Does the idea of biking the Cabot Trail intrigue you? If you are one who thinks that you couldn’t do that, think again. With the proper planning, it just may be possible. Here’s what Hannah and I learned about biking the 300 kilometre (~190 miles) loop trail in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.
Have a damn good reason to take on the challenge. Though doable, this is no walk in the park. When you get weary in the third, fifth, or seventh hour of biking, you’ve got to have a good reason to stay motivated.
The Cabot Trail in Cape Breton HIghlands National Park, Nova Scotia
For me I was taken by the physical challenge of just seeing if I could actually ride 190 miles and hills in faraway Cape Breton. As those who know Hannah will not surprised, she wanted to push herself beyond her everyday boundaries.
The Maritime Provinces of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia
We are country mice. Getting away is our “go to” choice. When we travel, we often choose the mountain West, coastal California away from LA and SF, and the Maritime Provinces of Canada.
There is no time like the present. How much longer will we be able to do such physical challenges? My Phoenix, Arizona elementary school principal, John Laidlaw, said, Tomorrow never comes. Chew on that while you carpe your diem.
Let’s be honest. The cool factor plays into much of the challenges I take on. It seemed cool to run a marathon so I ran the Fiesta Bowl Marathon in 1981. It seemed cool to visit all 50 states as a family (49 down with Hawaii to go!). And it seemed cool to learn how to juggle and now I am hired out for parties (Not really, but I can juggle). Certainly it being cool is not enough of a reason by itself, but it is cool to say we’ve biked the Cabot Trail.
Lastly this trip gave us an opportunity to stay at B&Bs where we could toast our day’s ride with a glass of Shiraz, interact with some local Cape Bretoners, and have a family home breakfast before we hit the road.
Beginning the assault of North Mountain
Fitness. As over-60 athletes, we have been exercising for 40 some years. Not uber-exercisers, we just put in the daily work. The downside of running for 30 years is that our knees have said no mas to any more running. The upside is that as over-65 athletes we are now “going to the gym” fit.
I did have right knee issues after both the second and third days of biking 7 to 8 hours. That said, each morning after, I could ride again just fine. Once the entire ride was done, it was three to four weeks before my right knee felt totally right and six weeks before my energy returned to its pre-ride level.
Mountains. French and North Mountain in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park are beasts. They are more than two miles of long, steady 11 to 13% climbs. We did walk up part of North Mountain with our bikes. To train for these steep grades, we did not seek out the highest mountains in Maine. We biked some local hills and left it at that.
Camping or Bed and Breakfasts?
For us, it is B&Bs with a queen bed and breakfast each morning before we hit the road. We stayed in four B&Bs and the reviews are below.
Baddeck Riverside B&B in Baddeck, Cape Breton – $90 Laverne, the innkeeper, is par excellence; she has personality, spunk, and a sweetness; we felt like old friends right away. For privacy, it can’t be beat as it is a one room B&B. There is an additional room, even two, to let, but that’s only if everyone knows each other. The bathroom is spacious; there’s an expansive bedroom view of the Baddeck River. This B&B is four miles from the Cabot Trail out a rural road, but well worth the drive. Bikes can be conveniently stowed in their barn.
On the Cabot Trail in Cheticamp, Cape Breton
L’Auberge Doucet Inn, Cheticamp, Cape Breton – $85 + tax – With eleven rooms it is more motel than B&B right on the Cabot Trail. The private bathroom and spacious interior make it feel luxuorious. Since we were preseason, they upgraded our room to one with a king bed which had room for our bikes. There is a café rather than a dining room for breakfast; we ordered off a small menu. With an outside deck that looks across the bay to Cheticamp Island, it was ideal for that evening glass of wine.
Hannah at the Country Haven B&B in Cape North, Nova Scotia
Country Haven B&B, Cape North, Cape Breton – $80 – In this family home with two B&B rooms, it is quite private with a modern bathroom and access to their comfortable living room. Andrea’s Restaurant (4 of 4 stars) on the Cabot Trail itself is conveniently located 100 yards down the hill. To supplement breakfast these innkeepers had a side table with cereals, especially helpful for the energy demands of bicyclists. They adjusted the breakfast time when we got up early.
Pamela’s B&B on the final morning of our four day ride on the Cabot Trail
Pamela’s B&B, St. Ann’s Cape Breton – $70 – Pamela and Donald are a likeable couple who asked us when we wanted breakfast rather than offering a specific range of breakfast serving times. With two rooms for guests, the one bathroom needed to be shared. And the small tub has only a hand held nozzle so getting a good soaking shower after a day on the road was not easy.
Along the Margaree River Valley to the Gulf of St. Lawrence on the Cabot Trail
Seasonal Timing. By biking during the first week in June, we took advantage of pre-season rates at the B&Bs. Since there is far less road traffic at that time, Hannah and I were able to ride side by side for 97% of our ride. There is a peace and calm to be found on the island of Cape Breton during the preseason.
Hannah with panniers packed on the Cabot Trail along the seacoast of Cape Breton
Suitable clothing and biking gear. Temperatures during the first week of June can be mornings in the 40s and daily highs in the 50s. That said, our first two days on the road were 75F. We were prepared with sweatshirts, biking tights, jackets, and gloves. Rain can come at any time so our ponchos were a must.
A good sport and fun-loving
We each took all that would fit into two panniers (bicycle saddle bags). We wore biking shorts, black biking tights, long sleeve tee shirts, sweatshirt (Hannah two jackets), reflective yellow vest, and Merrill sandals for biking. I had extra dry-fit Under Armour-type shirts, socks and underwear, open toe sandals and extra shorts for the evening. Each morning I liberally applied Bag Balm to my thighs.
Biking tools? We had an Allen wrench for adjustments and spare tires and tools for changing flats. With only one bike shop in Cheticamp, small vehicle repair shops may be able to fix tires as they did for us on Prince Edward Island last year. If we did break down irreparably, we were going to hitchhike; there were locals with pick-up trucks to transport our bikes and us, if need be. We never did test this theory.
Find someone compatible to ride with. For us, the experience was heightened and made legendary by biking with each other. For me, the ride doesn’t happen without Hannah.
Descending Cape Smokey Mountain in five minutes
Sense of adventure. If you look to experience what you have no idea that you might experience, this may be the ride for you. Are you curious and wonder about the people beyond your geographical area? This may be the ride for you. Are you resilient and have faith that you will find a way when things don’t go as planned, then this may be the ride for you.
Take four days, five, even six or seven to complete your ride. Be at one with the road. More commonly, people drive the Cabot Trail. Maybe that is your cup of tea. Our cup had two wheels, each other, and the wind at our backs.
When biking long distances, know thyself and thy limits. Be prepared.