Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Part 3: The Cabot Trail

The iconic moment: looking north along the western coast of Cape Breton

The second half of our trip was a cycling journey around the island of Cape Breton along the Cabot Trail. This route is approximately 180 miles long and is frequently begun from Baddeck.
Our first day out, headed to Margaree Forks

We got a somewhat late and inauspicious start at about 2:30 Sunday afternoon once we'd loaded up our bikes, parked the car, bought an extra memory disc for the camera and had a supplemental cup of coffee to fuel the effort. Leaving the village of Baddeck I missed a turn and we did maybe 4 miles out of our way through some hilly area before starting to feel that maybe we weren't on the right track. Added to this was our getting accustomed to heavily loaded bikes. We had gear and equipment for camping as well as a good supply of food given our uncertain options over the next few days. I have to admit those first couple of miles I was a little dubious about us hauling this much weight 180 miles. It wasn't long before the spirit of the adventure started to take hold and the bikes started to feel okay.

The route. We started in Baddeck and went clockwise

Once we were sorted out, we made our way and had a nice 30-ish mile ride across pretty but unremarkable countryside to Margaree Forks where we had planned to camp. Upon our arrival in this small village, we discovered that the campground was closed. It being late and not know what other  options were out there, we decided to hedge our bets and stay in a nearby motel. The motel was nothing special, but turned out to be a nice place to launch from the next morning when we awoke to a light rain.
Morning rain as we head for Margaree Harbour

Looking up the coast somewhere around Cap le Moine

Leaving Margaree Forks we headed north through a lovely valley towards the ocean. It was raining lightly, but we were on a pleasant dirt road. We forwent our morning coffee, not wanting to bother with the camp stove and all, with a plan to stop when a good option arose. We thought Margaree Harbor or Belle Cote might present an opportunity, but there wasn't much there when we reached it, so we kept rolling up the coast. The pedaling was easy and it was great to have the ocean views on our left was we rode.

After the spoke nipple escapade we restocked in Cheticamp

Somewhere around Cap le Moine Nancy announced that she had just heard an odd sound coming from the bike. I didn't necessarily make much of it, but we took a quick look and there was nothing obvious, so we continued on. In under a half mile or so she said something was wrong with her braking, so we looked again and discovered that she had a broken spoke, so we found a spot off the road and looked into it a little further. 

A broken spoke is not necessarily a big deal, but having a replacement spoke of the proper length is more of a challenge. One bike can have up to four different spoke lengths, depending on how the wheels are built. We removed the wheel, took off the tire and tube, removed the rim tape and found that in fact it was the spoke nipple that had broke. This was good because I happened to be carrying two spare spokes with nipples on my bike, so the spoke length issue was not a factor. What was a factor, however, was that we found that not one nipple had broken but actually three of them had given out. This was bad; I had two spare nipples but had no recollection of any more in my collection of assorted small bike bits. As  I worked in the wheel repair, Nancy rummaged through my tool kit and somewhat surprisingly found a third nipple. Yes! We were able to put her wheel back in one piece and get back on the road. What could have been something of a show stopper was solved. Phew.

I must say, I felt a bit unnerved buy this mechanical breakdown. Were our bikes overloaded? Was there more broken spokes heads to come? Had I misjudged the capacity of our respective frames? We continued  on and as the miles rolled by without incident my worry began to subside.

Our long awaited cup of coffee was finally found in the tiny village of Le Grand Etang. We were ready for it by then and it did the trick.

I completely surprised Nancy by quietly putting on this outfit at the Mi-Carême museum and then nonchalantly standing next to her watching a video waiting for her to notice. It completely surprised her

A few masks from the museum

Next to our little coffee shop we discovered an amazing museum called Centre de la Mi-Carême which celebrates and preserves the tradition of the Mi-Carême . The Mi-Carême is an Acadian tradition that had largely died out by the mid 20th century but has been slowly brought back. In short, it is a "vacation" from lent about halfway through where the people dress up in masks and costumes and travel from house to house merrymaking and enjoying a social time together. Music, masks, and conviviality are the order of the day and we were really pleased to learn about this great tradition.

From Grand Etang we reached Cheticamp where we happily, and somewhat unexpectedly, found a bike shop. The proprietor had only opened shop the previous fall. He had a truing stand and we were able to put Nancy's front wheel in and confirm that it was reasonably true. In fact, we didn't need to adjust it at all. To my delight the shop happened to sell Brooks saddles seat covers. This was a total anomaly, and perfect, since mine had blown off somewhere on the highway between Vermont and New Brunswick. Yes! 
Entering Cape Breton National Park in Cheticamp

The drama unfolds

The happy cyclotourists

We weren't sure where we planned to stay that night and the weather report for the next two days was predicting rain. We had pedaled through mist and light rain most of the day. Cheticamp is the western gateway to the Cape Breton National Park and we were either going to camp at a campground Dan and Addie recommended a few miles into the park, or we were going to push on, climb French Mountain and stay in Pleasant Bay.  After a makeshift lunch at the Boulangerie Aucoin, we headed toward the national park, feeling a little bit like we were heading into a wild place late in the day. The park was profoundly beautiful within minutes of entry and there was very little traffic. The first lookout panned from Cheticamp to the south across the broad Gulf of St. Lawrence and north to the highlands. As we continued there were hints of sunshine and within a half hour or so we were in full sun. This lifted our spirits and encouraged us to keep moving. We stopped at the campground, and it was beautiful, but we felt energetic and ready for the climb, so we continued along the rolling roadway towards French Mountain. 

What's in store

Nancy pedaling away as we climb into the clouds

Taking a breather

Taking another breather. We didn't know it, but we were pretty much at the top at this point

If you look really close, you can see the moose, and maybe even her calf

The climb was long but not grueling. As we rose the fog rolled back in and we were unable to see much either below or ahead of us. I worried slightly that we were missing some dramatic views, but on the flip side, the fog kept us cool. Just after we reached the top, Nancy noticed a mother moose and her calf coming toward us on the edge of the road. For a second it was scary, but we crossed to get out of her way and they soon made their way into the scrub. 

Cruising along the highlands plateau

Looking down at Fisherman's Cove, a settlement abandoned in the 1930's

Coming down into Pleasant Bay after a long, varied, and wonderful day

The highlands plateau is beautiful; miles of low scrub brush and pine over rolling terrain. The sun soon came out again and we travelled with high spirits under a deep blue sky across untrammeled wilds. It was a thrilling ride. Along the way we saw down into a coastal valley that was a tiny inhabited fishing village until the 1930's when the residents abandoned it. 
The youth hostel in Pleasant Bay. We were treated to the chance to harvest a 
little fresh chives from the little garden in front

Eventually we descended down the mountain road to Pleasant Bay and spent the night in a youth hostel. Good thing you don't have to be young to stay in one!

There was even bike parking


cptvitamin said...

Awesome recount of the ride. I could almost feel the burning in my thighs. I can't believe you got to ride calmly past a moose or two! and finding a third nipple in all that gear almost makes me reconsider my position on the existence of god :)

Dave Cain said...

I neglected to mention that Nancy saw a third moose as well coming down into Pleasant Bay.

Anonymous said...

Dave, great trip reports. The decent off the plateau into Pleasant Bay was one of my favorite parts of the Cabot Trail.