The Holidays and More

The main way I realize how quickly time is going in the van is to look at our blog and think, wow, is that really the last time I updated? I thought I made a post last week! We are a month away from being halfway through our trip and we are both in serious denial. Life is very different from the last time I updated, as we now sit in the RV parking area at Crystal Mountain. We are in a completely different part of the country and fully immersed in winter mode. For the sake of keeping a record of what we’ve done, I’ll do a quick recap of the holidays and everything in between first.

Sunny Florida

We spent a couple weeks in Florida enjoying really the only hot weather we’ve had so far in the van. Looking at these photos now makes me long for the feeling of the sun on my arms. We spent most of our time on Casey Key at David’s Grandma’s house. We left for a few days to meet up with Meghan and Vinny (friends from Portland) and take a mini tour of the Keys and Everglades. We had so much fun hanging out with them and experiencing traveling as a group after so much time as just the two of us. They joined us for Thanksgiving on Casey Key with lots of David’s family. We alternated between beach walks, eating, playing with David’s cousins, and chatting with family. Casey Key is a reminder to me of how dramatically diverse the United States is. While I don’t think I’d ever be happy living in Florida, I can see its appeal (especially since the highs are in the 80s on Casey Key right now).

Tennessee Touristing

After a quick stop in Atlanta for another visit with David’s aunt and cousins, we continued to Tennessee and stopped in both Nashville and Memphis. We both agreed we preferred Nashville, especially enjoying some live music we caught at a brewery one evening. We toured the state capitol and spent a lot of time just walking around and exploring. Our main stop in Memphis was the National Civil Rights Museum, which is partially housed in the Lorraine Hotel where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. I’d previously visited the museum while in Memphis for a work conference. It is hard to describe a museum about a tough subject that is well done. Typical adjectives aren’t fitting. The museum made me sad, outraged, and reflective.

Arkansas – Bikes, Nature and Art

Arkansas impressed us. I didn’t realize just how much we did in Arkansas until going through my pictures and realizing I have so many I want to share. I think these cover most of our time in Arkansas.

Oklahoma

We continued our museum streak with the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa and Fred Jones Jr. Museum in Norman. Both were incredible and well worth the stop. David spent a year of his childhood in Oklahoma City and remembers searching for rose rocks at a nearby lake. With some internet researching he found the spot and we went back to find tons of rocks.

After talking about visiting for years, we spent a couple days with David’s college friend Leif and his family. His wife Laci was so welcoming and warm and we had a blast playing with his two young daughters. We can’t wait to visit again.

Bend Again

We very swiftly made our way from Oklahoma to Bend, with David excelling behind the wheel. David likes early driving so we started most days at 5 a.m., allowing me to do lots of napping. Soon after we arrived in Bend David took off to spend Christmas with his family in Marblehead. I enjoyed over two weeks of sleeping in a bed, cuddling with Scout, making huge lunch salads with my mom, brewing beer with my dad, running with my sister and her boyfriend, making and eating lots of cookies, showering, shopping, and organizing the van. It was glorious and I’ll admit I didn’t want to leave. Maybe I will be ready to return home once this adventure is over.

Continuing South

We made three main stops between the Smoky Mountains and David’s Grandma’s house in Casey Key (excluding a side trip to Bend): Charleston, Savannah, and St. Augustine. After some cold weather in the Smoky Mountains I was so excited for some sunshine and warmth. I’ve always thought while living in Portland and enduring gray winters that I’m unaffected by the weather. I’ve told myself I don’t mind cloudy or rainy days as you can still bike or run and the rain just makes Portland green. However, our time in the van has me seriously rethinking my emotional connection to the weather. I find my mood darkening on overcast days and disappointed when rain ruins our plans or results in wet shoes and clothes in the van. In contrast, I feel such a lightness and realize myself subconsciously smiling on sunny days. In the van we are so much more influenced by the weather and connected to the outdoors. While the van feels cozy at night with the sound of rain on the roof, in the daytime it just feels dreary. This realization has me nervous about the winter and searching for ways to cope. One strategy we’ve pursued is joining Class Pass. For a monthly fee of $29 we get 15 credits to use at gyms and fitness studios. A drop-in pass at a gym is typically 1-2 credits, while a yoga or barre class might be 3-4 credits. Class Pass seems to be in almost every city and gives us options almost anywhere for getting in a workout or rejuvenating yoga session. I’m already hooked. We are also developing a big network of people to ski with, thanks to another van couple we met early in the trip who has started an Instagram group for vanners with the Ikon Pass.

