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Family Travel Ink
Adventure: Cycling is a Breeze in Prince Edward Island, Canada
When I first suggested to 16-year-old Natalie that we go biking around Prince Edward Island, my music-loving, dancing-queen teenager was actually interested. “On one condition,” she added after a moment’s reflection. “That I can listen to my Walkman while I ride my bike.”
Hey, no problem. The new Confederation Trail stretching across the province from the western town of Tignish to the eastern tip of Elmira, is mostly flat and very safe. Because the 274.5 kilometres of trail (with an additional 151 km on side paths) were created from abandoned railway lines, the cycling-hiking path is traffic-free. Natalie could listen to her music all day long without some belching truck bearing down on her.
With soft crushed gravel covering the wide paths, no harm done if either of us (especially this middle-age mom) took a spill. Plus, the trail passed through villages and towns. We would never be far from supermarkets where we could stock up on water, cafés where we could replenish our energy, and would-be rescuers. It was the ideal location for a family cycling vacation.
Prince Edward Island is the first province to finish their part of the Trans Canada Trail. So last month, along with Natalie’s dance mix tapes, U2 CD’s and rapper recordings, we arrived in Charlottetown eager to give it a whirl. After an obligatory visit to the Anne of Green Gables musical, we set out with our rental car, dance tunes blaring, for Mount Stewart (near the northeastern beaches) where we would pick up our bikes. My daughter was entranced with the red soil and the red-purple fringe around the island that we had seen from the air and we stopped at a red sand beach. “Why is it red?” she wondered. (It’s because of the iron content in the soil.) I was entranced because after Toronto rush-hour traffic, this driving was a breeze.
Douglas Deacon was waiting for us at the Trailside Inn where we were also spending the night. Out of his fleet of 70 bikes, he chose two suitable Giant models, fitted us with helmets, and attached a super-easy-to-get-on-and-off bicycle rack to the trunk of our car. With a cheery, “Just call if you get into trouble,” he waved us off for Morell, the starting point of one of the most scenic parts of the trail. Biking along the shore of the Northumberland Strait, we passed the salt marshes of the bay and rode past fields of wildflowers. I wondered at the lines of white birds along the blue waters, lined up in military-like rows. They turned out to be mussel markers, signs of the flourishing shellfish industry,. We took lots of breaks to watch blue herons trying to catch fish or small shorebirds running in bunches along the sand, and stopped at purple bridges overlooking scenic vistas.
For most of this 22 km section, Natalie was way ahead of me, beetling along, her Walkman firmly attached to her ears. “I was dancing to the music on my bike as I was riding along,” she explained when I caught up to her. Sometimes, I heard her singing along. We stopped for a late lunch at Rick’s Fish’n Chips and Seafood House in St. Peters, before heading back and over to the new Greenwich Dunes National Park by car. The ride was scenic with church spires popping up over views of the Bay and the colours of yellow and green fields meeting the deep blue sea and the red earth. We met other families biking along the path but it never seemed crowded. This was peacefulness personified.
The difficult bits? I found the bike seat a bit hard and couldn’t sit much the next day. Natalie didn’t like the grasshoppers hopping up at her as we rode along. At times, it was so windy that we had more music as the breezes blew across the tops of our water bottles. The wind was great as it carried us down the path, difficult as we rode back.
For the next few days, we biked other sections of the trail—from Murray Harbor to Murray River where we embarked on an eco-expedition out to see a colony of 300 seals living on a sandbar, and around Summerside, west of Charlottetown, where the Trans Canada Trail was born. There, after an evening of a different kind of music at the College of Piping and Celtic Performing Arts, we biked through rolling meadows and fields that were literally at the back door of our B & B. At times, the trail entrances were well marked. At others, we had to stop and ask for directions.
In the end, we biked about 32 km of the Confederation Trail—not a whole lot of it but what we did see, we really saw up-close. Seeing it from the seat of a bike gives a whole new perspective, especially when the peddling is accompanied by dance party tunes.
MORE INFO: Next weekend, Oct. 6-8, over 35 communities participate in Trailfest 2000, an Island-wide celebration with family activities and events along the Trail. Call 902-583-2662. For information on the Trans Canada Trail, call 1-800-465-3636 or visit www.tctrail.ca. For information on P.E.I. and the Confederation Trail, or the map festooned with icons marking shelters, bike repairs, and sights along the way, contact 1-888-PEI-PLAY or visit www.peiplay.com. At Trailside Inn, bike rental starts at adults $15 for a half-day, kids $10, shuttle bus extra. Rooms and meals with music also available. Call 1-888-704-6595 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For Island cycling info, contact Sport P.E.I., 902-368-4110 or email email@example.com. Signature Vacations offers cycling, hiking, and paddling packages between June and October. Contact your local travel agent.
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