On New Brunswick bike trip, the rider is always right

March 28, 1993|By Dan Klinglesmith and Patrick Soran | Dan Klinglesmith and Patrick Soran,Contributing Writers

Ward Campbell makes three promises to cyclists on his New Brunswick bicycle tour: You won't lose a pound; you'll go on untraveled roads far beyond the yellow dividing lines; and all the hills are small.

Well, two out of three isn't bad. Diets give way to down-on-the-farm treats. The province's quiet country lanes surprise, delight and inspire. But then there are the hills.

New Brunswick's landscape resembles a great rumpled blanket. Hills swathed in evergreen and maple arch heavenward, then tumble into verdant valleys, ensuring cyclists a test of their mettle. Hearty peddlers swoon, novices fret.

But that doesn't worry Mr. Campbell, owner of Covered Bridge Bicycle Tours. He's a New Brunswick native who knows the ambling byways like the back of his hand. As Mr. Campbell puts it, "There's something for every cyclist here, beginner to expert."

That's true, as evidenced by the five adults and two children who took handlebars in hand for six summer days along the Saint John River Valley. An average day's spin covers about 20 miles with frequent stops along the way and a welcoming country inn at journey's end. Throughout the day, a van plays leapfrog with gliders who want to stop for cool juice or sit out the next hill -- at least on the upside. Mr. Campbell knows that what goes up must come down, and that some cyclists prefer riding only downhill. He cheerfully loads and unloads bicycles as many times as needed. "On my tour," he says, "the rider is always right."

The excursion begins in Saint John, New Brunswick's harbor city, swept by sprays from the Bay of Fundy. This paper and timber town remembers its English legacy in street names such as Wellington Row, Dorchester Street and Prince William Way. Like an unfurled Union Jack, sidewalks crisscross Kings Square.

Against this background, cyclists meet for a town tour and the first of many high-calorie meals. It's hard not to make a pig of yourself at the Saint John City Market. Stretching a full block, the enclosed arcade is stuffed with goodies. It's designed like an inverted ship's hull, and grazers often begin at the prow, savoring mouthwatering smoked salmon, then munch stem-to-stern, stopping for dulse (edible algae), dried seaweed and other local favorites.

The following day finds cyclists working off yesterday's calories with a 25-mile ride along the Hammond River to St. Martins. At one time, this village clanged and knocked with the sounds of shipbuilding. The business sailed away with the reduction in whaling -- but not so the hamlet's marine ambience. Salty old PTC vessels and jack schooners still ply Bay of Fundy waters.

At the Quaco Inn, where Mr. Campbell houses his troop, guests sample a Fundy feast -- fresh, steamed whole lobster with coleslaw and fresh vegetables. After dinner, cyclists submerge aching muscles in a Jacuzzi or stretch tight tendons along miles of pebbly beach a few steps from the inn.

At bedtime, guests snuggle in Victorian splendor under down comforters while foghorns moan in the distance.

The house itself was built in the early 1800s by a wealthy merchant family, and heirlooms grace the rooms. Lustrous mahogany dressers hold vases of cut flowers, and old photographs give more than a hint of the past.

"Better eat your Wheaties today," Mr. Campbell announces the next morning. Good advice, for Day Three takes riders on the longest journey of the week, 30 miles to the inland farm community of Sussex.

But it's not hard work. Nearly car-less roads -- the yellow dividing line long since gone -- wind along pastoral farms and glistening green dales. Riders pause to take in the vistas and muse at splotchy black and white cows clipping clover. Roadside brambles lure riders to dismount and thrash among bushes for raspberries promising late-summer sweetness.

Civilization eventually reappears, but barely. As Mr. Campbell puts it, "The big event in Sussex is when the street lamps come on." But you wouldn't want it any other way. Stores are quiet havens where folks gather to exchange news and pick up goods, and children -- by with fishing poles slung over their shoulders on their way to Trout Creek.

As afternoon casually drifts by, riders mount up and spin through covered bridges and up forested switchbacks to the night's roost, Hilltop Bed & Breakfast.

Bed-and-breakfast owners Elizabeth and Peter Stark know how to baby tired two-wheelers.

Guests are treated to cool drinks and invited to take in the million-dollar view. Billowing clouds scuttle overhead, casting shadows over a broad expanse of willow marsh with a lazy creek meandering through.

It's a perfect setting for a perfect meal, and the Starks don't disappoint. Sharing dinner duties, they whip up a barbecue, Canadian style. No boring burgers, though -- this meal's main course is a generous portion of Atlantic salmon accompanied by creamed new potatoes. Dessert is an old-fashioned favorite, blueberries and vanilla ice cream.

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