Week #13 - New Brunswick and back to Ontario

Monday September 23rd to Sunday September 29th

Debbie's very cool apartment, all to myself! Who wouldn't want to Couch Surf!

Debbie’s very cool apartment, all to myself! Who wouldn’t want to Couch Surf!

The Reversing Falls in St. John. The river is pushed back upstream by the high tides in the Bay of Fundy.

The Reversing Falls in St. John. The river is pushed back upstream by the high tides in the Bay of Fundy.

Day 85 – Monday September 23rd

I was staying one night in one of Debbie Eden’s apartments in St. John, New Brunswick. The day started with Debbie giving me a walking tour of the city and the market. It’s an historic city. All the houses built in the 1800’s. Like a lot of port cities (Seattle, San Francisco, etc) the city burnt down and had to be rebuilt. It’s a gritty and authentic city with plenty of character. It still has the feeling of an old fishing port. It’s real. I like it.

Debbie’s Japanese daughter-in-law and grandson joined us for breakfast at Cora’s restaurant– her and her husband (Debbie’s son) have just returned from living in Japan. Michael is now helping to run the family business of apartment buildings. Debbie gave me a tour of one. They are all big historic brick buildings and they’ve done a great job renovating them– wood floors, high ceilings, interior design at it’s best. From talking to Debbie it seems that St. John would be a good place to buy property, renovate it and sell. St. John used to be the biggest city in Canada at one point. Now it is past it’s glory days but I still like it.

Debbie took me on a driving tour of the city which I was very appreciative of. We headed up to the Reversing Falls. They are not falls, it’s a wide river with rapids. But the unique thing is that the tides rise in the Bay of Fundy so rapidly, and so high, that the tide reverses the flow of the whole river!

Later in the day I rode from St. John, New Brunswick and headed to Maine. I crossed the border at a town called St. Stephen’s. I was back in the USA. I had also crossed the last of 10 time zones, and completed 16,000 miles.

I was sad to be leaving Canada. I felt right at home there. I entered the USA with some reticence and was greeted by a surly immigration person. I aimed for Bar Harbor just outside Acadia National Park. What a lovely surprise Bar Harbor is! Quaint. Lots going on. Swish hotels and B&B’s. I think it’s Maine’s answer to Key West, except a bit more upscale.

I had Maine lobster for dinner. I was dying to try it. I’d been told it’s so succulent here– it just melts in your mouth. I must have chosen the wrong lobster restaurant because I found it to be just as chewy as in Florida, and not as melt-in-your-mouth as the hype had suggested. I hope one day I come back and find a restaurant serving melt-in-your-mouth lobster.

A warning: don't try driving the Auto Road if you're frightened of heights.

A warning: don’t try driving the Auto Road if you’re frightened of heights.

I won't be driving the road today. there's snow, ice and hurricane force winds up there.

I won’t be driving the road today. there’s snow, ice and hurricane force winds up there.

Day 86 – Tuesday September 24th

Up at 7am ready to go! Jumped on the phone at 8am– TicketClinic to pay a speeding fine from before the trip, called and sorted out the water bill at home, called two Triumph stores in Toronto to set up a service appointment, and sent out some Couch Surfing requests for Toronto.

A freezing day outside and damp. My goal– to ride to the top of Cadillac Mountain, Maine and then get on the road to Berlin, New Hampshire so that I can ride the Mount Washington Auto Road tomorrow.

I hoped I would stay warm. Bad fogging of visor and glasses in the morning’s wetness. I could hardly see a thing. It was too wet and not there wasn’t enough grip on tires to go to Cadillac Mountain. I arrived at the park entrance and decided not to go any further. My rear tire needed replacing. It was causing the bike to squirrel (wobble) on corners. So I missed Acadia Nat’l Park and Cadillac Mountain and headed southwest, hopefully out of the rain.

Kids being kids, I have been asked by a couple of UrbanPromise children, “where do you go to the bathroom?” You’ve got to love them. Good question. Today was one of those days I couldn’t find one. If I could have ridden cross-legged I would have. “At a gas station,” is usually the answer. Today it was a few “No, sorry.” Ugh! It’s fine when you’re in towns, but when you’re riding through miles of countryside you have to wait for either a town or a secluded copse.

