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Days 103 - 107
Day 103. August 26. 131 km. Total
7834 km. McArras Brook.
11:45am) I am on the ferry to Nova Scotia! Eight provinces down and only two to go! I woke up this morning feeling a little better than yesterday and itching to get back on the road. The ride to the Woods Island ferry along the Trans-Canada was mostly unremarkable. Modern farms and a Hwy enclosed in the trees. For any of you who want to bicycle PEI but only have a day or two so spend this is the route I would recommend: essentially it is a modified version of the Blue Heron Tour done clockwise. Hwy 10 from the bridge north to Hwy 1A and Hwy 2. Then Hwy 2 to Hwy 104 and 104 to Hwy 20 and Cape Tryon. From Cape Tryon I would stay on Hwy 2 along to Hwy 6 (after stopping in North Rustico for a lobster dinner at The Fisherman's Warf.) Hwy 6 to Hwy 2 into Charlottetown then from Charlottetown just stay on the Trans-Canada to the ferry (or save 10 km by taking Hwy 23 from Rowel which is what I meant to do but I missed the turnoff.) If you have access to a car try driving along Hwy 224, it is a real roller coaster.
My reason for recommending the North Shore over the South? Well the whole island of PEI is very domesticated, very controlled. Nearly every plot of land is either farmed or fenced which gives it a somewhat tamed, manicured look. The gentle south shore suffers from this much more than the somewhat rugged north. Along the north coast it felt like I was transported back in time 100 years. The farms were all smaller and every one had a period (late 19th or early 20th century) farmhouse. And then there are the large rocky, red cliffs that seem to taunt the farmers to tame them.
Oopps, back to reality, here comes Nova Scotia. I have to go take a picture.
10:45 pm) I hereby swear never to make another crack at the expense of Americans. I met a really nice retired American couple on the ferry and when I mentioned my route they offered to let me spend the night at their cottage which was right along my way on the Cape George peninsula. I never turn down invitations for a meal and a bed so I accepted sight unseen. If this cottage was a hotel it would get five stars. It is designed exactly like I dream my cabin will someday look like. Log cabin construction with an amber/golden wood interior and huge bay windows overlooking a million dollar view of the Strait. Right now I am writing this out on their back porch by the light of a full moon. The crickets are chirping, the surf is gently lapping against the rocks on the beach and the moonlight is glistening off of the ocean turning the water into liquid silver. What an end to a fantastic evening! I had a lovely meal and watched the sun set, stimulating conversation, and then before bed, an outdoor shower under the moon and stars. All this from people who I did not know 12 hours earlier. Have I said recently how much I love bicycle touring recently?
Well it is late and my legs are still sore from PEI so I had best head to bed. But before I do I think I will just sit here a while and enjoy the view.
From the ferry I took Hwy 104 to Exit 2 where I left the Trans-Canada Hwy and took a secondary road into New Glasco. Both roads were in fair shape with Hwy 104 having a large shoulder. The secondary road didn't have a shoulder but it also had zero traffic. In New Glasco I wanted to stay on Hwy 4 but somewhere through town I missed the turnoff and just ended up taking Hwy 347 to the Trans-Canada. I then stayed on the Trans-Canada to exit 27 and took the Sunrise Trail (Hwy 245) the rest of the way to McArras Brook where I spent the night. All of the Trans-Canada had a shoulder and was in great shape but was mainly inland through bush with the odd view of the ocean. It was nothing spectacular and next time I would probably take a more costal route but I just wanted to hurry up and get to Cape Bretton Island. Hwy 245 had some vicious perpendicular cracks but zero traffic and was closer to the sea. So far there have not been many hills but it is not flat either. Nothing strenuous by any means.
