The Ballad of The Time Ryan Let Me Drive (and some other rad stuff)

We’ve spent the passed week following the winding coastal Highway 7. Short excursions into fairytale Blue Rocks and sunny Mahone Bay were inspiring and perhaps too short-lived. If we were to visit the south shore again, I’d definitely rent a kayak in Blue Rocks. It was other-worldly. Giant granite mounds leading out to sea, houses precariously plopped over the rugged landscape, and a thick fog that would make you believe in ghost stories. 

Not far away, Peggy’s Cove swarmed with tourists. We opted to wait-out the crowds in a highway pull-off nearby, nestled in yet another mystical landscape: mammoth boulders strewn at random among salt marshland, alive with birds and sweeping grasses blowing in the sea breeze. We made dinner and waited for the sun to start setting. There were only about fifty people (and a bride!) left wandering the grounds of the lighthouse when we pulled in around 8pm. Perfect.

We took our obligatory photos and then sat on the sloping rocks to watch the waves slop and crash in the setting sunlight. Life living out of the van has had its good moments and bad moments. This was a good moment. We stayed for a while and left just in time to finish our evening in Halifax.

We woke up to good weather and a list of chores - luckily, we had just landed in a big city. You all know the dance by now: laundry, floors, dishes, fuel up, find water, yadda yadda yadda…

What I was most looking forward to in Halifax was catching up with a childhood friend whom I hadn’t seen in over ten years. That night, we made plans and had the world’s best double date at 2 Doors Down followed by drinks at The Bicycle Thief. We capped the night with a walk on the harbour front and eventually said our goodnights. We headed back to our stealth camping spot by the harbour ready for bed but missing them already.

The next two days were filled with a few big-city ‘luxuries’. Ryan spent an entire day mountain biking while I treated myself to a day-pass at the Canada Games Centre where I took full advantage of their sauna, jacuzzi, lap pool, and *angels singing* (((showers)))) for only 12 bucks. Glorious. Thoroughly pampered, I floated out of the aquatic centre to an equally happy Ryan. We had downloaded our favourite YouTube shows at the local laundromat and resolved to enjoy a ‘movie night’ as a small rainstorm moved in. The next day was a self-guided walking tour through downtown ending with drinks on the wharf. Our still-aching bodies are a testament to how much we saw and how many times we circled back to find my sunglasses. Halifax is awesome.

As with every multi-day stop, we suddenly felt the pull to move on. We woke up Wednesday morning and skipped our normal routine. We crossed the Mackay Bridge into Dartmouth to feast on giant croissants and espresso at infamous Two If By Sea before heading straight to Lawrencetown Beach to survey the swell brought up by a recent hurricane in the far tropical south. We probably stared at the waves for an hour. Ryan finally decided to go for it, and honestly, he killed it. I kept an eye on him from the beach while he surfed the cold water and made sure he didn’t get lost in the thick fog (girlfriend points). I’m mega proud of him.

Then something incredible happened. Ryan - for the first time since we left STRATFORD - was TOO TIRED TO DRIVE. I almost couldn’t believe the words coming out of his mouth “would you like to drive?” Um, yes. Yes I would like to drive haha. I drove us all the way to Taylor Point for a hike only to find everything clouded in dense fog. We’re sure it was a beautiful hike. With nowhere to park legally overnight, and having had it up to our gills with FOG, we decided it wasn’t meant to be and enjoyed an eerie and awesome drive along the remainder of our Highway 7 route, serenaded by The Hip, turning north (and high-fiving) in Liscomb, and ultimately ending our day with a special stay in Sherbrooke. But that’s for the next blog… ;)

 

Trouble In Paradise!

July 6, 2018 3:00am ADT
Hank Snow Free RV Park, Liverpool, NS

Sandi: *sits up in bed*  “Hun- …I think I smell propane!”

Ryan: grumble grumble snorf snorf… “Yeah… I smell it too…”

BEEEEP BEEEEP BEEEEP BEEEEP BEEEEP…

Sandi: *freaks out and runs outside like a spooked deer*

Ryan: *grumbles under breath* “Fer *beep* sakes…”

And so ensues a magical 20 minutes of Sandi standing in a field staring at the stars slightly catatonic while Ryan turns off the propane and opens all the doors to let it dissipate, followed by an hour discussion where Ryan tries to convince Sandi that we don’t need a hotel room, and that we are not going to blow up, and that we don’t need to rip out our entire propane system.

*curtain*

If you follow any vanlifer on the interwebs, you may have heard that in this lifestyle there are high highs and low lows. One minute you’re gasping in unison at some glorious vista, the next, you’re standing scantily clad outside in the dark at three o’clock in the morning because your propane alarm went off. 