Charleston

My aunt Laura lives in Charleston and we enjoyed staying with her and her partner Keith during our time in Charleston. They also kindly watched the van while we left it for a side trip to Bend. We largely spent our time wandering around downtown Charleston and eating some of David’s favorite foods – donuts and BBQ. I loved looking at the old houses and huge trees covered in moss. We also visited the McLeod Plantation Historic Site, which we choose since we read it provides a more honest account of plantation life and the perspective of enslaved people. I think what was most striking to both of us is just how recent the history of slavery is. There is a tree on the McLeod property that is estimated to be 600 years old and it is hard to think how late in the tree’s life the plantation was in operation.

Savannah

Neither of us knew much about Savannah but it seemed like a logical place to spend a night given our route. We were both so impressed by all the parks, greenery, art, and historic buildings.

St. Augustine

David read somewhere that St. Augustine is one of the most European-feeling cities in America. The narrow pedestrian streets, Castillo de San Marcos fortress, and old architecture definitely made me feel like I could have been in a European city.

A Bend Side Trip

We made a quick side trip to Bend to see my family (including Lauren and her dog Pip!). I think we both realized how much we miss the mountains and the west coast. We had the best time hiking, biking, doing yoga, drinking beer, and playing games with my family. Oh and seeing our cat Scout was of course the best. How I have missed that little fluffer.

Blue Ridge Parkway

I’ve been interested in driving the Blue Ridge Parkway ever since I learned about it during college. I saw bits of the parkway on hikes in college, but never traveled very far south from Charlottesville. The Parkway is most popular in October for the fall foliage, so we were a bit late (starting our drive in early November). On the plus side, this meant we nearly had the road to ourselves. It also meant some rest stops were closed (which is no problem when you carry your own bathroom) and some of the trees were a bit bare.

“The idea is to fit the Parkway into the mountains as if nature has put it there.”

-Stanley Abbott, Chief Landscape Architect for the Parkway

The history of the parkway is really interesting – you can read more about it here. President Roosevelt originally conceived the idea for the Parkway, after visiting Skyline Drive in Virginia. The Parkway was intended to connect Shenandoah National Park with Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Construction began in 1935 but the Parkway wasn’t completely finished until 1987 as a 7.7 mile stretch near Grandfather Mountain proved tricky due to ecological concerns. A short summary of the Parkway from the National Park Service website:

  • “It is the longest road planned as a single unit in the United States.
  • It is an elongated park, protecting significant mountain landscapes far beyond the shoulders of the road itself.
  • It is a series of parks providing the visitor access to high mountain passes, a continuous series of panoramic views, the boundaries of its limited right-of-way rarely apparent and miles of the adjacent countryside seemingly a part of the protected scene.
  • It is a “museum of the managed American countryside,” preserving the roughhewn log cabin of the mountain pioneer, the summer home of a textile magnate, and traces of early industries such as logging, railways, and an old canal.
  • It is the product of a series of major public works projects which provided a boost to the travel and tourism industry and helped the Appalachian region climb out the depths of the Great Depression.
  • Stretching almost 500 miles along the crest of the Blue Ridge mountains through North Carolina and Virginia, it encompasses some of the oldest settlements of both pre-historic and early European settlement.”

While we originally planned to cover every mile of the Parkway, returning to where we departed if we made any stops, that quickly proved tedious. The Parkway is far from the most efficient route – driving from the start to finish could be done in 379 miles and speeds much higher than the Parkway’s 45 mile per hour speed limit. I had a hard time giving up my mission to see all of the Parkway, as once I make a plan I like to stick to it. However, we also have a schedule to stick to and I don’t like to drive more than necessary. In the end I think we likely covered two-thirds of the Parkway, dropping off completely once we got to Asheville to take the most direct route to the Smoky Mountains.

Ridge Region

The Parkway is divided into four sections. The northern section, entirely in Virginia, is called the Ridge Region. It starts a bit west of Charlottesville and ends a bit south of Roanoke. It mostly goes through National Forests with tree-filled views and lots of rolling hills. Humpback Rock, which I hiked frequently throughout college, is located right on the Parkway. We also stopped at several scenic overlooks before arriving in Roanoke to spend the night. David took most of the pictures in this section, so they largely feature the van.

After spending the night in Roanoke, we deviated from the Parkway for a while to visit the Virginia Museum of Transportation (in Roanoke) and Duncan Imports & Classic Cars. The museum is very eclectic, and feels more like a hobby shop for old car, train, and plane enthusiasts. It was a fun stop, especially for David.

