Riding the Old Rail Trail from Charlottetown to Elmira and Back (209 km)
By Anna Karpinski
In May, after a long white winter, the island explodes into a hundred shades of green. One of the best ways to soak up all this fresh flora is to get out on the Confederation trail. I pull my bike out of storage, inflate the tires and ride out to the Royal Junction where the Charlottetown branch of the trail connects to the main route. Here the trail splits east and west, invitingly receding into two dazzling tunnels of green. Rejuvenated by the fresh air and exercise, I look down the path and decide to see a lot more of it this summer.
The entire trail is built along an abandoned railway line and runs for 274 km from Tignish to Elmira with 166 km of branch trail extending out to various destinations across the island.
May 30th to June 2nd, 2015
My sister Vera, who races bikes in triathlons, agrees to join me. We rent shinny new trail bikes with panniers from MacQueen's Bike Shop & Island Tours in Charlottetown and begin our trip on the last weekend in May when most of the hotels and tourist centres have opened.
We enter the trail at Grafton Street and ride 3km before stopping off at the Farmer's Market. It's the centre of operations on Saturday mornings. People flock here to eat, shop and socialize. We grab a coffee, a cupcake and sit out on a picnic bench to talk with some friends. Everyone is in good spirits because all the snow has finally melted and the sun is out.
From the market, we ride the trail out of town past the university and shopping centres. Slowly the traffic noise fades until all we hear is our own breath and the sound of our tires on the ground. I stop every ten minutes to take a photograph of a beautiful curve on the path but soon realize there will be four days of gorgeous twists and turns along the way.
The scenery glides by and the sun flickers off of the leaves. The trees open up to rolling green fields and then close back up into a lush forest. We pass a rushing stream, birds sing above our heads, a rabbit darts into the bush, chipmunks scurry across the path and a Loon calls off in the distance.
PEI is often referred to as the gentle island. There are no big mammals here, no bear, deer or moose. The terrain rolls up and down so gently we hardly notice it. The wind is on our back and the sun on our side.
At 1:30 we pull into the Rodd Crowbush Golf & Beach Resort and by 2 pm we are riding a golf cart to the beach. There are many excellent bed & breakfasts along the trail but we decide to splurge on a 5 star hotel. Crowbush is elegantly situated in the middle of a golf course and its backyard is the wide-open ocean.
We leisurely stroll along the shore. A couple of little girls with plastic pails full of water, run giggling past us. Their parents, making sandwiches in a beach tent, look up and wave. The six of us are the only people out here for as far as we can see.
“We have to do this more often,” I say.
“Yes, let's bike across the whole island this summer,” Vera says.
“It's too beautiful not to.”
The weather forecast for the next day is rain with strong winds beginning at 10 am. We set out at the crack of dawn to beat the rain. We ride east into the rising sun without a cloud in the sky. The trail between Morell and St. Peters Bay is spectacular. The path winds across the bay. We ride over bridges with water shimmering along on both sides.
We sail into St. Peters by 9:30 am. I'm about to suggest we keep going when I see the sky behind us fill with ominously dark clouds rolling in at the speed of a train. Luckily our next hotel is only 1 km away. We motor up a small hill and as we push our bikes up on the porch of The Inn at St. Peters, the first rain drops begin to fall. An hour later the wind is howling and the rain coming down in buckets. The rain beats against our cottage window for the rest of the day. We turn on the fireplace and read books and magazines. Karen, the owner, has a library full of island books in her lobby. My favourite is a David Weale collection of humorous island quotes, such as: When asked if she had travelled much, she said, I didn't have to. I was born here.” or “Even if you are lost on the island, you still know where you are.”
It's expedient that we rest our legs on this sodden day. Our longest ride, from here to Elmira and back to Crowbush, is tomorrow – a total of 105 km. Initially we planned to stay overnight in Elmira but it's too early in the season. The hotels, cottages and campgrounds out east don't open until mid-June.
In the morning the air is chilly but it's dry and the wind has calmed. We layer up our clothes and head out early. After the rain, the colours of the red dirt roads and the green of the grass are intensified. The trees come in closer around us, at times forming a canopy over our heads. Wild yellow and purple flowers are in full bloom and the birds are singing up a choir.
There are no stores, restaurants or cafes near this stretch of the trail. It's 42km of pristine nature. We reach Elmira by lunch. An old portion of the railway tracks extends out of the station and disappears into the foliage on the trail. The old station is now a museum and visitor information centre. The staff here is helpful and friendly. They pump air into our tires and let us fill up our water bottles in their office. We eat our packed lunches and head back to where we came from.
The trail is serene and quiet. We see an older man walking with a fishing net on his shoulder and then a young boy zips past us on his mountain bike. Otherwise we have the path all to ourselves.
The ride begins to gets challenging half way back to St. Peters. But with Vera as my coach and cheerleader, I summon the strength to continue.
From St. Peters its only 12 km to Morell. We focus on the food and drink waiting for us there. In Morell we shop at the co-op grocery and fuel up on cheese and roast chicken sandwiches. We buy a few drinks for the hotel and get back on the bikes for our last 10 kilometres. I daydream of the outdoor hot tub waiting for us at Crowbush. I visualize kicking off my shoes, getting into my bathing suit and then slipping into one of those white hotel housecoats to go out to the hot tub to soak my muscles.
When we check-in a young man immediately takes our bikes to put into storage. Vera puts our drinks on ice and we head straight to the hot tub. It overlooks the greens of the golf course and the trees beyond. We watch the sun set in colours of crimson and laugh and talk about our day.
Back in the room, we enjoy our refreshments before turning in. I sleep like a rock with not a care in the world.
We wake up with our muscles a little stronger and our minds a little clearer. On our ride home, we make plans for our next trip on the trail.