Final Troop Movement Day

Thursday Sept. 3

I almost forgot to mention that yesterday, a few of the guys climbing French Mountain (or MacKinzie, I forget which) saw a coyote chewing on a bone of some sort along the ride. I believe Dave and Craig might have gotten photos of the beast, but it was a quick sighting, and so neither knew if their pix turned out or not.

Most of the gang was scheduled to catch flights from Halifax Airport, so we had to get from Dingwall to the Airport Holiday Inn via van on this day, our last of the tour.

We drove along the Cabot Trail, continuing our Clockwise circumnavigation of Cape Breton. It was truly beautiful, and most of my pix from the Freewheeling van (our legendary Nick was the driver) are marginal at best, and cannot showcase the stark beauty of this place.

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Our first leg-stretching stop was Neil’s Harbor. It had a lovely little lighthouse and a pretty harbor area. We simply wandered around and took photos for a bit, then piled back into the van.

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Next stop was lunch at Ingonish, where we ate at a great café called the Clucking Hen. The “Weather Stone” was our first introduction to the café.

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Across the road were two crafts shops: a woodworker and a glass blower, and Allen requested that some of us go into the Clucking Chicken to eat and others of us head to the studios and see the artists’ works, so as not to overwhelm the friendly kitchen staff. Jack and I headed over to the woodworker’s place and met the artist and he had some lovely pieces of finely sanded kitchen tools and figures of birds and many quite lovely combinations of beautiful woods.

A cup of homemade soup and a grilled cheese sandwich was lunch and we ate with the Colleys. Jerry suggested a photo of the Jack Russell and the Colley (Collie) beside the sign indicating a dog lived at the Clucking Chicken. It was a hoot.

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Back in the van, I tried to capture some of the beautiful ground we covered. Again the pix are marginal at best.

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Our next stop was the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site in Baddeck, Cape Breton, and we spent a great hour or so looking at all the exhibits. It was quite interesting. I had not known that Bell had worked closely with the deaf to teach them speech, and that his work was founded on that of his father, who was instrumental in mapping the physiology of vocalization and speech.

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Caption: Bell with Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan at Bell’s estate, Beinn Bhreagh. Bell first met deaf and blind Keller when she was a little girl. She later gave Bell much credit for her ability to write and speak. “I did not dream that that interview [with Bell] would be the door through which I should pass from darkness into light.”

I also didn’t realize that folks called him Alec rather than Alex. But a young Alec and his brothers constructed a replica of the human speech organs that they called a “voice automaton.” He also “taught” a dog to speak. The panel reads (in his own words): “By the application of suitable doses of food material, the dog was . . . taught to sit up on his hind legs and growl continuously while I manipulated his mouth, and stop growling when I took my hands away . . .
“The dog’s repertoire . . . consisted of the vowels ‘ah’ and ‘oo’ the diphthong ‘ow,’ and the syllables ‘ma’ and ‘ga.’ We then proceeded to manufacture words and sentences composed of these elements, and the final linguistic accomplishment consisted in . . . ‘Ow-ah-oo-gamma,’ which by the exercise of a little imagination, readily passed for ‘How are you, Grandmama.’
“The fame of the dog soon spread among my father’s friends, and people came from far and near to witness the performance.”

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Another thing I hadn’t realized is that, at a certain time during Bell’s inventing and investigation of how things worked (around 1880), he formed a group called the Volta Laboratory with the prize money from France’s Volta Prize for scientific achievement in electricity. The lab was located in Washington DC, and he hired two young inventors to help, one of whom was his cousin Chichester Bell.

Chichester Bell was a native of Ireland, and was equally adept at playing the piano and boxing. He was a close friend of playwright George Bernard Shaw, who used him as the model for the chief character in “The Doctor’s Dilemma.”

Chichester had been both a practicing physician and a professor of chemistry before joining up with cousin Alec in the Volta Laboratory.