David had seen a commercial for Duncan Imports & Classic Cars when we were at Starr Hill and recognized it from used car listings he’d viewed online. Of course David has a pulse on used car collections all around the United States, even in small towns in Virginia. The place is hard to describe, half used car dealership and half car collection. From what I can tell online, it started as a hobby and grew into a business, now attracting attention from car enthusiasts across the country. David could have spent all day ogling the cars, but I kept us moving along. I can’t caption the photos below as I don’t know what vehicles they are, but for more photos and obscure car facts David is on hand.

Plateau Region

After our car stops, we rejoined the Parkway in the Plateau Region. This stretch of the Parkway is flatter and more focused on the rural landscape and culture of the region. We didn’t make many stops here, except to walk around an old mill, spend the night at Walmart, and make breakfast at a scenic stop.

Highlands Region

This section starts at the Virginia/North Carolina state line and winds through lots of natural areas and small towns to Crabtree Falls. This might have been my favorite section. We stopped for a few small hikes, scenic overlooks, and van photo shoots. We also walked around the town of Blowing Rock, which has a great art gallery and lots of cute shops. Just outside of Blowing Rock is the Moses Cone Manor, which the National Park Service is starting to fix up. The Cones developed a huge amount of trails around the house, which are available for use. We ended the night driving up a very exciting road to a back country camping spot in the Pisgah National Forest, a bit off the Parkway.

Pisgah Region

The final stretch of the Parkway was a special one as I drove the van for the first time (excluding moving it to a different parking space once)! My stretch of driving lasted nearly 20 miles and ended in an easy yet stressful parking challenge. The experience confirmed I’m much happier as a passenger and I haven’t driven again since. I realize I should learn to be comfortable driving the van but there is always some reason not to drive – wind, traffic, rain, narrow rides, sleepiness. I’ve committed that before our trip is up I’ll be a competent van driver and parker.

We stopped at Mount Mitchell, which is the tallest point east of the Mississippi and requires walking less than half a mile. The fact that you can nearly drive to the top made it not super exciting, but we did meet a nice van fan who asked to take our picture (making it our second photo session by a stranger). We also spent a night in Asheville, which is a lovely town with delicious food and beer. Our top recommendation, passed on from my parents, is Biscuit Head. David got what my mom termed “Biscuit Head” from his brunch. The prescribed fix is a nap and cup of coffee.

Smoky Mountains

We took the direct route from Asheville to Smoky Mountains to get in a day hike before meeting up with Jamie and Mike for a one-night backpacking trip. Jamie was wrapping up a work project in Knoxville and they’d already talked about the trip before realizing our plans would line up perfectly! We hiked to Mt. Crammerer the day before meeting up. Unfortunately, the mountain was in the clouds and the sun refused to break through. The snow and ice on the trees was so beautiful we weren’t too disappointed.

Jamie was one of my main backpacking partners in Portland before she moved to the east coast and I’ve probably spent more nights in the woods with her than anyone else (excluding David). It felt so good to be out with her again and reminisce about the best and worst trips we’ve taken. We rarely let rain or cold stop us, chalking the weather up as “so PNW.” This trip was a reminder of just how much I miss her and the adventures we shared together in our just out of college years. Since I didn’t quote Thomas Jefferson in my last post, I’ll end with one of my favorites of his about friendship.

“But friendship is precious, not only in the shade, but in the sunshine of life, and thanks to a benevolent arrangement the greater part of life is sunshine.”

– Thomas Jefferson

The “Northeast” Continued

In an effort to catch up an increasingly behind blog, I’ve lumped the rest of our time in the “northeast” (term used very loosely) into this catch all post. As the next couple posts will reveal, our October and November were largely spent bouncing between friends/family and nature. We are lucky to have such a community on the east coast and to be able to spend time with friends we don’t see very often. Our time after leaving Boston and New Hampshire included:

  1. The REAL New Haven style pizza. Pizza has also become a theme of this trip, as it is the only meal out David can immediately talk me into. We spent an evening at a farm just east of New Haven (through Harvest Hosts*) and decided we would be crazy not to take the opportunity to have New Haven pizza. My favorite pizza place in Portland is Scottie’s and I’ve always considered New Haven style pizza my favorite. However, the real deal was slightly too burnt for even me, although still very tasty! We shared a small pizza with the intent to hit a second pizza place, but found ourselves too full after Frank Pepe’s pie.

