Friday, July 31, 2009

Day 8: Long Rides and Big Tides

Today we started our trip back south heading from North Sydney to the world famous Bay of Fundy.

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We left North Sydney too early to stop for "The Best Tasting Chicken on the Island" (Cape Breton) at the Lick-a-Chick Restaurant in Bras D'Or. We saw it on our way north, but didn't have the time then either. You could smell the chicken cooking all the way out on the highway. The adjacent Lick-a-Cone didn’t look half bad either. Too bad, but we were looking for a breakfast stop.

We pulled off the road at Baddeck along the Bras d’Or Lake. This is a long lake that is open to the ocean at both ends. There’s a marina here with large sailboats and cruisers. We walked down to the docks and then up the street to the Yellow Cello Café. It had a good business going, but we got a table inside and our breakfast was ready in no time. Benneck has two claims to fame. In 1885, Alexander Graham Bell and his wife Mabel discovered Baddeck and built a summer home here where they lived until their death in 1922. It is also the birthplace of Canadian powered aviation with the Silver Dart. Now it looks to be cottage country. Busy little place, then and now!

Our drive today is backtracking down Cape Breton on Highway 105 to the Canso Causeway. We had to stop and wait for the bridge to close after three boats made it through the canal. After we junctioned with Highway 102 towards Halifax we decided to try a byway instead. We turned onto Highway 14, a two lane road through farming country. The crops of choice are hay and corn. There were also some dairies along the way. Here they bale their hay in rounds covered in plastic. It they sit in the green fields like giant white caterpillars.

The coastal plain continues to be farm country. We saw vegetables such as broccoli, potatoes, onions, more corn and of course hay. The farms are small family operations with a house and barn near the road. Periodically there’s a small village with minimal services such as a general store and possibly a gas pump. Churches are important here. As you gaze across the green fields you will see a spire rising in the distance.

At Highway 101 (no relation to our west coast Highway 101 that starts in Lund), we turned west for the Bay of Fundy. We decided to stop for an early dinner in Wolfville. This is the location of Acadia University. It has a restored downtown with quaint restaurants and shops. We ate at Paddy’s Brew Pub. Since it was Wayne’s turn to drive, I had their Annapolis Valley Ales. It was smooth and rich, just the way I like it. We grazed on appies and then headed out to the Bay of Fundy.

Just past Canning we found our campground for the night, Blomidon Provincial Park. It's located right on the Bay of Fundy, the location of the highest tides in the world. Our campground was right on the edge of the Bay of Fundy. It’s perched on a cliff of red earth with sweeping views of the bay. We had reservations, but when we checked in they were still assigning sites to drop in campers. Our site is large and protected by trees and shrubs. At least in our section of the park, you don’t feel like you’re crowded up against another camper.

We hiked the Jodrey Trail to a viewpoint overlooking the bay. The cliffs are crumbling so you couldn’t get too close. The tide was just starting to ebb, so you can’t see much difference yet. In the distance we could hear thunderclaps, but so far all we have is a chilly breeze. This is only the second time I’ve had to wear my jacket on the trip. Think I’ll get in the tent and snuggle down in my warm, cozy sleeping bag. -- Margy

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Day 9: Byway Bypass

Today we headed to our last camping stop in Riviere du Loup, Quebec, before heading back to Montreal.

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We followed our previous course in reverse along scenic Highway 14 to Trans Canada Highway 2 in Truro, Nova Scotia. To break up the monotony of driving on the same roads, we took a scenic byway into Fredericton. It followed the St. John River all the way. It's very wide in some sections, but narrows somewhat as you near town. It looks like a great boating place with water almost slow enough to be almost lake-like.

If you remember, Fredericton is a free wireless town. Wayne and I headed back to Wilmot Park to check e-mail and upload a post using their Fred-e-Zone. It took about an hour and gave us a good break in a long driving day.

Highway 2 changed names at the border between New Brunswick and Quebec to Highway 185. It also changed from a four lane divided highway to a two land road with lots of construction. But it was still pretty easy driving. With Wayne and I taking turns, it isn't so bad having 8-10 hour days.

We arrived at Riviere du Loup before 5:00 and checked into Camping Municipal de la Pointe. It is a nice park at the edge of town near the ferry terminal on the St. Lawrence River.

