Chapter 3: Nova Scotia and The Cabot Trail

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Kirsty and I were pretty sad to be leaving Newfoundland last week. We spent the last few days with Gerard at his honey farm in Placentia, being put to work building fences and clearing rocks for planting quinoa along with Kari and Elena from Mexico. It was great to have a good break from cycling and to stay in one place for a few nights. Gerard was also super generous and took us out to see the gannet colony at Cape St Mary’s on our last day. 70000 gannets – what a way to see out our first province!! Newfoundland was a big challenge (cold, windy and hilly!) but the people we met made it unforgettable.
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On the way to the Cape we spotted another cyclist who was packed up looking like a tourer, so we pulled over to say hello. Adrienne had been cycling since March around Eastern Canada and was due to get the same ferry as us that afternoon. We were super excited about a potential new friend (!!!) and we ended up meeting another cyclist, Pete, on the boat too.

The 16 hour ferry ride wasn’t actually too bad… we spent the first couple of hours chatting with Pete and Adrienne, exchanging stories and plans and eating at the buffet. Three sea sickness tablets later and I was out for the count, waking up two hours before the boat docked in New Sydney. Just enough time to write a couple of postcards and have a shower before we cycled off on to Nova Scotia.

The weather was initially a bit drizzly and grey, but we stopped in for coffee and some breakfast with Pete and Adrienne. We were all planning to head towards the Cabot Trail, voted one of North America’s best scenic drives. Pete  had organised to hire a car and drive the trail, as it is quite a detour off the East – West journey and he planned some different detours on his was to Vancouver. Although Kirsty and I were already behind “schedule”, we decided to join Adrienne for her ride around the trail. We’d been told it was worth the miles and the hills, and we figured we could make the time up elsewhere.

We had to do about 30km on the Trans-Canada highway to get out of North Sydney and on to the Cabot Trail. Kirsty and I had mostly avoided it in Newfoundland, so I found the business in Nova Scotia a bit terrifying! Cars pass at 120kmph and it feels like they are centimeters away… It’s noisy and busy, and with the drizzle and wind just wasn’t that enjoyable. Turning off in to Englishtown was such a relief.
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As soon as we hit the Cabot Trail I was in love. We opted to take a short cut and took a 5 minute ferry from Englishtown to Jersey Cove (which was free for cyclists!) and then cycled along a causeway for a few kilometers. We started to look for a place to pitch our tents, but we came across “Joyful Campsite” and at $12 each decided to treat ourselves for the night. There were heaps of RVs but we were the only tents and had a pitch right on the waterfront. Kirsty even managed to hang her hammock and both her and Adrienne went for a swim, so we were all loving it.

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We left camp the following morning just before 10am, and had a really cruisy first 25km. Cape Breton is just stunning, and the Cabot Trail takes in some amazing coast line. We stopped at the Dancing Moose Cafe following a recommendation, and oh my god I had the best pancake I’ve ever had!! It helped of course that the staff were super friendly, there were chickens on the doorstep, and we sat in the sun. A great way to start our Cabot Trail journey.wp-1498216752927.jpg

The next 25km were more challenging… I felt really heavy (pancakes!) going up even small hills and then we were faced with Cape Smokey – apparently the 10th worst hill for cyclists in Canada. It’s only a 211m gain but climbs this over 2.2km. It’s steep! You get to look up on the climb from below, and the first corner made us all fall off our bikes as we instantly lost momentum! It was steaming hot and for once there was very little wind, so it was kind of torture. We got lots of encouraging toots and smiles from passing cars coming up and down the mountain, and thankfully weren’t overtaken by any other bikes. As we reached the top though, a campervan pulled over and a cyclist climbed out!! He didn’t even have any bags… what a cheat!!
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The downhill was really fun and as we pulled in near the bottom a man from a hotel office came out with drinks for us! We downed them quickly, cycled on a bit further before stopping at an ice cream shop for a longer break to escape the burning heat. We’d done about 50km and planned to do another 20 or 30, but after 60km we were all done in. We pulled in to a little harbour and asked a couple in a house if we could camp on the beach in front. It turned out they owned the land so they showed us round the back of their property where it was flatter, slightly more sheltered and we had a private beach (where we all went for a swim!) and a view over the cliffs.

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After quite a restless night in some pretty strong wind, we set off before 8am for what would be our hottest, hilliest, longest and furthest day!! It was already 27 degrees when we got going and was hilly straight away. It was really pretty though and after 20km we turned off the main road to take a scenic coastal route. We were passed by the support vehicle for 5 touring cyclists (one of the men’s wives who was driving their stuff between campsites) and she stopped to give us all some powerade at the top of one of the hills. Not long afterwards, my chain came off while trying to drop down gears too quickly up a steep hill, so the said 5 cyclists caught us up and overtook us, rather smugly for a group not carrying any gear!

We stopped around noon for some coffee and wifi, having already covered almost 40km. We stopped again along the road a bit for some shade and packed lunch, before setting off again around 3pm. We knew we had two more “big hills” on the Cabot Trail and were keen to get through one of them before stopping for the night. The next 30km were killer. It rained, was windy and was hot!! We were all feeling tired from a lack of sleep and the previous 40km, so the next hills felt extra hard. The “big hill” (North Mountain) went on FOREVER! It wasn’t as steep as Cape Smokey, but was longer and took about two hours to do the 12km or so of up. Adrienne was a good motivation for both me and Kirsty, and we were so, so glad to get it done. The downhill was AMAZING, I clocked 58kmph before I got scared and put the brakes on, but the roads were emptying and we had the place mostly to ourselves.

