Monday, August 13, 2012

A Thoroughfare for Freedom Beat

This is a public service announcement to all Canadian taxpayers: Your government has been stealing from you.

You pay the equivalent of over $4.50 a gallon for gasoline, much of it taxes, yet you have the highway infrastructure of a third world country. Either your government is full of waste, fraud, and abuse (more than even the US government), or the Trans-Canada Highway (which, as far as I can tell is not yet complete) is being built across the most hostile terrain ever encountered by road makers. I’m skeptical about the latter, since they manage to make roads out of ice every year. So boreal forest can’t be that tough to build on.

Yet there I was, paying $63 for a tank of gas when I’d never before paid more than $50, and yet every local road I took until mercifully limping onto the big 104 was as unpaved as unpaved could be. I’d call them dirt roads, but dirt would have been a welcome alternative to the ridiculousness I encountered.

After once again failing to see a sunrise, despite camping yards from the Bay of Fundy facing east...
 I first decided to take a short detour to see what I had missed last night at Cape d’Or (since there had been no sunset either). As I had expected, like any headland requiring a lighthouse, the road to Cape d’Or involved a steep windy climb to a point several hundred feet above the undulating bay. However, I didn’t expect that this well-marked scenic route would wind through the forest by way of a rocky gravel path, barely wide enough for a single car. But the road was relatively short and the car managed relatively well, and the view at the end was relatively good, so I didn’t mind this too much. I did have my worries about whether the road would have been passable in any form of precipitation, no matter how light.
From there, it was off to Cape Chignecto Provincial Park. Note that it’s a provincial park. For those of you in the US, think of the nearest state park to you. Now picture its access road. Probably pretty user-friendly, since the park is probably frequented by families or, at the very least, tourists with no specialized transportation. Not the case at Cape Chignecto.

The road to the day-use area – the only road – was truly a disgrace. For tourists to visit a park that’s existed for nearly 20 years and features some of the most spectacular landscapes in this half of Nova Scotia, they must navigate a 20-mile field of orange boulders where any speeds over 40km/hr kick up so many stones that one runs a real risk of damaging the sides of their vehicle. Often, one is required to drive on the left side of the road because the only passable route is to follow the ruts made by previous tires. Even then, it’s still often necessary to swerve into the rocks to avoid some of the larger obstacles.
This is how Nova Scotia has chosen to welcome its tourists (who make up 1 of only 2 industries keeping the province from complete destitution. Fishing is the other). This is how Nova Scotia has chosen to show itself off to the rest of the world. This is how Nova Scotia has chosen to prioritize the spending of its tax revenue. I’ve tried to think of roads in the US that are of similarly poor quality and, with the exception of the Monument Valley loop, there are none that I could think of. But there are several reasons why Nova Scotia’s situation is more unacceptable.

Monument Valley is in a desert in one of the poorest parts of the country. If the Navajo in the area had the resources to pave the road, they likely wouldn’t be able to maintain it through the extreme seasonal fluctuations. That’s assuming they’d even want to intrude on a holy site by building up a road with outside materials. Monument Valley is also a tribal park on tribal land and, unlike Cape Chignecto, does not have the financial support of a powerful sovereign nation. Furthermore, the Monument Valley scenic loop is just that – a scenic loop. It’s a road designed only for those who want a close-up view of the desert landscape. It has no destination and travel on it is, by definition, never necessary. The road from Advocate Harbour to Eatonville is a thoroughfare – the only passage from one side of this peninsula to the other. Any alternate routes would take hours and would likely also involve rough unpaved roads.

In the end, when I finally made it to the Eatonville day-use area of the park this morning, it was shrouded in fog and appeared to be closed. At this point I decided that Nova Scotia was dead to me. Of my last 4 destinations in the province over my last 2 days there, I hadn’t managed to reach any of them as I had planned (I only eventually made it to 1 – Cape d’Or). The weather had been depressing and infrastructure nonexistent. I hadn’t even managed to find myself any seafood. The few scattered buildings advertising lobster were all seemingly empty and looked more like repurposed single-family homes. Maybe if they had had lines of cars waiting outside I would have considered trying one out, but I certainly wasn’t about to go into an empty sketchy-looking building in a foreign country and ask for the type of food most likely to make me sick.

Once I hit the Trans-Canada Highway (oddly, there didn’t seem to be any construction westbound – like they didn’t want to impede your ability to get the hell out of there), it was a straight shot into New Brunswick, where Copina managed to get me lost in search of a post office (but at least kept me on paved roads, which New Brunswick is much better with). By the time MSNBC turned from straight news to opinion programming, I found myself gladly waiting in traffic for nearly a half hour next to this friendly sign:
Once over the border I quickly changed my time zone back to Eastern, reactivated my phone, and returned Copina to standard units. From there, it was only a few hours to my final destination, a place with by far the most badass name in the Northeast – Katahdin.

Less than an hour off of I-95, the tallest peak in Maine, rising in prominence over 4,000 feet from the valley below and with a jagged summit well above treeline, was too good to pass by. After all, when could I expect to be so close by again? It’s not like I’ll be returning to Nova Scotia any time soon.

So, thanks to my little yellow friend in Google Maps, I had found a spot just south of the mountain that promised a spectacular view without leaving the road. But even before I got to my spot, the views of this towering yet isolated massif were pretty outstanding.
When I finally reached my destination, I decided to hang around for the last hour of daylight to see if anything developed as the sun set. Since I was facing north, I knew I wouldn’t get a true sunset, but after days of disappointments in Canada, I figured I had nothing to lose. So I finished the last of my cold cuts while listening to the end of The Client. Here’s what I saw over that hour:

After that, it was 5 hours down 95 before I hit 495 and familiar territory. After a week that must have been exhausting for a 12-pound poodle, Gordo slept the entire way home.

The final word on Nova Scotia is that, with the exception of the west side of Cape Breton Island, Peggy’s Cove, and the Skyline Trail, the province is largely devoid of anything interesting to do or see. While everyone in Canada is friendly, I found the Nova Scotians to be less welcoming than New Brunswickers or Ontarians. There is some nice scenery but most of it is either inaccessible or unviewable due to summer fog. I’m glad I can say I’ve been there, but it certainly won’t find its way onto a list of potential road trips any time in the near future. Places like Acadia and the Blue Ridge Parkway are much more deserving of a second chance.

Until next time.

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