September 5th-11th: C.A.B.O.T. – Canada’s Amazingly Beautiful Oceanfront “Trail”.

For the third and final time, I’ve been pulled way off course with an eye on our country’s natural beauty. And once more, I’ve discovered a region I’d hate to have skipped. Well played Canada, you’re three for three on making the extra distance a treat and not a chore.

After swapping my ferry seat for my beloved Brooks, it was a beeline for Cape Breton Island. The Trans Canada Highway via Antigonish was generally through forest, offering St. Lawrence Gulf glimpses as it approached the Canso Causeway.

Maybe I should go there!

I just made it across to Port Hastings Tuesday, as my Scottish blood awakened when presented with options such as the Ceilidh Trail and Celtic Shores Trail. Apparently it’s not only the prairies who insist on naming their highways “Trails” – both the Cabot and Ceilidh Trails are fully paved highways!

About to cross the Canso Causeway.
Made it across to the island!

So Wednesday morning I chose the Celtic Shores Trail, yet another former railway section of the Trans Canada Trail. Egged on by mighty tailwind, I struggled through its rocky beginning before enjoying a long stretch of lovely gravel littered with coastline views. Being a rail trail, of course it was quite flat – not to worry, I’d been warned I’d have plenty of climbing on the Cabot Trail ahead!

A rare paved section of the Celtic Shores Trail.

After drying a wet shirt over my rear rack through the sunny morning, 50km into my day while packing up after lunch I removed it to find this:

Uh-oh, something’s missing…

Well, the good news was my tent, sleeping pad, and water containers were still there… My sleeping bag and pillow must have been jostled loose and blown away without me even catching wind of it! Recalling the rocky and windy morning on the trail, that’s where it must have happened.

So it was decision time: Backtrack nearly 50km in hopes the Cape Breton winds hadn’t engulfed my gear, or push onward and find an outdoors store with enough to get me through my final nine nights.

Deciding it was nothing to lose sleep over, I raced on toward Baddeck and its Outdoors Store.

A ride I’d looked forward to since Vancouver.

There at precisely 5:27pm I met Phil, Andy, and Ben, about to cycle the Cabot Trail counterclockwise as I was, who informed me the Outdoors Store closed early but Home Hardware across the street was open until 5:30. Bolting between traffic for its already closed doors, I must have appeared desperate enough for them to let me in. Strolling back out seconds later with my brand spankin’ new $30 sleeping bag, I don’t think I’d sported a bigger grin all trip!

My latest prized possession.

After taking a tiny bite into the Cabot Trail Wednesday afternoon, a Thursday morning downpour provided a great excuse to hide inside at the Gaelic college. Blessed with lucky timing, I got to join a bus tour for three demos in sequence: Scottish dress and ceilidhs, Cape Breton music and step dancing, and Gaelic language and milling frolic. Not only was I the only one of the group decked out in drenched cycling gear, I was also probably the only one under 60 years old – yep, I sure stuck out like a sore thumb!

I was pleasantly surprised to find not just an educational institution, but a cultural showcase.

With my damp gear relatively dried out and my Scottish blood feeling extra thick, I put on my biker-hiker hat (or helmet?) for the remainder of a very intensive four day stretch on the Cabot Trail. Much like on the Parkway, the days were long and the legs in constant motion, either spinning or climbing.

A large chunk, including all hikes I did, are within national park land.

Twelfth and final national park.

I pedalled up three exceptionally steep and long hills…

The signage didn’t make this hill any less intimidating…

… And was of course rewarded with birds-eye views of the ocean and often the road which I’d just travelled.

The scenery was incredible, as advertised, framing the Cabot Trail as the reward I’d hoped for after (almost!) cycling across Canada.

I just climbed this huge, steep hill and can hardly see the view? Oh, fog off…

I found time to meet and chat with people along the way, such as these three fine gents I met in Baddeck and shared a pub dinner with the following evening.

Cameron, Phil, Andy, and Ben in Ingonish.

I found a couple cool camping spots, awakening to calming waves stroking the rocky coastline.

I deviated from the usual trail mix ingredients due to limited grocery selection.

Still enough calories to keep me going!

