Wednesday, August 8, 2012

One Does Not Simply Walk Into Canada

Tonight I find myself in the New Brunswick of the north, east of eastern standard time – at site 287 of the Chignecto North campground in Fundy National Park. The first leg of a journey that will largely revolve around the park’s namesake, I consider it something of an accomplishment just to have made it here at all. Whenever I’ve prepared to cross the border into Canada (all 2 times), I’ve developed somewhat irrational fears that I won’t be allowed in. First it was the dog and how I almost wasn’t able to get a copy of his rabies certificate, but I was able to get that straightened out so that wasn’t it. Then it was the thought that the border agent wouldn’t like what I had planned, but his only complaint could have been that my itinerary wasn’t concrete enough and if that’s what he thought, then I would have had serious doubts about the mental faculty of the people guarding this country’s borders. Maybe my failed car inspection sticker would keep me out, but why would an agent of the Canadian government care whether my car’s tire pressure was up to Massachusetts’ standards? After persuading myself that all of these reasons were no cause for concern, about 20 miles from the border I remembered reading about some international car insurance documentation which I didn’t have and obviously couldn’t get at this point. But I’d been to Toronto for more than 24 hours only a few months ago and hadn’t needed it, so why would the rules be any different at this crossing?

In the end, of course, none of that mattered and, after just the usual questions plus an odd series about where and what I taught and what kind of school was it, Gordo and I were granted access to the land of the Atlantic time zone. I decided to make like a Roman and put Copina Jr. into metric and change the thermometer on the car to Celsius. The metric display worked out, since I could tell my precise speed in km/hr rather than trying to guess based on the tiny metric numbers on my speedometer. My valiant attempt at being able to understand local weather forecasts by familiarizing myself with hot, comfortable, and cold temperatures in Celsius wasn’t as successful, as I soon decided that I’d prefer to be able to actually understand the temperature. The best part of the metric system, as was pointed out on the way to Torontotnto, is that while the distance remaining to travel initially seems ridiculously high (200km even after I crossed the border!), the numbers shrink very quickly. I figured out that when going highway speeds and using English units, the tenths of a mile place changes about once every 6 seconds. But in metric, the 100 meters place changes every 3 seconds. Couple that with a speed reading of 120 and I felt like I was flying.

And I needed that, because for most of my trip down the famous TransCanada Highway, I was anything but flying. Quiz: What’s the difference between Canada and Montana? In Canada, the god-forsaken flag men have signs that tell you to stop in English and French! As if I didn’t already have enough appreciation for the Interstate Highway Standards, today’s experience losing an hour stuck in traffic with only about a dozen other cars solidified it. It seemed that the construction (all 100km of it, all active work zones at 4pm) was being done with no regard for the fact that this was an active roadway – never mind the major east-west thoroughfare through New Brunswick. At least twice, I waiting at a flag man for over 10 minutes because the paving vehicles decided to block the entire 4-lane roadway while only working on half of it. After sitting alone at a flag man for about 5 minutes, I considered rolling down my window and yelling at him, but I figured that since he’s Canadian, that would be even ruder than usual.
Eventually, though, I did make it to the park and the traffic hassles were worth the trouble. This place is gorgeous. Picture the classic postcard of an eastern Canadian forest, with pine trees, hills, and crystal clear lakes. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the reality looks just like that. I didn’t get any pictures of it while driving in (after 8 hours and 499 miles I was kinda just ready to be done driving), but I’m sure I will before my Bay of Fundy circuit is done.

On top of that, the landscape of the park itself is far more dramatic than I had anticipated. I thought Fundy National Park was created to preserve the unique ecosystems in and around the bay, and that its borders extended back from the water just so people would have more unspoiled country to enjoy. As it turns out, that piece of the park is made up of the Fundy Highlands which rise (by my metric conversional calculations) well over 1,000 feet above the bay below. While high-elevation forests are nothing special inandof themselves, these are steep enough as to provide ocean views. And the ocean here is not like the ocean I’m used to. The Atlantic waters off the eastern seaboard carry the Gulf Stream, so they’re warmer than they otherwise would be. The Bay of Fundy is a closed bay, and so doesn’t partake in the Gulf Stream goodness, and is much colder. On warm summer days, this means the land is warmer than the water, which somehow creates fog. OK, foggy ocean. Sounds like Acadia. No big deal. Except… those steep highland forests rise well above the fog and provide some great vistas:

For sunset, I had scouted out the lighthouse on Cape Enrage (Best. Name. Ever.), but unfortunately it was well within the thick fog, and I had to come within about 20 feet to see it at all. Luckily, the road out to Cape Enrage provided some other good lookout points that I knew I could fall back on. In the end, I found a soccer field (I know… a soccer field in a national park. Weird.) right on the 100-foot headland cliffs with a view of water, and presumably the giant bank of fog I had just driven through.

In keeping with my tradition of eating at the most ridiculously scenic places I can find, I made myself a sandwich and tried to keep Gordo from eating all the rocks as the colors slowly faded.

For tonight, I just have one last thing to try out, but I’m not going to do 2 rounds of writing, so you’ll hear about it tomorrow if it’s a success: This park is apparently a Dark Sky Preserve, like the Grand Canyon and all the Utah parks. So I’m going to head back out to that viewpoint above the fog once it’s completely dark and see what I can see.

Then tomorrow it’s on to waterfalls, flowerpot rocks, a lonely lighthouse, and the inspiration for one of Barenaked Ladies’ most cynically biting classics. Stay tuned…

UPDATE: Success! See below:


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