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Puddling?? What the heck is that!? Day 34!

Home for the night: Jonny's Burgers!!

Distance: 53.2 kms...in 3 hours

Weather: Ha. Ha. Ha. CRAZY windy...more wild than the hurricane. Torrential passing "showers" interspersed with insane, muggy sun once again, eventually giving way to 2+ hours of continual, torrential downpour. Clearing and calming at moonrise.

B: Muesli, coffee

L: More veggie stew, bread, cheese and salad

D: JONNY'S BURGERS!!!!! One greasy, epic, old fashioned burger complete with a pile of homemade onion rings and a cup of tea.

 

the last night is here!?

It's been a long AND short month...

what will happen next?

 

It is one thing to be nestled into a sheltered nook alongside the Bay of Fundy for the night. It is an entirely different matter to be camped under spindly trees at any degree of elevation in the same region. The wind had steadily built all night and by the time I poked my head out of the tent in the morning, the treetops around me were swirling and bending as if there was an enormous hovercraft up above. The storm that was moving in for the next 12 hours was coming overland, not even across the expanse of the Bay to my north...I couldn't imagine if it was. Despite the wind and the wee trees around me I felt safe and protected enough at ground level. After spending most of the past 30+ days very close to sea level (with the exception of the Himalayan-esque peaks of the Fundy Footpath) I could feel how far away from the water I was.


I had allowed myself to sleep in. The ride ahead of me today would be fairly speedy as I knew this part of my route would carry me along the mostly flat, valley floor. As dear friends are want to do, AJ and I had stayed up into the night chatting despite an early wake up for her to ferry her kiddos off to school. She had already gone and come back from school bus duties and was well into second breakfast when I stepped into the house for coffee.


The air in the entryway of the house was as damp as the ground outside. All my clothing that I had hung to "dry" on the rack inside the door was just as soggy as it had been when I took it off....but now, marginally more fresh. There is a funny phenomenon in the world of outdoor life: whilst one may know their clothing and gear are filthy, there is a VERY direct correlation between a dirtbag human finally having a shower and the extreme increase in their perception of the disgustingness of their gear. Now that I was clean, even if I slept in my stinky sleeping bag I was completely repulsed by the smell, sight and feeling of my grimey possessions. Only one more day and then I could wear entirely fresh clothing, clean everything and scrub my skin until it fell off. Stoicism might describe my outlook at the moment, but really it was more like resigned acceptance to what living on a bike and out of a backpack truly means.


THANKFULLY, as written before, AJ is one amazing, badass woman herself who knows all about this stage of the game and we could laugh heartily and swap stories about moments on past trips just like this. There is nothing to do but laugh. Just when you think it can't rain harder, get colder, the cheese get moldier, the blister get bigger or the brain get weirder...it does. Every time. But with laughter (even if maniacal or coloured with disbelief), the body finds more strength and the mind finds a renewed perspective. This is where resiliency is born and it truly is remarkable how the human spirit can thrive amidst adversity. AJ and I both know that what we have learned about ourselves on long trips has helped us navigate the rocky waters of human experience. With all challenges being relative, a 50 day canoe trip or 30 day winter trek pale in comparison to the hardships of divorce, parenting, family, work and health challenges.

I stationed myself in a comfy chair upstairs for an hour to crank out a blog post while connected to electricity. The wind howled. The rain came and went. I felt so safe and cozy...and confronted how desperately I didn't want to go out into the fray. I was exhausted. Not physically, my body actually felt pretty damn good. My mind and heart were beyond ready for a break from being ON all the time. Maybe I could just wait out this storm in AJ's little fort on the mountain and leave in the morning? Although it was so, so tempting, my drive to finish what I had started 34 days ago was greater than an elongated reprieve from the road. I was less than 100 kms from home, the seasons were changing and my favourable weather window was closing fast.


