by JD Boyd
Most people have memories of their first family vacation from early childhood. My family has historically had livestock so someone always had to stay home to feed the animals. The first opportunity came over the past year during my cross-country tour from Calgary, Alberta, to Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Although I have resided in Alberta for twenty years my father’s family is from Nova Scotia and my mother grew up in the Iles-de-la-Madeleine, which is located ninety miles off Prince Edward Island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Over the past year I have been fortunate enough to travel over sixty thousand kilometers on my HD Classic. South to Daytona Beach, Key West, Sturgis, Houston, and Las Vegas, west through the Rocky Mountains to Vancouver, north to Fort McMurray, Alta., and east to Nova Scotia.
The Rocky Mountains are breath taking, autumn at the tip of Lake Superior is inspiring, as is Peggy’s Cove in N.S., and yet, a tiny sand bar in the middle of the Gulf of St. Lawrence competes with all of these areas in terms of overwhelming your senses with natures beauty.
In the first place I consider myself very lucky to have two brothers with whom I am very close. The fact that we all ride Harleys and enjoy the open road was the makings of a dream vacation. If you can imagine the pleasure I got riding with my two brothers just think how happy my mother was to have the chance to ride two thousand kilometers with all of her sons to her place of birth.
To begin the trip we chose to take the Confederation Bridge to P.E.I. as opposed to the ferry. Being nine miles long it is probably the longest bridge that you will ever get to cross, I only wish that there had been a pullover along the way. Half way across the island we stopped to visit with family, got a good night’s sleep, a hearty breakfast, and we were on the road to Souris, and the next stage of our adventure. During the five hour ferry ride you get a chance to experience the sheer power of the ocean and also the feeling of isolation that one gets when you look around and all there is in sight is water.
By the time we reached the island, darkness was fast approaching. I recall one particular spot where the ocean spray and foam was blowing off the waves, across the road, and landing in the ocean on the other side of the road. That is how narrow the island is in parts. Being used to riding in snow, my mind initially identified the foam as giant snow flakes until I realized what it actually was. Once again you sense the awesome power of the sea, and realize how insignificant we really are. Which of course, is another reason not to take life too seriously, try to make the most out of every day, and learn to enjoy the simple things, such as sunrises and sunsets.
It took us about forty-five minutes to reach Gross Iles, my mother’s birthplace and still home to many McKay’s. Within ten minutes of arriving at my uncle Charlie’s we were all gathered around the kitchen table catching up on old times and up to our elbows in butter and lobster juices. After much laughter and all the red fish we could eat it was time to hit the sack for some peaceful slumber.
The next morning after deciding we wanted fresh mackerel for breakfast Charlie got on the phone to see who had been last out. Two or three phone calls later and we were headed down the road with a bag of potatoes to trade for some fresh mackerel. There was a thick mist, almost a light rain as we thundered along the narrow island trail, the lack of trees seemed to carry our thunder over even greater distances. Everyone we saw either waved or just quietly stared as the three bikes roared by. All seemed to know of Charlie’s Angels, as we were soon to be called. In addition to the potatoes, we had to promise a ride to one of the kids for the fish, but still a pretty good deal.
It is hard to beat fried mackerel and eggs for a true Mari-timer’s breakfast. After such a hearty meal we decided on some brotherly bonding so we headed out to the barn to cut and store some firewood for our uncle. There is nothing more personally satisfying than working side by side with family doing basic survival labor such as logging for winter heat. Anticipating our arrival, Charlie had previously hauled two loads of logs off the mountain (basically a hill about three hundred feet above sea level covered with scrub softwood). Two hours and a case of brew later we had a cord of wood cut, and stacked in the barn. A couple of our cousins had dropped by, and with five sets of hands working together the log pile disappeared as quick as Greg could go through the stack with the chainsaw. Greg is such a maniac with a chainsaw that Charlie could hear his machine crying out from the house. Naturally he found it necessary to come out and remind Greg how to treat his saw.
By this time lunch was on the table, shark steaks with baked potatoes, another delicious mouth-watering meal. Like I said, you have to learn how to enjoy the simple things in life, and it really doesn’t get any better than this. Good friends, or family, plus good food, equal, good times.
I have been living in Alberta for twenty years and love Alberta beef, but I tell you, I was having a blast enjoying food that is at best, difficult and expensive to find on the prairies.
Time now for our afternoon ride, we loaded up our cousin Derek and headed out on our new quest, bottled lobster. For this we started back west to Havre de Maisons. Another benefit of such a small island is that nothing is even an hour away in either direction from home and Derek knows everybody. We had plenty of time to both tour the west end of the island, and visit with one of Derek’s friends who just happened to make the best-bottled lobster on the island.
The only low point came when I noticed that my cousin was not wearing my winter gloves that I had forced on him, and, being in the bag, had no idea when or where he had lost them. I tried looking for them but the end of day was near and luck was not with me this time. I did however, manage to find my brothers side pouch and go cup that fell off his bike. Naturally, the sadist in me failed to mention it to him until he was about to start his own search party early the next morning.
Happy as he was to be reunited with his thermos coffee cup he quickly realized the top was still MIA. I confessed that I had also noticed it missing and had covered the area in question three times over hoping to locate the top to no avail. We decided to take one more ride east in hopes of locating our missing gear but being Sunday we had to be quick if we expected to be back on time for kick off. Ninety minutes later we returned empty handed but triumphant, nonetheless and ready for a relaxing day of NFL football.
Monday morning, today we have decided that we are going to haul some more wood off the mountain and get it stored if possible and still visit the east end of the island. Cousin Murray donates his time and 4X4 to the cause and by 2 PM we have two more cord piled in the yard waiting for the chainsaw.
This afternoon we are going to visit our Uncle Wick, Old Harry boat launch, and the graveyard where our ancestors are sleeping. Uncle Wick turns out to be the highlight of the day, and not just because he fed us lobster sandwiches, although they were excellent. I can only hope to reach his age, eighty-seven, independent, and is still chopping wood to heat his cabin throughout the winter. No one wants to leave and by the time we return to the homestead, darkness has once again descended upon us.
Tonight we have baked halibut for dinner, after which every one relaxes however they so chose because Charlie has forbade the use his chainsaw after dark. Three hours later, as I was enjoying a good book in a hot tub I heard the chainsaw start up in the barnyard and followed my brother Paul out to the woodpile where Greg was already at it. I have never seen anything like it before, here’s Greg with a six inch flashlight stuck in his mouth so he can see when he cuts his foot off. Although we made enough noise to arouse Murray from across the road, somehow Charlie continued to sleep. We set up a small conveyor line and by midnight had two more cord cut and stacked.
Tuesday morning, everyone is up and ready to hit the road before daylight. The regular confusion occurs as the saddlebags are loaded and the house is scoured for any missing articles. Nine bottles of lobster are carefully stored in the tour pak. The sun begins to creep above the horizon as the rumbling from the three Harleys fill the morning air. Charlie and Derek are waving from the doorway as we mount our machines and point them down the road. Looking back as we pull out I see Charlie staring at where the woodpile should have been, and I feel good.
The familiar rush fills my being as my brothers and I roar along the narrow roads of Grosse Iles. Blasting through the maritime mist that was blowing off the cresting waves, in spots so thick you could taste it. On top of that I still have a full day of riding with my mother and brothers ahead of me, not to mention a five-hour ferry ride, the Confederation Bridge, and four provinces.