Smokey Mountain

Cape Breton’s Cabot Trail boasts four significant climbs. This is true whether cyclists travel clockwise or counter-clockwise, but the counter-clockwise route involves slightly steeper slopes on the uphill sides of Smokey, North, MacKenzie, and French Mountains. G and I spent a long time considering which direction to take. In Goudsborough, we made up our mind to travel counter-clockwise, so that we would go up the steeper slopes. We made this choice because our tandem is equipped with V-brakes. Tandems that are built for touring should have disc brakes, which are more powerful, and some even have an extra brake that is operated by the stoker (that’s me in the back). Without these features, we were nervous about the steep declines. G would have to be careful to pump our brakes regularly and we would surely reach speeds that make me uncomfortable.

For us, the climbs began on our second day. We prepared ourselved with too much breakfast at the Wreck Cove General Store. Eating at a picnic table on the lawn, we were blessed by a luna moth siting. This one was a little worse for wear, but still beautiful.DSC_0310DSC_0312DSC_0318

We would have left Wreck Cove sooner if not for other friendly visitors who each talked to us for a long time, not sensing our eagerness to depart before the coming rain.

Smokey Mountain boasts the steepest slope of all the Cabot Trail grinds, but it is also relatively short. We reached the base as misty fog crept in, blocking any views of the ocean to our right. We were fortunate not to have any strongs winds – we didn’t realize just how fortunate at the time – and were able to make steady progress up the hill one stroke at a time. We reached the top, cornily declaring “We smoked it!” and feeling rather smug.DSC_0319DSC_0323

From the peak of Smokey Mountain and Cape Smokey Provincial Park, it is mostly downhill to Ingonish and then Cape Breton National Park.DSC_0326DSC_0332We stopped in the Visitors’ Center there to look at maps, ask about camping, and buy a few souveniers. Then we were off to find a swimming spot. Our first opportunity came at Broad Cove campground. The Parks staff told that there was a beach with frigid water, and we were welcome to swim but probably wouldn’t last long. They were right, of course, the water was freezing, but the sun was warm and it felt wonderful to be outside in the sun with warm breezse blowing on our skins. I only managed to wade in up to my knees, but G was brave enough to take a quick plunge.DSC_0339.JPGDSC_0387DSC_0392

We left the beach feeling refreshed and happy, and still confident from our ride up Smokey. It is fair to say that this was the last time that we felt proud on the Cabot Trail. Our inflated egos travelled with us until the turn-off to Neil’s Harbour and Aspy Bay, at which point we left them lying limply at the bottom of the rolling hills of White Point Road. White Point Road is a detour that was recommended to us by the cashier at Wreck Cove General Store. He told that this detour was beautiful and that there was ice cream to be found in the base of the light house there, but forgot to mention that this road is obnoxiously hilly and there would be strong winds off the coast. We agree that this detour is beautiful, but we cannot recommend it to fellow cyclists, not least because the ice cream shop appears to be no more.DSC_0398.JPG

Bicycling the Cabot Trail

Cape Breton is, perhaps, the most famous region of Nova Scotia. It is known for dramatic vistas, for Celtic music and dance, for Cheticamp rug hooking, and for the Cabot Trail that links it all together. It is also known for its hills, which Nova Scotians had been warning us about since our arrival in the province. G was confident that we could climb any hill, but I was uncertain, especially due to a deep and unignorable pain that had developed in my left hamstring. Still, there was no way to know until we tried, and really no alternative anyway after we had already come so far to ride The Cabot Trail.

