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.
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!
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!
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:
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.
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!
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!
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.
I pedalled up three exceptionally steep and long hills…
… And was of course rewarded with birds-eye views of the ocean and often the road which I’d just travelled.
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.
I deviated from the usual trail mix ingredients due to limited grocery selection.
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.
Ingonish beach shall forever possess my first ever Atlantic Ocean swim.
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.
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.
Crouching to minimize the impact of gusting headwinds, I eventually reached Nova Scotia’s gateway to the tenth and final province.
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.