Saturday to Monday, August 1 to 3, 2009

The Saga of the Lunatic Voyage to the Maritime Provinces

In August of 2007 the Vermont No-Coaster Club sent a scouting party to Nova Scotia. They were never heard from again. This is the tragic story of their attempted rescue...

It was an ambitious plan, but a plan nonetheless, and the only chance we had to find our missing scouts. We'd drive to Moncton, New Brunswick on Saturday, 8/1, search the wilds of Nova Scotia on Sunday, and return, victorious or chest fallen, on Monday. The budget would allow for no more – Sunday, blessed Sunday, was our only chance. We knew we'd be more effective with help, and as this journey was put together last minute, there were few who could assist, but ATRA Historian Pete volunteered to fly out to join us. His plane was scheduled to land at Manchester NH at 9:55 a.m., so we could be in Moncton by 8 p.m. at the latest, and make our first stop, the Crystal Palace in Dieppe, before they closed at 10. Our plan looked promising, but ah, the best laid plans...

Friends, if any of you follow the news, you know that on Saturday the first of August a crazy drunk man entered LaGuardia airport in New York and tried to pass security with a fake bomb. Of course, they didn't know it was fake at the time, so the airport was evacuated, and closed. For hours.

Pete's itinerary had a connection at LaGuardia. As the French say, we were vissé.

Pete was rerouted to Allentown, and sat. For hours. By the time LaGuardia opened and he got there, his connection was gone. He arrived in Manchester at 1:35 p.m. That 3 and a half hours would haunt us for the rest of the mission.

Now pals, Google said the trip to Moncton from Manchester was 8 and a half hours. As pilot of the Disco Bus*, I decided to try for 7 and a half... I failed.

Our first problem was I-95 through New Hampshire. We took 101 from Manchester and got to I-95 to find the traffic moving at about 5 mph.

Now buddies, one might think it was those pesky tolls up in Maine that were holding us up on this sunny Saturday, as did we. Had to be 20, 25 miles to those tolls. Again, vissé.

Low and behold, it turned out not to be the toll, nor the bridge at Portsmouth. No children, it was, get this, the split where the Spaulding Turnpike went inland! More lanes, and room to exit, yet it caused 8 miles of traffic jam! (More actually, as the tie-up began south of 101!) We passed that intersection, traffic speed increased to 70 mph, the toll WAS NOT backed up, and we were finally, truly on our way.

Now friends, we know some of you live in Maine, most of you have visited Maine; Maine is not a mystery to any of us...or is it. We needed fuel in Bangor, for both us and the Disco Bus*. Did you know that there may only be 2 gas stations in Bangor? Did you know that in Bangor, they really don't tell you what is off the exits, except their apparently ample stadiums and arenas. More time lost...

Fast forward to the border; no problem crossing, although the stern border agent in the booth seemed to consider searching us. But as the dark encroached and we labored at converting Km to Mi and calculate our ETA, we finally realized we'd arrive at 11 p.m. No stop at Crystal Palace tonight.

Now pals, we want to tell you something about the wilds of New Brunswick. There is nothing between the border area and Fredericton, and nothing again from Fredericton to Moncton. (And little near the highway at Fredericton, the Provincial capital, for Jiminy's sake!) Good thing we found one of the rare gas stations in Bangor!

We arrived at the motel, a Comfort Inn in Moncton, at midnight! Who knew there was another time zone East of the Eastern time zone?! Things were not proceeding as planned...

As we pulled around to park the Disco Bus* for the night, we looked out across the roundabout and saw... the Crystal Palace. So close we could walk there! Merde! (Pardon my French)

Sunday, holy Sunday. We drug our road weary asses out of bed at 6 a.m. for a 6:30 departure (local time). The plan, head to Upper Clements Park (4 hours travel), then Atlantic Playland (2 hours travel), then Sandspit (3.5 hours travel), and then perhaps get back to Crystal Palace by 10. Yes, an ambitious plan, but these were the places we knew we'd have our best chance of picking up the trail of our now 2-year-gone scouting party. These were small parks in the wilds of the Maritimes. We'd be in and out in a flash.

Now buddies, did you know that in Canada, unlike the US, the continental breakfast does not begin until 7. No food for us!

Onto the open road and dusty highway, and into Nova Scotia. Now friends, we want to give you another tip. When in the wilds of the Maritime Provinces of Canada, should you need something, stop at the very first opportunity. These opportunities are few and far between. Once we finally found fuel for both us and the Disco Bus*, our 4 hour trip became 4 and a half. (Didn't help that the controlled access highway from Halifax to Annapolis Royal was not 4 lanes – mostly 2. And there were many, many campers. Slow campers. The acceleration of the Disco Bus* was often tested in passing...)

We arrived at Upper Clements Park on this sunny Sunday, listening to Stephen Still's Treetop Flyer, to find a crowded parking lot and a huge line to get in. D'oh! What's more, had we found a place to pre-buy a ticket, we'd not only get right in, but get exit privileges for all rides. D'oh! Merde! Of course, finding such a place to pre-buy would no doubt have been an adventure in and of itself.

But this park was wonderful! Clean, well maintained; obviously in no danger of going under, especially judging by the crowd. Pals, we knew then that we would never make Crystal Palace, but it was far from our minds. We had to stay awhile. After taking advantage of the rare restroom, we hit the Tree Topper for a few laps – not a top coaster, but very unique, including the muddy, muddy "trails" to get to the entrance, and quite fun (with, we found later in the day, a tad of airtime in the front once warmed up and with a full train) – then hit the Haunted House (not Ms. Lily – she doesn't do walk throughs), the excellent train, the carousel, antique cars, log flume, (not the peddle carts – too much work), then back to the coaster (well, I went back for one ride, then collected my Rock-O-Plane credit), but no sign of the scouting party. And then it was time to hit the road for Atlantic Playland.

