The paved secondary road leading back to the main highway was great - it was smooth and had even less traffic. Its hills were not too challenging either, especially compared to the uneven biking across fields and , as an added bonus, my legs seemed to have recovered thanks to the respite at the farm. September is apple-picking time, and we soon came across an orchard beside the road, with all its trees heavily laden with what I think were 'Paula Red' apples. We didn't think the owner would mind if we each had one that had already fallen to the ground - that usually means they are riper than the ones still on the tree and they are already of no use to the orchard owner. Now 5 hours into the trip, it felt good to sit in the cool grass and crunch on a fresh apple as the temperature continued to rise - reaching 32 C and a humidex of 38 C while we sat there.
One of the nice things about the southern end of the Saint John River is that there are eight provincial ferries scattered along it and its tributaries to shuttle cars back and forth at no charge. Here, we approached the Evandale ferry, one of three that we would encounter on this particular ride, as it was about to land on our side of the river. You can see the cable that it uses to guide itself back and forth, while Russ made some small adjustments to his bike.
There is no set schedule, the operator just goes back and forth as the cars arrive at either side of the river. In this case (2nd photo), they lingered a bit as the two man crew checked water levels in the bilge and eventually pumped some over the side before setting off again with a load of vehicles. While Russ and I sat and took a break, we enjoyed a snack of bananas and crunchy raisen/nut granola bars, washed down by our water bottles, before continuing along the track.
The first ten minutes of our bike trip was spent on a rough gravel section of the old railway line whose rails and wooden ties had been torn up when it was abandoned, leaving just the bed for use by All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) over the last twenty years. They, of course, leave two ruts from their wheels and this, combined with the bushes sticking out from the sides required quite a bit of awkward weaving back and forth. However, with both the railbed and highway squeezed tightly here between the river and sharply rising interior, it was not long before we reverted to the highway as the track crossed over to the landward side of the highway.
It was a very relaxing ride along the smooth road by comparison, especially since this highway is now just a backwater with no settlements of any size along it and has very little traffic as an added bonus. This was once a main highway, but that changed many decades ago when a more direct route between Saint John and Fredericton was built straight through the inland forests. As a result, many of the old houses along here have that nice 'lived in' look such as these two examples we biked past as we also enjoyed our views over Mistake Cove. Also visible is a traditional old cedar log fence, the way the early settlers did it by simply using these rot resistant logs as they cleared their land of trees to make more pastures for their cattle.
We biked into Gagetown almost exactly 6 hours after we had set out from Oak Point, bedraggled but still upright! We were both very glad we had not tried to do anything more adventurous on this trip, thanks to Sue kindly agreeing to help us with our drop-off and pick-up car arrangements!
After lashing our bikes onto the car, the first thing we did was walk a short distance along the waterfront street to find a place to sit down in the air-conditioned comfort of The Old Boot Pub (2nd photo). This old cinder block building does not look like much from the outside, but is quite cosy inside and also has a nice rear deck with tables and umbrellas. Russ ordered a large hamburger with fries but all I wanted was an ice-cold Keith's draft beer. The order was slow coming but we didn't really care - it just felt good to sit still in the coolness for a while - I ordered another beer just to make sure! I'm sure we'll have many a good laugh when we talk about this trip later on.
Gagetown itself is a very nice spot, once voted by Harrowsmith magazine as one of the ten prettiest 'towns' in Canada. It was named after British General Thomas Gage in 1765, who was granted 8,100 hectares (20,000 acres) of land in this part of Canada in thanks for his services during the Seven Years War of 1756-63 in which England and Prussia took on and defeated most of the other European powers, with some of the battles spreading to colonies in North America. The final two photos show one of Gagetown's landmarks, the picturesque St. John's Anglican Church, built in 1880 a few years after Canada officially became a country.
As we approached the farmhouse, I mentioned to Russell that, based on my childhood farm experiences, we would most likely be running into a dog of some description. No sooner had I said it than we heard barking and looked up to see a free running Pit Bull Terrier on the porch giving us the eye! I said, Russ - you go first. No actually, I said lets just wait here and hope the owner hears him and comes out as well.
