Humpbacked Whale? Not So Much.

This afternoon, I took Pai down to our cottage so that she could think about having a swim. I used to swim with my Fred horse back in, what, 1987? I thought Pai might enjoy it, but, despite being a pretty phlegmatic and placid horse, she apparently thinks the water is frought with monsters. These monsters live at about the depth of her fetlocks or perhaps canon bones, and they nibble on her when she is in the water, so that she must perform her genetically-programmed Lipizzan airs above the ground in order to escape their clutches. Which is a very… dramatic thing to happen when you are leading a horse in your bare feet (yeah, yeah, I know. Bare feet).

I have a big bad bruise on my ankle courtesy of the poor delicate flower, who leaped into the monster-free safety zone that apparently exists in a six-inch perimeter around me, demonstrating very clearly that I really have to review my-space, your-space training basics with my horsie.

She let me know that boat wakes are also the devil. They. Will. Kill. Horses.

“Paikea” is the Maori word for humpback whale. You’d think she’d be better at this.

My cousin Andrew let us ride along on “Landing Day”, the final day of the lobster fishing season. He and his crew were nice enough to let me try my hand at fishing. Musta been the beer.

Chicas – quiero mostrarles mis fotos de “Landing Day”, el ultimo día de la temporada de langosta. Mi primo es un pescador de langostas, y Wayde y yo estabamos en el barco hoy cuando mi primo y sus amigos montaban las trampas.  “Landing Day” es casi una fiesta (¿casi? no – ¡es una fiesta verdadera!) – los pescadores comienzan a beber cervezas a las tres de la mañana, cuando salen del muelle, y continuan todo el día. Todos están de buen humor.  Quizas es gracias a las cervezas que los chicos me dejan “ayudar”, pero creo que es porque son todos muy agradables. Me dieran overoles de caucho, y guantes también, y me pusan a trabajar.  Creo que estaba en el camino más que les ayudé, ¡pero tuve un día estupendo!

“Ayudando” en Landing Day

Utilizando el arpón

Barco con trampas.

Puerto Malpeque.

Trabajando duro.




Ski Trails and Heritage Roads

PEI has an alpine ski hill. With three lifts. Who knew?

On the advice of a fellow rider, I hauled over to the Brookvale Provincial Ski Park. Despite my smug image of myself as a Person With a Fantastic Sense of Direction, I managed to completely misplace myself in the nordic ski park while I was searching for the service road that would lead me to McKenna Rd and the loop I was intending to ride.  A phone with Google Maps and a GPS is a very good piece of technology to have.

Getting lost is often not a bad thing at all, and today was no exception. For the first time in all the forty-some years that I have been coming here, I found Lady Slippers.


Our ride wound through spruce and tamarack woods, and deciduous woods with great big birch trees; through meadows and over brooks and past ponds; along red clay Heritage roads with trees creating a tunnel overhead; past lupins and wild roses in the ditches; along the crests of hills that overlooked rolling PEI farmland.

Ride pics:


I Have a Pink Horse

She’s pink because she’s a grey horse (my least favourite colour, remember?), and instead of getting green grass stains, here on PEI, she’s getting red mud stains. The white part of her mane was well and truly pink the other day when I went out to put her in for the night. Judging by how long it takes for PEI clay stains to fade on my clothing, I’m thinking she will be entirely pink soon if this wet weather doesn’t let up.

Pai is happily settled in her horse house on the point, living in the stall my Fred horse lived in twenty-five years ago. When fatty-pants is out in her wee little limited-grass paddock, I can see her from here at the cottage.

The MacKay house on the point

Yet another Room With a View

There used to be a training track for Standardbreds just behind the house, where I used to jog Fred when I was a teenager and was something like his groom; it’s gone now, but the perimeter of the hayfield where the track used to be makes a great place to go for a gallop.

What with fencing and re-fencing, and the changeable weather (yesterday: gorgeous, warm and sunny; today: raging wind, whitecaps on the water, driving rain), our rides have been limited to little jaunts along the shore.

