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Home > Bike Travel – Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia Travel Writing and Photos

A mountain before breakfast (PEI/Cape Breton bike travel)

The sign on the restaurant said Open at 11 AM.We were in St. Anns, Nova Scotia where there is one motel, one restaurant, the Gaelic College where we had spent most of the morning, flocks of seagulls and two bald eagles. When we asked where the nearest place for breakfast was, the curmudgeonly motel owner pointed on the map a decent distance away towards Sydney.St. Anns Bay, Nova Scotia"There is a mountain in between", he said with a half-smile.Right.  We pull out the remnants of cheese and crackers and split the remaining banana.  And off we go ... up and over the mountain for 15km to get breakfast before heading on into Sydney on the last ride of this trip before we fly home.What a difference a year makes.A year ago, I had to cancel a bike trip through Asia because two side effects from breast cancer treatment made my hopes of willing my body back to its strength and normalcy a pipe-dream.  Now I can ride over a mountain before breakfast.  In hindsight, it was completely unrealistic to think I could have ridden a bike through Asia a year after intensive breast cancer treatment ended.  But I didn't know that at the time.  I had biked through India a few months before diagnosis and I was eager to pick up my life where I left off.But I learned there was too much damage from surgery and chemo and radiation, and two side-effects from treatment weeks before the trip began finally forced me to admit I wasn't ready, and my body was not - and might never be the same.So I cancelled the Asia trip and spent the next months recovering from the self-inflicted damage from training.  And when the pity-party was over, I sought the help I needed to

Dirt in the Music … Cape Breton Music

This is high praise and what many Cape Breton fiddlers hope to hear from their audience.  Because having "dirt in your music" means you can communicate the feeling and spirit of the land and family and Gaelic culture through your instrument. Cape Breton is a place where music and dance is foundational to the Gaelic culture that remains remarkably pure here.  In this place, conveying the essence behind the tune is more important than hitting every note perfectly.Perhaps one of the reasons I connect strongly to this place is the strong Gaelic culture.  This part of Cape Breton was settled by Highland Scots who were forced from their lands and moved here for a new start.  And since Cape Breton did not have a bridge connecting it to the mainland until the 1950s, much of the music and way of life remained un-corrupted from outside influences for generations.But it is familiar because many Highland Scots emigrated to North Carolina and I hear the the same musical roots in the Cape Breton fiddle music that I grew up hearing in our hometown bluegrass.   Here they play in community halls and in homes.  Back in North Carolina we had bluegrass every Friday night at the community college and at local events and weddings and celebrations.  In both places the music is danced with a similar step dance or clogging or square dancing.  The same musical roots, but they evolved differently.  The sound here is more traditional - you can imagine hundreds of years ago the same tunes were played in ceilidhs all over Cape Breton and in the Highlands before emigration.  (Ceilidhs is pronounced Kay-lees - literally visitations when neighbors go visit neighbors and bring music and stories and company.)  The fiddle is the star, and most play with a piano

Bicycling The Cabot Trail … What I wish I had known

Bicycling Great Breton, Nova Scotia's Cabot Trail is incredibly beautiful and worth the effort.  One of the world's most scenic drives makes for one of the world's most incredible bike rides. But despite running into several cyclists on the trail during our week in mid-September 2014, there is not a lot of information out there to help plan a safe trip.  So this post includes everything I think is important for planning the trip to be safe.This is not a beginner ride.  But it's very manageable with good planning and experience and training to tackle the hills.We started in Baddeck, rode 90km to Cheticamp, climbed French Mountain and overnighted in Pleasant Bay, climbed North Mountain and stayed in Dingwall, rode the coastal route to Ingonish, and finished our ride in St. Ann.  We had two rear panniers, but stayed in hotels and did not camp.  So if you are camping, sorry - I saw campgrounds and even people stealth camping but I don't have much information to help.  The photo below is the French Mountain climb. My tips for doing this route:1)  Ride the route clockwise.Most car tourist drive it counter-clockwise, so there is significantly less traffic on the narrow, shoulder-less roads riding clockwise. You are also on the mountain side of the road rather than the cliff side which is safer.  And, the winds can be ferocious, and they are more likely to be a nice tail wind helping you up and over the mountains.  I'd hate to do those climbs into a headwind.2)  Build in a couple of extra days for weatherThe weather is a big factor here.  The week we rode, we ran into three days where winds gusted over 50km per hour.  The day we did the first big climb over French Mountain the forecast originally called

