey, we stop two hours later in Lunenburg, a fishing village on Nova Scotia’s east coast. Before we’ve even gotten off our bike, we’re greeted by a couple who’ve ridden a Connie from Ontario. After some pleasant conversation, I grab a few pics of the waterfront, and Paulette buys a much needed sweatshirt. Our next stop is the Peggy’s Cove. The road leading to the lighthouse is cracked and ribbed for a twisty 20 miles. No Electra-Glides for this ride! On the plus side, nearly every bend in the road yields scenes of hidden coves and brightly painted fishing boats. It seems that everyone here has a bay front view. Rounding our last curve before reaching a lighthouse, it looks like we’ve entered a massive graveyard. Upon closer examination, what at first appeared to be tombstones are actually squared off sections of granite, most of which are three to five feet high. Like the Cape Neddick lighthouse, this one nearly begs to be photographed. Unlike the lighthouse at Cape Neddick, the Peggy’s Cove light can be accessed with a short stroll. We climb a few boulders, take the requisite photos, and then proceed northeast to Halifax. We’ll stay there for two days, after having ridden 1,845 miles.

On Tuesday, we visit the Maritime Museum. Besides displays about merchant shipping, we find that the museum houses artifacts from the Titanic. Indeed, some victims from that disaster are buried here in town. Yet, there is another very moving exhibit here. It concerns the 1917 Halifax explosion, which occurred when a wartime relief ship collided with a munitions vessel. The resulting explosion killed almost 2,000 and left thousands of others homeless. This was the most powerful explosion by man until the A-bomb. While the exhibits are informative, the sad story they tell gets to us. Our spirits are lifted when we spot a tugboat beside the museum that’s painted like a kid’s bathtub toy. Naturally, we have to have our picture taken beside it. Also brightening this day is Latin Jazz ban performing at the pier. Having grown up listening to Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass, this is a must hear performance for me. Our funds are depleting faster than anticipated. So with regret, we rule out a run on Cape Breton’s Cabot Trail.

For compensation, we visit Prince Edward Island, home of the Anne of Green Gables stories. En-route, we pull off the highway to put on our sweatshirts. An old man sees us and volunteers that he’d been wearing his long underwear until last week! Not long after he tells us this, we’re spot billboard advertising water slides nearby (!). After crossing over into New Brunswick, we take the Confederation Bridge into Prince Edward Island. The bridge is not very pretty, but it is impressive, snaking 9 miles across the North Umberland Strait. The ride across it contributes to feelings of inferiority as you look across either side at countless miles of ocean. Arriving in Charlottetown, we find that the streets are festive. There’s a carnival going on. Street performers are out. Flags are everywhere. It’s July 1st, Canada Day. Two traveling weary Atlantans are hungry. We have a good meal, and in honor of our Canadian hosts, wash it down with Moosehead beer. The island province is not very big. It’s roughly 30 miles from north to south, and 90 miles east to west. But what it lacks in size, it makes up for in gardenlike beauty. Everywhere you look, there are farms, many with meadows ending at the ocean. Lupins (wild flowers that come in shades of purple, pink, and blue) are omnipresent. Some tourists are amazed by the red dirt here. But not us Georgians. Back home, people don’t think it’s pretty. They hate it! After an overnight stay in Cap Pele, New Brunswick, we head to the Bay of Fundy. It is here that the tide can rise and fall 50 feet, leaving fishing boats lying on their hulls. Naturally, the tide is in when we reach the Cape Hopewell Rocks. All that we can see are a couple of boulders sitting in the water. If the tide had been out we would have gazed at massive columns standing on a dry seabed.

One day later, I’m lost in Queens, New York. Paulette is feeling faint. I pull into a manufacturing plant’s parking lot. A security guard offers assistance while steadily cursing in the most sweet, mild mannered way imaginable. She directs us across the street to the state patrol office. No one is there. It so happens that it’s not manned 24 hours a day. “Bang on the door! He’s there!†the security guard yells at me. I ban real hard a couple of times and get no answer. After I go back across the street to chat with the security guard, a state patrol officer approaches Paulette with his hand on his gun. Seeing the state that she’s in, he relaxes. Upon my approach, he proceeds to chew me out about banging on the door while he was on the toilet. After his two-minute harangue (during which it seemed he wasn’t truly angry), I calmly ask him where we can go for assistance. “I didn’t tell you that I wasn’t going to help you!†he yells, albeit apologetically. With his seeming rage gone, he offers to call an ambulance for Paulette. She’s not that weak. Besides, she says “but I’d have to pay for that wouldn’t I?†He laughs and directs us to a hotel. We’ll have more of the New York experience before heading south.

Sunday morning, we see a 60-year old man in jogging shorts moon someone. Once we’re back on the road, I take the right way through Trenton to Philly and avoid some tolls. On July 4th, from a Richmond, Virginia hotel, we watch the fireworks. On Monday July 5th, after nine days, 4,028 miles and 40 dollars in tolls, we reach home. You know … red dirt doesn’t look so bad after all.

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