Riding through Cape Breton, Nova Scotia

For whatever reason, which has very little basis in need, but rather in simple idle time, I was doing some maintenance on our little website, and realized that we had skipped a trip. Not by design, of course, but rather by neglect.

So I am here to apologize and make up. Let the post begin.

The Prep

We had been talking with Neil and Keira (of Shark Diving fame) about finding some middle ground between Ireland and the States. There were multiple rounds of suggestions, including Iceland (too expensive), Montreal (too much city), Prince Edward (too quaint), Newfoundland (too remote), and then we finally determined that we, Erin and I alone, were going to head to Nova Scotia.

There were multiple reasons, but it basically boiled down to the fact that momentum was already moving that way. We just as easily (and happily) could have headed out to Miami or Mexico City, but all our thoughts were headed that direction. For goodness sake, I had actually purchased the entire Anne of Green Gables boxed set, and had read the first book, and half of the second one. We were heading up that way, whatever happened.

Start of the Cabot TrailTiming and life ending up making it too difficult for our friends to join us, which of course frees up the schedule quite a bit. (Not so say that it wouldn’t have been great to have them come)

All we knew was that we were heading in to Halifax on a late Thursday flight, and heading back on a Tuesday. That gave us Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. What to do?! Easy. Hit the open road of Cape Breton and the (apparently) famous Cabot Trail.

Halifax

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

Flying in was nothing particular, but we did end up at the quaint Waverley Inn through the wonders of priceline.com.  Central location was perfect for walking around.  Apparently, it was a weekend of sorts for the Dalhousie University, but I will admit The Livingstone Lunge heads to Nova Scotiacomplete ignorance  of this establishment.

Of course, that is more or less the common theme of this trip: arriving totally unprepared and knowing very little about the place we were visiting.

Friday, August 31st, 2012

While we did cause a bit of ruckus on Thursday, it by now means was anything untoward.  This left us in prime shape to explore the city in it’s full glory.  Which, as luck may have it, was an absolutely fantastic city.  We had absolutely no idea how lucky we had been to find such an amazing and fun town, not to mention the historical events that happened there.

Let’s start with the fact that Halifax has been around for a very long time.  (Again, with the ignorance.)  We headed up to Fort George, which was started in 1749, which was a long walk uphill, but definitely worth it.  They were having a Colonial Days to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, where the United States apparently declared war on Canada, and Canada won.

(Also of historical note, there was apparently discussion of Nova Scotia being part of the original 13 colonies to declare independence from Britain, but that plan didn’t end up coming through.  I had to look at a map to realize how close these two places were.  And while we’re talking side points, apparently Maine nearly didn’t become part of the 13.  Who knew?)

Colonial Days at Fort GeorgeSo, back to the Colonial Days at Fort George, where there were people in period costumes, dressed in various ranks and periods of outfits.  Even better yet, they were spending that weekend in the moats/trenches of the fort, teaching kids about life in that time period.  My favorite part was people cooking over open fires, wearing wool, using wooden nails and such, then hopping into their Toyota Tundra to warm up.

The second part of the historical education was the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, which was fantastic.  Again, I had little clue to the expanse of Halifax in the history of the Atlantic exploration, but it of course makes logical sense.  It’s just that I hadn’t really considered it before.

Sea MinesHow does a sea mine work, for example? (Multiple triggers.)  Also, what happens when you have two ships collide, one of which is carrying WWI explosives?  (The largest explosion before nuclear weapons.) Who were the ones out there fixing telegraph cable lines strung all the way to Europe?  (Sailors from Halifax.)  And, most importantly, where did they busy all the undocumented dead from the Titanic?  (Yep, they went to Halifax.)

To end the Halifax portion on a brighter note, however, I do have to say that the town is a jewel.  However, we were also quite excited the next day to head out on our rented motorcycle, which turned out to be an absolute blast.

Cape Breton

Saturday, September 1st, 2012

Our ride met us at the Waverley, which was very convenient, since we didn’t know where we were going.  We even arranged him to hold onto a bag for us.  (Why did we have an extra bag when we knew that we were going to be riding?  No idea…)  But soon, we were off toward Cape Breton for the remainder of the trip.Breakfast on the road

The first part of the ride out was highway and fairly uneventful, but it was much appreciated as I was a little rusty, and it was a good opportunity to shake it off and become acquainted with the new bike.  We were bee-lining it for the Bear on the Lake Guesthouse, which ended up being a perfect location to start the Cabot Trail, which we were heading out on the next day.

