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Cycling The Acadian Way
Whoever thought that the last and final section of the Oh, Canada! Cycling Expedition, the Acadian Way, would be a breeze was completely misguided. The ‘breeze’ was, in fact, howling winds often accompanied by heavy rain! The weather didn’t plague the entire three-week section but the variability in conditions throughout the section was characteristic of the entire tour. Locals stated that it has been the wettest summer in years but that they have been waiting for rain after a long dry spell. Weather aside, the final few weeks were jam packed with beautiful scenery and rich Acadian history.
While the weather could be a challenge, in many ways it added to the total experience. Leaving Québec City and cycling around the Gaspé Peninsula in a mix of sun, cloud and rain gave us a taste for what this area of the coast could be like in really bad weather, or in the winter for that matter. Pedalling along the Gaspé Peninsula we rode along beautiful coastal roads through fishing villages dotted with precariously placed, brightly coloured houses consistent with the style of the area. I’m not entirely sure the reason for this, maybe to lighten the mood in the darker winter months? With some steep climbs and thrilling descents along the stunning coastal route the riders were all tested as we made our way to the town of Gaspé, passing by the Cap de Rosier’s lighthouse, the tallest in Canada. The town of Gaspé is where Jacques Cartier allegedly claimed the land for France in 1534. It would have been unfortunate to arrive back then and not have the luxury of sampling the local shrimp poutine that many of the Oh, Canada cyclists enjoyed!
Ever since leaving Québec City we had been seeing the Acadian Flag. Canadian flags are common, as are their Québec cousins but there is no doubt that, in Acadia, the Acadian flag rules. It was visible everywhere you looked and projected a strong message of pride in the local culture. After we crossed into the province of New Brunswick and arrived in the Acadian capital of Caraquet, a quick visit to the historic Acadian Village on the rest day provided the riders with many insights into the plight of the Acadian People. The Acadians were the first French settlers in the area and when the British took control, 14,000 Acadians were deported for not swearing allegiance to the English Queen. They were exiled to Louisiana, other parts of Canada and even back to Europe. Many never returned and it is remarkable how well the present day Acadians have maintained their culture. For the French speakers amongst us, the Acadian accent was very noticeable and it was interesting to observe the variations given the small distances between their communities.
Shortly after leaving Caraquet we encountered the Confederation Bridge, the longest in the world to cross over ice-covered waters, leading us onto Prince Edward Island. Unfortunately, cyclists aren’t allowed on the bridge so instead we enjoyed the spectacular views from a shuttle bus. We then rode the scenic Confederation Trail, a former railway line, passing through the heart of the island before spinning into the provincial capital of Charlottetown. This city is the birthplace of Confederation. As our guide described it on the walking tour of the city, it was where politicians from throughout the British North American colonies met in 1864 to get to know each other and to discuss the details of a possible country. Evidently they did more of the getting to know each other and consumed a fortune’s worth of imported champagne! However, from this first meeting, a group of British colonies became the Dominion of Canada in 1867. To celebrate the country’s 150th anniversary in true Prince Edward Island style, we enjoyed a delicious heritage meal of lobster at the waterfront!
A ferry ride to the next province of Nova Scotia had us all realizing that the end of the tour was just around the corner. And it was. There were just a few days riding around Cape Breton Island on the famous Cabot Trail and then a ferry to Newfoundland left to go. The Cabot Trail was named after John Cabot, an Italian sailing under the British Flag, who was the first European to sail these areas in 1497. His reports of plentiful cod influenced the arrival of fishing fleets from around the world for years to come. Cycling around the rugged Cape Breton coastline involved some significant climbs and amazing descents! When we reached the town of Cheticamp the weather deteriorated so badly overnight that we were forced to cancel the next day’s riding. Experiencing winds of over 80km/hr and heavy rain on exposed winding hilly roads would have been a disaster. With everyone grateful for an unexpected day off, we made it to Ingonish where we enjoyed a rest day before boarding the final ferry to Newfoundland.
The 16-hour ferry crossing from North Sydney to Argentia was thankfully smooth and we had our last opportunity of the trip to watch Robert jump up on stage and perform with the ship’s musicians. We then had two ‘nice’ days pedalling into St John’s in, you guessed it, rain and wind. The conditions eased briefly in order for us to get a few group photos at Historic Signal Hill. It seemed fitting to end the tour on the extreme coast of a continent in the rain and wind, just as we begun in Haida Gwaii, British Columbia over 3 months earlier! The start of this incredible journey now seems like a lifetime ago but we all agreed that the variation in scenery – mountains, seas, prairies, lakes and coastlines – meant that we really did experience the great country that is Canada, celebrating its 150th birthday in the best way possible!
1 Comment for "Cycling The Acadian Way"
Will’s descriptive writing immerses me back into cycyling the Acadian Way. Every time I play Harmonica now I grin thinking back in performing for my TDA Oh Canada pals. He is attention to detail in his stories and in his medi work are fabulous. I wish him the best.