We left Port Hastings on Highway 104, which is a true highway with plenty of trucks, tourists, and resident islanders travelling north. 104 does have a large shoulder, but riding a pedal bicycle on a highway is never pleasant. The pain in my hamstring became unbearable as we climbed the rolling hills toward the Cape Breton highlands. It seemed to take over my mind and all I could think of was the sensation. We were on a tight schedule to reach Cape Smokey Provincial Park for the night, but we were forced to pull over repeatedly for me to take breaks. This was the way of things until we reached Baddeck, the first town of our route on The Cabot Trail. Baddeck is home to Baadeck, a yarn shop of course, so we took the time to peak at the yarns before buying thick, pasty all-natural sunscreen at the drug store and chatting with a M’kmaw man in the parking lot. In the heat of late afternoon, we were in desperate need of ice cream, but there was none to be found. This ended up being the first of several ice cream hunts that ended in disappointment.

The rest of our afternoon was uneventful but for a very short ride on the Englishtown cable ferry.DSC_0300.JPG

Many of the craft shops were closed by the time that we reached them in the early evening. This was disappointing, but we had nowhere to store woodwork or pottery anyway. It was getting toward civil twilight when we started to look for a place to stealth camp rather than continue to Cape Smokey. We came across several places that I thought would do just fine, but G felt that they were too exposed, too visible, too this or too that. We had made up our minds that we would continue to Cape Smoke Provincial Park in the dark after all, which meant climbing Mount Smokey first, when we stopped for a hamstring break in the parking lot of Wreck Cove General Store. The store was closed for the night, but the owner was outside packing a trailer for a trip to Halifax. It only took a few moments of chatting with pathetically tired me for this man to realize that I truly did not want to continue on and climb the steepest hill of Cape Breton after dark, and he offered us a place to camp by the woodline behind the store. There were thousands of mosquitoes back there, he said, but no one would bother us. Not only this, but he brought us each a cold beer to have with our dinners. G and I have been both treated well by many strangers while we are travelling – Appalachian Trail angels and magicians, Warm Showers hosts, drivers giving hitches, the list goes on – and we never take it for granted. We are always more grateful than we can express and can only hope that we are able to pay kindness forward.
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Lochiel to Port Hastings

Our third day spent reaching Cape Breton began at Lochiel Provincial Park where we had spent the night. We followed paved, but quiet, route 276 east. The road was lined by the Acadian Forest, with delicate bog laurel growing just a few feet from the pavement.DSC_0267
There were no true towns between Lochliel and Guysoborough on the coast, but we did pass by a number of isolated houses and then the well-named hamlet of Erinville.DSC_0268

Guysborough is one of the oldest European ports in North America. It is a quiet town set on a beautiful cove with a surprisingly informative community museum. We arrived in the late morning, and stopped at the museum first thing. The steward generously shared his local knowledge, inlcuding where do get elevensies (also known as “second breakfast”).

I will take a moment here to say how important elevensies were to both of us on this trip. Each morning, we ate a simple meal of oatmeal or yogurt and granola at our campsite or hotel room. We also planned out, before even beginning, where we might get a more satisfying breakfast. No matter how beautiful the morning riding was, this upcoming meal was always a bit on on minds. If we did not find a place to satisfy ourselves before too many hours had gone by, G could think of nothing else. We judged the quality of elevensies the potatoes. The potatoes at Days Gone By Bakery in Guysborough were top notch. The had never been frozen. They were cut in large pieces but managed to be crispy and moist. And the meals came with baked beans, which I love. Delightful. Despite efforts for delicious breakfasts later in our trip, this meal remained our favorite.

We left Guysborough via Route 16, which hugs the harbor. The water was clear and all I wanted was to go for a swim, but we were well behind schedule and kept on, hot and uncomfortable. In the early afternoon, we were relieved to turn onto Middletown Road and then Pirate Harbour Road. These are dirt roads that cuts across the land where Route 334 goes around. I was suspicious of our map’s snowmobile symbols along Pirate Harbour Road, but Google maps and Map my Ride were in agreement that this was a drivable road.
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And this was true at the start. We were able to relax and cruise along, passing by small farms and enjoy the absence of traffic. Every now and then, G would declare, “This road is chill!” DSC_0284.JPGEven a rusty broken culvert and our second flat tire couldn’t ruin our good mood. DSC_0291.JPG

