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The G.U.N.S.E – Wrappin’ it Up

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Aboard the mv Leif Ericson, returning the Expedition from Port-aux Basques, Rhodefoundland to North Sydney, Rhode Scotia, we went through the now familiar bike tie down routine…

…checked into our spacious, bunk bed lined cabin…

…then saluted what really was the ‘Best Day Ever’ with the traditional toast.

Sitting in the lounge waiting for the ferry to leave, we heard a page. “Would the rider of the Harley Davidson with Rhode Island plates please return to your vehicle?”

Uh oh.

Unleaded jumped up and took off running, with Dark Meat Snack close in tow. Sleeping Beauty asked me if I was going to go too.

“Naah. Whatever happened, I don’t want to see it. I don’t want to know. They’ll handle it.” I sounded calm, but the pit in my stomach grew.

While they were gone, I imagined the worst – that somehow Stormbringer fell into the ocean, or got crushed by a bus. They came back smiling, so I was instantly relieved.

“What happened?”

“The deck hand didn’t like the way I tied the bike down, because the tie down hooks were touching the chrome. He gave me some rope and helped me secure it better so the bike wouldn’t get scratched.”

We toasted the cautious and courteous deckhand, then retired to our bunks for some rest.

Morning came too early, as morning always seems to. Bleary eyed, we went through the now familiar bike untying routine, rolled down another wet and slippery deck back out into the cold fog. Wasn’t this supposed to be summer?

Stopping for breakfast at a donut shop, who else but a policeman rolls up. “Hello. Just checking out the bikes and the riders, seeing who’s riding what.”

After chatting for a while, Keith Buddha-ed the officer. He covered his face, afraid to show up on Facebook.

This response was typical of everyone in Canada. Nobody refused to take a Buddha picture, but nearly every single one would say something like, “This isn’t going to be on Facebook, is it? I don’t want that.”

Keith told him, “Don’t worry. Facebook doesn’t steal your soul. What is the big deal with it, anyway?”

“Well,” he replied, “a lot of times we’ll pick up a drunk and give them a ride home, rather than arresting then and filling the jail with a bunch of drunks. There’s really no sense in that. But lately, those drunks will take out their cell phones, snap a picture of themselves in a police car, then put it of Facebook. If the Captain sees our picture there, he yells at us for not arresting the drunks. It’s bad.”

Cops that bring drunks home? Kudos to you, sir. I could definitely live here. The officer left us with some great tips about riding the Cabot Trail.

The Cabot Trail is supposed to be one of the top motorcycling destinations in the world, and as a reward for hammering yesterday, we planned to take a leisurely ramble through this marvel of scenery and engineering. But, as she always does, Mother Nature ruined those plans. Fog. More cold and damp fog covered everything, making riding an exercise in blind faith, since the road ahead could barely be seen.

We stopped again at a little convenience store to dry off and warm up a bit.

At the stop, Keith Buddha-ed a girl bicyclist that was Gnoming people. This girl was interesting for two reasons. First, she was doing the gnome thing, but secondly, and more interestingly, she had a half full bottle of wine in her water bottle holder. I’m sure she was enjoying her own personal ‘Best Day Ever.’ You just never know who you’ll meet on the road.

Her resolve broken by ours, Mother Nature relented, the fog lifted like a curtain rising, and suddenly we had the best weather we’d had since Maine, which seemed like a year ago.

I decided to take one of my famous detours to see something long, hard and cylindrical sticking up out of the ground.

Things don’t always work out like they should, much to Dark Meat Snack’s delight. On the wrong bikes for the muddy trail to the lighthouse, we decided on the spur of the moment to take a whale watch boat tour, signs for which we’d been passing for miles.

We arrived at three, the next tour didn’t leave until four, so we competed in the first ever ‘Cabot Trail Ocean Stickball’ competition. Just like elementary school, I wasn’t allowed to play for fear that I’d hurt myself.

After that game, people drifted off to enjoy a few minutes of solitude. I thought it was amazing that eight days in we hadn’t had any major or even minor meltdowns, and that the bikes held up so well.

