Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Towards the Cabot Trail

31th August: Port Hood to Margaree Harbour

Odometer: 74 km, Start: 10.00am, Finish: 4.00pm, Avg: 18.7 km/h,
Weather: Sunny AM, cloudy PM, Temp: 16-23°C
Road Conditions: #19/219 (Ceilidh Trail), small gravel or no shoulder, reasonable road surface, very light traffic. Services: Inverness (45km). Ascent: 475m/450m.

I have a fairly relaxed schedule planned for Cape Breton to cater for the very “scenic” (i.e. hilly) terrain. Today I had a leisurely 75km ride northwards to pick up the Cabot Trail.

I had breakfast at the same place I had my meal last night, looking out again over the water. I hit the road around 10am and rode slowly to the next village of Mabou. This town had great scenery around it’s bay area. I also stumbled across the bike trail I’d used yesterday.

Mabou Bay

I took the trail (which I'm pretty sure now was once a railway line) all the way to Inverness, one of the larger (but still small) towns on my route around the island. I was glad of the shade of the trail as the sky was clear, the sun was out and it was already very warm.

Church and bridge at Mabou (taken from the bike trail)

Just before Inverness I counted down to my 8,000th kilometre on this trip! That’s 5,000 miles for all you imperialists. I can confirm that is a long way on a bicycle in 2.5 months…

8,000 kilometres = 5,000 miles!

I’ve stopped in Margaree Harbour this evening, which is another nice coastal location with pleasant views. It’s also on the Cabot Trail road. Therefore, the fun should begin tomorrow…

Margaree Harbour and bridge
I've reached the Cabot Trail!


I say should begin. I’ve found out tonight that another hurricane (Earl) is forecast to threaten Nova Scotia / Newfoundland at the end of the week. (Hurricane Danielle I wrote about a while back didn’t affect the region).

It leaves me with a dilemma. It will take me 3 days to get around the Cabot Trail and back to North Sydney (for the ferry to Newfoundland). I might run into strong winds (or worse) during the Friday and I’d still be on exposed coastal roads. Strong winds on a loaded touring bike would be an absolute no-no.

I could bail out from Margaree Harbour and head straight for North Sydney via Baddeck and beat the stormy weather by a day. I’d miss the Cabot Trail, of course, but at least I’d be in the right place to sit out a possible storm and watch for information on the Newfoundland ferry.

I think it’s a decision for the morning after viewing the latest forecast…

Across to Cape Breton

30th August: Antigonish to Port Hood

Odometer: 95 km, Start: 8.45am, Finish: 4.00pm, Avg: 19.1 km/h,
Weather: Sunny, Temp: 15-25°C
Road Conditions: #104 (TCH), mostly 2m shoulder, moderate to heavy traffic. #4 (from jct. 36 of #104), small gravel shoulder, average road surface, very light traffic. #19 (from Port Hastings), small gravel shoulder, good road surface, very light traffic. Adequate stops before Port Hastings (50km). Small shop at Troy (55km) and Judique (75km). Ascent: 400m/430m.

It felt a little bit like a transition day as I made my way onto Cape Breton and north towards the Cabot Trail via the Ceilidh Trail. I had to endure some early kilometres on the Trans-Canada Highway until I could get onto the old alignment (highway #4) and away from the traffic. I seem to be increasingly annoyed now by loud and fast traffic. I think it’s because the contrast to the usually quiet roads I ride on is so stark. It affects my karma greatly.

Canso Causeway (from Cape Breton side)

Cape Breton is actually a large island separated from the rest of Nova Scotia by the 1km Strait of Canso. The road on the man-made Canso Causeway is the only land bridge. I sprinted across as the road was narrow and the traffic was heavy.

Welcome to the Island of Cape Breton

Port Hastings is just the other side and I rolled into the Tourist Information to get the low down. I find it useful, in areas without major population centres, to work out the relative sizes of the smaller villages along my route. (You can’t really tell from the map). This allows me to plan food stops in remoter areas. I got some good local information from the knowledgeable staff.

I joined the Ceilidh Trail (route #19) northwards from Port Hastings. This part of Nova Scotia seems quite celebratory of it’s Celtic roots! Village signs often have their Celtic name equivalents. The tourist trail ran alongside the coastline (St. Georges Bay) and it was quite pleasant viewing during the hot and sunny afternoon. I could just about see the land I rode on yesterday around Cape George across the bay!