*When we returned to the farm after pizza, we saw another van that David just happened to recognize from Instagram. He messaged them and we met up in the morning to swap van tours – what a small world! The van owners are potentially moving to Portland after their year off traveling, so hopefully more shared van time is in our future!

  1. Many friends. We visited college friends of mine in DC and Philadelphia and our friend Jamie (David’s friend from college and mine from Portland who introduced us) and her boyfriend in Brooklyn. We had so much fun (especially me) visiting the new babies of two different friends of mine in DC and got to spend a day in the life of a parent to a 6 month old (thanks for letting us tag along all day, Jeff!). We also met the cutest puppy my friend Kayle in Philadelphia had just adopted. Jamie and Mike showed us all around Brooklyn, but we really just wanted to play with their cat 🙂 We still enjoyed exploring Prospect Park, touring the amazing co-op they belong to (a real one where you have to work shifts every couple weeks), and eating delicious food.
  1. Two many breweries to name. We were persuaded by my friend Sara’s husband to make a stop in Richmond to check out the growing brewery scene. He did not lead us astray and we were super impressed by the hazy beers and sours.

We (I) also loved walking around the Maymont property in Richmond and touring the mansion. If old homes of rich people are your thing, check it out! The home is particularly interesting as Mrs. Dooley (who died a few years after Mr. Dooley) bequeathed it to the City, given they had no heirs. Therefore, the home is unusually complete and reflective of a Gilded Age estate from the late 1800s/early 1900s.

  1. Many old favorite spots around Charlottesville. David has only been to Charlottesville once, and it was with a broken elbow on the way to my family reunion in North Carolina years ago. I was so excited to be back with him and revisit some spots from my college days. Charlottesville is a beautiful location, filled with tasty food, beer, wine, running trails, and hiking. We did my two favorite hikes: Old Rag and Humpback Rock. Near the end of Old Rag we ran into an old friend of mine from cross country – what an amazing coincidence! Colleen and her mom were visiting from Northern Virginia and we had so much fun chatting for the last few miles of the hike. We also did a double dinner of dumplings and pizza, ate Bodos bagels and Crozet pizza, walked around UVA, and toured Monticello. Charlottesville is just as beautiful as I remember with even more breweries. I can’t help but get a little wistful for college when walking around UVA, of course remembering the best parts of college – running on the many trails, living with so many friends, biking everywhere, carefree nights out. I’d never go back in time and it is easy to idealize the college experience, but sometimes I do miss it.

I’d visited Monticello once during college but hadn’t done a complete tour. It was fascinating and informative. In addition to a house tour, you can walk around the grounds and view exhibits in the wings of the house and outlying buildings. We went on an additional tour focused on slavery during Thomas Jefferson’s lifetime and some of the questions that can’t help but come up – namely how could a man who called slavery “moral depravity” own slaves? You can read more about this on Monticello’s website. It certainly isn’t an easy topic to wrestle with but an important one to think about.

Back to Nature

After several weeks of side travel and time with family and friends, we spent about four days in New Hampshire focused on the outdoors and fall foliage. This trip has confirmed for me how introverted I am, after growing up always thinking I was an extrovert. While I value quality time with others, I really need time alone to recharge. David and I spend so much time together and have so few boundaries I count time with him as “alone time.” We both were eager to get back to the van and our usual schedule. It’s funny how we have created a typical van routine, even though each day looks very different. We have our breakfast routine, driving routine, grocery store routine, dump station routine, etc. I think these things make the van really feel like home and keep me from craving a day at our Portland home just relaxing.

We were super tempted to venture farther north, wanting more time in Maine or Vermont. However, we accepted that there wasn’t enough time before Thanksgiving for all we want to do and the weather is also suggesting we head south. Therefore, we crafted a short trip through New Hampshire that would include time for biking, hiking, and a one-night backpacking trip.

We spent a day at Bear Brook State Park mountain biking and enduring a classic Nor’Easter. We quickly realized our tree-heavy camp spot was probably not the best place to be during the storm, but were fortunate that the only thing that went down around us were small twigs and leaves. The fall colors here were absolutely beautiful. We hit the sweet spot where the leaves on both the trees and the ground are full of color.

