• Shila Desai

E.Y.H.O. Rides the Cabot Trail

Updated: Nov 23

Could I break out of travel jail and pull off a 31 year old dream?



My husband Shreekesh already had the worst motorcycle bug when we met. Thirty-one years ago, we almost bought a bike. At a social gathering that same evening, an emerg room doctor casually mentioned the worst injuries she treated resulted from motorcycle crashes. My eyes met Shreekesh's and said “No”. Not while we planned a family and certainly not later, when our girls were growing up.


Fast forward twenty years. The girls had flown the nest. On April Fool’s Day, Shreekesh appeared in full biker regalia. “I’m not waiting a minute longer.” I thought it was a prank until I went out and there it was, a shiny Kawasaki Boulevard. We had fun on that racy thing, until . . .



The following summer we drove the Cabot Trail. The ultimate biker road was abuzz with the ultimate touring bike, the Honda Goldwing. Solid, comfortable, powerful, it was unsurpassed in hugging a road’s every curve. From the twinkle in my husband’s eye, I knew we’d return one day on a “Wing”.


It took another ten years. Both of us were older and getting rickety in the bones. “We can do it,” I said to Shreekesh. “If not, there’s always the exit ramp.” It was easier for me. I would be riding passenger.


Could we swing it?


Here’s our story of eighteen thrilling days and nearly 5500 breathtaking kilometres.


Mean it. Not a paid commercial post

Planning

I had the brilliant idea of roping long-time friend and fellow biker, Gil. Besides his lively company, a riding buddy is always a good idea. In typical Gil fashion, all cylinders fired as soon as he signed on. Over Facetime from his Montréal home, Gil planned the route. We pored over maps, googled distances, and booked 24-hour cancellable hotels. Being at the mercy of the elements, we'd carefully watch the weather every day. The plan was to push 250-300km a day, about six hours with breaks.





Packing


Shreekesh and I had a tiny saddlebag each, a third the size of a carryon. Make-up bags come in bigger sizes. Everything, from rain slicker to moisturiser, had to meet a gold standard: can I do without it? Thankfully we’d wear the bulkiest items: high tensile technical jackets, gloves, pants, base layer, and combat boots. A radio-connected full-visor helmet completed our uniform. We’d live in it for the next eighteen days. Into the saddlebag went rain gear, a couple of long-sleeved T-shirts, night shirt, underwear, and a skinny toilet bag. We carefully planned laundry stops into the itinerary. I tucked sachets of SOAK, a friends’ no rinse laundry powder. Tiniest corners were stuffed with eye-glasses, a packet of tissues, or a pair of earphones. No way my yoga mat would fit. Darn.


Jammed to the rafters one warm August day, we set off. Shreekesh “Winged” the 600km from Toronto to Montréal while I drove alongside with our African Grey, Mithoo. He’d be cared for by our daughter.


I slept badly that night. Was I pushing too much onto the guys?


The following day, we met Gil to officially carve the open road.




On our way

First full day. I was whacked, and I was only riding passenger. The guys had remained hyper-vigilant hour after hour, manoeuvring 1400lbs of metal and machinery -and, in Shreekesh’s case, a passenger. At gas stations where we stopped for frequent stretching breaks, the guys ribbed about the other’s bike. On the bike, ensconced in my “princess seat” behind Shreekesh, I entered a Zen state. I listened to music and podcasts. Mostly, I just let my mind drift. The in-between state was strangely cathartic. No compulsion to take calls or cave into the incessant pull of my smartphone. I focused on staying balanced, both literally and figuratively.


Reach out and touch

Did I mention the immediacy of the wind, sun, and a vast tableau of clouds, trees, and water? Tilting my head back, the sky was an unfettered 360-degree revelation. I felt I could touch it simply by reaching out.


At Trois Rivieres, we crossed the mighty St Lawrence. Gil passed us with a flash of purple flapping over his saddlebag. My rolled-up yoga mat had hitched a ride. Carting a yoga mat on a motorbike is an act of courage, as evidenced by fellow bikers’ grins and thumbs ups.


Our first stop, Lévis, was uninspiring—but crucial as I circled around the dynamics of two bikers. As a passenger, I moulded myself to their preferences: dinner/breaks/stretch/a drink/backing off or pushing an advantage. This set the tone for the rest of the ride. I was grateful for being allowed to tag along.



Enter E.Y.H.O.


Next day we entered Québec’s Kamouraska region where the St. Lawrence meets the sea. So picturesque is Kamouraska, it inspired a movie. I mentally jotted it down as a “must return with girlfriends” because, well . . . riding with the guys is necessarily point A to B given that getting in the mileage before dark is all important. Think search-engine hotel, a couple of beers (not a drop while riding) dinner, and sleep. How to introduce E.Y.H.O. curated meals, detours, distractions, and accommodations to biker culture?


