Well if our summer trip was about the “art of the pivot”, our fall trip was about the “art of timing”. We planned this trip in hope of catching some beautiful New England and Canadian Fall color. With the Cape Breton Highlands being our most northern destination, we timed our trip hoping to hit peak color there and then follow it south to Acadia National Park. I’ll let you know right now that we didn’t see peak color until we were back home about a month. Timing is an art…especially when it comes to Fall color.
Traveling across the Canadian border in the time of Covid and border restrictions, makes timing acutely important. We needed negative PCR tests within 72 hours of crossing the border. With 1200 miles of road to cover to the border and ever-changing lab processing times, we hit the road the day after our tests with the hope that our results return on time and be negative…definitely aware that we might have to pivot.
Day 1 (Friday, September 24, 2021) had us driving 650 miles(through 6 states) to a Harvest Host location, Blackhead Mountain Lodge and Country Club in the Catskill Mountains of NY. We arrived in time to walk around the golf course and enjoy dinner on the patio of their pub.
Day 2 was another 550 miles to St Andrews by the Sea in New Brunswick. We were about 1.5 hours from the border when we received our negative test results. With spotty cell service, I finally was able to complete our ArriveCan registration for entry to Canada…with very little time to spare. We had a 2 hour window in which we could cross the border. Whew! Border crossings in the time of Covid is all about the art of timing. Whew…again.
St Andrews-by-the-Sea is a historic resort town on Passamaquoddy Bay which is an inlet of the Bay of Fundy at the mouth of the St. Croix River. Never heard of it before this trip but enjoyed ending our day here exploring the shore, strolling the waterfront and historic downtown…even in the rain. Île-Sainte-Croix viewing park was our overnight wild camping site (complete with bathrooms!!).
Day 3 had us driving through stormy weather for 70 miles to Fundy National Park. The weather had us pivoting multiple times today.
These are the first red chairs we encountered. What is this you say? The concept is this: plop pairs of red Adirondack chairs throughout Canada’s most beautiful places and encourage people to enjoy the view and SHARE. #sharethechair They are comfortable and they do make a pretty photo…
First hike lasted about 10 minutes.
Second hike lasted about 10 seconds…
Third try…30 minutes
Continued exploring by car as we made our way north toward Hopewell Rocks.
We arrived at Hopewell Rocks in the rain at high tide around 4pm and paid for our park admission which is valid for two consecutive days to ensure you can see both high and low tides.
I will say that Bay of Fundy and, specifically, Hopewell Rocks, has been a bucket list destination for a long time. The Bay of Fundy is home to the world’s highest tides …sometimes over 50 feet. The tide rises 4-6 feet per hour. It is referred to as a Chocolate River because of the heavy sedimentation. The park has stairs to the ocean floor that are accessible for 3 hours before and 2 hours after low tide.
We parked just a few miles away behind Albert County Historical Museum, a 6 acre site overlooking the Bay of Fundy. We had it to ourselves for the night.
Over dinner we plotted our return at low tide and at sunrise. The park doesn’t open until 9am which makes catching the sunrise from the ocean floor a bit of a challenge…but not impossible. Timing is everything…sometimes. A Google search revealed that it is okay to enter outside of operating hours. You visit at your own risk, however, the cables, signs and safety measures are all in place. We also wanted to let Saka run and swim and avoid the crowds that are normally present at low tide.
Day 4. September 27…my 65th birthday started with an adventure. We had no problem entering Hopewell Park and we enjoyed exploring the beach for 3 hours until the gates officially opened.
“Time and Tide wait for no man.Geoffrey Chaucer
After leaving the beach we hosed ourselves off and drove to Cape Breton Island with a reservation for the Iona Heights Inn overlooking Bras d’Or Lake…Canada’s only inland sea. Hot showers were the first order of business…then we wandered up the hill behind our motel to Highland Village Museum. We had the 43-acre site to ourselves…capping off the day’s adventures perfectly.
Frolic’n Folk Pub & Grill for dinner had views and great seafood chowder. Unfortunately, the signs said “No Frolic’n” due to Covid. While we were at dinner, Jacquelyn and Luke had a birthday surprise delivered to our room. Saka was there to accept it.
Day 5 started with another walk up the hill for the sunrise view.
As we left Bras d’Or Lake for Cape Breton’s Highlands National Park, we discovered that roads are a little different in this area.
Crossing in less than 10 minutes, we were on the Cabot Trail to the Highlands and hopefully some Fall color. We arrived in the park midday and with rain in the forecast. Middle Head Trail ended up being our one and only hike in the Cape Breton Highlands.
It started to rain as we finished up this hike and we headed back outside the park to a site we spotted earlier. This qualified as epic. The pictures speak for themselves.
Day 6 involved a pivot. We had planned to explore and hike the Cape Breton Highlands for the next 3 days and catch some Fall color. Remember how we timed this trip??? Well our timing not only sucked…so did the weather. If there was Fall color, it wasn’t visible through the clouds and rain. Unfortunately, the forecast didn’t look to improve for at least 4-5 days in the Highlands. We continued counterclockwise on the Cabot Trail and started to make our way south.
We enjoyed a great lunch (more seafood chowder for me) and an afternoon ceilidh (live Cape Breton fiddle music) at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre. We parked just down the road at a quiet, peaceful fishermen’s cove next to the beach for a good night’s sleep.
Except for this alarm on our electrical system that kept going off every 30 minutes. I could try to give you Flay’s explanation but I’ll just say that it was a related to not having a sufficient internet signal to connect with the “mother ship”…Flay being the “mother ship”. All is fixed now.
