Dan and Hannah Hike the Uisge Ban Falls Trail in Cape Breton au Canada

Cape G map

How’s your Gaelic?  Take a crack at pronouncing the name of these falls.  See below.  I’m buying coffee all around when you nail this one.

With a sendoff breakfast of oatmeal, cut up fruit, and an introduction to the ugly stick, Hannah and I leave the loving embrace of Laverne and Gordon of the Baddeck Riverside B&B in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.

Uisge 1B G, L, and D

Gordon, Laverne, and the Bomber

Uisge 1C H and L with fish

Laverne and Hannah in August in Cape Breton

What is an ugly stick, you ask?  The ugly stick is a traditional musical instrument from Newfoundland made out of household items and those from tool sheds such as a mop handle, bottle caps, tin cans, small bells, and other noise makers.

Before we drive the 370 miles from Baddeck, Nova Scotia back to our friends Bill and Karen in Fredericton, New Brunswick for the overnight, we hit the trail one more time with waterfalls being gentle on our mind. (homage to the late great Glen Campbell)

Uisge map to falls

Uisge 2 UB sign

Uisge 2B map of trail

Following Gordon’s hand-drawn map to the park, we take to country road along the Baddeck River to the left turn for Uisge Ban Falls Provincial Park.  With only one other car in the lot, we’ll have a peace and love experience on the along the brook on this early August Wednesday.

Uisge 3B H on trail

Uisge 3C D on trail

Uisge 3D H on trail

Immediately this tree-covered level trail hugs a stream strewn with rocks and promises that will soon propel our getaway drive in the next hour.  Unfortunately, the trail bridge over the creek is out so we don’t have the Baddeck River view part of the trail.  Another good reason to return to Cape Breton.

Uisge 3A trail closed

Washed out trail bridge

Uisge 3E H on trail

Within 20 minutes we arrive at the end of the boulder-y trail to the sweet sound of crashing water.  Enjoy the video.

Uisge 4A falls again

 

(Please forgive the misspelling of Uisge in the video title)  Returning to the trailhead, we have hit the jackpot in our Cape Breton holiday.  We know that we’ll be back, and back soon; to drive the 700 miles from York to Cape Breton and then take the seven-hour ferry from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland to explore its trails and toast its sunsets and perhaps get our own ugly stick!

Uisge map of newfie

Pronunciation of Uisge Ban Falls – ISH-KA-ban.  I’m buying you coffee anyway.  Just text me when’s a good time.

Dan and Hannah Hike the Middle Head Trail in Cape Breton au Canada

Leaving the northern reaches of the National Park, we drive by the hamlet of Cape North, where five years ago we spent the second of our three nights while biking the 300 kilometre Cabot Trail.  That third morning we awoke to light rain but had no choice but to pedal on.  Here is an excerpt from Day 3 on the Cabot Trail with pictures.

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Cape Breton Highlands National Park

[After six hours of biking], I dismount and walk to the door of the church with my right knee cramping and barking with the ferocity of an angry bulldog.  No one is about, and I hobble back to my bike and painfully remount.  Little do I know that I will pay for having dismounted.  The pain shoots up and down my right leg and sets up camp in my knee; I say to Hannah, “Go ahead.  I can’t go on.”  She suggests I get back on the bike and see what happens.  I say, “Please ride ahead and have Pamela [owner of the B&B where we will stay tonight] come back to get me.”

Hannah pedals on and I decide to 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.

Middle H past D and H ready to ride

Middle H past H chilly at brook

Middle H past H at Smokey Mt

Smokey Mountain

Middle H past D ready to ride

Middle H past H with rain gear

Today as we drive where we previously biked, we can’t believe how tediously long today’s 70 miles of paved road seems.  Trees, streams, and small houses of Cape Breton are iconic but lose their charm after all day in the bike saddle.

We motor through Ingonish, Ingonish Center up the long climb of Smokey Mountain; we are in awe of what we accomplished on the third day of our biking adventure five years ago.

A little after 5P this afternoon, we turn off the Cabot Trail, snake our way for two kilometres by the Keltic Lodge to the trailhead for our third modest hike of the day (see map above).  Choosing the rocky and rooted trail to the south, we hike through the woods, with the occasional view through the pines to the cliffs above the Atlantic.

Middle H 1 trail out

Middle H 3 rocky trail out

Middle H 4 cove

The trail back is level and pleasing to the feet, but we are hiking-and-driving-weary at 630 PM, yet grateful for another hour of wilderness hiking 700 miles from home.

Middle H 7 D on trail back

With an hour drive back to Laverne and Gordon at their Baddeck Riverside B&B, we are coming home.  Pulling in at 730P, we are greeted by Laverne mowing the lawn who says that we’ve been waiting for you (with a “so glad you are here” vibe), shower if you’d like, and we’ll sit on the front porch with wine before dinner.

