Day 3: Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Island

day 3

Between the time change, being accustomed to room darkening curtains at home, and not having a room darkening tent, I was awake quite a bit earlier than I planned and couldn’t get back to sleep. No big deal – once I gave up on sleep, I took my time packing up and loading the bike, and when I was ready I hit the road.

IMGP0387I had to ride a fair distance without coffee before I stopped at the Tidnish General Store. This was the closest thing to civilization I saw all the way to Nova Scotia, but they had coffee, which is what mattered to me. I ended up parked next to a Chevrolet Optra. A what? That’s what I thought – I’d never seen one before. Or had I? It had an uncanny resemblance to Top Gear’s “Reasonably Priced Car” in which they have their celebrity guests do a lap of the track.  When I looked it up later, I learned that I was correct – the Optra is the same car as the Lacetti, which, despite sounding Italian, is actually Korean – a rebadged Daewoo. Confused yet? So am I. But being into cars as well as motorcycles, I enjoyed seeing some slightly different models that we don’t get in the US – a genuine Honda Civic SiR, for example.

Back to bikes. I’m not exactly sure when I crossed into Nova Scotia, since it wasn’t marked well, but the pavement soon improved, and I followed Tyndal Road along the shore down through Pugwash. I continued through Wallace, Tatamagouche, and River John, then stopped in Pictou, the original Scottish settlement in Nova Scotia. I spotted a Home Hardware store, and decided to stop in an pick up a tarp to put under my tent.  I hadn’t realized until I was already setting up my new tent that the floor was not a tough tarp-like surface like the tent I was previously using, so I wanted to protect it from moisture and punctures.

IMGP0397Then I ducked over to the Tim Horton’s next door for another coffee, and to use their free wifi. It didn’t work. But I did meet up with two bikers from Quebec, one on the BMW pictured here (complete with a Boston Celtics sticker that amused me), and another on a Harley. We got talking, and it turned out we were all heading the same way, to Cape Breton Island. They were traveling a bit farther than I planned to, though – their goal was to ride the entire east coast of Canada and the US. They asked me all kinds of questions about Massachusetts, which I was happy to answer for them, and I recommended some local roads they should keep in mind while they’re out here. I ended up riding out of Pictou with them, but soon bailed off the highway to cruise back roads through New Glasgow.

Soon after, my TomTom’s “Avoid highways” function completely failed, and put me on Trans Canada Highway 104 all the way out to Cape Breton Island. I don’t know what part of Trans Canada Highway it doesn’t understand is a highway, and should avoid it. I was very disappointed. I can’t put all the blame on the GPS, though. Normally I scroll around Google Maps at home, look for specific roads I want to ride, and make note of them so that I can ignore the GPS and go my own way if I wish. This trip came together so quickly that I didn’t do much of that, so I was relying on the GPS to find my routes more than usual. And, from my experiences at home, I know I can’t just blame the Canadian data for this problem – I have it near home, too.

IMGP0398Even so, my long slog down 104 was still rather enjoyable, because the scenery kept getting better and better – rolling hills of brilliant green. Every time I crested another hill, I was amazed at the beautiful landscape being revealed to me. This trend was to continue throughout my stay in Nova Scotia. Before I knew it, I was crossing the Canso Causeway – the connection between mainland Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Island.

Since my planned route didn’t include much on the southwest side of the island, and it was only mid-afternoon, I decided to take a detour up the Ceilidh Trail to Inverness. Yes, the Scottish influence was in full force! This was a ride well worth taking, with beautiful hills on the right and a beautiful ocean on the left most of the way there. Just after Inverness, I found myself on a freshly “paved” road – “paved,” as in they’d sprayed oil and dropped a bunch of loose gravel on it. I slowed far below the limit and hoped nobody came flying up behind me too quickly. This wouldn’t be a problem before long, since I caught up to the construction zone and was stuck waiting for a little while. When we did get to go, the available lane was about 2/3 of a car wide. No problem for me, of course, but the cars and trucks all had to drop their right wheels into the dirt, so I rode through a dust storm until we were out of the construction zone. This is the only instance of construction I encountered during my stay on Cape Breton Island, and though the methods seem strange, the end result really was a good quality road – far superior to what I rode in New Brunswick.

IMGP0407I reached the end of the Ceilidh Trail, which emptied out onto the Cabot Trail – the road I had come all the way from Massachusetts to ride. The next day I intended to ride the entire loop of the Cabot Trail, but my diversion through Inverness let me sample part of it a bit early. This wasn’t the most scenic part of the Cabot Trail, but it still exceeded my expectations – great quality pavement, curvy, hilly, and some of the most beautiful scenery I’d ever seen.

My destination today was the Bras d’Or Lakes Campground in Baddeck. It’s right on the Cabot Trail, which is Trans Canada Highway 105 in this area. It’s a little before Baddeck, actually, as I found out when I accidentally rode past it the first time, but I had no problem turning around and getting back to it.

It was July 4, which means nothing in Canada, of course, yet the whiteboard in the office said Happy Independence Day. Come to find out the couple that runs this place is originally from the Boston area, so we chatted a bit about how things are at home and how much they’ve changed since they left many years ago. I chose a campsite in the less damp region of the tenting area and got myself set up, happy that I’d bought that tarp earlier in the day. I’d be staying here two nights, which would let me leave most of my stuff here and ride the Cabot Trail unloaded the following day. I also didn’t have to worry about breaking down and setting up camp the next day, either, which would be a nice break.

IMGP0411I went into Baddeck to scope out the town and find dinner and some tasty adult beverages for the night. On a whim, I stopped by the information booth I parked near, and ended up getting a number of maps and pamphlets from an attractive, young, and very helpful woman working there. She gave me some good advice about interesting places to stop along the Cabot Trail. It was clear that I wouldn’t be here long enough to do everything that interested me, but the information was good so I could pick and choose what to do. I ate at a local pizza place, then found a liquor store up the hill that had a small selection of local beers, a couple of which I picked up to bring back to the campsite with me. Even the view from the liquor store parking lot was enough to make my jaw drop.

The tenting area at the campground was basically a small field with individual sites marked around the perimeter. Privacy? What privacy? But I didn’t mind – my tent gives me privacy when I want it, and this way I got to chat with some of the other campers. I ended up talking with a couple riding a Vulcan across the field from me, and a father and daughter from Ontario who had just come back from Newfoundland camped next to them. I was the only American in the group, and that was fine – I just got a little good natured ribbing when they learned I was from the Boston area, and they asked why the Bruins fell apart at the end of the last game of the Stanley Cup! I explained that this is a long standing tradition of all Boston sports teams.

Once the sun went down and the bugs got fierce, we retreated to our respective tents. I took advantage of the campground’s wifi that actually worked to let friends back home know I was still alive and well, then went to sleep.

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Categories: long trip | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Day 3: Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Island

  1. Wow! And I thought my road trips went the distance..
    I drove down to San Francisco from Vancouver last summer and if there was one thing I missed.. it’d be Tim Hortons. Fortunately for you, there was probably a Timmy’s every second exit!

    • Justin Hughes

      I learned about Tim Horton’s when I lived in Maine, since, like Irving, they’ve started invading America. And yes, unless I was in a somewhat remote area, it wasn’t hard to find a Timmy’s when I needed one. I only wish the free wifi was more reliable or I would’ve posted more from on the road!

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