But it was soon after this that the road petered out at a log landing. We confirmed with our GPS that we were in the right location and then heading to the right where we found a deeply gouged four-wheeler route with standing water and a soft mucky bottom. I thought about leeches.DSC_0293DSC_0285DSC_0296

From here, G was forced to walk Leonid through the deep muck, keeping his feet to one side of the “road” whenever possible.20170611_15345320170611_153931 We imagined that it would keep on like this for a while and then we would reach a drier stretch again and be able to ride the rest of the way to Auld’s Cove and Port Hastings. Instead, we came to an open swamp replete with cat tail and calla lily (a “life plant” for me). Staying on the four-wheeler/snow mobile route would have required swimming, so we opted to ford the sphagnum mats. We squelched our way through the knee-deep, sometimes thigh deep-muck,  letting out cries of surprise when the earth dropped suddenly from beneath our feet.20170611_15422920170611_15463620170611_15464220170611_155211At the tree line on the far side, there was an unexpectedly bikable dirt road running parallel to our planned route. I declared, “I think we have to take this road somewhere,” and so we did. We followed it and a few others all the way to Mulgrave and then took route 344 to the crowded and stressful Canso Causeway. We don’t have any positive things to say about cycling through Port Hastings, Port Hawkesbury, or the Skye Lodge where we spent the night, but we probably won’t remember much about these places either. Instead our memories of this day will focus on our silly and unexpected adventure on Pirate Harbour Road. If either of us had been alone it might have been frightening, and I certainly would have turned around and spent an extra day reaching Cape Breton via paved roads. Instead, because we were together for safety and for fun, we both admit that this was one of the highlights of our trip.


I cannot share videos here, so check my instagram account @walkinginwool for more views of Pirate Harbour swamp.

Inland

There are not many options for cyclists travelling from Halifax to Cape Breton Island. We studied our maps before and during our trip and had decided that the best way to go was Route 7 along the coast, and then turning inland for a mix of paved and dirt roads. It took us three days to reach the Island. The first of these three was spent getting out of Dartmouth in the rain. This was mostly done on busy parkway and highways, with one short spell on a rough rail trail that resulted in our first flat tire.DSC_0257We planned to ride one hundred miles, but the wind, water, and traffic ate away our ambition and at one o’clock in the afternoon, with only 36 miles under our wheels, we found ourselves dripping dirty water onto the lobby floor of Jeddore Lodge and Cabins. We booked ourselves a one room cabin, cranked up the heat, hung our wet clothes in every possible place, ate dinner in bed, and watched an X-men marathon.DSC_0260


The stormy weather cleared overnight and we hit the road dry and refreshed on June 10th. We followed route 7 along the coast until Sheet Harbour, where we turned north on route 374 and stopped at a Lochaber Mines Provincial Boat Launch for a meal, bike maintenance, and a good cool foot soak.
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In the afternoon, we turned east on Cameron Settlement Road. This was clearly an active logging road, the type of which I had stated we would not ride on, but fortunately, it was a Saturday and there were no logging trucks about.20170610_153354.jpg
In fact, it seemed that we had these roads all to ourselves until, suddenly, several miles from anywhere, there were two older men sitting by the side of the road. They got up when they heard us coming, hoping, as it turned out, that we were a car. The two men had been fishing on a small lake off of a side road for four days. When they went to drive home, they found their car battery dead. With no cell phone signal and several hour’s walk to the nearest town road, they were feeling a bit down on their luck. Of course, we could do nothing for their car, but we chatted for a few minutes – swatting at a sudden abundance of black flies the whole time – and promised to try and send help as soon as we came across a vehicle. Then off we went down the road. Half an hour later, we came to a paved street, and were able to flag down the driver of an SUV. The couple in the car were on their way to a meeting in town, but they directed us to a white and red house just down the way, and told us that the man there knew all the trout fishing lakes and he would know where the stranded fellows were and be able to help them out. There are many places in the world where it would be difficult to convince a stranger to drive miles on a dirt road to possibly find other strangers and jump their car. But in this isolated section of Nova Scotia, we never doubted that the folks in this white and red house would help. And help they did. We knocked on the door, and a man answered right away. He invited us in without even knowing our business. We told him our story and he got out a detailed, annotated map of all the lakes in the area. His wife offered us cold drinks, and the fisherman showed us his fishing diary. He had caught 88 trout in May. Then he and his hound were off in their truck to find the two men and help them get home to their own families. We thanked him, and he said simply. “Well, you never know when it might be you that needs help out there.”

