Words & Cycling by Dave Whitling | Photos by John-Robert Ward II
Cape Breton, the northernmost island of Nova Scotia, is home to some of the best cycling North America has to offer — undulating hills, empty roads, a dramatic coastline, and as much fresh lobster as you can stuff in your jersey pockets.
The plan: Five days on the bike cycling around Cape Breton. While I would be on my own cycling, I would have the support of a couple of very talented friends would be helping with gear and logistics. And oh yeah, they all brought cameras.
The route would begin just outside of Port Hawkesbury, the southern access point to the island. From there I would head towards Bras d'Or Lake and follow its shorline up towards Sydney. Day Two would steer northwest towards Baddeck — home of Alexander Graham Bell and the traditional beginning/end point for the highly lauded Cabot Trail. Onward & upward, I would take the Cabot Trail through the Highlands with a slight, but necessary, detour up to Meat Cove. Then, back south, completing the Cabot Trail. One big 'ol loop around one sparsely populated but incredibly gorgeous island.
While it's good to make plans, I've found it smart to leave room for a certain number of unknowns. It is often said that it's not an adventure until things go wrong — until then, it's simply vacation. While no one sets out looking for things to go wrong, I hadn't exactly come for vacation.
ATL > NYC > YHZ
Your options for getting up to Nova Scotia are fairly straight forward. Striaght forward as in there is really only one. Flying into Halifax is more-or-less the option. There used to be a high speed CAT ferry that ran across from Maine, by far the most efficient and economical route for us east coasters, but that went away a few years ago due to lack of traffic. Word on the street is that will be an option again in the near future.
That being said, getting in really couldn't have been much smoother. From Atlanta to New York, then it's a puddle jumper from NYC to YHZ.
Halifax, you'll quickly notice, is a college town. I mean that in the best sense. There is a laid-back vibrancy to it. Lots of people out walking around, drinking in pubs, and certainly plenty of locals on bikes. One of those places with plenty going on but no one with any intention of getting in a hurry about getting any of it done.
We wouldn't be there long. While a fantastic city in every regard, it was wilderness and isolation we were after.
HALIFAX > CAPE BRETON
If you've got the time and a worthy journey, take the long way. If there is anything I've learned in mixing endurance sports and travel, is to remember to take time and enjoy just being where you are.
The quicker and more obvious route from Halifax up to Port Hawkesbury is without a doubt to hop on the Trans-Canada Highway and head North. Don't go that way. (Only kinda kidding.) We we're fortunate that we had a generous allotment of time and chose to take the more coastal route — always the right choice. At least this time it proved to be.
Spoiler alert, we took the Trans-Canada route back down to Halifax at the end of the week, and while not a bad route at all and certainly a quicker one, there is little question we made the right call. A few images below for proof.
A few detours and some intentional meandering later, we found our home for the evening — the one and only Hy-class Campground. Sounded like our kinda place.
We were late arriving and missed check-in, but the folks were kind enough to leave us a note with directions to our dwellings for the evening — typical Canadians. Other than Halifax, this was the only formal reservation made in advance. We had a tiny little cabin with an adjoining tent site. While perfect for our needs, the cabin was a little small for all of us, so I eagerly bailed into the tent for the night. The rain was already rolling in, so I thought sleeping out in it would make the idea of an early morning ride a bit easier to transition into.
We toasted the coming journey and then called it a night.