We have been pleasantly surprised with all the help we've received as English speakers in this French speaking province. We feared the worst, but have found the best. And they even have wireless access right in the camping area. Not bad, but I have to quit before the mosquitoes eat me alive! -- Margy

FREE HOTSPOT WATCH: Fred-e-Zone is Fredericton NB's free citywide wireless service and we enjoyed using it again on our return trip. Our Riviere du Loup campground Camping Municipal de la Pointe has wireless right to the campsite.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Day 10: Back to the Beginning

Today we drove from Riviere du Loup back to Montreal

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At the Riviere du Loup Camping Municipal de la Pointe campground we stumbled onto the Pleins Feux sur la Pointe that was held at the park. We went to bed with music and a DJ (English tunes, French DJ). Then at about 10:30 the fireworks started. They were SPECTACULAR and we could see them from inside our tent!

We took an alternate route, Highway 20, following the south side of the St. Lawrence River to Montreal. It's nice when you can take a circle route and see different country.

We fly out of Montreal Trudeau International Airport early in the morning, so we are staying at the Courtyard Montreal Airport again. We've come full circle. This has been a great vacation. Even with all the driving, it has been a leisurely trip.

Here are some of my reflections:

  • It's a long but beautiful drive from Montreal to Newfoundland and back.
  • Everyone in Quebec made us feel welcome, even with us speaking English.
  • There are more people living in the Maritime Provinces than I thought.
  • Nova Scotia has lots of small family farms with cows, hay and produce.
  • Newfoundland was my favourite province to visit.
  • Even though the waits were long, the ferry rides to/from Port-aux-Basques were fun.
  • Sit in airline seats at the back of Atlantic Vision's Deck 8. Hurry, they fill quick.
  • The MV Caribou is older but has much better seating. A cabin isn't necessary.
  • The highlight of the trip for me was Gros Morne National Park.
  • Stop in small fishing villages and sample the local foods.
  • Get some hand knit socks or tuques as souvenirs.
  • Take time to hike and see the land up close.
  • Travel in August for fewer mosquitoes and no-see-ums, but still bring bug juice.
  • There are enough free hotspots to keep get connected.
Thanks for following our trip to the Canadian Maritimes and Newfoundland. We are going to come back for more of Newfoundland and Labrador. -- Margy

FREE HOTSPOT WATCH: Free "wired" Internet at the Courtyard Montreal Airport. It's a good thing to carry a cable just in case.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Skagit Regional Airport

One of the benefits of returning to Bellingham is flying our airplane, 997. While we're in Powell River, she patiently waits in her hangar for an aerial excursion.

It's blazing hot right now, so we got up early to beat the density altitude. Wayne went to the hangar yesterday to plug in the battery charger. With all that sitting, 997 sometimes gets tired of waiting. There are so many benefits of having a hangar.

Today's flight was multi-purpose. We wanted to get current with our take-offs and landings, we wanted to exercise 997 and all of her systems, and we wanted to heat up the oil to make it easier for a change. Our next visit to the States will include a long distance flight to Los Angeles and we want to be ready to go. So, our destination of choice was Skagit Regional Airport.

Skagit (KVBS) is located thirty miles southeast of Bellingham. It's on the coastal plain near the mouth of the Skagit River and Padilla Bay. The elevation is 144 feet (43.9 metres) and Runway 10/28 is 5477 feet (1669 metres) long. That was good considering the density altitude and 997's performance requirements. Skagit can be a busy place on weekends with student pilots and visiting aviators, but today was a quiet Tuesday morning. Just right for our touch and go needs.

After some much needed exercise for 997 and practice for her pilots, we headed back to our home base in Bellingham (KBLI). First we gassed up from the Bellingham Aviation Services truck (check into their fuel discount program) and then started a quick drain while the oil was hot and thin.

Then it was time for 997 to settle in for another a long summer's nap. Sleep well and dream about your trip to the big city! - Margy

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Preparing Container Gardens for Vacation Time

This year we've had a most unusual summer here in Powell River, BC. In July, we only got 51 mm (2 in) of rain and the daytime temperatures have been above average, mostly in the 25º C (77º F) plus range. Now that may not sound all that hot, but when you have container gardens, that's plenty to dry them out in short order.

