Seventeen giant windmills stand before us at the North Cape, and suddenly we get it: this tiny province is a windy place! With gale-force headwinds, our six days of bicycle touring are not quite as easy as advertised, but we successfully pedal Prince Edward Island from tip to tip, buoyed by the camaraderie of our tour group and our two professional guides.
The colour palette
Fiery-red sand, sky-blue water, jade-green potato plants, soft-green beach grass. The colour palette impresses us on our first day’s ride, 40 km from North Cape Lighthouse, Prince Edward Island’s western tip, to our waterfront inn in Northport.
First-day jitters are quickly dispelled as we meet guides Aaron and Sophie and our seven fellow guests. This is a congenial group; each member has interesting life stories and a sense of humour to share. PEI Sideroads Bike is the name of the tour, run by Freewheeling Adventures. A self-guided option is available for this tour, but we are glad we chose the guided option, as the spirit of the group proves to be one of the many highlights of the trip.
Cattails and hospitality
Cattails and gusty winds are our memories of the Acadian Coast on day two. Today’s is a long-ish ride, 80 km, but we rest up at a pub-lunch, where Aaron orders the Lumberjack Fries plate with gravy, meat, and peas. A free appetizer will be awarded if he can eat the entire plate in fifteen minutes, but he can’t, even with help.
Before dinner is served at the gracious Chez Shea Inn, we are treated to a performance of Island step dancing by Sherra, a local high school senior. What a talented, confident, and engaging young lady!
The big tour buses are beginning to roll in just as we finish our quick early-morning tour of Green Gables Heritage Place, a national historic site. The original green-gabled farmhouse, which inspired author Lucy Maud Montgomery to write her 1908 novel Anne of Green Gables, has been restored to reflect the period, right down to the furnishings in the rooms.
One hour of Anne culture is enough, especially since an optional sea kayaking excursion has been arranged for us and the two other couples. The wind is blowing – hard – at North Rustico, but kayak guide Kenneth has a plan: we drive upwind, then launch and get blown back down the harbour, steering to avoid oyster farms and sand bars.
Back on our bikes, we check out the beaches of Prince Edward Island National Park and the new bike trails on Robinson’s Island, then follow a paved bike path along the dunes to Dalvay-by-the-Sea. At Richard’s Fish and Chips we join the long line-up of locals; the crispy fish is worth the wait.
A pleasant treadmill
“It’s like riding on a treadmill,” says Aaron, describing the Confederation Trail, a converted railway. Some cyclists find this inland trail monotonous, because the route is straight and level with trees on both sides. Us? We find this stretch of the Confederation Trail pleasant and quite pretty. Plus, it is car-free and slightly less windy than the coast roads we have been following.
Back to the shoreline, we battle the wind to check out six kilometres of the Greenwich Peninsula recently added to the National Park to protect unique dune formations.
Tip to Tip
Yikes, day five is a character-building ride! For 66 km we cycle in torrential rain and storm-force cross-winds, courtesy of Hurricane Irma. Somehow we make it to East Point Lighthouse, a wild and windy place where water from the Atlantic Ocean mixes with that of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
We collect certificates acknowledging our journey from one tip of the Island to the other, 280 kilometres. Stunned and mildly hypothermic, our group gathers in the café to eat comfort food and recover as our rain gear drips into big puddles all over the floor.
A seven-course, four-hour Feast awaits us at The Inn at Bay Fortune, one the world’s great culinary destinations. Foodies rejoice, but to be honest, after the first course – delicious, freshly-baked wood-oven bread – we begin to anticipate a good night’s rest.
Farms and farewells
Our final day of cycling follows quiet farm roads from Bay Fortune to Cardigan. We pass horse-drawn buggies and Amish children playing near their school house. There is no rain today, but a sense of loss overtakes us as we are transferred back to Charlottetown, where our tour ends.
The Great George Hotel is a comfort. This place is relaxed, yet fancy and famous (it’s the building where the Fathers of Confederation stayed during the Charlottetown Conference which led to the establishment of the Dominion of Canada July 1, 1867).
We rent electric-assist bicycles for this trip. The maximum height of Prince Edward Island is only 400 feet, so an e-bike may seem silly, but Doug has always wanted to try one, and with the headwinds we experience we are grateful for the boost our batteries provide.
In Charlottetown we attend Anne of Green Gables: The Musical, now in its Guinness Record-setting 53rd season. Yes, it is corny, but Cathy enjoys it, and Doug actually smiles once or twice.