2017 Meat Cove and The Highland Road Adventure

Brian wanted to ride the Cabot Trail again this year. How do I know? Because he bends my ear about it whenever we get together, but when I invited him along on my moto camping tours this summer he always had an excuse. "Family is visiting and I'm kinda married, you know?","I'm pulling the scored crankshaft bearings on the Ural", and other lame excuses... I rode the Cabot, did the Meat Cove thing solo, but I missed out on awesome section of the Cabot that Brian made sure I knew nothing about...

80.7 Kilometres of fun await you!
This ride really started with us freezing our butts off just last weekend in Quebec, a cold snap brought on by a hurricane stirring up some weird weather that caught us ill prepared, but post trip we both agreed that it had been fun and we should get out and ride again, but I told Brian it would have to wait until I mounted new tires, chain and sprockets. Well the tires rolled into my driveway on Friday afternoon, and thanks to the service department at Centennial Auto Sport and Tire, they were mounted on the rims I'd brought with me in under thirty minutes, and I had them back on the bike with the sprockets later that evening and let Brian know that the bike was good to go for the next trip. He put me off and I celebrated by staying up way too late and blogging (bragging) all about the new Shinko 705s and the 16 tooth front sprocket that turned the Versys from a 15t/46t to a 16t/46t that was supposed to true up the speedometer, get better fuel economy, and ease some of the high rev vibrations at highway speed.

Saturday morning Brian got his revenge on me:

Can you see the rain? I can.

So he arrived at my place while I hurriedly attached SW-Motech quick release racks and my Givi E41 panniers to the Versys, and after a bit of shameless begging he let me head to Anna's for breakfast and a coffee where I woke up at last and began to look forward to the trip.

The Grand unPlanned

 Day 1 - Borden -Carleton PE to Meat Cove, Cape Breton Island NS - 600km

 Day 1 - Borden -Carelton PE to Meat Cove, Cape Breton Island NS - 600k
We made our way off the island, and onto some really fun roads outside of Port Elgin that took us to Pictou NS (and a plowing match near Wallace Bay!)where we left the Sunrise Trail and jumped onto the highway that would get us to the Canso Causeway and onto Cape Breton Island by the quickest route possible.
The plowing match. It was actually pretty neat.
 The Sunrise Trail is a wonderful bit of coastline shared between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Check out Route 366 NB and Route 6 NS to see more of it, and the Cape George Lighthouse.

Quick?! Did I just type that? It turns out the Brian was running low on funds and couldn't sneak another litre of oil onto the debit card without SWMBO finding out. Apparently running a 2008 KLR can put you into the poor house if you don't fix the piston ring issue common to that year. Anyhow, he was determined that 4800 rpm was the magic number to avoid burning any oil, and we plodded along being passed by people pushing shopping carts ahead of themselves. At one point I lost it and pulled out ahead of Bubbles and his conga line of carts, and resumed our pace, once again happy to be in front of the pack rather than in back of it. Brian caught up and gave the lead to me, which may have been a mistake, because as a diabetic I was probably riding with my sugars up a bit. (That's my story, and if Brian believes it, it's "for the greater good") Anyhow, I feel guilty that I let poor dietary decisions affect my riding that day. It sucks large to have to apologize. In a few years when senile dementia sets in Brian might even forget to rub my nose in it. I can only hope.

Right, we've all been on the highway, super fast (not in our case), and super boring. We stopped at Auld's Cove for our first tank of fuel after leaving the Island, and grabbed a bit of lunch. For once you will note that there is green stuff under there... (about to be slathered with salad dressing)

See?! I do eat vegetables when I can't pick them out of my cheese, bacon and bread...
We crossed the causeway and headed straight up 105 NS towards Baddeck, but Brian had forewarned me that he was looking for a gravel road that started somewhere off of this route further ahead. We tried a couple of times to find the entrance, and just as Brian's aging memory kicked in and he thought the entrance might be at the Public Rifle Range, the skies opened up and that "60% chance of showers" became a 100% torrential downpour that was so bad I could barely see his tail light ahead of me, and the ride became focused on making it to Cheticamp in one piece and praying we would ride out of the rain and arrive at Meat Cove in one piece.

