Friday, October 14, 2016

Meat Cove, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.

A generous handful of experiences during our recently completed 49-day road trip stand out, and camping at Meat Cove at the tip of Cape Breton Island is one of them. 
Best campsite ever, although the small campground filled as the day went on. No matter. Absolutely gorgeous.
September 14, 15, 2016
We'd heard about Meat Cove long before we got to it. By many accounts, getting there seemed edgy; access is via a six-mile narrow, winding gravel road with sheer cliffs to the sea. Some reports said a 4WD was recommended. We gave ourselves permission to turn around if the potholes were too deep or if the road flirted too intimately with the cliffs.

No problem. The road was wide enough for two-way traffic and appeared to have been graded recently. Steeper sections had been paved. If anything, the glorious views improved with every turn as we descended to sea level and into the odd little settlement named Meat Cove. Apparently it's a year-round collection of about 65 people making a living from fishing and tourism.

 Meat Cove from the access road. Small cabins are available as well as 26 campsites along the bluff. All very simple. 
No hook-ups. Suitable for Class B RVs and tents. Mostly tents. 

Could be the best place I've done yoga ever.  
A Nova Scotia newspaper article, Remote Meat Cove an escape from modern life,  got it right, although the same could be said about numerous villages and small settlements in Nova Scotia. Aside from Halifax and Sydney, cities we didn't visit, it appeared that much of the country offers a "remote escape." What's special about Meat Cove is its unique and spectacular location on the very tip of the island, and the funky resort and the people who own and operate it.

The McClellan family has lived and fished in Meat Cove for six generations, and proud of it. A young robust McClellan, who roared around on an ATV, showed us to a camping spot suitable for our van. PK handed him cash, but  he returned a bit, saying, Don't worry about it,  and waved us on. We think, that like most small business owners, he appreciated the cash to avoid the big dig credit card companies take with every transaction.  Everybody was friendly and resourceful. We noticed him helping another camper level his van with select pieces from the Meat Cove Campground's wood pile.

The seafood chowder was outstanding, topped by a small mussel in its shell. The restaurant/community center
displayed a world map with pins stuck wherever visitors came from. It looked like thousands of pins,
 but only a few from Oregon, USA. About 8,000 people visit Meat Cove annually, I was told. 
The picture up top makes it look like we had the place to ourselves, but one other van and several tent campers joined us.
We all  enjoyed wonderful views,  and for one day, at least, perfect weather. That changed!

The beach can be reached from a short rail from the campground. The ocean was behaving more like a lake than a sea. Little pied plovers were working the shoreline. We learned about them here in New Brunswick, another of our favorite places on this trip.
PK relaxes against a slab of fallen cliff, scanning the horizon for boats, whales, seabirds, and seals.  Ah, so peaceful.
A surprise arrived in the evening, however. It was a BIG WIND. Had it been accompanied by pelting rain, it may have had a name. The windstorm probably packed about 50 mph sustained wind with higher gusts, but perched totally unprotected near the cliff as we were, it seemed mighty. We didn't get much sleep as the van rocked and rolled all night. I braced for the worst and wondered if  the gusts were strong enough to tip us over. 

Turns out I was being wimpy. Compared to the tent campers, we'd had it easy. When dawn arrived, many had already left. I bundled up and headed for the flush toilet (marginal), wind pushing at my back. En route a young woman wrestled with her pop-up tent, which had rolled and bounced down the road from her campsite. It refused to be corralled. She was laughing! No way could she get the tent up the road to her vehicle alone. Together we carried it, leaning into the gusts. She opened her hatchback and we stuffed it in, pretty much on top of her rottweiler-type dog, before she slammed the door shut and laid back against it. 

Her dog was terrified all night, she said, still laughing. When sprinkles started, she let the dog into her tent, and her best friend walked all over her throughout the long night. Ha ha ha ha.

I loved her attitude - What else can I do but laugh? she said.  I felt ridiculous that despite having spent the night in a comfortable, dry, cushy van without a dog walking on my face, I still managed to feel put upon by the universe. Forgive me.
Dramatic sunrise and roiling water.
Angry sea punishing the beach we'd enjoyed the previous day.
Sweet little water station for Meat Cove campers. 
Due to the wind, we were unable to hike any of the 11 tantalizing trails out of Meat Cove the next morning. However, the Cape Breton Highlands National Park has more to offer, and we were soon on the road toward the Skyline Trail. Coming next.