We relax high above the Baddeck Riviere.

Cleanse Beddeck River

Click here for the full account of Day 3 of our biking the Cabot Trail five years ago and click here for the final Day 4.

Dan and Hannah Hike to the Waterfalls of the Macintosh Brook Trail in Cape Breton

After hiking to the cliffs above the Gulf of St Lawrence on the Skyline Trail in the Cape Breton Highlands Provincial National Park earlier in the morning, midday we take to the park road reminiscing of biking adventures past on the Cabot Trail.  How five years ago we barely pedaled up MacKenzie Mountain and later had to walk our hybrid bikes up the final half mile of the granddaddy of them all, North Mountain.

01_05_03_CapeBrtHighNP

Cape Breton Highlands National Park – Five years we spent our first night in Cheticamp, our second night in Cape North, and our third night in St. Ann’s.

MacKenzie was a four kilometre climb at an 11% grade that five years ago had Hannah and me in our lowest gear pedaling successfully to the summit.  Enjoy the excerpt and pictures from our bike climb that day.

I don’t sleep well.  With the serious mountains of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park looming, Hannah and I wake before five AM as dawn streams in around the shades this third of June.  Uncertainty lies before us.  We have no idea what to expect and have little choice but to pedal on into the mountains as our Hyundai Elantra is 60 miles back in Baddeck.  We like to think we are resourceful in the face of such physical challenges.  Well, let’s just see if we can walk the walk?

Sky CT along the cliffs

Sky H biking up

Sky D at steep signs

Sky H with panniers

Today, after passing the marina at Pleasant Bay, we remember the unrelenting climb to North Mountain, our personal Waterloo.  After a kilometre of effort, we said no mas and could bike no more.  Dismounting but not defeated, we pushed our bikes to the mountaintop knowing that successfully biking up two out of three these bad boy mountains ain’t bad (homage to Meatloaf).

Midday, we have no such drama as our perky Prius takes the mountains as you might expect a car would do on paved road!  After lunching at a picnic table at the trailhead of the Macintosh Brook trail, we enter the forest for the second of our three hikes this day.

Mac B brook itself

 

Mac B D on trail by brookA mere twenty minutes to the falls, the level trail along the brook is rocky and rooted, but not challenging in the least.  Tree-covered the entire way, the wide path takes us to a waterfalls fifty feet away.  Our grandsons Owen and Max would romp to these falls in half the time.  Enjoy the video.

Mac B H at falls

Though modest, the trail gives us forty minutes of exercise and a few thousand more steps on our Fitbits.  We are living the vacation hikers dream on this island paradise that seems within sight of Greenland (a much coveted land mass these days).

Click here for the Day 2 blog of our biking the Cabot Trail.

Dan and Hannah Hike the Skyline Trail in Cape Breton au Canada

Coffee blueberry pancakes

As we did five years ago, this morning we feast on Laverne’s blueberry pancakes and cut-up fruit bowl of cantaloupe, strawberries, grapes, and peaches at her Baddeck (Nova Scotia) Riverside B&B.  Unlike 2014 when we set out on our hybrid bicycles for four days pedaling on the 190-mile paved Cabot Trail, today we are going to mellow out and drive the entire trail by sunset.  Soft?  You could make a case for that.

Cape G map of CT

Five years ago, it took til mid-afternoon for us to bike the 55 miles from Baddeck to Cheticamp along the Atlantic Ocean.   Today by 11A we have arrived.

Here’s an excerpt with pictures from the blog of our first day biking the Cabot Trail five years ago.

 

 

Within the first hour we have our first climb to the top of Hunter Mountain.  It’s a 5% grade for two kilometres which requires steady pedaling in lower gears. It turns out to be very doable and our confidence builds.  Zipping down the far side, Hannah leans over her handlebars and rockets down the hill.  A little less steady and less confident, I sit tall in the bike saddle to let the wind resistance slow my rapid descent.

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Cape Breton Highlands National Park

Sky day 1 h and b and bikes

Ready to ride (2014) in front of the Baddeck Riverside B&B with the Baddeck River in the distance

Sky day 1A h with bike

Sky day 1B D with bike

Approaching Cheticamp

Sky day 1C Cheticamp sign

Today, driving 10 miles north of Cheticamp, we pull into the Visitor Center of the Cape Breton Highlands Provincial Park, each pay $6.80 Canadian for admission, and ask Liam, a park ranger, what’s the signature hike in the park.

Sky 1 CT sign

August 2019

Sky 1B D and H on cliffs before Cheticamp

Approaching Cheticamp (2019)

Without hesitation, he offers up the Skyline Trail.  That will take us past French Mountain, our first seriously steep, give-it-our-all, low gear climb in the park five years ago.  Open from mid-May through the end of October, the Skyline Trail is rated easy as it is a gently sloping two miles to the headland cliff with a modest 400’ of elevation gain back to the trailhead.

