January 26, 2017 - Sarah Hunter kindly submitted today's guest blog.
As the sun begins to rise over Prince Edward Island’s Hillsborough River, casting beams of light across the floor of our room in the Bishop’s Rest B&B, I take in the scene and treasure it. Empty water bottles are lined up on the table, ready to be filled. Clear plastic bags are scattered around the room, displaying our clothes and what’s left of our food: an increasingly small variety of granola bars, trail mix, and M&Ms. Our panniers hang over the chairs, ready to be clipped to the bikes. In the bed across the room, our two teenage boys sleep soundly. This is the fifth and final day of our journey, and I’m sorry to see it end.
Each morning we allow ourselves to linger a bit in the bed and breakfast that has been our home for the night, then we collect our bags, stuff them in the panniers, and get back in the saddle for another full day of riding. It’s a routine that is surprisingly easy to fall into. Wake comfortably, eat, gather our things, ride. Ride all day. Ride on the hard-packed path of the Confederation Trail, through paved back roads that turn to dirt, and down quiet coastal routes. Ride past stunning ocean vistas, acres of potato, corn, and blueberry fields, beautiful sand dunes, and quaint working waterfront villages. Stop to enjoy the red clay cliffs and the warm ocean water and then ride some more until we’re tired and hungry. So far, each day we find ourselves at our destination at about the time we’re ready to rest and refuel. Careful planning has paid off.
It’s tough to plan a family bike trip. We’ve cycled every inch of the carriage trails in Acadia National Park many times over, but we’ve never embarked on a multi-day bike trip, one where we haul all of our gear and food and rely solely on our bikes for transportation. When I discovered the Confederation Trail, an old rail trail that runs through the middle of Prince Edward Island (PEI), I knew I had found our trip, but deciding on the exact route was a bit challenging. It all looks so easily doable when you’re resting on the sofa, examining the map, determining distances between towns, imagining the possibilities. Fifty miles a day sounds like a realistic maximum. I mean, we have all day to ride. We could probably do seventy miles for that matter. Or eighty. No, better to stay on the conservative side. I wanted everyone to enjoy our first long-distance cycling adventure.
Thinking about it this morning, so far the trip has been all that I’d hoped for. We’re all sore but no one is complaining about it too much, and there’s generally a peaceful spirit to our group. Perhaps it’s because we’re away from screens, outside all day, working hard, in a beautiful setting. Or maybe it’s simply because we’re spending time together. At home, we wake up, make breakfast, pack lunches and head off in different directions. Here, we stick together and at the end of the day, our shared experiences are evident in our banter. There’s a unity to us. It’s nice.
Not too many years ago, our bike trips were limited to a three-mile river path in our town, and those took all afternoon and included snack breaks. Now, at twelve and thirteen, the boys are as capable as we are, but that doesn’t mean they want to do what we want. This trip has had the right ingredients:
Bottom line: there’s an adventurous spirit about the trip that has made it appealing to our teenagers.
Throughout the week, I’ve been grateful for my family and impressed by the trail. Despite some heavy overnight rains, there have been no puddles, no mud. The Confederation Trail is a well-drained, hard-packed stone dust surface, and it’s perfect for our boys on their mountain bikes and my husband and I on our touring bikes. It’s also a much-appreciated break from traffic, and it affords us the opportunity to see the rich farming culture of PEI.
Navigating off the trail has been great, too. In order to get the full feel of the island, I created a route that took us through the heart of the island on the Confederation Trail, and on roads that lead to the north shore and travel along the coast. It’s late August and traffic is light. Yesterday we encountered our first major road, PE-6, but the traffic was reasonable and the shoulders were generous. After a few miles, we turned into Cavendish Grove, part of the PEI National Park, where we found ourselves meandering first through an orchard and then through beautiful sand dunes. Our route brought us back to PE-6, into the town of North Rustico, and then back into the National Park on a paved path that followed the ocean. We took a few breaks on this stretch to walk on the beach, take in the red clay cliffs, and soak our feet in the remarkably warm water. Dubbed the warmest waters north of the Carolinas, I can honestly say that the ocean here is much warmer than the water temperatures we’re used to in Maine.
