Climate Change Caravan - From Victoria to Newfoundland in a Veggie Bus
Newfoundland - Tuesday, September 11th we woke up in our luxury suites at the archdiocese and got moving for our day of media frenzy and bicycle takeover. Some people fought with the bus, trying to restore it to pre-enema order. Others headed down to the Conservation Corps office to fight with photocopiers in preparation for the press conference and critical mass ride. Bruce Pierce and his cohorts were happy to lend us the necessary technology and we were on our way up to the legislature up the hill.
The premier of Newfoundland, Roger Grimes attended and we presented him with two books, Schumacher's Small is Beautiful and Natural Capitalism by Amory and Hunter Lovins and Paul Hawken. We hope these will guide him to the right decisions for the future of power in the province, ie away from damming the Lower Churchill River and toward more sustainable options. He was happy to talk to us, and in front of the cameras to boot. As to the cameras, they were somewhat lacking. It was then that we learned of the events at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The press made a grab for the premier and after informing him of the morning's crashes, promptly whisked him away for his response.
It was with this heavy on our minds that we headed down to City Hall to meet for our critical mass ride at noon. We had some trouble focusing, and there was much standing around sorting out the details of the plane crashes before we realized we had a number of St. John's cyclists waiting for us to start this thing. The critical mass CD got things in order and we set out to tackle both traffic and hills. Though initially a bit scary, local motorists turned out to be quite friendly and were for the most part ready and willing to wait for us as we moved through the city. This was the bike ride that would not die. A bit of miscommunication between those at the front and those pulling up the rear, coupled with our eagerness to tackle those hills caused us to roll right on by our original destination (agreed upon via consensus based decision making, of course). After a second lap of the city we wound up at the Scotia Bank square.
One of our local contacts Lori alerted us to the fact that Exxon Mobil had its office on the 8th floor above us and we decided to pay them a visit. Around 20 of us trooped up in the elevators and skulked in the lobby while our delegation tried to get a meeting with their public relations official. Everyone on the eighth floor was looking extremely twitchy. Security was apparently called on the suspicion that we might be terrorists. We were told we were being totally insensitive to the tragedy in the United States, that we should give the people in the building a break today, that we were using our numbers to try to intimidate, and that we had five minutes to exit the building before the police were called. Outrageous.
We returned to the pavement to wait for Margo O'Connell to meet with us...Which she never did. A handful of us ventured back to the eighth floor again to see what had actually happened to her. The doors to Mobil's office were now locked and upon seeing us the secretary called security. We played telephone, sending our request through the glass doors with the security guard who reported that Ms. O'Connell would definitely not be seeing us today, and once again, would we please vacate the building. Downstairs we sat outside Mugshots (the only really appropriate hang out for terrorists like us) and listened to the radio coverage of the hijackings. It was in the midst of this that we were visited by the police who had been called upon despite our cooperation with the security guards a half hour earlier. We managed to convince them that we were in fact totally devoid of protest or demonstration at this point and they assured us we were "welcome to sit and drink coffee here". Well, thank you very much. After they departed and we could safely sit in a circle without being hassled, we regrouped to decide whether to remain in the city or depart that afternoon.
After one of our most painstaking bouts of consensus decision-making we agreed if would make more sense to stay where we were. Sadly, our four star rooms at the archdiocese were no longer available, but after some hard talking Lori led us over to the campaign offices of mayor candidate Greg Malone. We promised to help out around the office, but as it turned out we had missed the boat on odd jobs. So we cooked a feast on the bus and ate dinner and a surprise icecream birthday cake in honour of Leigh's 22nd. Then it was off to one of the city's many watering holes to watch the TV coverage of the crashes. Probably as shocking as the incidents themselves were the statements by President Bush indicating his mind is clearly on war. One wonders if he recognizes that his country's participation in various foreign wars has had similarly devastating effects on innocent people, many of whom also believe in democracy. This is but an opinion, but one that was voiced as we watched events unfold.
At the Ship Inn down the road, we were entertained by Jon Sheppard's musical friend Neil who delighted us with a one-man reggae ensemble among other numbers. Thanks Neil! And off to bed.
Wednesday, September 12th we were awoken excruciatingly early by our new waker upper Mr. Jason Alphe Dionne. Eggs and oatmeal for breakfast and then we moved outside to pack our bikes in front of curious passersby, many of whom stopped to inquire into the chaotic scene before them. We rode en masse out of the city back toward Argentia for the 8:30am ferry the next day.