Due its modest challenge, the Skyline Trail has lots of folks during this first week of August.  For the most part, they so Canadian.  And by that I mean, they are polite, upbeat, and amazingly tolerant of their entitled American neighbors to the south.

Digging life among happy vacationers of all body types, Hannah and I walk side-by-side on a trail of crushed gravel that rarely gets our heart pumping.  The trail is a delightfully pleasant walk to the west coast of Cape Breton.

Sky 2 the sky trail begins

Sky 2C D on boardwalk trail

Sky 2D more trail

Passing through a moose enclosure (sans moose!), we learn that botanists are researching what plants and trees coexist with hungry moose.  Beyond the enclosure, we see trees with healthy branches near the ground, middle ones chomped away by Bullwinkle and his friends, and then branches above that the moose can’t dine on.

Sky 2B gate of enclosure

Leaving the moose enclosure with the Gulf of St. Lawrence in the distance

Sky 5 moose trees

Sky 5B moose trees

Once above the cliffs we are greeted (metaphorically) by a wooden boardwalk staircase down the cliffside.  At midday, the crowds are plentiful, as many are resting and lunching after their three kilometre trek.  The boardwalk was built after hikers had trampled this headland, which in turn denuded the vegetation that led to the exposed soil being strewn across the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Sky 3A CT from Sky trail

Sky 3D boardwalk of sky

An easy 45 minutes back to the trailhead gives us the two hour morning workout to satisfy our desire (by that I mean need) to get the first of our 10,000 Fitbit steps.

Back in our yupster Toyota Prius, we drive up the even steeper Mackenzie Mountain and North Mountain on our way to the Macintosh Brook trail with its Liam-promised waterfalls.  I have waterfalls for you in next week’s blog.

Click here for the full blog from Day 1 of our biking the Cabot Trail in 2014.

Dan and Hannah Have Coffee with Laverne in Cape Breton

Coffee map york to baddeck

While Hannah finishes her shower upstairs at the Baddeck Riverside B&B, which sits in the far reaches of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, I head to the kitchen to chat up Laverne as she makes breakfast.  Encouraging me to pour a cup of coffee (regular), she and I talk of our families and the drive along the 300 kilometre (190 miles) Cabot Trail that Hannah and I will take today; it’s the same route we biked five years ago over four days.

Though a decafe drinker, I pour myself a full half cup (so the coffee stays warm) and settle in for conversation with Laverne.  You see, in June 2014, she welcomed us like family by having Hannah and me sit with her family for an evening glass of wine before our biking began.

Coffee blueberry pancakes

Blueberry pancakes a la Laverne

This morning, as she makes blueberry pancakes, we back and forth in conversation as I risk a second half cup of regular coffee, daredevil that I am, knowing that too much caffeine makes me jittery.  Throwing caution to the wind, I figure ‘what the hell’ as I feel at home in our conversation about hummingbirds, gardens, adult children, her two and our three, of complicated lives, and small town living.

Reveling in the morning and not thinking twice of how caffeine will later have its way with me, I pour a third half cup of coffee as Hannah seamlessly joins in.  It’s not so much the subjects but the feel of connection and sharing in personally meaningful conversation.

Cape G 5 H and Laverne

Hannah and Laverne

Ever the bon vivant, I have a piping fourth half cup then follow it with a fifth.  Morning coffee with friends is on the “A” list of things I love doing.  Throughout this time Laverne doesn’t know, and I never mention, that I usually drink just decafe.  I readily understand the consequences of my actions and take full responsibility.  Moments like these don’t come along every day.

Though I will have the buzz of caffeine and then its crash by late morning, not to mention the multiple pit stops on the road, I’m digging the morning that I don’t want to end.  In these moments of friendship, I’ll pay the price to keep this feeling going as long as possible.

Cleanse Beddeck River

The view from the front porch of the Baddeck Riverside B&B

You see, as I pour a sixth half cup, I feel a warmth of coming home 700 miles away from our place in York, Maine.

Dan and Hannah Hike Cape George in Nova Scotia, Canada

Cape G 1 H and NS sign

Hannah and I have come to Nova Scotia to revisit the greatest physical challenge we have ever faced.  You might be thinking, Dan, you and Hannah have hiked the Pacific coast of Big Sur, the Tetons in the Rockies, and in each of the fourteen states of the Appalachian Trail.  Greatest challenge, really?  Oh, indeed it is!  Biking the 300 kilometres (190 miles) of the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia over the course of 3 ½ days took us out to lunch, made us pay, and then wiped the floor with us.  It’s also so true that I am really good at humble bragging!

