Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Nova Scotia, Part 1: Cape Breton, the Cabot Trail and Riding the Coastal Route

Although we’ve ridden through the pouring rain all day, we’re coming off of Nova Scotia on a high. What a great province! 

Upon arriving here 10 days ago, we stopped at dusk at the not-yet-opened East Wallace Motorcycle Campground. The owner, Mark, came out and welcomed us to stay for the evening… a free preview of sorts : ) His amazing vision is hopefully open by now, but it really is a bikers dream and is conveniently located between the major attractions of Nova Scotia... one of which is just down the road: Jost Winery.

Late the next morning, we set off in the direction of Cape Breton, making a quick stop at Jost, to indulge our palates. Interesting cool-climate varietals. They are mostly famed for their brief appearance on Letterman, featuring their award-winning 4 Skins wine. Hah.

Made it to Cape Breton late in the afternoon and found a nice spot to pull off the road just before dusk. It was our first really chilly night so we’d bought nice fatty sausages and instant mash for dinner. Snuggled in the tent later, we fell asleep listening to coyotes howling in the distance. 

Had to capture this site the next morning... I wonder where the coyotes were hiding.
Ready to ride the Cabot Trail
It was still quite cold the next morning, so we slept in for a while to give the sun a chance to warm everything up. The ride to the Cabot Trail, one of the most famous scenic routes in Canada, was brisk, but it was a stunning clear day, and the views soon distracted us from the temperature.
We stopped countless times on the 300 kilometer “trail” and even took a detour to Meat Cove along an awesome dirt road that wound around atop massive cliffs, giving way to incredible cerulean blue waves. In my humble opinion, those who do the Cabot Trail and miss out on Meat Cove, are missing the most beautiful spot on Cape Breton… AND the best riding… as long as you’re not on a Harley ;)

Meat Cove, Cape Breton
The weather forecast only gave us a two-day window of clear weather, so we set a steady pace riding south on Cape Breton, through Sydney, Louisbourg (and it’s Fortress) and into Halifax. That way, if the weather was absolute rubbish, at least we could spend the day wandering around shops and museums rather than soaking up water alongside the road somewhere.
Fort Louisbourg
But every morning, the sun would break through the clouds by10am, and we spent a beautiful sunny day in Halifax. It’s a cool city – great atmosphere, very walkable, lovely waterfront (we even saw a submarine coming into port!), and it has an awesome outdoor store to boot. We checked out the local Army/Navy surplus shop, as we’re still in search of a nice big, sturdy top-box for my bike, and then headed to YMCA for a shower before we met up with Brendal and Scott, a couple we had met at Jost Winery, for beers. It was great chatting with them – they’re potentially looking to do some traveling to gather some experience/know-how for setting up their own B&B someday, and wanted to get an idea of how we are making this traveling lifestyle work. Whatever they do, I’m sure it’ll be a smashing success – but I hope they make it to Australia for a year ;)

Although we’d only had small beers, we gave them a chance to settle and had a walk around the waterfront. The Maritime Museum was having a special free-entry/live music event, so we stopped in to indulge my lifetime obsession with the Titanic. There was a fascinating exhibit about the Halifax Explosion and a haunting exhibit about the sinking of the Titanic and the recovery efforts that ensued, which were based out of Halifax. In a macabre sort of way, it would have been interesting to check out the Titanic Cemetery, where they buried the unclaimed victims, but it was getting late, and I’m not the biggest fan of visiting cemeteries after dark. 

Spry Bay Park (our tent is just behind us)
Thanks to BellAliant for such a nice moss patch!
Gravel Pit Camping. Meh.
Up until that night, we’d had amazing luck with camping spots. One night was next to a mobile phone service building on a perfectly flat, sumptuously mossy patch. The next was an expansive park on the ocean, with sheltered picnic tables, water taps, toilets, and lots of flat grassy areas. But that night, it started misting just as we rode out of town and after our first encounter with a porcupine in the middle of the road, we began to look in earnest for a site. There was nothing. No parks. No picnic spots. No logging roads. And then we found a gravel pit. Not perfect, but hidden from the road and reasonably flat. We’ve got great air-mattresses, but it’s not a site I’ll miss. 
We woke to more mist and heavy fog the next morning. Found out our gravel pit that looked out of the way and hidden by dark, was actually directly in front of a house. Oops! Fortunately, it appeared to still be under construction, so hopefully we didn’t bother anyone. We rode along the coastal road to Peggy’s Cove, supposedly the most-photographed fisherman’s village in Nova Scotia.

The picturesque Peggy's Cove
Though foggy, it was definitely picturesque, and the tale of how it came to be named was fairly interesting… A ship had wrecked just off shore and the only survivor was a young woman named Margaret. She became a figure of note in the region and so they named the Cove “Peggy” after her. After having our breakfast at the Visitors Center, we continued on through Mahone Cove – a really beautiful little town – and then on into Lunenburg. Lunenburg was as lovely as everyone had said and we enjoyed stretching our legs a bit before getting back on the road in search of a Honda Dealership. 

Roel had been carrying a spare front tire that he had picked up at Twisted Throttle in Rhode Island, and it was finally time to put it on. He had also noticed a slight change in the sound his chain was making, and was thinking it would be good to order a new chain and set of sprockets. Down the road in Bridgetown, we found out that this would be more difficult than we had thought and given that it was nearly closing time, we decided to delay the tire change until the next day.

Mother Nature seemed to be slowly amping it up as the next morning was dreary, blustery and misty. Not a day that either of us wanted to spend a significant amount of time riding. The guys at the GW Sampson Honda dealership in Kingston were great – they spent some time looking into Roel’s parts and let him use their compressor to make his tire change a bit easier and a heck of a lot quicker. I enjoyed checking out their ladies apparel as they actually stocked not one, but two of the Joe Rocket jackets I’d been interested in! I’ve found it really difficult to find anything in shops that is suitable for women who want something beyond a pink-ish, leather, fashion riding jacket, so I have to give props to these guys for stocking the Alter Ego AND Ballistic Series 11.0… they appeared to be really well-made, extremely versatile with lots of venting options, rain-proofing, layering options, etc. They weren’t a perfect fit for me, but for someone with a shorter (read: normal length) torso, they’d be great.

The guys at GW Sampson also convinced us to head South to the Digby Wharf Rat Rally that we’d first heard about from Mark at the East Wallace Motorcycle Campground. Since we still hadn't had any luck finding Roel's sprocket/chain, we thought it might be good to have a chat to the folks in Digby to see if they had any ideas.The ladies across the street at the library where I logged several hours online and editing photos, were also very helpful and even suggested a place along the way to Digby where we could camp. So the decision was made, and instead of heading out of Nova Scotia, we headed in the opposite direction to Digby. We were thrilled that we had gone… it was an awesome few days, but more on that in my next entry…

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