Day 7 had us departing Cape Breton and heading south of Halifax to explore the Nova Scotia Lighthouse Route.
It was wonderful to finally see some sunshine…thankful that the van makes the pivot so easy.
Peggy’s Cove was certainly busy with tourists but it was quite beautiful. It is still an active fishing community and a great rock hopping site.
Old Town Lunenburg is one of only two urban communities in North America designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Seventy percent of the original colonial buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries are restored and make for a colorful visit.
Mahone Bay was a much quieter and tranquil town. Three churches sit at the water’s edge and form the iconic backdrop for this picturesque town. We wandered hours around this pretty town.
In addition to being beautiful…albeit without much fall color…the town was decorated for their annual Scarecrow Festival. Most creative scarecrows ever…
The Harvest Host brewery where we stayed was closed but still welcomed us. It was a great spot for a quiet night right in town.
Day 8 starts with a quick walk to watch day break over the water.
First things first. Flay needs a really strong wifi signal to get some work done. The Barn Coffee & Social House had been very highly recommended to us by the musicians we enjoyed meeting in Cape Breton. It was one of the best coffee shops (and wifi signals) we’ve encountered.
At this point, we are one day ahead of our planned itinerary due to our weather pivot. We moved up our hotel reservation in downtown Halifax and headed to hot showers. Halifax is a fun walkable town. It would be even more fun not in the middle of a pandemic…what wouldn’t? We were thankful Canadian businesses required masks and restaurants required proof of vaccination and contact tracing info. Do you think they served Flay’s beer in this glass for any specific reason???
Day 9 is time to head back across the border. Thankfully, no additional testing was required and the border crossing was again uneventful.
Since we were ahead of schedule we detoured to the Schoodic Peninsula section of Acadia and even scored a last minute cancellation at the campground. Timing is luck sometimes…not art…maybe it’s really about the pivot. This part of Acadia is much less developed and much less crowded. We were able to drive the ring road that evening and enjoy a picnic dinner on the water.
Day 10 we were up early to catch the sunrise and get in a morning hike.
We drove over to Mount Desert Island and Bar Harbor and were shocked at the crowds. The line out of the park headquarters at the entrance was over 100 people long. Thankfully we could bypass this with our Lifetime Senior Pass…age has its perks. We had “the best” lobster rolls in Bar Harbor. Cold lobster on a hotdog roll was shockingly expensive…what do we know??
We enjoyed a sunset boat tour cruising the shoreline, spotting wildlife and learning a lot about the lobster industry. Saka was very popular with the guides and other passengers.
We camped outside the park at a trailhead pull off.
Day 11 began with a quick morning walk to the water.
Surprise! We started out in a coffee shop for the first few hours…for Flay to work. By the time we go to the trailhead that we hoped to hike there was no parking in sight. Luckily we found a different and less popular trailhead that connected to the Sargent Mountain Ridge Trail that we wanted to hike. (Many hikes in Acadia have ladders and ropes with are a bit challenging with Saka…she is a very convenient excuse sometimes!!) Note the kairns that served as trail markers on the ridge.
We had a campground reservation at Seawall Campground. We timed an early dinner at little fishing village so we could get to the lighthouse at Bass Harbor for sunset. (Last expensive lobster roll for us.) About a mile from the lighthouse we hit a traffic jam…lots of people with the same idea as us. Not knowing exactly how far we were from the lighthouse, I hopped out to access the situation. A half mile down the road I called Flay to start his 15-point turnaround because there was no way he would make it to the lighthouse by sunset…and he needed to be out of there before everyone else was trying to leave too. I made it to the lighthouse and it was totally not worth it and the sun set in clouds.
Day 12 was again back at a coffee shop for a few hours. We definitely have to improve our internet situation because starting everyday with Flay stressed is not good. Enough said.
After a few hours working, we drove the 27-mile Park Loop Road and fought traffic. We’ve gotten pretty spoiled and really don’t like crowds.
Someone told us about Little Long Pond Nature Preserve. This is just outside of the park boundaries and is very dog friendly . John D. Rockefeller, Jr. purchased this land in 1910 and the family donated it to the Land & Garden Preserve in 2015. The gift included Little Long Pond and the surrounding meadows, woods, trails, and carriage roads on 1,022 acres. There were few people on the trails and it was a wonderful afternoon.
We had a reservation at the Blackwoods Campground that night. Saka doesn’t really care for campgrounds…us either.
We started Day 13 early to catch the sunrise on the Park Loop Road and hopefully miss the traffic. Timing is everything. Got the sunrise…missed the traffic.
Then back to a coffee shop for some work and a pivot. Enough with the crowds and campgrounds and time to turn home.
Wanting to avoid NYC and the I-95 corridor we headed southwest to the Green Mountains in Vermont and a little Fall color. Not peak but certainly color. We stayed overnight in the parking lot of a distillery. No one else on the mountain that night except an 18-wheeler on the other side of the parking lot.
Day 14 and we are still a day ahead of schedule. We certainly could have pushed through home but decided to stop at a Harvest Host winery in the Shenandoah Valley for the night. Interesting campervan people to visit with over a bottle of wine and a relaxing night.
Day 15, October, 7. Home sweet home.
For someone like me who LOVES a good timeline, I’m thinking with vanlife it’s best to let go of timing as an art and go with the flow. It’s the art of the pivot that’s gives us the ability to live more in the moment. When you are behind the wheel…with your own bedroom, kitchen, bathroom…the pivot rules. It’s the adventure, the embrace of the unknown and the things we stumble upon in pursuit of something else that have been the best.
For those thinking: Who is this person? No worries…I have a general timeline with general daily destinations for our 28 day trip planned for this summer!!