Celtic Shores Coastal Trail, Cape Breton

Tuesday, September 1: Celtic Shores Coastal Trail

The storm that awakened us all with thunderclaps and driving rain was still going strong during breakfast, so we all geared up for a rainy ride. We just hoped the unpaved Celtic Shores trail would not be too muddy.

We all looked like Tellytubbies as we left the Mabou River Inn and headed along the trail. Thankfully, it was NOT horribly muddy, but the rain persisted and the wind, if anything, picked up as we went along.

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Despite that, we found it to be a great ride. I slipped off my rain pants and the hood over my helmet shortly after starting, as I’d rather get wet from rain than from sweat. The trees lining the trail gave some welcome relief from the wind, but when the gusts came and swirled, it was good to ride along the windward edge of the trail (if the wind gave you the opportunity to figure out which was your protected side).

I managed to get a pretty good rhythm going and rode the entire trail solo while the group wanted to stick together behind. There were a couple of old railroad trestles that had been converted (as with the New River Trail) and there were some views to be seen along the trestles.

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One time, I was headed past a forest of mostly evergreen snags, and there was one fir tree with a “puff ball” at the top 4 feet, and when I looked more closely, I saw that it was in fact an enormous nest of sticks and branches. I don’t know if it was osprey or bald eagle, as there appeared to be no one home (or maybe they were just hunkering down in the wind) but it was fun to see.

As we neared Inverness, the location of our group lunch, we took a turn identified with the note: “Celtic Coastal Trail crossing Rt. 19 at sign and purple Victorian house.” What a strange structure, but a great landmark. We all knew right where to turn.

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Leaving the Mabou River Inn, Allen yelled, “Group photo at the Inverness Beach — at the end of the Trail go left to the beach and we’ll meet up there before lunch!”

Closer toward Inverness, the wind picked up as the trees thinned out. The photos don’t do what we were seeing justice, but imagine air full of water and a sea crashing against a shore, churning and churning the sandstone and beach. It was quite impressive.

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I turned left to head to the beach and there was no one about — it was literally, difficult to stand up in that wind — even more so with a bicycle. I got off at the top of the dune and pushed the bike a bit along the boardwalk to try to capture the ferocity of the elements with my camera, but alas. It is even difficult to describe in words.

So I turned back, with a welcome tailwind, to climb back toward the Trail and the town of Inverness. The group emerged from the Trail head as I passed, and some went to the beach and some didn’t want to get wetter and turned with me toward the harbor town.

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We gathered in the courtyard of the Downstreet Coffee Company to put our bicycles somewhere they would not blow over, and inside, we stripped our gear and had a nice soup-and-sandwich lunch.

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While we were eating, Nick & Allen loaded as many bikes as possible on top of the Freewheeling van, some of the bikes went into the Starship Enterprise, and most of us rode to Chéticamp with Nick, although we still had extra vehicles to help with logistics.

Our intrepid leader, explaining our next options in the warmth and safety of Downstreet Coffee Co.
Our intrepid leader, explaining our next options in the warmth and safety of Downstreet Coffee Co.

As most of our discussions during the entire ride is about what we might expect when we attempt the Cabot Trail and French, MacKenzie Mountain, and the kicker, North Mountain, we consulted Nick, who’s ridden it many times. He said French is do-able, but North is like riding up a wall.

Uh-oh.

Hoping the wind (at least) would subside, we considered a ride, upon arrival at Maison Fiset House (our lodging), around Chéticamp Island, but Allen said the roads might be really awful, since they’d had to close down/evacuate the campers on the Island a few days ago due to torrential rains.

There was also an option for a Skyline Trail Hike, taking a picnic along and watching the sun set. Nick reported that, on Allen’s first Taste of the Maritimes Tour back in July, the wind along the Skyline Trail was such that the cyclist/hikers had to actually hold on to each other, and to speak to one another, they had to shout. And the wind was not as strong as it was today, he said.

So we all decided to have a party instead, after most of us ate at the nearby All Aboard Restaurant. Two couples and a single were sharing the House (while the others stayed in hotel-style rooms), so beverages were collected and the living room of the House was warmed with a pretend fireplace, and those who wanted shared adult beverages and talked about the next day’s challenges.

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Many knew without doubt they were not going to attempt either French or North. Allen and Nick were in support all the way, so anyone could get picked up most anywhere — except on North Mountain, where there is no shoulder, and it is not a “trail” so much as THE road that encircles Cape Breton.

Also, Allen and Mary reported that, though neither of them had cycled North Mt., it carries vehicles away from the coast and through the woods, and there’s not the breathtaking views that one finds up to that point, and after.

The Maritimes Tour #1 group had bad weather with a strong wind. None of them attempted North Mountain in July.

As we parted for the night, I think everyone was imagining stopping cycling at lunch tomorrow, riding the vans across North Mountain, and then finding a different “viewpoint” along the fishing villiage called White Point, where there are sea views and cliffs, and a lovely walk across a rocky landscape much like the Scottish Highlands.

The weather will determine all. Rain = easy — no way I’m attempting North. Clear = difficult — to ride or not to ride? We’ve been contemplating that question since weeks before the ride, when Allen sent us notes including the fact that North Mountain includes several 20% grades. A wall, indeed.

Tomorrow is the day I’ve been anticipating and working toward all trip. Will I attemtpt it? If so, will I make it?

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