I was taken aback when my plans to ride on the Confederation Trail – part of the Trans Canada Trail – were foiled by the trail’s ban on horses. For years before there was an official trail, equestrians would use the old rail bed for riding, but once the trail became a managed entity, the horses were turfed (scroll down to “A Trail Tragedy in PEI”). Safety and liability concerns are cited by government officials and tourism officers – apparently, PEI horses are waaaaay more dangerous than horses elsewhere in Canada. More dangerous than snowmobiles, even. Who knew. Even though committees give me hives, I think I need to join one of the local equine protest groups to engage in some serious agitating.

So I’ve been hunting for other trails to ride, and am hoping to explore some of them in the next few days. We’ll see what I find.




Edmundston: Zero Horses, But One Fantastic Campground (And, Pai Cuts Loose – Literally – in PEI)

Days 15-19

After the chilly, windy purgatory of Northern Ontario (OK, in reality it wasn’t that bad, but, despite the fact that there was actually only one grey freezing cold day amongst many sunny ones – including 32 degree weather in Thunder Bay – my mind refuses to budge from the image of that dire 300 km of roadway between Longlac and Hearst) I spent three full days in in lush, warm Eastern Ontario, visiting my Dad.

Dad meeting Pai

I love my Dad’s cooking. We had sea bass and red snapper and arctic char and trout, fish cakes, split pea rice… mmm, mmm, mmm.  Dad’s food is delicious – only someone who loves tasty food could describe his own recipe for fish cakes with “and there’s no seasoning in it.”  That’s right, no seasoning, because thyme, oregano, hot pepper sauce, salt, and black pepper are not seasoning. They’re just “the ordinary things you put in food.”

On one of my dog walks with Scooty, I met up with Mr Chan, my high school Art teacher, and had a great visit with him, and on the same walk ran into Mr Dwyer, an eighty-something year old former neighbour I hadn’t seen since he took Mum and me up in his airplane, over ten years ago.

On Peter’s horsey friend’s advice, I took Pai down the road to the cross-country ski trails just outside Summerstown, where we had a good ride through varied deciduous and conifer forest, and got off-track by mistake and rode on some trails through rolling farm fields. Ontario fields have a honey-sweet smell to them – maybe it’s clover, maybe it’s some other flower – and that smell, combined with the scent of newly mown hay just screams summertime to me. The only damper was the cloud of deer flies that scoffed at my fly spray and nagged Pai through almost the whole ride.

We hit the road again yesterday, Sunday. Montreal was almost a piece of cake to drive through on a Sunday morning. For days, I had been dreading driving my rig through Montreal – I don’t even like driving a car through Montreal, never mind the truck-and-trailer beast. (I can remember the first time Wayde and I drove the auto-route together on our own: we were driving to PEI for Christmas, and we were in the Mini, and it was 6:30 in the morning and dark and sleeting snow and those crazy Montreal drivers were all going 130 km/hr and tail-gating and zipping in and out of lanes like they were all driving motorcycles on a sunny day.) Anyway, I say “almost”, because although traffic was blessedly light, there were still parts of the highway where the trailer was riding on the lane markings on both sides, that’s how narrow the lanes are.

The Trans Canada follows the St Lawrence river through pretty Quebec farmland, then cuts inland to the New Brunswick border and Edmundston, which is halfway between Dad’s and the Island.

Quebec pastoral.

Upon arriving at my Dad’s last week, I had begun to look up places to overnight in Edmundston. I’d already done some quick searching before leaving BC, but now I began to search in earnest… and it became apparent that no horses live in Edmundston or anywhere near Edmundston, at least as far as Google is concerned. I searched for “horse”, “equestrian”, “tack store”, “farrier”, “riding”, “trail riding”, “hunter-jumper”, “dressage”, “fairgrounds”, “horse show”, “stables”, “farm supply”, as well as “cheval”, “chevaux”, “pension”, “exposition” – you name it. Nada. I called the one large animal vet in the area, and he had trouble thinking of anywhere that might be suitable, but did kindly give me a couple of people’s names – neither of which was home. I emailed the New Brunswick Equestrian Association. Still nothing. Seriously. No horses live in Edmundston, or if they do, they are all in the witness protection program living under assumed names.

I finally decided to try regular campsites, repressing my traumatic memories of setting up that e-fence pen in the pissing rain in Saskatchewan by consulting the weather report every ten minutes and seeing that forecasts of sunshine across the East Coast never wavered. I happened upon a listing for the Riverside Iroquois RV Park, and gave them a ring. I got the OK to come on down with my horsie – an equine guest being a first for the campground – and so that’s what I did last night.

