Expedition 2023, Part 2, Week 7: Escape to Canada

Shopping center camping just off the I-495 west of Boston, with permission from Cabela’s.

Monday, October 2, we made a decision: we had been intending to turn east to make a quick tour of the Capitol and across Chesapeake Bay, through New Jersey, before detouring around New York City and up the coast.  Instead, we elected to make an end run straight north and east, up I-81 to Scranton, PA, and east on I-84.  And, so we went, with an early start and back on freeways again for the first time since our Florida to Georgia run.  We made good time, and ended up west of Boston just off the I-495, in Berlin, MA, in a shopping center parking lot, 850 km from our starting point.

White Lake State Park, New Hampshire, with view of the White Mountains.

Continuing our avoidance of the congested coast around Boston, we headed north, in the metro rush hour, with our carbon monoxide detector chirping at us every time the traffic slowed to a crawl past interchanges. Once out of the metro area and into New Hampshire, we made our way around Lake Winnapasaukee, to camp at White Lake State Park, with a view of the White Mountains across the lake.  The site was pretty, but primitive, and the water was heavy with iron. Fortunately, we had a good supply onboard. The next day, we drove through small towns to Portland, Maine, where we stayed off the freeway, winding up the coast to Camden Hills State Park: primitive camping with iron in the water, again.

View from the Eastern Promenade, a city park in Portland, Maine

Our bucket-list goal for this leg of the tour was Acadia National Park.  Our round-about journey through New Hampshire and southern Maine was designed to work around campsite availability at Acadia.  With the resurgence of camping post-pandemic, the peak camping season extends year-around where feasible, and the campgrounds, especially the National Parks, are always full.  We were able to get the last available site at the campground furthest from the major attractions, after a frustrating episode trying to get the recreation.gov web site to work on Safari on an iPhone.  Did not work, had to resort to using the computer.  Throughout the transit segments of our expedition, cell-phone connectivity has been an issue, and this was no exception.  We have also had frustration with poor WiFi signals.  We have a loyalty card with a major truck stop chain, which gives us access to their customer WiFi, but it doesn’t always reach to the parking lot, and is at the mercy of the local providers for bandwidth.  Our camping experiences have been mostly “No Service, No WiFi.”

Foggy day on Mount Desert Island, Acadia National Park

But, despite the hurdles, we had a glorious day touring Mount Desert Island and the Park Loop–in the fog, with parking lots at major attractions overflowing at 9:30 in the morning.  The less-popular stops along the way had plenty of parking, so we avoided long waits and huge crowds, and our out-of-the way campground was a unique gem in the National Park system:  electric service at campsites and WiFi, which, typically, only worked in the restrooms.  But, it was there, and we had a hot meal for the first time in a while, since we were able to use our hot plate.

Friday, the start of the long Thanksgiving holiday in Canada, we once again braved the fog and steered north on the coast highway, US 1, crossing the border into New Brunswick at Calais, ME, USA/St. Stephen, NB, Canada, and into the Atlantic Time Zone.  For the first time ever, we were selected for a thorough vehicle search.  While one of the customs agents assured us it was routine, and a small percentage of vehicles are selected, we are convince it isn’t random, as van-lifers do report this does happen to them, and sometimes they are not permitted entry.  But, it seems our declaration was accurate and we didn’t actually have any of the contraband they ask about, so we were soon on our way, and the Canadian customs officers were polite, unlike the U.S. customs service, which has been known to toss the contents of vehicles with abandon, when violations are suspect.

The second disturbing revelation of the day was observing the notice from our cellular service that International Roaming for data and texting would cost us $0.10 to $0.40 a Megabyte, and a dollar per minute for phone calls. We normally use 10 to 15 Gigabytes (a thousand Megabytes each) in a month of travel, so the thought of coming home to a $150 to $600 phone bill from a couple of weeks in Canada had us quickly turning off cellular data for the duration of our Canada stay, depending on coffee shops for WiFi not only for data but for phone calls, relying on WiFi for phone service as well.

The Bay of Fundy, from Fundy National Park, New Brunswick, Canada.

So, late afternoon, because of the van search and the time change to Atlantic Daylight Time, we arrived at beautiful Fundy National Park.  Like the U.S. parks, the entrance fee is separate from the on-line camping registration fee, and we don’t have a pass, like we do for U.S. National Parks, so it’s a little expensive.  But, the campground not only had electricity, but good water at the campsite, and a coin laundry.  We got caught up on our laundry for six Loonies (Canadian $1 coins, with a loon on the back) . Without internet access, we were a bit unsure about finding places to stay on this holiday weekend after tonight.  We realize it’s a long way home, and many campgrounds close for the season on Tuesday morning after the holiday.

Fortunately, the kind ladies at the campground registration booth informed us of free WiFi at the park resource pavilion, 4 km up the mountain.  So, the next morning, we drove up into the fog bank and got on the Internet, where, despite the three-day Thanksgiving holiday weekend, we secured two nights at Mira River Provincial Park in Nova Scotia, near the very eastern tip of Cape Breton, with electricity.

