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.
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.