We were in luck, the owner soon appeared, along with an English Bulldog, and motioned for us to proceed. He turned out to be a very friendly chap and both his dogs were eager young pups, wanting to play and giving us a good sniff. We told him of our cockamamy plan to bike the old CNR right of way and he just laughed. He informed us that the whole area from where we had crossed over the welded bridge was private property and he also confirmed that the farmers along our earlier missing section had just ploughed it into their fields as well.
After giving us some advice on how to find the final section into Gagetown, we thanked him and said our good-byes as we headed out his driveway for the back-country road, enjoying the view out over his farm (2nd photo) as we looked back at some of the territory we had already covered.
Emerging from the trees beside the track, at the right, into this long and narrow field between the old railbed and Otnabog Lake, we spotted a herd of cattle and they spotted us too. Apparantly they were not amused at the sight they saw because the cattle, including a big and muscular looking bull, began to run back toward the mainland where the farm lay around the bend. If you look closely, you might be able to see the skinny poles holding up a single-wire electric fence beside where they are running - it was restraining them from breaking out into the field we were now biking along. I remember electric fences like that from childhood days on my grandparent's farm at Magaguadavic Lake, on the other side of Fredericton. They are driven by a battery combined with a timer that delivers an electric pulse to the wire every few seconds - we used to hold onto the wire (lightly) to feel the 'tingle' that cows don't seem to like very much.
It wasn't too long before we came around the corner ourselves and spotted (2nd photo) the distant farmhouse and its complex of barns, located in the little rural community of McAlpines - there is a road up there somewhere!
From our highway vantage point, we could see that there was no chance of finding the rail track along this section of its former route, so we continued onward to the next small community of Queenstown. This now rundown collection of a few old houses has an old concrete wharf on the waterfront, a legacy of the steamboat traffic that used to ply the Saint John River for about 130 years between the first voyages in 1816 until World War II. At its peak in the 1850s, before roads and railways brought competition, up to 50,000 passengers a year were carried. As a child, I remember seeing one of the last of these steamers rotting away near Hampton, on the shores of the tributary Kennebecasis River.
In our case, we immediately headed for the wharf and quickly came to the rail track once again. Turning north, we headed the short distance to another of the old rail bridges that allowed the track to make another major diversion away from the highway - this time out onto a spit of land that separates Otnabog Lake from the main river. The 2nd photo shows the contraption used to block traffic on this part of the trail - including two rusted metal bars welded across the small opening to prevent even ATV traffic from passing. The 3rd photo shows the small stream of water flowing beneath the bridge while a distant fisherman tries his luck. Our earlier decision to use the highway to this point was confirmed (4th photo) when we arrived at the Queenstown wharf and looked back on the part of the track we had bypassed!
Of course, one of the other aspects of becoming a 'backwater' is that many of the communities withered away. The visible signs of this were evident as we made our way along, including this dilapidated old structure that looked like it had once been a barn of some sort. At the left side you can see the Saint John River practically lapping at its rear doorstep and there was actually a very nice sandy beach as well. Looking up at the open window frame at its top right, we could see a small table top standing there - it looked as though the barn had been converted into some sort of small community gathering place where people could enjoy the river while maybe having a beer or two while they were at it.
The billboard beside the highway (2nd photo) was advertising a 'Summer Sendoff' party on Saturday, lasting from 2 AM to 2 PM, on the day of our bike ride, just down the road toward Saint John in the small community of Browns Flat.
As we walked our bikes across the rough field toward the farm, we emerged close by the Saint John River, which was alive with boat traffic on a sunny Saturday as the summer season began to wind down. We had earlier heard plenty of big inboard-engined boats roaring past while we were in our forest cocoon and now a smaller one sped past as well. The numerous large and small islands and tributaries flowing into the Saint John River, as well as access to the Atlantic Ocean via the Bay of Fundy, make this a real boaters paradise. Many of the islands have nice beaches and whole groups of boaters anchor together for weekend parties and the village of Gagetown itself has a very nice fully-equipped marina.
Meanwhile, back to reality, I noticed that the thigh muscles in both my legs were starting to cramp as we made the final climb up towards the farmhouse. This was the first time that had ever happened to me, despite my extensive pre-trip 'training' ;))
After lunch, we climbed over this second welded barrier at the far end of the bridge to continue onward on the loosely-defined 'track'. We decided to continue on this path because the alternative highway path involved a long detour around Otnabog Lake and, during our drive to Oak Point, we had also seen what a monster Otnabog Hill would be to climb! This railway track route would take us out onto a curving spit of land with water on both sides of it, possibly offering some nice views.