On the Ceilidh Trail

At Judique, I found a bike trail, part of the signed Trans Canada Trail (the off-road bike trail across Canada). It was called the Judique Flyer Trail and I think it was using a former railway line as it was pretty straight and with well engineered shallow gradients. I took the trail through welcome shaded woods nearly all the way to my evening stopover in Port Hood which is right by the sea!

Coastal scene near Judique (taken from the bike trail)
Sunset at Port Hood. I had dinner on a terrace looking out at this.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

The Mini Cabot Trail

29th August: Lower Barneys River to Antigonish

Odometer: 89 km, Start: 8.30am, Finish: 3.45pm, Avg: 19.6 km/h,
Weather: Sunny, Temp: 17-25°C
Road Conditions: #245/337 (known as "Mini Cabot Trail"), no shoulder, mostly reasonable surface, very light traffic. Small cafe at Ballantynes Cove (45km). Very hilly around Cape George. Ascent: 720m/700m

After my rather unpleasant night’s “rest” at the noisy campsite, I was keen to get away in the morning. I was to continue along the coastline on what a couple of people have told me is known as the Mini Cabot Trail. A sort of “warm-up” for the real thing in a few days time!

At first the road was kind of flat and uninteresting. The sea was hidden behind the trees even though it was only 500m away. Gradually, around Arisaig, the terrain changed character, becoming much more hilly. The road started climbing and then plunging down into coves and climbing out again the other side. It became a veritable rollercoaster.

Looking down at Arisaig

Around the headland at Cape George, the road and views of the coastline were truly stunning. Both took your breath away! At one point you could see Prince Edward Island to the NW and Cape Breton (where I’m headed) to the NE. Both were about 30km away.

Road going down steeply around Cape George

From the Cape George headland the road dropped away again steeply and the wonderful vista of Ballantynes Cove opened up before me. I took a couple of photos from different vantage points down the hill. I also had a lunch at the tiny cafe in the marina, after waiting 20 minutes for it to open up at midday!

Ballantynes Cove
Marina at Ballantynes Cove

The road then gradually flattened out as it followed the coastline southwards to Antigonish along St. Georges Bay. Cape Breton was clearly visible (and looking very hilly) on the other side of the water. It had been a nice introduction to the rugged and beautiful Nova Scotia coastline. I’m looking forward to the “full-sized” Cabot Trail quite a lot now, although I’m thinking it’s going to be tough…

Chairs facing out over St. Georges Bay towards Cape Breton

Ferry to Nova Scotia

28th August: Woods Island to Lower Barneys River, NS

Odometer: 60 km, Start: 8.45am, Finish: 4.00pm, Avg: 20.0 km/h,
Weather: Sunny, Temp: 17-25°C
Road Conditions: #106 (to New Glasgow), 2m shoulder, good surface, light traffic. #4/#245, no shoulder, average surface, very light traffic. Services: New Glasgow (25km). Gas station / Campground at Lower Barneys River (60km). Ascent: 300m/300m

After riding all the way across PEI in one go, I had a relatively short ride for my first day in Nova Scotia. The ferry crossing took just over an hour. You could see the Nova Scotia shoreline from the harbour at Woods Island. It was only 20km away.

Out on the water this morning

On the ferry, I spoke to a nice lady at the Tourist Information Desk to get my free province map and to establish the lie of the land on my intended route.

Lighthouse approaching Caribou, Nova Scotia

I’ve stopped at 60km at a busy and somewhat noisy (it’s Saturday night) Cranberry Campground on the Northumberland Shore. My tent spot overlooks the water, though.

Northumberland Shore from campsite

Tomorrow I get to ride along what the locals call the “Mini Cabot Trail”. I’m not quite sure what that means. A warm-up for the real thing? Maybe some coastal scenery without the hills? I don’t know.

The weather is excellent again and supposedly set fair for most of the next week. I haven’t got that far to go now and mentally, I’m thinking I’ve nearly finished this road trip. That’s a bit premature, though, as there is still some hard riding to come. Thankfully, my shortened route means I don’t have to ride quite so far anymore. I might be glad of that by next weekend…

Across Prince Edward Island

27th August: Borden-Carleton to Woods Island

Odometer: 127 km, Start: 9.00am, Finish: 7.00pm, Avg: 18.9 km/h,
Weather: Sunny intervals, Temp: 16-23°C
Road Conditions: Confederation trail (67km to Charlottetown), red cinder gravel, smooth surface in great condition. #26 (from Charlottetown), no shoulder, very light traffic. Joins #1 (TCH), 1.75m shoulder, good condition, light traffic. #23 (to Woods Island), no shoulder, reasonable surface, extremely light traffic. Good stops on trail. Services: Charlottetown (67km). Cafe at Vernon Bridge (85km). Ascent: 500m/530m

I managed to dry out overnight and it was sunny when I went for breakfast in the morning. My motel was right by the start of the Confederation Trail bike path that I was going to take to Charlottetown. I wondered about the trail’s condition after the rainy day yesterday. (Other parts of PEI had very heavy rain, much worse than I experienced). I needn’t have worried the trail was hard-packed cinder gravel and it was in perfect condition!