I also learned that Bell’s rival inventor, Edison, was more-or-less a “professional” inventor, while Bell did it for the pleasure of it: “With his telephone based prosperity, Bell was free to pursue his ideas as he pleased. He was not a professional inventor like Edison. He was a very independent amateur, experimenting for the pure joy of gaining knowledge. Bell was always more interested in possibilities than in realities, and he tended to lose interest when an invention reached the stage of commercial application. His boyish curiosity and imagination led him down all sorts of unexpected paths.”

“In 1877, Thomas Edison invented the phonograph, and apparatus to record and play back sound. It was a public sensation. The novelty, however, was short-lived. Quality was poor, the records were short, and they soon wore out.
“In 1981, the Volta Laboratory began experiments to include the phonograph and, by 1887, they had brought it to the stage where it could be commercially exploited. Their invention, called the graphophone, was a marked improvement over Edison’s machine. It recorded sound on wax cylinders rather than tinfoil, resulting in higher quality and more accurate sound . . . the graphophone was a commercial success, providing the basis of the modern record industry. Anxious to pursue other interests, the Volta Associates disbanded their laboratory shortly after.”

Other interests that included aviation. Bell was very interested in the physics of flight, and began his experiments with kites (the Center holds a series of kite-making workshops for children throughout the visitation season). His experimentation eventually led to the first powered flight in Canada, right in Baddeck. On the fateful day (Feb. 23, 1909), school classes were cancelled and businesses shut down so the entire community could watch the experimental flight. Spectators rejoiced when the Silver Dart lifted into the air and then landed safely, although the flight was cut short because of a broken fuel line.

Silver Dart
Silver Dart

More than 30 additional flights of the Silver Dart were conducted during March of 1909 before a fatal crash ended Bell’s endeavors in aviation.

The Center was very interesting, and the setting at the edge of Baddeck was a lovely place to wait for everyone to finish up.

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This is where we parted with Bruce and Linda, who did not need to stay at the Halifax Airport Holiday Inn, as they were driving straight to New Brunswick. We all said goodbye and piled into the Freewheeling van like sardines (Gaye and Woody had been riding with Bruce and Linda during the day, and at this point, they, too had to pile into the van) for the final 4-hour drive to Halifax.

The first half was mostly silent as folks tried to sleep and we kept the windows open so it was quite loud inside the van, making conversation difficult at best. I kept my eyes peeled for moose sighting, but alas, saw none.

We made one final pit and leg-stretch stop at a Dairy Queen somewhere in Nova Scotia, and everyone re-connected with their suitcases and we, with our bikes and car, and headed to dump everything in the rooms before heading across the street to a restaurant where we had our final group dinner.

After which, we all said our final goodbyes, as some were hitching a ride on the 4AM shuttle to get to their flights. Sad to say “so long” to the pack, but also looking forward to our adventures with Roomba in New Brunswick and along the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

I Kissed the Face of North Mountain

Wednesday, September 2
I kissed the face of North Mountain

We awakened to superb weather. No wind. Cool but sunny and bright.

Everyone said, “If you ever wanted to attempt North Mountain, today is the day to try.”

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Jack and I had been talking about today for months. We’d read about the Cabot Trail’s “epic” climbs. Honestly, I had never seen Jack so spooked by the prospect of mountains. But when he had read Allen’s report that North Mountain had several 20% inclines, and then he told me that our “training climb,” Rocky Knob was a 6% (mostly) crank — well, I began to get a little intimidated, too.

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On the other hand, Sue, the Nova Scotia native who was babysitting our Roomba reported that she’d climbed North several times on a bike. And she’s just a slip of a thing, and about our age.

But none of our group, except Nick (who described it as “riding a bicycle up a wall”) had ever done it before. Few of us had even seen it, much less driven or cycled it. Some of our gang had accompanied Allen and Mary on a cycling trip to Portugal, and they had asked for a comparison of North to the toughest hill they’d encountered on that trip. Allen said, “That was easy compared to North. If that was a 5 on a scale of 1-10, North is a 9.”

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Allen offered us several “outs” if we were going to give the mountains of the Cabot Trail a go. The first was something called Corney Brook overlook. I believe all of our group got that far — and it wasn’t an easy trek, I can tell you.