Finally 4 PM arrived, but before we could go out on the small rubber Zodiac fast boat, we had to suit up in the latest fashion craze, a snazzy red Gore Tex with a comfy, snug and well worn wetsuit underneath.

This guy’s job is to go out in a really fast boat and chase down whales. Great work if you can find it.

And, he was very good at his job. On our hour long tour we saw countless minke whales, two seventy ton fin whales spouting twenty feet in the air, and a pod (school? gaggle? mess?) of white-beaked dolphins.

Cheticamp would be our home for this, the penultimate – say it with me now – ‘Best Day Ever!’

The next installment of the Great Unsponsored Nova Scotia Expedition can be found here.

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The G.U.N.S.E. – Deeper and Deeper

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Four days in, it felt as though the Expedition would stretch on forever. Not one, but two ferries were on today’s ‘make-it-up-as-we-go’ plan.

Just like Abi and I found in Scotland earlier this year, Canada has Secret Cloud Factories too. And just like in Scotland, the Canadian Cloud Factory had been working overtime to make the skies dark, damp, and threatening.

Scottish Cloud Factory

Canadian Cloud Factory

Undaunted by this cold, wet, awful weather, once again everyone geared up to face the cold, wet, morning awfulness, then sped across the Prince’s still unclaimed island for the ferry to Nova Scotia.

Just outside the mv Confederation ferry terminal, I spotted another photographic gem, and quickly diverted, no doubt thrilling Abi, who’d no doubt seen it too. The Wood Island lighthouse, billed in a secret code as ‘La Pointe La Plus Au Sud De L’ Î-P-É’ which, after some careful deduction we cracked to mean ‘Southernmost Tip of PEI’, made me, Keith and Fiona smile and Abi sit there and sulk.

We rode up our first ferry ramp of the Expedition, and secured the bikes to the deck.

Keith and Abi switched themselves off to conserve their batteries, while Fiona and I went exploring.

As we approached Nova Scotia, we saw a beacon welcoming us to this new land. I’m sure Abi was sorry to have slept through that greeting.

A quick 75 minutes later, the Great Nova Scotia Expedition had finally made it to Nova Scotia! Much celebration ensued, and minutes after leaving the ferry, I claimed Nova Scotia for the good people of the Kingdom of Rhode Island. Rhode Scotia joins Rhode Scotland on the ever-growing list of territories I’ve claimed for the Kingdom.

(As has been pointed out to me by some of my less geographically challenged friends, Nova Scotia is technically not an island. But then again, the Kingdom of Rhode Island isn’t either, so it’s a wash in my book.)

From the looks of things, Rhode Scotians heralded my arrival by naming many places after me:

We couldn’t afford to waste too much time celebrating, as the North Sydney ferry terminal lay over 200 miles to our east. As this point, four days in, I was a little disappointed in the roads and scenery, which reminded me of Connecticut. Of course the temperature in Connecticut was much warmer, and not raining, but that’s just because Mother Nature has it in for me. I also didn’t like the pace – Rush! Rush! Rush! – but that was inevitable, because in only ten days, in addition to seeing Nova Scotia, we were trying to jam in an 800 mile round trip iceberg-viewing excursion to Newfoundland.

So hustle we did, and we made it to our next Love Boat ride with plenty of time to spare. While strapping the bikes to the mv Caribou ferry deck, we met brothers Robert on a BMW RT touring bike and Steve on his brand new Buell Lightning. Steve accompanied his brother Robert to Toronto to buy the BMW, and ended up impulse buying himself the Buell. They were going to ride from Port-aux-Basques all the way to Saint Johns, at least a ten hour trip! The smile on Steve’s face told me that he didn’t care at all that the weather was forecast to be colder and wetter still..

Our cabin on the ferry was cramped but cozy, and after toasting the addition of Rhode Scotia to the Kingdom as the ‘Best Day Ever’, we set our alarms for waaay too early the next morning, when a new adventure would begin on the shores of Newfoundland.

The next installment of the Great Unsponsored Nova Scotia Expedition can be found here.

