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Bonding over Bikes and Beats on PEI

Moncton NB to Pictou NS, 350km (tour total 846km)

When we imagined cycling across Prince Edward Island, Canada’s tiniest province, we pictured rolling farmland dotted with colourful country homes, miles of coastline with those iconic red-sand cliffs, and the famously flat, picturesque Confederation rail trail for pedaling the hours away under a canopy of willow trees.

Like spending the summer with Anne of Green Gables, actually.

We didn’t anticipate huge exhilarating water slides, jumping off wharfs on hot busy beaches, or for Heron to experience his first monster summer music festival with thousands of party-ready strangers.

So we got a bit of it all - plus an epic visit with long-missed cousins.

A pretty packed week on a pretty chill island.

We landed in Moncton to begin our six-week Atlantic Adventure, assembling our bikes at the arrivals area and cycling away on quiet country roads to the Acadian north coast of New Brunswick, where we regained our French fluency along the shores of the Golfe du Saint-Laurent. It was a clear contrast to our weeks pedaling in the BC mountains out west: vastly different feels in equally beautiful country.

Joce had ridden these roads twenty years ago, toward the end of a cross-Canada bike tour with thirty other 20-somethings in the Otesha Project - a social justice and environmental education non-profit she co-founded with her friend Jessica. So it was poetic that we could stop in for an overnight visit with Mel, one of those Otesha riders now living the dream on an inspiring sustainable market farm near the ocean, and still working for the planet working communications and advocacy with CPAWS. It’s always a treat to show the boys a glimpse of our younger selves - and so many other cool life paths they could follow - through our endlessly interesting old friends.

Next day we crossed the 13km-long engineering marvel Confederation Bridge onto PEI abord the mandatory “bicycle shuttle” - a Ford F-150 with a bike rack (it was actually a new Lightning, fully electric, to Sitka’s giddy delight as we packed our panniers into the “frunk” where the combustion engine would otherwise have been). Then we connected straight onto the Confederation Trail that cross-crosses the island to all the major points under a canopy of maple and birch on the route of the old PEI Railway with frequent rest shelters at the sites of old stations.

The blissfully flat, wide, well-packed bike path doesn’t go all the way up to Cavendish, so we rode some rolling country roads past vast farmsteads of potato, wheat, hay and varied veggies for an hour to the north shore on the edge of PEI National Park. We were surprised to be passed by a steady stream of cars and mostly pick-up trucks, with license plates from other provinces and states - Québec and Massachusetts, Ontario and even Texas.

By the time we arrived in the tiny tourist town, we knew there was something bigger going on.

The Cavendish Beach Music Festival is PEI’s big summer show - 30,000 pairs of cowboy boots making pilgrimage from far and wide to see some pretty big names (or so we were told) and kick up a good ol’ ruckus.

Now, as happens in every family (we figure), there’s a tiny tug-of-war between parents over the musical affinities of our kids. For Ed, it’s a cheesily ecclectic mix of 90s alternative, 80s hair rock, 70s funk, and the classics his Dad played for him: Jim Croce, Gordon Lightfoot, Neil Diamond.

Joce is a closet country fan - traces lingering from teenage years in Ontario’s Renfrew County - though she’s smart to the game and also embraces more modern genres that appeal to the boys’ ages and stages (or at least those tunes in the rotation of Yukon’s lone pop radio station). On one two-week ride through Washington’s Cascades Mountains when the boys were little, we’d picked a whack of songs but somehow only downloaded the Greatest Hits of One Direction. We still know that album word-for-word.

On occasion, Ed makes a breakthrough. For a few weeks at age 11, Sitka got into Metallica, then Heron found Eminem and Public Enemy.

But largely he’s followed Joce’s lead and embraced the boys’ rather astute tastes. As we travel together, we discover and discuss music together - in Europe we explored hip-hop in the language of each country we entered (Danish, Croatian and French being continued favourites), and this summer Mom and Dad are getting schooled on the modern teen’s Spotify playlist.

“You can tap Release Radio and they play new songs from the people you’re following,” Heron explained to Ed after hearing about how CDs worked. “I guess you couldn’t do that since all your favourite bands don’t exist any more.”

But on Cavendish Beach, all worlds collided on a Thursday headlined by Kane Brown - the current megastar of crossover country, pop and hip-hop. He’s the singer you’ve never heard of until you realize you’ve been listening to his stunningly diverse hit songs on the radio for the past year. Once we’d recognized much of his playlist while riding the rail trail, a plan was hatched: Joce would recruit her cousins in Charlottetown, who were driving up for a water-park day together with their teenagers, and Heron would see his first outdoor festival concert.

And so it was that momma and son had their epic music moment, surrounded by thousands of fellow enthusiasts as the sun set in PEI. And that Kane Brown is now on permanent repeat on our bike speaker.

Dad’s playlist no longer has a chance.

Though the concert was awesome, the true highlight of our week on this charming island were those cousins - two families at similar points of adolescence who showed us their home province like no one else could.

We tubed many times down our first-ever funnel water slide (“the toilet bowl” in local parlance) at Shining Waters nearby to where Joce, Paige and Sam frolicked together when they were teens; got whisked into the idyllic world of Anne Shirley at the Green Gables Heritage Park; gorged on gourmet island ice cream at a Cows with gluten-free cones (Paige’s family has been “GF” for over a decade, so Sitka was positively spoiled with edible treats); walked the sidewalk where Canada’s founders trod from harbour to the building where they agreed to our country’s creation in 1867; beached every afternoon at a different favourite spot for wharf-jumping and river floating - Covehead in the north and Basin Head in the south - and even got some quality catch-up time with Joce’s inspiring Aunt Nancy.

Heron and Sitka were solidly in their happy place with five cousins to volleyball, soccer, daredevil and play cards with.

“Cousins are so great,” Heron observed. “They’re like automatic friends you feel you’ve known forever.”

Indeed, these cousins had last met in Ottawa thirteen years ago, so on Sitka’s initiative we recreated the picture taken as toddlers.

And when we met back up a few days later, after our detour to les Îles de la Madeleine, the cousins had an announcement.

“We want to join your bike tour in California next summer,” they beamed. “We’ve researched all the bikes and gear, and we have a training plan.”

Ed’s already started Googling 2024 rock festivals.



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