With not a traffic jam or highway in sight, putting on the E.Y.H.O. hat was easy. At a windswept riverside café, I persuaded the guys to linger over a Bas St Laurent delicacy, la guédille aux crevettes. Dessert was an ice-cream on the quirky antique shop-lined main street. I even nosed around a couple of art galleries with stunning river views. As evening fell, our tiny Airbnb chalet in Témiscouata-sur-le-Lac provided the perfect refuge, complete with a clawfoot tub and fresh baked bread. Obviously impressed, the guys cooked and cleaned up. Gulf salt met the St Lawrence’s freshwater that day.



Wild blueberry saga


For obvious reasons, a motorbike trip isn’t conducive to shopping. But how does a blueberry junkie resist the best wilds, available for a scant couple of weeks a year, at a fraction of Toronto prices? In a supermarket just outside Fredericton, N.B., I caved in and bought a carton. We ate blueberries for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. When we pulled away from yet another great Airbnb, Gil had been persuaded to add blueberries to his yoga mat cargo.


Two days and 750 km later, we entered Nova Scotia with Gil carting my treasure in ultra-premium saddlebag space. I was helpfully reminded of my debt every hour 😖😄. Upon arrival at our friends’ Janice and Tony’s beautiful Cape North cottage, I discovered—wait for it—wild blueberries galore. In their garden, on paths, the roadside . . . everywhere. And I’d thought my now-soggy box would make a great hostess gift.



On the artisans’ trail


Eastern Canada’s artisans are renowned, as evidenced by their numbers at the annual One of a Kind Craft Show that brings together Canada’s best. Here are a few finds I hope to introduce on a future Eastern Canada arts and crafts tour.


Jane Alderdice, Weaving and watercolours, Goose Cove, Cabot Trail


Ryan and Shannon Costelo, Goat farm and handcrafted soaps, Ingonish, Cabot Trail


Loretta Gould, Mi’kmaq artist and textiles, Waycobah First Nation

https://mikmaq-artist.com/collections


Anne Morrell Robinson, award-winning quilter, Magaree River, Cape Breton


Fabrice Roy-Plourde, fiber artist, Kamouraska, QC


Clémence Godmer, Quilter and watercolourist, Rivière-Ouelle, QC


These artisans are inspired by the beauty of the land and sea that surrounds them.




Outriding a tornado

Nova Scotia was polished off with requisite fanfare and photos.


I’d have been happy with the predictably spectacular Cabot Trail. But the Gaspé Peninsula’s wild, windswept beauty took our breath away.

Chased by tornado

Our entry into the Gaspé was not auspicious. We barely outrode a tornado at Campbellton, N.B., with residual 50km/hr winds. Buffeted, rain-lashed, and cold, I was thankful for our big, solid Goldwing. I’d rather forget that evening spent waving a hairdryer at soaking gear and ironing out the damp from baselayers. Into every (biking) vacation, a little rain must fall.


Next morning, the sun shone from an impossibly blue sky, no doubt to appease our soured mood. Our spirits lifted when we arrived at the Percé Rock. An enormous limestone stack formation, the Percé has inspired countless artists, sculptors, and bon vivants. A colony of northern gannets is a major draw for beetling boats. So is a tiny house staring down the Rock as the last islanders’ last witness.




Favourite spot

From the Rock, it was an exhilarating ride to wildrose-dotted Cap-des-Rosiers. Sheer cliffs cascaded into the ocean separated only by a ribbon of a road. Strewn here and there, lighthouses stood romantic sentinel to the ships that had crossed—and sunk— in pursuit of New World riches. We skirted Parc Forillon and arrived at my absolute favourite: Phare du Cap des Rosiers. Our motel efficiency had a view to die for.



Seventeen days from start in Toronto, we made it to Quebec City, pausing only for the English gardens of Jardin de Metis. On the ferry from Lévis, the Chateau Frontenac towered above us. Our ride would end in style with a celebratory dinner replete with champagne.


When Shreekesh pulled into our Toronto garage, the milometer read 5,419 km. We clambered off and high-fived.


We had realised a dream.




5419km or 3367 miles


E.Y.H.O. hopes to introduce you to Eastern Canada on an artisans tour soon. We won’t use motorbikes. Let us know if you’re interested!


Thanks for taking a look! I am Shila Desai, owner of E.Y.H.O. Tours. I personally handcraft itineraries, infusing them with curated activities, accommodations, and sightseeing. Together with my in-country teams, we deliver exceptional holidays every time. I invite you to leave me a comment or write shila@eyhotours.com

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