We entered through the gate where you have to pay to be on National Park Service property (not all the Cabot Trail is National Park), and the first climb that met us was severe, if short (relatively speaking). It was definitely a chug — unsure what the incline was, but it was far steeper than our hometown Rocky Knob.

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Just a little something the Cabot Trail throws at you to get your attention.

We climbed a bit more and then enjoyed an enormous straight-away downhill with great pavement. I won’t say how fast I got going because I think my mother will be reading this. But suffice it to say that it was the fastest my cycle computer has ever clocked my speed — and even Jack reported that his fastest time for the day was screaming down that hill.

Several of us were still together at this point, and we rested at an overlook, taking pix of the cliff face that was right behind us. Woody came along and asked, “Isn’t that a bald eagle sitting on the cliff?” Lo! It certainly was — I could not get the photo with my camera, so I hope Bruce will send it when he gets home and downloads his image to his computer.

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Bruce, Jack and I totally missed the Corney Brook overlook, where many folks caught the shuttle to the Skyline Trail hike — a ridgeline hike of about 6 miles round trip, out to the high viewpoints of the water and back. We linked up with them after a while and had some snacks from the support vehicles, and a washroom break.

But first, we unexpectedly saw a sign indicating we were beginning to climb French Mountain — a warm-up for North. Since we had missed Corney Brook, and the tipsheets said French came after that, Bruce and I discussed our situation: Bruce thought we were crawling up French, where I thought maybe it was still to come. But he was right. The tipsheet for French reads: “The grade is 11% for the next 6km.” Ugh.

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Yeah. French was really hard. But it was early in the day, so I still felt pretty good by the time I got to the top. The sign said it was 455m at the top. Oddly, the top was quite flat, and while we couldn’t see too many seaside views, there were a couple of inland lakes sitting on top.

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We enjoyed a downhill after French, and probably lost as much as 200 or more meters as it switch-backed along.

Next came MacKinzie Mountain (355m) and a lovely two-tiered climb with significant downhills in between to assist the following climbs. MacKinzie was a dream mountain to climb, and like French, flat along the top.

After MacKinzie, we were still quite significantly high, and the steep, twisty downhill into Pleasant Bay was riddled with potholes and crap pavement, so we had to be very careful on the descent. Happily, there were some nice pull-outs where we could stop and take photos. Bruce took our picture somewhere along that descent, at an overlook from which we could see our lunch stop.

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Pleasant Bay was quite pleasant, indeed. We’d left Chéticamp at about 8:30A and arrived at our lunch stop, The Rusty Anchor, at approximately 11:30A. We were still completely fired up and not tired much at all.

Rusty Anchor Sign
Rusty Anchor Sign
Look who pulled up as we were eating -- a 1743 (fixed roof) Alto!
Look who pulled up as we were eating — a 1743 (fixed roof) Alto!

Mary was already there, but we sat with her and ordered seafood roll-ups. Mary (one of our leaders) is a strong rider and she had no equivocation when we asked her if she was going to climb North. “Of course.”

If you’re going to try, today’s the day.

I think Bruce and Jack were still unsure, but with a bit of peer pressure and igniting our innate competitive spirits just talking about it (“how often are we going to be here, get this chance with this weather?”), we all decided we’d do it too. Craig caught us at lunch, and the five of us set off toward North after lunch (Mary left when she was finished with her meal, so she was ahead — I didn’t see her again until the end of the day).

We were right to be intimidated. It was unrelenting. Almost 4 miles of “cycling up a wall.” I think if you did it straight up without stops, you’d be pedaling nonstop for an hour.

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Zero gentler grades to use as “rests” before you approached the next slope. Zero places to stop without having to start again on the incline. Zero shoulder. If we couldn’t make it pedaling, we’d have to walk our bikes (we like to call that “cross-training”).

North mountain climbs away from the coast, so it got hot. There were a couple of waterfalls and lots of trees. But no respite even for a breath-taking sea scape view. Just climb and more climb. I’ve never worked so hard on a bicycle in my life. Man, I missed my three-ring, Super-Granny gear.

I stopped on the way up 3 times to give my legs, seat, and lungs a rest. And to drink water. Lots of water. There wasn’t much to take photos of, but I did anyway, to buy more time.