We did stop at a gas station where a DR400 was parked in the garage, and the two young petroleum transfer engineers seemed to be of the opinion that neither the KLR nor the Versys would make it to Meat Cove. Ah, youth. It's wasted on the young, but he did have a nice ride. lol.

Out from the gloom comes this single, flashing headlight. Was it programmed to signal SOS or was that CQCQ? My morse being a little rusty. Brian and I think we saw a rider wearing a high vis helmet and a matching jacket on some sort of adventure scoot, but it must have been an emergency response vehicle as the panniers were covered in reflective high vis wrap, and he had a flag on the end of a glowing whip antenna, I shit you not. I think I've seen similar things in the UK, but they carry only truncheons. Lego rescue action figure and matching motorcycle? Wow! That rain sodden image is now burnt into my retina and I still see spots.

The rain ended just outside of Cheticamp where we stopped for fuel and agreed that we had to hustle in the two hours of daylight left to us if we were going to make it to Meat Cove and still get our tents up in daylight, and hopefully, dry, as we were still besieged by ominous dark clouds all around us. It wasn't looking particularly rosy, and while Brian fretted, I focused (even if Brian calls it "Agitated, Ron, why do you look so agitated?") on making it work, and we headed north up into the Park where we found the Highlands were still ripped up and gravel, a nice wet gravel that tossed up dirt onto our bikes and our rain gear from windshield to axles. I think the worst part was getting caught behind a line of cages delicately picking their way through the construction debris. How do you go slower than first gear, no throttle? I coasted downhill on the brakes hoping they would clear the soft spot so I could hit it under throttle and power out of it if things went pear shaped.

Okay, now we well on our way, but I had a stop to make in Pleasant Bay to look up my KLR busting buddy, Charles from the 2015 Fundy Adventure Rally, who was somewhere on the Cabot Trail working the road construction and as I'd blown my chance to see him last time I did the circuit, so I managed to get his location and told him that we would drop in to see him on our way to Meat Cove.

Did you know that cell signal is hit and miss around the Cabot? I didn't. I do now.

Knock on the door again... 
 Hah! This time Charles blew it, or perhaps it was payback?!? That low conniving little son of a...!
Great, now the tent goes up by headlight... 
 In truth, I could only budget about fifteen minutes, and as Charles felt the desire to head into Cheticamp for groceries, he must have passed us heading south as we were heading north. For the record, Charles, it's a Versys, not a V-Strom. I ride bikes with attitude and fun factor. :P

We hit a bit more rain in the twisties, and as I was on my new tires and desperate not to bin the bike, we headed out of the Park, and down the road leading to Meat Cove.

You're looking at the sunny bit along Capstick.

More Capstick.
 So Brian reckons that we might be able to camp for free down on the beach, and he offers to run recce on his KLR and let me know if we can manage it, but surprised him by following him down the washed out trail down the hill to the beach, where we agreed that we didn't relish tearing out the bottom of our tents, so we headed back up to the campground.

Gravity and the Versys work?! 
Meat Cove? I don't get it?

Gratuitous bike shot.
 Check out that hill in the background. It was a bit technical for that pig of a Versys. I'd never have tried coming down if it had been raining.
Strike a pose, Ron. 

Now I hope it rains so some of this will wash off!

Right, back up to the campground where Justin is happy to rent us our pick of the remaining sites, number 2 which is just down the hill to the left, but I'm a bit worried that if it rains overnight or the grass gets really wet, the new 705s and a loaded bike just won't make that steep hill. I'll probably end up sliding backwards off the cliff edge and get torn apart by seagulls. I tell Brian to set my bike on fire and cremate my remains upon the blaze. "Ron, worst case scenario if you can't get it up, you either pop a viagara into the fuel tank or we gather some people tomorrow morning to help pull your bike up the hill once the finger pointing and laughter dies down." Do you see why I enjoy riding with this guy?

In the failing light you need to assign priority to the tasks ahead of you. We opt to take pictures in the remaining light rather than get started setting up our tents.