So, off we went, on another 600-km day on a difficult route that took us on back roads along the Bay of Fundy, where the tides are three to four times the 4-meter tides we experience in Puget Sound.  The tide was running out, showing us boats grounded far below the tall piers, and steep high banks that were obviously inter-tidal.  We passed through the city of Moncton, and on into Nova Scotia, on freeways and a toll road that depleted our supply of Toonies (the Canadian two-dollar coin), to the famed archipelago, finally arriving at our campsite just at 5:00 pm.  It’s already after the season, most of the campgrounds are closed or partially closed: this one was, but still allowed on-line reservations, so we drove directly to our campsite and settled in as the sun set.  

At 60°2‘17“W, we’re farther east than we’ve been before, and four hours in the future from home.  But, at nearly the same latitude, so the flora, fauna, and seascape looks vaguely familiar, with the Cape Breton Archipelago looking a lot like the Salish Sea Archipelago of the Gulf, San Juan, and Puget Sound hilly islands.  Our third big shock of the day was paying $100 CDN for 55 liters of petrol, which turns out to be about $5 USD per gallon, and the annoyance of being limited to $100 purchases at a time, which barely fills half the 115-liter tank.

Merchant Mariner Monument, Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada.

We discovered, after reading the maps we picked up at the Nova Scotia Welcome Centre, that the Cabot Trail is 300 km of tortuous mountain and cliff-side driving.  Whoops.  Not a casual day ride, especially since we are nearly 100 km from the trail access.  So, we decided on a new plan.  Saturday, after a series of dash-and-run long-distance drives, we would explore around the Sidney area, which we did.  First, we discovered that we were within 20 km of a national treasure, the Fortress at Louisbourg, an early French harbour fortification that was faithfully reproduced from ruins between 1960 and 1976, similar to but much larger and more elaborate than Fort Ross, the Russian outpost we toured last year on the California coast.

The Fortress at Louisbourg, National Historic Site, Nova Scotia, Canada. The French fortress was not only a military outpost, but a major seaport in the 18th century.. The present-day city-fortress was painstakingly reproduced on the original site to its 1744 configuration, based on design drawings and archaeological digs, and comprises about 1/5 of the town and fortress of that time. The original city and fortress were destroyed by the British in 1760.

So, without any Internet or Cell coverage, we went in early morning to check out the hours, etc., of which we were a bit early, but the nice lady at the entrance gate told us the hours and advised us to just do part of the Cabot Trail, instead of the entire long loop.  In the meantime, since it was a gray and blustery day, we drove into Sidney, checked email and Facebook, courtesy of Tim Horton’s excellent WiFi, while munching on bakery goodies and drinking great coffee.  We did a quick driving tour of the waterfront (huge Norwegian Lines cruise ship in port) and headed back to start our fortress tour by noon.  Unfortunately, the ragged remains of Hurricane Phillippe chose that moment to dump a lot of water, driven by high winds, at that very spot.  The Fortress is a big place, and we were soon soaked to the skin, but had a great time poking around in the buildings and talking with the costumed re-enactors, who represented members of the fortress staff in the year 1744, when the fortress was complete and at its heyday, one year before the first British siege and occupation.

The Governor’s Residence, barracks, and chapel.

Fortunately, we are currently living in our van, so we piled in and changed out of our wet clothes, then waited for the next busload of tourists to offload into the storm before driving slowly back to our campground, buffeted by winds and hammered by rain, dodging standing and running water on the roadways.  Back in camp, we plugged in to the power just before it went off, all over camp.  The park staff said it might be back on but not until after 4:00pm. Meanwhile, the washrooms were locked–no lights, no hot water, etc… We drove a few kilometers to a nearby gas station/convenience store where there was power to use the washroom. The power returned, but not until more like 4:00am, and the washrooms remained locked. For our $40, we might as well be in some parking lot somewhere…  We discovered that we’re too far east: our Sirius/XM doesn’t reach here, either, so no radio reception, and we elected not to cook with gas inside, so a quiet Sunday evening with our paper books and no-cook dinner.

Here’s a note while we have all this idle time on our hands:  we’ve used the metric system for some time, but, here in Canada, we’re immersed in it, which suddenly means we don’t need to convert miles to kilometers, everything is metric.  But, we’re sort of into converting backwards: how many miles do I put on the cruise control to get the right speed on the signs? I got to thinking that, by pure coincidence, metric to miles is essentially the Golden Ratio:  1 mile is 1.609 kilometers, and the Golden Ratio is 1.618: close enough.  To convert miles to kilometers, just pick the next number in the Fibonacci sequence, (1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34,55,…).  It works, after the 1,1,2, anyway.  3 miles is 5 km, 8 km is 5 miles, 8 miles is 13 km, and so forth.  Easy, huh?  Mainly, the speed limits go up and down by 10 kph, so I just hit the button 6 times for each increment.  3 clicks speeds up or slows down by 5 klics.  90 kph is close to 89, for which the next previous Fib number is 55, so 56 mph is close. Anyone else would simply look at the “mph” outer ring on the speedometer next to the “kph” inner ring, but that’s too easy.