I could not have landed in a better spot.

Junie and Larry, the park hosts, are just the most fabulous people you could ever hope to meet. They welcomed me like I was family they hadn’t met yet, and made me feel like Pai was the most beautiful creature to have ever set hoof on earth. Pai had a shady spot under the trees for her pen, and we all walked down to the river to cool off.

Chilling out at the river.

Junie, who is afraid of horses, was won over by the placid Pai.

Junie and her absolutely smashing hat.

Junie and Larry had me over for some socializing, and plied me with beer and ouzo well into the night. The two of them sold up house seven years ago, and spend their time roaming the roads in winter and managing campgrounds in summer, and so they have no shortage of fascinating and hilarious tales collected on their travels. I am now hankering to go to Quartzsite, AZ just to meet the famous naked bookseller.

Last morning on the road.

Scooty showing some cuteness.

I left Edmundston this morning, for the last leg of the journey, laden with gifts from Junie – hemp seed and homemade soup and a very special rock and a jar of her handmade cream.

At our lunch stop in Fredericton, I met up with Bev, a fellow soapmaker I “met” online. It’s great to meet online acquaintances in real life, and I was chuffed that Bev took the time to hunt me down for a quick get-together. I hope to also meet up with Rhonda, another soapmaker, on the trip home in September.

I arrived at Horace MacKay’s place on the shore in PEI, just down the beach from our cottage, late in the afternoon, and reunited with Mr Andrews, who’d flown in in the wee sma’s of Sunday morning. I got Pai set up for an hour of grazing at her new barn before she’d be put away for the night, and Wayde and I popped home for a glass of cider on the lawn.  We hadn’t even half-finished our drinks when my cousin came screaming down in her SUV. “SYLVIA!!! YOUR HORSE IS LOOSE!!!”  Pai was running around the hay field (which, fenceless, borders the road) like a pale version of the Black Stallion, looking very Arabian indeed (she almost never does). Within minutes of being Home, my mare had managed to assemble an audience of cousins, neighbours, visitors, and children to watch her perform.

As soon as she saw me, she stopped, dropped her head, and grazed, which allowed for an easy wrangling of the delinquent. She was sent to bed (with dinner), where she is sharing a barn with a yearling Standardbred filly.

So tomorrow’s agenda includes some fence repair, as well as a few stall modifications to try to exclude at least some of the mosquitoes, which are insane. Of all the mosquitoes I’ve encountered across the country, the PEI mosquito beats them all. PEI mosquitoes don’t dick around like those BC and prairie and Ontario mosquitoes. They are small and they are fast and they know their business, and the come at you in battle formation like a bunch of Cylon Raiders. Apparently PEI horses just stand in their stalls and take it like a man, but my little flower with her prairie hives may not tolerate this kind of attack.


Beaten by Northern Ontario

Days 13 and 14

I don’t consider myself a fair weather rider, but Northern Ontario made me cry uncle.

After being dazzled by the glorious rides in Western Canada, I had planned my daily drive to arrive at each destination with plenty of time for a couple of hours of trail riding. Yesterday’s itinerary involved a GoogleMaps-predicted 5-hour drive from Geraldton to Kapuskasing, to a bed & bales that promised miles and miles and miles of trails.

I was excited. I was keen.

We were packed up and on our way at the way-early-for-me hour of 8:30, but even at the start of the day, I was feeling melancholic. The gorgeous mid-twenties weather of the day before had deteriorated to a 5 degrees and rainy.

The road between Longlac and Hearst is, in a word, bleak. I’d like to say that it’s got a rugged northern beauty, or to say some other positive and poetic thing about that stretch of highway, but, seriously, I got nothing. It’s 300 km of bleak. Three hours of this:

(On this trip, I have been hesitant to even answer the phone on hands-free, so focused am I on my driving. But on this road, when I was meeting oncoming traffic once every 10 to 20 minutes, and nothing but trees and flat road to be seen: yes, yes, I did in fact pick my phone up, hold it over the steering wheel, and take a picture).

It never got better. The truck’s temperature reading stayed stubbornly at 6 degrees C as the miles rolled out behind us. The rain continued to drizzle half-heartedly down. The wind continued to rage.

