A Tale of Two Trails: Part Two, It Was The Worst of Trails
July 23, 2011 Moncton NB

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Trestle on the NB Trail

In my last blog entry, I had biked along the delightful cycling trails of Quebec on the Trans Canada Trail, en route to New Brunswick.

Almost immediately after crossing the border and biking through the town of Edmunston, the trail deteriorated into a state that can only be described as mostly unusable. Gone were the young families, the elderly, and shrieks of laughter I heard along the trail in Quebec, these sounds replaced by the silence of the forest (not so bad) and occasional growl of an all-terrain vehicle or shotgun firing (not so good), and the squeaks and groans from my bicycle as it bounced over rocks and became bogged down in ankle deep sand (downright unsettling).

Here in New Brunswick, the trail seems lost and forgotten, grown over and neglected. The gates which once blocked motorized vehicles from entering the trail have been ripped open or detoured by deep ruts cut through the forest, allowing ATVs and dirtbikes to use the trail as their own private expressway. Each tire, with its aggressive tread, kneads the trail surface like a thousand tiny shovels, kicking up sand and aerating the gravel with the power of 50 horses. Bicycle tires sink and slide, and to travel by foot is to flirt with a possible twisted ankle. Up the hills, the trail becomes a washboard, rattling my bones and jostling my internal organs as I bounce and curse my way towards Fredericton. In many places, the trail suddenly drops away into washouts that are so large you could hide an elephant if you were so inclined. The past winter brought severe rainstorms to the area that destroyed many pieces of the province's infrastructure, but I have no doubt that irresponsible use of the trail had weakened its integrity and made it vulnerable to storm damage. This suits the motorized users just fine; the fewer walker sand bicyclists using the trail, the sooner they can claim the territory for themselves.

Washout #1
Climbed over the left side

The front cover of the local newspaper lamented the ongoing 7 month long closure of a minor road connecting two small towns, the result of a serious washout that also completely wiped out the Trans Canada Trail which runs parallel to it. Nowhere in the article was the trail mentioned. Instead, townspeople complained that if they wanted to pop over to the next town in order to drive up and down the main drag or to buy a pizza, they would have to take a 20 minute detour (or drive to a different town). As I carefully pushed by bike around the edge of the precipice, trying my best not to fall into the abyss, I understood their frustration but not perhaps for different reasons. This isn't just the shortest route to pizza, it's the backbone of our Nation's trail.

With the exception of about 10 kilometres on either side of the cities of Fredericton and Moncton, of the nearly 1000 kilometres I cycled across New Brunswick I did not see a single touring cyclist and I could count the number of non-motorized users on the fingers of one hand. Considering the state of the trail, it is not surprising why. The trail here has been abused; enjoyed irresponsibly by a few, but to the detriment of many. In the town of Hartland, a nice man invited me to camp in his backyard due to the danger of camping along the trail.

"Oh no, you can't put up your tent in the park or on the trail! Those renegades on the quads will get you. They ride into town at night, riding around without headlights, forcing cars off the road, drinking beer and getting into trouble, then they hop back on the trail and they're gone."
- Hartland resident

Sandy but Passible

Indeed along the trail, beer boxes, shotgun casings, and even entire sofas had been left behind by someone, possibly the dreaded renegades. It's the same old deal I encountered earlier in the adventure while biking in the B.C. interior. I always wonder why this behaviour is still a persistent part of the Canadian culture. Throughout our vast, beautiful country, we are decorating trees with beer cans, putting bullet holes in traffic signs and giving our pristine wilderness the backwoods charm of a demolition derby.

Outside Fredericton in a town called Zealand, young men yelled obscenities and make rude gestures at me as I bike past, as though they expected this old man to shake his fist at them. “Maybe they're the renegades!” I wonder while grinning at their stupidity. I consider asking them just to see what they'll say, but decide their response would be unintelligent and not worth hearing. Luckily, this being Canada, the youth may be a bit clueless, but at least it normally isn't armed.

Ghost Farm

My bike shudders and groans over the rocks, and I grew weary of biking barefoot through sections of the trail that disappear under water. Two months ago in British Columbia, it all seemed like part of the adventure – and it can be fun and satisfying – but having just rode through Quebec I've become soft, fattened by ice cream and spoiled by fine, crushed gravel. With only a couple of weeks from my finish line in Halifax, I'd rather just get on with it. I grit my teeth and push the pedals further.

Upon reaching Sackville, rather than continue along the New Brunswick trail towards Nova Scotia, I took a branch of the trail headed north to Prince Edward Island, where I've heard the trail is a major tourist destination. People visit the island and actually pay to rent bikes in order to tour the trails! This is where the Trans Canada Trail actually originated, and I look forward to returning to the best of trails.

What in the world is that, exactly?

Only 10 kilometres short of the Confederation Bridge, the NB Trail throws one final insult. A branch lying on the trail jammed itself into my derailleur, bending it into a mangled mess and turning my 18-speed bicycle into a 6-speed. With the help of some very nice local farmers, I was able to jury-rig a solution that would take me the rest of the 70 kilometres to Charlottetown, but I decided it was time to ditch the New Brunswick Trail and ride along the highway.

If they're out there reading the blog, I'd like to thank the various people across Quebec and New Brunswick who let me sleep in their backyards, and of course Bryan and his housemates in Fredericton for letting me crash. Nothing like a 5 hour tube float down the river to have the full Freddie experience! Kids, don't try that at home! Matt and Anjali, friends from Toronto have flown in to see me over the finish line in Halifax, and we met up shortly before the Confederation Bridge to PEI.

Ohhh, I get it now.

Thanks to everyone who has donated to the Trans Canada Trail! So far about $800 has been raised, but I'm hoping more of you will get involved, especially if you like the whole principle of the Route Verte in Quebec and seeing the same type of trail exist across Canada, especially in New Brunswick. Every Canadian should have access to such an amazing trail in their hometown. If you agree, consider sponsoring a metre of trail near your home. Visit my web site donation page to show your support!

There will only be a couple of blog entries left since I am within 500 kilometres
of the finish line in Halifax. Thanks for continuing to follow the journey and hopefully you've found some inspiration from it!

Washout #2
Keep to the right!
Men at Work
A Nicer Section of the NB Trail
Extreme Lily Close-up
More Flower Power!
Saint John River beside the NB Trail
An Easy Washout
Tip-Toed the gear around the right side
A Little Overgrown.. but Lovely
World's Longest Covered Bridge
Hartland, NB
World's Longest Covered Bridge
Yeah, it's pretty long.. I guess..
Just a little scramble through the bushes on the right
Toughest Washout Yet!
Got halfway across the river then gave up. Took a 5 km detour, but it was worth it.
Flooded Trail
Barefoot Riding! Push onward!
Post-Flood Trail
The Widow-maker for Bicycles
Fredricton, NB
A great city, great trails, great times
The NB Trail en route to PEI
Sitting by the dock of the bay, wasting time
Black Bear on the NB Trail