We stopped near the bottom of the hill at MacIntosh Brook campsite, an unmanned Parks Canada campsite. As it is Canada’s 150th birthday this year, lots of entry fees to National Parks are waived, so we got this campsite for free. There were signs up warning about bears and coyotes, so we cooked and stored our food inside the hut, and made sure we had no rubbish lying around. I thought I was going to be up all night worrying about it, but after the long day I was fast asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow, and didn’t wake up til the morning.

We set off early again, excited to get over the last “big hill”. It was so much better tackling the hill in the morning, and it was so incredibly beautiful again. We stopped at every viewpoint for a rest and to take pictures, and just took our time going up. We thought we reached the top quite a few times, but more steep sections kept on coming just around the corner. McKenzie and French mountains kind of merged together, but after 40km we were at the bottom of them both, enjoying our packed lunches again. The downhill of French mountain was the best ever. If you google The Cabot Trail, it is what the pictures are of. I really wished I’d had my GoPro on video so I could relive the exhiliration, but I guess there will be more like it to come over the next 7000km. The satisfaction of pushing to the top of a big mountain, enjoying the view at the top then cruising down the other side is totally addictive.

We stopped in Cheticamp for a couple of cakes, and then a fish burger. We hung around for a couple of hours while Adrienne got her bike fixed at a local shop before we headed to Grand Etang where we had arranged a Warmshowers stop for the night. Kevin cooked us fish that he’d caught the day before and entertained us with stories of other cyclists he’d had passing through. We slept soundly inside before a delicious breakfast and setting off on the road again!

The cycling from here was easy, we were all feeling pretty slow so just took our time along all the undulations. We stopped after 12km for a coffee and (two) grilled cheese sandwiches, and to also catch up with Wifi and emails. We then cruised for another 45km to the little town of Inverness. The cycle was beautiful, the road was quiet, the wind was soft and the sun was shining. Kirsty and I treated ourselves to a paid campsite at Inverness Beach so we could have a swim, shower and rest. If only Day 1 Kirsty and Lauren could see us now!!

We managed to work ourselves up a lot after hearing stories of coyote and bear attacks, so when we were in the campsite we made sure to store our food away from our tents. Unfortunately, we woke up to a raven-caused-massacre the next day. They’d pecked apart my dry bag full of food, eaten all my cereal bars and most of our porridge. Then left the rubbish and dragged the remains in to the woods. I hate ravens!! But at least it wasn’t coyotes… and it’s actually quite nice having one less bag…
After Inverness, we cycled on to Creignish. 69km passed with ease and I really loved crusing along yet making great progress at the same time. We stopped off in Mabou for a snack and again in Judique for a coffee at the Celtic Music Centre. The scottish heritage along the Cape Breton coast is really cool, almost more Scottish than Scotland! We started to look for somewhere to camp around Creignish, and ended up knocking on a door to camp in a garden. We were lucky to be warmly welcomed by Keith and Bernadette, who had a great view over the ocean and cooked us a delicious breakfast the following morning. Another case of Canadian hospitality that we will never forget.

We had quite a wet and windy night and the next day was very humid, but we cycled on for another 73km to Antigonish. It was a pretty non-descript day and most of the time I felt like pulling over for a nap. The wind picked up around lunch time, so by the time we reached Antigonish and I had a plate of poutine in front of me I was extremely happy. We had organised a warmshowers stay and were to be there for 7pm, so we wasted some time in the local craft beer bar. I had a taster board of 6 local Nova Scotian beers, the Big Spruce Kitchen Party Ale being the clear winner for me! Yum. We were hosted by Sarah and Chad in Antigonish who were an amazingly inspirational couple, and sent us off again with a great breakfast and a warm fuzzy feeling.

Our last cycle day in Nova Scotia was a beautifully sunny day so we decided to take the scenic road between Antigonish and New Glasgow. It took us through Arisaig, Knoydart and Lismore, all places from near by us in Scotland. The coast was beautiful and while we were in a gas station we got talking to a man who, as it turned out, was on the Warmshowers website. He invited us to fill up our bottles with cold water so we stopped in with him and his wife about 10km down the road. They had an amazing property right next to a river with lots of land, and they bought it for about £40k! Think we might move here…!

We’re now in New Glasgow enjoying a rest day being helped out by Alasdair and Cheryl, my friend’s dad’s cousins. We’re now at 938.1km total, and have done 100km more in the last week than our whole time in Newfoundland. Nova Scotia has been super special, warm and green and beautiful, and we are stoked to be ticking off our second province. Bring on Prince Edward Island tomorrow!
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We have been asked “Why?” a lot on this trip. Why Canada? Why cycling? Why now? And although we say something different each time, the best answer we’ve come up with so far is “Why not?”. A week is an emotional rollercaster, and even in a day I have lots of ups and downs. But the ups are always worth the downs, and the views we’ve been having are priceless. This is my biggest challenge to date, but I’m so glad I’m pushing myself one day at a time to get it done 🙂

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2 Comments

  1. Am so glad that you enjoyed the Cabot Trail and the other bits of Nova Scotia that you cycled – just as I’m so glad that you enjoyed Newfoundland’s “Irish Loop” – you’ve definitely cycled some of the best of eastern Canada with those two routes. It was great to be your host and ‘gofer’ when you were here – glad that you and Kirsty got so much done during your day off. All the best to the pair of you for the rest of your trip – am sure you’ll make lots and lots and lots of friends across this great land we call Canada 🙂

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