Given the winds and rain forecasted for the day I had to adjust my plan and route that would take me to Berwick, home of Jonny's Burgers...I had been dreaming of this meal for I kid you not, weeks. My original plan had been to ride along the base of North Mountain on route 221 which travels past farms, orchards and is far quieter than the main road. This route was fully exposed to southerly winds that would do a great job of buffeting me for the whole ride. Route 1, on the southern side of the valley would be far more sheltered offering more trees and development in general to break up the wind. The trade off would be WAY more cars. Route 1 was the original highway that all of the valley towns are built along. Still, the ride would be faster and less taxing out of the wind and I would just have to be on my A game to not get squished by a truck.


With the decision made, I finished my writing and began to pack up my gear. Did it ever smell terrible!! I gingerly stuffed my clothes into my bags and shook my head with how damp everything still was. My sleeping bag felt damp, my headlamp felt damp and even my trip journal felt like the pages were made out of iceberg lettuce. It didn't matter how waterproof everything was...the air was so saturated with water that anything that could absorb moisture, did. We dined on leftovers and I felt well fortified for my day ahead. AJ needed to do laundry in town, so we loaded our respective grubby things into the car and away we went into the pouring rain, windshield wipers flying. Instead of dropping me at yesterday's rendezvous point as planned, we traced our way back along my route a bit further into Bridgetown and parked near Route One. As AJ went off to get her laundry started I packed up Black Beauty for the second to last time of this whole ridiculous and beautiful saga.


Just as I was wrestling my final bungee into place, AJ returned for a fierce and uplifting goodbye hug. She is just so damn rad and I felt buoyed by her spirit. The sun had sliced through the clouds long enough to make the pavement (and yours truly!) start to steam. With the temperature skyrocketing I shoved off waving goodbye to my wonderful and supportive sister in adventure.

An easy and FLAT ride spun out in front of me, the kilometres flying by. The wind was coming from over my right shoulder in just of enough of an angle that I was pushed along (for the most part) rather than knocked over. Route One is a pretty straight line and it felt amazing to just settle into the groove of a high cadence and scream along. My body was a machine and would do whatever needed to be done. At this point, as long as my mind didn't get in the way I would be able to enjoy this grand finale of my trip. The hot, muggy air was balanced by occasional cooling showers and I could feel how close I was to finishing.


As I moved ever eastwards, the road became busier as I had predicted. With every passing town, the amount of traffic increased and I became well aware of how many motorists were less than enthused with my presence. The way someone floors their accelerator to FINALLY get around an "inconvenient" cyclist isn't all that cryptic. Sure, some folks have throaty mufflers, but as a biker it's pretty obvious when someone is pissed that they have to slow down and wait to pass. What gets me is that it takes NO effort to do anything in a car!!!!!! Maybe a calorie or two are burned by pressing a peddle, but come on...I'd like to believe that I truly am nothing more than a perceived inconvenience on the road.


In all fairness, the biggest part of the problem was the condition of the road itself. Nova Scotia isn't exactly known for having designated bike lanes, let alone smooth pavement. Route One is a prime example of a crumbling tar edge that drops off an average of 6-8 inches to the gravel shoulder below. The kicker? With great consistency, the pavement is cracked along a line about 2 feet INSIDE of the white line creating a dazzling, endless string of small (and giant) potholes/puddles. There are often plants growing out of these little microhabitats and my inner botanist was kind of mesmerized by their tenacity. The rest of me was more concerned with trying to not ride into the holes or get smeared by passing cars all while staving off crashes from the province wide fault line. To this day, the hearing on my left side isn't quite as crisp as on my right, owing largely to many, many hours on a bike with roaring engines passing by. This is my theory at least.


Peddle, peddle, peddle. Wind, rain, sun. Wind, rain, sun. Peddle, peddle, peddle. Not only did the number of cars increase around me, but so did the number of annoyed motorists. It was VERY clear that many folks wished I wasn't there, probably with the exact same fervor that I was hoping for the same. I even contemplated riding north to the 221 and braving the storm in full force to get away from the traffic. Pick your poison. I rode on, teeth gritted, riding as hard as I felt I sustainably could and hoped for the best. The hardest part was that I was so close to home and feeling a wave of hostility directed at me...something I hadn't experienced anywhere else around the Bay. Here I was, in my own corner of the region I had set out to explore, and I felt like all the goodness and kindness I had discovered didn't exist here. It was a bit disheartening and was maybe more a reflection of my energy levels, but still...I was suddenly wrestling with the idea that my trip may finish with a bittersweet flavour.


