2017 The Cabot and Fleur-de-lis Trail ...Part 1

Cheticamp River, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia
I've been looking for a job after graduating from college recently, and put any riding plans on hold until I saw a facebook post announcing that the Canadian Superbike CSBK was at Shubenacadie this coming weekend! It spurred me into thinking that I had to dust off the bike and get it out of the garage in time to attend at least one day of the race, then head up to Cape Breton Island and do the Cabot Trail for the 3rd (and best) time.

I already had one of my cases loaded with camping gear, so all I had to worry about was some spare clothes, electronics, food and water, so Saturday afternoon I let out the clutch and headed out to the track via Confederation Bridge and towards Atlantic Motorsport Park via the most direct route that my Garmin plotted.

The Grand Tour

I only had a loose plan formulated limited only by my desire to ride and the cash in my wallet, about $240 dollars. Let's see... I had to hit Meat Cove, Fortress Louisbourg (it was free this year), and I sort of wanted to see Halifax and ride round the Southwest side of it, but it was a bit too ambitious to fit all that in on this trip, so something would have to be cut.

Day 1 - Borden - Carelton PE to Atlantic Motorsports Park, Shubenacadie NS

Day 1 - Borden - Carelton PE to Atlantic Motorsports Park, Shubenacadie NS
The trouble was that Garmin didn't really have a clue where the park was located, and when I plugged in the address, it provided me with a route off the highway that looked like it would backtrack around for about thirty kilometres before I arrived at the racetrack, and by the time I was close, of course I was down to about two bars on the fuel gauge which leads me to think that I can do about 50 more kilometres before getting really nervous. To make matters worse, I was looking for signs on the highway that advertise the track, and as a result I shot past a couple before I twigged to the fact that I'd ridden well past the coordinates that I'd plotted as the end point. *sigh* Doubling back I headed for the town of Shubenacadie NS, where to my relief I saw signs for the track in the town itself, and managed to find my way down to the track after some a few kilometres of gravel, arrived at the gate where I got my wristband and found a spot inside the track to set up the tent.

Have tent will travel
That ground doesn't show you how soft it actually is...  My newly installed "big foot" wasn't up to the task of keeping the loaded bike on an even plane, so I had to resort to placing the kickstand puck down as well to keep the bike from falling over onto one of  the sidecases.

I found that my friend Zac was on his way to the track to cover the event for Canada Moto Guide and we back and forthed a bit on messenger, then late that night he walked up with a mutual friend, Eric from the Fundy Adventure Rally and we talked for awhile about bikes, the scouting for the upcoming rally, friends and my plans for the trip, with Zac giving me some great tips for the ride I'd be doing following the races that would end Sunday afternoon around five.

Day 2 - Shubenacadie NS to Murphy's Cove NS

Day 2 - Shubenacadie NS to Murphy's Cove NS

Yesterday I'd arrived after six pm with a part tank of gas and enough water in my camel-back to get me through supper and breakfast but not much more. I asked around to find that while people were willing to give me some of their water, I should under no circumstances use the water at the wash rooms and that the only reliable source was a food vendor that had not yet arrived on the grounds and was expected near noon. As the morning was scheduled for practice laps I opted to head into town to gas up, get four litres of water, and to buy a bit of food for lunch and supper that night. Hot dogs and potato chips. :D

Breakfast of champions: Instant Oatmeal and Tea

I was camped between turns 9 and 10 on the inside track. 

"We play in traffic"

Don't touch the bike, son.

One of the things I love about race day is the spectators you meet. Motorcycle nuts all, and with great stories and tips. The ultimate motorcycle meet.

Jordan Szoke takes the Superbike Podium

Zac was quite taken with this customized Yamaha XS650, as was I. 

Tomas Casas takes the sport bike podium.

Now that the race was over, Zac and I seemed to be headed in the same direction, towards the coast of Nova Scotia. He was headed to Halifax to spend the night with his brother, and I really had no clue where I'd be staying or what direction to take other than my goal of riding north on Route 7 along the coast.