Those who chose the Trans Canada were sadly deprived of the beautiful ride along the coast through little villages. Today was a long haul, and a number of people stopped at an unsuspecting Irving to wait for the bus. Those who rode on found the TC to be relatively pleasant in this part of the country. The sun shone bright, and we had a good view of the sweeping valleys so different from the coast just miles away. Yuill and I arrived a bit later and as a result found Bob. At the top of our last descent into Argentia at twilight, Bob leapt out onto the highway out of the mist and asked us where we were headed. When he discovered we were part of a larger group he decided to abandon his six week tour of the province and eat curry with us at the ferry terminal. We arrived to find the guts of the bus on the pavement YET AGAIN and a mouth-watering curry being dished out. We also arrived to a nauseating smell of diesel in the air which, on further investigation we found to be a spill from a fishing boat docked there. DFO was apparently on its way to assess the damage, which was being tended to with a length of sponge that didn't appear to be up to the task of absorbing the oil which we couold see spread out into the harbour a few hundred metres by now. Our investigation led to chat with the ferry workers who proved to be surprisingly interested in the Bet and our trip.
They prepared for the arrival of a delayed boat, and we prepared our own vessel for take off only to discover the engine had suddenly given up the ghost. Jason debated a number of tactics including rigging up the wind turbine to recharge the battery, and waking up the sleeping caravaners for a push start. In a last ditch attempt at starting the engine sorted itself out and rumbled back to life. Relieved, we headed off to bed in the terminal which had once again been kindly donated for our sleeping pleasure. Thanks to everyone at Argentia for being so accommodating twice round!
Thursday, September 13th Jason's sweet nothings roused the troops and Jeremy collected funds for our discounted passage back to Nova Scotia. We sleepily boarded the shuttle over to the boat and filed onto the Joseph and Clara Smallwood for another round. We resumed our old stomping grounds in the deck 6 lounge and after breakfast began watching hour upon hour of New York and the Pentagon. By now the focus had switched outward to the fallout in airports and the stock exchange. We tried numerous times to round each other up for a group meeting, but found this to be completely impossible on a ferry the size of this one. The huge rain storm that has since flooded St. John's began mid afternoon forcing us inside. Yo gave us all lessons in making hemp necklaces, which provided hours of entertainment. We ate phenomenal pita wraps for lunch, but by dinner our food supply was dwindling and we ventured into the cafeteria to fend for ourselves. At 9:30 the boat docked in North Sydney and we sardined ourselves into the bus once more for one of the noisiest rides in caravan history, with people bantering on the walkie talkies, drumming, fighting in the bunk beds, and gear crashing off shelves with every corner.
Friday, September 14th we slept in a little and then prepared for the boardwalk. Ryan left us AGAIN today, pleading school as his excuse. We had no sooner finished setting up the promise flags and banners there than we were informed that we would have to pack up and take the bus up to the schools for to entertain children. Our first stop was ---Elementary School where we arrived to find a corn boil (complete with the familiar propane burner and giant cauldron) in full swing in the school yard. We were invited to eat corn and chat with the students. The anticipated presentation was just not on since this was Terry Fox Run day, but Yo talked up a storm and had the kids absolutely captivated. They trooped through the bus, Hillary scarfing corn while enlightening them on the intricacies of the vegetable oil system. Tres casual. Then we were off to Seton Elementary where we gave a blanket skit to a few of the classes and then sent them off to see Yo on the bus. They remarked at the disarray, but seemed pretty thrilled nonetheless. Meanwhile back at the church Graeme and Ume had slaved over a hot stove to make an amazing lentil stew for lunch. We found Graeme still aproned and churning out sheet after sheet of chocolate chip cookies. We managed to eat them almost as fast as he made them, munching as we worked on costumes and signage for the grand finale. Kennedy and Laird managed to get paint donated from Home Hardware to paint bike lanes on the streets, and Hillary and Kate got reams of material donated from a second hand shop to make costumes. Ida and 2(Kate) were treated like celebrities when we went to the grocery store after dinner to buy perogie ingredients. All the local kids had seen the bus and knew who we were and whispered about us as we passed by with the bike trailer piled high. Kate C has long dreamed of sharing her Ukranian background with the caravan and would finally make perogies after talking about them all summer. This turned out to be an all night affair, mashing potatoes, kneading dough, grating cheese... Ida and I abandoned ship after a few hours, leaving Laird to play the culinary Igor until 4 in the morning.
