Lessons Learned: Canadian Edition

My longest bike trip last year was my three day trip around Vermont. Last week’s Canada ride more than doubles that. As I said, I’m rather amazed things worked out as well as they did, especially considering how quickly I threw this trip together. There are also plenty of things I’ve learned as a result of this trip.

Plan routes manually

Though I had a general concept of how a Cabot Trail trip could work, I didn’t work out the details, where I’d spend each night, etc. until the day before I left. As a result, I didn’t do what I usually do and, rather than simply ask my GPS or Google or whatever to plot me a route from place to place, browse Google Maps myself, and look for scenic, squiggly roads that look like they’d be fun to ride. As a result, I ended up on long stretches of superslab that my GPS insisted was not a highway and probably missed out on some excellent roads in these areas as a result. I also may have been able to avoid spending hours backtracking down roads I’d already ridden to get out to Cape Breton Island, and possibly found better quality roads while I was at it.

Don’t trust “Avoid highways”

Going along with manual route planning, I found the “Avoid highways” route planning feature of my TomTom GPS to be useless. I have this problem with Route 2 and I-190 near home, but out in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia it was convinced that Trans Canadian Highway 104 was not, in fact, a highway, and it was dead wrong. If I’d planned my route myself, I would’ve known how to trick it into guiding me down the route I actually wanted by telling it to take me from town to town along my preferred route.

Plan some downtime

During this trip, 200 miles was a short day. That’s about the length of my trip to and from Maine from home, and the Cabot Trail.  By the last day, I wasn’t enjoying being on the bike so much, and I needed more and more stops to rest and stretch. I didn’t even get on the bike again for several days after I got home, despite decent weather to ride. I think this is because the entire week was go, go, go.  Even if the day’s mileage wasn’t too much, they were all full days, whether I was on the bike or off.  For any longer trips, I think I need to plan at least one rest day per week. I can certainly get on the bike to run into town for supplies if needed, but that would be about it. I’m not as young as I used to be, and my body needs some time to recover.

Staying two nights isn’t so bad

I’ve previously ranted about the growing trend of many campgrounds requiring a minimum two night stay. This prevents me from riding a fair distance, camping one night, then continuing on the next morning – at least without paying for two nights and only staying one. However, once you’re in an area you want to explore, it’s actually easier to stay in the same place multiple nights. Case in point – I rode the Cabot Trail pretty much unloaded, because I camped in the same place the nights before and after. The only reason I put the top trunk back on was for the extra lighting. I didn’t have to worry about breaking down camp and loading the bike before leaving, or setting up camp when I was done riding for the day. In that way, it’s probably easier to do a three day trip than two days, like my recent New York adventure. On longer trips, this is also a good way to build in a rest day if I’m not staying with a friend.

One day on Cape Breton Island is not enough

I went there to ride the Cabot Trail, and I was successful. There are many places and parts of Cape Breton Island I learned about that I didn’t get to see or do, such as:

  • The Alexander Graham Bell museum in Baddeck
  • More of the Gaelic College
  • The Bras d’Or Lakes Scenic Drive
  • A whale watch
  • Hiking in the Cape Breton Highlands
  • The Fortress of Louisbourg
  • Ride the Cabot Trail clockwise, and/or both directions

That list, alone, sounds like enough to fill a return trip, and that’s just what I could think of off the top of my head. I’m sure there’s more.

The Bay of Fundy is a trip in itself

I visited the Bay of Fundy because it was on my way to Cape Breton Island.  But there is plenty to look at there that’s worth a trip in itself.  It would be a long day in the saddle, but I could potentially ride the 500 miles or so from home to Alma, NB in one day. Then I could spend a day or two just bumming around the parks before taking another long ride straight home. At least one full day at the Bay of Fundy is necessary to get through an entire tidal cycle, to be able to see the full effect of the huge tides there. Hopewell Rocks may cost $10 to get into, which is a bit steep for a stop on my way somewhere, but it would be well worth it to spend the day and see the tidal changes for myself. There are plenty of activities to keep you occupied there for an entire day besides just looking at water.

Rain isn’t so bad

Don’t get me wrong. I prefer to avoid riding in the rain entirely. And I consider myself VERY fortunate that it didn’t rain on me during my entire time in Canada. But, the downpour I went through in Portsmouth, NH put my rain gear to the test, and I stayed perfectly dry. My biggest problem was not being wet, and not even reduced traction, but just plain visibility. That said, I do need to RainX my windshield and visor. But I’m a lot less concerned about having rainy days during a longer trip than I used to be.

Get a battery powered air mattress inflator

It goes without saying that I need to patch the leak in my air mattress. But the effect of this leak would’ve been mitigated if I had a small battery operated inflator in addition to the one that runs off my cigarette lighter. In fact, for as short a time as I need to run the inflator, I might be better off with the portability of the battery operated one anyway, and just being able to keep it in my tent. That way, if I do lose air in the middle of the night, I can just grab the inflator, fill it up, and go back to sleep. It’s far more difficult to do that when I have to plug it into the bike and run the engine to generate enough electricity for it. Not to mention that some campsites, like the one I had at Fundy, don’t let you park close enough to your tent for that to even be an option.

I’m sure there’s more, but those are the big ones I can think of right now.

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