Two Boats, Two Hurricanes and a Quick Goodbye

October 12, 2012

Words by // Photography by Nita Breibish

The ferry isn’t going anywhere. The wind and rain have picked up their intensity and an occasional flash of lightning over the water reveals an ocean that’s raging. We make our way down from the berth and into the lounge that’s still fairly quiet. Our new friends Bob and Peter are nowhere to be seen, but we assume they’re just trying to find a place to spend the night. Considering the wrench that’s been thrown into the plans of many people aboard the ship the atmosphere is incredibly subdued – even celebratory.

We order a round of drinks and watch the flags strain against the wind. After about forty minutes a voice comes on over the intercom. “Tonights crossing has been postponed. We’ll be reviewing conditions and updating you as needed. The bar is now open, I repeat, the bar is now open” There’s an ironic cheer from the folks around us as many tuck into their second or third drink. A ferry that’s tackled the Cabot Straight pulls in front of us and, with an incredible amount of control, executes something like an emergency-brake turn and backs into the spot next to us with just feet to spare. It’s enough excitement for us to call it a day and we head back to our berths. The rooms are a complete surprise to us; rather than the bunks we’d seen online we’re presented with two single beds, full washroom and a flatscreen TV. It’s a slice of heaven for the time we’re stuck on-board and we quickly fall asleep in our tiny little beds.

In my dreams, a strangely muted voice is barking something unintelligible. As my eyes open I realize it’s an announcement that’s not being fed into the berth. We’re still docked and the engines aren’t running, so I’m certain it has little to do with leaving. It’s also September 5th – Nita’s Birthday! While it’s not exactly how we’d plan it, there’s a good story in spending it this way.

Hungry, we head down to breakfast and experience one of those moments you imagine at a bank where, waiting in line, the teller closes as you get to the front. As we watch the people in front of us shown to their table a gruff woman barks at us letting us know the restaurant is closed. Now, when I don’t eat I get grumpy, and when someone is being ridiculous I get grumpier. Nita, sensing my growing aggravation jumps in and wrangles us a pass into breakfast. She’s mastered the art of stern negotiation without descending into rudeness – a lesson many of us could certainly learn from!

Breakfast is awesome and my mood lifts quickly. There’s a large part of me that’s enjoying being stuck on the boat and I’m quietly happy to take it in. We revisit the lounge and run into Peter and Bob; their night was a bit rough. Unable to find a berth they ended up on reclining chairs for the night and Bob’s looking a little haggard. We spend most of the day together, swapping stories from the road, grabbing lunch and, eventually, heading to the bikes on the lower deck for a kind of adventure-biking show and tell. They both have some great gear and it’s one of the things that I love about these kinds of bikes; they’re never the same twice. Anyone who travels on them adapts the bikes to fit their particular wants and needs so it’s always fun to see how someones rig is different from your own.

After dinner a voice once again comes on over the intercom. “We are still monitoring the situation and will let passengers know as needed.” The view outside hasn’t changed much since the first evening on the ferry. The flags are still straining, the waves are still crashing and rain is still falling. Someone at the table mentions a second storm, Hurricane Leslie, which is making a bee-line straight for Newfoundland. Our attention has been mostly on Hurricane Issac which is battering the south and pushing this weather up and from the west after making landfall in Louisiana. Still, it dawns on us that if we’re delayed another day we may be stuck in Port aux Basques until that storm also passes. Suddenly our buffer of time in Halifax for shipping the bikes to Southampton, UK, looks to be slightly tenuous.

We enjoy the evening with our friends and eventually make our way to bed. I’m awakened by the sound of engines just before 4am and look out of the window; the dock is slipping by and I realize we’re finally underway. The timing is perfect since we’ll be arriving in North Sydney, NS, in daylight for our five hour journey to Hubbards. The waves are still crashing and, once we clear the port, the boat starts rolling quite hard. Side to side she sways, then the front rises and lands with an almighty crash. This ocean is still raging and we’re filled with a mix of trepidation and excitement! I lay down and listen to the crashing, hoping the bikes are alright and suddenly, I’m asleep.

“We’ll be arriving in thirty minutes.” says the familiar voice over the intercom. The announcement wakes us up after a six hour journey and we’re completely out of it. We gather our senses, look out of the window and can clearly see Nova Scotia. We’ve made it! The ocean is still, and somehow the sun is out. Once docked, we make our way to the lower deck, say our goodbyes to Bob and Peter as we pass them, and load up our own bikes.

