Canada: Prince Edward Island

Canada: Prince Edward Island
The topography of Canada's smallest province reminds me of the old joke about a carpenter's dream being "flat as a board." Having ridden my 1995 Honda Shadow along the perimeter of this 135-mile-wide island, I now know a bigger joke: the condition of its highways and byways. Unpleasant surprises, disappearing pavement and tire-swallowing potholes abound. But each crowned corner also reveals a stirring aspect of spectacular scenery. The ride may be rough, but the views are worth it.

I had begun my trip in Wood Islands, PEI, the town into which the ferry from Caribou, Nova Scotia, deposits the travelers it transports across the Northumberland Strait, and was bent on traveling the island's edge. Upon completing this journey, I would return to mainland Canada via the 13-km Confederation Bridge into New Brunswick, thereby getting the best of both worlds: a relaxing ferry ride and an unforgettable bridge-crossing experience.

The trip was part lighthouse run, an amalgam of scenic highways, and a coastal tour all rolled into one. Choosing only the roads keeping me closest to the water, I cut on and off the "official" posted scenic routes  -  Ladyslipper Drive in Prince County, Blue Heron Drive in Queens County, and King's Byway Drive in Kings County  -  as necessary, hoping for the best views and the least amount of traffic. It was a gamble that paid off nicely: in the first two days I passed no more than a dozen cars and only two motorcyclists.

Since almost all the villages encountered along these coastal roads have harbors that support the local fishing industry, there is a never-ending procession of bridge crossings over every type of inlet, bay, lake and tidal pool imaginable  -  each one as magnificent and breathtaking as its predecessor. And while chewing up the miles in between towns, the unfurling landscape consists primarily of vast, rolling green expanses of farmland stretching to the vast, rolling blue expanse of the ocean, whose waves lazily drift onshore from the horizon.

Stunning scenic vistas aside, it seems a tad peculiar to have a freshly paved two-lane "secondary highway" (as labeled on my map) abruptly end without warning, only to be replaced by a hardscrabble surface of red clay and gravel. But that's the rule not the exception on Prince Edward Island, where roads shift from stretches of brand-new blacktop to a pell-mell patchwork of tar and pavement and back with no apparent rhyme or reason concerning location or length. So, for anyone considering a trip to this scenic gem in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, I offer this advice: double-check your suspension and the comfort level of your saddle, because before you know it, the ride gets pretty bumpy.

Which, in hindsight, made the sighting of my first "Rough Pavement" sign  -  in the town of Norway, a few kilometers south of the North Cape lighthouse  -  somewhat humorous. By that point (about two-thirds of the way through my trip around the island), for its public service purpose alone, I knew this rare sign would have done much more good if placed at the end of the off-ramp of the Wood Islands Ferry.

Back on the main roads, however, due to the lack of traffic and far-reaching sightlines, experienced riders can pretty much travel the speed limit, posted in kilometers per hour, in its mph equivalent. After all, that's what most of the people driving cars are doing, and these motorists have no qualms about tailgating non-speeders; yet they're shy when it comes to passing on the left. (I found it most prudent to pull over and let them go by.) The flip side of the PEI motorist coin is that with the same ardor some have for speeding, others are just as eager to pull over to ask if you need help when you're stopped on the roadside looking at a map or taking a photo.