The red earth of Prince Edward Island

The Confederation Trail was another brilliant off-road bike route. Nice one PEI! I really enjoyed the whole 67km to Charlottetown. Most of the trail surface had a red colour indicative of the colour of the island rocks and soil. I passed through old woods and across open grassland and pasture. This part of PEI had a lot of rolling hills, but because the trail was mostly built on a defunct railway route, the gradients on the trail were only very slight.

Typical conditions on the Confederation Trail

The trail delivered me right to the edge of the old town district of Charlottetown. I used the GPS to navigate the 500m or so to the one building I wanted to see in the town. Province House held the first talks on Canadian Confederation in 1864.

Province House, Charlottetown – Venue for the 1864 Confederation Talks
Information on the 1864 Confederation Talks
Cormorants on an old bridge support, Charlottetown

I had intended to get half way between Charlottetown and Woods Island to leave a short ride to the ferry to Nova Scotia in the morning. In the end, I made it all the way, due to an afternoon tailwind! I’m glad I did as I had great conditions in the early evening for some snaps of the lighthouses dotted around the Woods Island harbour area.

The little lighthouse and a sailing boat, Woods Island, PEI
Low tide and evening light
The colourful red lighthouse
The other lighthouse and the evening sun

Soggy day riding to the Confederation Bridge

26th August: Bouctouche to Borden-Carleton, PEI

Odometer: 113 km, Start: 9.00am, Finish: 5.30pm, Avg: 21.1 km/h,
Weather: Drizzle/Fog AM, Showers PM, very humid, Temp: 18-24°C
Road Conditions: No Road report. I tried to follow the “Acadian Coastal Drive” again to the Confederation bridge but three closed bridges resulted in large detours. 

A soggy day sums it up nicely! It rained overnight and turned very humid. I had set off in the dry though and it was supposed to be a improving picture during the day. I thought I’d got away with it again! Not this time, the weather forecast was off. It didn’t take long for the drizzle to set in. Several heavy showers during the afternoon and the lovely humidity ensured I stayed very damp. My skin was crinkly (again) by the evening.

A small portion of the 13km length of the Confederation Bridge

I wanted to follow the Acadian Coastal Drive for the second day down to the Confederation Bridge, but there were several closed river bridges on the route. (There seemed to be an unusual amount of road and bridge maintenance going on). Bridge closures are a bit of a bummer as it usually means a lengthy detour. A lengthy detour riding a bicycle is BAD. Add detours to the list of things that make me shout a lot!

The body-blow was the closure of the #955 which was a bike friendly road along the coast for the last 30km to the bridge. The detour was on an main road going inland followed by 25km on the Trans-Canada Highway… in the pouring rain! Lovely.

You can't ride your bike across or walk...

Approaching the bridge there were signs indicating pedestrians and cyclists aren’t allowed to cross. Instead there was a shuttle bus to catch at the information centre just before the start of the bridge. It was a strange system to catch a lift across. You had to use a phone in the centre to call for a lift. (I think the buses stay on the PEI side until they’re needed rather than having one or more stationed at each end? Maybe there’s some logic in there somewhere…).

I had to wait about 20 mins, just enough time for a snack and a walk to the observation tower to look out at the bridge. From the tower, you can only see the first couple of kilometres before the bridge curves away behind itself. It’s still quite impressive though.

...there's a (24hr I think) shuttle bus for bikes and pedestrians

After loading the Nomad on a trailer (annoyingly I had to take all my bags off), I and three foot passengers were whisked across to the other side and we were on Prince Edward Island!