The end is now so close that I am starting to have mixed feelings about the matter. Happy about the chance to see family and friends again, warm showers, cold drinks and a comfortable bed. And yet I will miss the early morning sunrises over the ocean and the late evening sunsets darkening into a star filled night. I will miss the sound of the crickets serenading each other at night although not the screams of the crows in the morning. I will miss the feeling of accomplishment that comes after a long days cycling and the motion of the bike swaying underneath me. Most of all I will miss the adventure. Starting each day without knowing where I will end up, who I will meet and even where I will sleep. Each day taken completely on its own, isolated from all others. I'm going to miss this all right.
Day 104. August 27. 98 km. Total 7932 km. Creignish.
The hospitality of the people I meet astounds me yet again. I awoke this morning in my nice soft bed to find that breakfast was on the go. Fresh fruit and porridge, yum yum. I sat around a while and talked over a morning cup of tea but the day was growing old and I needed to get back on the road. I gave my thanks, bid my hosts goodbye and started pedaling. Whoa! Where did this huge gravel hill come from? I remembered coming down a rocky road last night but I did not remember it being this steep. I pushed and spun my way half the way up the hill when on one forceful pedal I got a flat. Lesson learned: don't try to pedal up steep gravel roads with touring tires, they don't have enough traction so they slip and the tube gets pinched. Precariously balanced on the hill, it took me twenty minutes and two attempts to finally my tube patched and be on my way. A rough start to the day but the sun was shining and soon I was back on the Sunrise Trail pedaling East.
Today I did not complete the entire circle tour of the Cape George Peninsula but instead opted to take a shortcut directly across the peninsula and push on for Cape Breton Island. I decided to go this way because I really wanted to get onto Cape Breton Island and was becoming impatient. When I reached the junction for Hwy 245 at Malignant Cove my mind was still not made up on which route to take so I went up to a nearby house, knocked and asked for the opinion of the guy living there. He said that Hwy 245 straight across the peninsula was fairly level and a good road but not very scenic. He then told me that the road continuing along the coast was in poorer condition and had a lot of hills but that the ride was along the ocean. However, he said that the views from the road would be exactly the same (albeit seen from the other side) as I would be experiencing tomorrow (I was heading south on the west side of the Strait of Canso and tomorrow I would be heading north up the east side). With this in mind I turned off onto Hwy 245 at Malignant Cove and cut straight across the peninsula to Antigonish which saved me 30 km and allowed me to get onto Cape Breton Island today. Hwy 245 was in really good shape with very few hills. It did not have a shoulder but as traffic was non-existent this was not an issue.
From Antigonish to the Canso Causeway I then stayed on Hwy 104 which is the Trans-Canada. As usual traffic on the Trans-Canada was quite heavy but the road was in good repair with wide shoulders (although they do disappear in places) and the hills were manageable (bigger than I have hit for a while but the grades are fairly gentle). Near the tops of the hills I was able to see the blue of the Bay to the North and the hills of Cape Breton Island getting closer. I AM NEARLY THERE!!! That euphoric feeling I get when things are going well and I am excited returned with full force. When I saw those hills it was as if my strength doubled and cycling became effortless. Cape Breton Island was one of the spots I was most looking forward too and here it was! The day was warm with beautiful clear skies so the ride was extremely enjoyable even though sucking fumes from diesel trucks every once and a while would spoil the mood. I crossed the Strait of Canso by the only means available, The Canso Causeway (insert ominous DUM Dum dum sound.) It was quite a hair-raising experience. The shoulder was very narrow with a lot of debris and the cars and trucks are moving very, very fast. Since it is essentially a bridge with water on each side, there was the definite feeling that I had no escape route and so I tried to get across it as fast as possible. From the Causeway I then headed north along the rolling Ceilidh Trail (Hwy 19) to Creignish where I am now spending the night. Originally, I had planned on continuing for another 10 km to a rest stop I saw on the map but when I realized it was a Friday night I opted instead to find a friendly yard. Remember, Friday and Saturday nights tend to be the big party nights and so I try to avoid any potential gathering spots. The best way to get out of a bad situation is not to get into it in the first place.
