Up, up (…and up, and up, and up…) and away

So, a lawyer and a social worker board a train in Montreal…

Seriously, stop me if you’ve heard this one.

They store their bikes and paniers in wherever the bikes and paniers go on your average Via Rail car, and settle down for a 24-hour ride to the east-coast.

It’s a steamy day and the air-conditioning in the train is broken so when the train stops in Moncton, they think “Ha! Moncton. I bet they have beer and ice-cream. Let’s grab some for the ride.”

So they do. But on their way back, they notice that their train is nowhere to be found.

Punch line?

Stuck. In. Moncton.

Pre-Moncton lay-over.
Pre-Moncton lay-over.

One unexpected lay-over in Moncton, a late night in Halifax, several near-miss panic attacks and a 4 hour bus ride later, we arrived in Baddeck on the visually delicious Cape Breton Island.

Cabot Trailing
Cabot Trailing

So the plan was this: Spend a leisurely five days cycle-camping the Cabot Trail, soaking in the east-coast sights, and in the case of my student-at-law companion, eating some fresh east-coast cuisine. We did some minor planning beforehand (ie. booked buses and looked at some pretty pictures on google image) but in classic bike-trip style, we were mostly flying by the seats of our cycles.

Which would have been okay, if it weren’t for the mountains.

Okay, so to be fair, maybe I would have re-thought the whole trip if I would only have done my homework and realized that we would be climbing not one but FOUR freakin’ mountains. The tallest, French Mountain, stands at some 1,493 thigh-achingly steep feet. But of course, homework being incomplete, we plowed in helmets first and became legitimate mountain-bikers.

Cabot Trailing
Cabot Trailing

So, day number one went something like this:

1. Leave Baddeck (by the way, pronounced something like Bad Deck)

2. Cruise into Margaree Harbour by dinner

3. Feel proud of our progress as we breeze through Cheticamp

4. Crash in Petit Etang

Margaree Bay
All geared up in Margaree Harbour
On route to Ch
On route to Cheticamp
Some 95kms later...
Some 100kms later…

In comparison, day number two was a little more like this:

1. “Cape Breton Island is breathtaking.”

2. “Wow, that first mountain was a bit of a challenge”.

3. “Why. Are we biking. Uphill. Through a cloud. Forever.”


Emerging from the cloud.
Emerging from the cloud.

By day three, we were starting to get the hang of things. You see, the trick is to leave early, lower expectations of getting anywhere fast, and really truly enjoy the view. Oh, and remember to eat a fuck-ton. We were always making the “let’s just get over this mountain before we stop for lunch” mistake. By that logic, we were eating lunch by about 2pm and running on some java and an oatmeal breakfast. Total. Rookies.

Ohh yes.
Ohh yes.
Top of the mountain, bitches.

So day 3 saw us travel through the highlands (emphasis on HIGH) and from coast-to-coast. We stopped in for drinks and one order of clam chowder at what may possibly be one of the most adorable coastal towns I have ever seen.

Neil's Harbour
Neil’s Harbour

And day 4?

Well, it was all about the beaches. With three mountains behind us and one still looming ahead, we goofed off in the water and enjoyed the hell outta the sunshine. By the time we got to Cape Smokey (our last up-and-over of the trip), we had this business under control.

Day 5 was a quick ride to take us full-circle and back to Baddeck. Despite our daily amateur mountaineering, we made it back way ahead of schedule and got to celebrate in what I (perhaps wrongly) assume is true east-coaster style.

Beach, boats and Keith's.
Beach, boats and Keith’s.

Author’s note: I’m sorry for the earlier Moncton bashing. In fact, I take it back completely. Moncton was a charming little place, and despite the vast and empty parking lots and confusing recycling system, we enjoyed our six-hour stay.