Much ado about puffins

I know, right? You’re all thinking, “Damn, girl, just skip the talk and show pics.” Well, cool your jets. Plenty of almost good pics to come.

So there are two puffin tour outfitters on Cape Breton (that I’m aware of). I opted for the one that has a little puffin wearing a captain’s hat on the logo a few years ago. I honestly pulled up and was ushered onto the boat. My timing could not have been better. And so I returned.

Bird Island Boat Tours is a third-generation family business. Captain Vince (second generation) is no joke. I’m fascinated by him. Direct, a little gruff, but clearly passionate. I looked forward to seeing him on this return visit.

So if you go to CB, drive out to Big Bras d’Or and take this tour. Stay in their cabins or camp on their land. These people are great.

Okay, okay. Puffins. Last time I did this, I had a point and shoot. And then I think I blogged using stock photos because I had no idea that puffins are tiny, fast and wily. My puffin pictures looked like pepper sprinkled onto a paper plate. As Kirk was packing up, I told him not to bring anything but the telephoto lens. I don’t think he fully believed me. He does now. And I’m entirely proud of the blurry photos I’m about to show you because they aren’t horrible. It’s that simple.

Exhibit A

^telephoto is necessary

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Getting an action shot is impossible with my gear. Kirk has fancy equipment, and would hold his finger on the shutter button and move his camera through the air, sounding like he was fighting the Luftwaffe–tat tat tat tat tat tat tat tat tat tat tat. He calls it the “spray and pray.” His pictures are great. I got fuzzy, awkward stuff like this.

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Ah well.

I remember the first time on this tour being the pivotal moment when I began to think eagles are assholes. While Captain Vince has never seen an eagle eating a puffin or attacking a puffin, they’re there. Waiting. And eating other stuff.

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There are seals and herons and other birds on the island.

But let’s be real. It’s about the little guys.

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And I’m pretty sure I’ll get back some day to do a third tour.

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Send nuds!

Today, we drove down out of the mountains, over to the eastern side of Cape Breton. We saw local art on the way.

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I appreciate that 1) he left a phone number, 2) he doesn’t know how to spell “nudes,” and 3) he went back and tucked the “e” in there. I’m sure his phone is blowing up wherever he is.

There’s also an intersection outside Sydney with a lot of licking.

Tucked over in the northeast corner of Cape Breton is Fortress Louisbourg. In all the times I’ve come up to NS, I just haven’t had the energy to make the trek there. Luckily, that was tops on Kirk’s list of things to do. Because I’m lazy about my camera on this trip, I’m using the phone, and it just doesn’t do justice. I’m all sad face as I go through my pictures today. Moise, roll the tape…

It was fun. The staff are incredibly knowledgeable and kind. It’s worth the long drive. Also, they were giving out free samples of their Fortress rum, which will grow hair on your chest. Yum!

You didn’t doubt that I would find sheep, did you?

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One thing I have really enjoyed is watching Kirk take pictures of families struggling to get a selfie with several people in it. He’s a pro with the camera, and it’s just a sweet gesture. Warms the cockles.

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What are they posing in front of, do you ask? Perhaps it’s the world’s largest fiddle…

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Cheers!

 

Not a cairn in the world…

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2017 is Canada’s 150th birthday. And today is my fortysomethingth birthday. Happy birthday to us both.

To celebrate this nation’s birthday, all of Canada’s national parks are allowing free admittance. So all y’all get yer damn passports updated and come up here and check out the parks for free and pump your money into the economy.

Cape Breton Highlands National Park is one of the prettiest drives one can experience. But first: face cutouts!

 

Is he a good sport or what?

About seven minutes into the park, we stopped at a lookoff and an eagle flew by. Not too shabby.

My primary goal for this trip to Cape Breton was to hike the Skyline Trail. And it was awesome. It’s an easy hike–almost five miles of clear trail, though the return trip is mostly uphill. The views are every bit as good as they appear in every brochure you will ever see about Cape Breton. And there are a lot of other people around. The ranger said somewhere between 500-700 people per DAY do that trail. It didn’t feel like that many, so that bus must have pulled up after we left.

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It’s hard to capture the wild beauty of the park. It just falls short in pictures. But it’s magnificent–mountains on all sides, the smell of pine and beach roses as you drive, and the ocean by your side as you roll up and down the Cabot Trail.

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Yup, we’re dorks. But we’re happy dorks.

Off the beaten path, at the tip top of the province, is Meat Cove, a campground that is beyond compare. I camped here when I visited before, so I’ve already gushed about it. And if you’re friends with me on facebook, you probably see the Meat Cove Chowder Hut pop up with “Kelly likes this” on the banner above it. I know this because a friend recently asked me what the hell this chowder hut was all about. Anyway, it’s a fun ride in and an extraordinary view. Mountain top poutine? Why yes!