We next continued north to Conway and the L.L. Bean outlet, which we have been talking about visiting for years based on David’s stories of crazy deals and our shared love of flannel. Despite spending at least an hour in the store (David would say two) we left empty handed. I’m trying to stay committed to my new policy of only buying things I love. While living at home it was easy to buy something I didn’t really need and add it to all the other stuff in our house. However, in the van a new shirt or jacket takes up our limited available space and I feel the impact of each new thing we acquire. We were able to use up an ancient coupon to Friendly’s that David had been holding on to since college. The poor cashier had to call in her manager to figure out how to use the coupon, but was determined to make it work for us.

The next day we did a short hike just north of Conway and continued to soak in the fall foliage. I was confused as to whether the trees were pre or post peak, given the juxtaposition of fully green trees and bare trees. Unfortunately the clouds were extremely thick at the top of our hike (Mt. Crawford), limiting views to about 40 feet. Luckily I like hiking for the sake of hiking and don’t need a view to be satisfied! We agreed the views from the road were probably the best of the day.

The highlight of our time in New Hampshire was repeating a backpacking trip we had done nearly exactly seven years ago on my first trip to visit David in Boston. My weekend visit to David, tacked on to a work trip to Baltimore, became nearly a week trip due to Hurricane Sandy. David planned an epic visit including lots of Boston area activities and a one night backpacking trip in the White Mountains. The weather was significantly more cold this time around, but we were determined to still do the trip given its significance to us. Fortunately we secured the same tent platform we had back in 2012, which proved to be the only site in the sun and again the best choice (I believe we previously picked it for the best star viewing). I love thinking about how different our lives were back in 2012 while the tent platform and surrounding mountains don’t seem to have changed at all. It provides me a calm feeling to think about that tent platform weathering each day and is a nice place to let my mind retreat to.

We left our gear at our tent platform and hiked up to Mt. Liberty. We intended to stay on the peak for sunset, as we had done on our 2012 visit, but given how icy the trail was we thought it safest to hike down before dark. The temperature started to drop quickly as the sun set and I didn’t mind retiring to the tent early! We were both shocked to see a family including two young kids (we were guessing ages four and six) at another tent platform. As the father told me when I remarked on how tough the kids are, they were “tough as nails!” I was not as tough and was so cold I had to break in to some emergency hand warmers.

Here are a couple pictures from the 2012 Liberty Springs backpacking trip. At this point in time, David and I had spent a total of about five days together (between his two visits to Portland and the start of my Boston visit). I have to say if you told me back then we’d be in the same spot in seven years with our van waiting for us in the parking lot I would have believed it. I like to think I have good instincts about people and I knew right from the start David and I would be together. Maybe the van would have been a bit more of a surprise, but even back then David and I were starting to talk about a future trip and finding a way to spend as much time as possible in nature.

A Van Hiatus

We’ve spent the last few weeks primarily out of the van enjoying some family and friend time. We expected to be craving some time away from the van by early October, but were actually sad to leave it behind for a couple weeks of travel. We found ourselves a little homesick for the van, which I think is an excellent sign. However, we won’t pretend we didn’t enjoy a “real” bed and shower. I won’t go into too much detail on our side trips (or I’ll never get caught up on this blog!), but here are some of the highlights.

France with the Somachs

We spent almost two weeks in Paris and on a riverboat cruise around Bordeaux with David’s parents, sister, and grandma. We had a lovely time visiting museums, eating lots of good food, learning about wine, and of course drinking lots of wine. David’s grandma Bobbie lived in France for a couple years and met David’s grandfather Fred there. David’s family took a trip to Paris with his grandparents twenty years ago, so this trip brought up lots of great memories for them. Bobbie found the riverboat cruise in a Viking catalog and we were all easily persuaded to accompany her on it. Despite David, his sister Sara, and me being the youngest on the riverboat cruise (and his parents likely the next youngest), we had a fantastic time. I think we went to bed earlier than most other cruise goers most nights as well. Looking at the photos now that I’m back in the van definitely makes me long for the sunny days and prepared food!

Fall Foliage with Alison

Our good friend from Portland, Alison, joined us in Boston as soon as we got back from France for a long awaited fall foliage trip. Alison lived in Washington DC for a couple years and David and I always promised we’d come visit in the fall – it didn’t happen. So Alison was kind enough to make the trip to us on the east coast to do some fall peeping. Although the weather could have been better, the trees put on a good show and we had fun just getting to spend time with Alison. She is such a good sport she even shared the van with us both nights, breaking in the small bed up front that the bench seat converts into. We spent the second night of her visit in a Walmart parking lot, so she really had the full van life experience (although we didn’t ask her to empty the tanks!). Although I try to keep up with friends in Portland on the phone, I’m not good at. Add in our unusual schedule and a different time zone and I’m pretty hopeless. So it is so good to see a friend from Portland while on the road and feel like we’re a little caught up with life back home. We can also reassure ourselves our friends will still be there when we get back and haven’t forgotten us!

