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Posted August 30th, 2013

The Cabot Trail in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia must be one of the most scenic bicycle rides in all of Canada, if not the world.

For a taste of the experiences that await you on this 300 kilometer road, set your mind on breathtaking sea vistas, framed by dramatic cliffs; curvy roads through timeless fishing villages; old-growth forests in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park and some truly epic climbs.

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On a recent trip around the Cabot Trail, we picked up a few tips that may be helpful to anyone planning to ride this classic route.

#1. Prepare For Wind

We camped for a week in mid-August and experienced stiff winds every day, blowing clockwise around the trail. It’s true that the views are better if you travel anti-clockwise (with the sea on your right) but on balance we would recommend going with the wind. This was also the choice of most cyclists we saw during our visit.

The strong winds also meant that our camp stove quickly burnt through fuel, even though we used firewood and stones to build a wind break around our stove. Keep your fuel bottles topped up, and preferably take a stove that uses either white gas or fuel from gas stations. We could not find gas canisters anywhere on the trail.

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Our stove surrounded by a make-shift windbreak.

#2. Pack Lightly

It almost goes without saying that when the hills are steep, it pays to travel as lightly as possible. We wouldn’t normally recommend dehydrated campers meals as they’re fairly expensive but it might be worth carrying a few on the Cabot Trail to save weight. Remember, sustained climbs at grades above 10% are common. Some grades even reach 15%. Ideally, you’ll get a bike with thin tires and a couple back bags. The exception is Meat Cove (see tip #7). In that case, you’ll want more robust tires for the dirt roads.

Rest Stop on French Mountain Climb

Rest stop on French Mountain. Photo by Bobcatnorth (flickr).

#3. Not All Campsites Have Water

There are campsites dotted regularly around the trail, including several in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Of the six main campsites in the national park, however, only those at Cheticamp, Broad Cove and Ingonish have water. The private campsites around the trail have all the services you’d expect (eg. wi-fi, water, showers). Expect to pay $25-30 Canadian a night for camping. Firewood and ice is usually available at campsites, for an extra charge.

#4. Reserve If You Plan To Stay In Hotels

Nearly every B&B, hotel and hostel we passed had a ‘no vacancy’ sign outside. If you don’t plan to bring a tent, you’d better reserve a room.

#5. There’s A Bike Shop In Cheticamp

We saw one good bike shop along the trail: Velo Max in Cheticamp. The owner does plenty of work preparing bikes for tour groups and should be able to help with any mechanical problems.

#6. Take Hiking Boots 

Most cyclists breeze around the Cabot Trail in 3-4 days but there are so many world-class hiking tracks on the Cabot Trail it almost seems criminal to pass them by. If you can, lengthen your stay by a few days and stop to explore on foot. You’ll see a side of Cape Breton that isn’t revealed until you walk away from the road. You could easily spend 10-14 days doing a mixture of cycling and hiking on the trail.

We do realize that hiking boots are a heavy addition to your panniers. If the weather isn’t too hot, you might consider using your boots both for cycling and walking. We personally find hiking boots very comfortable for both activities.

DSC_7396Ready to walk the trails of Cape Breton.

#7. Meat Cove Makes An Amazing Side Trip

The most northerly community in Cape Breton is Meat Cove. It’s literally perched on the edge of a cliff, overlooking a sheltered bay.

Meat Cove
Meat Cove view. Photo by Kaymoshusband (flickr).

Don’t kid yourself: this is a tough side trip. You’ll travel 30km off the Cabot Trail. The hills in the 15km leading up to Meat Cove are steep and relentless and the final 8km are on a rough dirt road. Still, your hard work will be rewarded by the stunning views and you can treat yourself to a bowl of chowder and a cold beer at the campground restaurant. There are also several hiking trails that lead up the hills and to hidden bays.

DSC_7323Chowder at Meat Cove

For an easier option, cycle the relatively easy (and entirely paved) 18km to the picturesque fishing community of Bay St. Lawrence. There you’ll find a campground, grocery store and delicious fish ‘n’ chips at the harbour.

#8. Be Aware of Bears And Coyotes

This is wild country, particularly in the national park. Bears and coyotes call the forests home, so if you are hiking or plan to wild camp, take appropriate precautions. Don’t eat near your tent or keep any food inside. More information is available on the national park website.

DSC_7397Lobster Supper with all the trimmings in Baddeck.

#9. Celebrate With An All-You-Can-Eat Lobster Supper

When you’ve completed the Cabot Trail, you deserve a treat! We very much enjoyed our meal at the Baddeck Lobster Suppers. With unlimited chowder, mussels, salads and desserts it’s the perfect place to fill up your hungry cyclist’s belly. If you don’t fancy lobster, they also roast salmon on a maple plank. Delicious!

These articles provide further tips and advice:

 

 

Posted July 27th, 2013

chrisroachA good friend of ours, Chris Roach, recently completed four years of bicycle touring around the world.

He put together a video (below) to share his adventures, experiences and motivations for doing such a long cycling trip. You can also read his last blog post from the trip.