Roughly 25 kms in I decided to take a break from the cars and pulled off the road around Wilmot. I found myself at a place where the Harvest Moon Trailway crosses Route One. This was the same trail I had been on coming into Bridgetown and in Digby. It could technically take me all the way home and there wouldn't be any cars. The rain had started again in earnest and I leaned Black Beauty on a tree so I could pee. Why do people always show up the second you pull your pants down!? I had no sooner squatted and a dirt bike roared onto the trail splashing muddy water everywhere, followed by a lime green side by side. Not really caring at this point I made no moves to conceal myself other than halfheartedly pivoting behind a foot high spindly spruce tree. Besides, hoisting up soaking wet bike shorts in the rain isn't exactly a speedy maneuver.


I ate a granola bar. It rained. I drank some water. It rained even harder. I danced around like a crazy lady. It rained the hardest I had seen all trip. Knowing that it could only rain with such exuberance for so long I danced around in the mud puddle I was in to wait for it to let up.


It didn't.


It rained and rained and rained and rained.


And RAINED. And rained even harder. I looked out at the main road where passing cars were sending up sheets of water 10 feet into the air. I looked down the trail which was looking more like a brown river through the trees, ribboning away into the distance. I could feel the water pouring off my hood, down my back and running into my sneakers. It actually felt like I was under a hose. The saving grace? It was still absurdly warm. If it were 5 degrees and raining this hard, there wouldn't be a dance party happening under the trees. Even still, I couldn't stand around forever and no matter how balmy it was, I would get chilled eventually. A well drilling truck rumbled by on the road, pushing a wall of water off the pavement that looked like a tsunami. Frig. I gambled and decided to risk mud/ruts/gravel and standing water over imminent pancake status for me and Black Beauty on the road.


We shoved off and I was pleasantly surprised by the conditions! Despite rolling through 6 inches of water, the gravel underneath was quite firm and consistent. It was beautiful, plowing my way down a gorgeous path of water with autumn colours everywhere and everything extra lush from the rain. The surface of the water was covered in leaves and I began to loose track of whether I was biking or boating. I passed some folks walking their dogs and we had a good hoot about how ridiculous the rain was. The water got deeper, but we forged onwards...closer by the minute to an epic burger. Suddenly I realized my feet were touching the water as I rode. With every downward peddle stroke, my foot would go into the water, reemerge, dripping with chocolate brown water for a brief moment before plunging in again. And so, I discovered a new sport...PUDDLING! I had never ridden through water this deep for so long and it was kind of mesmerizing. I actually think there was enough water to float a canoe and I contemplated what it would look like to ride a bike with a life jacket and snorkel on.


Miraculously, the firmness of the trail bed held up despite the water and I puddled onwards in disbelief. I was beyond filthy...to the point I actually couldn't get dirtier, so it didn't matter anymore. My legs were covered in sandy mud, my gears and chain were starting to sound pretty gritty and I found myself settling into a rhythm of spitting gravel out of my mouth constantly. My pace was slower than slow, but I was VERY much not on the road and as long as I got to Jonny's Burgers before they closed at 7 PM I didn't care how long it took. This is where that whole laughter thing comes in again...I was soaked and filthy, so all that was left was to have fun. Which, if I'm honest I did! It was so ridiculous and felt like I had a front row seat to the circus. If only there was popcorn.


Just as I was starting to calculate how long it would take me to cover my remaining distance at this new pace, everything changed. The bottom of the trail suddenly gave way and I was puddling in a new state of matter....water with 4 inches of silky muck underneath. I worked my tush off to get through the section, hoping it was just a low spot in the trail. I slipped and slid, grunted and cursed, eventually skittering in slow motion to the edge of the gravel finding a small amount of purchase on the shoulder. My friend, the downpour was right there with me urging me on, keeping me company as I realized that I couldn't ride the trail anymore. I started looking for a lane way that would take me back to Route One, grinding through the mucky mess, weaving a tapestry of obscenities that may still be hanging in the sky about 7 kms outside of Wilmot.