What a view! 
 Be careful at night peeing in shrubbery, for if you are too bashful and attempt to get some privacy, watch your step, for it's a long drop down to the rock beach below, and the ER Nurse would tell all her friends, and they'd tell two friends, and so on and so on.

Note, make this picture X-Large centered cause it's a Versys

Brian was content with some prepared food he had packed along with him, and I brought out some pieces of sausage I'd picked up earlier at a Co-op grocery store, and proceeded to prime my SVEA123r, and get a bit of water boiling to steam them into something approaching a hot state for consumption. While that watched pot refuses to boil, Brian and I start sipping our sipping whiskey, some C.C. purchased at the same Co-op. (See Kathleen Wynne? You can buy beer and liquor where you get your groceries, without everyone running around all "Omega Man" or "Mad Max". Ah, I figured it out. You stuff the provincial coffers by profiting on the rights to extract yet more money from Ontarians. Whoops!) [/END RANT] At the time it was a pleasant buzz and we stopped before falling off that precipice behind us. We can be responsible at times, grown-up never. I just wanted to make that clear.

Right, sausage... While checking on the sausages by aid of a flashlight, I upset the balance on the SVEA and all I see is two generous hunks of Kielbasa arcing up into the night out of the arc of my flashlight beam and towards the edge of the cliff! Any second now I'm sure I'll here the angry cries of the seagulls as they do battle over the battered bits of my supper. Brian stifles a laugh and points under the picnic table "Five seconds starting... NOW!" Hah! Dinner is saved, and I get stuck into the sausage, whiskey, and at times the conversation until everything is done but the talk, and we end that with a "Good night".

Day 2 - Meat Cove, Cape Breton Island NS - 595 km

Day 2 - Meat Cove, Cape Breton Island NS - 595 km
Those dark clouds never really do go away, and I figured it would shower down over night and all the next day, but I was pleasantly surprised that the evening was fairly mild for the time and year, and our tents were nice and dry the next morning.

I resolved to get some better pictures with the morning sun, although overcast, it was such a wonderful view from our campsite. I'm standing about ten feet away from our picnic table.

Note: Photoshop out KLR leaving Versys in center. 
 Right, time to get some breakfast going! I love my SVEA. You pour a flammable liquid on top of the stove, then set it on fire. If you do it right, you get to open a valve, sort of like pulling a pin on a hand grenade, and the flame gets bigger and hotter. Sometimes you open the valve at the wrong time, and the flame gets really big, but not so hot. Yep, the Swedish Hand Grenade, that's my SVEA, but it sure is a simple process, and it's got two moving parts inside. The valve and a cleaning needle, and you don't even need the cleaning needle in there for it to work. It's just so simple and needs extremely infrequent maintenance, that my friend Brian has stove envy. It was probably all the brass polishing I did before our trip to Quebec, as I noticed a gleam in his eye while I settled down to boil water for my morning breakfast of tea and oatmeal.

First stage prime, seems to be going well...
Looking for something to get you wide awake and alert in the morning? Forget coffee, get a SVEA123R. :D

Now that's a fire! Get your marshmallows ready as soon as the picnic table is burning well!

MSR Whisperlite International pales in comparison
 I have to admit, my man Brian did do his research, for the MSR Whisperlite scores excellent marks for a stove, and in this variation or in others, it is one of the most popular stoves around the world for all sorts of travellers. I feel the need to mention that at one point, that distinction belonged to the SVEA, as it emerged in the late '50s as THE stove for mountaineering and hiking. Today it is great for car or motorcycle camping where you just aren't concerned about weight vs BTUs and reliability. Plus it will burn unleaded automobile fuel which is sort of nice considering I've a tank full of it sitting over my shoulder. Two tanks in fact. :P

I gave up on powered milk for my tea and just bought some fresh milk for the moring cuppa.

There is afternoon rain in the forecast for Sydney NS, and the sky is not looking all that promising, or rather it is looking too promising... A promise of showers to come.

We got packed up, and I asked Brian to take pictures of the bike lying on top of me BEFORE he rendered any aid. That way I would have proof that I tried that hill.