A Slug of Bannock – Community in Cape Breton NS

"I bet you're hungry.  Inside they have tea and coffee and cake and pie and bannock ...""What's bannock?" I asked.She said just go in and order like a local.  "Ask for a slug of bannock with butter and lassis."We are standing outside the Saturday farmer's market in Dingwall, a tiny town on the North Cape of Cape Breton.  I have just biked over a mountain and she is right ... I am hungry.  The locals tolerate the cyclists with bemused disbelief ... it's clear they think we are crazy for biking these steep mountains.  The farmer's market is housed in the fire department community hall.  It's slow right now - the weather has been cold and windy and many tourists are staying away.  There is a steady stream of locals, though, and music from the accordion and guitarist is welcoming.I walk inside with this vibrant little red haired woman who's outside smoking a cigarette.  The farmers' market consists of tables that ring the large room.  Two older men play local folk music mixed in with Johnny Cash and the Beatles on a small stage.  Locals are selling crafts from knitted goods to photographs made into refrigerator magnets to canned pickles to one table of fresh vegetables.I walk to the back and order my slug of bannock.   I get a surprised look, and then a plate of sliced bread appears with instructions that the butter and molasses are on the table.  Yep ... tasty.My red-headed friend is a crab fisherman and caught her limit of crabs this year in three weeks over the summer.  She is an amateur photographer in her off-time and is selling cards and refrigerator magnets with her images.  "You need a job when you aren't fishing,"  she tells me.  She says this farmers' market is a regular gathering place for

Unexpected Gifts – Biking French Mountain, Cape Breton

"Did you see the moose?"No!  We met a dozen people who saw the moose, but all we saw was a bunny.  A cute bunny.  But a bunny is not as cool as a moose.We are hiking the Skyline trail just north of Cheticamp on Cape Breton on the Cabot Trail.  It's the day off before our big riding days into the Highlands of Cape Breton National Park.  Andre - the local bike shop owner of VeloMax Cycles, has time on his hands with the end of tourist season.  He has agreed to drive us up to the top of French Mountain to this trail and come pick us up a few hours later.The drive to the trailhead also happens to be the first big climb of the Cabot trail in the Highlands.  This is useful, because the reactions of people when we tell them we plan to bike this route ranges from incredulity to sheer amazement.  Reconnaissance seems prudent.  Plus this area is known for its gorgeous hiking and we want a taste of the trails.The Cabot Trail is a famous road that loops the very tip of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.  This peninsula is known for stunning mountains plunging into oceans scenery, magazine-cover wildlife including moose and whales, and the cultural depth of the French, Acadian and Scottish heritage that is still very prevalent and preserved here and reflected in the music and food and daily living.Cyclists know this route as challenging and infinitely rewarding with three big climbs that are steep - up to 15% grade - and weather that can be unpredictable.  We have broken the climbing into three days - a manageable distance for some steep climbs that should still give plenty of time to enjoy the park while not killing ourselves and coming in exhausted.Yesterday we biked

Fish Tales – Prince Edward Island

"Well. I bet you won't say that after being here all winter".This comes from a fisherman who looks like he could have walked out of a movie with his wild white hair and deeply etched face that bore the weathered years at sea.We were riding out the north east coast of Prince Edward Island through very rural coastal roads with few houses and a hand full of villages that consist of two or three houses and a sign marking the spot.  We had reached Naufrage Harbor, and I had decided to make this quiet biking day a little more fulfilling by going down and chatting with the fishermen.This man was with two buddies and they were scrubbing the green slime off the bottom of fishing boat that listed on its side.   All three were in knee-high Wellingtons and they worked quietly and methodically, scrubbing and talking.I pulled up and said hello and commented on how beautiful the island was,  With a wide-eyed scoff he started talking about the hard side of living and earning a living on this island.The harbors freeze, and ice drifts down from Greenland and Labrador in huge thick sheets and stretch far out into the sea as they pile up against the island.  The ice sheets crash into each other driven by wind and currents and cause huge ice ridges to rise out of the ocean.All of the boats must come out of the water.  We have seen them parked in front yards before the freeze destroys them in their harbors.  They perch like monuments in front of modest houses, testament to the many months of the year where there is no work for many residents here on the island.He generously answers my questions .... Lobster season starts up in May and every boat can

A Gentle Place – Prince Edward Island

Pastoral.I've never thought of a place I've traveled as "pastoral" until now.  But now I know what "pastoral" looks like.  It looks like Prince Edward Island - the smallest Provence of Canada and an island just north of Nova Scotia. I am on a three week bike trip with a friend from Seattle.  We flew into Charlottetown, PEI with vague but unscheduled plans of cycling much of the perimeter of the island before moving on to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.  Reality quickly set in about how much distance we could cover without killing ourselves.  And after a couple of loop rides out of Charlottetown, the capital, to break-in and adjust the bikes while seeing the surrounding area, we decided to travel PEI for quality rather than distance. So we are choosing the routes and locations that interest us most, with plenty of detours and stops in between to explore.And, as usual, choosing to travel with the quality of the experience in mind rather than "Doing PEI" has meant we have found ourselves with the freedom to explore some beautiful countryside and in the company of incredibly kind local people.  It's such a change from when I started to ride a decade ago when goals were about completing a hundred miles, or riding faster or climbing higher or riding "EFI" ... Every F... Inch of a long tour.  Now the beauty of a self-supported bike tour is the freedom to go where you want and stay as long as you like.  And No, you can't see everything.  And No, you can't say you cycled the grand distance.  And Yes, we are figuring out where we are going next the night before and then finding a place to stay last minute.  And Yes, we are learning that this rural island shuts down after