Cabot Trail – worth the wait

On numerous websites the Cabot Trail is often noted as a Top 10 cycling destination. This was continually reinforced by people we had met across Canada who urged us to go there if we could. It wasn’t on our original itinerary but fortunately we managed to find a few spare days to fit it in. We were repeatedly warned about the steep mountains and told we may need to get in the car for parts of the trail. Well of course this was like waving a red flag to a bull and made me even keener to ride these mountains. They can’t be that steep, can they?

For this blog I have combined 3 days into one to try and capture the experience so apologies for its length.

The Cabot trail is at the northern half of Cape Breton Island and encompasses the outer perimeter of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. There are arguments for going either way around but we decided to go anticlockwise so that we were closer to the cliff face for better views and hoped we wouldn’t encounter the prevailing wind when we got to the western side.

We set off from Baddeck (SE cnr) in dreary, damp and foggy conditions so the prospect of great views was going to be limited. The first 60km or so were relatively easy with a mix of rolling hills, heavily treed slopes interspersed with inlets and river crossings and glimpses of the sea with huge slabs of granite pushing into the sea.

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Things changed quickly soon after:

At the base of Smokey we were given an indication of what lay ahead. The sign read “221m in 2.1km”. I know this isn’t particularly high but with gradients varying between 9 and 16% for the entire climb it was challenging and unrelenting. Apparently the views of the Atlantic and the highlands are spectacular which could have helped sustain us, however Smokey was living up to its name with visibility no more than a few metres.

Having reached the summit the fog actually started to clear a little which was of little comfort because it just meant we could see for about 5 metres instead of 2. Against protests from people who care about us, John and I stubbornly resolved to ride the decent and take a chance car drivers would be going slow enough, after all they couldn’t see the road any better than us so surely they had to go slow? All the lights and reflective vests didn’t really make much difference in weather like this.

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Suffice to say we made it to Broad Cove (north of Ingonish) in one piece even though a little wet from fog and misty rain which continued throughout the night. The following morning we resolved to stay in a motel that night to dry out.

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The weather started to clear on the second day which encouraged us to get off the Cabot Trail and take a 20km coastal loop road on the north east corner. This took in the fishing villages of Neil’s Harbour, New Haven and White Point. The spectacular coastal views helped to make up for yesterday. Some sections of the road are in very poor condition so riders and drivers need to pay careful attention, but it is worth the detour.

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Even though the 73km ride from Broad Cove to Pleasant Bay is shorter in length it included an unrelenting climb up North Mountain. The sign at the bottom stated “5km at 13%” but thankfully I don’t think it was actually that steep on average but hard enough. The top section was the steepest and reminded me of final section of Mt Hotham to give the Aussie readers an indication. I was rather timid on the decent as these heavy touring bikes take a fair bit to pull up, so it was a fine balance of not going too fast, but letting go of the brakes to enable them to cool down enough before the next turn.

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That evening we found a motel with great views over looking Pleasant Bay which gave us an opportunity to dry out our wet gear and rest up for the next day of climbing. How about the pink and blue paint job?

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We had a heart starter first up the next day, with yet another steep climb but the views were sensational. I had been expecting 2 big hills but MacKenzie Mtn blended into French Mtn (another 100m higher) so I was a bit disappointed about that :>. The road hugged the mountain slopes with the fog lifting to display some of the iconic views of the trail on our run down to Cheticamp. Soon after, the trail turned back inland following a beautiful valley and passing through small french villages.

Overall John and I felt pretty pleased with ourselves and it is definitely one of the many highlight of our trip across Canada.

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The link to this website is pretty good if you would like more detail should you contemplate riding the Cabot Trail

By the way, I am writing this blog inside the North Sydney Ferry Terminal compound prior to Meg and I boarding for the 14hr ferry ride to Agentia (Newfoundland). I am sitting right near a Newfy musician who is entertaining us while we wait for the ferry which we have just been informed will be 2 hours late. Great stuff, plenty of Irish jigs, fishing, sailing, rabbit stew tunes and Newfy humour to liven things up. (Later: The ferry ended up departing 4 hours later than scheduled). Meg and I are spending a few days together (off the bike) around St John’s before we start making our way back home.

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2 thoughts on “Cabot Trail – worth the wait

  1. Hi Alistair!
    It was great to meet you and Meg in Cape Breton. I have a friend of a friend in St. John’s who may be intereted in John and Annie’s Volvo. Wondering if you could pass along this name and number? Alana (709) 689-9730.
    Thanks! Hope you have a great time in St. John’s!
    Amy

  2. Pingback: Nine Tips For Cycling The Cabot Trail | TravellingTwo: Bicycle Touring Around The World

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