As we’re prepping to leave I notice Nita’s chain is very loose. We’re not sure if it’s an artifact of having the bikes tied down for a couple of days or if it’s something we’ve somehow missed. In fact it’s so loose I feel like we couldn’t have missed it. We decide to ride it to a gas station and double check it once we’re off the ferry. At the station the chain seems to have returned to it’s normal position so we continue on to our breakfast stop in Port Hawksbury, NS.

Not listening to my gut turns out to be a mistake. As we pull off we notice that Nita’s chain is loose again – and very shiny on the inside. A closer inspection shows plenty of new shearing on the chain and new wear on the sprockets. Damn. Still the chain and sprockets are close to the end of their useful life so we just need to manage them until they’re shipped. We pull out the toolkit and do what we should have done in North Sydney: tighten the chain. The job is easy but still draws quite a crowd from inside the restaurant; people seem genuinely amazed that we can carry the gear needed for most repairs. With the chain tightened and our hands proudly dirty, we head inside for a well-earned breakfast.

Back on the road the sun stays out for the most of our journey to Hubbards though the rain does make a few brief appearances. Nova Scotia is a beautiful part of Canada that offers some wonderful contrasts in it’s landscape. Passing through mid-island, the roads are heavily treed, while coastal routes provide some dramatic viewpoints with beautiful, sandy beaches and stunning towns.

Hubbards is nestled nicely in St. Margaret Bay which is often described as one of the most beautiful parts of the province. We pick this spot for a number of reasons – it’s about halfway between Lunenburg to the south and Peggy’s Cove to the north, and it’s close to the shop where we plan on getting Nita’s kickstand shortened. The shop we’ve been talking to is Mad Fab and getting in touch with it’s owner Colin has been, unfortunately, an exercise in frustration. On the occasion that we do hear back from him he lets us know that he’s having phone and internet problems but that he’s still interested in helping. However, when the day comes to get it done, we can’t reach him and he subsequently never returns our calls. We’re definitely disappointed that a month of planning with him has proven to be time wasted, but it’s the way things turn out sometimes. We’ve had amazing luck with mechanical help at every other point in our journey so far.

Our time in Hubbards is wonderful. We stay at the Surfside Inn, a bed and breakfast just off of the beach. It’s a family-run inn and they’re absolutely lovely. At dinner the daughter Ines, who’s been so helpful in getting us a room, brings Nita a piece of cake to make up for spending her birthday stuck on the ferry! It’s a lovely gesture and very telling of the kind of folks that run this place.

Dinner is more than just great food though. After a briefly quiet start, we find ourselves in a raucous conversation with two other couples who are staying. One couple is from Toronto while the other, Jean and Kelley, is here from Halifax; a last minute getaway after their daughter decides to sleep-over at a friends. Soon chairs and tables are being drawn together and wine (in a box) is being pulled from a backpack. The conversation covers a lot of ground; from the history of the Acadians, to love, to wine on the beach. Jean and Kelley even offer the services of their friend Rick, a lawyer, to act as a notary for us on some papers that are required to ship the bike! It’s an inspired evening together.

At 10pm Ines lets us know that it’s time to close the room and we grudgingly go our separate ways. However, in the morning we quickly pick up where we left off. After our friends from Toronto leave for a wedding in the area, Jean and Kelley sit with us for a few more hours, sharing some surprisingly candid stories and there’s an honesty with our conversation that isn’t lost on us. “You’ll stay with us in Halifax” says Jean. It’s said with an authority that makes it sound implausible that there’s any other option! We’re not in a position to refuse and we’re excited at the prospect of spending more time with these wonderful people.

We say our goodbyes and, while they make their way back to Halifax, we set out along the coastal roads around St. Margaret Bay visiting the wonderful towns of Chester, Mahone Bay and Lunenburg. The road along the water is fabulously twisty and fairly empty since it’s threatening to rain. While the rain never comes, the most beautiful fishing towns do. Mahone Bay is idyllic and comprised of tiny streets, bustling sidewalks and brightly painted houses. Lunenburg, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, takes coastal-town beauty to another level with its historic waterfront and acts as the current home of the Bluenose II – the second iteration of the famous ship that adorns the Canadian ten-cent coin.