Cape G map

Leaving friends Bill and Karen after an overnight in Fredericton, New Brunswick, we take the Trans-Canada Highway through New Brunswick into Nova Scotia.

Cape G map to cape g

Stopping at the Visitor Center, we learn from Caitlin of trails high above the north coast of Nova Scotia near Cape George that will satisfy our desire to both  hike and break up our day’s 400-mile drive to Cape Breton.

With well-marked signs, route 337 (Sunrise Highway) leads us to ample trailhead parking a half mile from the local lighthouse.  Always enamored with lighthouses, before hitting the trail, we check out Cape George Point.

Cape G 1A at lighthouse

Cape G 1B D at CG sign

Returning to the trailhead we find a grass trail through a meadow by the roadside.  It’s stunningly pleasant on our feet as if tended by royal groundskeepers with royal weed whackers.  Crossing the highway, we meander along this grassy path guided by orange circles spray-painted on the trees through the forest.

Cape G 2 grassy trail

Cape G 2A grassy trail and planks

Coming upon a rutted driveway to a newly-built home, we lose our way.  Clueless, as is often the case, we follow the rutted driveway back to the highway to no avail.  Retracing our steps, we climb back up the hill to finally see the saddest excuse for a signpost – a metal pole that displays but the slightest hint of orange.   You be the judge.

Cape G 3 driveway

Sidetracked on this so un-trail-like driveway

 

Cape G3A orange pull

Really!  You call that a decent trail marker!

Thankful to have found the trail once again, we return to our grassy path that gently caresses our feet as we hike the ridge line above the coast of Nova Scotia, pristine and bucolic.   Other than that one misstep, the trail is made for families and international, getaway lovers (i.e. Hannah and Dan).

Cape G 4A D at top better

Cape G 4B top

Retracing our steps after an hour, we return to the trailhead ready to drive the final two hours to our overnight in Baddeck, Nova Scotia.   Once there, we are lovingly embraced by Laverne Macrae, the B&B innkeeper who took us in five years ago.  At the time, we had no idea what challenges lay ahead for us biking the Cabot Trail.
Cape G map Cape G to Baddeck

Cape G 5 H and Laverne

Hannah and Laverne at her Baddeck Riverside B&B

Tomorrow, we’ll drive the entire Cabot Trail in one day.

Cape G map of CT

The Cabot Trail

Dan and Hannah Bike the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia   Day 4 of 4

cabot trail map 3

Awaking a little after 6A at Pamela’s B&B in St. Ann’s, Cape Breton, we are pumped for our final day on the Cabot Trail.  With only 34 kilometres of biking to complete the 300 of the Trail, we feel like we have it made in the shade.  We are as cool as the other side of the pillow.  As I peek behind the bedroom curtain, I see that clouds and fog have descended down the mountain to the backyard of the B&B. Pleased that my debilitating right leg cramps of yesterday are just a memory, I’m ready to rock and roll on the roads of Nova Scotia.

After three days of six to eight hours in the bicycle saddle, we look forward to a simple few hours of coastal bike riding back to Baddeck, Nova Scotia where we began our trek three mornings ago.  Breakfast is simple; pancakes and bacon for me (I give the pig to Hannah) while Hannah has cheesy scrambled eggs and toast.

Leaving Pamela's B&B in light rain

Leaving Pamela’s B&B in light rain

Packing is quick and easy since we have brought only what we can fit into each of our two panniers.  After yesterday’s afternoon rain, we’ll put our gloves and rain ponchos near the top of these saddle bags for easy access in case of more rain.  As we step out into what we thought was just a dense fog, light rain is falling and out come our ponchos.  Even if the rain were to be bone-soaking, we still should arrive before noon.

Hannah heading for Baddeck on the Cabot Trail on an early June Thursday

Hannah heading for Baddeck on the Cabot Trail on the first Thursday in June

Following Hannah on the very small paved part of the shoulder of the Cabot Trail, I push my sweatshirt sleeves above the arms of my poncho so as to keep them from getting wetter; I settle into a steady pace on this 58F morning.  Always most concerned about being cold, Hannah has three layers beneath her poncho, biking tights, and two pairs of gloves.

Rain or shine, we roll on

Rain or shine, we roll on

For the fourth day on the road, we have very little vehicular traffic so Hannah and I ride side by side with her closer to the edge.  After getting thumped by North Mountain on Day 2 (see blog of June 21, 2014) and hitting paydirt with Wally and Phyllis on Cape Smokey Mountain on Day 3 (see blog of June 28, 2014), we look forward to a morning of relatively level coastal riding along the Great Bras D’Or channel.

Hannah along the Bras d'Or

Hannah along the Bras d’Or channel

What would normally be a spectacular ride along the coastline is just a ride in a fog bank between evergreens with the spray coming up from Hannah’s back tire.  Having experienced spectacular for three days, we accept what the weather gods give us this morning.  It can pour and pour and we will just marshal on for the Baddeck Riverside B&B, returning to Laverne and Gordon’s place.