I arrived at the bottom of Mount Washington. It was around 5:30pm. The road was closed for the day. I booked a room at the Top Notch Motel in town. It was a cold day today but according to the guy at the motel it was worse up on the mountain– snow, ice and hurricane force winds. That didn’t sound promising. Tomorrow was forecast for a clear day but only 36 degrees as a high. Brrrr.

Waiting and waiting at the motel for the Mount Washington weather report. It's a no-go!

Waiting and waiting at the motel for the Mount Washington weather report. It’s a no-go!

The drive through northern New Hampshire and Vermont.

The drive through northern New Hampshire and Vermont.

Day 87 – Wednesday September 25th

Waiting. Waiting for the prognosis from the weather station on top of Mount Washington. Would I get to ride it today? Waiting, waiting. I’m the last one to leave the motel. Only my motorcycle in the parking lot. The answer comes: “too windy, we’re not letting motorcycles up on the mountain.”

I needed to stay on schedule for the UrbanPromise visit in Toronto. I couldn’t wait another day. Time to head west towards Toronto.

Through New Hampshire, with the leaves turning color, and into Vermont. I stayed as north as I could because I didn’t want to repeat roads (I’d be coming back to the Auto Road for another attempt). When I return it will be eastward along more southerly roads.

I stopped in Johnnysburg to fill up with gas. The guy running the station, Earl, had his Harley parked outside and proceeded to tell me he’d ridden 160,000 miles on it, just in the local area! I grabbed a coffee and a snack bar. “On the house!” he said. “Thanks!” I replied, shocked.

Somehow I rode too far north and landed at the Canadian border. It was a small town. I turned around and rode south. As I did so I noticed that one residential street in town was blocked off with planters and next to them was an official Canada sign. The border– guarded by flower pots.

As horrible as it may sound I’ve discovered that I like the smell of skunks as I drive by. Just a whiff is ok. Three wild turkeys crossed the expressway. I see plenty of moose warning signs but no moose. The trees are all colors going through Vermont. Beautiful.

I go south and west, right underneath the Canadian border, as close as I can get. All day long I see customs buildings at regular intervals. I make it all the way to Ogdensburg, in the dark, and find a motel. The days continue to get shorter. It’s dark now by 7pm.

Back into the wilds of Canada!

Back into the wilds of Canada!

Day 88 – Thursday September 26th

What an an absolutely fabulous sunny and warm day! I departed Ogdensburg after having a little exploration through town. Old wooden houses. The town seems to have had better days. Perhaps a population of a few thousand. On the outskirts of town, along the main highway, there’s the usual big box stores situated in big parking lots. Today I was happy to see them– a new pack of long life lithium batteries for the Spot Connect GPS tracker.

The Canadian border was just outside Ogdensburg. I had to cross a long, metal grated bridge to get there. The bike weaved the whole way across (reaction of knobbly tires on metal grating). Unnerving to say the least. 25mph was my top speed.

I crossed the border easily. The official was very nice. I set the GPS to take back roads towards Whitby, just outside Toronto. I headed through the town of Perth– gorgeous stonework on the buildings! Reminds me of Kendall in the Lake District in England. A little piece of home. The country roads were perfect and so was the weather. I was glad to be riding today. An absolute joy! A guy on an ATV says, “safe travels man, that’s awesome” as he checks out my loaded bike. Today I cried out, “I love Canada!” And I do.

Some of the wonderful and enthusiastic children of UrbanPromise Toronto.

Some of the wonderful and enthusiastic children of UrbanPromise Toronto.

Day 89 – Friday September 27th

Off to GP Motorcycles in Whitby to get a new rear tire, the chain tightened, an oil change and overall check up. I took a fully-loaded bike to get serviced and unloaded everything in the work bay.

I sat in the waiting area until 3pm, mostly working on preparations on what to say to the children at UrbanPromise Toronto at 4:30pm. I left at 3:15. It takes an hour or so to get to UrbanPromise. Perfect. Except… I leave and two blocks away the right hand mirror falls off the bike and bounces down the road. Great! I quickly turn around and we super-glue it back on at the dealership.

I fight the traffic across town. Toronto traffic is bumper to bumper. There seems to be no end to the cars for all of the hour-long journey. I arrive 15 minutes late but it’s ok. The children are not quite ready.