Well, that grass wasn't as slick as I thought, and the new Shinko 705s shot me up the hill. In fact, the traction was a bit too good as I'd feared that with the lower power of the 16 tooth front sprocket I'd need more throttle, and I shot up the incline so quickly that my front tire caught air from the first "whoop" and launched again on the crest of the second! This would have been a lot more fun if there hadn't been a cliff behind and beside me, and campers covering all the other exits. Maybe they should hold an X Games there... I'd watch for sure. I proudly dropped the kickstand and waited for Brian to join me at the summit.

The road leading back to civilization

The Highland Road / Crowdis Mountain Road - 80.7 km

Wreck Cove NS to
Brian was sure that we could pick up the top end of that gravel road from Wreck Cove, and as he'd clearly seen the fear in my eyes,  "Don't be such a baby. We'll scout the hill and if you can't crawl up it in your diapers you can meet me at the Tim Horton's down in Whycocomagh. Ask them to make sure your bottle is the right temperature first."

He really wanted to do this run on his KLR, and offered to back out if I didn't feel that the Versys was up to making that hill. I'm not a rich guy, and it has none of the engine guards or other serious farkles that some others can afford, and Brian knows that I can't afford to write it off. He really wants to do this run, so I agreed to ride out and check out the trail head with him. At least I can get some poser shots for the blog, right? Ride out onto the gravel, take a pic and beat a hasty retreat to asphalt no harm done, right?

Nah, not only will Brian ride you, he'll tell you how he would ride your bike and never let you forget that you are a "Wuss." "Baby" "Adventure Rider, ha!". Did I mention that I've asked him to take care of my remains and estate? "Cremate me on the flames of my bike and take whatever you want out of my tank bag first."

I know him, he'd loot stuff from my panniers AND tank bag, siphon my gas, lift my Throttle Rocker, and I'd be left half-cooked with a 200lb steel Versys frame lying on top of me, the crows and eagles circling overhead, listening for the sound of his tweety bird exhaust before joining the feast.

Why did we stop here you ask? That's what happens after a near death experience.

Within the first two kilometres you are climbing, and as these roads are used by heavy trucks, they gravel them pretty heavily, and both Brian and I were having some trouble with the front washing out, and the rear end skating a touch. At this point I'd happily trade the Versys in for his KLR, and in fact I'm even a bit envious watching him gain confidence and with it, speed as we carry on up. It's not so bad provided I'm on the pegs and in the power band to throttle out if I feel the front getting away from me, and the Shinko's are hooking up enough to provide that push. If the road was wet or it had been raining, I've have passed on it and happily headed back down to the macadam for that bottle and maybe a diaper change...

I was stopping again to take pictures of things I'd never seen.
Almost immediately I pulled over at the crest to take a picture of a part of Cape Breton that I'd never seen before from the Cabot Trail... Thanks Brian.

I was going to post this on the Versys Forum... lol.
There were more potholes and I was forced to pick a path and a speed, but once we got perhaps ten kilometres in, my speed went from 30 and 40 kph to as high as 90 as the road condition improved, while I watched the gap between Brian and I widen and widen. 
Note: Photoshop out the KLR
"How did you like that muddy section? Did your front end slide around on you too?"

Oh yeah! It's an adventure 'cause you survived it!

Brian edits out the Versys

Ha! Brian sends me this photo later in the evening with both bike and me in the shot.

Nice objective, good composition... Photo Credit: Brian The KLRista.
My bike wasn't getting any cleaner, and Brian noted that my forks looked like they had hit rock bottom, as had his on some of the potholes. Yep, here is another proof that upside down forks on adventure bikes is a crap idea. Where do you think all that debris is going fellas? You little dust seal is getting it all? Gee thanks.

Yep, she's a touch wet after all that up and down action

My Garmin tells me where I am, but I was showing Brian a downloaded "Maps.Me" map that would work up here where there is no service. Check out my other favourite, OSMAnd, especially if you have an Android.

So I see Brian stopped up ahead and I figure he is perhaps a bit lost at the junction or maybe just wanted a break, but as I get nearer I see those shadows moving... Moose?!