Saturday, September 15th a team left in the early hours to set up at the Sydney market. The rest of us spent the morning restoring the church to order after the blitz of the day before. Kate C's Baba had passed along a perogie recipe that had somehow resulted in twice as much potato filling as the dough could hold. This became breakfast in very short order. When the mess had been removed from the church and undergone the most general sorting, we sat on the pavement to wait for the bus. And so we waited, and waited, and waited. At last the market-goers returned, along with Cyril who would be our tour guide for the day. We headed off to his family's organic farm just 7km outside North Sydney where we were treated to lunch and a talk on all things organic, or on all things organically grown, more to the point. After much lounging and visiting the sheep, we decided it was high time to finished our 70 km ride to Wycocomagh. The ride was hilly and capped with a beautiful sunset. The ferry crossing from Iona was free of charge for us and the bus, thanks to Cyril. Yo made a run back after dark to pick people up, although most people decided to brave the night and finish the ride. Those who accepted the ride were treated to Yo's somewhat predictable taste in music (the Grateful Dead, for those not familiar with the caravan's favourite bus driver). At the school where we would stay, the perogie fest was well underway with the Kates at the stove struggling to keep people out of the tiny kitchen. After dinner we went early to bed in preparation for an anticipated 5 am community breakfast to which we'd been invited. What suckers. Sunday, September 16th a handful of us beared the frigid September weather and went off in search of the promised 5 am feast. This turned out to be quite disappointing as the only life in town was a collection of raucous teenagers still finishing off the night before. We never did sort out what the mistake had been, but returned to bed until 9am when we awoke again to the smells of eggs and coffee. Happily we tucked in, grateful for food whatever the hour. We made quick work of tidying up the school and headed off for a short trek to Port Hawkesbury.
The ride was a breeze except for the killer hill into town which left us all panting when we arrived at the fire hall. We found the bus and its occupants already hard at work cooking lunch and beginning to paint signs for Car Free Day in Halifax. We spent a solid afternoon on the pavement outside working on our costumes, making beautiful car free stencils for our shirts, and complicated contraptions for painting bike lanes onto city streets, which Home Hardware has inadvertently supported but may or may not actually condone. We ate a fabulous stirfry, with ingredients donated by Julia our local contact , accompanied by the legendary oat groats, which we have been packing since they were donated to us from Speerville Mills, New Brunswick on the bus ride out in April. We found ourselves sucked into a movie playing on the television and then yet more footage of "America Rising" on CNN. Ida, always on the prowl for a full eight hours of sleep, reminded us that the lights out hour was fast approaching and sent us all off to bed.
Monday, September 17th after french toast, about half the group headed off to the local high school to do presentations. There was a mad cleaning of bus in preparation for bus tours, although Jeremy reports he was downright embarrassed to show it to anyone in the condition he found it. We won't get into detail on who exactly was on bus duty that particular day. As the rest of the cyclists headed off toward Antigonish. Hillary and I stayed behind at Julia's house to sew flashy flags for people to fly from their bikes for the ride into Halifax. This took a bit longer than anticipated, and we had to boot it to Antigonish to arrive before dark.
With the exception of a monster hill after the causeway, the ride was relatively easy. We rode with the sun setting and getting in our eyes, and the fall chill just starting to become noticeable at the end of the day. It's bizarre to think that we began this trip with snow still on the ground in Sackville, and will end with the turning of the leaves again. We located the rest of the gang at the Knights of Columbus hall downtown, where we stayed our first time through Antigonish (the only place visited twice in the Climate Change Caravan's travels).
Derek was in the midst of a serious bus cleaning, which no one else was particularly inclined to participate in. Hill and I were no exception, and dashed off to catch the tail end of a potluck dinner at Black Door on the Saint Francis Xavier campus. Thanks to Jessica and her crew for organizing yummy food and a coffee house for our visit. After dinner we all trooped over to one of the auditoriums on campus for a talk given by a woman from the Caribbean about feminist economics and the World Trade Center, which was an interesting change from the CNN perspective.
Returning to the Black Door we found music and speakers awaiting. Jessica
had titled the event "Climate Change. Local Action, Global Perspective",
which made for a good combination of our project, work at St. F.X. and
some for further afield. First, a man from India spoke on the impacts
of climate change on his country, then Graeme gave a shortened slide
presentation on C3, people from the university spoke of the need for
an environmental policy at the school and their goal of doing a complete
audit of the greenhouse gas emissions from campus operations. We all
drank copious amounts of coffee and chatted for a while before heading
back to the hall where Derek was in the final stages of his fight with
the bus, with Adam the bus god was offering much encouragement.
