“He looked around at the empty plaza again, feeling less desperate than before. This wasn’t a strange place; it was a new one…he had already traveled farther than any shepherd he knew. Oh, if they only knew how different things are just two hours by ship from where they are, he thought….As he mused about these things, he realized that he had to choose between thinking of himself as the poor victim of a thief and as an adventurer in quest of his treasure. “I’m an adventurer, looking for treasure,” he said to himself.”
-Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
My inspiration gave birth to a list of rides that I wanted to do in 2019. Writing them down on paper minimized the chance that they ended up on the “someday” list that lives inside my head. Too many great rides have gone there to die. It was time to stop murdering ride ideas that way. The Rum Runners trail was the first one on my new list. A solo day trip was how I wanted the adventure to unfold, a sacred communion between me, my bike and the gravel. The older I get, the more that I crave and enjoy the cleansing effect of companionless pedalling. My riding is becoming my meditation, my experience best absorbed moving at my own pace, not distracted by small talk. Isn’t it strange how age maturity brings us back to basics, back to simply doing what makes our soul sing.
Back on the “Chester Connection” section of the trail, I pictured myself a passenger on one of the many trains that had travelled the same journey way back when. I imagined how it must have felt for them to be in the exact same location but sitting in a train cart taking in the scenery rather than outside on a bike. I wondered what they were thinking at the time. I wondered what they talked about. I wondered how they felt as I approached one of the old train stations. It has been transformed into a very quaint visitor information centre and craft shop. I imagined passengers hoping on and off the train at this station back in the day. The rich history of the area made my imagination wander, keeping me entertained during the entire ride.
Cruising on the “St. Margaret’s Bay” section of the trail, I felt so very tall looking down at the roofs of the houses below as my tubeless 40mm tires floated over the gravel surface carved into the rocky hills along the shore. This made me think about the amount of work that went into building the initial railway. The task is so very impressive, especially back when modern machinery wasn’t as available as it is today. I felt that those who built it would have been very happy to know that all of their work did not go to waste. They would certainly be proud that their railway has been born again as an amazing trail system and that it is still used today. Even the bridges are built on some of the original metal and preserved wood structure. This repurposing made me crack a deep smile.
Still on the “St. Margaret’s Bay” section and starting to feel the bonk, I wondered how far I was from the coffee shop. My gaze, brushing the brim of my cycling cap, caught a glimpse of a barn red structure ahead. It was another old train station, which is now the Bike and Bean Café and Bike Shop in Upper Tantallon. The place has so much charm. The main building is attached to an old railroad car that they use for bike storage. And that soup, salad, dessert and latte sure tasted like a million bucks after 4 hours of spinning the pedals stirring white gravel gold dust. I met a few other cyclists and chatted with the owner before heading back out for the final stretch of my voyage. I started feeling rain drops just as I rolled into Halifax. Perfect timing. No flats or mechanicals. An amazing ride that I will certainly not soon forget. The day was capped off with supper with my wife and her nephews at The Wooden Monkey restaurant in Halifax as I basked in the after-ride stoke.
Oh, and what about the other items on my 2019 ride list? There certainly were some other outstanding gravel adventures in there as well. Like the day that I got lost on purpose exploring the open spaces between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. It was one of those perfect July mornings where the green is so very green and you can taste the thickness of the warm air. I wasn’t going fast, but the riding felt effortless. It was like there was no wind even if I felt refreshed by a gentle cool breeze. And there was also the day that I finally did the Dorchester Cape loop. I had stopped in Johnson’s Mills for a quick snack just as I noticed the Sand Pipers dancing along the shore. The beauty of how they were moving literally gave me goosebumps. Yeah, those were amazingly great ride days as well.
We are sold the idea that the most beautiful places on this earth worth seeing are far away and expensive to visit. But this way of thinking only makes us miss what’s right under our noses. It makes us miss the treasures in our own neck of the woods. Who knew that all this amazing gravel existed so close to home, just waiting to be ridden? As much as the big bucket list ride destinations seem exciting and worth doing, I believe that we should all start with exploring where we already are, in our own backyards.
I got through most of my 2019 ride list. And those that I haven’t had the chance to ride yet, they may happen this fall? If not, they’ll just be at the top of my 2020 list. Maybe 2020 will the year of my first multi-day solo backpacking trip? Maybe?