Dan and Hannah Prepare to Bike the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia

cabot trail map 3

There is a dynamic duo, a Batman and Robin, of Canadian Maritime biking trails.  Batman is the Confederation Trail of Prince Edward Island that we pedaled for 273 kilometres (~175 miles) last June.  Robin is the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia.  The trail was named after Italian explorer John Cabot (Giovanni Caboto) who reached these shores in 1497, sailing on a mission for King Henry VII of England.

Though a little longer at 300 kilometres (~ 190 miles), the Cabot Trail has some significant differences from the bucolic Confederation Trail.

PEI map

The Confederation Trail is a secluded former railroad bed of crushed, hardpan gravel with never a grade in elevation more than 2%.  That’s easy going, side-by-side-talking kind of biking.  On the other hand the Cabot Trail is an entirely paved road that we will share with cars and trucks.  On the plus side, the paved Cabot Trail will allow us to pedal faster (~12 miles per hour) than the 8 to 9 mph we averaged on the gravelly Confederation Trail.

Cabot Trail

Cabot Trail

That said, there are parts of the Cabot Trail through the Cape Breton Highlands National Park that have sustained climbs at grades above 10%.  Some grades even reach 15%.  That’s Billy goat stuff.  To accommodate those hills we will take four days (anywhere from 25 to 65 miles per day) to complete this loop ride.

Our planning begins with finding bed and breakfasts conveniently located along the Cabot Trail.  On the road, we like to be welcomed “home” by locals after a day of bicycling.  A big country breakfast the next morning is just the ticket (meal ticket that is) before we burn the calories on the road.  As over-60 bike riders, Hannah and I don’t sleep on the ground in tents; don’t sleep in hostels with others in the room; avoid double beds.  Regally, we opt for a queen or king bed.

We’ve lined up these overnights.   (Click on these links below to learn more about each one.)

  1. First and last nights, Baddeck Riverside B & B, Baddeck, Nova Scotia
  2. Night #2 – Auberge Doucet Inn, Cheticamp, Nova Scotia
  3. Night #3 – Country Haven B & B, Cape North (near Dingwall), Nova Scotia
  4. Night #4 – Pamela’s B & B, near Indian Brook, Nova Scotia
Coastal Cabot Trail

Coastal Cabot Trail

Baddeck, Nova Scotia is a common starting point for the circumambulation (or circumbicyulation?) of the northern part of Cape Breton Island.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let me set the stage for this highland adventure.

nova scotia 1


Getting to Nova Scotia: We’ll drive 360 miles from our home in York, Maine to Fredericton, New Brunswick, we will stay overnight with my University of New Hampshire buddy Bill and his wife Karen.   From there it is still six to seven hours of driving through much of rural New Brunswick and into even more pastoral Nova Scotia to the Cape Breton Island.  Arriving Sunday afternoon, we will scout out Baddeck and toast the ride with an evening glass of Malbec.

Four Days of Biking

CT preview picture 2

Day 1 (Monday) – Baddeck to Cheticamp  91 kilometres (~57 miles)

As the one-time summer home of Alexander Graham Bell, Baddeck is a little burg of 700.  There is nary a bike shop there, despite it being the traditional starting and ending point for this 190 mile loop for bicyclists.  We leave Baddeck, crossing Cape Breton from east to west and then head north on the coast of the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the town of Cheticamp.  We choose the counter-clockwise direction to take advantage of the prevailing winds so as to have them at our back on our second day through the mountains.

Elevation of Cabot Trail

Day 2 – (Tuesday) – Cheticamp to Cape North 75 kilometres (~47 miles) 

Cheticamp is home to Velo Max Cycling, the one bike shop on the Cabot Trail.  This is one bad-ass day.  We’ve got the mountains of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park staring us down.  We will encounter climbs of 15% grade (click on the above scary graphic), such as we have only seen in the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.  We will see just how tough we are.  We do have Trek bicycles with 21 gears.

CT 3 day 3 to the north

Day 3 – (Wednesday) – Cape North to near Indian Brook 101 kilometres (~63 miles). 

We leave from Cape North, the northern most point of our Cabot Trail loop.  We’d like to divide the remaining 89 miles of our last two days more evenly, but bed and breakfasts are few and far between.  Rather than make the third day from Cape North to Ingonish Beach just 26 miles of biking, we have our longest riding day.  Going into the prevailing winds, we think we are man and woman enough for the challenge.

Day 4 – Thursday – Near Indian Brook to Baddeck 43 kilometres (~26 miles)

It’s a sweet short day on level terrain after the hills of the previous two days.

CT day 2 along the coast

The training

Fact is, after one cold and snowy winter, its mid-April before we can bike outside even once a week.  How do you prepare for 15% grades?  One, we are not spending a week in the Alps to train.  Two, we’ve been exercising at our local Coastal Fitness gym five days per week on ellipticals, recumbent bicycles, and treadmills throughout the year.

Dan at Coastal Fitness pedaling his heart out

Dan on the bicycle recumbent at Coastal Fitness pedaling his little heart out

We are also upping the ante outside this month of May as well.  We’ll bike outside every other day on the hills of Bog Road and the Fall Mill Road Extension here in York.  Though we don’t know their grade, these hills require us to get in the lowest gear and often stand when pedaling to make it to the top.

During the first week of June, the sun sets well after 8P so we have 12 hours plus of daylight after breakfast to complete the 25 to 65 miles on the roads of the Cabot Trail. We are not too proud to walk our bikes up a serious mountain.  Hannah’s surgically-repaired left tibia remains an unknown and gives us pause.

What if it rains?

We’ll adjust.  We might get wet.  Mist and drizzle we can do.  Flat out rain means a day off from the road.  Maybe it’s a five or six day ride.

CT day 4 along the coast

Bike preparation

Readers of this blog know we had quite the challenge with flat tires when we biked the Confederation Trail last year (click on Canada to the left of this text to see that Dan and Hannah biking adventure).  We’ll have our tires checked and thorough tune-ups at our local Berger’s Bike Shop.  Extra tubes and a small tool kit to be sure.  We have  heard talk that after this brutal Nova Scotia winter bike riders need to be wary of anti-tank ditches (i.e., potholes).  Packing all our clothes and lunches in panniers, we always have our Visa card as a safety net.  We are indeed counting on the kindness of strangers.  For heaven’s sakes, they are Canadians.

Dan's bike with panniers

Dan’s bike with panniers


Nova Scotia has had our Maine winter and more so this year.  Kathleen of Country House B & B in Cape North says we will probably see snow on mountains in early June.  We’ll have biking shorts, and tights if necessary, fluorescent vests, and lots of Bag Balm for those bicycle seat sensitive areas.

Cabot Trail, here we come!