By the time we hit West Island Montreal, it was past 2300hrs. Traffic was light at this hour and we filed from the 40 East onto the elevated Metropolitain Boulevard, which streaks over Montreal's North End. Here too, we travelled unmolested amid very light traffic. There were a couple of choke points as we neared the East End, where if it had been during rush hour, the transit would have been Hell. As it was, the five or six cars ahead of us strung out in single file and we clipped through each one averaging an easy 80kmh.
Before we knew it, we were lining up to enter the mouth of the Hippolyte-Lafontaine Tunnel. Here too, it was narrowed down to just one lane but that was negotiated easily, as by this point, we were literally on our own. We emerged on the South Shore, cruising along Jean Lesage Boulevard at a sedate 120kmh. As the time neared midnight, we crossed over the Richelieu River. This was our cue to pull off the road into a familiar motel for the night. At the foot and in the shadow of Mont-Saint-Hilaire, is Le Transit. It is right by the highway, clean, inexpensive and also right next door to a Tim Horton's and a gas station, which means a quick fill-up with gas and a hot, tasty road breakfast before heading out again.
By 0730hrs we were motoring down the 20 East once more. The trip was uneventful as far as close calls went. Very few critters were spotted as well. Quebec (from outside Quebec City all the way out past Rivière du Loup) was incredibly snow-covered. Their lakes were still frozen hard and it was evident that they had yet to experience any of the warmer temperatures we had regularily enjoyed here in Ontario. We began to wonder if we were heading back into winter, now that Ottawa was anticipating summer-like temps over the Easter period.
Fortunately, as we made our way into and through New Brunswick, the snow once again vanished and we were treated to warmer temps. As evening fell and we approached Nova Scotia, a light mist began to fall. This persisted as we hit Truro and hooked East along the 104, headed towards Cape Breton. As we ascended Mount Thom, fog started to appear as well and was starting to play havoc with our vision. We were pretty close by now and only my better half knew where we were going, as I had not been to her niece's new digs as yet. I was looking to spot deer and my better half was still blistering along at 120kmh. I resigned myself to the fact that avoidance would not be an option, should one appear in front of us...
Finally, the turn off for Pine Tree Road materialized out of nowhere and a left-hand lane appeared as well. In very little time we were turning off Pine Tree Road onto a gravel driveway, which led us past a small pond and to a charming two-storey house, set well back from the road. We had made it. The time was about 2200hrs, Atlantic Time.
We eased ourselves out of the vehicle and were greeted by my wife's niece and her hubby. We humped our gear into the house and it wasn't long before I had changed into my jammies and was nursing a lovely cup of tea. That was to be the only precipitation we would see during our stay. Truth be know, the warm temperatures felt in Ottawa, followed us out East. The weather was splendid during our entire visit.
Our days were spent visiting local points of interest, testing the reputations of various local restaurants, checking out the local real estate scene, taking walks around the property with Milo Max their adorable Golden Retreiver or trudging the shorelines. I could walk (and have, over the years...) thousands of miles of shoreline and never get bored of doing so. Always there are interesting discoveries to be made, things to learn, sights to see and always, the cool breeze, the sound of the sea and the smell of the surf. These are the necessary elements that I need to recharge within me, on any visit back home. These are the things I could never get here, or indeed anywhere inland. Every morning, we were awoken by songbirds chirping and trilling outside our bedroom window, while in the evening, we were lulled to sleep by the peepers, who had decided to make an early appearance this spring.
Our first trip to Melmerby Beach was an interesting one. Besides the natural beauty of the shoreline, we stumbled upon a veritable 'whodunit' as we strolled along the beach. We are often phoned at work by callers who have found a dead seal on a stretch of beach or coastline in the Maritimes or the Gulf Region. This time, it was my turn. We found no less than 8 seal carcasses washed up ashore. They appeared stripped of flesh from just below the sternum to their heads. I inspected the wounds closely and noted that the cut of the wound was fairly clean. But I could not imagine what could have done this. This was not the work of a shark or any other large marine predator. One carcass actually had a bullet exit wound.
We came to find out from one of the locals, that this group of young seals had been out amongst the pack ice. A marine biologist had concluded that as they poked their heads above the moving ice to breathe in air, the ice pack basically guillotined them. Mystery solved...
Easter Sunday saw us taking a trip into the Halifax/Dartmouth area. The 'big city', as it were. There we took my aging Mother-in-law out for Easter dinner. It was a fun event, following which my wife and I made a trip over the bridge to Halifax. We wanted to revisit a few of our old haunts. We stopped on the waterfront, near an area known as the Historic Properties. Perk's is the local coffee shop in the area, right by the ferry terminal, where we used to meet. This spot is also a magnet for the local riding community. One can seldom go down there and NOT find slews of motorcycles parked by the water's edge.
As we were walking towards Perk's, a couple of riders were exiting the parking lot, waiting for the light to change. One couple was straddling a very nice-looking H-D Tour Glide, with electric blue factory paint. The lad riding it turned his face slightly to the left, checking for traffic. I happened to look over and catch his profile just long enough...The bike I didn't recognize, but the "riding face" of it's pilot... I knew in an instant. It was an old friend of ours whom we had first met some 12 years ago. He was the owner of a wonderful Lebanese food restaurant, named The Mediterraneo, on Halifax's Barrington Street. I had introduced him to the world of riding, lo those many, many years ago...