Now buddies, Nova Scotia is indeed a wild place. At the first place we tried to find fuel for both us and the Disco Bus*, even though there was a sign for such, we roamed the country side and found none. Dry cleaners, fraternal lodges, giant bull statues, but no fuel. Back on the 2-lane controlled access highway, once we found it.

We eventually did find fuel, and Atlantic Playland, a small park that had a good crowd. This park had definitely seen better days. But while some of the scenery and idle rides looked worse for wear, the operating rides looked very well maintained. They seemed to be spending their money on what worked. We spoke for awhile with one of the owners (met her husband on a path, and he quickly recognized us as Vermonters), and found out why Upper Clements Park and this park were so crowded. This was the first sunny weekend of the year for the Maritimes. That also explained the mud around the Tree Topper – and the stream that over-topped it's footers. We bought tickets for the Rockin' Roller Coaster, walked around the park, and seeing no sign of our itinerant scouts, hit the road for Prince Edward's Island and Sandspit.

Our trip to Sandspit was without incident (we needed no more fuel at that time), and we crossed the Great Confederation Bridge and were in the land of Anne of Green Gables. In fact, we'd be within half a mile of her author's home. But there was no time for that.

It was getting dark as we pulled into the parking lot. After surviving the angry glare of a local tourist who was leaving (apparently there must be some unwritten, and unmarked, protocol for which rows in the parking lot a Disco Bus* can enter, and we broke it...), we parked, bought tickets, and got in line for the Cyclone (a Wildcat). Another well attended and well maintained park, with nice touches throughout (like having the park name on almost all the rides, giving them more of a unique feel). We rode the coaster, talked our way onto the itty-bitty Mini Cyclone (a very small powered coaster – a supervisor had to go get management's permission for us to ride, but she happily did, and the manager said "if we could comfortably fit" we could ride – well, what's your definition of "comfort?"), took a ride on the Sandspit Railway, and then bid the park adieu. Still no sign of our roving scouts.

We got into the Disco Bus* for the last time on this now dark Sunday at 9:55 p.m. Five minutes to get to Crystal Palace! Merde! We'd searched the Maritimes for 15 and a half hours, and there was no sign of them. The scouts were lost. Forever. Perhaps there was a clue at the Crystal Palace, but we would never know.

As we pulled up to the toll booths for the Confederation Bridge (the toll is only collected in one direction), it all became clear. We knew what happened to the wandering scouts. They were probably trapped on Prince Edward's Island, like so many others! Friends, the toll to leave was $42.50!! The only toll booth we had ever seen that took credit cards! This explained the crowds – half the population was probably stranded! The half painted houses – who could afford to go get paint! And the many boats – not for fishing, but to avoid the toll when visiting the mainland! Sadly, we could not go back for our adrift scouts now – we could only afford the tolls once.

And yet, a good time was had by all. The people of the Maritimes are very friendly, and obviously quite self sufficient, and we have no doubt that our stranded scouts are doing well.

We rolled back into Moncton, once again at midnight, and prepared for Monday's re-entry into the U.S., our ancestral home.

Up damn early again, and off we went back to Maine. It was an uneventful trip, except the long wait at the border (but at least we got to watch the dogs searching the tour buses heading into Canada – never saw a country search buses that were leaving before. Yes, the US border agents were conducting the search.) Luckily we stopped at the info stop / rest area in New Brunswick right before the border for a quick rest (discovering that it was New Brunswick Day, meeting a young woman who's photo was in the Crystal Palace brochure, and getting some nifty pins and a recipe book!)

We knew where the hidden fuel stops were in Bangor, so that was not an issue, but we needed to make good time back to Manchester for Pete's flight. Although the air conditioner died in the Disco Bus* just south of Portland, we got him to the airport in plenty of time, and were home 58 hours after we left.

And far off from that distant land, in shadows like a silent army, we heard their refrain on the wind... "Don't call me Friend, Buddy." "Don't call me Buddy, Pal." Don't call me Pal, Friend." "Don't call me Friend, Buddy." "Don't call me Buddy, Pal." Don't call me Pal, Friend." "Don't call me Friend, Buddy." "Don't call me Buddy, Pal." Don't call me Pal, Friend." "Don't call me Friend, Buddy." "Don't call me Buddy, Pal." Don't call me Pal, Friend." "Don't call me Friend, Buddy." "Don't call me Buddy, Pal." Don't call me Pal, Friend." "Don't call me Friend, Buddy." "Don't call me Buddy, Pal." Don't call me Pal, Friend." "Don't call me Friend, Buddy." "Don't call me Buddy, Pal." Don't call me Pal, Friend." "Don't call me Friend, Buddy." "Don't call me Buddy, Pal." Don't call me Pal, Friend." "Don't call me Friend, Buddy." "Don't call me Buddy, Pal." Don't call me Pal, Friend." "Don't call me Friend, Buddy." "Don't call me Buddy, Pal." Don't call me Pal, Friend...."

*Riders of Uncle Duke's Disco Bus III must provide their own sunglasses to protect from the disco ball glare. No disco music will be tolerated in the Disco Bus at any time.

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