We are learning that every single day can be an emotional rollercoaster. Tension between you and your partner in traffic is followed by deep belly laughs at something weird you saw. An amazing day long boarding ends in a panic to find a place to dump your overflowing grey water. And so it goes…

Living in tight quarters and spending every day together has pushed us to be flexible, patient, considerate, understanding of our differences and reverent of the things that bond us. It’s been a challenging but welcome opportunity for each of us to find out the things we need to change and to accept the things we cannot.

With that, I’ll let you know that we did not blow up and we have emotionally recovered from our midnight wups. We successfully changed our leaking, piece of s*%! tank regulator a day later and resolved to turn off our tank every night from now on. Problem solved! *applause* yaaaaaay

And now back to our scheduled programming…

Rounding The Cape

Every time we come along to a larger city, we take the opportunity to do a few chores. Living in 66 square feet is pretty simple, however, things do get dirty and the fridge periodically runs empty. So, we spent two days in sunny Yarmouth getting Nanook a little back to normal. 

Highlights included: 

  • Dinner at Rudder’s Brew Pub where we got our first taste of Yarmouth’s intense evening fog.

  • K D Laundry on Pleasant Street - ironically the most pleasant laundromat we have ever stepped foot in!

  • The cheapest breakfast with the meatiest bacon, tastiest coffee, and the friendliest service at Shanty Café

AND, lest we forget…

  • A magical, wide open, three-dollar shower at the local YMCA

Clean as a whistle and provisioned for the next leg of our journey, we headed along the coast stopping to look around in West Pubnico’s historic Acadian village, Shag Harbour’s UFO crash site (NOT my choice lol), Cape Sable Island’s white sand beach, and Birchtown’s historic black loyalist settlement. After a quick spaghetti supper in St. Peter’s churchyard and a chat with a local fella, we left Birchtown to finish our day in Shelburne.

Shelburne seemed an unassuming port town as we drove in along Water Street. The houses were older than we had seen… like 1700s old… and then we noticed that all the street signs were curiously adorned with moose heads. As we rounded onto Dock Street, however, it became immediately obvious that this was not just another port town. The narrow waterfront lane was lined with some of the oldest buildings we had ever seen. It so happens, that when the British Loyalists left the Northern United States, they moved to Shelburne and built the biggest European settlement in North America! This port was once a very happening place. 

We slept the night in the marina parking lot overlooking the handful of slips with their beautiful sailboats bobbing gently in the current. Morning brought us a wharf-side coffee and a visit to The Dory Shop Museum where a master-builder still commissions the traditional wooden row boats.

After an over-caffeinated morning in Shelburne, we took an afternoon drive to Keji Seaside National Park where a short hike through thick brush brought us to some of the best, unspoiled oceanfront either of us had ever seen. White sandy beaches, big craggy headlands, plump seals basking on rocky isles, and the clearest turquoise water as far as you could see. It was a remarkable coastal wilderness that was well worth its 6+ km entrance on bumpy road.

There is sadly no camping at Keji Seaside, so we opted for an evening drive to the town of Liverpool where we could spend a restful night at the Hank Snow Free RV Park and visit a few historic sights in the morning… 

 

Digby to Yarmouth

We left off in the harbour town of Digby, Nova Scotia, where we celebrated a memorable Canada Day. Our original goal was to then head up the Digby neck to visit Long Island, but we were feeling more excited about ending our day in Yarmouth. So, we changed course, first, with a jog inland to the tiny hamlet of Bear River. This tiny artsy first-nation community is steeped in Mi’kma’ki history and has a lot to offer with its world-class ‘Flight of Fancy’ art gallery, Sissiboo coffee roastery, friendly habitants, and a gently-rolling inky black river that cuts right through the middle and begs the avid paddler to put-in. 

We then headed back toward the coast and picked up the Evangeline Trail which led us through the endless charming Acadian burrows that dot the French Shore from Digby to Yarmouth. We stopped several times to take in landmarks like the Gilbert’s Cove Lighthouse - which once housed a family of seven, Weasley style - as well as the behemoth St. Bernard and Église Sainte-Marie Catholic Churches which tower over their tiny towns. 

Our last stop before Yarmouth was Maitland Beach Provincial Park. Lined with fragrant rose bushes and boasting a sprawling white sand oceanfront, it was the first time either of us had truly stood and looked out into nothing but Atlantic Ocean. It felt incredible to experience that together, even more so, as we had only just done the exact same thing on the Pacific Ocean just one year ago.

A short drive from Port Maitland, Yarmouth began with a meandering countryside drive and opened into a delightful port-side town. We enjoyed dinner at Rudder’s Brew Pub waterfront patio as the chilly evening fog rolled in and made note of all of the shops and parks to visit the following day…

 

Happy Canada Day Weekend!