I ride in the rain at home. Really, I do. It rains at home a lot. At home, if you won’t ride in the rain, chances are, you won’t ride much.

But Lord have mercy. On my holiday, after 3 days of dicking around in Northern Ontario, hacking out for a leisurely 45 or 60 minutes through farm fields and farm woods, if I was going to ride in the wind and rain at a horrifying 6 degrees C in JUNE… Well, to paraphrase Julius in Pulp Fiction, “We’d have to be talking about some charming motherfucking trails.” As I cruised though Kapuskasing, I looked at the same flat land featuring the same old poplars and same old spruce I’d ridden through for three days, with the truck still reading 6 degrees C and the rain still falling and the wind still blowing… That’s when Northern Ontario won. Driving another 336 km on the road instantly seemed a joy – a joy – compared to huddling in my camper in Kap.

I called up my contact in New Liskeard, fellow veterinarian Connie Dancho of Temiskaming Veterinary Services – yet another gift from my fairy godmother Carol, who had done her externship there 20 years ago (holy crow, how is it possible we’ve been doing this for 20 years?). I was meant to be staying with some francophone clients of hers, but my short-notice change of plans took everyone off guard, and Connie ended up inviting me to stay at her place.

Her place turned out to be a sheep farm, as well as being the woolen mill after which their road is named. The wool mill burned down two months ago, which is a tragedy, since they made some of the most gorgeous wool blankets I’ve ever seen. There’s one in my truck right now. (A crisp, brand new $100 bill from Dad had been burning a hole in my wallet since my birthday in April. I couldn’t bank it and then spend the money on debit or credit or by cheque. I had this self-imposed rule that I had to spend that specific bill on something that was specifically a present, something I would love. And now I gots me a gorgeous wool throw).

Gratuitous cute baby lambykins photo

More lambies!

Pai enjoyed a big box stall and had periodic visits from Connie’s 3 horses while I enjoyed dinner with Connie and Dave and Jenna and Alex, and talked shop with Connie for a long while into the night. As I walked back to my camper, fireflies flickered on the grass. We don’t have fireflies on Vancouver Island; they always remind me of warmer eastern summers.

New Liskeard is on some kind of clay table (the geology escapes me), and so is a sort of non sequitur in the geography of Northern Ontario. To the north are the flat boggy spruce Forests of Death, and to the south are the pink rock (I want to say granite, but I’d totally be making that up) and beautiful tiny lakes that epitomize what I visualize when I think “Canadian Shield”, and New Liskeard is this prairie-flat area of lush farmland. Their exuberant hayfields are to our Vancouver Island versions as a sumptuous beard is to a teenager’s peach fuzz.

Today’s 8-hour drive (10 point to point) wound down past those gorgeous wee lakes between New Liskeard and North Bay (sadly, I found no safe place to pull over with a horse trailer for a photo), past Temagami, which reminded me of being in school, when Temagami was in the news during roadblocks and protests by the Temagami Wilderness Society.  The morose highway warnings (“Can’t See? Don’t Pass!” and “La vitesse tue. Ralentissez!” and “Larger Vehicles Need More Room”) followed us all the way down to Ottawa.

Tonight, Pai is happy in a big paddock with a barn run-in at the farm of Peter Tropea, the vet I worked for when I was a high school vet-student wannabe. And I am happy at my Dad’s – he cooked me my favourite thing: fried fish with Bajan seasoning. I’ll be here visiting for a few days, until I hit the road for the final two days to PEI.



I Got a Fever

… and the only prescription is more trail ride.

Day 12

The tornado was a no-show. Pfft. We barely got a breeze.

Today was another dainty little driving day, a mere three and a half hours from Thunder Bay to Geraldton. Northern Ontario highways abound with signs displaying exhortations like, “Fatigue Kills. Take a Break,” and “Please Drive Carefully”, as well as helpful itemization of the fines for various speed categories. At first, I saw them as a sort of cheerful coaching on driving, but after being passed on double solid lines with a semi approaching (more than once, and each time less than 2 km from an upcoming safe passing lane), I began to see the signs as offering sort of gloomily pessimistic, sure-to-be-ignored suggestions. Oh, Bird. They never listen. Sigh. 

