Wednesday, July 30, 2008

July 28 - 29: Finishing the Cabot Trail and on to Big Bras d'Or

July 28: Cheticamp to the Hideaway Campground and Oyster Market, South Harbour. 97 km 6:45 on the bike
What an heroic day! The ride along the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton Highlands National Park was absolutely thrilling. In my opinion this was one of the highlight rides of the trip so far. The road hugs coastal mountains from outside Cheticamp all the way to Pleasant Bay and the views are superb. There are, however, a few hills to get up!

The first hill is French Mountain. We started this little pull right at sea level and went up 455 twisting metres to the summit. After this haul we were pleased not to descend all the way to sea level, because our next summit, Mckenzie Mountain, was coming right up. This peak is about 350 metres. The ride from here down to Pleasant Bay was a real spinner. We all got up to some fairly high speeds. I think I hit 65 km/hr (I am a coward with high speed, so this was absolutely ripping for me).

This morning we were riding once again with Wally, and on his road bike he could really really pick up speed on the downhills, but with our low touring gears our loaded bikes handled the uphills a bit more easily.

The flora highlight for the day was the hike around the bog trail on the top of McKenzie Mountain. I saw lots of hairy bog orchids and, my favourite, pitcher plants. The pitcher plant is a carnivore and derives a lot of its nutrition from insects that it traps in the "pitcher" and then dissolves and eats. On the fauna front we had one moose and about 15 pilot whales. We saw the whales from our lunch stop on a cliff-top at Pleasant Bay. They were close in to shore so you could see them with the naked eye, but using Mark's binos gave us an even better view.

The morning had been hot and muggy, but in the afternoon, as we started up the third big hill (North Mountain: 450 metres) it started to rain. This was a bit of a blessing because the temp dropped a bit and we had a slightly cooler assent. Lucky for that because the North Mountain ride from Pleasant Bay to the summit has some 12.5 percent grades. This would have been difficult to do in the blazing sun. The spin down from the summit was incredible -- excellent views of the geology in the area. We rode over a huge fault line, which is probably a continuation of the Great Glen fault in Scotland (back when the continents were close together).

We spent the evening at the Hideaway Campground and Oyster Market in South Harbour on Aspey Bay. Wally and Mike were also camped here with their rig. We had a huge communal oyster, snow crab, and lobster dinner where we managed to finish off even more of Wally's wine. The evening was clear and the stars were bright. We ended the evening listening to coyotes howl all around the Bay. Tomorrow would be on to the east side of the Cabot Trail.


July 29: South Harbour to Big Bras d'Or 126 km 16 km/hr

The east side of the Cabot Trail is every bit as lovely as the west. We had another beautiful riding day with winds at our back and huge views at almost every turn. We were able to share another riding day with Wally. This time he took out his mountain bike instead of the road bike and he had a much more enjoyable time in the big hills. And we did have a few big hills to the west of Ingonish. The hill up to the top of Smokey Mountain was not too difficult of a pull, but a good sized hill none the less.

We had stunning views right down on the ocean-side to the north of Ingonish. Then it was on to lunch in town. After we fueled up at lunch it was time to go up Smokey Mountain to the Nova Scotia Picnic Park at the top. The ride was not too hard, and when we rolled into the Picnic Park we discovered four other cyclists taking in the view. All of the cyclists were recently working in Victoria, or students at UVic. I even recognized one of them - Nathan - from school. We were all heading the same direction so we made quite a troop as we raced south down from Smokey Mountain lookout.

Mark had friends in common with several of the riders and one of them, Anna, is friends with Charlie! What a small world. In any event, at around 3:30 they invited us to spend the evening camping with them. Mark took them up on the offer, while Mike and I decided to bee-line for Jan and Alan's place at Big Bras d'Or. Wally was meeting up with Mike at Indian River, and heading on to Baddeck. We parted ways with Mark riding on to join us at Big Bras d'Or the following day. Mark will report on his experiences a bit later.

Mike and I had a simply wonderful late afternoon cycle down to the Englishtown ferry (no charge for bikes!) and an easy ride up Kelly's Mountain. From here it was over the Seal Island bridge (not bike friendly) and into the waiting arms of Alan and Jan on the shores of Bras d'Or. After we parked our bikes the first thing we did was jump in the warm salt water for an evening dip. Then it was off to the dinner table for one of Jan's lobster stews. Sleep was easy coming that night. Here's to friends, old and new!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Congratulations, Mary, Mike and Mark (or "the Three M's" as everybody around here knows you now). You've done an amazing job in crossing the country, and your stories along the way have entertained us all.

I'll be in the Yukon when you actually hit Newfoundland, so I'm sending you my congratulations for your amazing feat in advance. Not only are you great individual riders, but you make a wonderful team.

The offer's still open if you're passing through Burlington on the way back from Newfoundland. I'll be back in town on August 14th.

Best wishes,