Monday, May 19, 2008

Great Oddyssey of Nova Scotia.

Yes, I know there’s only one “d” in odyssey. The odd thing about ours is its’ disjointedness. Argonauts we’re not, as our dedication to extreme trekking will be limited to weekends and holidays as we try to circumnavigate Nova Scotia’s entire 2400 km coastline in fits and starts. And yes, I know Jason and his Argos were not part of “The Odyssey” either. He did have a part in “Friday the 13th” though, didn’t he? But that’s another horror story…
Our story began on Victoria Day weekend 2008 as 4 friends and members of Pictou County Paddlers launched their epic voyage far inland at my home, stuffing gear into and lashing boats onto my dilapidated Dodge minivan. We didn’t really know for sure if 4 sea kayaks would fit on the poor old thing until Bill’s Sea Knife was uploaded, the last strap was tightened and we stood back to look at the fruits of our efforts. Not bad, kind of cool, really, “Let’s GO!”

An hour and a half’s drive along the Sunrise Trail took us to Heather Beach, our hoped-for takeout point later in the day. By a stroke of luck, Wayne’s friend Dave was innocently raking grass in front of his neat little cottage on the water, so we promptly shanghaied him as our shuttle driver. Now grossly overloaded with 4 boats, a ton of gear and 5 bodies, the valiant old Dodge struggled further up the coast to the very border with New Brunswick at the mighty Tidnish River. Dave waited and watched patiently as we offloaded boats and gear, shaking his head in amusement all the while at our apparent foolishness. “You don’t even have any beer.” he noted, a realization that struck me pretty hard as well.

After a toast to our own good fortune with wine made from locally grown grapes, or possibly gooseberries, we launched into the swirling Tidnish and tagged up on the New Brunswick side by patting the reedy shoreline with our hands.

The marine forecast was for westerly winds diminishing, and for the first portion of our trip we enjoyed stout tailwinds. Later on the breeze would swing south and intensify, but we were blissfully unaware of this as we gleefully surfed along, noting 7 and 8 kph GPS speeds. Our first break was for lunch at a beautiful little park dedicated to the builders of the Chignecto Marine Railway. This grand boondoggle proposed to transport ships 17 miles overland from the Northumberland Strait to the Bay of Fundy, saving hundreds of sailing miles. A Herculean effort, it very nearly succeeded before succumbing to the vagaries of finance and politics. Sadly, an all too typical Nova Scotian tale. Other fine examples of foolish spending in that era include the Shubenacadie Canal and Pictou County’s own tidal lock project in Trenton. Thank goodness our leaders learned from these valuable lessons and no longer dump good money into bad projects…

While dining at this serene and well-maintained enclave, we noticed Lynda-Marie’s major wardrobe function à la Janet Jackson, and of course politely suggested that she get herself back into more presentable attire in the name of propriety. Tsk tsk.

Continuing on, we decided to try for the Provincial Park at Amherst Shore, some 14 km to the east. We enjoyed the beautiful sunshine and cool breeze, but I was somewhat saddened by the intense shoreline development along this stretch. There were summer homes on almost every square cm of shoreline, each with ugly and desolate piles of armour rock guarding them from natural coastline erosion. Some cottage owners had driven palisades of hemlock logs into the sand along their properties, which at least eased the eyesore effect somewhat.
Coastal travelers should be aware that although safe landing spots are plentiful along this shore, you’ll almost invariably be standing in someone’s back yard when you pull your kayak ashore.

Amherst Shore Park turned out to be a mere sliver of steep muddy cliff with no access from the water, so we pulled ashore briefly for a leg-stretch and snack before continuing on towards Heather Beach. At Northport the south wind made itself known in a forceful way and the extreme fetch of Northport Harbour added to our misery, blowing us a considerable distance offshore. A spray skirt failure resulted in my getting absolutely soaked by beam waves dumping onto my lap, and Bill, Wayne & Lynda-Marie waited graciously as I put ashore to change into dry clothing. I ask you once again, is there any better feeling than warm dry fleece?

The 8 km jaunt to our takeout point at Heather Beach was uneventful as the wind settled into a pattern of occasional offshore bursts, which we countered easily with corrective strokes. We did have a moment or two of anxiety as we realized that we did not know what our host’s cottage looked like from the water, and one piece of crowded beach looked much like any other. Lynda-Marie with her newly purchased laser-enhanced vision was actually able to pick out the distinct roofline of our transport vehicle with its forest of J-cradles, and we made landfall with much relief.

Dave and Margo had told us where to find the key to their cottage, so we were quite happy to have privacy and real bathroom fixtures at the end of our day. Finding sustenance on a Victoria Day Sunday evening was a bit of a challenge, but we eventually struck a convenience store in River John that sold pizza by the slice, and we ate voraciously on their tiny outdoor patio. A neighbourhood feral cat joined us, and made out like a bandit by appealing to our consciences. The drive back to Pictou County was unusually silent as each of us evaluated aches and pains, and reflected on the enormity of what we had only just begun.
We look forward to much more of the same over the next year or three, but with perhaps less civilization.


Blogger Melissa said...

This is an very random question, but I just stumbled upon your blog and I have to ask... There was a place in Antigonish (Which is where I now live) that use to teach Sea Kayaking. They have closed down and there does not seem to be anywhere to take safety courses or lessons within any reasonable distance from here. Have you any sugegstions where Kayak lessons may be available in this general area?

4:00 p.m.  
Blogger Dan Hutt said...

Melissa, Coastal Adventures in Tangier (90 minute drive from Antigonish) gives a wide range of courses. I just took one!
Check their website at

- Dan

9:22 p.m.  
Blogger Melissa said...

Thank you so much Dan! We will be looking into it. I really appreciate your help!

1:28 p.m.  

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