When I arrived on Prince Edward Island and saw a man wearing protective netting on his head while cutting his lawn, I wondered just what kind of a predicament I'd got myself into. After all, I was about to cycle the entire Confederation Trail, much of it running through wooded areas, so I couldn't help but wonder if the insects would eat me alive. I didn't need to be overly concerned, for the bugs left me alone as long as I kept moving, and the tip-to-tip trail proved to be a great cycling experience.
I biked from northwest to east, beginning in Tignish and ending 279 km (173 miles) later in Elmira. I found that the main trail meandered somewhat, making the trek actually a greater distance than by road. Several sections of the route contained rather soft gravel, so I really had to put some effort into the pedaling. And there were many road crossings to negotiate with barrier gates positioned so that four-wheelers and other motor vehicles could not access the trail. But it was well marked and had many benches and picnic tables.
I met several cyclists and hikers as I rode along, so I never felt very isolated or far from civilization. In fact, I actually felt quite safe as I cycled on this old rail line converted to a multi-use recreational trail – no worries about encountering predators, neither the two nor the four-legged variety, that is except for one encounter with a kamikaze rabbit that almost had a head-on collision with me.
After spending the first night in the Tignish Heritage Inn, formerly Our Lady of the Angels Convent, I rode 45 km that first day to O'Leary where I visited the Prince Edward Island Potato Museum and learned about an important part of the island's heritage – everything I ever wanted to know about the potato.
The B&B that I was booked at (Lilly's Garden Guest Home) was a 5-kilometer ride off the trail. The last thing a cyclist wants after a day of riding is to go out of the way; however, this detour turned out okay. Owners Clayton and Lillian were very helpful and friendly. They saved me another ride by driving me to town to get a pizza, and they drove me right back to the trail head in the morning.
My next day's ride (65 km) took me through Wellington, where I found a nice rest stop at a creek just east of town, to Summerside. At this point PEI is only about 6 km wide, with Malpeque Bay to the north and Bedeque Bay to the south.
In Summerside, the College of Piping and Performing Arts offers courses and actively promotes and preserves Celtic culture and heritage. Luckily, I'd happened to arrive during the annual Highland Gathering and had time to enjoy the special festivities.
An 80-km ride the following day took me from Summerside to Charlottetown. Near Kensington, lupines growing wild made spectacular displays along this part of the route. The old train station in Kensington had been redesigned into a very nice shopping area, including the Kensington Clothing Company, a liquor store, and a souvenir shop.
At Royalty Junction, I took the 8-kilometer branch into Charlottetown, passing by the PEI Mall, the University of PEI, and the Atlantic Veterinary College on my way to the trail's end near Grafton Street.
Here I found a park with a kiosk and stopped to chat with a man in a wheelchair who rode the trail with his young son on his lap. He told me about some nearby dirt paths, which led me right down to the waterfront without going into city traffic. I was able to bike directly to Confederation Landing Park and Founders' Hall, certainly a must stop for a multi-media tour of Charlottetown's role in Canadian history as "The Birthplace of Confederation."
After my detour into Charlottetown, I returned to the main trail and biked to Mount Stewart where I met Doug Deacon, proprietor of Trailside Café and Adventures. His dad, Don, is known as the "Father of the Confederation Trail," for he was instrumental in initiating and pursuing the dream of this multi-use recreational path, and he is a past member of the Trans Canada Trail Foundation.
A few years ago, Doug bought the old abandoned Consumers' Co-op Building in Mount Stewart, which is conveniently located right next to the trail. He converted it to a restaurant, lodging, and bicycle shop then renamed it Trailside Café and Adventures.
The next day's ride (70 km) between Mount Stewart and Morell completed the entire route, and it included the section with the heaviest rabbit population.
– The next stretch was the most picturesque. Riding from Morel to St Peters, I crossed three bridges overlooking views of mussel fishers in St Peters Bay. It was a good thing I stopped for lunch at St Peters, for I didn't see another restaurant or store along the route until I reached the end of the line at Elmira where I could again get refueled right beside the old train station. Although I found no restaurants between St Peters and Elmira, there were, generally, lots of services along this route, so finding food and drinks was usually not a problem
I decided to make this truly a tip-to-tip trip by adding some road travel at the two ends of the trail; it's about 16 km from the start of the trail at Tignish to North Cape where I saw the lighthouse, the giant wind turbines, and the eroded remains of what was known as "Elephant Rock." At the east end, it's about 8 km from Elmira to East Point where I found another lighthouse, a craft shop, and a beach.
If you're only planning to ride parts of the trail, don't miss the Kensington area, the picturesque section between Morell and St Peters, and the branch trail into Charlottetown. Other interesting branch trails include the 18.5-km route from Emerald to Borden-Carleton, the link to the Confederation Bridge, the 7.7-km ride from Harmony Junction to Souris where you can take a ferry to the intriguing Magdalen Islands, and the 39-km route from Mount Stewart to Georgetown.
Getting There: Prince Edward Island is Canada's smallest province. This beautiful island destination may be reached via a 75-minute ferry ride from Caribou, Nova Scotia. Air Canada offers daily flights. Or drive from New Brunswick over the 13-km Confederation Bridge. Cyclists are not allowed to ride over this bridge, but shuttles are available.
When to Go: The summer season is very busy, so I'd recommend taking your cycling trip in May or September.
Terrain: It's a relatively flat path of crushed gravel, but do expect some long, gentle climbs and descents. As you bike past potato fields and through wooded areas and wetlands, you're likely to encounter rabbits, chipmunks, beavers, foxes, and many bird species, including finches, owls, grouse, herons, and kingfishers. And you'll pass several exits to magnificent beaches.
Lodging: There's a great variety of accommodations on the island (including camping). If you wish to book ahead, then check out the availability by phoning 1-888-268-6667 or visit the web site: www.peiplay.com.
Cycling Tours: MacQueen's, 430 Queen St, Charlottetown. Tel. 1-800-969-2822.
Bike Rentals: Bikes may be rented at various island locations, including MacQueen's, Trailside Adventures, and Smooth Cycle , 172 Prince Street, Charlottetown.