The sun was setting yesterday as we arrived at our destination for the night, the Bishop’s Rest. When I made our reservation, I requested a birthday cake, knowing my son would be thoroughly surprised to get a cake for his birthday during our trip. When we opened the door to our room to discover a full birthday party scene, complete with Happy Birthday balloons and napkins, we were all surprised. The very kind owners of this historic bed and breakfast have just welcomed their fourth child into the world earlier this week, and they still managed to put together a thoughtful birthday spread for our son. This is PEI hospitality!
This morning we wake to a grim weather report, though. 100% chance of rain. Thunderstorms likely. This would be our final day, a 50-mile route from St. Andrews to East Point. We consider our options. We can take the day off, lie around, and play cards and head out tomorrow. It will mean changing our reservations, adding a little expense to our trip, but it will keep us dry and give us a much-needed break. But we’re on a roll, and as we’ve learned from our short stay on PEI, the weather can change quickly. We peek out the window. For the moment, the sky is bright. It seems like a waste to sit around as the sun is coming out and tomorrow’s weather could be worse, so we decide to embrace the fact that we’ll almost certainly get rained on today — and go for it. We’ve traveled 150 miles in four days. We’re finishing it.
A shortcut through the field behind the Bishop’s Rest brings us back to the Confederation Trail and about an hour later, we arrive in the picturesque town of St. Peters. We leave the trail behind and turn onto North Shore Drive, where we encounter gently rolling hills and very few cars. To our left, long fields stretch out towards the ocean. Around midday, the sky becomes noticeably darker up ahead. It’s pointless to go faster: we’re headed right into it. When it’s obviously upon us, we pull over, don our rain gear, turn on our bike lights, and move on.
When the rain comes, it comes down in sheets. Within moments, we’re thoroughly soaked. Water sloshes in our sneakers with every turn of the pedal and it rains like this for about an hour. For ten miles, we ride through it. On the other side, blue sky greets us and we’re all in good spirits. Who can remember all of those bike rides in beautiful weather? A ride in the pouring rain is much more memorable.
When we reach East Point Lighthouse our sneakers are still full of water, but our clothes are dry. The boys pay the small fee to slosh their way up the spiral staircase in the lighthouse and take in the views. They are well earned for sure. We’ve done it. We rode Prince Edward Island from tip to tip. Along the way, we endured the hills and the long days together, took in the breathtaking views together, enjoyed the same selection of trail mix, granola bars, and M&Ms together. We solved problems and shared in our successes. Together. We reunited as a family in a way that both can’t be done at home, and can’t be avoided on a long-distance cycling trip. It was truly an epic family adventure.
Transportation: The day before our journey begins we drive into Charlottetown and stay at the Sonata Inn in the historic district. We use George Larter’s PEI Cycling Tours to get to the North Cape and back from East Point. If we had run into trouble along the way, George would have helped us.
Day 1: Our adventure begins! We’re dropped off at North Cape and enjoy a flat, 21-mile ride down Route 12 along the coast, much of which is lined with potato fields. Our day ends at the lovely La Petite France Bed & Breakfast, where we find a good dinner just a short ride away.
Day 2: Our toughest day. We ride 50 miles on the Confederation Trail to our next stop in Miscouche at Prince County B&B.
Day 3: Hills! We head off on our 33-mile day taking the Confederation Trail from Miscouche to Emerald. This takes us through more farmland and the city of Summerside, where we lose the trail for a bit but quickly find our way back. In Emerald we head off the trail, encountering our first (and only) significant hills of the journey. We arrive in the town of Stanley Bridge. At the Stanley Bridge Resort, we have an incredible meal.
Day 4: Our most scenic day! We start out on PE-6, which takes us to Cavendish Grove, part of PEI National Park. This brings us back to PE-6 for a bit, where we restock on snacks at the market in North Rustico. Then we make our way to the next section of the National Park and ride on a paved path that follows the ocean. 46 miles later, we arrive at the Bishop’s Rest in St. Andrews.
Day 5: Our final day, 50 miles! We begin on the Confederation Trail from the Bishop’s Rest and in St. Peters, we turn onto PE-16 (North Shore Drive), and follow it all the way up to East Point.
Sarah Hunter lives in Maine with her husband and their two sons. You can follow their cycling and hiking adventures on Instagram: @sarahtrailhunter.
Photos by Sarah Hunter
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