We woke up Saturday Morning at serene Lumsden Pond to warm sun and an empty lot. We enjoyed our morning coffee by the water and decided it would be a good day to get a few chores done. We headed back into Wolfville - our new favourite town - and grabbed breakfast at the farmer’s market where we ran into our new friend, Hyla!

A quick peruse around the market and an old bookstore had us toting treasures which we dropped off at the van before heading to the hardware store and then to TAN Coffee - wifi central. There we had a wonderful chat with yet more new friends acquired from the market (I swear, I’ve never had so many friends. People are so nice here!) and I finally uploaded my first blog post (yay!!).

Ryan was really itching to have his first ride in Nova Scotia, so with our errands complete, we were back on the road. Kentville Gorge offered Ryan a challenging and interesting ride while I spent some time working on the van. I restrung our fairy lights that had been flopping around, reorganized the cupboards, and most exciting of all, found a home for the mountain of STUFF that was living on our bed.

Before today, we had been moving two hiking packs, a guitar, a ukulele, our window shade, some clothing, a bag of hats and mitts, and our laundry bag EVERY DAY. Once in the morning onto the bed and then again in the evening off of the bed. UGH. To make room, we sacrificed our toilet to the recycling gods and repurposed the giant bench seat to house all of our random items. It’s so much better now.

We have certainly learned the hard way that less is more. Room to breathe is more important than something you think you might miss. We can’t wait to pair down even further. It’s amazing what you don’t need. Ryan returned from his ride happy albeit sweaty so we headed back to where we started our day at Lumsden Pond for a refreshing swim.

Clean and fed, we decided to head down the highway through the Annapolis Valley to a little harbour we had found on iOverlander. We squeezed into the tiny parking lot just before 10pm and took a few minutes to explore the tiny harbour of Hampton - an interesting juxtaposition to the giant mountain we had to drive over to get there. A small lighthouse, some interestingly shaped sheds, and four small fishing vessels sitting on the sea floor aside the wharf made for a cozy feel. A family enjoyed a campfire down the beach and a VW Bus with European plates was our neighbour for the night. 

Our morning was a brief seaside lookout over the stinky bay to spy seals before deciding to head straight to Annapolis Royal for our morning coffee/bathroom/breakfast time. The stretch of highway was bordered by wild rose bushes that filled our tiny home with a pleasant aroma as we drove passed and replaced the moldy sea smell of the harbour.

It always feels so good to get back on the road, off to a new place! 

Annapolis and Port Royal were dripping with history. It seemed incredibly fitting to visit Canada's first European settlement on Canada Day. We had a great coffee and met new friends Warren and Jenny - two cyclists that were on the same trip as us only on two wheels - incredible! 

After visits to Fort Anne, the Sinclair Inn (second oldest wood building in Canada!), Tripp's Gallery, and the reconstructed Port Royal, we got back on the road, this time, to Digby.

We weren't sure what to expect in Digby. Locals and guidebooks alike suggested a quick pass-through in contrast to its apparently more-charming neighbours. Nevertheless, we thought we would try our luck at finding some dinner. Boy, were our expectations exceeded!

We strolled into Shoreline Restaurant and snagged their very last patio seat overlooking the harbour and there was even a live band playing on the lawn. Ryan enjoyed a meal of scallops and I dove into the best burger of my life. We strolled the wharf after dinner to take in the sunset, then made our way back to the boardwalk for an excellent fireworks display. 

Feeling throughly Canada Day-ed, we went to bed feeling spoiled and excited for our next destination...

 

Two Awesome Weeks in the Maritimes

I’ve been trying to write my first blog post for the passed week and a half and I’ve come to the conclusion that perhaps a daily blog is necessary. I couldn’t have guessed that we would do and see so much every day. Our country is giant and beautiful and awesome and there is so much to explore. In this short amount of time we have… (deep breath) circled the Golden Horseshoe, survived the zoo that is driving in Quebec, climbed one of the tallest peaks in the Maritimes, walked the ocean floor, sampled organic farm life, and survived illness and discomfort that some couples may never know. And that sentence only scratches the surface!

I’ve lost count of how many wonderful people we have met (some at the laundromat!) and how many times we’ve crested a ridge in the road only to gasp in unison at the vista gifted to us. We have bathed in a river and slept by the ocean. We’ve sung along to George Strait driving through the Annapolis Valley and spent rainy nights playing crib and drinking craft cider. The East Coast has been everything we imagined and more.

We hope that you’ve been following our Facebook and Instagram posts over the last few weeks as they give an excellent glimpse into the sheer untouched beauty that the East Coast of Canada has to offer. My heart aches a little for the stories I’ve been dreaming up each day that will decidedly not make it to the blog, but I’m excited to start sharing our days as they happen.

And so with that, I’m packing up the last two and a half weeks into a tiny memory box in the back of my mind to treasure always. Boots are on, camera is primed, hands are ready to write…  let’s go exploring!

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