Separate Weddings

Coincidentally, David and I both had good friends from college get married on the weekend of October 12th. While we were both sad to miss the wedding for the other person’s friend, we were glad they were both on the east coast at least! I flew down to Washington DC and hitched a ride with a friend to Charlottesville for my college roommate Lydia’s wedding. David drove up to Portland, Maine for his fraternity brother and post-college apartment mate Ben’s wedding. I loved being back at UVA and am excited that David and I will spend a few more days there on our way south. I went wine tasting, running, bagel eating, and reminiscing with old college friends. David went brunching, dancing, and vanning around Portland. Good times were had by all!

Marblehead Visits

David’s grandma, Jane, lives in Marblehead, just about 45 minutes from downtown Boston. Her home served as our base camp for a few weeks in between our other travels. We were also in Marblehead for her 89th birthday and our first wedding anniversary (October 20th), and celebrated the occasion with two cakes, thanks to David’s mom! We loved showing Jane our pictures from the Bugaboos and hearing her recount the story of her and Jim’s ascent and naming of Mt. Kelvin. Jane and Jim’s travels were a big motivation for the trip and the Gnar Wagon felt right at home in Marblehead. We also fit in visits with David’s aunts, uncles and cousins who all live in the area.

Nova Scotia Touring

We didn’t have as much time in Nova Scotia as we would have liked, as we had a flight in Boston to make for a trip to France with David’s family (more on that later). We managed to fit in quite a lot though, as has become our style. We are working on slowing down our pace and not always feeling rushed, but it is tough! Our top activities in Nova Scotia beyond the Cabot Trail included:

Port Hawkesbury Cèilidh

A Cèilidh is a traditional Scottish event involving music and dance. We lucked out and happened to be in Port Hawkesbury on the night of their weekly Cèilidh. We were actually doing some internet catch-up at a Dunkin Donuts across the street from the civic center. I was looking for any bars in the area with traditional Scottish music when I stumbled on the civic center’s website and the weekly Cèilidh. What luck! Port Hawkesbury is a relatively small town and I didn’t have any expectations for the event, but figured it was worth a try. Wow was I impressed! Several of the musicians were from the nearby Gaelic college and alternated instruments throughout the performance. Below is one video I took at the end where each person took turns getting up and stepping. I didn’t want the music to end and would have gladly sat and listened for a few more hours.

Halifax

We spent an afternoon wandering around the Halifax waterfront. I especially loved a farmer’s market in an old building on the Seaport. I learned on the market’s website that it is “the oldest, continuously operating farmers’ market in North America.” We also went to the Canadian Museum of Immigration just down the block from the market, which is held in Pier 21. The pier served as a gateway for immigrants between 1928 and 1971, primarily arriving by boat. The museum was fascinating and super well done, with a big mix of exhibits. We spent at least half a day there and could have stayed longer if we hadn’t gotten so hungry! We also loved Tidehouse Brewing Company which is the smallest brewery I have ever been to. The brewery has seating for 7 and standing room for 2! We lucked out and arrived just as two others were leaving. The beer was delicious and the bar seating guarantees that you’ll meet others. We got some good recommendations from the people sitting around us and loved the chance to get to meet some locals!

Peggy’s Cove

Peggy’s Cove is a tiny fishing town about an hour from Halifax and known for having one of the most photographed lighthouses in Nova Scotia. We were also warned by several people how dangerous the rocks around the lighthouse are, as unsuspecting tourists can easily get pulled out to sea by waves. We stayed far from the water’s edge and spent an hour or so wandering around the rocks. We found a delicious seafood restaurant nearby where David continued his fish and chips streak (I think this was the fourth fish and chips in two weeks!).

Tidal Bore

Our final stop in Nova Scotia was Truro to see the tidal bore. We had wanted to observe the dramatic tides on the Bay of Fundy, but this was the next best option. A tidal bore is when a river flows back upstream as the tide comes in. The Bay of Fundy produces some pretty significant tidal bores given its dramatic tides. The tidal bore wasn’t too epic when we were there, but it was still pretty neat to see! We got up early to see the 6:30 a.m. tidal bore and surprisingly found one other couple there as well. Luckily the tidal bore was a little late so it was a bit lighter out when it came through.