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Jack and Bruce reported they stopped 2 times (I was last up so didn’t see anyone for a long time). Craig said he stopped several times to take photos, but Jack said Craig, who had been behind him and Bruce, caught them at the summit. Craig was a machine going up North. Mary was far ahead of us all.

But all five of us made it. Allen was waiting at the “false top” where a long flat stretch allows busses and tour vans to collect folks or give energy bars or whatever. I ate a date bar and drank (and replenished) more water. The actual summit wasn’t too far ahead and we’d accomplished all of North Mountain’s serious climbing by the time we met with Allen.

Jack waited for me at the top, while Craig, Bruce and Mary had gone on ahead.

The downhill was also one to be quite careful about, as there was both bad pavement and also sharp switchbacks headed off the back of North.

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Couple of dudes were flying a drone taking aerial footage of the Cape Breton Mountains.
Couple of dudes were flying a drone taking aerial footage of the Cape Breton Mountains.

For the rest of the ride Jack and I pretty much stuck together. Our ostensible finish was Dingwall, where our lodging for the night rested — but at lunch some of us had discussed going past Dingwall to White Point Harbor, which was highly recommended for the seaside views North Mountain didn’t offer. My impression was that Allen was going to be waiting with the Starship Enterprise to take us there, but we rode it instead.

The road out to White Point was severe. One or two of those climbs were as steep (and not so short) as that first eye-opener we’d experienced with fresh legs in the morning. But it was pretty.

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The second 20% climb I hit going out to White Point, quite frankly, totally crushed me. I was so tired by that time, that when Allen came by with the Enterprise, I grabbed a ride — not much farther, it turned out — to White Point Harbor, a lovely little place with a gentle walk across the rocky terrain to the dramatic cliff-view of Aspy Bay. Jack rode the entire way and met us as we were getting out of the Enterprise van. Only Jack and Mary rode from Chéticamp to White Point.

Jack’s computer registered that he’d climbed very nearly 5000 total feet. OMG.

We shuttled back to the Markland, a rustic fishing lodge with cabins and a restaurant for our last night group dinner (and a shower). Unfortunately, I didn’t even have enough energy to walk the pretty little beach just a skip/jump away from the front porch of our little cabin. I felt like I remember feeling in my 20s, after a rugby tournament weekend. Shot at and missed, sh&t at and hit.

Next time.

Next time, I’ll save pedaling White Point for another day, or drive it after climbing North Mountain.

Champagne at dinner (I treated myself to a steak, rare) was shared by all, along with high fives for those of us who kissed the face of North Mountain. Everyone had a great day, whether they’d hiked six miles along the Skyline Trail or made it to Corney Brook overlook.

What an epic ride. I feel like I’ve been training my whole life for this day, and it was excellent.

Some pix of White Point and its Harbor, plus the sunrise from our front cabin porch (next day) at the Markland.

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Celtic Shores Coastal Trail, Cape Breton

Tuesday, September 1: Celtic Shores Coastal Trail

The storm that awakened us all with thunderclaps and driving rain was still going strong during breakfast, so we all geared up for a rainy ride. We just hoped the unpaved Celtic Shores trail would not be too muddy.

We all looked like Tellytubbies as we left the Mabou River Inn and headed along the trail. Thankfully, it was NOT horribly muddy, but the rain persisted and the wind, if anything, picked up as we went along.

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Despite that, we found it to be a great ride. I slipped off my rain pants and the hood over my helmet shortly after starting, as I’d rather get wet from rain than from sweat. The trees lining the trail gave some welcome relief from the wind, but when the gusts came and swirled, it was good to ride along the windward edge of the trail (if the wind gave you the opportunity to figure out which was your protected side).

I managed to get a pretty good rhythm going and rode the entire trail solo while the group wanted to stick together behind. There were a couple of old railroad trestles that had been converted (as with the New River Trail) and there were some views to be seen along the trestles.

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One time, I was headed past a forest of mostly evergreen snags, and there was one fir tree with a “puff ball” at the top 4 feet, and when I looked more closely, I saw that it was in fact an enormous nest of sticks and branches. I don’t know if it was osprey or bald eagle, as there appeared to be no one home (or maybe they were just hunkering down in the wind) but it was fun to see.