Now here are a few of my impressions of Nova Scotia to date. The first thing that struck me when I go off the ferry from PEI was that it was no where near as developed as PEI. It felt as if every single acre of PEI was owned and inhabited while here in Nova Scotia I see a lot of brush and bush and feel much more isolated. Also whereas in PEI most houses along the rural routes were well maintained, nice looking farm houses, here in Nova Scotia they are simply houses and appear to be poorer or more working class (just my general impression). Instead of farming I believe the mainstay of rural Nova Scotia is mining and forestry. Up until I hit Cape Breton Island the scenery was nothing spectacular although I should qualify that with the fact that I did spend most of my time on the Trans-Canada Hwy which is usually pretty plain anyways. On the mainland the ocean was out of sight most of the time and the bush on either side of the road walled me in.
From what I have seen today, Cape Breton is quite different. The road is elevated and runs along the sides of the hills which gives you a spectacular, unobstructed view of the water and what a view it is! Absolutely gorgeous. Looking back, had I not had those people to visit on the Cape George Peninsula (who were MORE than worth the side trip) I think that I would recommend taking the fastest route possible across the mainland (Hwy 104 or perhaps Hwy 4) and spending the time you saved exploring Cape Breton further.
I find it amusing how picky I am about where I camp. I have turned into a real camping snob, only the best spots with the nicest views will do for me ;-) This has not been a problem to achieve in the Maritimes as the people have been so friendly (and impressed with my journey) that I have been having a 100% success rate with "The Knock" . Today I was biking along and getting tired but did not want to stop because "That yard is not high enough on the hill and therefore has an obstructed view." "That house is on the right side of the road which puts all the traffic in front of the house, wrecking the view of the water." Ect, ect. He he he .. See what I mean? Really picky.
Then I passed by one place. Left hand side of the road with an open yard and a beautiful view of the water AND someone was sitting out front. I wheeled into their driveway and asked. I was welcomed with open arms and so I pitched my tent under their back deck to avoid the dew in the morning and went in for a shower. After scraping the days grime off I went out and sat on the deck and ate my dinner watching a magnificent sunset over St. Georges Bay. I have been catching a lot of sunsets now that they occur around 8:30. This cuts down on the amount of cycling I can do in the day but since it is dark by 9:00 I at least get a good nights sleep. Which is exactly what I am going to do now.
Oh wait, one last thing that I forgot to mention yesterday. I now have a job lined up for when my trip is over! I had worked as a Research Assistant for Merck Frosst in Montreal in 1998 during my Undergraduate degree and had been in contact with my old boss since then. When I passed through Montreal a month ago I dropped in to say hello and inquired if he would be interested in have me come back to work for a bit. Well I received an e-mail while in PEI saying that there was an opening and we tentatively set a December start date which would give me plenty of time to finish my trip and relax for a bit before returning to work. Well after getting off of the ferry in Nova Scotia I called to confirm everything and found out that there was opening available now and that they wanted me to start as soon as possible. In fact the way it was put to me was "How fast can you pedal?" Well, I was not about to sacrifice the end of my trip to start work early so I requested an October start date and it worked out. So that is the scoop for now, my ETA for St. Johns, Newfoundland is around the third week of September which will give me about one week to relax at home before flying out to Montreal to start work. Busy, busy, busy.
Day 105. August 28. 131 km. Total 8063 km. Cheticamp.
Very tired...... Very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very tired. I just want to go to bed. I don't want to write anything now but if I don't I won't catch up tomorrow and it will just mean more work later and I am speaking from bitter experience.
Thighs hurt... Hips hurt... Calves hurt... Butt hurts... Even baby toe hurts... Legs are fried and the REAL climbs start tomorrow! I guess I have not recovered from the damage I did in PEI and doing 130 km today did not help the situation any. I figure it was the week off plus the poor seat that initially did the damage and then the continuous effort I have been putting out since has done the rest. I actually feel quite fatigued on top of sore so perhaps I am fighting a cold as well. Maybe all I need is a good nights rest? Something I am not going to get if I keep rambling on like this.