Preview - on Cape Breton's Skyline Trail.

Meeting a time traveler on the road

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Meeting a time traveler on the road

We're home now after 49 days on the road! Whew. It was great, for the most part, and meeting people along the way added to the fun. I'll be revisiting some of our experiences in coming posts. Cape Breton next. 
Brian travels in a 1977 VW van, behind which tows his  homemade flying saucer trailer.  He wears a tie-dyed tee shirt and headband and is not at all apologetic about his retro hippie persona. In fact, he's proud, I think, to be hanging back there in a time of great rock music, newfound freedoms, and a belief that simple living could change the world. Dang I wish I still had my tie dye stuff and the orange and white pop-top VW van we had in the late 1970s, not unlike Brian's. And also Paul's wonderful glossy chestnut locks. And my bikini-ready body. Alas. 
October 8, 2016, day 46 on the road

We were in Green River State Park, Utah. We'd arrived  in late afternoon after a fabulous day hiking in Arches National Park and quickly scored a shaded site.

Dolphins are featured on Brian's VW van.
The white paint on the side represents waves, he says,
PK took a quick bike ride as I prepared our usual one-pot camp dinner (a recipe post some time soon)  but he soon returned to urge, " You've got to see this." He explained that he saw a man just down the campground lane who travels in an old VW van pulling what looks like a flying saucer.

This is big. Somebody PK thinks I need to meet!  I drop the onion and knife, turn off the propane burner, and head down the road with my camera and curiosity. The truth is, PK is intrigued by this person.

He knows I will jump right in with questions. A former journalist, I'm not at all afraid to approach almost anyone, and I know that most people love it when someone is interested in who they are. This man was no exception. (This woman WAS an exception.) 

I pretended to just be strolling past, did a double-take at his rig, and asked something like, 'Wow, how does that thing handle the hills?" Followed by, "Is your trailer a flying saucer?"

That got him going.  Here's what I learned in about 10 minutes as we walked and talked around his van and his life:

  • His van is decrepit - it goes about 40 mph uphill and 60 on the straight. Utah's freeway speed limit is 80. Yes. 80. Traffic today freaked him out, blowing by him in buffeting puffs.
  • His dog, George, is deaf and bites. It even bites him. That's why he can't take me inside his van, where George reigns, to show me features such as an  elephant trunk faucet. George goes nuts and lunges when Brian cracks the door. No problem. There's plenty to see outside.
  • Brian doesn't own a smart phone or use a GPS. He may be the only person who will be able to read maps and do arithmetic in his head when/if technology collapses. But not having GPS was a bit of a problem for him today as a truck carrying ammonium nitrate overturned on the freeway in Salt Lake City. We'd heard about the incident on NPR traveling out of Arches to Green River. Like hundreds of travelers, Brian had been diverted, but unlike most, he lacked a prescribed route. He got lost and spent hours trying to return to the freeway south of Salt Lake City. Still, he says, "If you have a cell phone, the government knows where you are all the time. That's crazy."
Maybe he has a point. 

Brian, a printer by trade,  made his"flying saucer" from sheet metal and drainage pipe. It carries firewood and dog food. Note the silver and blue jets welded onto the van's back corner.

The red fringed canopy was sewn by his wife, who died five years ago, Brian tells me. "You never get over it," he says. Tomorrow he's debating whether to visit Arches or Bryce Canyon, both near-by national parks. Arches is closer. With all the mountains and hills between Brian and a Ringo Starr concert in Seattle Oct. 18, he'll probably go with Arches. 

I begin to move toward our small but sweet Roadtrek/Sprinter van, whose shiny silver exterior matches its deluxe, in my view, interior. Two-burner stove, furnace, lights, tiny toilet/shower, microwave, big comfy retractible bed, cherry cabinets, and a diesel engine that goes 80 mph, no problem. 

"I need to get back," I say, "Even though our van is boring compared to yours."

"People say that all the time," he says, grinning. 

 I bet they do. But like me, they probably don't feel all that bad about their dull-by-comparison homes on wheels.