I feel fortunate to have grown up and live in Nova Scotia. The Maritimes in general is the land of clean ocean air, nearly vacant secondary roads and ever changing scenery; for a cyclist, this defines paradise.
So not to miss the opportunity to explore a little piece of Cape Breton that I haven’t ridden in a while, I drove to North Sydney to meet up with my sister. On Sunday morning we drove to St. Anne’s Bay at the Base of Kelly’s Mountain to ride a 60km loop that is part of the infamous Cabot Trail.
If you haven’t been up early and outdoors in a while, let me remind you of what you are missing. As we pedalled away from the car we soon were soon cloaked in sunshine and the cool ocean air. The songs of several species of birds welcomed us to the area and then at once the stillness left only the sound of our tires to break the silence. May is a great month here. The temperatures for riding are perfect and every living thing is in a state of uncontrolled excitement; trying to get as much out of the short summer as possible. Just like us.
The first ride of the year is all about feedback. Listening for (the presence or absence of) sounds from both the body and the bike to let you know everything is okay. Little accelerations test your legs just as short climbs test your lungs. After several kilometres without cause for concern we relax into a rhythm and our bodies and bikes embrace like old friends. Our conversation to this point ends with Kelly making a reference to Avitar that I didn’t fully get. (Must see movie!)
The early part of the ride took us along the many tiny inlets of St. Anne’s Bay. The road follows the shore, twisting and turning, changing elevation only slightly as we go. Views of the water are filled with geese and mergansers, wooden boats and the white dots that are houses on the far shore. We pass by the Gaelic College and beautiful riverbeds that were once invisible under a much greater sum of water.
The scenery is simply superb.We cross the North River, the source of two beautiful water falls and the home of North River Kayaks. On through Tarbot and Tarbotvale passing lots of interesting pioneer cemeteries, old abandoned houses and the shops of several artisans. By now we are fluid on our bikes and feel as much a part of the landscape as the river itself. Except our butts are beginning to hurt. The one question I get asked more than any other by my customers is “…have they learned how to make a comfortable seat yet?!” The answer is yes and no. There are many excellent saddles out there. It really comes down to choosing the right one for fit and firmness (the squishiest one not necessarily being the best and most comfortable). However, a good seat will do its part but you need to do yours, and that is to ride more. Just as your bike saddle may need a little breaking in so does your “seat” every season. Continued riding of increasing distances and frequency will relegate any uncomfortableness you may experience to a distant memory before long.
After 27 km we reach Route 312 and turn North. Nine more kilometres and we arrive at the Clucking Hen Cafe and Bakery. For reasons unknown there seems to be an explosion of restaurants being named using verb-animal combinations (e.g. the Prissy Pig and Dancing Goat). The Clucking Hen is a great little spot that serves a variety of healthy and more traditional options as well awesome coffee and baked goods. It is also in very close proximity to some wonderful shops. The Glass Artisans is a must see. They host a variety of established international glass blowers and crafters at their studio in the community of North Shore. You could spend several hours visiting the shops in the area including the WoodSmiths Studio and Leather Works by Jolene. We actually got to meet John, the previous owner of LeatherWorks, and had a wonderful conversation over lunch. Cycling is not just about the miles. The stops along the way are as memorable as the scenery.
The final leg of our ride continued South along Rte. 312 to the Englishtown ferry and onward to the head of the bay. The wind picked up which made it a little more challenging but we had flat roads along the shore and causeway leading to the ferry. After 15 km we arrived at the ferry.
Englishtown is probably best known as the home of Giant Angus MacAskill. At 7’9” he was a true giant who was equally comfortable at home fishing as he was travelling the world entertaining with his height and strength. The giant is buried in Englishtown just down the road from a museum that displays many artifacts from his life. Until recently (2008) the ferry that shuttles passengers across the bay was named the Angus MacAskill until it was replaced by the Torquil MacLean, named after a long time ferry operator.
The road along the Southern shore of the Bay includes 6 kilometres from the ferry to where rte 312 meets the Trans Canada (105). The last 2.5 km of this stretch kicks up 60m in elevation followed by a 4 km descent along the 105 back to the Lobster Galley Restaurant where we began.
As any cyclist will tell you, the ride doesn’t end when you dismount. In fact the adrenaline, euphoria, “runners/cyclists’ high, or whatever you want to call it lasts much longer. Even the fatigue that is waiting for me later today is a pleasant reminder of having done something awesome between waking up and going to bed. And when the fatigue is gone, the images from the ride will both sustain and inspire me until the next time.
Take care, Daryl