The road from Creignish to Port Hood was excellent, a good surface and a 2 foot wide shoulder for much of the way. The terrain was mostly small rolling hills with short, gradual climbs and a view of the water the whole way. It was quite easy. It was here that I got another flat on my rear Hutchison tire that I had bought in PEI to replace my worn out Continental Top Touring 2000 tire. This was my 3rd flat in 2 days and I was getting fed up and decided to put on a Top Touring tire I had as a spare. While I was putting it on a fellow in a pickup stopped to see if I needed any help. I said no but he stuck around and talked while I worked. Then another fellow in a pickup saw me working on my bike with the other guy standing around and HE stopped as well. Again I said I was fine but he too hung around to watch and talk with the first guy. So now there is me, two other guys, my bike and two pickups all pulled over to the side of the road. Then ANOTHER truck comes by and stops and he starts talking with the first two guys. It was a real party I tell you. It is nice to know that if I need help I will be able to get. These folks are extremely friendly. Which reminds me, when I woke up this morning I found that my host had made breakfast and so I sat down to a warm meal. We chatted and I learned that they had just won a contest sponsored by the local paper which asked for the favorite summertime activity. My host had entered "Sitting on the porch with a cold drink and trying to guess who it was in the car that honked hello while driving by." Yes, it is really true, people here honk hello if they see you sitting outside. It happened twice while I was there! What a great place to live.
From Port Hood to Inverness the road was still in good shape but the shoulder was mostly absent. It was also much hillier and the climbs got longer. By this time I was really tiring. While actually pedaling I was averaging 20 kph (slow going uphill but fast on the way down) and yet because of all the flats I had only covered 30 km in 3.5 hrs, a depressingly slow pace. In addition to all the flats the day was hot and humid which just sapped the energy from me.
On the map I saw that from Port Hood to Inverness the route was mostly inland away from the ocean and I though I was in for some more boring scenery. Was I ever in for a surprise. On the contrary the scenery from Mabou to Glenville was one of the most beautiful sections of country I have ever seen. And I mean EVER seen! At points I just had to stop in awe to take it all in, it was beautiful. Lush, forested rolling hills with crystal clear streams and rivers running through the valleys. Occasionally, the ocean could be seen in the distance. One sheep farm was in the shadow of two large hills with the ocean visible through the crack in the valley and the green hills were dotted with sheep. As I said, beautiful. It was so nice that I would seriously consider moving to this region sometime in the future. After Inverness, Hwy 19 was quite cracked and in poorer condition than before and the hills required a pretty decent effort to go up. To try and save a couple km as well as stay on the coast, I left Hwy 19 at Dunvegan and took Hwy 219 to Margaree Harbor. Again, leaving the beaten path paid huge dividends. This little side route was in excellent condition and traffic along it was non-existent. It was also very scenic as well with nice views of the ocean. At Margaree Harbor I returned to the main route which was now the Cabot Trail and continued on to Cheticamp. When I started this morning my tentative goal was to make it to Cheticamp. This was probably pushing it as it was 131 km away but in most (larger) Cape Breton communities, Saturday nights are gathering nights where they hold a Ceilidh. Essentially a party with fiddlers and dancing and stuff. Since I was on the island I really wanted to catch some authentic Gaelic\Celtic music and because I heard that Cheticamp had some I pushed on. The portion of the Cabot Trail I rode toady was in fair to poor condition, many cracks with no shoulder. Fortunately most of the cracks are in the center of the road where they did not bother me that much.
I arrived into town at 7:00 and started looking for a place to camp. Since I wanted to head out to a club after having dinner I started looking for places right in town so I would not have a far to travel. Well, it ended up taking me three attempts before I finally found someone who would let me camp. It worked out fine though because I was invited in for a shower and supper before heading out to try and find some music. Well I went to the place that was recommended but it was more Quebec folk music than Celtic so I just headed back to my tent to write this up and get some sleep. I am so beat that think that it will be a short day tomorrow to help me recover and deal with the huge hills coming up. Yikes!! It's already 12:30 am, time for bed!