Bullwinkle and family?

Nope, Angus on the hoof.

I'm going to do this in second gear and be ready to add throttle if needed

Cows have the right of way. Even if they are on the left.

It turns out that the cattle are set out on the highlands, sort of a village common, then rounded up later in the fall and brought back down to the farms. "They aren't very tame" said our source.

The set up...

Sit down and get on that throttle you poser!

It opens up now and then and you get to see the majesty of the landscape
It could be any road in Ontario, New Brunswick, until the skyline opens up and you see that you've been riding the Cape Breton Highlands.

As we got further south, we passed some sportsmen out for a day on the Quads, some campers enjoying the remote highlands, and of course, the cows.

It's good to be on a bike up here.
We came out exactly as Brian had predicted, at the Public Range off of 19 NS near Lower Middle River, and promptly ran into a rain shower, a Tim Horton's, then out of the rain and into the cool air of Port Hawkesbury, and over into Auld's Cove where we stopped for gas and to get rid of our rain gear that was now slowly beginning to dry out.

A couple of riders pulled in and someone (who shall remain nameless) was heard to say:

"Those guys aren't coming in for gas, they're here for dialysis!" I laughed my ass off, but then one of them came over and chatted up Brian and I, and we were all grins when the Yamaha Street and Trail 175 story got trotted out. This guy and his friend are the real deal, bikers who ride like we do, and have settled in for more comfortable bikes as they get older. I hope I'm still twisting my wrist when I'm his age. 

One of these two is a bad ass biker, the other, more of an @s... Hahaha.
Well, our plan was to jump onto the Sunrise Trail again and avoid much of the highway back home, and for a brief stretch we did just that, until we got dumped right back onto it from Route 4 near the Bayfield Road NS. Durn it! The sky was really gloomy and it was getting colder, so we did stopped on the side of the highway and geared up for cold weather. I plugged in my heated vest and turned up my grips. Oh yeah, this is one hard core adventure rider! As we used to say in the Army, "Only a fool is uncomfortable."

We rode out of that weather only getting spit on a bit, not even worth stopping to do the roadside rain dance, and we'd planned on hitting 311 NS north up to Tatamagouche, but there wasn't a Tim Horton's at the exit, and I was getting cold, sore and tired, not necessarily in that order, so bypassed in favour of a stop at the Masstown Market. That coffee went down so nicely, and Brian drowned his 311 sorrows in his small black. lol.

We turned north up Folly Mountain and down t'other side, caught a couple of back roads and shot through Pugwash. (Did I give you the impression of speed? It's not possible through Pugwash.)

Once out of Pugwash, you hook up with a fun little ripper called 366 into Tidnish Bridge where you opt for New Brunswick and follow the signs for Port Elgin NB and Prince Edward Island.

On Baie Verte Road, you will get the occasional glimpse past the marshes and out into the Bay itself, and I had forewarned Brian that I was going to stop and snap a couple of shots as the light was almost perfect this afternoon for the purpose. These were taken in Baie Verte NB on the Tidnish Road. 

The marshes of Baie Verte NB

So I haven't mentioned much about the 16 tooth sprocket and as we hadn't filled up since Aulds Cove, I was on one bar of fuel before reserve, and showing 316 km on the tank. It's nice to know that I can still do better than 325km on a single tank with this setup. I don't often like to go below two bars of fuel, it's just habit and the fear of pushing this 500lb bike to a gas station. lol.

316 km on a full tank at one bar before reserve!

My friend Zac talked about riding that trail through the highlands, and made it sound so remote and gnarly, that I imagined the only way to do it would have been on a small cc dirt bike, or dual sport, and it was one of the reasons why I have a street plated Honda XR400R in my stable, but I really have to thank my riding partner for kicking my ass out the door Saturday morning, and putting up with my whining and whinging, as that rip across the gravel was the highlight of my trip to the Cabot Trail this year. (He also mentioned that of every adventure rider he's asked if they wanted to do the road with him, I was the only one to say yes, so maybe I can graduate to pull ups one day.)

What hidden gems did you find this year?


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