EXCEPT that on the long drive in, I felt something very painful on my inner thigh. I looked down and saw a bee in my lap. I haven’t been stung in years. And it hurt like hell. I made Kirk stop on the side of a dirt road in the middle of nowhere so I could jump out and inspect the damage. So there I am, on my birthday, getting stung near my unmentionables, and dropping trou on the side of the road for everyone to see. It’s more than seven hours later, and it still hurts. So by the time I got to Meat Cove, I had earned a beer.

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The rest of the afternoon went by quickly, driving through the rest of the park (approximately two hours’ drive without stopping) and singing along to a 90s mix Kirk made me. Why it took him four days to pull that out of hiding, I don’t know. But it’s good stuff. And now we’re bedding down at a B&B in Wreck Cove, Nova Scotia. Here’s a map in case you’re playing along.

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And now time for well-earned sleep. Night.

 

That time we crashed the town party

So, hey, we’re in Cape Breton! It’s been a few years since I’ve done this, and I’m so happy to be experiencing it all again. I might be scaring Kirk with enthusiasm. We’ve heard fiddles, it being the Ceilidh Trail after all, and we’ve bought the obligatory CD or three of local music. And I found my way back to a sweet little beach I happened upon by accident the last time. On one side is rolling farm land. The other side looks like Ireland, with houses plunked down on a hillside. The water is warm and clear, and I watched a crab skitter by. Then we plunked our asses on camp chairs in the water and sat back. Pure bliss.

We’re staying at a great German B&B with a huge galloping cat named Mister in Port Hood tonight. There isn’t much happening here, except when the enormous bike blew through town with all kinds of people on it and everyone raised a ruckus over it.

I have no idea what that was about. Neither did the proprietor.

Up the road, in Mabou, we went to dinner at the famous Red Shoe Pub. I had a local oatmeal stout that paired nicely with a sticky date pudding that I’ve been dreaming about since my last visit.

Kirk has taken to saying, “What next, boss?” I think it’s supposed to be partially endearing. But we all know that sarcasm is honesty said slant. And fine, I’m happy to be the boss.

So I directed him down a side road toward a lighthouse on the map. After winding a few miles outside of downtown, we thought we’d be all alone by the water. Nope. The pier was hopping! People everywhere greeting each other and loading coolers onto boats. The lighthouse was not the main attraction. Kirk asked what was going on, and one of the good people of Mabou told us it was a boat parade to celebrate the town. Kind of like Old Home Days back in New England. Cool! So we went back to town and took up with the locals to wait for the boats to come in.

Mabou is a town of about 1,200. So I have no doubt everyone knows each other. And then there were the two dummies from New Hampshire, sitting in camp chairs, clapping along to the live music and taking it all in. And it was great. Because for all the b.s. that comes with a small town, there’s also a lot of heart. And I was glad to observe it as an outsider. People hugging and welcoming each other home. Obvious matriarchs holding court and keeping an eye on everyone. Older men with white socks pulled way up cooking hot dogs by the bandstand. Young cousins hugging and giggling and straying from their parents. The local band playing slow tunes. Teenagers fixing their hair and walking in groups and clearly not feeing confident yet. And babies being passed from one set of arms to another across the whole park. Thank you, Mabou, for letting us be part of your town tonight.

My pictures don’t do it justice, but it’s day three and I’ve given up on lugging my big camera, so you’re just getting phone shots.

And now, as I type and Kirk saws wood, I am watching the thunderstorms roll in and thinking about how early I agreed to get up tomorrow. Because for all the resting by the water we did today, tomorrow is a lot of road and hiking. So move through, storms. Move through.

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Feeling sheepish about long driveways

Duh–Kirk told me late today that my last blog post should have been called “Poutine on the Ritz.” I apologize for this gross oversight in pun possibilities and promise to try harder.

Onward.

Perhaps my favorite thing about this trip so far is the fact that I’m with someone who can take pictures of me in face cutouts. And vice versa. All the pics of me are on his camera, so he’ll have to start his own blog.

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Kirk’s favorite thing about this trip so far are these chips.

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They come up more often in conversation than any chip has a right to do. Except for the limited edition Lay’s tikka masala chips last year. Now those…sigh…I still dream of them.

Another thing I’m enjoying is the social experiment happening on the fronts of dumpsters around here.

Rock on, you buncha hippies, you.

Those pictures were taken in Tatamagouche. And just outside the Tatamagouche Brewery, there was a food truck featuring this delightful sandwich.

And yes, of course I ate it, silly goose.

Along the way, we stopped at the Balmoral Grist Mill. It’s a sweet little place in the woods with some great local ladies on hand to explain the operation in full detail.

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Okay, so I’ve complained before about getting weirded out by small business in NS. You see a sign for, say, a quilt shop. You pull in and realize you’re a quarter-mile up someone’s personal driveway and there’s no obvious store. But now you’re committed and find yourself trying to figure out whether you are supposed to enter the house or what. It stresses me out. And so it was when Kirk entered the long driveway at Lismore Sheep Farm in Pictou. Nova Scotia small business PTSD kicked in and I started saying, “No! Don’t go in! You won’t know where to enter and it gets weird and I can’t handle it and…” Kirk pretty much told me to numb my nuts. And I’m glad because…

(1) Face cutouts!