Day 106. August 29. 47 km. Total 8110 km. Pleasant
Cabot trail is definitely not for novices. There are some real kick your ass climbs involved. I only did 47 km today because I did not get up until 10:30, wasn't on the road until noon and then the weather was totally brutal.
The day started off foggy and upon entering Cape Breton Highlands National Park the tops of the mountains were shrouded in mist. This leant a very Scottish feeling to the early part of the day and I would not have been surprised had I heard the haunting cries of bagpipes in the distance. After an hour or so it began to rain and I mean really pour. Fortunately, I was near a picnic spot where there was a covered shelter and was able to wait out the rain. From the park entrance just outside Cheticamp up until the Cap Rouge lookout, the riding consisted of mainly small rolling hills but man were some of them tough. I don't know if I was just really tired or if they were really steep but I really had to struggle on some of them, they felt a good 8-10%. It might have just been a case of the morning wearies though. Even with the challenging terrain the ride was beautiful as the road hugs the hills and follows along the ocean.
About 1-2 km after the Cap Rouge lookout the REAL work began. To get to the highlands you must first climb French Mountain which rises 455 meters in less than 6 km. That is a lot of elevation to do in that little distance. I have not had to climb like this since B.C. Heck, I have not used my granny gear in over 3000 km and my legs are really feeling it. Funny how after 8000 km and 106 days on the road I still get tired on hills, I would have thought I could just fly up them by now. After 6 km of heavy breathing, profuse sweating and a little cussing I made it to the summit. The effort was worth it! The scenery along this route took my breath away (figuratively and literally). Large rocky hills plunge through the road into the ocean below. Lush green valleys all around with their end and beginnings shrouded in mist. Some of these mountains look like they were plucked right from Scotland (and actually I believe that millions of years ago they actually were). From the summit of French Mountain you ride 14 km along the highlands which are unlike anything I have ridden through so far and have a character all to their own. Most of it was level with some small dips into little valleys until you reach the summit of Mackenzie Mountain which offers spectacular views of the Gulf of St Laurence and the Atlantic. The Atlantic! I am actually here and I'll be darned if the sea breeze isn't a bit cooler and saltier.
From the top of Mackenzie Mountain there is a killer 5 km descent into the town of Pleasant Bay. I am glad I don't have to climb that one on the way back!
Tonight I just opted for bush camping so I could get to bed early. I am tired of being tired. Perhaps all you fellow touring cyclists out there can shed some light on this. I am curious if you have ever experienced on long tours what I am going through now. I think that I am having a sort of mid-tour crisis, cyclist burnout, stuck in a rut, whatever you want to call it. Right now I am camped 2 km north of Pleasant Bay on a cliff with a stunning view of the ocean and have just watched another sun set and yet I just feel.. Well, blah.. The euphoria is not there. Have I seen so many magnificent sites and beautiful sunsets that they just don't move me the same way anymore? Or could it be that a combination of sore legs, headache, tail end of a cold and general fatigue is just bringing me down? I'm tired. I'm sore. I'm lonely. I'm thinking about that girl in Quebec. Almost feel like crying. But this feeling of blah is not constant, I get mood swings. Some of the views and mountains I saw today did cause me to stop and pause yet others did not. Oh well, I guess I will just wait it out and hope it passes.
Sorry folks about the poorer quality of this writing as opposed to my earlier entries. I guess my mood affects this too.