At last, a rutted tractor road cut from the trail, through a freshly-sown field and straight to the main road. I wobbled onto it, my tires sinking even further into the mud. And THEN! I was flying through the air, ejecting myself from Black Beauty as both of my rims were gobbled up, sinking past the point of any puddler's abilities to keep going. Mud is very soft to fall into and completely unhurt, I picked myself up to collect poor Black Beauty who lay on her side, the rain pouring down on her. We squelched and slid our way up towards the road, leaving a set of foot and tire tracks that looked like I had drank a bottle of whiskey.


Cars zoomed by. Dump trucks, work vans and pickups too. I clicked on my blinky lights, scraped the mud off my high visibility vest and took a deep, focusing breath before wheeling out onto the pavement. I now had one objective: crush this section of road as fast as possible, to get off of it as fast as possible. I kicked it into high gear despite the rain that was STILL pouring down and took an aggressive stance on riding well into the lane so I wouldn't fall in the potholes/lakes. I was pissing everyone off, but I didn't care. I didn't want to get hurt and I only had 20 kms or so to ride. It felt like I was tempting fate, but my cadence increased and I zoomed along focused on nothing but the road right in front of me.


FINALLY I noticed that the rain was letting up. I was able to take my hood down for the first time in what felt like ages and even the traffic seemed to slack off. I whipped along, the wind still nudging me from behind, but not nearly as forcefully as before. I started to recognize landmarks from the outskirts of Berwick and I knew I was going to be in plenty of time for a burger. A few minutes later, there it was.....JONNY'S!!!!! A small line up of people at the take out window eyed me warily (rightfully so!) as I cheered heartily, dismounting with a squelch in the parking lot. Ohmygodohmygodohmygodohmygod. I could smell the fryer and I instantly started salivating. You think I'm joking.


I stared at the menu for ten minutes, overwhelmed by choice. Eventually I landed on an "old fashioned" burger that came with sautéed onions, cheddar cheese, tomato, MAYONNAISE, pickle and lettuce on a gosh darn homemade brioche bun. Holy $*@%.


AND an order of homemade, beer battered onion rings too please, thank you very much. I paid for my order, the young woman at the window asking me where I'd come from. I said the Gaspereau Valley. The long way. What an understatement!! I have always, always, always wanted to ride to Jonny's for a burger but had always envisioned it as a solid 80 km day jaunt. Little did I know I would live out my dream, but instead take 34 days to do it. The woman stared blankly at me from underneath her luxurious fake eyelashes, completely stunned. I was just as shocked to realize on a deeper level that I was actually, factually almost finished. We looked at each other for a minute, sharing an incredible moment of understanding. I complimented her on her glittery, purple nails that matched her purple hair perfectly. She kindly told me I had mud on my face, handing me an extra thick stack of napkins. We both broke out into peals of laughter, cackling at how ridiculous our whole interaction had been. We were sisters in this moment, despite our differences.


Assured that my food would arrive shortly (Ohmygodohmygodohmygod) I went to add a layer to my top half before getting chilled. I sat at the only table that didn't have a huge puddle on it (as if it mattered at this point) and watched people come and go for take out, milkshakes and huge ice cream cones. My stomach growled audibly and I tried to appear casual as I sat at my chair, hands folded, saliva production at an all time high.


And THEN!! it arrived!!!!! OHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGOD!!!!!

The Burger

I thanked my server friend immensely, tearing open the bag that my take out box had come in. I almost cried, it was so beautiful. The burger, being too big and juicy to stand up was laid on its side with a skewer containing all of its burgery glory. I didn't even know where to begin. The first onion ring exploded in my mouth with flavour and greasy crispiness, revealing its sweet, soft oniony innards. I groaned and closed my eyes, not caring what anyone thought of me. My taste buds danced and I'm pretty sure I heard angels singing somewhere.