D6 D on trail in poncho

Since it’s a warm rain Hannah feels no morning chill.  Genetically sunny, Hannah pedals on as she has for three breathtaking days on the Cabot Trail.

The last 15 kilometres on the Trans-Canada Highway

The last 15 kilometres on the Trans-Canada Highway

Turning right onto the Canadian Highway with its wide shoulders 20 kilometres from Baddeck, we are just smiling.  Our bicycle chains and gears have gone 300 kilometres without a breakdown.  The flat tires of last year’s ride on the Confederation Trail in Prince Edward Island are just a distant memory.  Our bicycle steeds have come through like California Chrome in the Kentucky Derby.

D9A river scene on trail

We are bowed but not beaten.  We ride quietly and pay humble homage to the Cabot Trail in all its glory.  It was tougher, much more challenging than we had imagined.  But we made it.  The Cabot Trail has exacted a physical toll for riding her roads.  We have paid in full and have had the ride of a lifetime.

Gordon, Laverne, and Hannah

 

About 1030A, after two plus hours of biking, we exit the Cabot Trail and get to Big Farm Road to the Baddeck Riverside B&B; there, innkeepers Laverne and Gordon, welcome us as if old friends.

 

Tonight we will go to the Baddeck, Nova Scotia public library to hear Laverne talk about her hike of the Camino in Spain.  (The El Camino de Santiago is the 790 kilometre (~470 mile) pilgrimage route in northern Spain to honor James, the apostle, whose remains are said to be buried there.   Martin Sheen stars in the 2010 movie, The Way, about the Camino.)

Camino map

At one point during her presentation, Laverne introduces us as her overnight B&B guests who have just finished biking the Cabot Trail.  Surprisingly, the audience of 30 Cape Bretoners loudly, collectively oohs and aahs in appreciation.  I am a little bit shocked.  As hearty daughters and sons of 19th century Scots, they are impressed with our ride when I thought they might think anyone can bike the Trail.

After Laverne’s media presentation in front of thirty of her neighbors (Baddeck has a winter population of 700), her husband Gordon surprises us by inviting us back to their living room for a glass of his chilled homemade red wine.  They take us in like family.

The Mainiacs with Laverne

The Mainiacs with Laverne

Later that night Laverne recites her own poem, the Hall Lamp. (She recites from, literally, beneath the hall lamp on the landing of the stairs to the second floor.)  Here words speak of the family history that connects her life with generations past and the joy and love she has for Gordon.  Touched that we have been included in such intimacy, we have come to know what is good in Cape Breton.

So what’s next for us?  What about going to Spain to hike the Camino in all it’s nearly 500 miles of glory?

Nah, Hannah keeps our adventures in North America and that’s just fine with me.

Dan and Hannah Bike the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia   Day 3 of 4

cabot trail map 3

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.

Dan and Hannah in front of the Country Haven B&B ready to roll

Dan and Hannah in front of the Country Haven B&B ready to roll

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.

Heading up South Mountain on a chilly, foggy morning

Heading up South Mountain on a chilly, foggy morning

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.)

There is still a morning chill in the air entering the national park

There is still a morning chill in the air entering the national park

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.

Taking a break near St. Ann's Bay

Taking a break near St. Ann’s Bay

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.

Crossing the Ingonish River with Cape Smokey Mountain in the background

Crossing the Ingonish River with Cape Smokey Mountain in the background

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.

Hannah with Phyllis and Wally on Cape Smokey Mountain

Hannah with Phyllis and Wally on Cape Smokey Mountain

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.

Descending Cape Smokey Mountain

Descending Cape Smokey Mountain

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.

Our rain gear comes out.

Our rain gear comes out.

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.)

Moving on down the Cabot Trail

Moving on down 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.

.

The Journey's End - Pamela's B&B

The Journey’s End – Pamela’s B&B

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.

Dan and Hannah Bike the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia Day 2 of 4

Cape Breton Highlands National Park

Cape Breton Highlands National Park

We don’t sleep well.  With the serious mountains of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park looming, we wake before 5A as dawn streams in around the shades this third of June.  Uncertainty lies before us.  We have no idea what to expect and have little choice but to pedal on into the mountains as our Hyundai Elantra is 60 miles back in Baddeck.  We like to think we are resourceful in the face of such physical challenges.  Well, let’s just see if we can walk the walk?

I slice up pancakes for breakfast while Hannah gets her bacon fix with eggs over hard.  Packed and pedaling down the Cabot Trail through Cheticamp, an Acadian town of 3500, Hannah in her biking tights and two jackets and I in my biking shorts and sweatshirt, see the distant mountains and wonder what lies ahead.