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The G.U.N.S.E. – Over the Border

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The next morning, my own personal adventure continued. My reasoning was sound, or at least seemed to be the night before. Crossing the border with a bottle of delicious Macallan would most likely result in a Canadian Border Guard taking it away, then toasting us from his home with our bottle. So I did what any civic minded American would do, I denied the Canadians the opportunity to drink my booze by finishing it all myself. Told you I am full of great ideas.

Hangover or not, the sun was up, and it was time to face the pain and drag my sorry carcass (and poor Abi) on one of my favorite side trips, to a lighthouse, in this case the West Quoddy Lighthouse.

Abi and Keith made the best of my forced field trip by competing to be ‘Easternmost Goofball in the United States’, the first of what would be many improvised competitions.

In the parking lot, we met a nice couple on a Harley. “We’ve lived an hour away from this place for thirty years. This is the first time we’ve been here.” After the usual sniffing around and story swapping motorcyclists tend to do, they left us with a warning that would be become a refrain echoed by nearly everyone we met. “Watch out for moose!”

Nevermind moose, my head was still pounding, so we headed off in search of breakfast. Thank God for Darleen and Tina at the Cobscook Bay Cafe. These two angels whipped up the biggest and best breakfast ever for us, all with honest to God down home sincerity.

Fiona just may have a little competition….

At some point in our ride, we crossed a really cool bridge. I don’t have anything exciting to say about it, I just needed an excuse to post the really cool pictures Fiona took of the really cool bridge.

Then it was time to trade in the comfort of the land I love, and take the Great Nova Scotia Expedition into the unknown wilds of the Great White North.

Border crossings always make me nervous, because you never know what kind of mood the guards will be in. Who knows, there *may* even be a body cavity search quota they need to fill. If there is such a thing, I’d hate to be the one crossing if the CQR (cavity quota report) happens to be due that day. Plus, with this group; Keith, the foulmouthed Sergeant in the US Air Force, Abi, who, he’s the first to admit, looks vaguely terroristic most days and usually gets questioned for it, and me, smelling, no, make the REEKING like one of the casks they make the Macallan in; the only one I wasn’t worried about getting across was Fiona, who is as pure as the driven snow (she is reading this too you know…)

Who gets hassled? Fiona of course. Since she’d never been to Canada before, we had to go into the immigrations office so they could decide if she was worthy of entry. They can be real strict about it too, when my friend Dan crossed into Canada on our way to Alaska a few years ago, the Immigration officer said, “Seems like you had some fun about twenty years ago. You have a DUI.” They were going to deny us entry because of A TWENTY YEAR OLD DUI!!! They finally let him in, but it took a while, and at one point they wanted Dan to purchase a $400 ‘pardon from the Queen.’

Unlike Dan, Fiona is only pure as the driven snow because she had her lengthy and heinous criminal record purged from the system long ago. Ha Ha! Take THAT, Canada! Trust me, ‘Pure As Driven Snow’ status cost more than the $400 the Queen wanted!

Canada was exactly the same as the US, except the mile per hour signs were now Kilo-mile per hour, which is different. I forgot this at first, and congratulated the Canadian government for allowing people to drive at 110 MPH.

Following our loosely defined itinerary, we debated where to go, that night. The Tidal Bore of St John was a hard sell to the group, mostly because of the name. If it was called the Tidal Thrill, it might have had a better shot. After some discussion, and some rejection, we decided, using the most scientific method available (covering my eyes and pointing at the map) on Prince Edward Island. The Canadian highways were exactly the same as the American ones, except there were more trees, fewer billboards, and it seems that Canadians have a strange tendency to not shoot their highway signs full of holes.

How sad for the Canadians.

My arch nemesis, Mother Nature, had a surprise of her own in store for us. The temperature, conveniently measured in a Canadian code called Celsius, started dropping. In less than an hour it went from a balmy 75 degrees Fahrenheit to about 10 degrees Celsius. (For all you scientists out there, the formula to convert temperatures is Tf = (9/5)*Tc+32; where Tc = temperature in degrees Celsius, and Tf = temperature in degrees Fahrenheit – me, I’m an audio guy that works for the WWE, that stuff is way above my pay grade. All I know is it was warm, but got really cold really fast.)

