Rain and Speed: The 2016 CMG Fall (mini) Tour

We all have a basic choice: Sit on the couch and wait for things to change, or go out and get stuff done anyway, no matter what life hands you.

So at 2 PM, I stopped waiting for the rain to end, and hit the road on the KTM Super Duke GT to Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore (find the review of the bike here). The plan was, ride at least as far as Truro, then grab a hotel to dry out, and spend the next morning discovering twisties in an area I’d never ridden before.

That plan was derailed by the early stages of hypothermia, thanks to gale-force winds forcing rain into my Aerostich. I made a call, based on years of experience riding in crap weather: instead of pressing on through the monsoon, I pulled off the highway and stayed at my sister’s in Moncton for the night. The adventures would have to wait for tomorrow.

Hit the road

Saturday dawned clear and cold. After superslabbing it to Truro, I got onto the back roads and the exploration began.

This is an area that CMG’s Founding Editor Rob Harris and I had often talked about visiting, but we’d never managed to set aside the time. Now, I was making the trip alone. And as soon as I hit the rural roads south of Truro, I wished we’d found an opportunity to make a ride here together. This is just what we were always looking for on tours: twisty roads, beautiful scenery, a lack of unnecessary traffic enforcement, and no traffic. Not for the first time this riding season, I found myself wishing I could share the moment with him.

Shortly after noon, I rolled into Musquodoboit Harbour, where I’d originally hoped to start the Saturday riding before rain derailed my plans. There’s a fish-and-chip shop here I’d recommend visiting if you’re riding through — it’s some of the best I’ve ever had, using that South Shore recipe that’s mysteriously shunned by the rest of the world’s restaurants. The haddock alone is worth the trip to Nova Scotia.

Poring over the map at lunch, I noticed an interesting side road headed to Martinique Beach Provincial Park. I took the diversion and found a twisty, scenic ride that would be a highlight of the Maritimes, if only it wasn’t so heavily housed. With great scenery and almost 60 corners in 12 kilometres, including a variety of sweepers and tight bends, this road is fun at any speed, but it would be a blast if you could pick up the pace without worrying about a blue-haired granny backing out of her driveway in front of you.

Back on the main coastal road, I headed north toward the night’s destination of Guysborough. This part of the Eastern Shore is the edge of Halifax’s cottage country, with a bit of traffic still clogging the roads.

Still, it was easy to get into the rhythm of the highway and appreciate the chance to hit a part of the Maritimes that hasn’t been corrupted by commercialization, at least not yet. On the entrance to the Clam Harbour loop (a popular destination for local sportbike riders), I passed the only tourist trap in the area: Memory Lane Heritage Village, a historical recreation of the area’s 1940s culture. Honestly, they don’t need to try that hard. Much of this area hasn’t changed in the past 70 years.

(Ironically, the park was closed for the season, and was being rented out for a Mennonite wedding party — perhaps to them, it had a futuristic theme?).

There is a lot of history in the little communities along this route, especially in the former gold mining boom towns around Sherbrooke, but the rain had put me far behind schedule. I had no time to stop and learn about the area I was riding through. Instead,  as the miles added up, I ended up in that bad place, tired of the saddle with hours of riding to go. The temperature dropped, the skies started spitting rain, and once I crossed on the ferry at Country Harbour ($7 toll!), the road got bad. Really, really bad.

While the pavement had been fairly good all day, it seems the people on Rt. 316 must have been forgotten by their provincial government when it came time to dole out infrastructure money. Despite the fact I was riding a motorcycle with 173 hp on tap, I was forced to ride below the speed limit at times, due to the crater-filled asphalt.

It was easy to see why the politicos hadn’t spent any money fixing up the roads: there was nothing here. There were the typical rocks, trees, and ocean that make up coastal scenery along the Maritimes, but not much else — very few houses, or side roads. The interior landscape consisted of bogs, spruce trees, and bogs filled with spruce trees.

It was like riding through Newfoundland, without having to pay $150 for the ferry.

The sun sets in a stormy sky.
The sun sets in a stormy sky.

At this point, I decided it was time to shut it down and beelined into Guysborough instead of taking in the scenery at Canso. I was staying with a contact I’d met on the ADVRider Tent Space thread, and I didn’t want to show up too late.

It turned out that Lenny, the ADV inmate I was staying with, was a pretty solid guy. An RCMP officer who’d traveled the Americas on a GS, and with an encyclopedic knowledge of the area, he gave me the hot tips on which roads to hit and which to avoid the next day, while feeding me at The Townhouse. Thanks again, Lenny!

End of day in Guysborough. It's a small town, but picturesque.
End of day in Guysborough. It’s a small town, but picturesque.

Rain and speed

And now it was Sunday. The plan was to explore more of Guysborough County, then head home.

Heading out the door, the sun was shining and all looked good. Within minutes, I was riding in a torrential downpour that even worked its way past my helmet visor. The road I was on — Rt. 344, around the northeast tip of Nova Scotia’s mainland — was scenic and curvy, but I was more interested in staying alive than getting my knee down, so I eased the throttle back until I could actually see out of my helmet. Eventually, I worked my way back down to Guysborough, to get on the Salmon River Lake Road.

End of the Salmon River Lake Road. Well worth the visit, at least while the pavement is in good shape.
End of the Salmon River Lake Road. Well worth the visit, at least while the pavement is in good shape.