Tuesday, September 18th we awoke to find Sam had miraculously returned to us in the middle of the night. A collective flip out ensued as we slowly came to grips with the idea that the person we thought was on a flight to Benin was now in the midst of cooking our breakfast and would finish the trip with us. Laird took it the hardest, wandering around not saying anything in his sleep stupor, just pointing in Sam's direction every once in a while looking like a cod fish with his mouth dropped open. Over breakfast we decided that some people would stick around in Antigonish for the day to take advantage of our last major center before headed down the very rural eastern shore. A mad writing of press releases, updating of websites and creating of ridiculous costumes took over. Our mess extended into the far reaches of the Knights of Columbus parking lot. The staff of the nearby businesses showed quite a lot of interest and we had people stopping by all day to ask us what this chaos was in aid of.
We gave the second hand store next to us some good business locating materials for our costumes. Yo bought a huge $2 bag of teeshirts which he distributed to the laundrily challenged caravaners, some of whom have been wearing those teeshirts every day since then. Ume worked on a massive 8 foot-tall green puppet that she envisioned Augie would strap to the front of his bicycle. As this puppet took shape it looked less and less likely that it would obey the physics necessary to attach it to anything, least of all anything with moving parts operated by August Coombs. We would be proven very wrong. It was more of a chore than ever to get the bus loaded and the parking lot back in order than ever before.
Eastern Shore (Bay of Islands)
As we worked it began to seem that our hopes of making it to the potluck dinner in Necum Teuch slowly went out the window. We all crammed onto the bus, fighting with the costumes for room to sit down, and drove dinner-ward.
" As we drove we came to the alarming conclusion that we had forgone perhaps the nicest bike ride of the entire trip in our attempt to be productive. The landscape along the eastern shore is out of this world. The road follows the coast almost the entire way and with the setting sun edging the islands in view made for a beauty that challenges my praises of the Saint Lawrence landscape in Quebec."
Stunned by this, we arrived in Moser River just before dark and were led by a very unimpressed Jeremy to the community hall where we would have supper and the slide show. Jeremy is suddenly at his wits end with caravan tardiness and gave us a good talking to followed up by a silent treatment. Our hosts, though I'm sure annoyed with us, were very welcoming and had prepared an amazing spread., complete with a lineup of desserts that included the likes of lemon meringue pie. We were introduced to our hosts, Gail Martin, her mother Marie, Gail's partner Jurgen Teuwen and their friends.
Moser River on the Bay of Islands is a tight community, and people like Gail and Jurgen are working to make it tighter and working with Nova Scotia Power to get wind energy for their homes. We had some good discussion about the Bet and then headed over to the Forge for the night for some guitar and relaxing. We were spread between their two homes, one which they lived in and one they call the "Prospector's" which had been purchased just recently and contained little furniture so far, but endless rooms with thick carpets-ideal for housing caravaners. Thanks to everyone who welcomed us here and (apparently) forgave our late arrival.
Wednesday, September 19th we awoke in thick carpeted splendor to pancake breakfast and surprise school presentations. A few of us scarfed down toast and took the bus over to the local elementary school which had what looked like about fifty students in total. They were very enthusiastic though, and had lots of ideas about climate change and seemed to get a lot out of the skit we did. We returned to the Martin's place to find pancake breakfasts had been eaten by all those who hadn't done the presentation. We packed up and said goodbye to Jurgen and Gail before heading off in the direction of Sheet Harbour for more presentations to elementary and high school students.
The road along the coast was beautiful, and almost made up for some of us having missed the ride yesterday. In Sheet Harbour we found lunch laid out on the grass next to the bus, and the promise of a free lunch from the cafeteria at the high school. Thank you! It was a bit strange to eat in a cafeteria again, and we got more weird looks than I remember getting in high school, but it gave us a chance to be around the students we were presenting to. Just as we were leaving one of the women working there gave us a huge plate of cookies for dessert. Yum.
Climate Change Caravan - End of the Road - Halifax
Thursday, September 20th. I have been writing and saying this date for so long I can't fathom how it has actually arrived. Jason gave a vicious wake up call, with a carefully selected repertoire of the most jarring and motivating tunes on the P.A. With the exception of Daniel and Kennedy, everyone got up in reasonably good form at 5:30 for the 7am departure. We stumbled through breakfast and packing the bus. Laird worked his decorating job into a rideable state, and at long last we were off.