As we neared Inverness, the location of our group lunch, we took a turn identified with the note: “Celtic Coastal Trail crossing Rt. 19 at sign and purple Victorian house.” What a strange structure, but a great landmark. We all knew right where to turn.

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Leaving the Mabou River Inn, Allen yelled, “Group photo at the Inverness Beach — at the end of the Trail go left to the beach and we’ll meet up there before lunch!”

Closer toward Inverness, the wind picked up as the trees thinned out. The photos don’t do what we were seeing justice, but imagine air full of water and a sea crashing against a shore, churning and churning the sandstone and beach. It was quite impressive.

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I turned left to head to the beach and there was no one about — it was literally, difficult to stand up in that wind — even more so with a bicycle. I got off at the top of the dune and pushed the bike a bit along the boardwalk to try to capture the ferocity of the elements with my camera, but alas. It is even difficult to describe in words.

So I turned back, with a welcome tailwind, to climb back toward the Trail and the town of Inverness. The group emerged from the Trail head as I passed, and some went to the beach and some didn’t want to get wetter and turned with me toward the harbor town.

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We gathered in the courtyard of the Downstreet Coffee Company to put our bicycles somewhere they would not blow over, and inside, we stripped our gear and had a nice soup-and-sandwich lunch.

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While we were eating, Nick & Allen loaded as many bikes as possible on top of the Freewheeling van, some of the bikes went into the Starship Enterprise, and most of us rode to Chéticamp with Nick, although we still had extra vehicles to help with logistics.

Our intrepid leader, explaining our next options in the warmth and safety of Downstreet Coffee Co.
Our intrepid leader, explaining our next options in the warmth and safety of Downstreet Coffee Co.

As most of our discussions during the entire ride is about what we might expect when we attempt the Cabot Trail and French, MacKenzie Mountain, and the kicker, North Mountain, we consulted Nick, who’s ridden it many times. He said French is do-able, but North is like riding up a wall.

Uh-oh.

Hoping the wind (at least) would subside, we considered a ride, upon arrival at Maison Fiset House (our lodging), around Chéticamp Island, but Allen said the roads might be really awful, since they’d had to close down/evacuate the campers on the Island a few days ago due to torrential rains.

There was also an option for a Skyline Trail Hike, taking a picnic along and watching the sun set. Nick reported that, on Allen’s first Taste of the Maritimes Tour back in July, the wind along the Skyline Trail was such that the cyclist/hikers had to actually hold on to each other, and to speak to one another, they had to shout. And the wind was not as strong as it was today, he said.

So we all decided to have a party instead, after most of us ate at the nearby All Aboard Restaurant. Two couples and a single were sharing the House (while the others stayed in hotel-style rooms), so beverages were collected and the living room of the House was warmed with a pretend fireplace, and those who wanted shared adult beverages and talked about the next day’s challenges.

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Many knew without doubt they were not going to attempt either French or North. Allen and Nick were in support all the way, so anyone could get picked up most anywhere — except on North Mountain, where there is no shoulder, and it is not a “trail” so much as THE road that encircles Cape Breton.

Also, Allen and Mary reported that, though neither of them had cycled North Mt., it carries vehicles away from the coast and through the woods, and there’s not the breathtaking views that one finds up to that point, and after.

The Maritimes Tour #1 group had bad weather with a strong wind. None of them attempted North Mountain in July.

As we parted for the night, I think everyone was imagining stopping cycling at lunch tomorrow, riding the vans across North Mountain, and then finding a different “viewpoint” along the fishing villiage called White Point, where there are sea views and cliffs, and a lovely walk across a rocky landscape much like the Scottish Highlands.

The weather will determine all. Rain = easy — no way I’m attempting North. Clear = difficult — to ride or not to ride? We’ve been contemplating that question since weeks before the ride, when Allen sent us notes including the fact that North Mountain includes several 20% grades. A wall, indeed.

Tomorrow is the day I’ve been anticipating and working toward all trip. Will I attemtpt it? If so, will I make it?