 

 

Halifax

The rail trail from west of Halifax was in fair conditions and we enjoyed our morning ride. The rhodora was in peak bloom and we couldn’t have asked for better weather. DSC_0182DSC_0194As we approached the city, the trail turned into a paved path with dozens of pedestrians and cyclists out for a bit of exercise. We hoped that this path would continue into the city center, but of course, it ended and we were shot out onto the sidewalk along a busy parkway. From there, the ride into the city was stressful, and we took a few wrong turns despite receiving unsolicited directions from “helpful” strangers. By the time that we were nearing downtown, we were both hungry and irritable. Thank goodness for the Split Crow Pub, the first restaurant with outdoor seating that we passed on our way to the Barrington Street hostel. G and I sat outside, ate too many french fries, drank beer, and were cooked by the sun. DSC_0204Following this experience, I was in desperate need of a nap. We treated ourselves to a private room where I lay down and slept soundly for an unknown amount of time. In the evening, we had planned to go out for a nice dinner but chose instead to walk the citadel until close to 9 PM and then eat mediocre burritos in the hostel kitchen. No regrets.


On June 8th, we left Leonid behind to relax at the hostel and headed out to explore Halifax by foot. Our first stop was the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History. As G has worked at a few nature preserves with interpretive centers, he always pays attention to good natural history displays. At this museum, he was especially impressed by the indoor honey bee hive, and I loved the larger-than-life trailing arbutus sculpture. I was also interested in the display on Sable Island, as I had been reading The Nymph and the Lamp by Thomas Raddall, a novel set on said island in the years following WWI. DSC_0207DSC_0213The museum includes a display on the craftwomanship of the M’kmaw people. I took dozens of dark through-glass photos of the motifs on the clothing samples and the detailed porcupine quill boxes, which I hope will serve as inspiration for future textile projects.

At lunchtime, we walked through the city’s botanical gardens to touristy Spring Garden Road where we finally found much-needed delicious ice cream and also bought a load of souvenirs.

We spent the afternoon near the water at the Museum of the Maritimes, where we learned more about two tragedies – the sinking of the Titanic and The Halifax Explosion of 1917. G and I were both surprised that we didn’t know more about the Halifax Explosion before coming to Nova Scotia. The catastrophe occurred in the Halifax Harbour during WWI when a Belgian relief ship collided with a Canadian vessel loaded with explosives. A fire began and less than half an hour later, the Canadian ship exploded. It was the largest explosion in the world before the atom bomb. Thousands of people were killed or injured and entire neighborhoods were leveled. The exhibit on this event was moving, and I was particularly struck by the last transmission sent out by the Halifax train dispatcher, Vince Coleman:

“Hold up the train. Ammunition ship afire in harbor making for Pier 6 and will explode. Guess this will be my last message. Good-bye boys.”

He remained at his post sending this message to trains as far away as Truro until his was killed by the force of the explosion. Coleman’s message was heeded and hundreds of people were kept safely away from the disaster zone.

In the evening, we treated ourselves to a special meal at Edna’s. This hip restaurant has gotten abundant positive reviews online and in Halifax magazines, and it lived up to our expectations. Sorry, no photos of our artistic entrees. After dinner, we took the ferry to Halifax’s sister city of Dartmouth. Dartmouth is outrageously hilly, but we pushed our way up to an Air BnB for a sound sleep.

