Day 10: Pleasant Bay to Cheticamp - Nova Scotia and Cape Breton 2003 - CycleBlaze

September 8, 2003

Day 10: Pleasant Bay to Cheticamp

I got up at 8 AM and was all packed up by 9 AM. Amazing for me. Then I walked down the trail to see the nearby waterfall. It was fairly nice and worth hiking 20 minutes each way to see. I got on the road at 10 AM under mostly cloudy skies. After a short gradual downhill ride to Pleasant Bay I detoured down to the harbor to see what's there. No town there but I saw a dock with several whale watching tour boats.

Pleasant Bay. The boats are mostly used for whale watching tours.
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I also saw a very photogenic 'folk art' shop. I don't have much interest in the stuff but this was the most interesting shop I saw.

Too cute for me.
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Motel with a great view, Pleasant Bay.
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Then back to the main road and into a strong crosswind from the west. I proceeded south past a hostel and a couple of motels with water views. The strong crosswind only slowed me down slightly but it definitely made the 15C (59F) temperature seem cold. Just past Pleasant Bay the road crosses the MacKenzie River, then begins a long climb up the switchbacks of MacKenzie Mountain.

The MacKenzie river drops 400m in only 21 km.
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The sun came out for a while on the MacKenzie mountain climb. That still didn't make me feel hot but it did greatly improve the view from all the overlooks on the climb. The grade seemed to be about 7%. I stopped several times to enjoy the views from various turnouts at the ends of the switchbacks.

View while climbing MacKenzie mountain.
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Looking inland at the roadless middle of the Cape Breton Highlands.
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I never saw MacKenzie Mountain from this perspective. This is scanned from a post card.

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Near the top of the climb the road turns inland and climbs more gradually to the marked summit of MacKenzie mountain at 350m (1155 ft) elevation. After that the road is level for a while but then starts gradually climbing again on French Mountain. There is basically no downhill between MacKenzie Mountain and French Mountain. Near the summit I walked the 500 meter long Bog Trail which has nice interpretive signs explaining the bog habitat up on the high plateau.

Boardwalk over a wetland on the Bog Trail.
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Then onward to the summit at 455m (1501 ft) elevation. Strangely, I passed the summit sign after going gradually downhill for 2km and dropping 50m below the actual summit.

Highest point of this trip. 1500 feet elevation.
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Near the summit I turned off the road into the large parking lot for the Skyline Trail, the most popular trail in the park. The first 1km is on a gravel road. The remainder of the trail is a wide flat hiking trail through the bogs. The 4.4km (2.75 mi) trail goes gradually downhill and dead ends on top of a steep headland overlooking the ocean and overlooking the road in the valley below where I will descend from French Mountain.

Looking down on the highway from the Skyline Trail.
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Skyline Trail, Cape Breton Highlands National Park.
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At the end of the trail is an elaborate tiered boardwalk that goes partway down the headland. I counted almost 300 stair steps on the boardwalk. Hikers are sternly warned to stay on the boardwalk. Foot traffic kills the vegetation. Then wind blows the topsoil away and the vegetation doesn't grow back. After enjoying the views for a few minutes I walked back to the bike to begin the long descent to the coast. The descent had some long straight sections but it wasn't extremely fast because of the strong headwind. The view is very nice but the view was better up above on the Skyline Trail.

Back on the coast the road continues south over a series of very large hills. Several hills climb more than 100 meters. There are almost continuous good views of the ocean, rocky cliffs and green forested mountains. But the crosswind was still howling and I wore a jacket and gloves to keep warm.

A motorist insisted on taking my picture here.
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I would have camped at this isolated small campground if it had drinking water.
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A couple giant hills later I took this picture looking north at the hills I had just climbed.

The road has very big rolling hills.
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At a place called Grand Falais the road turns inland into a narrow valley with very steep ridges on both sides.

The road turns inland shortly before leaving the national park.
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The ridges sheltered me from the wind for a while. This valley also reminds me of places I saw in the Scottish highlands 30 years ago. At the south end of the valley I passed a large campground and the main park information center. Then I exited the park when crossing the Cheticamp River. The change in scenery is dramatic when exiting the park. All of a sudden there are no huge hills nearby and there are hardly any trees. With houses, signs, and various other clutter it looked very spoiled compared to the pristine land inside the national park. With few trees and no big hills to my west, the wind was blowing again with a vengeance. I pressed on to Cheticamp. The last 10 km seemed to take forever. Partly because Cheticamp was farther than I thought and partly because of the wind. And I was very hungry because I didn't have lunch and I was out of snack food. I arrived at a Patisserie at the edge of town 5 minutes after they closed at 5 PM. I continued into town and found that both of the supermarkets closed at 5PM. On the south end of town I stopped at an Acadian craft guild/restaurant and had a wonderful dinner of Acadian-style pan fried haddock, steamed vegetables, and blueberry pie. I needed that!

After dinner I had to decide what to do. The nearest campground is 10 km past town on an island that is probably very windy. And I would need to backtrack to Cheticamp to buy groceries in the morning. So I decided to get a room at the Acadian motel in town to get out of the wind and to avoid backtracking to get groceries tomorrow. What the heck, it's a vacation not a crusade

Distance: 56 km (35.0 mi)

Climbing: 876m (2890 ft)

Hiking: 12 km (7.5 mi)

Today's ride: 56 km (35 miles)
Total: 811 km (504 miles)

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Paul MulveyWayne - thanks for posting your vacation experience in Nova Scotia. I took my girls there when they were young (in 2001) and we did a motor trip around the province. Looking at the pictures brings back places we visited and experienced during the trip. I may go back and ride the perimeter in a few years when I'm retired (and COVID restrictions lift) but until then all I can do is plan. Cheers!
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