The morning was sunny and a bit warmer leaving Caraquet, with crystal clear skies and a sense of excitement after the gray day previous.
I stopped briefly for coffee at the local Horton's and sat amongst the French speaking clientele, for whom the chain seems to be a meeting place. The Tim Horton’s chain, best described as the offspring of a McDonald’s and a Dunkin’ Donuts, have always been crowded and boisterous, with the locals and their French language full of emotion and sound. It’s a bit off-kilter in my brain, sitting in a chain coffee shop and hearing conversations in French, of which I have no idea of the content, but I enjoy the feeling of being a distant traveler in a new world.
As I stood in line, a man spoke to me in French and upon my response began speaking slowly and thoughtfully in English as best he could. I managed to understand he had a Vulcan 1500 as well as an 80 horsepower snow blower. I introduced myself and he said his name was Rudolph, then said "Rudolph the red nosed reindeer" and we both laughed. He wished me "bon voyage" and rejoined the three women chatting at his table.
When I walked outside to the bike, I was approached by a guy, obviously very cold, who began speaking in French and asking for 2 dollars for coffee. I had no cash since it now littered the highway behind me a few hundred miles, but I could tell he'd slept outside and was chilled. I tried to tell him I had no cash but would buy him a coffee and breakfast, but he misunderstood and walked quickly away while I was taking my helmet off. I yelled and he turned around, responding to my motion to come back. We headed inside and I pointed to breakfast or donuts, but he waved no, happy to just get a large coffee. He thanked me as we went outside and disappeared quickly across the roadway behind a building. He seemed to be a man down on his luck rather than just wanting drug money… but one never knows.
I rode east for an hour out to the Ile d' Mscou and the old wooden lighthouse on the point. It is stabilized for the high winds with long steel cables. In the parking lot I spoke with a couple from Maine who'd ridden up to see Nova Scotia, and like me, had to change plans. They weathered the storm in Moncton, however the rain was so intense their room in the hotel got wet from leaks around the windows and they were without power. They'd ridden in the same winds I had the day before and said the bridges were a handful with the wind gusts.
There was a small coffee shop inside, and the two ladies working the place were very friendly. They discussed how bad the winds and rain had been on the point, shattering glass at the lighthouse and destroying the road in, saying it had only been repaired this morning and making the lighthouse open again to the public. I'd seen flotsam along the road and the freshly repaired road section on my ride in. The cook told me they almost never get a hurricane there and was concerned that climate changes would make them a more regular occurrence. More to the point, she said the beaches had been littered with thousands of dead lobsters, all female and bearing eggs. She said the region depended on the lobster harvests and now with the death of so many females they were worried how it may effect the next season.
The warm sun and lack of wind made for a slow and lazy exploration of the site before heading south for Miramichi and then Moncton. Though I've been watching news to try and figure out how much of Nova Scotia and Breton are still without power, the TV news simply repeats the same stories showing fallen trees and bent signs, before quickly switching to the news of the Canadian girl who beat Serena Williams in tennis. It's actually a bigger story than the hurricane and she has become a legend in her country.
As the road droned on south towards Miramichi, I suddenly got a craving for fried chicken. Not something that normally happens, and when I got to the town I detoured off the highway and then googled “fried chicken” to find a listing for "Dixie Lee". When I found the place, it was bit run down and the parking lot mostly blocked by a large box truck and long trailer. Inside sat two young guys and an older man, and when I came in the man began asking me about the bike. They were all dirty from hard work, obviously on a lunch break.
The man was intrigued to hear about my trip, then began making suggestions about places to visit and such. Before long, he mentioned his wife of 33 years had died a couple months back from complications of dementia. I told him I was sorry to hear it, and he opened up, telling me the story. After her lingering death, he said he used the insurance money to pay off all his debts and get financially free. He went through major depression and came to the realization that he'd missed the real meaning of life, which was helping others. He said he had a brush removal business and had most of the region as clientele, but he decided to turn his loss into something good in life. He began taking 15% of his business income and setting it aside to help others who were struggling with similar situations of spouses with dementia.
In his work with so many homeowners, he said it was surprising how many he met whom he could tell were dealing with spouses having the same issue. He began buying Visa gift cards and keeping them with him to hand out, or would pay off their monthly bills or in some cases give them cash. Of course, his charity spread to those in need aside from his initial idea. He said with his background, he could tell who really needed help as opposed to those who were scammers. He said he's never been happier in his life now, and I told him "I'd say God bless you, but with what you're doing there's no way you won't be." He said that indeed he was so busy there was no way he'd ever get to it all, and now with the hurricane aftermath he had lots of work ahead. He wished me safe travels, introduced me to his two sons that worked with him, then headed out to his truck wearing dirty chainsaw chaps. I watched out the window as he climbed into the cab of the box truck, then jumped down and came running back inside. He handed me a laminated card with a photo of he and his wife on one side, and a poem about her on the other. He said he always gave one of them to whomever he helped, in memory of his wife, then ran back to the truck.
The laminated card will go into my little box of memories from the road, a touching remembrance of a moment in my life, along with little crosses, stones and other treasures caring people have given me in my travels.