Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Labour Day Weekend Road Trip Through Annapolis Valley and the Bay Of Fundy - A Friendly Hostel, A Fancy Resort and an Unscheduled Detour into the Unknown

As the Labour Day long weekend approached, I knew I’d be going somewhere but the problem was I couldn’t decide where. The only thing I knew for sure was I had 3 days in which to get away from home and enjoy what might be the last road trip of the year. I thought about going to Moncton to visit family, I thought about returning to the South Shore, Halifax crossed my mind briefly and I even thought about staying closer to home and driving around the Cabot Trail. At one point, I settled on the Parsborro/Five Islands area and even booked a hostel. However, about a week before my departure, another option presented itself…one that I could not pass up!
I was having a coffee with my sister and telling her about my upcoming solo, long-weekend road trip when she mentioned that she had a voucher for a free night stay at Digby Pines Resort. I’d been to Digby when I was a child and remembered seeing that beautiful resort perched along the shoreline and always wanted to stay there. She offered me that voucher because it expired in the new year and she wouldn’t be able to use it. I pondered my options; I’d have to drive 7 hours there and back which meant a significant portion of my weekend would be spent in the car and I would have to cancel my reservation in Parsborro. On the other hand, I had not been to that area in a long time, I love to drive and I knew the drive through the Annapolis Valley would be a nice one and how could I pass up a free stay at one of Atlantic Canada’s best resorts? I took the voucher and the minute I made up my mind to go to Digby, I called and reserved a room. However, I didn’t end up canceling my room in Parsborro – I decided to go there as well.

I left on time Saturday morning and headed towards the Trans-Canada Highway. And by “on time” I mean the usual hour behind planned departure. I was well-rested this time and made a point to grab a coffee at the first coffee shop I saw to avoid a repeat of the last road trip that saw me taking a little nap at the wheel on a straight stretch near the Canso Causeway. It was almost dusk when I reached the turn off to Parsborro. I wasn’t too worried about driving in the dark except for the fact that I was told there were a lot of deer in the area. I assumed I wouldn’t see the scenery of the area until the next day when I backtracked my way back to the main highway but, on the contrary, I was able to see that beautiful area under the dim and colorful light of a spectacular sunset. Darkness fell fast and than all I could see was the road directly in front of me.

I arrived in Parsborro at around 9:30 tired and hungry. I immediately started looking for my hostel so I could unpack before seeking a place to grab a bite to eat. The town was only small so I figured the hostel shouldn’t be that hard to find, right? Wrong. It took me a good 45 minutes to find it. I drove around in circles trying to find anything that looked remotely like a hostel but always ended back in the same place. Even after speaking to the owner on the phone and acquiring very detailed directions, I had trouble finding it. Finally, I found it tucked away on a little side street in the same area I had been circling all along.
The owner of the hostel was waiting for me on the step to make sure I found the right place. Her friendly manner immediately made me feel at home. Sometimes I find myself nervous going to new places because I don’t know if the people will be friendly and inviting. There is nothing worse than going to a new place and feeling unwanted or like you are getting in the way but I certainly did not feel this way at Mad Hatter!

After a brief introduction, I took my belongings upstairs to my private room, unpacked the things I would need for bedtime and ducked out for a while in search of somewhere to grab a quick, but filling, bite to eat. Unfortunately, everything was closed except the Tim Horton’s donut shop on the main drag. I like some of the food at Tim’s but I was getting sick of it because I end up eating it so much on the road. However, I once again had to settle for a plain bagel with cream cheese and a chocolate chip muffin. I returned to an empty house except for my hostess who was relaxing in her living room. Apparently I was the only guest at the hostel that night and she was very eager to get to know her guest. Although I was tired, I didn’t realize that almost 2 hours had passed while we were chatting away about our mutual love of travel, the ability to be able to pick and go whenever we pleased, the dislike of having too many material items to tie us down and our past and future adventures around the world. I am fairly well-traveled but this woman is quite the seasoned adventurer with no plans on quitting anytime soon. I love to have in-depth conversations with people like this because it is hard to find others who have a love of travel and culture like I do. Most of the people I am surrounded by at home are happy to just live mediocre lives consisting of waking up, eating, working and sleeping. I crave more and know that there is more to life than this and I know I am, unfortunately, a minority in my way of living and thinking.