The highlands trail begins

The highlands trail begins

At the visitor center thirty minutes later, we pay $6.80 each as seniors to learn what obstacles we will turn into opportunities.  After the wife of an older couple takes our picture at the park entrance, he says, I was born on this spot.  You got to have a good heart [to bike these roads].  It turns out I find comfort in his words since good hearts are what we have after exercising at the gym all winter long.  Now let’s see how our mountain climbing legs measure up.

Pannier packed, Hannah is ready to rock and roll

Panniers packed, Hannah is ready to rock and roll

Nicely paved, the roads lead us along the rolling coastal hills above the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  Told the first climb is the steepest but shortest at a kilometre with a 15% grade, we await its arrival as we pedal on.

Before we know it, we shift to a low gear as I follow Hannah up the steep cliffside.  Head down, aware of every inch of the pavement beneath me, I focus on one pedal at a time.  And voila, we are at the top.  That wasn’t so bad. What’s the big deal? we think.  Of course, that was the baby brother of French and North Mountains.  Still, one down, two to go.

Coastal road skirting French Mountain

Coastal road skirting French Mountain

After cruising down the other side of this first climb, we see the ribbon of highway (thank you Woody Guthrie for that image) ahead of us.  French Mountain is to our right, the sea to our left, but it doesn’t seem overwhelming at first glance.  Are we missing something?

Hannah high above the Gulf of St. Lawrence

Hannah high above the Gulf of St. Lawrence

After fifteen minutes of climbing, we stop to take in the coastline at a parking area vista.  Easily remounting our bikes, we take the S curves on the side of the mountain and think, An eight per cent grade doesn’t seem so bad.

Roadside snow

Roadside snow

A photo op by the snow patch provides us with another break, but we are not yet winded or heavy-legged.  It’s actually kind of cool scaling this mountain on bikes.  Few cars pass us this preseason late spring day; the ones that do, give us a wide berth.

Spotting the French Mountain sign at the top, we are feeling, quite literally, on top of the world having biked for some 50 minutes.  Checking the roadside sign we are stunned to learn that our climb of six kilometres (nearly four miles) with an 8% grade really has been a climb up an 11% grade.  Well, that’s very cool.  Two down, one to go.

It turns out French Mountain was steeper than we thought.

It turns out French Mountain was steeper than we thought.

 

 

Hannah atop French Mountain with the flat highlands ahead

Hannah atop French Mountain with the flat highlands ahead

Flat highland biking restores our energy and refreshes our legs.  Taking a break at the overlook to the Gulf of St. Lawrence on MacKenzie Mountain, we fortunately only have to descend this monster of a mountain.

Ready for the descent of MacKenzie Mountain

Ready for the descent of MacKenzie Mountain

At 25-30 mph, we sail down towards Pleasant Bay on dry pavement that has me braking 70% of the time.  A local café waitress cheerfully allows us to fill our water bottles on this day of full sun in the mid 70s.  Having taken four hours of steady biking to go 26 miles, we are not breaking any land speed records at 6.5 mph.  On the plus side, we have just 18 miles to go.  On the flip side, North Mountain stands between us and our B&B in Cape North.

Beginning the assault of North Mountain

Beginning the assault of North Mountain

The advertised picnic area mocks us. It is in the woods down an embankment near a creek that has a summer long mosquito and black fly convention in progress.  Driven away, we finish our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches sitting in the gravel at the side of the road.  Right now food is fuel; it’s energy for our bodily machines.  North Mountain is right there, staring us in the face.  We are at the feet of the monster with our bikes of 21 gears ready to attack.

Hannah giving it her all on the North Mountain climb

There is no prelude, no preamble to North Mountain as the climb begins immediately; we press hard on our pedals to climb the steep esses of the road.  Already, we are in for the battle of our lives.  Going so slowly, we feel like our bikes would fall over or tip backwards at any moment if we go any slower.  I with a tender right knee and Hannah with a surgically repaired left leg push and push the pedals some more with power and conviction and hope.  To maintain her focus, Hannah spells out her grandsons’ names with each pedal stroke – O-W-E-N, M-A-X-W-E-L-L – on her climb to the top.

It's not getting any easier

It’s not getting any easier

At the one kilometre mark, with three kilometres to go, the task is daunting.  We are wavering; doubt creeps into our minds if we can really make it to the top at all.  We continue to pedal so slowly, and the mountain top is nowhere in sight.  And then, we have no more to give!  We dismount, grab the handlebars with the left hand, push on the seat with the right, and plod up the mountain.  We have no choice.  North Mountain is kicking our butts and taking no prisoners.

In five minutes, we remount but pedal for just a few hundred yards before we dismount again. Still unbowed and unbloodied, we press on for the summit.

