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Astra New Brunswick Adventure

November 27th, 2008


Dangling off the top of a cliff 50 metres above the Bay of Fundy’s craggy New Brunswick coastline is the last place I expect to be on a road trip to my hometown. Shuffling for a foothold, I hear myself mutter, “Why in the world am I doing this?”

“Just lean back, remember the brake technique and start your descent.”

No question, Matt Matchett, University of British Columbia, student and rappelling instructor, was the man of my moment. Waves crash on weatherworn rocks so far below.

An hour earlier I had dropped Lisa with a guide who took her on a three-hour shoreline hike to Mary’s Point, a jut of rock where she was convinced a bald eagle or two would be lurking.

We had considered rappelling off the cliffs at Cape Enragé, the stunning windblown southern tip of Barn Marsh Island, while planning our trip to Moncton, New Brunswick.

Talk about ‘the plunge’ was usually deflected though. Lisa’s palms would get sweaty then a distant look would prevail as she waxed on about how much there was to learn on a hiking tour along Fundy’s tide-tormented coastline. And that’s exactly where she is as I, beyond the point of no return, lean into the harness and initiate a spider walk down the face of Cape Enragé.

I grew up in Moncton. It’s a great place for a kid to be curious. The muddy Petitcodiac River drains twice a day then a tidal bore announces the arrival of the incoming rush of water from the Bay of Fundy, 60 kilometres downstream. Magnetic Hill’s ability to make ‘cars coast uphill’ and ‘The World’s Largest Flowerpots’, protruding from the ocean floor at Hopewell Cape, were the kinds of attractions our town could tout.

It wasn’t until I moved away that I realized what a special place Moncton really is. With the pristine beaches of Shediac a half-hour away and Prince Edward Island an idle day trip across the breathtaking 12.8-kilometre Confederation Bridge, the area boasts some of Canada’s best summer vacation options. Rent a cottage on the beach then feast on lobster, fried clams and poutine rapé. Let those lazy summer days wallow on by.

And then there’s Albert County where the animals roam, the Bay of Fundy tides are the highest in the world and with scenery straight out of a place that time forgot. Hey, you half expect a T-Rex to come staggering out of the salt marshes.

Our travel plan had been simple enough. Hole up in the Moncton area for a few days and, instead of driving by all the houses my buddies and girlfriends had lived in, play tourist in our stylish five-door Saturn Astra.

The city is abuzz with plenty of nightlife and shopping. But if you want to squeeze a dose of adventure between beach and uptown, cross the Petitcodiac River, hang a left and let Albert County’s wonders unfold.

Route 114 to Fundy National Park has always been one of my favorites. Along the way, there’s caving at the gypsum mines in Hillsborough, sea kayaking at the Hopewell Rocks, horseback riding on the dykes near Riverside-Albert. Then, of course, those sheer cliffs at Cape Enragé.

The Astra’s European heritage comes to life on the twisty, hilly run through Albert County and I find myself having to hold back. Who needs packaged adventure when you’re on a road like this in a car that’s bred for hanging onto corners?

After leaving Lisa I picked up a road I’d used on my first solo road trip, in a $90 ’54 Ford Victoria. Saw my first moose on that trip, gangling along the highway as if he owned it.

Although I was reliving good times, the Saturn Astra’s adventurous spirit must have rubbed off because here I am, harnessed up, stressed up and ready to walk down a wall of stone into the Bay of Fundy.

It’s all over in a few minutes though. Unscathed, I approach the Astra in the parking lot. There is a spring in my step and a cocksure attitude brewing. Where’s that Spiderman?

I strap into the Astra but instead of driving off, I recline the seat, lay back and watch soaring gulls through the dual-panel sunroof. More adventure and great drives are still to be conquered around Moncton, New Brunswick!

Then I chuckle, imagining the case of sweaty palms Lisa will be sporting when I tell her I’ve rappelled ‘the Enrage’.

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