|Ferry to Grand Manan passes by Swallowtail Light
We drove off the ferry onto Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick to see “FERME” plastered over the sign for the provincial park campground which had been our destination. Since we are now seasoned boondockers, we set out to find an alternate site. Boondocking, for those of you who are not RVers, is overnighting in the motorhome away from a
campground and without the benefit of electrical, water or
sewer hookups. We found a lovely spot and woke up the next morning looking out
on the Bay of Fundy toward Nova Scotia. Just the previous night we had been
boondocking near the town of St Andrews on a beach looking across Passamaquoddy Bay toward Maine. Around us we
could see only trees and a house that appeared to be empty and no one ever knew
that Lilypad was there.
|Lilypad travels in steerage. Note cars in the rack above
|No one seems convinced this is a good idea
But here, morning found an 80-or-so-year-old retired lobster fisherman watching the boats and wanting to chat. As we watched the salmon farming feeder boat steam past to tend floating salmon pens he remarked, “Me and the wife, we’re both fish-eaters, but we won’t eat those salmon.” He told us that when the pens first went in all the salmon in them got salmon lice, and the medicine they added to the feed pellets killed off all the lobster and periwinkles in the area. “Now,” he says, “those are starting to come back.” We have learned a lot from such conversations with locals and it’s these chance encounters that make all the difference in our camping experience.
|Tools of the trade....for a free campground.
We try to give motor home travelers a good name by getting out our trash bags and our long-handled litter pickers and cleaning up the area where we stay. The next night we boondocked at Seal Point, another road end on a deserted beach, and in the morning started our rounds. Soon two gentlemen came by who turned out to be geologists and explained to us in very technical terms the cause of the gorgeous red and green striations in the uplifted bedrock. They also thanked us for the cleanup.
|Great eider and scoter viewing from the living room
We’ve discovered boondocking requires vigilance. You need to understand is how your rig (aka your motorhome) works. While it’s not difficult to make sure the water tank are full and the wastewater holding tanks are empty, making sure the house batteries are fully charged and stay that way while you are boondocking gets a little more complicated (especially if you are boondocking for more than one night, as we have learned the hard way.) The third day on Grand Manan we finally found a campground that had just opened for the season, but the thought of spending $40 for electricity we could generate ourselves gave us second thoughts. We bought a couple of $2 showers, filled our fresh water, and set off to explore another part of the island.
|Cather oversees museum cleanup
We have to admit, part of our joy in the exploration of this island was the fact that we are still ahead of tourist season. Even though our usual haunts, museums and nature centers were closed, we were lucky enough to stumble into the history museum on board-meeting day. The director and her assistant were preparing for the gift shop committee to come finish painting their new space but she let us in and was even willing to show off various aspects of the museum. A delightful find was a small altar dedicated to Willa Cather who summered many years on Grand Manan with her life-partner Edith Lewis, surrounded by accomplished other women literati and artisans. Known as “the Cottage Girls” these women caused quite the stir on the conservative island by wearing the latest fashions of jodhpurs, boots, and flannel, and enjoying luxuries such as books, cigarettes and liquor during the 1920’s and 30’s.
|Lilypad at Dark Harbor - truly the end of the road!
Later we were enjoying the early evening light at Dark Harbor (and wondering if Lilypad could maneuver the small turnaround area to retreat back up the hill) when we were swooped upon by a middle-aged beer-drinking couple on an ATV who cheerfully greeted us with a loud “You’re the first tourists of the season.” We do love meeting locals but gracefully declined their offer to park in their driveway.
The question of where to boondock is always a major challenge. Many big box stores now give permission to motor homes to park overnight. We always ask permission and they don’t always say yes, but usually they do. We have parked at Wal-mart, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Costco, Camping World, Cabello’s, and an outlet mall. But none of these were available on the sweet island of Grand Manan, as (similar to our own island and with our hearty approval and blessing) they outlaw franchises. So for our last night on the island we ventured up to the airport. Since the island had been shrouded in fog most of the time we enjoyed a quiet night.
|Grand Manan has several busy fishing centers
Needless to say, we loved Grand Manan and we are grateful for the boondocking that was easy to find there. We were also intrigued by the herring fishery history (home of the Connors Kippered Snack!), the eiders, the red deer antler operation (fairly amazing), the three lighthouses, and the dulse industry. After several conversations with islanders, we were deeply impressed by their amazing resiliency to weather and hard economic times. There are many interesting things here that call to our island spirits. It is surely a place that warrants a return trip.
Back to the main land we are still boondocking, now at Costco in the city of St. John. In the past few months, boondocking has also led us to spend the night in a hospital parking lot, a county courthouse parking lot, a commuter parking lot, a couple of visitor center parking lots, on quiet residential streets and best of all, in driveways of people’s homes, both old friends and friendly folks we just met.
Our home is small but we love the neighborhood. And what a view.