This year I have lots of plants in pots. I need to water my pots every two or three days, or the plants begin to wilt. And here comes the glitch. We are preparing for a three week absence. Of course, my good friend John will come up to lake (a 25 minute boat ride each way) to water for me, but the time between his visits might exceed the plants' tolerance. So I decided to try mulching to help reduce surface evaporation.

Last spring I did a post about the benefits of mulching. I took some of my own advice. First, I watered the pots really well. Then I took newspaper, crumpled it up and spread it over the surface of the exposed soil in each pot. Then I gave each of them another watering to soak the newspaper through. The next morning I collected salal leaves and layered them over the newspaper. A final watering hopefully prepared my container gardens for a several day wait until John can return to give them a needed drink. I'll let you know how it goes when I return. -- Margy

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Online Friends Join Us Up the Lake

Sometimes I think I spend too much town time on the Internet. Of course, I spend quite a bit on my blog and reading other people's posts. Then there are forums, YouTube, Flickr and just plain Google. It can become addictive, as you probably know. But it has also introduced me to some really great people along the way.

I first discovered a picture of Jordan water skiing while searching about Powell Lake. Then I stumbled onto a video about his family's summer vacation up the lake on YouTube. And most recently, I've been reading Jordan's tweets. This year, we were both at our cabins (which are amazingly close) at the same time. So Jordan and his sister Janis stopped by to say hi and have a cuppa.

Jordan grew up in Powell River and has been coming up the lake for as long as he can remember. It's part of his heritage. Now he lives in Vancouver, but gets away from hectic city life at least once a year. This time is extra special. He's introducing his son to the lake for the first time.

Staying in a cabin up the lake is a whole lot different life than Jordan's web-based media and marketing career. But he's comfortable and happy in both roles. Wayne and I enjoyed hearing about what Powell River's been like over the years from two members of a very large and extended local family. Thanks Jordan and Janis for stopping by to say hi and to welcome us "newcomers" to the neighborhood. Oh, and the Kokanees were great! -- Wayne and Margy

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Pea Pods A'Plenty

Space in my floating garden is limited to four 3X10' beds. Last year I grew Snow Peas in one corner, but they took up quite a bit of space. This year I decided to grow them in a half blue barrel with drainage holes in the bottom. I filled the barrel half way with peat, compost and a top layer of potting soil. I built a support structure out of scrap cedar boards and twine. It worked well until the plants got their full growth. Next year I'll know to make it taller.

I planted my Snow Peas directly in the soil in late April, but they had a hard start. I then tried soaking the seeds in water overnight and letting them sprout in a plastic jar before transferring them to the barrel. That seemed to do the trick, and I got enough for my little pea garden. By late June, they were well on their way, and by early July they started producing. When we returned after a week away from the cabin, we had quite a batch of peas to harvest.

We enjoy Snow Peas raw as a snack and in salads, and add them to simple stir fry dishes with our other garden vegetables. Another easy way to prepare them is in a sealed packet of foil on the BBQ grill. You have to be quick if you want them crispy, they cook really fast. So, if you have limited garden space, try planting peas in pots. You will be rewarded with pea pods a'plenty. - Margy

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Rebecca Spit Marine Provincial Park

After leaving our friends in Campbell River, we decided to stay out one more night in Halcyon Days. This time we wanted a place to anchor. We left Campbell River and cruised around the bottom of Quadra Island to the Rebecca Spit Marine Provincial Park. Along the way we did a bit of trolling for salmon, but from the looks of the boats out on the reef, we were in the wrong place.

Rebecca Spit is a very popular park with boaters and non-boaters alike. You can drive into the park for picnics and hiking along the beach. You can kayak across the protected bay (check with the Taku Resort for rentals) or take a dinghy ashore. No matter how you get there, it's a beautiful, restful spot.

The long spit divides protected Drew Harbour from the outer waters of the strait. It provide a protected anchorage with good holding in most weather. Driftwood piles up on the sloping beach and is often relaunched at high-high tides. One night I remember waking to something bumping along the side of the boat. When I went out I saw a parade of driftwood passing by.