We parted at Musquodoboit Harbour, where he recommended a place that serves great fish and chips while he continued south looking for fuel on his way towards Halifax. He'd hit reserve on his Suzuki Savage a while back but neither of us thought it an issue as we'd arrived in a fairly urban area and I assumed there would be a gas station just around the corner. 

The fish was pretty good, but I was disappointed when the fries on the plate had come out of a bag and into the deep fryer. I love fresh cut fries with a passion, and the absolute best fish and chips is had on the East Coast was in Alma New Brunswick at the Alma Boathouse. Sorry Zac, s'truth. 

When we left the race track it had been uncomfortably warm, hot in fact, and I was suffering in my leather jacket, but it dropped what seemed like five degrees out by the ocean, and as I rode North up towards Sheet Harbour NS I found myself riding into a nice cool fog. Not exactly what I'd planned, but much preferred to rain even though it meant that I didn't snap many shots. There were a few that I felt worth stopping for, this one was taken on the side road out to Murphy's by the Ocean camp ground. 

I'd arrived just around 8pm to the campground to find a nice spot available just back from the water. The thought of a nice warm shower to wash away to dirt and smell of Shubenacadie was a wonderful thought as I paid the $35 dollar registration fee, but if all the camping was going to be as pricey as this, it meant that my ride was going to come to an end prematurely, or so I thought. 

Home for another night - Murphy's Cove NS

I had the tent up quickly as I've been using this setup for a few years now, so thoughts turned towards the shower and perhaps a wee snack afterwards if the office sold chips and chocolate. 

They could call this "Mosquitoes By the Ocean". The little buggers had put me on the menu as Hot and Fresh off the bike. 

Murphy's Cove NS

With all that fog this was about the best view I was going to get of Murphy's Cove. Time to go grab that shower and wash the shirt and underwear that I was in. I'd packed three sets of shirts, shorts and socks, but the feeling was that I'd be at this longer than three days as this was the end of my second day already. Sadly by the time I'd arrived at the shower, the nearby office was closed and my dream of midnight munchies was a shattered dream. I'd make up for that tomorrow night, you bet.

Do you like my 650cc clothesline?

Day 3 - Murphy's Cove NS to Mira River Provincial Park NS

Day 3 - Murphy's Cove NS to Mira River Provincial Park NS

Sometimes the fog can be a beautiful thing - Murphy's Cove NS

After (yet another) breakfast of instant oatmeal and tea, I had the bike packed up and was on the road just after 7. Yep, 7am.

Camping and riding for the sake of the ride can be distraction free. Once I got all my bits charged up for the night and read my EBook for an hour or two, it was lights out and I didn't wake until nature called, and cawed, and chirped and whistled. 

Further on up the highway from Murphy's Cove along Route 7 you will find Sheet Harbour, which I'd been through a few years ago while riding with the family. We had stayed over night at Liscombe Lodge up the road, then I carried on alone from there to Cape Breton Island, yet this was the first time through the town, and when I saw the river from the bridge I had to swing back to take a couple of shots. Especially all that hard work done by the spider...

Further up that lovely, twisting road I came across a harbour that had seen better times, and I was captivated by the boats left to rot along the shore, including a steel hulled ship that lay just beyond a hedge of wild roses.

By this time the fog had burned away and with the directions I'd received from some friendly locals I headed off of Route 7 and towards the coast on what would become "Marine Drive" according to the signs posted. I had a ferry crossing to get to, and with luck, Canso NS later on that day.

These roads were certainly a lot of fun, but I was finding that as Zac had told me yesterday, that they truly tested the suspension of a modern "adventure bike" like the Versys. They not only provided entertainment with seemingly endless twisties, but kept you awake with pressure cracks and frost heaves here and there. I've been on worse. Much much worse.