However, pushing onward on foot into this overgrown mass of weeds soon revealed that they grew even taller - up to two metres in height and many of them with their blossoms covered with tiny seeds that shook off in clouds as we forced our way through. The odd stinging nettle tore at our legs and arms, but nothing serious and we continued onward. Finally, things began to thin out a bit so we mounted up and rode through the tall weeds, always being on the lookout for occassional tree trunks that had been blown down across the track. It was fun biking through that stuff, even if trees on both sides of the track were so thick that we had no water views at all!
Biking right on past the Hampstead ferry crossing, and a beautiful old 3-storey Victorian house standing nearby, we continued our trek to the north on what was quite a reasonable track. North of Hampstead, both the track and the highway turned westward away from the Saint John River and followed along the banks of a tributary aptly named Little River. We biked along there for a short while before both routes swung north again on bridges across the tributary but, the problem was, a homeowner had completely taken over the track at that point.
Diverting out onto the highway, we stopped to look at the rail bridge across Little River - it was completely blocked by large wooden walls at each end and we also could not see any definite sign of the track continuing onward from there. During our drive down from Gagetown earlier in the morning, we had stopped to have a look at this as we passed - and began to get an inkling then that our planned return trip was not going to be as easy as we had hoped!
Continuing on from Quarries, the trail was good since the ATVs hadn't ripped it up too badly and the weeds were reasonably well back from our biking path. One hazard can be seen ahead in this view, a small V-shaped dip is looming where a culvert of some sort used to carry the tracks. We encountered quite a few of these all the way along our ride and caution was the word when trying to get across. About half of them were dry but the other half had standing water and/or mud in them requiring a quick decision as to which of the ruts to take. In some cases we just got off and walked the bikes across these little hazards. The weather in this view is looking good as the forecast sunny day continued to build - and we could also see the distant white speck of the Hampstead ferry crossing the river.
A look behind us (2nd photo) illustrates the difference as compared to the still misty and overcast weather we were about to escape.
It was mostly downhill on the road from the orchard, so it was great to just sit back and let the bike coast or give it a bit of a boost to get up and over the next rise. However, we really wanted to finish off on the trail so we kept looking for a way to get back down onto it, since the farmer said he believed it was still intact in this area. Finally, we saw a small road leading directly down toward the River so we coasted down almost to the water's edge, where we spotted the trail again at a place called Fentons. It was blocked in one direction by a big winery building of some sort, but in the direction we wanted to go the trail looked good!
We soon crossed a small bridge leading into Fentons Marsh, where we spooked some Cormorants into taking flight as we continued onward. Getting this close to the relatively 'large' village of Gagetown, we could see that the trail once again had all the earmarks of extensive ATV use. The going was over rougher gravel and there were a number of road crossings and a few rough sections, but nothing too bad. Overall, it was not a fun section to bike but it at least let us finish our trip while still on the trail.
Finally, we came to a section of the trail where the trees had grown so tall that they formed a canopy overhead. This was great, because the shade they provided had stunted the growth of weeds and our biking along that section of the natural causeway back to the mainland was very easy and cool as well. However, it was not long before we were back to the tough slogging again, pushing our bikes along. By about 1:20 PM, through the growth of trees, we had spotted signs of a mowed hayfield off to our left on the Otnabog Lake side. Right, we said, enough of this slogging - let's head for the field and see if we can make our way back to one of the secondary roads that our map showed was nearby.
It was actually about 1 PM by the time we sat down in mid-bridge to have our lunch, almost 4 hours into our ride and with the temperature still rising, now at 30 C, with a humidex of 37 C partially countered by our continuing nice 22-kph southwest breeze. Russell checked our maps while I had half of my ham, dijohn, mayo, tomatoe and lettuce sandwich - washed down with my dwindling supply of water bottles (we never did see any stores along our trip). While looking down through the open spaces between the wooden beams, I could see swiftly moving water passing beneath the bridge, actually heading into Otnabog Lake. That meant the water must be trying to move UP the Saint John River as well, which makes sense when considering the 8-m (26-foot) tidal range of the Bay of Fundy at Saint John, where the river empties, is large enough to twice per day force water upstream.