Monday, August 19, 2013

Part 5: Homewards

Somehow we have a small spurtle collection hanging in our kitchen at home. A spurtle you ask; what is a spurtle? Well, it's a Scottish stirring stick, traditionally used for stirring porridge. A subtext of our Cape Breton journey was perhaps finding an interesting or notable spurtle to add to the collection. After all, Cape Breton has a deep and rich Scottish history and surely we'd find a few examples.

We happily left Bay St. Lawrence and pedaled back over the small mountain pass leading back to Cape North and onwards towards the east coast. Our morning was uneventful, with a stop at the well provisioned store in Cape North before we headed on. While we were there we talked with a small band of motorcyclists and our chat gave me some appreciation of the idea that cyclist and motorcyclists have some common experiences and perspectives, although at different speed.

Some miles on we stopped at a store that sells all things Scottish. Surely this store would have a spurtle! There were all manner of kilts, tam-o-shanters, but no spurtles.  Although we did miss out in that department, I did discover a small bit of black eye while trying on a tweed cap. It seems that our heavy climbing had broke a small blood vessel. Although I felt fine we were a bit alarmed; with the assistance of an emailed photo to some medically trained friends, we were reassured that there was little need for concern. 

We again diverted from the Cabot Trail to see the scenic coastal route that took us to Neils Harbour. It was a beautiful ride with some sharp hills and a ride along yet another plateau. By the time we reached Neils Harbour it was hot and we were ready to eat, so we had lunch in a little seafood place looking over the water.

Nance and I had made a little bet about how many other cyclists we would see on our journey around the Cabot Trail. I think I said something like 5 and Nancy said something like 15 to 20. Up to this point I think we had seen 4 other riders, but in Neils Harbour we crossed paths with a small crowd of supported riders on a tour. So much for my chances of winning our little bet. We hopscotched with this crew for the next day or so. Never say never, but supported tours don't ring my bell. I really disdain the notion that you need a vehicle in order to ride a bike. Carry what ya need!

Our goal was to get to one of the Ingonish villages for the night. 

Despite the bucolic feeling, this was a reasonably populated area

Arriving at the Parks Canada Ingonish Campground we were stumped to find it was not yet open for the season. Since we arrived there late in the day and were feeling a bit tired we were having a hard time making decisions, mostly because we didn't really know what lay ahead and hadn't found anything compelling leading to this point. You never know if there is some great option a few miles down the road or just some dusty pull off. We settled on going just a bit further and found ourselves in a comparativly developed neighborhood with shops and stuff, so we were, um, you know, forced to stay in a very comfortable motel cabin. The warm bath and a cold beer were heartily enjoyed. An evening walk down to the bay was a highlight of our brief stay in the area. Word was that the east side of the Cabot Trail was a little less thrilling, and I'd say this was our experience. It felt more commercial and less visually spectacular. 

Our last big climb...

...and last big decent

Soon after starting out the next morning we began our final big climb. This was up Smokey Mountain; it was a pretty even and not-so-hard grade, so we pedaled away and made it to the top without too much drama. We had the added benefit at this point of having eaten most of our food. Once we had reached Neils Harbor we had left the Gulf of St. Lawrence behind us and were now gazing upon the mighty Atlantic Ocean for the remainder of our trip and I somehow felt I could see this as we looked southwards from Smokey Mountain. Coming down the other side of the mountain was fun, followed be a long stretch of fairly flat unremarkable riding for the better part of the day. it was our goal to get to Baddeck so we spent the majority of the day churning out the miles back towards our starting point.

Looking down from Smokey Mountain over the Atlantic

We had one last item on our itinerary before finishing our ride, which was stopping at the Gaelic College. We have friends who have studied there and it was a natural place of curiosity for us. 

The Gaelic College in St. Anns. We were glad to finally arrive here after what felt like a long slog 
with headwinds and unremarkable scenery

Some times the miles on a bike seem to roll away without even really thinking about it, and other times it seems like no matter how long you keep plugging away you never seem to get very far. The last 10 miles or so leading to our arrival at the Gaelic College, in St. Ann's, were this way. I think it was a combination of fatigue, a headwind, dull surroundings, topped with only a vague sense of when we would actually find the college. Nonetheless, we were cheered to hear the brilliant sounds of bagpipes as we finally reached our destination. After some food and water on the lawn we enjoyed a visit to the impressively named Hall of the Clans where we learned about the early history of the area and the school, as well as a great interactive history of traditional Cape Breton music.

Nancy chatting with the resident bagpiper. Remarkably, he plays full 40 hour workweeks

Some musical history, in both English and Gaelic

Nearly done as we roll into Baddeck

We left St Ann's to cover the last 20 or so kilometers home and, despite some rough patches, made it back to our car in one piece. Surprisingly, riding on the Trans Canada highway is both legal and at times neccesary, but never pleasant. At least not in our brief experience. 

Happily we crossed paths with John and Kim for a final time and wished them happy trails They were setting off for another night or two of riding before moving on to the next part of their trip in the Halifax or Sydney area.

With bikes on the roof, wishing John and Kim farewell in Baddeck

After we'd packed up our gear and bikes and hit the road not 10 minutes out of Baddeck a pummeling rainstorm hit. Our timing was good, although we could only imagine John and Kim racing to get their tent set up. 


Tunes and a meal at the Red Shoe Pub

Our evening was capped off with a return to the Red Shoe Pub for yummy meal and the pleasure of hearing Anita MacDonald play some tunes. We left feeling grateful for our time in such a wonderful part of the world, despite not having come across any spurtles. We'll have to look harder next time.


Derek Andrews said...

Too bad you didn't find a spurtle! If you took the ferry from PEI to Pictou, you were quite close, as I can see the ferry on the horizon from my studio where I make spurtles. Next trip maybe?

Dave Cain said...

Too bad we missed you, although I can say with reasonable confidence that we are already in possession of one of your spurtles judging by the distinct styling of your work.
Fun to see you dibbers too.

Charlie said...

This is fantastic!