48 Hours

The quiet roads sur­round­ing Wolfville, N.S., pro­vide fruit­ful rid­ing

Canadian Cycling Magazine - - CONTENTS - by Coburn Brown

Gravel of Nova Sco­tia’s

An­napo­lis Val­ley

“H ell, I don’t even stock road bikes any­more,” said Colin Banks, owner of Banks Bikes in down­town Wolfville, N.S. He had a lot to say about the gravel rid­ing around his home­town. “I gave up the road bike and might have got­ten two, maybe three, rides on my moun­tain bike this past sea­son.” It was easy to see why, as he turned the pages of the new book by Adam Bar­nett, Where­toc yclein­no­vas­co­tia, with hun­dreds of routes – many in­volv­ing gravel roads, rail trail and roads that haven’t seen a con­struc­tion crew in many years. It’s a guide­book aimed at peo­ple who like to tread off the beaten path.

As Banks flipped through maps, he goes on about the beau­ti­ful lakes and creeks in the area and the stretches of gravel that roll for kilo­me­tre af­ter kilo­me­tre with not a car in sight. Grow­ing up as an avid road cy­clist not far from Wolfville, I never thought much about gravel rid­ing. Af­ter I jumped on the Banks Bikes In­sta­gram page and saw it flooded with gravel bikes, bikepack­ing set­ups and beach cruiser bikes on rail trails, I knew I was miss­ing out on some­thing.

Less than half a kilo­me­tre from the shop, we got onto a rail trail. It quickly led us to the Aca­dian dyke­lands. Built more than 300 years ago and still in use to­day, the dyke­lands hold back the high­est tides in the world, al­low­ing thou­sands of acres of salt marshes to be used as farm­land. The winds were not in our favour as we pushed through the flat farm roads, but we knew that we’d get a push on the re­turn trip. Af­ter a few kilo­me­tres of warm-up through the dyke­lands, we passed the unesco Grand Pré in­ter­pre­tive cen­tre, where there’s in­for­ma­tion about the Aca­di­ans and their his­tory in the area. The best part? A stack of bi­cy­cle racks and a re­pair sta­tion for your bi­cy­cle on-site, just in case you for­get to pump your tires be­fore leav­ing town.

Much of our ride led us along the shore, with glimpses of huge salt marshes and tidal rivers. It wasn’t un­til we had put al­most 30 grav­elly, vir­tu­ally car-free kilo­me­tres be­hind us that we re­al­ized it was lunchtime, and we had noth­ing more than a choco­late bar be­tween us. Thank­fully, there were many fruit and veg­etable stands, many at the end of the farm­ers’ drive­ways re­ly­ing on the hon­our sys­tem for pay­ment. Oth­ers have small store­fronts sell­ing baked goods as well. We got lucky and found a bag of home­made en­ergy bars and a pint of fresh plums that all fit nicely in our jersey pock­ets. It was rare to be more than an hour’s ride from a town or small cor­ner store of sorts – ideal if you’re new to the area.

As we turned up­hill onto the South Moun­tain, a rolling climb of ap­prox­i­mately 200 m, we couldn’t be­lieve the num­ber of roads that in­ter­sected with the one Banks had rec­om­mended for us. We took a few short de­tours to in­ves­ti­gate, some turn­ing into creek beds, oth­ers dead-end log­ging roads, but some that seemed as if they’d go

on. We passed all sorts of blue­berry and rasp­berry patches, and even the odd ap­ple tree from old or­chards. We were stag­gered that we had the whole road to our­selves ex­cept for the odd lo­cal dog. Even­tu­ally, we found our way to an in­ter­sec­tion with gravel head­ing in one di­rec­tion and pave­ment an­other. We could hear Banks’s ad­vice: “If you want the ex­tra miles and climb­ing, stick to gravel. For a fast down­hill back into town, stick to pave­ment.” Even with our legs gassed and the prospect of beer and food in town, we turned onto the gravel and kept push­ing.

It wasn’t long be­fore we were re­warded with some in­cred­i­ble gravel de­scents, rolling down one big hill and soar­ing to the next be­fore you re­al­ized you were go­ing up it. Once we hit the bot­tom, it was a fast blast through the dyke­lands again back into town. We pulled aside only for the oc­ca­sional trac­tor and to look at the tide. We had only been gone a few hours, but in that time the tide had come up al­most 8 m – fast enough that you can sit by the wa­ter and watch it com­ing in at a rate of roughly 2.5 m ev­ery hour.

Banks was grin­ning as we chat­ted about our ride. He couldn’t wait un­til he was able to get out from the shop and ex­plore more roads in the area. Banks rides all year round now, lay­er­ing up into the fall, switch­ing to fat-tire bikes once the snow hits and con­tin­u­ing to ex­plore this area he calls home.

We could have stayed and talked all day, but we fi­nally had to get some­thing to eat other than road­side fruit. There is no short­age of places to eat or drink in Wolfville. Nova Sco­tia is bustling with brew­eries and vine­yards, and even dis­til­leries are making a big splash. With more than half of the winer­ies in Nova Sco­tia lo­cated around Wolfville, you have

“If you want the ex­tra miles and climb­ing, stick to gravel. For a fast down­hill back into town, stick to pave­ment.”

your choice of a high-class, lo­cally sourced meal or some­where you could go still wear­ing your cy­cling clothes be­fore you’ve taken a shower. Wolfville is a univer­sity town and has sev­eral more re­laxed eat­ing es­tab­lish­ments, many with out­door seat­ing if you want to air out your feet af­ter a long day in cy­cling shoes.

If you’re af­ter some­thing a bit dif­fer­ent than your tra­di­tional predin­ner drink, there is the An­napo­lis Cider Com­pany, a small cidery that show­cases what the An­napo­lis Val­ley is so well known for: ap­ples. The com­pany makes ev­ery­thing from ciders blended with peaches and pep­per­corn to sim­ple blends of with her­itage ap­ples.

The stun­ning rid­ing aside, I’d say what makes Wolfville, and all of Nova Sco­tia, such a great place to visit are the char­ac­ters you meet. It doesn’t mat­ter if it’s the peo­ple you find walk­ing their dogs along the dykes, the fa­ther and son out fourby-four­ing or other cy­clists, there’s a good chance you’ll get sucked into a con­ver­sa­tion in which you’ll learn more about that per­son in a mat­ter of min­utes than you know about the neigh­bour you’ve lived be­side for years. It won’t take long for some­body to warn you about the nor’easter that’s pick­ing up off­shore or how the last hur­ri­cane “blew the lord thun­deren’ Jeezes right through the wall,” and if you ask nicely, they’ll prob­a­bly point you in the right di­rec­tion to a favourite swim­ming hole or in­vite you to a lo­cal tra­di­tion called pud­din’ – you can slide like ot­ters down mud banks and reap the benefits of a spa mud bath.

If you end up un­sure of where to ride the next day, sim­ply turn to an­other page of Adam Bar­nett’s book as you en­joy an­other pint. Or swing by Banks Bikes in the morn­ing. If you want to but­ter up the folks at the shop be­fore learn­ing all the lo­cal secrets, come with java from Tan Cof­fee. The shop can set you up with a map, a spare tube and what­ever else you might need. Just don’t plan to leave in a hurry if Axle, the shop dog, takes a lik­ing to you.

left Rid­ing through the farm­land made pos­si­ble by the Aca­dian dykes

right When high tide comes in, the boat will float at the top of the wharf

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