This was supposed to be a benign bike ride holiday around Prince Edward Island. It turned out to be anything but.
Trees were crashing around us, slates were flying off buildings, the widespread power outage turned the darkened corridors of our hotel into something out of the horror movie The Shining, and for a few hours the entire Island held its collective breath.
In fear. How would this turn out.
Prince Edward Island and the Maritimes have weathered some pretty severe storms in the past, but Hurricane Fiona decided to send something a little more fierce, a whole lot more scary.
We had arrived in Charlottetown at the beginning of the week. Eight of us. Four couples who have known each other for years. My wife and I from Victoria, two from Kamloops, two from Peterborough, Ontario and two from Perth in Scotland.
We go on adventures together. We rode along the Danube one year. In the Scottish Highlands last time. And once we sailed in the Virgin Islands.
We thought PEI would be gentle. Anne of Green Gables and lobster suppers and gentle rolling hills for biking sedately along.
It started well. We biked to the national park, along the fantastic Confederation Trail, we ate lobster rolls and went to see Alan Doyle of Great Big Sea fame in his musical Tell Tale Harbour, a kind of Come From Away to make you feel warm and thankful.
Then we rode to Montague Harbour, and by then we knew the storm was coming, but at first they said it would be a long way east. And then it started raining. And raining some more.
At the Bogside Brewery, they warned us they would be closing at 7 p.m. because the storm was due at 10. We ate our pizza and drank our delicious beer and by then the warnings were more and more dire.
In the hotel, we seemed to be the only guests, except for two women hikers from Ontario.
At 10 the power cut out. At about 2 a.m. the whole building seemed to be shaking. The windows rattled ominously. The wind roared like an express train outside.
We could see trees outside, along the river bank, bending almost double. The rain was lashing against the windows too.
At daylight we ventured downstairs to eat cold bagels and juice. The wind seemed to be getting worse, we hunkered down, most of Prince Edward Island hunkered down.
At noon or so we ventured outside. The small community had been hit, yes, by a hurricane. Trees and other debris were scattered across the road signs were snapped in half. A lamp atop the bridge had crashed to the ground and was in pieces.
One small convenience store was open, but in darkness. We bought chips and dip and liquorice and thanked the operator for being open. “What else was I going to do? Sit on my own in the dark?”
Islanders commiserated with one another and exchanged information, poles were down along Main Street. There was a tree through a house up the road. The road to such and such a harbour was impassable.
That evening the winds left, and the skies cleared and there was a fantastic sunset. The wind had done its worst, and now it was for the islanders to count the cost.
There are 86,000 hydro customers, 82,000 were without power.
We rode our bikes on a glorious sunny Sunday through country lanes to a harbour in the south of the Island and to our next hotel, it was open and welcoming and had a generator,
Along the way were thousands of downed trees. And I counted hundreds of hydro poles toppled by the ferocity of the winds.
It’s going to take an age to clean up this mess. But already, as we rode along the lanes, just about everyone was out with their chainsaws or their brooms or their shovels trying to put the Island back together. There was a cheeriness and a togetherness. They had survived hell. Now, how about tomorrow.
We have seen our fair share of windstorms on Vancouver Island. Our street in Central Saanich has been hit many times by huge windstorms. I felt a kind of kinship with the Islanders here.
But we have never seen the likes of this. People are homeless. They have lost their crops and their livelihoods. The school down the road has lost its roof.
The mess will take some time to clean up. But they are Maritimers. They’re tough. And they’ll get through because that’s what they do.
The rest of Canada needs to pitch in where they can.
We’ll keep biking, stay out of their way, and help where we can. Even if it’s clearing up branches in driveways.
Ian Haysom is consulting editor for CHEK Media.