Again, the climb is steeper than we were told.

Again, the climb is steeper than we were told.

After three kilometres we arrive at a plateau and resaddle our bikes.  This has been the hardest physical test either of us has ever taken.  Arriving at the summit ten minutes later, we learn that the incline has been 13% not the advertised 10%.

Though we have been manhandled by the mountain, we still have 20 kilometres to our B&B in Cape North.

Though Hannah’s left leg is fine, my right knee is tender and cramping.  Pedaling high above the Aspy River, I favor my left leg as the right is aching and just along for the ride.  I have little choice but to pedal on, however painful, for the next hour to Cape North.  The headwind from the north doesn’t make it any easier as the temperature drops 20 degrees to 50F.  Once in tee shirts, we are now bundled with jackets and sweatshirts.

Resting mid-way on the descent of North Mountain

Resting mid-way on the descent of North Mountain

With nothing left to give, I focus on one pedal at a time.  It’s a long slog to the Country Haven B&B, but the innkeepers Kathleen and Alfred take us in; a shower soothes me from top to bottom.  After thirty minutes lying in bed, we uncork the bottle of Pinot Noir we brought over the mountain.  Sitting in their living room in triumph, Hannah repeats three or four times, I can’t believe we did it.  We have slayed the beast.

Feeling well enough to walk the 100 yards down the hill to Angie’s Restaurant for a fantastic 18” veggie pizza, we meet up again with the six women from Saskatoon.  One tells me gleefully that she had no intention of biking up North Mountain and just started walking her bike up.  A maintenance truck approached her and the driver asked how are you doing to which she responded, it’s a struggle.  Are you in distress, he asked?   No, it’s just a struggle.  Well, only if you are in distress, can I take you and your bike to the top of North Mountain.  I am in distress! she agreed and got the ride of her life.

Hannah with tomorrow night's dinner in front of the Country Haven B&B in Cape North, Nova Scotia

Hannah with tomorrow night’s dinner in front of the Country Haven B&B in Cape North, Nova Scotia

Our monster day is in the books and now our big mileage day of 113 kilometres (nearly 70 miles) looms tomorrow. We wonder what the 100 miles of biking over the last two days will mean to these bodies of ours.

After two fantastic days of warm and sunny weather, drizzle is in the forecast.  Still with the monster mountains behind us, it feels like it is all downhill.  We sleep well, but we couldn’t be more wrong about what lies ahead.

Dan and Hannah Bike the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia Day 1 of 4

cabot trail map 3

In Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, the Cabot Trail is a hilly, sometimes mountainous 300 kilometres (~190 miles) of paved road, much of it along the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Atlantic Ocean.  It has character, personality, and highlands (read: mountains) with climbs with a 15% grade.  Though this is no walk in the park, Hannah and I have been thinking of biking this loop trail since we completed the Confederation Trail in PEI (Prince Edward Island) in 2013.  We are ready to find out if were up to the test.

Leaving early Saturday morning on the last day of May, Hannah and I drive north on the Maine Turnpike for Baddeck, Nova Scotia, the starting and ending point of the Cabot Trail.  It will take us two days to drive the 730 miles to this northern Maritime province.

A1 D and H Katahdin

Stopping at the Mount Katahdin viewing area on I-95 north of Bangor, Maine, we see the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail for the first time.  Usually the mountain is covered in clouds and hidden from our view.  Some might see this as a good sign.

A3 Nova Scotia sign

Renewed and energized by a night in Fredericton, New Brunswick with our longtime friends Bill and Karen, we weave our way along the Trans-Canada Highway through New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.  What does it take to climb 10 to 15% grades for kilometres on end when we have never done it before?  Have our three to five minute climbs up the Bog Road and Fall Mill Road Extension hills here in York, Maine prepared us?  We shall see.

A4 Baddeck Riverside B&B sign

Over breakfast at the Baddeck Riverside B & B in Cape Breton on Monday morning, Laverne (the innkeeper) rustles up eggs Benedict (she picks spinach from her garden as we watch) to satisfy our hunger and energy needs.  Soon we are cracking to go.

300 kilometres to go!

300 kilometres to go!

Today we have 94 kilometres (~60 miles) of biking to the Acadian seacoast town of Cheticamp (pronounced Shetty-camp) in what is described as moderate biking conditions.  Biking six kilometres from our B&B, we turn south on the Cabot Trail on the Trans-Canada Highway, our pavement home for the next four days.

Rolling onto the Trans-Canada Highway to start the Cabot Trail in Baddeck, Nova Scotia

Rolling onto the Trans-Canada Highway to start the Cabot Trail in Baddeck, Nova Scotia

Over the first kilometres of rolling hills, we pedal steadily up the inclines.  But no big deal.  As we will have reinforced over the next four days, Canadian drivers move over without fail to give us our space as we ride.  In our experience, Canadians have a richly deserved reputation for being just so damn thoughtful.