What we especially enjoyed was the way that Chris shares the emotional as well as the physical side of the journey. Of his global bike tour, he wrote:

The physical side of the expedition had always only ever been only a shadow of the inner journey taking place over the last 4 years. The physical side has taken me to 3 continents and allowed me to marvel sitting at the base at some of the worlds tallest mountains. It dragged me through some of the worlds wettest and most mosquito-ridden places and sent me venturing across some of the largest deserts on earth, but the inner journey has always been what drove me. It inspired me to seek out who I thought I was, unconsciously pulled me along when I wanted to give up and gave me strength in ways that I have never known and yet, still never understood. It feels like the inner journey is now where the path leads.

 

With that quote to get you thinking, here’s the video of Chris and his bike touring adventures.

 

Posted in Video
Posted July 19th, 2013

We had so many plans for this summer. Among other things, we wanted to cycle around Nova Scotia and France, complete the 2nd edition of the Bike Touring Survival Guide and review some new gear. Unfortunately, that was all put on hold by something unplanned and rather sad.

Until now, we haven’t really felt like writing about it here but now we are ready to share. This spring Friedel’s uncle was diagnosed with cancer and last week he passed away. It all happened very quickly and during this time our focus was as far as it could be from the world of bike touring. We’ll try to get back to normal soon. In the meantime, we’d like to share the eulogy that Friedel gave at the funeral. It has nothing to do with bike touring but it does tell the story of someone who loved travel, cared for others and who we’ll really miss.

Paul was the only relative to come out and meet us on the road when we were travelling around the world, and he often said that if he had been younger he would have joined us.

***

For those who don’t know me, my name is Friedel and I am Paul’s niece. I want to thank you all for being here today, and I’d like to share a few memories about my uncle Paul.

Paul and FriedelPaul was, perhaps, the only person who I can truly say has been there throughout every step of my life. When I was born in the old Truro hospital, the pictures show that Paul was there. We went on summer vacations together. He helped me move when I started university, gave me away at my wedding and visited me nearly every year in Europe, after I moved there in 2000. For over ten years, we regularly visited family in Germany and worked together on our family tree. Paul was a fixture in my life, as I am sure he also was for many of you.

I have so many memories of Paul, it’s hard to know where to start but I thought I’d start with one place where you were always sure to find him: at Joyce’s house for Christmas dinner. Being a Jehovah’s Witness, Paul didn’t celebrate occasions like Christmas but that didn’t mean he would miss a meal at Joyce’s house. He was always sitting at the table, often wearing his trademark suspenders and checked shirt. In front of him would be a plate piled high with turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy. Joyce’s cooking was certainly worth making the trip for. Paul loved the food but more than that, Paul was a people person. He loved the conversation and warmth that went along with these kinds of occasions, surrounded by so many friends and relatives.

During the rest of the year, Paul often visited our home. Each time I saw his van coming into our driveway I’d run to the door and shout excitedly ‘Uncle Paul!’. Once inside, he’d let me sit on his knee and tell me stories in the way only Paul could. I think almost all of you here will be familiar with Paul and his stories. It didn’t matter what the topic was, Paul seemed to have a story to suit every occasion. He loved telling them and they were never short. He wanted to share every last detail. Once, he and his daughter Heather went out for lunch at the China Rose restaurant in Truro. The stories started flowing and the afternoon flew by. Finally, someone looked at the clock. It was 8 in the evening. “Well, I guess we’d better order supper,” was Paul’s response. To sit and talk to someone for hours was never a waste of time in Paul’s mind. It was one of his favourite things to do.

One of the stories I remember best was about coming to Canada from Germany by boat in 1951. Paul was seven years old at the time. On that trip, Paul grabbed what he thought was a grape and popped it in his mouth. What happened next was a dose of salty, shocking reality. Instead of a sweet grape, Paul had actually eaten an olive. He’d never tasted an olive before and he didn’t like his first taste much at all. Shortly afterwards, Paul got seasick. He blamed the seasickness on the olive, and that experience was enough to put him off olives for the next twenty years.

When Paul visited us, sometimes he would bring a present. Nothing expensive or fancy, just some little treasure he’d pick up along the way. Once it was a small pin in the shape of a pink elephant that he’d found on the ground. He polished it up and carried it in his pocket for a few days until he saw me the next time. “This matches your pink jacket,” he said to the six-year-old me. “I think you should have it.”

That was Paul – always thinking of other people. If you needed something, all you had to do was ask. Paul was happy to help, even when the task was something that most others would have found too difficult or too much to take on.

One good example of that was in 1982. I was just a little girl, living in Edmonton with my mum Inga and aunt Rose – Paul’s sisters. They needed help moving home to Nova Scotia so they called Paul and a few days later he was there, ready to help them drive back east with all our stuff packed into one little Chevette, towing a trailer. As it turned out, that year saw some of the worst spring snowstorms in Canada’s history. For 10 days, Paul drove our family through the freezing cold and snow, right across Canada. Everything on that trip went wrong. In addition to the weather, the heater on the car broke. So did the fan belt. The wheel bearings seized on the trailer and in Maine there was a flat tire to fix. As for those snowstorms, they were so bad that once Paul even had to shovel his way into a hotel room so we could all get some sleep. Through all of this, Paul was unflappable. He just kept on going with a smile on his face, and he seemed to have an answer for every situation.