We pulled into a gas station to fill up and gear up for the changing conditions.

Canadian gas stations are exactly like American gas stations, except the price for gas is MUCH lower, or so I thought. Most pumps read 1.40 for the cheap stuff (which Rain Cloud Follows favors, though not by choice). Canada is the land of the plenty! It took me a while to grasp that the price was PER LITER, and there are A LOT of liters in a gallon. (Scientists, the formula goes something like this: U.S. gallons x 3.785 = liters) which means we were actually paying a PILE OF CASH for fuel. (Formula for translating cost in Canada is: Price in Canada = Price in America squared)

Fully geared up, the Expedition plunged deeper into the forbidding wilderness, aiming for the unsuspecting island owned by Prince Edward.

Five Kilo-hours later, we made it to the impressive Confederation Bridge, a 12.9 kilometer (you do the math) span that crosses the Northumberland Straight, linking New Brunswick to Prince Edward Island. Just before leaving New Brunswick for the shores of PEI, a goodbye sign warned again of dangerous moose, but this time of gigantic, mutant ones that roam only at night.

The harsh winds pushed our motorcycles around like horseflies in a hurricane, but somehow we managed to keep ourselves out of the water, and arrived to claim the first island of the Expedition for the Kingdom of Rhode Island.

The Prince was no fool, however, locating his ‘Welcome to…” sign behind a fence in the middle of a highway. I had no hope of claiming his island for my Kingdom of Rhode Island. Damn you Prince Edward!!

But I did have other hopes, namely finding a place to sleep that would rival our first night’s accommodations. Another dirt road led to another diamond in the rough, a two bedroom oceanfront cabin for the unbelievably low price of $85 a night. The owner hadn’t even finished telling me the price before I accepted it with a huge grin. “Darn, I guess I should’ve said $100.”

I was thinking more like $200, but a deal is a deal, and, as Mom always said, “A dumbass is always to be taken advantage of!”

We did our traditional ‘Best Day Ever’ toast – albeit with cheaper whisky bought in Canada. Day Three flowed to an end as we watched the sun set on the Confederation Bridge, and smoked fine cigars by the fire as the ocean lulled us to a state of complete relaxation.

So far, it really was the Best Day Ever, but even better was ahead.

The next installment of the Great Unsponsored Nova Scotia Expedition can be found here.

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The G.U.N.S.E – On the Road

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After a little too much study of the subtle art of Scottish relaxation techniques the night before, Day Two started out a bit hazy for me. I’ve always said that a true adventure begins with a hangover, and I wanted this Expedition to be the truest, most realist, and bestest adventure yet.

I was off to a good start.

We stopped for breakfast in a little town, and Fiona, the Expedition’s unofficial photographer, ran across the street to snap a quick picture. Amazingly, what little traffic there was actually stopped and waited so she could take the shot. This was our first real indication that we were in unfamiliar territory. At home, drivers would’ve gotten in the way then stopped to ruin the picture by flipping off the camera. Hmm… what is this strange new place we’ve discovered?

Our waitress wasn’t that surprised the cars stopped. “That’s the Maine way. Things here are probably a bit slower than you are used to.” She wasn’t kidding, after ordering, breakfast took a half hour to arrive.

After breakfast, we rode north some more. As we rolled past antique shop after antique shop, I couldn’t help but wonder how all these places, hundreds, no, make that thousands of them, stay in business. It’s not as if they’re making new antiques, so the supply has to run out eventually. And, is there really such a high demand for antiques anyway? Keith put it best, “Yeah, that’s exactly what I want in my house. A bunch of old crap that is outdated, unused and dangerous.” After a pleasant jaunt up Cadillac Mountain and through Acadia National Park, it was lunchtime (Thus far on our Expedition, we may not have found the greatest roads, but we certainly didn’t go hungry.) For lunch we decided to sample Maine’s state bird, the lobstah. A small place simply called ‘Lobsters’ won our business with their no-nonsense name.

Thank you Dave for your contribution to the Expedition. We appreciated it much more than the lobsters did!