After a quiet tea with scones and clotted cream at The Tea Brewery in Mahone Bay, we make our way back to the inn, walk along the beach and then start the process of syphoning gasoline from the bikes fuel tanks. To ship the bikes we’ve been instructed to drain the tanks to one-quarter full. The fuel gauges on both bikes are completely inaccurate – a flaw that led me to running out of fuel in the middle of Nebraska two years ago. So rather than relying on the gauge, I reset the odometer every time I fill the tank and base remaining fuel on mileage. On the R1200GS I get about 365 km per tank and Nita, about the same on her F650GS. With the bikes both down to a quarter tank (or less, probably) my bike shows three-quarters full and Nita’s shows empty. We happily donate the gas to the owner of the Inn who, rather than using it to fill his car, opts to fill his ride-on mower.

The next day, the rain finally arrives as Hurricane Leslie passes to the east of us on it’s long journey to Newfoundland. We take in dinner at the nearby Trellis Café – a jewel of a restaurant in the area. The peanut soup is so ridiculously tasty we consider buying another bowl immediately after eating the first.

In the middle of the night we both wake up to the sounds of a violent storm outside. I open the curtain and can barely see past the driving rain, but the volume of the crashing waves hints at the severity of the impact Leslie is having. Our plan to leave early in the morning for Halifax is in jeopardy. I slip back into a restless sleep until the morning.

By the time we wake up, nothing weather-related has changed. The rain is still pelting down and the wind is high but nothing like what we experienced in Newfoundland. Our destination is Dartmouth, the city across the harbor from Halifax and the home of the autoport from which we’ll say goodbye to the motorcycles until we meet them in the UK. As we make our way down the stairs Nita notices a break in the weather off in the distance. Rather than rushing into the rain, we opt for a slow breakfast in the hopes that better weather will find us. And it does.

As the rain stops we haul our bags from our room, load the bikes and checkout in what must be record time. We’re on the road just after rush-hour and the rain has stopped. We motor toward Halifax with few issues – except for my fumbling attempt to find change for the MacKenzie toll bridge. Stuck in an express lane with no change and a building (but incredibly patient) line of cars behind us, a booth attendant rushes over to let us through. I’m embarrassed but it’s not the first time and most certainly won’t be the last! We pull into the hotel and almost instantly the rain starts to pour again; Nita’s plan to wait works perfectly.

Warm and dry we unload the bikes including the panniers. Another requirement for shipping the bikes on a “Roll-on Roll-off” ship is that they have to be empty which is also going to create some difficulty at the airport as we fly with loads of extra gear. Still, with some last minute tightening of bolts, topping up of oil and lubing of Nita’s chain, the bikes are ready for the big trip across the Atlantic.

A quick cab into Halifax and we meet Jean, Kelley and Rick for some excellent sushi and conversation at Momoyas, where Rick graciously notarizes our paperwork for the next day’s shipping adventure. Even with only an hour to spare we seem to have no problem getting into wonderfully meaningful chats. After lunch we catch the ferry back to the hotel in Dartmouth which opens our eyes to how easy travel is between these two cities. Jean and Kelley are definitely people of action as, after mentioning that we’d be looking for extra luggage, Jean arrives at the hotel with some luggage they no longer need. Just amazing. We gladly accept and enjoy a glass of wine in the hotel lounge before he makes his way home. Nita and I fall asleep easily that night and hope for an easy time at the dock the following day.

The next morning is sunny and bright, and we’re full of anxious energy; we’re out of bed quickly and raring to get to the dock. I call ahead to double check the paperwork and the woman seems confused – usually motorcycles ship from Halifax not Dartmouth. She’s says she’ll call back in an hour but after two hours we decide just to head down. As we pass a gas station my bike loses power and dies. I’m out of gas. While we were getting the bikes ready the previous night I questioned my math on the fuel levels and drained more fuel which turned out to be a mistake. Luckily we’re right by a gas station and we’re quickly underway.

We pull right up to the office and I mentally prepare myself for the hours of wrangling and paperwork we’re sure to endure, but that never happens. Rather, the wonderfully friendly woman barely looks at the paperwork, reconfirms the drop-off with Wallenius Wilhelmsen, asks for our keys and politely asks if we need her to call us a cab. “Is it really that easy?” I ask. “Yup” is her response.

