The Cabot Trail on the west side of Cape Breton, near Corney Brook Campground

Day 30
I rode through the Cape Breton Highlands National Park today, starting from half a mile outside the Ingonish entrance and ending a dozen miles beyond the Cheticamp entrance. Park employees at both ends were quite impressed that I was going to / could do it in one day, although the entrance to entrance distance is only about 70 miles. I also got cheered along the way and called 'tough' by some folks that apparently saw me in route and after I left the park. Aw gee, it weren't nothin much...

I wasn't very impressed with my B+B last night (worst I've seen, more like a rooming house than a B+B and not very well maintained), but I did sleep well and they did serve a good breakfast. I entered the park about 9 AM - paying the same $3.50 as the RVs. My first impression was that there were lots of services and that the road was good. Then I got to the pretty part along the ocean. Very nice views, moderate traffic, hilly with some pretty steep, but relatively short, hills.
Before Niel's Harbor the road heads inward and climbs over a 100 meter or so high ridge. Niel's Harbor looked neat, but I decided to ride on to Cape North before stopping. There was road construction (I'd been seeing lots of trucks) for several miles after Niel's Harbor and then a quite rural ride over a 250 meter high hill. The grade was gentle and it was hot. I'm getting acclimatized, I think 75 F is hot! There was an intermittent head wind which helped keep me cool.

Looking north towards Cape North

At Cape North I met the Australian tourists who I'd met last week south of Halifax. They were coming from Cheticamp and planning to spend the night in Ingonish. We had a nice visit and then I rode on to Morrison's Restaurant in Cape North for an excellent lunch. After Cape North I, rather nervously, rode off towards Big North, the worst climb on the Cabot Trail. It is about 10 miles out of Cape North, with most of that distance being down a lovely, and gentle, valley floor. Midway on, you can see the road heading up the side of the ridge ahead. Did I mention that the area west of Cape North is full of rather large ridges? Those ridges are 1500 or so feet high. Quite pretty, but not easy to ride over.

My book say's the climb is 7% average grade for the first few kilometers and then a 15% grade for the last .7 Kilometer. My impression was that the early part was 15% alternating with pretty flat and the last part was all 15%. It was a rough climb. My 19" low gear isn't low enough for a 15% grade on a loaded bike, so I ended up grinding along a less than 4 mph while zig-zagging when traffic permitted. I made it, but I don't think I could have kept it up for more than another few hundred meters vertical. The climb was about 400 meters. The head wind was really strong (25 mph?) on some parts of the climb and almost gone on others. It was nice when the wind was moderate, but unpleasant when it was absent (hot!) or too strong. The views during this climb were, for a person from Western North Carolina, nice but not spectacular.

After the climb there is a reasonably flat section across/along the top of the ridge, then a downhill pretty much like the uphill. I stopped before the downhill to eat a candy bar and drink some water. Then zoom. I was holding 40 - 42 mph on the downhill into a pretty good headwind and not tucked. Steep.

After the downhill things were pretty flat/gently downhill until after Pleasant Bay. I stopped in Pleasant bay for a light second lunch - you eat when you get the chance on this ride - and headed up MacKensie's Ridge. That was about 300 meters of climbing with, my book says, an average slope of 10%. Averages don't mean much in this context. There were 15% or steeper grades on this climb as well, but they didn't last as long. The climb finishes (well you keep climbing, but not nearly as fast) with a long straight section at 10%. The earlier part of this climb as some great views back up the coast.

Pleasant Bay from the start of MacKensie's Ridge

The next 10 miles or so is a gradual rolling climb to the highest point on the trail, French Mountain, at 455 M. North tops out at 445 M. Nice, but, with the exception of the overlook down to Fish Cove, not great. I did see three moose on this stretch, one in the woods near the road and two crossing the road -the only moose I've seen.

Fish Cove from the Cabot Trail
At the highest point on the road there is some strange metal structure in a chain link fence enclosure (weird enough that I almost took a picture), but no sign. A mile or two later at 405 M there are signs saying 'French Mountain, 455 Meters.' Strange. Shortly after those signs there is an outstanding descent to sea level. A great ride and the views are 'to die for.' At the bottom is Corney Brook Campground. I wanted to stop and spend the night. Corney Brook is situated in the middle of some of the most beautiful scenery (beach and hills) that I have ever seen. This is breathtaking stuff.

After you get down to sea level, you go back up and down and up, etc, rather like Coastal Highway 1 in California and even more beautiful. This continues till the Park ends 4 miles north of Cheticamp. This is Acadian country, lots of french stuff. Cheticamp has a neat church, visible for many miles as you ride in from the north, and some good places to eat but it was to busy and too touristy for my taste. I did check with one Inn about rates, but it would have cost me over $100 CD to eat supper, stay the night, and eat breakfast (Free Continental Breakfast!). It didn't seem worth it so I rode on towards Margaree (hmm, I was just in Margaree, Nfld).

I stopped at Flora's, a gift shop and ice cream parlor, for a milkshake and some bread. They had the usual Vanilla, Chocolate, and Strawberry, but, when I jokingly protested the limited choice, the woman said; 'OK, what do you want?' I said pineapple and she fixed me a very good pineapple milkshake, the first she had ever fixed. Such service!

Fortified I headed on down the rather narrow road with too much traffic. Then it got really windy. There were no trees because the wind was too strong for them to grow. I had seen signs for Germaine B+B earlier, and now, with the wind howling, I reached it. I stopped, could find no one home, and found the owner across the street. A very nice, if very windy, place. They have to repaint the windward wall yearly because storms 'sand blast' the paint off. I walked/was blown down to the ocean and sat in great beauty (and not much wind - the bank blocked it), after cleaning up. Nice people and reasonable ($35 CD) rates. I'm not looking forward to riding out of here tomorrow -that wind is strong! - but I'm sure I'll enjoy my stay.

Tomorrow I'll head for Port Hastings. It is getting on time to leave Cape Breton and ride along the northern shore of NS to New Brunswick.

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