Besides stuffing our faces and making our pants tighter, our Expedition had a few mandates. First was visiting Lubec, Maine for a picture in the Easternmost Town in the Continental United States, satisfying part two of the Four Corners Mandate. Not many people put visiting Lubec on their agenda, as evidenced by the tiny town’s nearly complete indifference to being the easternmost point in the US.

Last fall, Fiona, Abi and I rode to Key West, a place extremely proud of being the southernmost point in the US. Every business in Key West is the ‘Southernmost’ whatever it is, from hotel to liquor store. Not one place in Lubec advertised its geographical superiority over other, less easterly businesses.

After our picture at the sign, and few more quick snapshots in town, Lubec was officially added to my list of ‘Places to Never Visit Again.’ Even still, the visit was a success. All that’s left for the Four Corners Mandate to be complete is visiting Northwest Angle, Minnesota for the northernmost point, and Ozette, Washington for the westernmost, and another silly collection of meaningless pictures will be complete.

Day Two nearly ended in disaster as Keith, trying too hard to make the turn into the motel, learned the natural resting position of a motorcycle is on its side. Nothing more than his pride was hurt, though I was kind of pissed off. Not because he dropped Stormbringer, I mean, I like the bike and all, but it’s just a hunk of metal, certainly not worth getting mad about. I was pissed because NOBODY GOT A PICTURE OF IT!!

Once that little drama played itself out, Day Two ended once again with a ‘Best Day Ever’ toast, this time in front of the easternmost motel with vacant rooms, a nice, unsterilized, un-vacuumed, generic motel outside Lubec.

The next day, I had a nasty surprise planned for Abi, an avowed lighthouse hater.

The next installment of the Great Unsponsored Nova Scotia Expedition can be found here.

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The G.U.N.S.E. – Departure

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After months of waiting, planning and more waiting, the countdown clocks all reached zero, and June 10th, the official Expedition kickoff day, finally arrived. Everybody flew from their respective homes and assembled in the Kingdom of Rhode Island, and the Expedition was finally underway. Mother Nature, whose hatred of motorcycles inspired me to name Stormbringer and Rain Cloud Follows, was once again showing her contempt for the Expedition. Bright blue skies and warm sunshine mocked me as I loaded my gear up for the ten day ride, as if to say, “ Wouldn’t weather this nice be lovely for your whole trip? Too bad for you!”

With a very ambitious plan, a lot of ground to cover, and only ten days available, the Expedition was forced to start off on the highway. Highways are useful for one thing, getting from place A to place B as quickly and scenery free as possible. Boring, but necessary. We slogged our way north on Route 95. The most interesting thing to happen on that first day was lunch.

Finally in Maine, we turned off the superslab for coastal Route One. We meandered through some of Vacationland’s more picturesque scenery. In Rockport, we started looking for a place to stay for our first night of the Expedition. I passed up motel after motel, looking for that perfect spot. Finally, I saw the sign I was looking for, ‘Oakland Seashore Motel and Cabins’ and turned down the dirt path to see what we’d found.

What we’d found at the end of the dirt road was described by the girl at the front desk as a ‘Diamond in the Rough.’

The cabins

The View

This little diamond in the rough, a bargain at $100 a night, really raised the bar for the rest of the trip. After looking around a while, Abi commented, “This place sucks. I hope I don’t have to hear that noise (the ocean waves crashing on the rocks) all night.” I took that to mean he was happy with our first night’s find.

When traveling on my own itinerary, I try hard to not stay in chain hotels, or eat in chain restaurants. Working for the WWE, we spend approximately 120 nights a year in a Hyatt, Marriot or other sterile, soulless, vacuum-packed mega-chain. So, for a change, I look for little, soulful Mom and Pop places where I can park right out front and carry all my girlfriend’s many bags right in the front door, no parking garages, valets, stairs or elevators involved. That, or an incredible cliffside cabin overlooking the ocean will do in a pinch.

The first night of the Expedition ended with our traditional toast, a shot of The Macallan raised to the ‘Best Day Ever!’

The next installment of the Great Unsponsored Nova Scotia Expedition can be found here.

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