Waiting on the Country Harbour ferry

As you can no doubt tell I don't get to ride on too many ferries, so each one is exciting to this Ontario boy. And as I only have two wheels, I'm especially careful when I cross onto the steel decking for puddles of liquid, and other bits that would absolutely ruin my day or bruise my ego, nearly having dumped my bike on the Pictou ferry at Wood Island PE a number of years ago.

It turned out one of the ferry operators rode a KLR and we spoke a great deal about the riding and the ferry itself. It's been in continuous operation since '77 when you would have had to drive a couple hours up and around the inlet in order to get to the other side. For a $7 fare I figure it was worth it, and I was a happy passenger.

I still don't know what this building was. Anyone?
One of the few stone buildings I've seen other than in the larger towns. If you told me Government I'd beleive you, railroad perhaps but I'd not seen any tracks out this way. What about shipping? I really have no idea so if you recognize it, do us a favour and tell me what it was built for? Thanks.

Update: Paul L. had this to say
We stopped by that building in Canso last summer. It's one of the last cable stations in NS. It relayed cables from the U.K to North America, and was one of the first to get the messages about the Titanic. It stopped service in the 60's and is scheduled to be demolished because of asbestos. We were lucky enough that get the story from an old timer who lived next door who worked there until it closed, as had 2 generations before him.
 Thanks Paul!

Now I was in Canso NS and I'd seen a sign advertising a bakery up ahead, and it shared space with the post office. I would imagine that the postal service slowing down as it was, that there was surplus space to rent, and it became a bakery. I bought a couple of buns for tonight's dinner and sat down to a lunch of fish and chips. Yep. It seems I was on a theme. The fries weren't much better than the last stop, but the fish was nice if a bit overcooked. I forgot to ask for some butter for the buns, darn it!

The road I was on led out to a gravel road and just kept on going out to the point, and if I'd been on my old KLR or DR650E I'd have been able to keep going to the south, but the Versys usually doesn't go down roads that you wouldn't take a honda civic down. :P

Canso NS

Looking back towards the town.

Heading away from town out to the point - Canso NS
I was getting a wee bit nervous about gas as I had about 100km to go to and two bars of fuel on the tan left. It will run me about 300km and more if I'm well behaved, but unlike Zac I had no desire to see how far the vapour would get me and was relieved when passed a pickup truck only to find a fuel stop just around the next corner. Do you feel guilty watching them pass by while you top off the tank? I sorta did that afternoon. 

I stopped for a butt break at an Irving/Tim Horton's where I met a trio of riders up from New Hampshire on a real mix of bikes. A Kawasaki ZX10, a Triumph Street Triple, and some sort of low riding Harley freight train with black and shiny chrome stuff. They were a father and son, along with a friend who was just getting back into riding, but one of the bikes had it's rear fairing pulled off and they were working with an epoxy paste on the plastic gas tank. "Oh no!" thought I, they were in a hell of a pickle a long way from home. It appears that the son had used a longer bolt to secure the fairing on at some time in the past, and over time and load it had rubbed a hole through the gas tank, and the first he knew of it, it was leaking a slow trail of gasoline down the bike while at the fuel station. Here the three of them were with the Dad hard at work trying to get the epoxy to cure before the gasoline would dissolve it and bulge out through the side. We talked and chatted while they worked on the bike and I drank a small coffee. Double cream and one sugar please, cause I'm not sweet enough.

Cape Breton Island NS
I'd been up to the Cabot Trail a couple of times before, and as I wanted to visit Fortress Louisbourg, I knew I had to follow the Fleur-de-Lis trail over on the eastern side, but getting the highways, maps and my gps to coordinate was a bit more than I was capable of at the time. It seems I'd made a mistake and was about to follow the trail down onto a loop on an island to the south east, and as I still had a ways to go before finding a camp site , I opted to skip that bit although I did find a Motorcycle dealer that had a nice can of tha Maxima Chain wax that I prefer to use, so that worked out quite well. As the small can I had in my top box would be empty with the next use, and riding gravel roads always strips the lube off of the chain and leaves it liable to heat up and stretch on me. I've done some of my worst damage to a chain and sprockets that way, and while  really quite good at replacing them, I'd rather not, thanks.

