“WHERE ARE THE CHILDREN’S PYJAMAS?” I ask, looking at my husband James, trying to keep my voice as calm and as graceful as our room in the rambling Boscawen Inn in Lunenburg, N.S. It’s almost 9 p.m., and we’re exhausted after a long day of cycling. The kids need to go to bed and I need to take a moonlit walk through the warm August air of this enchanted town.
“I don’t know where the pyjamas are,” says James.
“They should be in the pink suitcase,” I reply. “Where’s the pink suitcase?”
“What pink suitcase?”
The pink suitcase containing clothes for my stepdaughters, five-year-old Anna and seven-year-old Mary, for our week-long cycling vacation is at home — 175 kilometres away. James and I glare at each other across the tall antique bed as the girls play princess with their 20-month-old brother Silas. We’d had a deal: I would pack the bags, and James would pack the van. Or so I thought.
“We don’t need clothes. Daddy can wash these ones in the tub,” says Mary. “Like the old-time people did.”
Silas jumps up and down on the bed screaming, “Me a lobster!”
We don’t have time to fight — we’re on a luxury bike tour with Freewheeling Adventures. Over the course of five days, we’ll cycle more than 150 kilometres between charming inns and bed and breakfasts, from Mahone Bay to White Point Beach, while a van carries our luggage and lets us ride our bikes without a care in the world. Well, almost. This trip, designed for families, promises flexibility, peace and relaxation, “a perfect holiday with your children” and “your dreams come true.” But right now, I feel as if I’m having a nightmare.
EARLY THE NEXT MORNING, I lean against the support van, dizzy after four cups of coffee and not enough sleep. James had set out on a three-hour drive home and back the night before, to fetch the missing suitcase, so we’re both a little bleary-eyed.
But it’s a postcard summer day, blue sky and puffy clouds. I look down and see that I’ve dribbled coffee on my pink bike shirt. And there’s an egg stain from where Silas wiped his hands. I watch our intrepid guides, Katie and Tyler, zoom around on bikes. They are toned and buff, beautiful and tattooed. It’s hard not to feel frumpy. Katie hands me a water bottle.
“How was your night?” she asks as I rub my temples.
I yawn and smack my dry mouth.
“Oh, a rough night,” she says. She glances down at Silas, who is trying to mount my bike. “He’s the youngest child we’ve had on a trip, so just let us know what we can do to help.”
I check my pack to make sure I have enough diapers and extra clothes for the kids, and Katie asks whether we have figured out who is riding with whom. I have a trailer for Silas hooked up behind my bike, while James is pulling a tagalong bike for Anna and Mary, who will alternate between riding the bike and in the van. But right now, I feel like hunkering down on the park bench across the street.
“Anna, get down,” I hear James say. She is trying to hop on the bike before it’s been properly secured. “You’re going to fall before we’ve even started.”
Katie packs Mary and Silas in the van so that I can have a solo ride, a bit of time to myself. Mary’s face brightens as Katie tells her that she needs an assistant. I explain to our guides that if they aren’t careful, Anna will have them making her blender drinks.
MY FATIGUE IS BANISHED by the exhilarating ride through steep and narrow one-way streets on our way out of Lunenburg. Settled in 1753, the town is also home port to the Bluenose II, whose masts we could see from our room at the inn. Tyler stops to attend to some mechanical problems, so I forge ahead. Anna and James are nowhere to be seen. I come upon Ofer and Karen, a couple travelling with their teenage son. This is their third family bike trip.
Karen smiles. “I really admire you for coming on this trip with such young children,” she says. She’s got a warm voice and knowing maternal eyes.
“I think we agreed to it in a moment of insanity,” I say.
They laugh, standing under the shade of a large tree, and I find myself laughing with them.
An hour later, I pull into Ovens Natural Park, a privately owned reserve that features a series of man-made sea caves. I see our crew parked near a cliff overlooking the ocean. The view is staggering — craggy bluffs jut out into the glimmering water, and the sky is a shocking blue. The dark rocks down on the beach seem like sculptures.
I’m also stunned as Katie and Tyler wave to me. They are on their knees operating a manual blender making fruit smoothies. Anna smiles my way. Tyler and Katie giggle as they add some mango. I leave them to their smoothies and sit on the grass munching blueberry cheddar. Down on the beach, I can see James and Silas panning for gold with the glassy waves crashing behind them.
“DIG DEEP,” HOLLERS ANNA. It’s morning, and we have just started off from Broad Cove, a teensy spot south of Lunenburg. “We’re losing you.” Anna pedals like a seasoned cyclist, and I can see the well-defined muscles in her five-year-old calves as we head into a steep hill.
“I’m tired,” I whimper.
“We’re racing,” she calls. “You’re losing.”
I spit in a ditch. She drops me in the next 30 seconds and flies toward Port Medway, a charming fishing village about 30 kilometres from White Point Beach. I can’t keep up, but my goal is endurance rather than speed. It was another very brief sleep, with Silas rising at 3 a.m., but today I’m determined not to whip out my cellphone and call for a van ride, as I did yesterday and the day before. I have begun to accept the fatigue, to move through it. Parenting is, in large part, about endurance, going the distance, finding moments of joy and beauty along the way.
Silas calls for a song as we ride over the hilly roads that wind along the ocean. “I’s the b’y that builds the boat, and I’s the b’y that sails her,” I sing. Except for the occasional passing car, all I hear is the twittering of birds and my breathing and breathy singing. “When I am far away on the brimy ocean tossed, will you ever heave a sigh and a wish for me?”
I was born and raised in Nova Scotia but have spent very little time on the South Shore. Before we’d left on our trip, a friend told me that she regards the South Shore as the “authentic Nova Scotia.” I wasn’t sure what to make of this, thinking the Annapolis Valley, where I live, is pretty authentic too. But there is something about the lovely old wooden homes perched on the winding coastline, the sun dazzling on the waves, the small wharves and islands and sailboats and seagulls, the breeze that smells of ocean, seagrass and wildflowers that beguile and entrance. I finally catch up to James and Anna, only because James’ handlebars have come loose. A kindly man who lives by the road pops out with a tool box, and we are back on our bikes within minutes, our helpful new friend waving us off.
On our last full day, we drive to the Seaside Adjunct, a coastal addition to Kejimkujik National Park. The views are supposed to be magnificent, but the park is socked in with fog when we arrive. It feels otherworldly, but that could be the four espressos I had for breakfast.
“OK,” says James. “Let’s do this hike.” He is studying a map. I point to where it says the park is 22 square kilometres. We pass on the hike and, instead, meander along the boardwalk.
Katie and Tyler are preparing lunch nearby. I take Silas to the washroom and return to find Mary and Anna sporting avocado-chocolate-mousse moustaches. Our guides have whipped up a banquet. There is gazpacho and cheese and bread and even waffles served with fruit coulis and the avocado- chocolate-mousse face paint.
As our curious luxurious-rustic adventure winds down, we feast and say farewell to the South Shore. Mary puts her head on my shoulder. “I’m going to miss Katie and Tyler.” She is on the verge of tears. I’m going to miss them too, especially Tyler’s early-morning roadside espressos.
That night, we sit around a fire and then snuggle down in our cozy cabin. I lie awake, enthralled by the sound of the waves, which finally draws me to the beach. I will be tired in the morning, as we pack our bags and the little pink suitcase and make our way home, but it’s a small price to pay for the sight of silver moonlight sparkling on the waves.