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(2) SHEEPIES!

(3) Border collie puppies!

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SHUT UP! Best. Road trip stop. Ever. Thank you, Kirk, for making that happen.

And up the road from there: a lavender farm. I’m not the biggest fan of lavender, but only a person with no soul would not be moved by a beautiful field of purple, the hum of happy bees, and the calming scent of beautiful flowers growing across the street from open, expansive water.

Past that, we saw a sign for a “picnic park.” We considered it for a minute, turned around, and went back to check it out. Yeah, this is Nova Scotia’s take on a picnic park.

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You should see the beaches.

The Northumberland Strait water is surprisingly warm, and it was great to walk into the water and not feel the quick numbing effect the northern Atlantic creates in New England. That and the green heads biting me with master precision hot sun, the sand between my toes, and the view of PEI in the distance. I’m 100% in my happy place.

And all of that driving led us to New Glasgow for the night. Just a highway stop, but the town is tiny and cute, and The Dock is a great Irish pub (in a Scottish town?).

It’s been a good day of random stops along an unplanned route, landing at a sweet hotel room without a reservation. For perspective, the ovals show where we started and where we ended up. Tomorrow: Cape Breton and rain…

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Puttin’ on the Ritz

This morning, I stirred ever so slightly at 3:59. And that caused Kirk to open his eyes, roll over, look at the time on his phone, hop out of bed, hop into the shower, hop out of the shower, come back to the bed, lift the sheet, look into my cranky eyes, and say, “We leave at 5!”

This was the start of my vacation.

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But it was the right thing to do, going to Canada after all. And hey, look at me–I’m finally taking someone to Canada with me. Someone actually wants to go. It’s pretty awesome.

First stop: Dysart’s in Bangor, done and dusted.

 

And who the hell is the chipper guy with the star-shaped tater tots?

Back on the road, Kirk was flipping through stations on the XM Radio when he landed on this:

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Really? Okay, whatever. But when it came time for the chorus, we both barked out, “Puuutten on da riiiitsss” a la Young Frankenstein. Then we looked at each other and laughed for about three miles. We’re idiots who deserve each other.

Second stop: Border crossing. No pictures because no one is allowed to have a sense of humor at the border. Also, apparently Kirk is a shady-looking guy. In all the times I’ve crossed the border, never have I been asked to come out of the line and park to the side for the vehicle to be searched. Until now.

Third stop: World’s largest ax

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Hello, old friend. I don’t think it gets more Canadian than that. Well, maybe if a guy ice skated by holding a Molson and wearing a Habs jersey and apologized for something he didn’t do and ended with “eh?” That would cover all bases.

Fourth stop: King’s Landing. Sadly, it was hot as hell, so our mojo was low. But I’ve blogged this before, so I’ll just condense it into a collage

Fifth stop: Fredericton!

But first I had to let this guy rest while I did some research.

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The capital of New Brunswick is small, but trying hard. If you can get past the strip malls, the downtown is full of pubs and surrounded by walking trails. To his credit, Kirk rallied, and we had a nice dinner by the river, then a decent walk. Just outside the downtown, the trail goes over an old rail bed across the St. John. On a hot night, the breeze on the river was welcome. Spiders that I categorize as too big to kill, which were busy working everywhere, not so welcome.

Not a bad first day of adventure. Tomorrow, we hit the mother land. Nova Scotia, get ready.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why I’ll be sitting on a pillow this week

Day two in Burlington was rainy. Kirk was at his conference, and I was left to my own devices. I was ready for an adventure, but all I have to show for the day is some inadequate pictures of the islands up north and the (world’s?) tallest filing cabinet:

Luckily, Saturday was beautiful. Finally felt like summer (though I’m not a fan of the heat, so mixed feelings on that). Kirk agreed to do the one thing I had my heart set on: bike the Island Line Trail. We rented bikes from Local Motion, right at mile 2 on the path downtown and set out to do the 14-mile trek along Burlington’s waterfront, out into Champlain, and up to South Hero Island.

It was an incredible experience (though I won’t lie–there are LOTS of people on the path). The views of the lake and the Adirondacks are fantastic. There are plenty of stopping points along the way to rest, enjoy the view, and collect yourself. In Colchester, we stopped at a smoothie stand next to a little league baseball game tied at 11-11.

But the crème de la crème of the path is the Colchester Causeway. The old rail trail heads right out into Lake Champlain. For three or so miles, water surrounds both sides of the path. The Adirondacks loom high on one side, and Mt Mansfield and Camel’s Hump on the other.

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Yeah, yeah, don’t mind the weird fractional people in the pano. I wanted to make the point of how awesome the path is. And here is an aerial shot from the Colchester town website:

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At the very end of the trail is a ferry to take you the last 200′ to the beginning of the islands. We sat at the edge of the gap, talked to other riders, and enjoyed the view, but decided we had gone far enough. Because I don’t know who designed modern bike seats, but they absolutely did not have my ass in mind. And after 22 miles, my ass will be hurting for days to come.