After two weeks of rest and relaxation in Rangeley (with admittedly a little biking), Lee and I were ready to head out to the Canadian maritimes to bike the Cabot Trail, a 185-mile loop around Cape Breton, Nova Scotia known for its mix of Acadian towns, fishing villages, Celtic music, spectacular coastal scenery, and rumors of just a few small hills (!). (For faithful blog readers, we ended up changing our original plan to hike in the Canadian Rockies – swapping west for east, and hiking for biking!). We planned the route with a few side trips to make up a six-day, 275-mile tour, staying in small inns along the way, and mercifully, with a local taxi service we found to haul our luggage from place to place (a decision & luxury we went on to appreciate once we hit the hills!).
After a peaceful 700+ mile drive through the rolling hills and blueberry fields of downeast Maine and into New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, we started cycling the next morning just outside of the town of Baddeck. We enjoyed a quiet ride through the Margaree Valley, a beautiful river valley known for its salmon fishing, with a stop along the peaceful Lake O’Law…
…before we it our first night’s stop (and wonderful dinner) at the Normaway Inn, a regional classic complete with an initial taste of Cape Breton music.
Encouraged by the next morning by the relatively flat terrain and clearing skies, we made our way to the coast and to Cheticamp, a small fishing town just south of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. The town is one of the few French-speaking towns on Cape Breton, having been a returning haven for French Acadians who were exiled from their homes in the Canadian maritimes by the British in the mid-1700s during the struggle for control of the area.
With a relatively early finish, I had time that day to join a local whale-watching cruise out of the harbor (remember, Lee doesn’t like the water!), catching sights of Pilot whales surfacing close to the boat, and enjoying a beautiful sunset – as well as views of the “highlands” that lay ahead for the next day’s ride!
After a quick detour to at the famed “Aucoin Bakery” leaving Cheticamp for the requiste donut stop, the climbing started in earnest early the next day as we entered the Cape Breton Highlands National Park.
Luckily, climbing the Rangeley hills had provided some training, and we were able to enjoy both the ride and the spectacular views of the coast, including a stop for a short hike along the famed “Skyline” trail with dramatic views of showers on the horizon (which happily, mostly kept to the distance!).
After tackling the initial climbs up French Mtn and MacKenzie Mtn, we were grateful for a lunch and rest in Pleasant Bay before taking on the challenge of North Mtn – definitely the biggest challenge to date with up to 13% grade for the 2.5 mile climb. From there we were ready for the mostly downhill ride across the tip of the island to Dingwall, a lovely fishing village with gorgeous views of Aspy Bay.
We were grateful for our plans for a two-night stay at the Markland Cottages, perched at the tip of the peninsula, with beautiful views of the Highland cliffs, sandy beach, and a great dining room.
We had booked two nights at this mid-way point in case we needed a “rest day” (the quotes are purposeful!), but with another gorgeous day dawning the next morning, “we” (same) decided there was no resisting the opportunity to bike out to Meat Cove, a tiny isolated fishing community at the very tip of Cape Breton. The ride offered yet more amazing views of the Bay of St. Lawrence as reward for a 20-mile trek up a few additional hills (the last 5 miles of which admittedly were dirt road – but what’s life without a challenge?).
Luckily one of the few businesses in Meat Cove, the Chowder House, was open for business, giving us more reward for the ride out.
After another evening in Dingwall, we headed south towards Ingonish and St. Ann’s Bay, encountering another spectacular set of coastal views
We were also interested to see the both the landscape and cultural influences shift from the east side of the island, moving from the black to pink granite, and from the French-Canadian to the Gaelic-Scottish presence on the west side (as evidenced by the local road signs!).
The day brought us closer to the end of the highlands, past the Ingonish River (with bald eagle sighting!) and up the start up the last big climb, Cape Smoky, to our stay at the Castle Rock Inn, a charming spot high up on the bluff just south of Ingonish.
After dealing with our sole flat tire of the trip (mine!), and the remaining climb up Cape Smoky, the last day brought more amazing views of St. Ann’s Bay and an endless eastward view across the Atlantic… (think we could see Iceland!)
… before the remaining (and welcomed) descent back to the flat ground of the south island. We opted for catching the short ride across the ferry to Englishtown (literally a 100′ crossing!), before cruising back into Baddeck, our starting point.
It didn’t take much to justify a round of celebratory ice cream sundaes (all those hills!) before one last night, and a sunrise departure the next day for our return ride back to Maine. With gratitude for a safe and beautiful ride, we closed another great chapter with more Gap Year memories!