"Eddy!... Eddy!!", I shouted over the pipes. He turned towards me, did a double-take, then howling: "Holy Shit!!", started back-pedalling his big ol' Harley (with his female passenger still aboard) so he could get out of the outbound line-up. He snicked it into first and motored up to where we stood, advising his attractive lady-friend to disembark as he had to talk to "these old friends of mine" for a spell.
The young lady turned out to be his wife of 3 years. The restaurant business had been sold 2 years ago and was now a Chinese restaurant, we learned much to our chagrin. Despite all of this, Eddy had been doing very well. Thriving, actually. He turned to his lovely wife and pointed at me: "This is the guy who got me into riding!", he announced. "Guilty as charged", I smiled. It's always hard at times like these to know whether you have just made another good friend or a lifelong enemy. But I had the impression that she liked riding, so I reckon it was all okay. Heck, it was gonna be okay either way, 'cause a man has to spread the gospel he believes in. And mine just happened to be the gospel according to two wheels and road trips.
I related the story of my 'unplanned dismount' and the subsequent ride to the Shenandoah National Park/Blue Ridge Parkway. "Dude, you have to go", I told him flat out. "It'll change your life...". He related how he had gotten the Tour Glide to travel all over Hell's creation, but that he had yet to go anywhere. I decided right then and there to become his travel agent. I had fired within him the want to become a rider. Surely to God I could plan for him and his Missus, an itinerary for a trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains. He informed me that he was on Facebook. That was all I needed to know. I will lead him to his salvation as a rider yet, or know the reason why...
We let them carry on their journey and took a stroll back towards the vehicle. We found a $15.00 parking ticket on the windshield, courtesy of Halifax's Historic Properties Inc. Nice! So we decide to amble along a little further, towards the bikes which were parked at the end of the circular driveway. There I met up with an old cronie of mine by the name of Neil. Neil and I had sailed together a number of years and had kept in touch through the riding community after I left the Navy. I can remember hauling his staggering carcass past the local H.A.s tent and on to his tent, at the annual Ride For Sight festivities, where he had been intent on creating some mischief. Neil is my touchstone with my Navy past. I know and correspond with many of my old service friends, but Neil and I have shared experiences that make all the more vivid my recollections of the past.
We chatted at some length of mutual acquaintances until it was time for us to leave. I told him how good it had been to see him again and that I was very pleased to hear that he was doing so well. My wife and I headed back to the Dartmouth side, across the Angus L. Macdonald bridge. As we crossed over, I looked at the naval dockyard below us. There were quite a few CPFs in port, as well as a couple of subs. Over on the NAD side in Dartmouth, I was very pleased to see my first ship, HMCS Fraser, tied up alongside. Her fate is still pending, but she has a better chance of survival as a floating museum in the hands of DND. Nearby, rested our three decommissioned Oberon-class submarines. So much history there... so many memories.
We turned South as we came off the bridge heading for downtown Dartmouth. Nearing the ferry terminal, we swung left up Ochterloney Street, which took us to the Par-Clo (partial cloverleaf) and then on to the Waverley Road. The Waverley Road is one of the premier motorcycling roads in the Dartmouth area. It winds and twists as it follows the shorelines of several linked lakes. It begins as Braemar Drive, hugging the shoreline of Lake Mic Mac. It then becomes County Road 318, the Waverley Road as it reaches Charles Lake. It then skirts Waverley Lake/Lake Williams and then Lake Thomas, as you enter the Fall River Region.
The road continues to rise and fall and twist, as you then pass under the 102 Highway for the first time. The road then becomes Route 2 as you motor along Fletcher's Lake. You then reach Wellington Station, which marks the beginning of Grand Lake, the largest of the lakes in the area. Carrying on past Oakfield and Fish Lake, you then cross the 102 Highway again, as you arrive in Enfield, NS... home of the famous Irving Big Stop Truck Stop. The Big Stop's diner offers up your basic trucker's fare: wholesome meals with large portions, good coffee and best of all, mile-high lemon meringue pie! It is worth the ride out simply for their pies.
This was the place I took my wife, when we shared our first motorcycle ride together. We stopped for a slice of pie, a coffee and a little reminiscing. It was every bit as good as I remembered, even if we had taken an SUV to get there. We drove back to New Glasgow and enjoyed the following Monday just relaxing. Monday evening, we packed the vehicle as much as we could, so that all that would remain would be our overnight gear. Tuesday morning dawned bright and clear. We bade our hosts a fond farewell and thanked them effusively for their most generous hospitality.
I found myself missing Nova Scotia, even as we sailed over the border at Amherst. In my mind, I found playing that familiar old refrain of "Farewell to Nova Scotia":
The sun was setting in the west
The birds were singing on every tree
All nature seemed inclined for to rest
But still there was no rest for me.
Farewell to Nova Scotia, you sea-bound coast
Let your mountains dark and dreary be
For when I am far away on the briny ocean tossed
Will you ever heave a sigh and a wish for me?
I grieve to leave my native land
I grieve to leave my comrades all
And my parents whom I held so dear
And the bonnie, bonnie lassie that I do adore.
The drums they do beat and the wars to alarm
The captain calls, we must obey
So farewell, farewell to Nova Scotia's charms
For it's early in the morning I am far, far away.
I have three brothers and they are at rest
Their arms are folded on their breast
But a poor simple sailor just like me
Must be tossed and driven on the dark blue sea.