What followed was the most delicious burger eating experience of my life. I moaned and groaned my way through the whole thing, practically giddy by the time I finished. I had burger juice and mayonnaise all over me and took all the time in the world to lick each finger clean like a contented cat. I had a few onion rings left and as I sipped my cup of tea I treated them like dessert, savouring each bite. Dizzy with pleasure I eventually turned my attention to the task of figuring out where the hell I was going to sleep tonight. I knew it would be dark by the time I left Jonny's and I knew I didn't care. The burger was priority (in case you hadn't realized) and I could always just lay down in a bush somewhere for the night. I could do anything, figure anything out after eating that burger. Heck, I'd even bike all the way around the Bay of Fundy again for that burger!!! Well, maybe not quite...but believe me, it's a damn good burger and worth any effort required to get your hands on one.


I pulled out the map on my phone to check the satellite images of the area. My non-plan plan was to get back on the rail trail and go just far enough to find a place to set up shop and pass out. The rain had miraculously stopped as I ate and there were even signs of the moon starting to poke through the clouds. It was still quite windy, but it certainly felt like the storm was moving on. The rail trail wasn't far from where I was and I leisurely drank my tea, checked a few emails and enjoyed sitting at a table with a belly full of delicious food.


People came and went and eventually I became aware of a staff member beginning to clean up the deck and stack chairs along the wall. I must have still had the look of post burger bliss across my face, prompting the fellow to ask how my meal was. I answered with an appreciative groan and proceeded to say that it was the best damn burger I had ever had. He seemed satisfied with my answer and noted that it was a heck of a day to be out for a bike ride and wanted to know where I was coming from.


Insert well-practiced, many times-shared expedition spiel here.


For the second time since arriving at the roadside burger house I received the deer in the headlights look about my trip. And so began the standard sequence of questions: "Have you been by yourself the whole time? How far are you riding a day? What do you eat? Where did the idea come from? Have you ever done anything like this ever before?" and so on and so on. He was so interested in my story and I was more than happy to share. Eventually we arrived at "But where do you sleep?!" Wherever I can find to quietly put my tent. Which took us to: "It's dark now, where are you going tonight?" I confessed my guerilla camping strategy for the night on the rail trail.


Without skipping a beat the kind fellow said "What?! Don't be silly, just put your tent out back, there's plenty of space!" He motioned to the little picnic area with tables and a gazebo meant for folks to enjoy while devouring their burgers and shakes. There was grass, a few shrubs and there was even a dark little corner out of range of the street lights and the road. Shocked by his generosity, I asked if he thought anyone would mind.


"Mind?! Who would mind? It's my land and if I don't mind, then who cares what anyone else thinks!?"


It was my turn to be the deer in the headlights.


"Wait a minute.....does that mean you're Jonny? Like Jonny's Jonny!?!"


He was indeed. I had been chatting with the man himself this whole time!! Jonny of Jonny's burgers, the creator of the glorious food I had just inhaled. It felt like I was meeting Santa or Cher...or the person who invented duct tape.


With this new revelation I turned the interview around to find out everything I could about where the idea of the restaurant had come from, where he had come from, what the experience of becoming a local destination was like and beyond. A long, worthy story boiled down into a few sentences would go something like this:


Man moves from Newfoundland and had always wanted to run a burger house. Man notices a little run-down side of the road food stand in Berwick. Man buys food stand and attempts to pull it out of the financial gutter it was in. Man fails and practically goes bankrupt. Man tries everything, new recipes, marketing, everything and the whole dream crumbles in front of his eyes. Man loses his primary relationship, is hugely overweight and unhealthy, cooking from a stool because it's too much work to stand up and is ready to throw in the towel.