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Riding down the Cabot Trail on the Trans-Canada Highway

The Cabot Trail on the Trans-Canada Highway

Ten kilometres down the Trans-Canada Highway, we make a right turn inland onto a country road with no shoulders towards the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  As I will for 97% of our ride, I pull up beside Hannah so we can talk as we ride side by side.  It’s the first week of June, two to three weeks before the tourists descend on this vacation island, so we have the roads to ourselves for the most part.  There will be stretches where no vehicle passes us for five to ten minutes.  Riding in a clockwise direction on this loop trail, we take advantage of the prevailing winds and, as we will learn later, avoid the steepest climbs on the trail.

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With packed waterproof panniers, Hannah is ready for all the Cabot Trail has to give

With packed waterproof panniers, Hannah is ready for all the Cabot Trail has to give

Within the first hour we have our first climb to the top of Hunter Mountain.  It’s a 5% grade for two kilometres which requires steady pedaling in lower gears. It turns out to be very doable and our confidence builds.  Zipping down the other side, Hannah leans over her handle bars and rockets down the hill.   A little less steady and less confident, I sit tall in the bike saddle to let the wind resistance slow my rapid descent.

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Along the Margaree River Valley to the Gulf of St. Lawrence

Along the Margaree River Valley to the Gulf of St. Lawrence

In tee-shirts and shorts, for the next two hours, we pass fields with gently rolling hills along the Margaree River Valley and think biking this Cabot Trail is not so tough.  On the straight-aways, we can pedal up to 15 mph.  Anyone fit enough can handle this ride, we say out loud to ourselves.

Hannah at the Gulf of St. Lawrence

Hannah at the Gulf of St. Lawrence

Just after noon, we arrive on the seacoast at Belle Cote.  As we enter this coastal town of modest houses and vacation homes, we are passed by the only other Cabot Trail bicyclists we will see during our four day ride.  Six thirty-something women from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan are biking the Trail (as the locals refer to it).  We will meet these moms and longtime friends tomorrow after we bike the mountains of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park.

Hannah rides the Cabot Trail along the seacoast of Cape Breton

Hannah rides the Cabot Trail along the seacoast of Cape Breton

Today we lunch at picnic tables at the Belle Cote Community Center on turkey sandwiches and apple slices.  The wind is picking up from the south, which means we will sail along the coast at maximum speed with minimal effort.  With 20 some kilometres to Cheticamp, we cruise along the Cape Breton coast thinking we are definitely ready for the mountains of Cape Breton Highlands National Park tomorrow.  (In the distance, the highlands hear us talk and shake their heads; they think us sad and naive for they have other plans for us.)

Dan above the sea cliffs on the way to Cheticamp, Nova Scotia

Dan above the sea cliffs on the way to Cheticamp, Nova Scotia

Arriving at our evening motel, the L’Auberge Doucet Inn high above the Cabot Trail in Cheticamp at 230P, we feel ready for another hour or two on the bikes.  Alas, there is no place to stay the night further down the road since the Cape Breton Highlands National Park is just outside of town.  Thanks to Hannah’s innate sweetness, the innkeeper upgrades our room to one with a king bed.

Bonjour

Bonjour

With time to explore Cheticamp, we find a bottle of Shiraz for our late afternoon of wine togetherness.  We pick up a Pinto Noir for tomorrow night after our ride through the highlands.

Stopping by Velo Max Cycling, the one bike shop in Cape Breton, we are both sobered and encouraged by our conversation with Andre, the bike store owner.  He tells us that just inside the park there is a 15% grade climb over a kilometre long.  Then there is French Mountain at 8% grade over six kilometres.  Finally the granddaddy climb of North Mountain has a 10% grade over four kilometres.  As an experienced bicyclist himself, he stands to pedal up North Mountain.  This must be some bad mountain.  He warns us of false flats, where the road seems level, but it is a climb nonetheless.

Throughout our twenty minutes together, he says at separate times, you can do it and I don’t want to scare you.  When someone says they don’t want to scare you, they have planted the seeds to scare you.  Have we trained enough?  Where could we have found such long, steep mountains to climb near our home in York, Maine?  Are highlands really mountains? Having already done nearly 60 miles today, we wonder how our bodies will react to an even tougher day on the bikes tomorrow.

We rest after the first day on the Cabot Trail

We rest after the first day on the Cabot Trail

Under 70F skies at 5P we sip a glass of Shiraz with our popcorn.  Dinner comes from the local Coop; potato salad over mixed greens with bran muffins for dessert.  We are reminded of Alaska by the sunset after 9P in these parts.  But the late sunset is not the reason we won’t sleep well tonight.  Day 2 through the mountains of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park awaits.