Around a corner, up a hill and there were three pickup trucks hauling lobster traps stopped by the side of the road, but not completely off onto the shoulder, so I slowed down, waved and took a pic or two.

The road was absolutely lovely and I think might have seen three or four other vehicles on it that day. What a fabulous thing to be on a bike in an area you've never ridden before. Parts of it were like northern Labrador with wind swept stunted pines and low lying green foliage. I was certain I'd run across a moose or deer before long, but all I met on the road that day was a fox. He stayed in his lane, and I in mine.

I was riding in and out of the edge of a fog bank, and it was like a game where the visibility would drop and then I'd turn a corner or drop down into a valley and it would disappear.

Fog sweeping across the road - Fleur-de-Lis Trail CBI NS

Taking pictures into the sun doesn't always work.
I was this side of Marion Bridge NS and I was beginning to lose my light and started looking for places that I could use as a camping spot for the night. Just looking as I knew there was camping close to the Fortress, but not entirely sure where exactly. The shadows were making any picture opportunities a bit chancy especially with the iPhone as it likes its objective well lit.

I decided to find a camping spot in the general direction I was headed with my GPS and it found a provincial park not too far down the road that I'd arrive at in plenty of time to get a site, and if it were fully booked, I had enough light to continue to look for another hour or so before I got desperate.

Mira River Provincial Park was my destination, and I arrived about 8 pm and was able to secure a spot for the night. although the clerk had me a bit scared as their computer system was down and she was loathe to allow me to camp in a spot that might have been reserved online, but I assured her that I could up pegs and move my tent in no time flat if that were the case, and that I could have that tent up in five minutes if she took a chance and let me go. :)

A couple of hours later I returned to pay the $26 dollars and have a great chat with a couple of other campers in the area, one that planned to take the family across to PEI tomorrow. I got invited to the campfire for marshmallows, but wasn't feeling up to it at the time and politely declined as I headed back to my camp to make a meal out of boiled hot dogs and some rolls without butter. *sniff* There was more, as I'd picked up a wee bag of hickory sticks and had some mountain dew and a choco bar, so it turned into quite the feast, even if I was running a bit low on water, and the water in the taps was grey although they claimed it was potable, it just didn't look appetizing at all. 

Mira River Provincial Park NS
Note the laundry... I'd had it strapped to my tent in a mesh bag, but the bag was so small it needed a few minutes to completely air dry. The shorts were still a bit damp in the morning, but I still had a day or two before I needed them again.

SVEA123R A 50 year old design that keeps rocking
When I first bought this stove, I assumed that it was the standard pressurized type so I bought a cap and pump but it turns out you only need those for the extreme cold, and the easy way to pressurize this setup is to simply dribble some fuel into the little dimple around the "generator" and once the cap is securely tightened, to set the fuel on fire, which then preheats the atomizer and builds pressure in the tank. You crack the valve a bit before the flames die out, and whoosh! it's alive! It can be a bit of an exciting fireball for a minute or two, at least to those who have never seen on in operation before. I'd had some really old fuel found in Kirk's garage that I was using on the trip, and I expect it might have been older than my nephews, 21 and 19. :P

Now that's a fire! It's still preheating when you see yellow flame like that.

Best camping shoes for motorcycle trips ever!
I had to throw this in here as I always used to carry a pair of flip flops for getting those clunky riding boots off of my feet at the end of the day, but once I spent a week wearing only flip flops in Brunico Ita. so I started to carry Crocs instead, but they deform quite a bit when stuffed into my side case, while these may be a bit heavier, they can be worn as sandals, or with socks, as shoes, and in a pinch you can even ride with them. Willie showed me the light and gave me my first pair. Thanks dude. :D

See Part 2 for more...

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