Thank you to everyone in Ship Harbour for helping us out on this front, especially the breakfast crew. We rode toward the city in the frigid morning mist, colder now than when we first began this journey. The flags began beautifully, with the sun shining through them, the wind whipping them around. As the ride progressed, things degenerated with dowels breaking, flags getting caught in spokes, and the designer of these catastrophes feeling a bit sheepish. Whoever it was who calculated the distance from Ship Harbour to Halifax grossly over estimated, or knew the caravan well enough to lie to us all in order to get us out the door in time.
At around noon I woke up riding my bike through downtown Dartmouth and realized I would have to start reading my instructions to the Sportsplex where we were meeting. Most of us arrived quite early and managed to sneak in a few hours sleep on the lawn before putting our costumes on. To the dismay of the Sportsplex manager and the delight of many of its users, we assembled operation circus in the parking lot. Butterflies, frogs, brides of bicycles, the ocean, eco-warriors, ballerinas, mosquitoes, and more emerged. Leigh, Jonathan, and Yuill comprised Fossil, Fuel, and Free in their bright blue capes.
Jason and Sam rode the tandem in drag as bikesexuals, a somewhat politically incorrect costume that turned out to be very popular with the media. Augie managed the impossible feat of balancing the giant puppet on the front of his bike with extensive amounts of wire. Old faithful playing on the P.A. we made our way downtown, over McDonald bridge, down Sackville Street to the Landing where we stopped, stunned to have suddenly come to the end of the road. So we didn't stop. We cycled in a circle around the landing, looking bewildered at one another for a while until we got ahold of ourselves and began the press conference. Jeremy, Hillary and I read the press statement, an accumulation of our thoughts on the summer, with the rest of the costumed masses assembled around us. Lots of press were there, and once they'd finished interviewing the three of us, moved on to Fossil, Fuel, Free, and Jason the lipsticked bus mechanic. There are some classic shots of him leaning over the engine, his pink skirt barely covering, well, anything at all.
From there, Meghan (cyclist turned Halifax organizer extraordinaire) took us up to Saint Matthew's United Church to settle in and prepare for a potluck dinner. Many people took to their sleeping bags upon arrival, no longer able to deny that we hadn't slept enough the night before this crazy day. Meghan's family brought insane amounts of food for us, and a Chocolate Canada Cake (C3), a cake carved in the shape of this great nation, complete with our route etched out in chocolate chips. Jeremy was granted the entire maritime region in all its dairy free glory, with the rest of us claiming the regions we liked best. Thank you MacCullochs!
After this meal, we retired to the Grad House where we had been donated the top floor for a private celebration with local music and old friends. Yuill gave a long anticipated NEW slide show about our trip, some of the jokes, and our encounters. People split up then, some to see the Funky People play, and some to bed in preparation for another 5am morning to spread the good word of car-free day to Haligonians.
Friday, September 21st the final day in a summer of campaigning. When we went outside we discovered the streets downtown covered in car-free day signs, bike lanes painted (though many of them skewed when cars rode over them), and the addition of the word "driving" to many of the stop signs. We scattered throughout the city for school presentations, including two at the Museum of Natural History. At five we donned our costumes once more and headed up to the Nova Scotia Community College for the final critical mass.
We had over 120 people in total, and after a lengthy wait, Laird and Jason arrived with an enormous multi-trailer contraption carrying the entire P.A. system powered with the wind turbine and solar panels. We were all blown away by this, I think. Despite the missing bus (in keeping with the spirit of Car Free Day), it was likely the best mass ever simply because of the energy. We did a number of loops through the city, winding up at Grand Parade Square which we circled a few times before heading up to attempt a brief traffic calming on Argyle Street. This might have gone better had the end of the street been a bit closer to the place where all of Sackville seemed to have converged down at the opposite intersection.
In the end we were easily convinced by the police that we had better things to do. You can't win them all. As night fell we decided that instead of heading over to Jeremy's immediately, it would be more sensible to stay in the city another night and leave in the morning. At 7:30 we had a slide presentation as part of the bicycle exhibit at the museum and Yuill entertained viewers with images of sleeping caravaners and bus catastrophes. He was followed by presentations from two other local groups; Trax and Clean Nova Scotia. From there we headed over to Meditaranio for some middle eastern cooking. The waitress there was brilliant and very accommodating of caravan demands. She let us push most of the tables in the restaurant together, and fed us every vegetarian dish they had to offer. It was a brilliant end to our last day. That's it.
Well, of course not it. It's really just the end of a crazy beginning in which a lot of not entirely sane people have cycled across the country and tried to change the world. And what next? Well, as the old saying goes, 'When the going gets tough, the tough go to Port Hood Island to hatch more plans...
Thanks for reading!