Conditions were perfect now. The rain had stopped, the pavement was drying, I was fairly certain the RCMP weren’t patrolling this road, and I had a motorcycle with plenty of excess horsepower. I’d scouted this road on Google Maps and liked what I saw, and Lenny had recommended it as his favourite pavement in the province. Things were about to get stupid fast.

By the time I dropped out the other end of the road, the Bad Times of the morning had disappeared, and I had a smile that only a motorcycle can give. Someday, I’ll be back for that road again.

From here, I aimed up Rt. 347 towards New Glasgow, after a sign at the start of 348 warned of 30 kms of broken pavement. After 10 minutes of ridiculously fast sweepers, what should I encounter on 347, but a sign, warning of huge stretches of broken pavement there too … sigh. This is why people need adventure bikes in the Maritimes. I dialed the speed back a bit, then dialed it back more when the skies resumed their deluge with a vengeance, right around the time I hit the inappropriately-named town of Garden of Eden. I rolled into New Glasgow eagerly anticipating a hot fry-up from the fantastic Irish pub where Rob and I had dried out years earlier, while scouting for the Dawn 2 Dusk rally.

Roadside in eastern Nova Scotia, with rain bearing down quickly.
Roadside in eastern Nova Scotia, with rain bearing down quickly.

Instead, I found almost the entire downtown closed on a Sunday afternoon, and ended up choking down Subway’s offerings. Sigh, again. And as I left, the rain hadn’t stopped yet.

I’d planned to criss-cross the province, and hit up the amazing roads through Advocate Harbour, which I’d heard were freshly-paved. Soaked to the skin, I decided the more open route through Rt. 6 was a better idea. It looked as if the skies might be clearing on that side of the province, and it would give me some time to remember Rob.

Drying off at a Robin's in Tatamagouche. This oddly overbuilt gas/donut retail establishment has saved my butt more than once while traveling in foul weather.
Drying off at a Robin’s in Tatamagouche. This oddly overbuilt gas/donut retail establishment has saved my butt more than once while traveling in foul weather.

Rob and I did a couple of tours together, but we’d spent more time riding in this area of Nova Scotia than anywhere else, mostly scouting for and riding the Dawn 2 Dusk rallies. We’d talked about doing this tour before, and all weekend long, I’d been asking myself: Which roads would Rob want to ride? When would he call it quits for the day, and beeline for home base? What would he think of the route I’d taken? What Would Rob Harris Do?

The answer came on the Scotsburn Road, where I encountered another rider. He’d been waging his own battle against high winds and rain all weekend, except this guy didn’t have a nice Aerostich to keep him warm. Remembering all the times Rob bailed me and other ill-prepared riders out on tour, I followed the soggy rider into Tatamagouche, where I directed him to the town’s combination donut shop/gas station. I bought him a coffee and some food to make sure he warmed up before hitting the road again, grateful to pass on some of the roadcraft I’d learned on these same highways and byways with Rob.

All done, at trip's end in Moncton! Despite a lot of nasty weather, I managed to see most of the country I wanted to see.
All done, at trip’s end in Moncton! Despite a lot of nasty weather, I managed to see most of the country I wanted to see.

Heading down the final stretch of Rt. 6, I was rewarded. I’d gambled correctly: the skies finally parted and the roads were mostly dry. I pinned the throttle, blazing down the road like some Mad Prophet of Hoonery, evangelizing the backroad bumblers in their cages to the Gospel of Speed. By day’s end, getting off the Trans-Canada in Moncton, I’d dried out and warmed up, and despite the weather’s attempts to hold me back, I still managed to get in some speedy antics.

Given the up-and-down nature of the weekend, I was happy to end it on this note. I almost stayed home instead of taking this trip, but instead, I’d done a modest 1,250-km weekend on the bike, much of it new country, went through a lot of memories of a friend who passed away, and made a new friend. I’d gone out and lived, instead of sitting on the couch.


GALLERY

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14 thoughts on “Rain and Speed: The 2016 CMG Fall (mini) Tour”

  1. Thanks Zac, we all miss Rob but obviously those who knew him best miss him the most. I used to live in the Annapolis Valley and a bucket list ride for me is circumventing NS on every road closest to the ocean. A friend told me that is over 3000 km, oh the scallops I am going to be able to eat. Hope I live long enough to make this happen. Cam

    1. I’ve done most of it now — have ridden all around the coastline, most of it multiple times, except for between Judique and Cheticamp in Cape Breton, and between Englishtown and Port Hawkesbury on the other side of the island.

      It’s very very good riding if you have the right weather, and the eats are always fine. Best seafood going, if you’re into it. Nobody cooks fish and chips as well as Nova Scotia’s small town greasy spoons.

  2. I was in NS on my bike last summer. The 357 out of Musquoidoboit Harbour has sadly been allowed to degenerate into absolutely awful condition, the kind of condition that could easily cause a motorcyclist (or even a car) to lose control if one is not paying close attention. When the local inhabitants feel impelled to go out and highlight some of the hazards on the road with fluorescent spray paint, you know it’s pretty bad.

    1. Don`t be sorry there, your forefathers found a rainy place to settle in so they could feel at home. I must visit your backyard for the same reasons actually but you know it`s fine if it`s not raining too.

    2. Thanks Jake that would be nice and you could tell me more about your backyard .Life steered me away many times but must make it a priority at one point. Could even end up moving in the province.

  3. I always wondered why the RCMP cruiser I met in some twisties down Guysborough way just smiled and kept going . There’s supposedly a bike shop down Canso way that’s run by a former WSBK racer from the early years. Sounds like your tour waited just a bit too late this year what with the humid heatwave we had all summer.

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