Alberta professor bikes through western Nova Scotia with her dog

Wendy Elliott
Published on July 25, 2014

Cyclist Karen Fox and her travelling companion Xander during a stop in Wolfville. - Wendy Elliott, 

©Wendy Elliott

Karen Fox has certainly been on major bike trips before, but the recreation and leisure studies professor at the University of Alberta had never travelled with a dog.

Xander is a small dog she adopted from a former student. While Fox has been a dog owner for four decades, she’d never cycling with one between her handlebars.

Fox came to a conference in Halifax and set out June 4 with Xander along the rail trail from Bayer’s Lake. He was ensconced in a platform seat.

It was definitely a learning experience for the 65-year-old cyclist and her pet.

“I had to pedal with my knees out” due to the platform, she said.

And then there was the rain.

“Xander hates the rain. There were long days when we did less than 30 kilometres and days in the tent. But it was an experiment for the two of us.”

Fox stopped in Hubbard’s, Martin’s River and spent a couple of days at the empty Grave’s Island Provincial Campground to wait out the rain.

“I was the only one at the campground. There were fiddle heads unfurling, and loons and hawks circling overhead,” she recalled. And the black flies were out, too, she adds.

There were small adventures, meeting local residents and learning the history of the South Shore. Then, Fox moved on to Mahone Bay, where she found generosity in the others staying nearby.

“It was interesting,” she says. “That’s why I travel. It was the same thing in Annapolis Royal,” which was her next stop. It rained for five days near Annapolis Royal, where she stayed at the Dunromin Camp Ground. Xander got so down about the rain, Fox took him to a vet for a checkup. Her perked up at Fort Anne and enjoyed walking and rolling in the grass there.

In the Valley, Fox enjoyed getting the feel of the little towns she passed through. Xander liked sniffing all the new scents.

Along Highway 201 toward Middleton, she said, were some pretty steep hills, which were great opportunities to allow Xander to walk and sniff for critters – he especially like the chipmunks, she said. They also spent the night in a bare-bones motel.

“We cooked our beans and rice on the camp stove outside the room, alongside the construction workers who brought major gas barbecues,” she said.

Fox liked stopping at old family cemeteries and noted that the road meanders past corn and potato fields, vineyards, large gardens of beans and peas, horse farms, cows, sheep and dog kennels.

“I loved the older architecture, whether large barns, carriage houses, or houses. The houses have vivid trim in reds, blues and purples that reminds me of fancy gingerbread houses at Christmas. Yards include manicured lawns, vegetable and flower gardens and endless stacks of wood.”

En route, she found a tick and in Greenwood a pet store with food for Xander. But the wet prompted her to stop at the dog-friendly Pillow Case B&B in Somerset, built around 1848. The warm showers advertised online were a big draw at that point.

The owners were on their way to drop off grandchildren in Lower Sackville, Fox noted, so they arranged for her to get in and have a shower. Then, she and Xander sat on the deck, took a walk, watched local soccer games, saw a huge dairy barn with the cows already in for the night and observed how Lamb’s Farm was using some land for conservation measures.

There was also a small flock of chickens, which fascinated Xander.

“I didn’t let him get too close, and as we walked away, the chickens came to the fence and watched us walk the perimeter of the yard,” she said.

The next morning, one of the B&B owners also gave Fox a tour of Berwick and Harbourville while she waited for the worst of the rain to pass.

“A place like that I never would have seen,” Fox said, as her bike had developed brake problems. “They were generous and welcoming.”

She stopped in Woodville, where a young couple is part of the Warmshowers group that provides a bed or camping for other cycle tourists.

“They generously gave me a tour of the farm and invited me for lunch. They moved into the farm last September and are envisioning it as a working farm, B&B, and educational centre to learn about various farming skills. Currently, they have someone working with them from the Woofing program,” Fox said.

Fox had been to a leisure research conference in Wolfville before and was hosted by a retired colleague, Susan Markham Starr, and her husband, John. She was grateful they introduced her to the expert bicycle mechanics at the Stove and Cycle Shop.

In the end, Fox took a side trip to Blomidon Provincial Park, then decided to rent a car for a weekend and car-camp with Xander through part of Cape Breton.

She says the journey taught her Nova Scotia history from the outdoors.

“It’s so gorgeous. Cycling up the Valley, there were all the smells of the flora and fauna.”

According to Fox, the trip was about “figuring how to travel with him, to see the people and the land. Not about the mileage.”