We do a lot of touring here at CMG, but one area we haven’t toured extensively is in our own backyard; specifically, southern Nova Scotia. In early June, we found out, with some help from the Nova Scotia tourism board – read on. There are four pages to this story, so click the link at the bottom of each page to get to the end, and the photo gallery.
When ancient cartographers wanted to draw up a map but were too lazy to actually sail to the edge of the world and survey the area for themselves, the solution was easy: Simply scrawl in the margin that Here be dragons and add an appropriate scary picture.
Motorcyclists can be guilty of doing the same thing. Instead of really taking the time to research an area’s best roads, they write off a whole region because they did some boring highway riding through there once.
That is the case with southern Nova Scotia; it’s just another boring collection of rocks and trees if you stick to the main highway. ‘Arris and I have both been there and done that, but looking at a map you see a whole load of back and coastal roads that contort around Nova Scotia’s jagged coastline. It’s not the quickest way through the area, but we thought it would make the ideal destination for the 2014 CMG Spring Tour.
We had assembled a collection of three adventure bikes for the recce; ‘Arris with his long term BMW F800GSA, myself on a Ducati Multistrada 1200 that the Canadian Ducati rep kindly dropped off for us on his way to Newfoundland for a holiday, and lastly a Suzuki V-Strom 1000. This was made available through Suzuki’s Halifax office collected by fellow motojournalist and east coast transplant, Michael Uhlarik who we’d managed to convince to join us with promises of free hotels and expenses paid(ish).
We left CMG’s HQ in Sackville, NB on what was possibly the year’s first sunny Friday afternoon, taking our time through the secondary (and third-dary, if that’s a word) roads between Truro and Wolfville, where we’d meet up with Mr Ulharik and the tour would officially start. There’s lots to see before you reach Wolfville, but that’s where the tour really kicked off, from the Old Orchard Inn.
Day 1: Wolfville-Yarmouth
Wolfville, like any good university town, has plenty of upscale cafes aimed at draining the wallet. Saturday morning dawned with ‘Arris and Uhlarik trying to one-up each other with orders of fancy Euro-style coffee, while I checked out the day’s map with a cup of joe straight from the pot.
I’d heard there was good riding to be had in the Annapolis Valley, but it was hard to know for sure without actually hitting the roads. Rural Atlantic Canada is a strange mish-mash; sometimes, country roads are the empty stuff of motorcyclist’s dreams, with plenty of scenery and no speed enforcement, and sometimes you ride for miles stuck behind commuter traffic and don’t see anything but front lawns.
At first, leaving town, I worried we’d be in for nothing but front lawns as our route took us through Kentville and Centreville, and we ended up stuck in traffic. But once we hit the 221 that traffic fell right off, along with a lot of baggage. Not actual motorcycle baggage – I’m talking about the caged-in feeling of looking out the window all winter at cold, white nothing. My east coast winter had been nothing but bad weather and broken bikes, and it was fantastic to hit a road with curves, great scenery, and all aboard a new motorcycle that wasn’t mine.
As it turns out, our timing was impeccable, with the Annapolis Valley’s famous apple orchards just coming into bloom. For those who don’t know anything about “the valley”, it’s a bit of a geographical oddity, formed between two ranges and running for over 100 km from Wolfville to Digby, paralleling very closely to the Bay of Fundy.
The northern range keeps out the cool air from the Bay of Fundy, and the southern range keeps the cool air of the Atlantic out. This causes a relatively warm micro-climate that makes it the garden of the Maritimes for veggies and fruits, particularly apples. Its wide, flat bottom has Highway 101 running down it, but there are also many secondary roads offering the rider gentle, rolling curves through a unique bit of gorgeous geography. It’s a little bit like Pennsylvania, only sans Amish.
Unfortunately our Google Maps route took us down some gravel road and although we were on adventure tourers, the Ducati’s 17-inch wheels with sport rubber didn’t offer a great off-road experience, so we opted to do some quick re-routing.
Our revised route took us north-westerly, to the Bay, which is hardly the worse thing that could happen, but as soon as you crest the ridge, the cold air off Fundy brings the temperature down a good 10 degrees – a reality evident by the sudden lack of population, despite the ocean view. The upside is that you get to navigate a very unexpected set of switchbacks to get back into the warm valley, complete with postcard quality vistas.
We couldn’t have asked for a better day. It’s always a treat to ride on a rare sunny and warm spring day, but when unknown roads offer up a great ride, you really feel like you’ve hit the jackpot.
Just before lunch, we hit the Annapolis Royal Tidal Generating Station, and had a quick lesson in the facility’s energy production. This is highly worth the stop, if you’re riding through the area; it’s Canada’s only functioning tidal energy station, in business since the 1980s, and staff can not only give you the site’s vital statistics, but also fill you in on other fascinating projects being planned in the area.
Lunch was at the Bistro East in Annapolis Royal, around the corner from the Fort Anne historic site. Everybody was polite and courteous in town today, a far cry from the scene about 300 years ago, when this area was one of North America’s bloodiest battlegrounds during the French/Indian war. Thankfully, there were no militant Acadiens or vengeful, armed New Englanders in sight, and we passed through unscathed, unlike the military expeditions of the past.
Outside town, we headed down some more bumpy pavement towards Bear River – Michael had heard legends of some sort of town built on stilts in this area. Upon arrival, the town turned out to be picturesque, but a bit small and beat-up, with a few stilts holding up some collapsing buildings.
It’s also where we had our first brush with the law. Luckily, all Officer Andrew wanted to do was talk – he was off-duty, and stopped his V-Strom to chat with fellow adventurists. He led us out of town at a much-more-legal pace than what we’d been riding at, and pointed us towards the night’s destination, Yarmouth. From here the road gets a little more populated (lots of lawns) but it doesn’t last for long and is a small price to pay for what had preceded it (though it may be worth jumping on the 101 to save some time).
Our only drama came after checking into the Rodd in Yarmouth and heading out for some quick snaps at the Cape Forchu Lighthouse. The road between Yarmouth and Cape Forchu is short, but one of the twistiest in southern Nova Scotia, winding by beaches and wharves, with plenty to see when you stop (just don’t take your eyes of the road when moving).
The road is much less exciting, though, when your bike doesn’t start and your co-riders don’t notice, merrily gunning for the horizon while you sit and pull fuses and press buttons, hoping you don’t have to end the tour and leave a $23,000 Ducati on a decrepit dock.
Thankfully, I eventually got ‘old of ‘Arris when he checked his messages back at the hotel. He rode back out to help diagnose the issue. Turns out that sometimes keyless ignition can get confused, and requires the battery to be disconnected and reconnected to solve our problems – albeit with the gauges now set to miles.
View CMG Spring Tour, Day 1 in a larger map