Sunday, September 2nd, 2012

Road along the Cabot TrailThis will go down as the start of some of the best two days of riding I have ever had.  It was up there with riding through the Drakensbergs in South Africa, and exploring the Inca Ruins.  The road was wide open (there’s no were to actually go besides in a big circle) and there were curls and dips along the coastline that made you forget everything else beside the blacktop laying out.

We only road for a few hours, stopping here and there at will, no rush on our mind.  There were cups of coffee and breakfast, the sun baking down, but coastal wind keeping us cool in our riding gear.  There’s rarely a time when the elements all come together into a perfect harmony of wind, sun, coastline, company, and terrain.  Whenever I think of riding, this is what I want to think of.

Fun signs!We rolled into the Driftwood Lodge, which was a glorious A-frame if I’ve ever seen one.  The next day was going to be our “long” one, so we called it early and prepped for the next 130mi journey.  Nothing crazy, obviously, but we once again were expecting to take our time to enjoy it as much as possible.

We did take the time to head up to the Keltic Lodge and hike out to the penisula.  I would’ve hit the links, but, well, I didn’t.

Monday, September 3rd, 2012

IMG_0988This day was undoubtable the highlight.  Starting with some amazing riding, a visit to a “Scotch” distillery, and ending with a night at the local pub with some hostel-mates.  Just doesn’t get much better.

The route around the top of the cape was fantastic.  There were a few quiet detours we were considering, and we took just about every single one of them.  Roads were consistently open (Memorial Day isn’t a Canadian holiday, oddly) and the weather held.  Second day in, we were clearly being spoiled, and loving every minute of it.

Erin took a few turns driving through the winding coastline roads, but the bike was fairly high for her, so she unfortunately didn’t feel comfortable enough to drive more often.

Glenora Distillery

Glenora DistilleryWe had determined that if we were making good time, we would stop by the Glenora Distillery, which is more or less scotch, but not scotch.  The fact that the providence is named “New Scotland” should tell you a few things about how many scottish people moved there in years long past.  The names of the roads, towns and trails are abundant evidence of the imprint of the scottish.

Fortunately, we were making great time, in spite of our detours, stops, and constant eating.  So we made the point of stopping by.  When we were in Dublin, we missed the Jameson tour, which everyone makes sure to point out is *fabulous*.

Glenora was a great experience, seeing the massive double stills, smelling the mash, seeing the trickling river that fed the water and made its way into the whiskey.  We thought long and hard about grabbing a bottle or two, but then realized that Canadian liquor taxes are hefty indeed, leaving us with a simple choice of saying no to Canadian scotch.

(Side note: they can’t call it scotch.  It’s technically a single malt whiskey.  But there was apparently enough hullaballo about them making something close to scotch, that they were sued over their name, “Glen Breton”.  A couple swings of the legal pendulum later, and the name stuck.)

IMG_1018Soon, we were heading back to the Bear on the Lake.  Quick check-in, a quick dinner, and we headed back for an early night.  However, one of my favorite characteristics of hostels are the communal nature of them. We walked back into a group of 5-8 people planning out their Monday night evening shenanigans.

There was much talk of the Red Shoe Pub being the place to go, and having finished our riding for the day, and splitting the taxi with another guest, it was another easy decision for the day.  Apparently, if you promise fiddling and step-dancing, we’re happy to go anywhere.

Fiddling and step-dancing was not to be found, however much it was promised.  In a classic bait-and-switch, there was a local cover band working the joint, with no hope of a fiddle showing up.  That being said, it didn’t stop us from ordering a few round, meeting our companion and hearing his plans, then heading on back to the hostel.  Of course, we still picked up a t-shirt for Erin’s dad.

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

IMG_0939The last day of riding home is always a bit of a let down.  It’s like a balloon being slowly deflated.  We certainly made the most of our time, with a fun detour at Antigonish, an area that hid a number of coves and fried lunch spots.

Our cuisine this entire trip had consisted of cod, haddock, and lobster sandwiches.  This excursion was no different, as we sat on the protected harbour, just a few ships coming in and out with a lazy movement.  We could look out and see Prince Edward Island and wonder what was going on over there, telling ourselves that it was nothing like what we had just come through.

Of course, these are the words of someone both appreciating the road we’d just come through, and knowing that, however quaint and manicured Anne of Green Gable’s island might be, we still want to head out and see it for ourselves.