Day 107. August 30. 100 km. Total 8210 km. Wreck
The good feelings return. I'm back to normal, well as normal a crazy cross-country cyclist can be ;-) I believe a couple of things contributed to my current good attitude. First and foremost I had a good 10 hours sleep last night which I really, really needed. Second, today was perfect for cycling, crisp, cool and clear. I awoke this morning to find that fall had arrived in the Maritimes. The air was cool and crisp and the sun did not seem to shine down as intense as before. And on top of it all the scenery today was stunning. Large forested hills of Maple and Birch contrasting beautifully with the deep blue and green of the Atlantic ocean. The ride was challenging with two big climbs but it seems like I have shaken off the fatigue that had been plaguing me since PEI and finally recovered my mountain legs. Within the park the road continued to be in excellent shape and much of it had a shoulder. Outside of the park the road is somewhat more cracked but the edge of the road was generally good. I should qualify this by saying that right now the traffic is really non-existent as it is the Monday before school starts and all the tourists are back home. Cycling on this road during the tourist season would likely be a hazardous, hair raising experience. That said I would still bike it even if there were wall to wall motor homes (which apparently there are in August) because the scenery it too nice to miss. The climbs? Well there are a lot of them. From Pleasant Bay it is gently rolling to Lone Shieling (don't forget to check out a really cool Scottish Crofters hut built and maintained by the government as required by the fellow who deeded them this 300 acres) where I had to start climbing the 445 meters of North Mountain. It was straight up for 3.5 km, level for about 1 km then another 1 km climb to the summit. The first 3.5 km were by far the worst section today in terms of steepness. It took me a full 50 min to get up it. I would crawl up in my granny gear for 1 km then stop and eat 5 Oreos and drink a can of Coke. Then climb another 1 km then stop and sugar up some more. This was repeated several more times until I reached the top and started down the other side. WOW!!! Up until now the only time I have really used my brakes going down a hill was on Rogers Pass in B.C. Well I think that today I wore more off my brakes than I did in the last three months. The grade going downhill was so steep I had to lean back in my seat for fear of flipping my bike. It had to be a 15% grade at least! If I let off my brakes I was up to 60 kph in under 10 seconds. I would quickly slow down because there were so many switchbacks that had I not I would have gone flying off of a ledge. It was so steep that when cars would pass me I could smell their brakes burning. The views though were unbelievable. I can't describe them in words, you will have to see them for yourself (or check out my pictures when I finally get them up). In Cape North I stopped for a meal and while I was sitting there chowing down a tourist couple from Quebec came up to me and asked where I was biking from. I told them a bit about my trip and before they left they gave me twenty dollars to buy dinner!!!!! Wow, what a nice surprise! From Cape North to Neil Cove I climbed for 9 km then descended for 9 km. From Neil Cove to Ingonish was alternating stiff climbs with fast descents. This section was all coastline then I reached the final big climb of the day, Smokey Mountain. Compared to French and North mountain this one was a joke. The climb was a steady gradual 260 meter climb over 6.6 km (which is double the distance to cover ½ the height when compared to North Mountain), I did not have to stop once. Of course if you were traveling the trail in the opposite direction it would be another matter. Going down I had to ride the brakes again. Switchbacks, hairpin corners and a snake-like winding road made it extremely hazardous. At the bottom of the mountain I was pretty pooped so I decided to call it quits for the day in the next town.
Get this. Small (deserted) community of Wreck Cove (pop:30). Young, single mom living in a mobile home. Me, a tired (and smelly?) cycle tourist. In the city what do you think my chances of finding a place to stay would be? Here I was welcomed into her home and then she left with her son to visit her mom in the next town, leaving me in her house to have a shower and make dinner! I told you these folks are friendly. I had a shower, a shave and a good meal then talked on the phone (using my calling card of course) to some friends back home. She came home around 10:00 and I chatted a bit with her before heading to my tent to write this up and head to bed. The night is crystal clear and the stars are out in full force. The ocean glitters like a sea full of diamonds and while I was sitting here watching it I saw a fox meander through the yard not more than 20 feet away. Right now back in my tent I can hear the surf roaring in the background lulling me to sleep. Have I said recently how much I love bicycle touring?
Tomorrow I think I am going to have a short day.
It is only 70 km to North Sydney where the ferry leaves for Newfoundland.
It is a 6 hour ferry trip and the 6:00 ferry I could catch would not get
me there until midnight which is much too late for me. I think I will
just meander into town and hit the library to do some typing and then
find a place to stay for the night.