I slept like a baby that night. Every time I sleep in a different bed from my own, I am reminded how badly I need a new pillow. At home, I wake up with a sore back and neck. The morning I awoke at Mad Hatter, I was pain free, refreshed and energized to face the long day ahead of me. I wished I could have stayed longer and chatted with my hostess some more and see more of the attractions around that pretty little town but I only had two days to get to my final destination and back home in time for the start of another work week. I took a quick loop around the town to take some pictures and make mental notes of the things I would like to see and do the next time I came through there and settled myself into the car for the long haul ahead of me. It’s a seven-hour drive to Digby and I wanted to get there before nightfall.

According to my dad, I made that trip through the Annapolis Valley once as a child but to remember it was another story. I made the turn off the Trans-Canada highway onto highway 101 near Halifax and started my journey through an area that is said to be one of the most scenic in all of Canada. For the first little while, I traveled through a busy area with lots of traffic. The landscape gradually changed and the traffic became lighter as I drive into a more rural area. Lush green forest areas, rolling fields and scenic coastal areas unfolded in front of me. I was in a hurry to get to Digby but I couldn’t stop that nagging feeling deep down inside that was telling me I wanted to explore a bit of that backcountry so I turned onto an off-ramp that led to one of the prettiest two-lane highways I have driven on to date.

I drove along that stretch of highway for about a half hour, passing though vineyards, farmlands, apple orchards and fields. I came to an area that was particularly scenic and pulled over to take some pictures and just enjoy the serene surroundings. I don’t normally like to backtrack the same way I came but my GPS ran out of juice and there was no one around to ask for directions. I had no idea where that highway led or whether it might lead back to my original path so I turned around and headed back the way I came. I was an hour off-track but it was an hour well-spent.

The main highway was scenic too and I made mental notes of signs for towns located off the main highway to possibly visit on my way home the next day. Annapolis Royal, Kentville, Windsor and Wolfville. I made it to Digby around 5 O’clock that afternoon and promptly tried to located the Digby Pines resort so I could check in, unpack and set out to explore the town. It wasn’t too hard to find. I made a few wrong turns and even missed the resort altogether and ended up at the terminal for the ferry to Saint John, New Brunswick. I always thought The Pines was located in a very secluded area, away from everything else (much like The Keltic Lodge here in Cape Breton) but it was located right on a main road. The area was scenic, however, and the resort overlooked the bay and surrounding coastline.

Check in was quick and easy and once I settled into my room, I set out in search of a place to eat in the town of Digby. Unfortunately, that was not to be; a motorcycle rally was taking place in the town and that evening was the main event and all the roads leading to the prime areas of the town, including the downtown area, were blocked off to outside traffic. I drove around and finally found a Subway restaurant and had to settle for a veggie sub instead of a meal in one of the local restaurants like I had hoped. I drove around the areas that were open to the public and did a bit of exploring but in the end, it was the resort swimming pool that drew me back to homebase for the evening. The night air was a bit cool but once I was submerged in those clear waters under the night sky, I couldn’t have been more relaxed.

