Prince Edward Island

So… news to roughly no one who reads this blog, I spent a week on Prince Edward Island at the end of July, biking from tip to tip (about 200 miles after factoring in some meandering).  It’s kind of astonishing to me that I didn’t post about PEI at all during the time I was actively planning the trip.  I have been thinking about visiting there since I was 18,when my nose was regularly buried in one or another of L. M. Montgomery’s novels and I was chock full of romanticized ideas about bucolic farm life in eastern Canada circa 1900.  I didn’t start thinking seriously about a visit until a few years ago, and for the past few summers events conspired against a trip (or to put a more Suzy-Sunshine spin on it, conspired in favour of other projects instead).  This year, though, I decided that enough was enough, and it was high time for me to cross this daydream off my (damn you, popular culture, for teaching me this phrase) bucket list.

Well, Prince Edward Island wasn’t anything like the picture that my 18 year old imagination painted for me.  (For better or for worse, I can’t remember how old my brother is or to send my mother a birthday card, but I do have pretty astonishing recall of much of what my imagination has conjured up over the years – I also remembered, to within a few days, which of my journal entries from 1993 contained my first references to PEI.)  My actual experience on the Island was far richer than my imaginings were; one or two destinations on my trip left me wanting, but on the balance it was overwhelmingly beautiful there.

Rather than boring you with a long monologue about the trip (too late!), I’m going to relate two reflections – one disheartening, one more positive.  As per my usual modus operandi, I’ll start with the low end first.

L. M. Montgomery is perhaps Prince Edward Island’s most famous historical figure.  In fact, I’m a Canadian history and culture dork and even I am having a hard time thinking of anyone else from the Island.  So, it’s pretty safe to say she’s at the top of the pile of Island royalty.  She wrote, of course, the Anne of Green Gables novels, as well as a host of other novels, stories, and poems, to say nothing of her very engaging journals.  So it was with some disappointment that when I rode into Cavendish, where LMM spent much of her early life and wrote Anne of Green Gables, I discovered that she and her work are commemorated by theme parks and water slides.  Water slides!  To commemorate a literary icon for whom the natural world was as complex and colourful a character as any of her devising.  Not since I discovered that there is a shopping mall in Long Island named after Walt Whitman have I been so dismayed.

On the other hand, there was a moment on my fifth and last day of cycling that was simply lovely.  Day five dawned rainy, cold, and grey, and stayed that way throughout.  After pedalling the last 40 kilometres or so of the Confederation Trail, I emerged back on to pavement in Elmira and was immediately struck by the sight of wind turbines quietly spinning in the distance.  I’d started my trip beneath the wind turbines at North Cape, and now, nearing the end of my journey, I found myself looking up at them once again.  I was early to meet up with my ride back to Charlottetown, so I stopped for lunch in North Lake.  Pedalling in to town, I passed by fishing shacks, a packing plant, a harbour flush with fishing boats.  The one restaurant in town was the last building on the road.  The parking lot was empty, and I remember feeling a lot of trepidation about stopping there.  I did stop, though, and had a wonderful meal of chowder and mushroom caps stuffed with lobster.  Over a cup of hot tea afterwards, I remember looking out the windows of the restaurant at the rust red shoreline, the grey sky, the harbour, and a dozen or so of the wind turbines.  When I think of all the trifles, distractions, and dangers that we use our advanced technologies to construct I feel by turns frustrated, disgusted, or numb.  And then I think of wind turbines.  And bicycles.  Technologies so simple that anyone over the age of ten can completely understand how they work.  They don’t pollute, they don’t isolate people, they don’t promise flash and glamour; they simply and quietly get the work done.  I was thankful to finish the biking portion of my trip that way, under the comfort and familiarity of damp grey skies.

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"Escape Is At Hand For The Travelling Man"

Last Tuesday, I walked down town to the bike shop on my lunch break to sign up for a bicycle repair course.  The weather was lousy; misty rain, chilly weather, grey skies, piles of wet leaves everywhere.  I loved it.  I just wanted to keep on walking until my legs would carry me no further, but I had to get back to work.

There is a lot of appeal, I’ve been thinking lately, in not doing the thing that you think you’re supposed to do.  What happens when you start colouring outside the lines?  Not out of mean-spiritedness or a desire to throw other people’s plans all akimbo, just out of curiosity of what we miss when we always do what we assume we’re supposed to or expected to.  Are our actions fated or freely chosen?

Grace, Too

Well, this afternoon after work I hit one of my goals for this year (or got as close as I could, anyway). I biked from the village up to the Mohonk Mountain House. The goal, originally, was to bike up to sky top, but I couldn’t find any bikeable trails from the mountain house to the tower. Even getting as far as I did required me to ride on trails I probably shouldn’t have been riding on (but they were poorly marked for bicycle use, so I’m not sure). It was about 1100 feet of elevation gain over… I don’t know. Maybe eight miles each way? Most of it carriage trails or hiking trails. My thighs are not as sore as I thought they’d be, surprisingly. I’m glad my knees didn’t give out. In reference to my earlier post today, I didn’t wear a tablecloth skirt or knee high socks. Sorry to disappoint. Maybe next time. No pink clips either. Good thing I didn’t know they made pink clips when I bought my new bike, I never would have gone clipless.

This afternoon’s ride opens up other possibilities to me – if I can bike that far into Mohonk and connect with the carriage trail network (it only took me an hour to get to the mountain house), basically the entire Shawangunk ridge is available to me. I could bike out to Minnewaska, swim my laps, then bike home. Wow. Just… wow. I wonder if I will.

Every now and then, I remember what a lump I used to be; how in my teens and early twenties I never got any exercise or did anything aerobic. Times change, I guess.

I’m not really sure why, but this is the song that was playing in my head while I was riding. And I did, in fact, exhibit some grace; I didn’t fall over on this ride!