 

Lunenberg

Lunenberg is one of the best-known towns in Nova Scotia, having received UNESCO world heritage site status in 2012. The town is exceptional because it represents one of the only examples of a planned town in British colonial America. 289 years after it was founded, Lunenberg still boasts small wooden clapboard houses, a strong sense of local pride, and surprisingly steep roads.

We rode to Lunenberg from Rissers Provincial Park via route 331 and the LaHave cable ferry – a first for both of us. It was cold and wet and the ferry operator allowed us to warm up in the staff cabin. DSC_0163Unfortunately, we reached the ferry before the LaHave Bakery opened for the morning, but this put us in a good position to patronize Lunenberg’s #9 café. We also, later, had one of our best meals of the trip at The Salt Shaker.

Lunenberg is an artistic town and we spent most of our day in the independent book stores, gift shops, and art galleries. In the Lunenberg Bound book shop, we bought three large and heavy tomes entitled Flora of Northeast United States and Adjacent Canada Volumes I, II, and III. I have since weighed them and they total 6 lbs 8 oz.

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Later that night, looking skeptical about the wisdom of our purchase.

We did also stop into the Mariner’s Daughter, the local knitting shop, but there was no wool yarn that met my particular requirements.

A must-see in the town of Lunenberg is the Musuem of Fisheries. We began our tour of the museum on the ground floor aquarium, which ranked as the most depressing aquarium I have ever seen. Many of the tanks were drained and empty. The tanks that were inhabited were dark with scattered stones and a few sad fish or crustaceans. Fortunately, the other exhibits in the museum were more educational and enjoyable. We learned about the evolution of cod fishing, the life cycle of lobsters, the interactions of north Atlantic currents, and more. There was even a bit of fisherman’s knitwear on display!

We left the museum in late afternoon and it was time to head out of town. We detoured by The Bluenose – Nova Scotia’s pride and joy- and the small grocery store, and then we were back on the path and heading toward Graves Provincial Park for the night.DSC_0170


Graves Provincial Park is located on an island in Schnare Cove. It is connected to the mainland by a short causeway. We stayed in one of the walk-in sites and had the area to ourselves.DSC_0178DSC_0181

A Day of Wildflowers

G and I woke up early on the foggy morning on June 5th. We cooked oatmeal, lay our tent to dry in the sun, and admired the wild bleeding hearts growing in next to the picnic table.
DSC_0097DSC_0096DSC_0095These bright pink beauties hearts were just the start of the day’s wildflowers. The route from Louis Head, West Sable Road, was lined with lady slippers, mayflower, and starflower. We even found blooming blue-bead lilies and bluets along the fringe of route 103.DSC_0100DSC_0104

Lunch was a fried food feast at Seaside Seafood in Liverpool. After we indulged, G took a power nap right in his seat.
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Late in the afternoon, we came to Petite Riviere and the town’s well-stocked general store. It was here that we each bought a delicious beverage for the evening and were even ID’d, though neither of us have looked 18 in some time.

From there it was a short ride to our home for the night, Rissers Provincial Park. The wind was blowing off the ocean and there were few other campers around. We set up our tent in view of the water and then made our way across the beach to the Rissers Beach Boardwalk. The sand was soft and appealing, but it was far too cold for a swim. Beautiful seaweeds were scattered across the shore and I thought about “color stories” and stranded colorwork as we strolled.

 

The Rissers Beach Boardwalk fits in the landscape as though it grew there. It runs along one side of the Petite Riviere estuary with its calm salt marsh. Lichen-covered spruce grow on the upland side of the boardwalk and shelter visitors from the open ocean winds. We lingered for the golden hour before twilight and then made our way slowly back to dinner, drinks, and a campfire.DSC_0138DSC_0143DSC_0150DSC_0141