The children are all pleased to see me. I speak to them from the stage. They sit below on the floor. There’s a big screen behind me with my route map on it. We talk geography– where I’ve been. And animals– what I’ve seen and could have seen. They ask me lots of questions. They were all so inquisitive. “How much gas?”, “Where do you sleep?”, “Are you going to show us your motorcycle?”, “Can we see it?”, “Will you ride it for us?” I told them how I came up with the idea for the journey, how we’re all doing something for them because they are special, I asked them about their dreams, and then the best of the best– we headed out to the parking lot with great excitement to see the bike that had been to the Arctic. They knew about the brakes, exactly where they were. They wanted to know everything about the bike. “Please, will you ride it around?” And so I did. Down the parking lot and back. “Yayyy!” “Again! Faster!” So I did. “Yayyyy!” We all took photos together before I departed.

I left the children and headed towards my host’s house in Burlington– Jennifer. I arrived to the irresistible aromas of dinner cooking. I hadn’t eaten since 9 in the morning. It was a welcome arrival. I met her potential new roommate and we both agreed he wasn’t a good fit.

Lake Ontario beach in September.

Lake Ontario beach in September.

Someone planted this car in Toronto's Kensington Market

Someone planted this car in Toronto’s Kensington Market

Day 90 – Saturday September 28th

Jennifer has her motorcycle license. No motorcycle though, not after an accident where she fell and skidded across a bend in the road and received the bruises and road-rash to show for it. But today we were going to get her back on a motorbike and go for a tour around the Burlington area.

Jennifer pointed out the highlights of Burlington from the passenger seat and I was careful to take the bends slowly and not do anything that would make her apprehensive. I was hoping she would feel more comfortable about being on a bike again after such a long while. We headed up to Rattlesnake Point– a steep road with hairpin bends. We went down, and up, and down again. Jennifer did well with the steep hairpin turns. A successful trip!

We arrived back around 4pm and quickly got ready to take the Go Train into Toronto. I had a challenge to complete– eat a burrito at the Big Fat Burrito in Kensington Market. We arrived in the city and were flooded with hundreds of people on the streets, most of whom were wearing Toronto Maple Leafs hockey shirts and were off to see the game at the stadium a few blocks away. We met Brett from UrbanPromise (wearing his Maple Leafs shirt for the game) and he gave me a “Free Hugs” t-shirt that had been shipped to me from Miami. That challenge is yet to be completed– “give 100 free hugs.”

Jennifer and I grabbed a taxi and headed towards Kensington Market. It’s a funky, artsy area with murals on walls and a car with plants in it. There’s also a car covered in butterflies. All sorts of restaurants and shops– a mixture with an artsy/healthy/social flare. It’s the kind of place you expect to find a poetry reading going on in some cafe. We found the Big Fat Burrito and when I got my burrito… well, they are not joking, it’s huge. And good! Challenge completed we headed back on the train. It reminded me of my time in London, heading home in the dark on a full train on a Saturday evening, all sorts of socializing and conversations going on.

Time for a fire drill at Know Presbyterian Church.

Time for a fire drill at Know Presbyterian Church.

Meeting with old friends again after seven years: Dana and Rebecca McArdle.

Meeting with old friends again after seven years: Dana and Rebecca McArdle.

Day 91 – Sunday September 29th

Ahhh, I slept great and woke up refreshed. I got ready and headed out to Knox Presbyterian Church for Sunday morning service. Emma is the pastor there. She’s new. So many of the churches I’ve visited have new pastors. It’s great to see the new, fresh faces coming in.

The prayer of confession was perfect this morning. It really came from the pastor’s heart. It was wonderful. The church is full of old people as most seem to be these days and I wondered why. I wondered, “is it because they have accumulated knowledge and wisdom throughout their lives and this is where it’s brought them to? This is where they know they can put their trust– in a relationship with God. They come because they are wise. They know.”

The sermon was good. It focused on the pastor’s first mission trip to Cuba. I got a lot out of it. The service ended in an unorthodox way– a pre-arranged fire drill, the first for them in two years. We all headed out to the parking lot in an orderly manner and waited to be counted. Great! All present! We all got out alive! Emma gave the parting benediction in the parking lot. It was great on a beautiful sunny day. I spent quite some time with the people at coffee hour exchanging stories.

Then I headed to another “suburb” of Toronto, a city called Etobicoke, to meet my old friends Dana and Rebecca McArdle. I hadn’t seen them in about 7 years. We spent 4 hours catching up with our lives. It was great to see them. They are really good people with good hearts. Dana wants to start a free athletic club for children, giving them a place to go. Since meeting he’s begun working on his plans. I hope his dream comes to fruition!

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