After the tidal bore we hightailed it to Boston (with a quick overnight in Portland, Maine) for a flight to France for a trip with David’s family. This started a few week hiatus from the van for some family visiting, to be covered in a future post!

The Cabot Trail

The Cabot Trail is a 300 kilometer loop around Cape Breton Island in northern Nova Scotia. To be honest, I hadn’t realized that the northern part of Nova Scotia was a separate island from the rest of the province until writing this article. Cape Breton Island makes up about 19% of Nova Scotia and is connected to the rest of the mainland by the Canso Causeway. One of the benefits of keeping this blog is I typically learn much more about a place fact checking my posts or researching more context to provide! This is how I learned that John Cabot, the Venetian explorer, supposedly landed on Cape Breton Island in 1497 and claimed it for the King of England. However, logs are incomplete and he may actually have been in Newfoundland (or Labrador or Maine). I’ll admit I didn’t know the reasoning behind the name of the Cabot Trail until writing this.

The Cabot Trail is largely known for its scenic viewpoints and hiking, which we enjoyed much of. However, one of my favorite parts of the Trail was the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site. As a side note, the annual pass for national parks in Canada is especially great because it includes all kinds of historic sites like this one! I never remember to take photos at museums, but the site had some really neat models and actual examples of planes that Bell worked on. I had no idea of the scope of his inventions, which include much more than just the telephone. He also worked extensively with the deaf, using his dad’s visible speech system, which is a mind-boggling method for representing the position of the organs involved in speech. Bell worked on hydrofoils, tetrahedral box kites, early airplane models, and a variety of other odds and ends. I was especially interested to learn that Bell experimented with a number of environmentally-minded inventions, including methods for purifying salt water and composting toilets. What an impressive guy and certainly an inspiration!

Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.

Alexander Graham Bell

Cape Breton Highlands National Park makes up a sizable portion of the Cabot Trail. We did a hike on both the east and west side of the park to get a feel of the environment in both areas. The first day we hiked the Franey Trail on the east side of the park, which is about 4.5 miles. We thought we would have plenty of time for the hike, but like most days time sped by and we didn’t end up starting the hike until late afternoon. On the plus side, this led to some nice colors from the top of the hike and zero crowds! We spent most of the hike in the trees, but at the top looked out over the Clyburn Brook canyon and coastline. After spending the last few weeks in cities and small towns, getting back out into nature was very needed. I find myself missing the wild nature and backpacking from the first part of our trip and longing to capture that awe and excitement. I’m worried as the fall and winter come closer that it will be awhile before we experience anything like the Bugaboos, Glacier National Park of Canada, or the North Cascades again. The mountains are definitely my happy place and I find I am most content when hiking as far from civilization as possible!

Our second day on the Cabot Trail we hiked the Skyline Trail on the west side of the park. The landscape was very different here, with fewer trees and more fragile headland plants. A section of the trail is all boardwalk to protect the vegetation. We were both pretty upset to see a few people wandering off the boardwalk to take pictures, despite the multitude of signs urging you to stay on the trail. Leaving the trail has become one of my biggest hiking pet peeves! A section of the forest was gated as part of a test the park is conducting to determine the impact moose are having on the boreal forest. The moose population in the area has gotten too high and is adversely impacting the forest ecosystem. I was curious about this effort and found a lot more information online here. Below is a short summary of the problem:

Hyperabundance occurs when a population grows unnaturally large and begins to have a negative impact on other species and the health of the ecosystem. A healthy, balanced forest typically supports around 0.5 moose/km2. Moose density in Cape Breton Highlands National Park was 1.9 moose/km2 and the forest ecosystem was severely impacted by these high numbers. This was a huge concern, and the reason why we took actions to restore the forest such as the moose harvest. 

Parks Canada

We didn’t take any pictures, unfortunately, but we ended our time on the Cabot Trail at the very delicious Aucoin Bakery. Based on our experience, we can recommend the baguette, whole wheat bread, and brownies. I have to imagine anything there would be delicious.

While we had a great time on the Cabot Trail, we couldn’t help but think many times how much more beautiful the views would be a little later in the fall. We saw a few hints of the coming color change, but were too early for the dramatic views we had seen in pictures online. More reason for a return trip in the future!

