July 22, 2014
With continuing dread and anticipation I set out early for the Cabot Trail; today was the day of days in this little detour through Cape Breton. And if I wasn’t carrying enough trepidation, I met the groundskeeper for the campground who reaffirmed the difficult climbing ahead. As an aside, I learnt down the road that he was the brother of Elisabeth May, the leader of Canada’s Green Party. Turns out their mother was an anti-war, anti-nuke protesters during the Nixon administration who discovered Cape Breton and moved her family there. This information came from another expat who’s been coming to summer and paint in Cape Breton for about 40 years. There are many people from the US who seem to live here part of the year.
Anyway, today I encountered the famous views Cape Breton is known for and tackled the most difficult mountains on the trail. The “trail” just so you know is a road that runs partially through the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. I entered the Cabot Trail in Maragree Habour, a little town on the coast Thomas Kinkade would have had a hard time adding to. As I crested the hill, the village spread out before me: in the background homes and open fields on the edge of a forested mountain, in the foreground a sheltered inlet with a small lighthouse and a white-steepled church. And as if freakin cherubs were about to sing, I noticed just below me a couple of horseback riders trotting along through a meadow above the village. It was all a little precious but enjoyed it nevertheless.
The villages are all quite lovely. The houses spread out on the treeless slopes have a melancholic, resilient air about them. Today was a perfectly sunny day but the elements can get downright nasty and yet they stand as if facing the waters head on.
Once I entered the national park, the money shot quickly appeared (see picture at the top). Appearing to weave ever so gently up the mountain, it was actually a brutal climb. As I discovered later on, the worst was yet to come. So it this God’s masterpiece? I’m not fully convinced either because I was too busy pedaling to fully appreciate the beauty of the terrain or because there are black flies here. These beasts are a sure sign that Ol’ Stratch had some input whether by right or treachery.
Road Report: 126km
The first big climb is up French Mountain with an 11% grade for 6km and then travels through the highlands for a bit before returning to sea level at Pleasant Bay. North Mountain is not much further along with a gut wrenching 13% grade over 3km. The descents are a lot fun but you surely work hard for it. The roads have no shoulders but plenty of tourist traffic and so instead of trucks beware of the RV.