My early afternoon arrival at North Winds Farm allowed for some reorganization and trailer clean-up and a pear cider (copious amounts of which I was compelled to stock the rig with upon leaving Vancouver Island – it’s hard stuff to come by in the East) before heading out for a hack with my host Teri and her student Megan.

Besides the seven horses in residence, the farm is home to chickens, sheep, and piggies. These boys came running squealing to the gate every time I went down to Pai’s paddock, and then galloping away if I got too close. They were ridiculous.

While Pai got settled happily for the night in her paddock, Teri and Jason and their two little boys looked after me, inviting me up to the house for a shower and dinner with the family.

After three days of short (but definitely sweet!) sunny rides through the woods, I am (and I delude myself into thinking Pai is) keen for a nice long ride in the wild. We want terrain. We want distance. I got a fevah… and the only prescription… is more trail ride.

Scooter, after nearly being evicted from the camper (and life) last night for indiscriminate elimination, is once again allowed up on the bed. But he is on probation.

There’s a reason he’s AKA “Roadkill”


Holy Weather, Batman

Days 10 and 11

I believe I may have special mystical weather powers. I am not trying to use them for evil, honest; I think I may just be a sort of climactic Frankenstein, blundering around with good intentions, knowing not what I do.

It goes like this. I passed through Golden in the mountains of BC, and the next day they had to close the highway for mudslides. I stayed with Vanessa in Taber, and the day I left, they had a tornado that flattened their hay shed and threw the heavy wooden furniture around (horses and people all OK). And now I am in Murillo, just outside Thunder Bay, and they have a severe weather warning for tonight, including a tornado warning. My young host Amanda at Royal Denver Farms has kindly urged me not to hesitate to come into the house should things get scary.

We also had hella wild weather this morning in Dryden. I was enjoying my morning coffee in the sun, preparing to load up the horse and go, when my host Val at Artimowich Quarter Horses came over to pour me some more joe and have a chat. As we talked, the sky darkened in the southwest and thunder began to roll, and then the whole world darkened, and then the wind came up, and then it began to hose down rain. Lightening forked and the trees went sideways.

Artimowich wasn’t on my original travel agenda. I had planned to camp at Merkel’s Camp, which belongs to cousins of the fellow who owns the farm where Pai boards in Cedar. The moist experience in Fleming had, however, dampened my enthusiasm for camping in the rain, and the weather forecasts had indeed called for rain and storms. I decided that a facility designed for horses might be a better bet, and Val was happy to put me up – she offers layover boarding for folks passing through.

Barn and indoor at Artimowich

Just as well Pai was indoors in a bug-free barn – my poor sad horse was covered in hives when I unloaded her. (Blast Saskatchewan and its bugs. They laugh – nay, cackle – at my insecticide spray). I loaded her up with antihistamines, and, happily, her lumps are gradually resolving. She doesn’t seem bothered by them, but I am.

It’s been a long time since I’ve cantered across an Ontario hayfield – almost twenty years. The countryside here smells different than the forests of Vancouver Island Riding out in the fields and woods yesterday afternoon was like a nostalgia trip back to Girl Guide camp and school trips and riding on farm I boarded at near Guelph. We tripped along past columbine and buttercups and wild roses, spruce trees and poplar trees.

It was 32 degrees C in Thunder Bay this afternoon when we arrived.  Rather than ride in that heat, I went into town and picked up some fresh pickerel – a fish that seems ubiquitous in Manitoba and Northern Ontario, but which I have never seen in a Vancouver Island supermarket – and cooked that up for dinner, letting things cool down to a manageable twenty-something degrees before heading out for a late evening ride.

My driving schedule has gone pear-shaped. I had planned a Richer – Dryden – Nipigon – Hearst – New Liskeard route, but the Hearst accommodation fell through and I’m not enough of a gypsy to wing it. What I should have done was to have made a longer day of it yesterday, and skipped Dryden entirely, landing in Thunder Bay for the night, but I didn’t – I wanted to stop in and see the Merkels, and I had some supplies to stock up on. So my new route is Richer – Dryden – Thunder Bay – Geraldton – Kapuskasing – New Liskeard. The driving days are relatively short, and it adds an extra day of travel time, but on the bright side I will have more time for some decent trail riding.

That is, if my weather super-powers don’t completely wipe out everything in my path first.