Nearby Heriot Bay Inn and Marina offers fuel and moorage. It is also a good place to go for breakfast, lunch or dinner if you don't want to cook aboard. If you need provisions for your cruise, the Island Market is within walking distance from the marina dock. Short term parking is available if needed for meals or shopping. Moorage is also available at the Taku Resort.

Wayne and I spent the day just enjoying the sunshine and reading. Just what the "doctor" ordered. -- drmargy

Monday, July 13, 2009

Texada Aerospace Camp a Huge Success

Thanks to the vision and hard work of Doby and Bob of Texada Island, with a host of volunteers, the First Annual Aerospace Camp was a huge success. It was a pleasure for Wayne and I to be involved in a small way. Wayne gave a class on aviation navigation, instruments and careers for the 25 youths aged 10-18.

Other activities included testing model aircraft in a wind tunnel, kite construction, rocketry, planetarium, and a visit to the airport to meet pilots and see their aircraft.

The goal was to inspire the next generation of pilots, aviation technicians and astronauts.

A ceremony in the gymnasium of the Texada Island School included speakers from the military, women in aviation, education and the lead pilot from the Fraser Blues.

Every time we go to Texada, Wayne and I are so impressed with their sense of community and support for island activities. That showed in the number of people who came out for the Star Party we held at the airport on Saturday night. We thank everyone for their patience in waiting for the dark sky. The night's best included the ring nebula, jupiter and the moon. And thanks to a participant, we even got a great view of the Space Station passing overhead.

The weekend culminated with the Annual Airport Fly-in. Lots of locals and Powell Riverites attended the pancake breakfast, BBQ lunch and aircraft displays. The highlight of the day was a flight by the Fraser Blues Demonstration Flight Team. Thanks again Doby and Bob and all the volunteers. It was a great celebration of aviation at its best. See you next year! - Margy

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Barn Swallow Update

Wayne and I were so sad to see all five of the Barn Swallow chicks at our float cabin not make it. We thought maybe some of the first chicks to disappear were pushed out of the nest by their siblings (siblicide). But now we aren't so sure about that. The survival rate for barn swallows is quite good. The hatching success rate is 90% and the fledging survival rate is 70–90%.

The parents are very protective of their young. Both the male and female participate in nest building, incubation of the eggs and feeding the chicks. The day we returned to the cabin, I noticed one of the birds cleaning the nest. I hope it was the female getting ready to lay a second batch of eggs. To help any babies that fall might out of the nest, we've put some padding on the roof. It's worth a try.

When our pair of Barn Swallows aren't busy catching insects and raising babies, they like to sit on our swim ladder preening and singing to each other.

Hopefully their second brood of the season will end on a happier note. -- Margy

Saturday, July 11, 2009

And Then There Were None

Last year a pair of Barn Swallows built a nest under the peak of our roof. Last year's nest was reoccupied this year. They say nesting pairs often return to the old nest, so maybe these are the same birds. Pairs typically are monogamous and the male is very protective of the female, fighting off any other male interlopers.

I know Barn Swallows build mud nests in some locations, but here it is a mixture of mud and grass. They pick the most precarious spots. The one under our roof has no support other than a 1/2 inch ledge of wood near the eves. Somehow they are able to concoct a substance sticky enough to hold everything up straw by straw. I've been watching our nest with binoculars and recording the developments on film.

On June 30 (the 1st shot), there were five chicks in the nest. Then on July 2 (the 2nd shot), there were only four. On July 4 (the third shot), the number had dropped, this time to three. One of the three was definitely smaller than the other two. Then on July 5 (the 4th shot), we were sitting on the front porch. We heard a loud thud on the tin roof. Wayne went up the ladder and found a chick below the nest. Further inspection led to the discovery of two additional dead chicks in the gutter.

We weren't sure what was happening. Was it sibling rivalry or were the chicks just getting too big and falling off the edge? After all, it's pretty precarious up there. It made us sad and a bit afraid that the mother bird might abandon the last two, but so far so good. Some web research indicates that barn swallows may lay their eggs asynchronously (over time) and start incubating the first eggs before the last are laid. This can result in larger siblings who are more aggressive and kill their "younger" and smaller siblings (siblicide). Not a very pleasant thought.