Prince Edward Island

To get to Prince Edward Island by car (or van) you take the Confederation Bridge from New Brunswick. The bridge was opened in May 1997 and is about 8 miles long, making it the world’s longest bridge over ice-covered water. The history of the bridge is pretty interesting and we enjoyed reading about it during our crossing here. In short – Canada is required to provide year-round access to the island, as part of a negotiation in PEI’s decision to join the Confederation back in 1873. Given that the Northumberland Strait ices in the winter, providing reliable ferry service proved difficult. Ideas of a railroad bridge to the island were floated, but improved ferry boats over the years kept this idea from gaining traction. It never fully went away though, and in the 1960s the Prime Minister at the time suggested funds would be dedicated towards a future causeway for trains and cars. Debate about the fixed connection went on for decades, with some PEI residents concerned about the environmental impacts of a bridge and resulting changes to island life. Ultimately the government of PEI approved the construction of the bridge, with some conditions to ensure economic benefits for the island. Construction started in 1993 and four years and 840 million (Canadian) dollars later the Confederation Bridge was complete!

Sadly you can’t bike or walk on the bridge – maybe this will be a future addition!

Anne of Green Gables

I was shocked to learn that David hadn’t heard of Anne of Green Gables, written by PEI resident Lucy Maud Montgomery and inspired by time spent at her aunt and uncle’s house on the island. The island is very proud of the book series, and offers lots of ways to immerse yourself in Anne of Green Gables. I didn’t want to overwhelm David with too much Anne, so picked my top two activities: a visit to the home that inspired the book (Silver Bush, still owned by Montgomery’s family) and the musical. I was surprised to learn just how popular the book is internationally. One of the guides at the museum was from Japan and told us the book has been very influential there, especially after World War II, providing for young Japanese girls of an outspoken, caring, generous female role model.

As you would expect, the setting of Silver Bush was idyllic – green fields, large trees, a nearby pond. A plaque contained quotes from Lucy Maud Montgomery describing the place. In a letter to her cousin, she said “I love this old spot better than any place on earth.” I can see why she was so fond of the area. Much of the island looks very similar to Silver Bush, with lots of farms, ponds, rolling hills, and expansive views of the sky.

I didn’t need to worry about David enjoying the Anne of Green Gables musical. It is held in the Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown, the largest city in PEI. It has been on stage since 1965, making it the longest running annual musical. Both our expectations were exceeded – we loved it.

To end my Anne of Green Gables promotion, here is one of my favorite quotes from the book, that I think is very applicable to our trip (and life in general).

“It’s been my experience that you can nearly always enjoy things if you make up your mind firmly that you will.”

L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Bike Trails

PEI has an amazing amount of bike trails, especially considering its size. The main trail is the Confederation Trail, which use the old railroad lines to cover the island tip-to-tip (and more), with 270 miles of trail. I risked the cloudy weather, which turned to heavy downpour, to experience the trail. The results included soggy shoes and socks and no photographs or regrets! Fortunately, we had much better weather for our bike ride in Cavendish, which followed a paved path along the coast. When I suggest a ride to David he has started asking if it is a ride for fitness or a ride for fun. I like to think every ride can be both. I think David prefers the “fun” rides which typically include a brewery stop and relaxed pace. This was a ride for fitness.

Seafood

Another highlight of PEI was the seafood. I think photos can best describe the food:

If you find yourself in PEI, I highly recommend a stop at the Lobster Barn in Victoria (picture 1 and 3).

Charlottetown

Charlottetown is the capital and largest City in PEI. For some reason I struggled throughout our visit to say Charlottetown, perhaps because I went to college in Charlottesville. We spent about a day here, and enjoyed a nice stay at the local Walmart! We enjoyed wandering around looking at the colorful houses, sculptures, and coastline.

Charlottetown was the site of the 1864 Charlottetown Conference in 1864. This was a grand social affair that set in motion the idea of Confederation. While the meeting included delegates from just New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island, they ultimately worked for the union of all the British North American colonies. PEI ultimately joined the Confederation in 1873.

The Gaspé Peninsula in Pictures

The name Gaspé probably derives from a Micmac word meaning “land’s end.” 

The Canadian Encyclopedia
I’ve taken to marking locations on Google Maps to help guide our stops as we go. This gives an idea of where we stopped around the Peninsula.
A sign at the park indicated that gannets fence like this to protect their territory. We could have watched them for hours! We did have a boat ride back to Percé to catch though.

The south side of the Gaspé Peninsula is more developed without as many scenic spots, and I therefore didn’t take any pictures. We hightailed it to Prince Edward Island soon after our visit to Bonaventure Island. More on that soon!