PEI has a good network of bike paths, some of them following the course of the island’s railway line which was closed in 1989. I’m hoping to travel the 65km to Charlottleville, the island’s capital, off-road on the Confederation Trail. It should be a good ride. Shades of La Route Verte in Quebec…

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Reached the east coast of Canada

25th August: Rogersville to Bouctouche (8km south of)

Odometer: 115 km, Start: 9.15am, Finish: 6.00pm, Avg: 21.0 km/h,
Weather: Sunny, Temp: 15-24°C
Road Conditions: #480, no shoulder, some rough surface sections, deserted. #134/505/475 (from Saint Louis de Kent I followed the “Acadian Coastal Drive” signage), gravel shoulders, average road surfaces, very light traffic. Gas station St. Louis (40km). Services: Richibucto (50km), Bouctouche (105km). Ascent: 220m/260m.

I left Rogersville refreshed from my day off. Thanks to Freda and Garry at Chez Freda Restaurant & Motel for making me so welcome. (Garry even took me on a drive around the local area one evening). I was also upbeat, I was about to hit the east coast of Canada!

“And to my right we have the Atlantic Ocean” (Northumberland Strait)...

I began to look for glimpses of open water around St. Louis-de-Kent and Richibucto, straining my eyes up estuarial rivers, but an archipelago of islands sat just off the coast and blocked my view. It wasn’t until I got to Cap-Lumière that I took in my first view of open sea in 2½ months! I’d reached the east coast of Canada! I could also just make out Prince Edward Island 20km off the coast. I should be on the island tomorrow evening.

Is that a galleon I see before me?

I continued southwards hugging the coastline and following the Acadian Coastal Drive, a signed scenic tourist route. It was very quiet, although the roads were a bit bumpy and the wind was whipping in off the sea.

Err... no.

Just after Saint-Eduoard-de-Kent I met another two female Trans-Canada cyclists who had also set out from Vancouver! We chatted for a while about our experiences. They’d just ridden the infamous Plaster Rock to Renous #108 and had done a wild camp half way. They’d found it equally as tough. Funnily enough, they’d even heard of me from various sources over the last few days. (I was a day or so ahead of them, on the same roads from Quebec, until my rest day synchronised us). My reputation precedes me!

At Saint-Edouard-de-Kent

I stopped for an evening meal in Bouctouche and they carried on a while. (I should see them again tomorrow, I think). After the meal, I asked Madame about places to stay. Within a minute, she’d rang a couple of numbers and fixed me up with a nice B&B right on my route going south! Merci Madame! What a nice day it’s been…

Just before Bouctouche

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Day off in Rogersville

After posting my journal yesterday, I had time to look at my remaining riding schedule to St. John’s. I also decided to have my day off here in Rogersville rather than ride one more day to the coast. I needed a stop anyway having ridden every day since leaving Montreal.

Although I’ve covered 7,400km in 75 days since June 10th, I’ve not quite kept up with my schedule. (I’m pretty damn close though). Studying what’s left on my route and weighing the pros and cons, I’ve decided I don’t quite have enough time for the long ride across Newfoundland (from Channel Port-aux-Basques) I’d planned without leaving things tight to catch my flight home.

So instead, I’m going to take the alternative long ferry crossing (14 hours!) from North Sydney to Argentia, Newfoundland and ride in to St. John’s from there. It’s still the same end point, so makes no real difference. This reduces my route by about 750km and gives me time to relax and enjoy these final days without worrying about distances and time left. I should get a couple of days in St. John’s to sight-see as well. 14 hours on a ferry could be a bitch though…

The ferry only runs 3 times a week, so I’ve got to synchronise properly with that. I’m glad I checked the ferry schedule as I had assumed the service was daily! I’m also watching Hurricane Danielle which is currently off the coast of Mexico tracking northwards. It could affect the Maritime region in about a week's time!

I did have time to visit Rogersville’s (only) tourist attraction this morning – the Monument National Notre-Dame de l'Assomption (Acadian National Monument). Some pictures from there follow.

Monument National Notre-Dame de l'Assomption
Statue of Msgr. Marcel-François Richard, considered the Father of Modern Acadia
Statue plaque detail
Statue detail of Msgr. Marcel-François Richard
The Acadian Flag. It's flown a lot in this region.
Flower of the day 1
Flower of the day 2
Some explanatory text of Msgr. Marcel-François Richard
Some explanatory text of the Monument

Monday, 23 August 2010

Out of the hills and animals during the night

23th August: Middle of nowhere, between Plaster Rock & Renous to Rogersville

Odometer: 121 km, Start: 8.00am, Finish: 4.30pm, Avg: 19.8 km/h,
Weather: Overcast, brighter later, Temp: 14-22°C
Road Conditions: #108, no shoulder, average road surface, extremely light traffic. #118 (from Renous), no shoulder, light traffic. #126 (to Rogersville), gravel shoulder, light traffic but fast with heavy-haulers. Services: Renous (70km). Ascent: 500m/900m.

