Walking to the bathroom just before dawn, I find that my tender right knee shows none of the balkiness and cramping from yesterday’s ride. With 113 kilometres (~70 miles) of biking today, I can do the math: we have eight give-or-take hours in the bicycle saddle and I need two good knees. Fortunately we have none of the steep mountains of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park today.
With my panniers lined with plastic to protect my clothes from the forecasted drizzle (Hannah’s yellow panniers are waterproof), we have overcast skies after two sunny days in the 70s. Relieved that our monster day through the mountains is over, we know that a long day in the saddle this Wednesday means we have only 30 some kilometres of biking tomorrow.
Pedaling out of the wee town of Cape North, we reenter the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Our first ascent is South Mountain, a welcome change to its big brother, North Mountain, who bullied us yesterday. Chilly and damp, our morning ride requires sweatshirts and jackets with Hannah in her biking tights and I in my biking shorts. At the beginning of the biking day, we steadily climb the 6% grade of South Mountain. Now, whenever we have a climb, we say, It’s not North Mountain. (See last week’s blog [June 21, 2014] about the ass kicking North Mountain gave us.)
How do we pass the time riding side by side on the Cabot Trail for hours on end? We search for meaty topics and dive in. Today we talk about what we want when in conversation with others. Often conversations begin with the sharing of information. Clearly, that can be an important prelude to meaningful dialogue. What takes conversation to the next level is the back-and-forthness of genuine interest and curiosity. Thankfully, the distraction of this conversation takes us kilometres down the Cabot Trail.
By noon, we arrive in Ingonish but sadly learn that there is no Coop grocery store in town for salads and fruit for our lunch. Buying two bananas for a dollar, we split one and head for Cape Smokey Mountain; we’ll lunch on peanut butter on bagels and last night’s pizza once we find a picnic table.
At North Bay, we pass Ski Cape Smokey Mountain, which should have been our first clue that this part of the ride will be no walk in the park. Though the guide says we have 5% grade over three kilometres, we take the guide with a barrel of salt since it has erred before on its calculations of the grades of mountains in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park; we will soon learn that it has erred again. We climb and climb some more. It’s a persistent, unrelenting climb on a cloudy, overcast day.
Out of nowhere we have another major climb, albeit slow and steady; but unexpected on a day when we thought our biggest challenges would be just pedaling 70 miles along the east coast of Cape Breton. With no place for lunch on the side of the road, we bike on for the next hour.
At the summit, we find a picnic area atop of old Cape Smokey after what I am guessing has been a relentless climb of 12 to 15 kilometres. Cycling in on the gravel road to the picnic tables, we have been on the road for nearly six hours with miles to go before we sleep. While the greying overcast looms, Wally and Phyllis from the States welcome us over to lunch with them.
Over the next hour, we learn that Wally and Phyllis are the daily double of friendship: they are interesting and interested. A winning combination in couples. We connect immediately over the joys and challenges of raising children, biking throughout the Northeast and Canada, our life journeys, and eventually learn they have a child with leukemia, as did we. Interestingly, how when you feel safe with others and there is mutual interest, these stories of the heart come out. We hug them good-bye as if we are old friends.
While they drive off, we know that we still have three hours of biking til we arrive at Pamela’s B&B in St. Ann’s. The descent of Cape Smokey Mountain to Wreck Cove (ominous name indeed?) is something out of downhill racer. Braking most of the time, we descend the mountain in less than five minutes when it took us more than an hour to climb the other side.
Making good time on the level coastal ride and feeling good, I then feel the first rain drop on my left hand just after 3p. Then another. A steady drizzle forces us to the side of the road to change into our rain ponchos. By this evening, 90% of our bike riding of the Cabot Trail will have been completed so we just push on. We can do what it takes to get to Pamela’s as we pass through Skir Dhu (Gaelic), Little River, and North Shore. (These “towns” are, in fact, a few houses on either side of the Cabot Trail.)
The showery rain goes from drizzle to serious rain and back to showers. Without roadside kilometre signs, we have no idea how far we have gone, but every pedal gets us one meter closer to our night’s B&B. Beyond the point of wanting to take pictures with my iPhone, we pass the occasional farm house and craft shop, but our focus is the rain spitting road ahead.
Told by Pamela that we will turn at a long white church, we think it’s got to be close since we have pedaled for two hours since our Cape Smokey picnic. Finding it, I dismount and walk to the door of the church with my right knee cramping and barking. No one is about, and I hobble back to my bike and painfully remount. I will pay for having dismounted.
When looking back down the road from where we have come, we see a sign that indicates we have come 91 kms from Cape North. Doing the simple math, we calculate that we still have 22 kilometres (~ 14 miles) to go. Crushed and dispirited, I was hoping we were so much closer. The pain shoots up and down my right leg and hovers around my knee; I say to Hannah I can’t go on. You go ahead. She suggests I get back on the bike and see what happens. I say, Please ride ahead and have Pamela come back to get me.
Hannah pedals on and I give it a shot and put my feet in my toe clips and let the left leg carry the load. Fortunately, I find it easier to bike than walk. The rain having stopped, I decide to pedal as far as I can until I can go no more. The faster I go the less painful my right knee is. So I go for it. In minutes, I race pass Hannah hoping to just make it as close to Pamela’s as I can before keeling over. My right knee/leg cramp doesn’t allow me to pedal on the downhills, but it goes along for the ride when my left leg takes on the hills.
Having no idea where Pamela’s is, I make it the ride of my life. One pedal after another. And then, as life deals me good cards again, I spot the Pamela’s B&B sign some 8 kilometres (~5 miles) this side of the village center of St. Ann’s. My thirty minutes of bent-on-hell biking gets me to the uphill driveway leading to Pamela’s.
Limping, I am greeted by Pamela and Donald. Parking my bike under the wood pile tree, I wait for Hannah, who will arrive ten minutes later.
I can’t believe I made it – that we made it! Thankfully I won’t have to get on the bike for another 15 hours after biking 106 kilometres over the last eight hours. We are so fortunate the rain held off til after our ski slope descent of Cape Smokey; so fortuante that Pamela’s was on this side of St. Ann’s; and so very thankful that we only have 34 kms tomorrow to Baddeck to complete the Cabot Trail.
After warm showers, we toast our good fortune in the B&B living room, and feel like we have basically finished the ride with 90% of the 300 kilometres of the Cabot Trail in the books. We do await what surprises lie ahead tomorrow- our last day on the road.