I could not have crafted a more perfect Cabot Trail day than my Saturday. I awoke naturally just before dawn to witness the sunrise on its East side. I spent the day following its winding asphalt through unforgettable vistas and conquered its two biggest climbs. And I took in the sunset on its West side at the breathtaking skyline trail lookout. It was a complete day in Cape Breton Highlands heaven.

“Yes, I’ll have an oatmeal on the rocks with an Atlantic sunrise, please.”
A dim walk on the skyline trail – 100% worth it for the sunset.
Looking across to the Cabot Trail winding along the mountainside.
Sunset on the water to cap off a pristine Cabot Trail day.

Ingonish beach shall forever possess my first ever Atlantic Ocean swim.

The water wasn’t that cold!


In addition to the mandatory skyline trail, I gladly endured three other mid-length hikes and three short ones, stretching out the cycling legs and soaking up many precious panoramas.

Refreshing my action shot skills on the Middle Head hike.


The Franey viewpoints featured some dangerous clifs.


I’d been told completing the Cabot Trail by bicycle is quite the achievement, so I celebrated with a mini Oreo cheesecake cupcake at The Dancing Goat and some refreshingly hoppy tastings at Big Spruce Brewery.

Upon finishing the Cabot Trail loop, my next destination was the North Sydney ferry terminal to complete the province. I opted for a scenic route along the Bras d’Or Lake (which I soon discovered is pronounced like the end of “labrador” and  not “brass door”), which would also facilitate a visit to the Highland Village Museum. Monday morning’s downpour motivated hasty pedalling to the comforting, warm museum via a very short Little Narrows ferry.

Maritimes logic: 12.9km to PEI? We must build a bridge. 0.2km to Little Narrows? Nah, a ferry will do.

Equally anxious to dry out and embrace history of Scottish immigrants to Cape Breton, I followed the path through 11 buildings which showcased times from the late 1700s to early 1900s, meeting some play-actors who shared their immigration stories with me.

Looking forward to being inside!
The Highland Village Museum featured great views of the Bras d’Or.

At one building they gladly helped my gear and I dry out by the fire!

I’m sure this bike wouldn’t fall over nearly as often as mine does! Time for a trade-in?

While the Bras d’Or mirrored the sky’s dreary gray and not the royal blue I’d hoped for, the fog thinned that afternoon so my ride did contain many lookouts of the island’s giant oddly shaped lake.

Crouching to minimize the impact of gusting headwinds, I eventually reached Nova Scotia’s gateway to the tenth and final province.

Nine down, one to go!

Cape Breton was a real treat. Stunning mountainous coastline, rich Scottish history, and very friendly people. Time to ferry from island to island, as I prepare for my fifth and final sub-24-hour day and the final leg to the Eastern-most point of our incredibly diverse country.
Strava:

Sep 5 – Sutherlands River to Port Hastings
Sep 6 – Port Hastings to Englishtown
Sep 7 – Englishtown to Ingonish Beach
Sep 8 – Ingonish Beach to Ingonish
Sep 9 – Ingonish to Petit Étang
Sep 10 – Petit Étang to Hunters Mountain
Sep 11 – Hunters Mountain to North Sydney

5 thoughts on “September 5th-11th: C.A.B.O.T. – Canada’s Amazingly Beautiful Oceanfront “Trail”.

  1. Unbelievable Cameron!!! You have had such an amazing journey and the Cabot Trail photos are spectacular! Can’t wait to read your final entertaining instalment, and we are so very impressed you have cycled across our entire great country. What a feat! All the best in your final few days in Newfoundland; WOW!!! xoxoxo

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  2. Yes, it is truly amazing what you have done Cameron!
    Fantastic photos, good decision to replace the sleeping bag, and nice that you enjoyed the Cabot Trail so much!

    Wishing you all the best of everything, as you finish off your 4 month plus journey! Thinking of you, and stay dry! love Anti x

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  3. Love every post, but this one certainly got me itching to get to the Cabot Trail! Great photos, and as always, I’m just in awe at what you have accomplished this trip. I can’t think of a more Canadian way to celebrate the 150th anniversary – especially all the visits to National Parks!

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  4. WOW. Congratulations Cameron on reaching the far shores..amazing. Love the photos and stories. Must have been a real shock to discover your sleeping bag had disappeared! The Highland Village Museum looks fascinating. As Audrey said, your trip is the perfect way to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary!

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