My isolated camp spot wasn’t as lonely as I thought it was going to be. There were several large animals wandering around in the woods during the night! I think they were moose or large deer as when I went out (a bit scared) to investigate, I could hear munching and crunching. I don’t think they were bears (New Brunswick does have black bears), but it was still a little too much “adventure” when camping alone in a great big forest…

I was a bit tired when I reached Renous after my “adventure”

It was rainy and windy during the night as well, so after a fretful and interrupted sleep, I broke camp quite early and hit the road. Despite making a good dent yesterday, I still had 70km to go to Renous and sanctuary. It was a slow process, despite the general tilt downwards of the road as I came out of the hills. I had little energy, even after eating most of my rations. I was cheered slightly by the number of honks and waves from the few car drivers. I don’t think many cyclists come this way…

Finally I reached the oasis, namely the gas station on the edge of Renous, the one indicated on the sign from yesterday’s post. I sat down with my food feeling pretty tired. I could have happily slept on that bench for a while, but I became a popular attraction with lots of people gathering around and talking to me about my trip. (It was strange to have the attention again. In Quebec, nobody bothered me at all. They all seemed much more reserved). After the break, lengthened considerably by my temporary celebrity status, I carried on hoping to reach Rogersville.

Gas station oasis at Renous

I did get to my destination, but it was a grind. Never mind, I recover quite quickly. Actually, I’ve got another highlight to look forward tomorrow as I reach the east coast of Canada and the Atlantic! Technically, the water is the Northumberland Strait, but it leads to the Atlantic Ocean and that’s good enough for me.

River at Renous

Remote crossing of central New Brunswick

22th August: Grand Falls to the middle of nowhere, between Plaster Rock & Renous (Wild camp @ N46º49.057', W66º36.668) 

Odometer: 113 km, Start: 9.15am, Finish: 5.00pm, Avg: 18.7 km/h,
Weather: Sunny intervals, Temp: 12-23°C
Road Conditions: #108, no shoulder, reasonable road surface, extremely light traffic after Plaster Rock. Services: Plaster Rock (35km) then nothing for 137km. Water available only from several rivers en route. Most are a scramble down to reach, though. The Dungarvon River at 110km was relatively easy to get to. Hilly day. Ascent: 1300m/1000m.

I was looking forward to today, but with some trepidation. When doing my research on getting across New Brunswick, I was intrigued by a remote looking road through the upper-centre of the province, the #108. From Plaster Rock to Renous I discovered, there is absolutely nothing, no gas stations, no rest areas, no tourist attractions, nothing that is but forest! It’s 138km between the towns and that’s a long day’s bike ride.

River at Grand Falls

A couple of days ago, I decided I fancied wild camping in the middle of nowhere, having ascertained there were several river crossings to hopefully obtain some water. So, I stopped near Grand Falls yesterday to make the distances work.

I visited the falls implied by the town’s name first thing in the morning, but when I got there I discovered it was the wrong time of year. (Spring is best apparently). The falls were just a dribble. Most of the water is diverted to a power station during the summer months. The scouring of the rock faces indicated that this would be a sight when the water is flowing, though.

Wrong time of year for the falls, though
Should be quite impressive during springtime…

I headed on to Plaster Rock, my last town to stock up on some food before heading out into the hills. The river at Plaster Rock was quite nice to view as I left town. On the way out there are a couple of signs warning about the large distance to the next town. There was a great big warning sign to expect winter conditions too. Maybe not today, it was 24 degrees and sunny.

River at Plaster Rock
Another remote stretch ahead, 137km of nothing but forest…

The road climbed into the Central New Brunswick hills and twisted it’s way through dense pine forests. It also rose and dipped repeatedly. I climbed and descended, climbed and descended throughout the afternoon, gradually gaining altitude. I reached 550m at one stage.

Heading into the hills of central New Brunswick on the #108

At the Dungarvon River I managed to get some water (to filter later) and started looking for a camp spot. The GPS helped here, as it showed a few logging roads in the area. I managed to find a nice hidden spot off a logging road and set up camp for a lonely night in the woods!

My wild camp between Plaster Rock and Renous at N46º49.057', W66º36.668!