About an hour after I entered the pool, a light rain began to fall. I contemplated getting out and retreating to my room but I stayed there with that light, warm mist falling gently on my face as I relaxed in the warmth of the heated water. When I finally did have to get out, it was not pleasant; the air had turned cold and damp and the walk back to my room in my wet clothing was an uncomfortable one. I changed and came back downstairs to wander around the resort for a bit. There were a few restaurants, a café, some common areas and lounges. As I waked about, I started to hear very loud bangs coming from outside. I thought it was thunder but it sounded louder and like it was right outside the resort gates. Without thinking twice, I wandered outside (not thinking that I could be walking right into a dangerous situation) to check it out. The bangs got louder and more frequent as I walked towards the end of the parking lot but I still couldn’t see anything until I came to a clearing and noticed the sky lit up with various colors. I forgot about the motorcycle rally closing ceremonies that evening and was witnessing a very impressive fireworks display. I stood there in the open parking lot with a light rain falling and watched until the last firework lit up the night sky.

Once again, I slept like a baby. I awoke feeling refreshed and energized and this just solidified my theory that I need some new pillows on my bed at home. I was told that the resort was supposed to be haunted and although I am usually a little skeptical about such things, my computer did turn itself off at one point while I was getting ready. It never did that before and has not done it since so perhaps there’s some truth to that rumor.

A free buffet breakfast came with my stay and I am not one to turn down a free meal, especially at a resort like this. I fit as much as I could on my plate and retreated to a table near the window where the sun was shining in. I expected the food to be of high quality but I was unable to eat some of it. The scrambled eggs had little taste and were similar to the ones you buy in a package and just add water to and the bread products and sweets were a tad dry.

The town of Digby was like a ghost town that morning. The biker rally had wrapped up and I presumed everyone was still asleep and recovering from the events of the night before. This provided me with a good opportunity to take a quick tour of the downtown area, get some pictures and hit up a café where I could buy a coffee for the road. Taking pictures of the downtown area was fairly easy as there were barely any people or cars to get in the way of my camera. I walked the streets and looked at the little shops and watched the boats coming and going but was unable to locate a café that was open that early on a Sunday morning.

I set out toward home around 11:00 that morning. Although I had a long drive ahead of me and had to be home that night, I still made a point to stop at a few of the places I noticed on the way up. Annapolis Royal was one of the towns I wanted to visit so when I came upon the exit to the town, I left the highway. After getting a little lost, I found the downtown shopping area, parked the car and set out on foot. Almost everything was closed in this town too. I walked around the grounds adjacent to the National Historic Site, took some pictures and browsed the main street for a coffee shop. Again, none were open but I came across a clothing store with some dresses in the window display that caught my eye and this shop was open. A young woman from India greeted me at the door and after discovering what type of clothing I was interested in, she guided me to a rack filled with colorful, hand-made dresses of various styles. I would have bought every one of them of I could afford it, they were all so beautiful! I picked out a handful to try on and settled on the best three to buy. I went a little over budget but due to the quality and uniqueness of the dresses and the fact that they were just what I was looking for, I saw it as an investment. Their timeless designs will carry me through many seasons without falling apart or becoming out-dated. I was so impressed with the shop, the service and the items available that I promised the young woman that I would share her business with everyone I came into contact with…including my blog readers. The shop is located on the main street in downtown Annapolis Royal. Trust me; it is well worth a stop.

With the headache and crankiness of caffeine withdrawal setting in, I had no choice but to settle for a Tim Horton’s medium with milk. Not that there is anything wrong with Tim’s coffee, it’s just that when I am traveling, I like to sample local coffee shops rather than chain shops.

Despite stopping a few times along the way, I was still making good time. I arrived at the Halifax airport hoping to grab a Starbucks coffee near the main entrance but remembered how crazy the parking situation is there so I, again, settled for a Tim’s coffee. I drove for about an hour and stopped for gas. I also hoped to find something inexpensive and healthy to eat. No such luck. I ended up driving in that special part of the early evening when the sun is just perfectly set in the sky enough to prevent car sun visors from blocking it and to blind drivers head-on. Darkness had settled in when I reached Antigonish and was again faced with a deserted town that was virtually closed down. I heard Greco made good pizza and I was so hungry by that time that that is what I settled for; a slice of pep n’ cheese because there were no vegetarian slices available. I ate every bite because I was so famished but I am unable to see what the fuss is about because it was probably one of the worse slices of pizza I ever ate! I washed it down with a sugary apple fritter from the Tim Horton’s next door and silently berated myself for literally making myself feel ill by eating so many unhealthy items in one sitting.