Maybe the reason Paul had so many answers was because he was interested in everything. It was hard to find a subject that Paul didn’t know something about. During his life, he completed courses in scuba diving, sausage making, accounting, Spanish and German – to name but a few of the things he studied. He also learned by doing. As a young boy on his family’s farm in Hilden, Paul took care of the animals, planted the garden and helped make butter. In his retirement, Paul joined the local photography club. At home, his natural curiosity meant that Paul’s house was filled to the rafters with stacks of National Geographic and Reader’s Digest magazines. He had a photographic memory and once he’d read an article or book about something, he could recite the facts back to you without hesitation for years afterwards.

Friedel & Paul at Kinderdijk

There was no doubt that Paul loved learning new things and sharing his knowledge with others. One of his special friends was five-year-old Lilly. She called him Papa Paul. When Paul came to help remodel her family’s basement he let her try out everything: drywalling, painting, plumbing. He even let her smash a hole through the basement wall to put a window in. Then, with a twinkle in his eye, he told her that rough hole in the wall was the finished product. He just let climb in and out of that stupid hole! Instant access to the back yard! Paul could be such an instigator.

Another thing that Paul loved was food. He always appreciated a good meal and was never shy to try out something new. You could hand him a plate full of prairie oysters, pungent Limburger cheese or durian – the world’s stinkiest fruit. Most of us would turn up our noses but for Paul it was no problem. He would certainly try it and let us all know how it tasted. Once someone emailed Paul a questionnaire. One of the questions asked Paul to list four of his favourite foods. Paul’s list went like this.

Number one: pizza. Number two: Chinese food. Number three: pork chops. Number four: spaghetti. Number five: polish sausage , Polski ogorki [pickles], mashed potatoes with butter, roast beef,, or pork ,turkey,chicken, mmmmmmmm gravy , mixed veggy mmmm. Number six: soup. All kinds. And salads. Number seven: chocolate chip cookies.

That list makes me smile. It reminds me of his love of food, and also of the many happy meals we shared together, whether we were out at Joyce’s house for Christmas dinner, with German relatives devouring mountains of cakes or wandering through the Oktoberfest in Munich, in search of a pretzel and a beer. Those were good times.

When my uncle Paul passed, he left some pretty big shoes to fill. I don’t suppose anyone can ever really take his place but the memories from our many shared adventures will keep me smiling for years to come and for that I am deeply thankful.

Thank you.

Posted in Uncategorized
Posted June 15th, 2013

Last weekend we were out cycling when we spotted something different on the bike path: a recumbent-style trailer for kids.

We weren’t quick enough to get a photo of it but later we searched online and discovered that we’d seen the WeeHoo trailer.

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Weehoo trailer in use. Photo by SheBicycles on flickr

We’re still getting a lot of use out of our Chariot Cougar 1 trailer but the WeeHoo is an intriguing solution as Luke grows up. In another year or so (when he’s 2+ years old), we think he’d love this. We like the look of it better than a standard tag-along bike because it would allow him to relax (read, sleep, play) while riding.

It’s also reasonably affordable: $399 from REI.

From what we’ve read so far, the trailer gets fairly positive reviews online. We’ve seen comments such as:

I cannot stress enough how much my kid loves this thing. Between the harness and the pedal straps I’m not worried about her at all. We whip through curvy sidewalk approaches, ride over and off of curbs, hit potholes, have managed to hit 28 mph… all without the first sign of problems.

My daughter is strapped in with a nice, comfortable harness in a cushy seat. Her weight is down low where it doesn’t affect the feel of my bike. The hitch is completely different from other trailers. It uses your seat post as an axle which eliminates almost all loose play. It comes with bags which, while not as quality as nice panniers, are great for putting your kid’s stuff in. Not only can your kid snack while peddling, the Weehoo comes with a cup holder and pocket for snacks that your kid can reach. My daughter can take a little snooze after a long day.

The main downfall of the WeeHoo seems to be its weight: it’s a hefty 15kg or 35 pounds. Tackling the Alps with this trailer might be out of the question but it but it should be fine for touring around the flatter parts of the world. On the other hand, some people don’t seem to take any notice of the weight!

And, for families with more than one kid, WeeHoo’s Facebook page suggests that a new double trailer will be hitting the market soon.

WeeHoo Double Trailer

Do you have any experience with the WeeHoo trailer? Leave a comment.

Posted June 14th, 2013

A few days ago, an email dropped into our box from Daniel, who said he’d just finished designing a new product that might be useful for bike touring.

It’s called the Handleband, and it’s an adaptable smartphone mount for bicycles. It lets you use your phone as a bike-light, ride tracker, navigation tool, and front-facing camera. It’s also a bottle opener.

The idea struck a chord with us. We’ve tried a couple smartphone mounts for our bikes but none were particularly impressive. Maybe the Handleband will fill that gap.

Check out Daniel’s Kickstarter campaign to get the Handleband off the ground.

Posted in Uncategorized