Man discovers the bicycle. Man purchases a mountain bike to begin riding the flat and very accessible rail trail in town. Man begins to lose weight and find the joy in a healthier lifestyle. Man eventually bikes to and from work at the restaurant. Man loses 80 pounds. People start coming to the burger stand. People tell other people about how good the food is. Improvements are made, capacity grows, suddenly business is booming and the staff can hardly keep up with the demand. Renovations, honing in of systems and trying new ideas launches Jonny's into a whole new sphere of business and success. People now go to Jonny's on their bikes, their four wheelers and by car. The lineups in summer are insane. Last year, in order to accommodate for the sheer volume of people and orders, they built the very deck I was seated on, new indoor dining space and better outdoor seating. Ready for the season of a lifetime, they finished the upgrades in time for March 2020....and then COVID-19 showed up. Poof. All of the effort and planning ground to a halt and everyone waited to see what would happen.


Tentatively, when it felt safe to do so, Jonny's re-opened in the spring and was so slammed by online orders and people desperate for a sense of normal they almost had to shut down again. They recalibrated and put more systems in place. Jonny hired people to do nothing but answer the phones and take orders. They couldn't possibly make enough burgers or buns no matter how hard they tried. Despite (or maybe because of such crazy circumstances) they did indeed have the season of a lifetime...but not in the way they had anticipated. Jonny shared observations of people happily waiting in line for over THREE hours for a milkshake because they had nothing else to do. While other businesses were faltering and closing their doors, Jonny was hanging on for dear life constantly making improvements for the new world the restaurant found itself in.


What a STORY!!!! I couldn't believe it. Jonny was such an inspiration and I shared how moved I was by his journey. We continued to chat as he walked me over to the place I could put my tent. There was a port-a-potty around the corner that wouldn't be locked and was cleaned regularly. Did I need water? Did I need some tea bags? Did I need any other food? Jonny was as pumped about my trip as I was to have heard his story and I thanked him endlessly for his generosity and easygoing hospitality. He left me to finish his closing routine (AND fill my water bladder!) and promised he'd check up on me before leaving for the night.


Jonny for Mayor!!!!!! Once again, the genuine kindheartedness of random strangers moved me to tears. I was flooded by the relief of knowing my trip wasn't going to end on a note of pissed of motorists who wanted to bump me into the ditch for being on THEIR road. Jonny had completed the loop of The Bay of Fundy magic with such flair I could hardly contain myself.


The moon was shining down through ever-growing spaces between the clouds and I hardly needed my headlamp to set up camp. I moved through all of the motions of unpacking, pitching the tent and blowing up my mattress as I had done for the better part of 34 nights. It could have been pitch black and I STILL could have done it without my headlamp at this point. No brain needed, just body memory and over a month of practice. Jonny drifted over with my water and one last offer of anything I needed. I assured him I couldn't be happier and that he had made my final night of this adventure beyond amazing. We wished each other all the best and I promised to return on my bike in the summer with hopefully a gaggle of friends for burgers and onion rings. Thanks Jonny, you're the BEST!


As I puttered about my hilarious little campsite I reflected on all I had been offered over the course of my trip. Food, good cheer, connection, stories, showers, new friends, shared experiences with loved ones, the support of those I crossed paths with and the support of so many people reading my rambling, stream of consciousness blog posts. Tonight was my last night out. Tomorrow a dear adventure buddy, Scott was meeting me in the morning to ride back to Wolfville with me. In his words he would be my honour guard! (and bring BREAKFAST!!!!!). I would make my way up my driveway, past the headstones of the gentle souls laid to rest in the cemetery below the house...to end as I began on August 28th. In the yard with two feet and a heart beat, under the oak tree. Exactly the same person and completely different. Transformed, enlivened and overflowing with gratitude.


The clouds were completely gone, the moon lighting my tent enough to write in my trip log. It would be full in a day and a half. Nestling in for the night, I slowly relived my trip day by day, sending love and thanks to all I had met along the way. Despite barking dogs, the roar of refrigeration trailers behind the restaurant and the stench of my sleeping bag I drifted happily off to sleep not only with a full belly, but a full heart. .

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Diane Terry
Diane Terry
16 dic 2020

Wowzer I thought you were home! It’s bloody cold out there

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