As we’re about to walk outside, she says (almost in passing) “Your ships been cancelled.” I’m not entirely sure how to respond – it seems to me that this is something that would be worth mentioning earlier! When I ask for an idea of when the bikes will actually ship she says she doesn’t know. I feel stress starting to return to my body but suddenly my phone rings – it’s our shipping guy Miron from Ship Overseas. “The boats been cancelled and the bikes will now ship on the 24th of October instead.” We seem to be right in step. So, with a weeks delay we now have more time to spend with friends in NYC – not a terrible outcome by any means!

We walk outside and take a moment with our bikes and savour the trip they’ve taken us on so far. For over two months they’ve moved us across our amazingly beautiful homeland and they’ve never really let us down. We know that this part of our adventure is the easiest; everything here is, at least in part, familiar. The next leg will see us venturing into the unknown and we’re excited to see what that’s like – how it feels to truly be foreign. I have a feeling it won’t take long.

We’re feeling a bit misty that Canada is over for the moment and, to be honest, a little nervous about the next stage. A text comes through – it’s Jean seeing if Nita and I are alright and if we need any help. It’s truly indicative of who he and Kelley are.  A cab arrives and we head out in search of our last bits of luggage needed to haul our gear overseas. While the bikes continue their journey across the ocean we’ll be spending time with Jean, Kelley and Maya in Halifax before heading to New York City to spend our remaining time in North America with Michael and Nuri. In October we’ll be meeting the bikes in Southampton, UK, to begin the next part of our adventure!

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I’m a Canadian writer, adventure motorcyclist and world traveller of British and Libyan descent. I’ve spent the past two and a half years travelling the globe by motorcycle as one-half of We Love Motogeo, following a route that makes little sense to anyone else, while supporting our non-profit organization, the Lost for Good Project. I’ve been chased by all manner of animal, detained as a spy in North Africa and waited out a hurricane in the bowels of a ferry. While I’m no spy (honestly), I am a lover of decent coffee and great yarns sewn around a campfire.


  1. Comment by George F

    George F October 12, 2012 at 10:38 am

    As usual beautiful pictures, enjoying your adventure. Happy birthday to Nita.
    When are you guys going to be in NY?

    • Comment by Issa

      Issa October 12, 2012 at 11:56 am

      Hey George! Thanks for the birthday wishes! We’re in NYC right now – leaving tomorrow for Southampton…

    • Comment by George F

      George F October 12, 2012 at 4:40 pm

      I had been following you guys but thought you were still up north. I would have loved to take a ride to NY to meet you guys. Oh well, too late, have a safe trip and have fun.

    • Comment by Issa

      Issa October 12, 2012 at 4:49 pm

      Hey George! That’s strange – I could have *sworn* I left a comment letting you know when we were here after that message you sent before but I can’t find it… Sorry. Next time for sure though – sincerely…

  2. Comment by Tim M

    Tim M October 12, 2012 at 10:35 am

    Just the beginning.
    Best of luck going RTW.

    • Comment by Issa

      Issa October 12, 2012 at 11:55 am

      Thanks Tim!

  3. Comment by Tobes

    Tobes October 12, 2012 at 2:14 pm

    Your writing skills have allowed us all to live this dream with you and the pictures are beyond beautiful. I have excited butterflies in my tummy for the next part of your adventure! Safe travels my friends. You are loved!

    • Comment by Issa

      Issa October 12, 2012 at 3:02 pm

      Aw, thanks Tobes. Those are kind words! And thanks for taking the time to post a comment – it means a lot to us to hear from fine folks such as yourself :) We’ll have a Guinness for you and James.

  4. Comment by пятрусь {peter}

    пятрусь {peter} October 21, 2012 at 8:09 pm

    I’d have guessed you were heading someplace in the southern hemisphere next, to catch the summer..UK and Europe have to be getting chilly, though I can’t wait..good sailing to your bikes.

    • Comment by Issa

      Issa October 22, 2012 at 6:08 am

      That was the original plan but some carnet issues and timing of events (my brothers getting married in Australia in August) made heading east more sensible :) It’s chilly here but we’ve been in worse and we’ll be heading south as soon as we get the bikes out. Hopefully that’ll be tomorrow! Should be fun…

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