I reached the Canso Causeway at about 10:00 that night and although I love long drives, I was happy to have reached that final leg of my journey. I was back on Cape Breton Island and there was just one long stretch left until I could rest in my warm bed. I always get a little mixed up at the round-about right after the causeway. There are three ways you can go; route 4 through St. Peters, the 105 Trans-Canada through Baddeck or the Ceilidh Trail through Judique and Port Hood. I always mess up and end up on the furthest exit onto route 4 so this time, I made sure I didn’t go too far over and exited onto the 105. Or at least I thought I did. I drove for about a half hour and started to notice things I had never noticed before on that well-traveled highway. A church I never noticed before. A grouping of houses that must have been built since the last time I passed through there. And there it was; a sign telling me I was on the Ceilidh Trail.

This route is very scenic and leads to some of the most beautiful areas of the island but I wasn’t looking for scenery, I was looking to get home. Had I kept traveling that route, I would have ended up in Inverness and other remote communities and it would have taken hours to get home. I had two options; turn around and go back to the Causeway and get back on the 105 or set my GPS to take me back to the 105 without backtracking. As it turned out, there was a route back to the 105 so I followed the instructions on the screen. The first road I turned onto was paved, which was a good sign. The screen on my GPS was telling me that after a few turns, I would be back on the 105. I didn’t say how long this would take or how many kilometers this detour was. It also didn’t tell me that every road after that first turn would be gravel…and, quite literally, in the middle of nowhere. By now on, I will program my GPS to avoid gravel roads. But than again, I told myself that the last time I got lost while traveling in the Mojave Desert of Nevada.

About twenty minutes into my journey into the unknown backcountry (which I now guess was the Mabou Highlands area based on a map I looked at a few days after that ill-fated wrong turn), my GPS went black. Panic set in and I contemplated turning around and backtracking. I usually think things through and make fairly good decisions but that night I made the decision to keep going. And keep going I did – for another two hours on gravel roads, in the middle of nowhere, with no people, houses or other vehicles to be seen. Just me and two very large coyotes trotting along the road. Their size alone and the fact that they were obviously on the prowl for food had me thinking about what I would do if I ran out of gas or broke down in that desolate place. Would I get out and walk or would I stay in the car? Neither option was ideal. I glanced at my phone and noticed I had no signal. Had there been one, I might have dialed 911 to dispatch an RCMP cruiser or search and rescue team to escort me out of there. In my mind, I was lost and with every passing mile and every passing minute, I was getting more lost.

As I drove deeper into the backcountry, I felt as I was going deeper and deeper into the unknown. At one point, I reached the end of the road and could only turn right. I thought for sure I was nearing the turn off to the main highway but the road just kept going and going and going. By this time, I was so scared I started to cry. No joke. There were genuine tears. Not very many things scare me but the thought of being stuck out in that wilderness all night terrified me. Horrific scenes from various horror movies that involve lone women lost in the woods flooded my mind but just as all hope of finding my way out was about to be lost, my phone rang. I had service! This meant I was once again close to civilization. It was Dad calling to see where I was. My dad, the avid outdoorsman that he was, would surely get a kick out of me being lost and I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of having something to poke fun at. I told him I had just reached the causeway and would be home in about two hours. Just a little white lie. Not long after I hung up the phone, a street light came into view followed by some houses and finally, a stop sign signifying the end of that impromptu journey into the unknown. I was back, safely, on the Trans-Canada Highway. I may not have been able to laugh at myself while it was happening, but I laugh at myself now thinking about how I got lost so close to home…on the island that I thought I knew like the back of my hand. Someday, I will recreate that wrong turn and see exactly where I was but I will make sure it is during daylight hours and that my GPS is fully charged!

No comments:


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...