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TRANSFER: Three years of bus rides end with a wonderful day

A trip to Sambro wraps up three years of exploring Halifax Transit's 66 routes.
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This gift can't be bought — at any price.

It comes wrapped in blue sky with just a few puffy clouds, sun shining on wildflowers, a quiet cove around each bend, and the open sea at the end of the road. It offers strangers who smile like friends; it brings the sweet song of summer wind.

It's the gift of a wonderful day.

Best of all, I get to share it with my sweetheart and best friend, Tim Dunn.

Tim and I are marking 36 years of travels, from the faraway Azores to nearby Dartmouth Common, from California to Cape Breton, from Ireland to Port Mouton. And he's sharing my personal milestone: The final leg of my three-year, 66-route exploration of the sprawling, varied network of Halifax Transit buses.

It's been quite the trip: Blizzards and blazing heat waves; 10-minute trips and hours-long journeys; express buses and articulated coaches and shuttles around the work-in-progress Macdonald bridge; wonderful women and men who give a lie to the pejorative "grouchy drivers"; passengers of all ages and backgrounds, only a very few of them unpleasant and an adventure around every corner.

I started out in April 2013 on the No. 1 Spring Garden with a ride down memory lane to the neighbourhood where I used to live, near Oxford and Quinpool in Halifax. Today, I'm travelling on the last route, the 402 Sambro  without question the loveliest public transit ride I've ever experienced (including San Francisco's cable cars).

Tim and I get going before 7 on a cool morning, grabbing the 52 Crosstown on Wyse Road near our Dartmouth home. The fog cloaks the harbour as we thump and bump across the Macdonald bridge, but we've been promised a sunny day by the weather experts, and our mood is just too buoyant for the usual skepticism.

Sure enough, as we're waiting at the Mumford terminal in Halifax for our next bus, the 14 Leiblin Park, the all-but-submerged disc of sun rolls out of a thick cloud and blazes forth triumphantly. By the time we've negotiated the winding streets of Halifax's Cowie Hill neighbourhood and coasted down to Dentith Road in nearby Spryfield, the sky has cleared and the day has gone from gloomy to balmy.

The 402 arrives promptly at 9 for its last morning run to Sambro. (This community bus makes round trips from Spryfield in the morning starting at 5 and in the afternoon and evening beginning at 3:35, so we'll have lots of time to explore before leaving Sambro about 4 p.m.)   

The ride offers convivial passengers, who greet each other with a cheery "Hey there" as expanses of evergreens and the occasional house give way to long inlets and a glimpse of the sea just before the sign to Halibut Bay. Along both sides of Ketch Harbour Road grow bushes covered with wild roses, white and pink, and patches of buttercups big enough to make a quilt.

Just before Portuguese Cove, the bus stops in front of a stunning vista of deep blue ocean framed by trees. We all gaze in wonder. The driver, John Gosse, later tells me that he pulls over at this spot every day, "as long as I'm ahead of schedule," to treat himself and his passengers to the beautiful view. 

"I just love this route," says the Cole Harbour man, who has driven for Halifax Transit for 15 years. "I have it till Aug. 24, and it's always wonderful."

The picturesque places flow by amid sparkling coves and lush summer foliage: Duncans Cove, Chebucto Head, Ketch Harbour and finally Sambro. As we wave goodbye to Gosse, Tim and I get talking with a fellow passenger, Jeffry James Gray, who mostly does odd jobs around Halifax but comes out to volunteer at a Sambro Creek lawn sculpture business several times a week.

"I would be here all the time if I could," says Gray, gesturing toward the inviting cove near the corner of Old Sambro and West Pennant roads. "My grandfather came from the area and so I guess I'm drawn to it naturally."

After Gray heads out to his job, Tim and I get coffees at Mishoo's, a one-stop shopping experience that conjures up images of another era with its mix of groceries, takeout treats, liquor-store offerings and a counter big enough for folks to chat around two families are doing just that as we head outside to the sunny deck. 

A petite woman in denim jacket and jeans hears us talking about how friendly the place is and comes over to introduce herself as Diana Elcheikh, owner of Mishoo's for 10 years. ("I made sure we could keep the great name!")

Right now, she's working overtime because her husband, Kasper, is in Lebanon looking after his ailing mother. But their children Rida, 20, and Niam, 15, both help out in the store, while Layla, 5, "asks everyone to play," she says with a merry laugh. 

"We've been embraced by the community," Elcheikh says. "We've been made to feel like family, and we all feel fortunate to be among the best people on the face of the Earth here."

After promising we'll come back to try the takeout fare, Tim and I head out on foot to Crystal Crescent Beach, about four kilometres away. It's a lovely walk along roads with wide shoulders and evocative names — Old Sambro, East (and West) Pennant and Sambro Creek — and the journey gets an added lift from foliage and flowers like stately lupines and wild irises, delicate purple blooms that peek out from behind lush ferns. What sounds like a whole choir of bullfrogs provides hilarious accompaniment en route.

There's a reason that Crystal Crescent is one of Nova Scotia's most popular beaches. Protected by dunes and wild grasses, and ringed by well-maintained boardwalks, it offers spectacular stretches of sand and wide rocks that make perfect seating for the greatest show in the world: the Atlantic Ocean. 

The tide is starting to come in just as we claim one of those ample rocks. The breakers hit the sand with a steady cadence that sounds like infinity; gulls cry and wheel above; two boys build a magnificent sand fort; couples bask in the sun.

"Look way out there — a lighthouse!" Tim exults, pointing far across the water. (We later learn that distant beacon is the famed Sambro Island Lighthouse, established in 1758.)

Back at Mishoo's with a hearty appetite after our walk in the salt air, we decide on fish and chips; Elcheikh has us hooked when she tells us the haddock has just come in this morning via the local fishing boats.

She joins us as we're vacuuming up the last of the fries. "I'm guessing you enjoyed it," she says with a grin.

"It was wonderful," I agree.

"This whole day has been a wonderful gift."



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