And that's not the end of the story. We returned to the cabin after a day in town. There were no chicks left in the next. We don't know what could have happened. Maybe the metal roof just was too unforgiving for their first flight.

Have you had any experiences like these? I'm curious what might have happened in the end. -- Margy

Friday, July 10, 2009

Star Gazing at the Texada Island Fly-in

This week there was a full moon gracing the skies over Hole in the Wall here in Coastal BC.

After a full week of sunshine, high wispy clouds moved in, a precursor to an arriving warm front. We love sunny skies here on the Sunshine Coast, but we do need the occasional rain to keep our forests so green. But now it is back to sunny days and starry nights. And that's a good thing.

Powell River Books will be hosting a Star Party at the Texada Island Airport Fly-in on Saturday, July 11, at 10:00 pm. Wayne (with a little help from me) will set up two telescopes in the airplane camping area. The goal is to introduce people to astronomy and the availability of affordable telescopes. The Star Party is part of our contribution for the International Year of Astronomy and to encourage everyone to look to the skies.

Wayne is an enthusiastic amateur astronomer. He has three telescopes, a Meade ETX125 (125 millimeter) Maksutov-Cassegrain, a Meade LX90 8-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain, and a Edmond Astroscan (for fun). For newbie amateurs astronomers, here are a few of his recommendations:

Thanks to everyone on Texada Island who came out for the Star Party in the airport camping area. We hope you enjoyed your evening. Look for us again next year at the annual fly-in. -- Wayne and Margy

Thursday, July 09, 2009

"A Float in Time" by James Sirois

I just finished reading A Float in Time by James Sirois (Hancock House, 1999). James Sirois was born in Ocean Falls, BC, in 1930. His parents divorced, so much of his upbringing was in his grandparents float logging camp along remote inlets on the northern BC coast. His grandfather, "Doc" Gildersleeve, ran a "gypo" logging operation from a floating base camp from 1916 until his death in 1956.

Those early years were the heydey of logging along the BC coast. Crews were typically small, and included many family members. James was no exception. The book recounts his formative years in the logging camp and schooling (either by correspondence in the early years to high school in Ocean Falls).

The book is organized in a series of vignettes from events through the years, describing the beautiful remote setting and the hard life of a logger in the bush. Of course, I liked hearing about "working" float cabins. The glossary of logging terms at the beginning is excellent and the chronology at the end puts BC history in perspective. Mix in some historic family pictures and it's an excellent step back in time along the BC coast.

After high school, James went to college at UBC and finally UW in Seattle to become an industrial designer. After his career in the States was over, he returned to Kimsquit on the Dean River where he lives in a cedar log cabin most of the year. As he says, "like a proverbial salmon returning to its place of origin." This book gets "two boomsticks up" from Margy. Pick it up at your local book store or online. -- Margy

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Coastal BC Birds: Osprey


Wayne and I took our tin boat over to Chippewa Bay to meet our good friend John for a swim. John likes to swim in Chippewa because the water is warm(er) at the head of the wide bay. Because Powell Lake has been dammed, the water level has risen and submerged trees have become tall snags. On top of one snag is an osprey nest. As we were passing, we were surprised to see a mother bird take flight. We carefully backed away and sat quietly to observe the nest and her actions.

First she flew to a nearby snag and called her displeasure. Then she returned to the nest. Later she departed again. At first we weren't sure why, but then it was obvious. She rose high in the air and then made a running dive right to the water. At the last moment she pulled up and grabbed a fish in her talons. What a sight!

At one time, osprey numbers were declining, but fortunately they have made a comeback since the 70's. There are two nests that I know of on Powell Lake and another in the backwater area of Lois Lake. According to Birds of North America (National Geographic, 2006), the osprey can be identified by the distinctive colouring of dark brown above and white below, with a white head. It builds nests of sticks high in trees, poles, platforms and decks that are near fresh or salt water. Their diet is primarily fish.

We discovered one memorable osprey nest when we flew to the Dene First Nation village of Lutsel K'e on Great Slave Lake. You can read about it in Wayne's book Up the Airway. That particular osprey built her nest on top of the ADF (automatic direction finder) antennae at the airport. That essentially put the simple, but very important, piece of navigation equipment out of action until the chicks could fly. Good for chicks, hard on pilots. -- Margy