Why We Cycled Canada’s Cabot Trail

Inverness, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia / August 3, 2019

Cycling the Canso Causeway portion of the Celtic Shores Coastal Trail on route to Inverness, Nova Scotia.

“Bike traveller!” Mat yells, as we watch a tall, shadowy figure on a fully loaded bike roll by across the road. Any distraction is a worthy one as we wait for our dryer to buzz outside the Soap-and-Suds Laundromat in Inverness, Nova Scotia. 

“Allo!” he says with an energetic French accent, as he brings his bike to a stop in front of us. 

“Where are you coming from?” we ask.

“The Cabot Trail,” he says with a smile so big it barely fits on his face, “it was amazing.” I admire his long, black curly hair, unencumbered by a helmet, resting against his black cotton t-shirt that matches his skinny, black jeans. He has four black pannier bags mounted to his thin black bike and he adjusts his round black glasses as he speaks. If he survived wearing that, I think to myself, the road can’t be that bad.  

The Cabot Trail, which, despite its name, is actually a highway, offers up three hundred stunning kilometres of scenic coastal roadways, continually plunging from high rocky outcroppings to the bright blue shores on the Gulf of St. Lawrence and back up again. Weaving down, around and through the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, the entire route is, for good reason, a sought after tourist destination. Busy, but also beautiful. 

Meat Cove, Nova Scotia : The most northern settlement on Cape Breton Island, at the end of an undulating 8km gravel road detour from The Cabot Trail highway. Well worth the effort to cycle to.

It’s the ‘busy’ part that has left us in debate over a Cabot Trail detour for the past three weeks of our East Coast cycling trip. Adept at riding our bikes on dirt trails, gravel tracks and sneaky backroad routes, we are drawn to the challenge of the path less travelled. We prefer the safety, scenery and serenity, far from the reaches of distracted drivers, loud noises and gasoline fumes.

Despite that it’s a world renowned cycling route, almost everyone we’d crossed paths with up until now, had advised against it. The roads are too narrow, the traffic too heavy and the mountainous efforts too hard, they said. We took their advice with a grain of East Coast sand, knowing from years of experience that drivers pay attention to different details than cyclists and that increasingly, people live in fear.

We were pulled to go, perhaps even more so in the face of said adversity. Which is why we had ended up here, at the northern tip of the Celtic Shores Coastal Trail near an eastern entry point to the Cabot Trail Loop, doing our laundry and pondering our options. We were undecided but open to persuasion when Felix appeared. He was our sign, our nudge, our trail angel. 

It was Saturday of the August long weekend. He helped us convince ourselves that most people would be a) already where they needed to be on Sunday when we hit the road and b) driving the more popular, opposite direction of us, so our lane would be quieter. We thanked Felix for his enthusiasm and insights and went to stock up on supplies at the local grocer. We were buzzing.

It wouldn’t take us long the next day to realize that the spectacular scenery of the coastal landscape coupled with the savage, sweaty climbs and insanely monumental descents, the  renegade camp spots and the adventurous off-road routes that one can explore along the Cabot Trail made our turn off to the north every bit worthy of the effort.

Mat, standing on the shoreline of the Gulf of St. Lawrence along the world-renowned Cabot Trail.

In fact, cycling the Cabot Trail would become one of the indisputable highlights of our entire East Coast trip and one of the most incredible places we have bike travelled in all of Canada. Reminding us yet again that the obstacle is the way; remain flexible, embrace the unknown, overcome the fear and always, always have faith. 

The night before we would embark on the pristine majesty of our cycling trip along the Cabot Trail. Photo courtesy a stranger passing by who said he couldn’t help but take our photo. Thanks Stranger.

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