Saturday, February 25, 2017

72 Hours in the City of Edinburgh, Scotland....Now Go!!

Although my hotel room was very clean and comfortable, I noticed  a major issue upon exiting the shower; the floor was full of water. I did everything I could to prevent it but when I informed staff about the issue, they reacted in a manner that made me think they had dealt with this many times before and that perhaps there was no way to prevent it. The lady at the front desk said she would send someone to clean it up ASAP but no one came by the time I left and no one had come by the time I came back later that evening. I ended up cleaning it myself.

That first day in Edinburgh was anything but relaxing...exactly how I like it. I love to be on the move and doing things. I'm not an idle person so the thought of relaxing in front of the TV in my hotel room didn't even cross my mind. It was still mid-afternoon by the time I hit the street and started to immerse myself into Edinburgh life. I only had to walk for about twenty seconds and I was on the Royal Mile. I walked up the street where crowds of tourists and commuters were gathered.

I didn't know where the Royal Mile would take me. I didn't bother to look at a map. I prefer the unknown. I kept walking past shops, restaurants and centuries-old buildings that would become familiar once I learned my way around. I eventually ended up at the entrance to Edinburgh Castle. I didn't go any further as I already had plans to visit the castle on my last day in the city but at least I found out how to get there!

I took my time going back down the Royal Mile. I stopped to watch some interesting (and downright bizarre and equally intriguing) buskers.  I walked into a few shops to get some ideas of what to buy as souvenirs for friends and family back home and I took note of restaurants and cafes that may be good options for a meal later on. I took note of a Starbucks right on the main street but vowed to only patronize it as a last resort. I can have Starbucks anytime I want at home. When I'm traveling I prefer to sample the unfamiliar and local.

As I walked along the Royal Mile, I noticed some peculiar things. I noticed that traffic lights go from green to yellow to red and back to yellow before turning green as opposed to just red to green to yellow back home. I also noticed that the crosswalks are set further back from the lights than I am used to and, after seeing someone get almost taken out by a car while trying to cross where the lights are, I realized why. I also learned that going to the bathroom can be a bit of a pain...especially if you don't have any coins on hand. Those stupid pay bathrooms around Scotland were the only annoyance I experienced during my travels around the country. I've never had to go through a toll booth to pee before.

Since I didn't have anything planned that afternoon, I decided to do a bit of shopping.  After exchanging some Canadian currency for local currency, I learned that Scotland has it's own money. It's equal to the British Pound but it looks different. I had no idea what to get for souvenirs but, judging by the stores on the Royal Mile, plaid, cashmere and tweed were in full supply.  I found some beautiful scarves for the women in my life (including myself) but the men were a little harder to shop for. Most of the ball caps and shirts were branded with golf and football slogans. I finally found some that simply said "Scotland" on them. Everything seemed very reasonably-priced despite what I had heard from other travelers to the UK about everything being super expensive. I also picked out some key-chains, fridge magnets and local snacks and my shopping was complete in under an hour. I hate shopping but I particularly hate shopping when I am traveling. I try to get it done right away so I don't have to worry about it anymore. With very little space to pack anything else in my carry-on luggage, I was unable to buy too much anyway.

One of the tours I had pre-booked before my departure was a hop-on, hop-off bus ticket for a city tour on a double decker bus through Edinburgh Bus Tours. I was still wide awake so I made my way to the bus stop and waited for the big red bus to come by.Although  I didn't take a jacket with me and I knew it would be cold on the top outside deck of the bus, I took a seat there anyway. How often do I get to tour a city on top of a double decker bus? Figured I might as well get the most of it. It was quite cold and although there were seats available on the bottom inside deck, I toughed it out and stayed up top. We passed through some areas of the city that I otherwise wouldn't have seen and stopped briefly at some attractions I wouldn't have seen like the Royal Yacht Britannia and the Royal Botanic Garden.

I almost learned a crucial lesson in exploring Edinburgh on foot the hard way when I was exiting the bus at the end of the tour; Be very careful when crossing the street. It's easy to forget that driving is done on the left side of the road in the United Kingdom and I forgot that very important fact when I looked to the right instead of the left and was almost taken out by a speeding car. Unfortunately, this was not the only time I made this mistake. I noticed since I arrived in the city that the sound of ambulance sirens were almost continuous and I wondered if perhaps it was Canadian and American tourists making the same mistake. In Edinburgh, there seems to be no speed limits and cars stop at nothing, not even crosswalks.

I usually don't walk down dark alleyways or venture on side streets or more remote areas of cities but I felt very safe everywhere I went in Edinburgh and although I had only been there a few hours, I felt at home. It didn't take long to realize that I really like the city. Many other people must like it too as there were tourists everywhere. It wasn't peak tourist season when I was there but the streets were packed with people from all over the world. I'd hate to see what's it like during peak tourist season or during major events like the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

I walked around the city for a few hours taking pictures and admiring the stunning architecture. By the time I started finally feeling tired, I had clocked 16 miles of walking according to the step-counter app on my phone. Not bad for someone who arrived in the city jet-lagged and sleep-deprived only a few hours earlier. I stopped into a little cafe called Cafe Keno, which was just around the corner from my hotel, and grabbed a delicious vegetarian sandwich and some cookies.

Back in my room, I was so tired, I could barely get undressed. Sleep came easy and I didn't wake up again until twelve hours later when my alarm went off in the morning.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

My Journey to Scotland's Cities, Highlands and Islands

For some reason, this fall my family and friends were more accepting of my travel plans than they usually are. I didn't get any off-the-wall comments like "what are you thinking traveling somewhere so dangerous?" or "you are so crazy traveling all the way over there by yourself". I guess to them Scotland didn't seem like such a dangerous destination compared to, say, Mexico or Costa Rica. They encouraged me to go and said things like "you are so lucky" and "have a great time and take lots of pictures". I was quite surprised. Maybe they're finally getting used to my just-getup-and-go way of life. Maybe they're warming up to the idea of me traveling to far-flung destinations by myself after seeing me return unharmed time and time again.

I didn't have much time to plan this trip. My work schedule was up in the air, car repairs drained my bank account and I just couldn't decide where I wanted to go. I started researching potential destinations for my next trip months before. I would choose one, make plans and something would come up to derail them. All I knew for sure was I wanted to avoid Central America and the Caribbean only because I've already spent a lot of time in that region and wanted to try somewhere different. Greece was my first choice. When that didn't fall through, New Zealand was my chosen destination. That got derailed too. Finally after researching, planning and cancelling, I settled on my final destination; Scotland.

I've wanted to visit Scotland my whole life partially because I am half Scottish and partially because everyone I know who has been there tells me how beautiful it is. Since my finances were pretty much depleted from car repairs and surprise expenses, I decided to cash out my hard-earned AirMiles for this trip. If you didn't already know this (as I do now), AirMiles are pretty much useless for flights from Canada to Europe. I say this because I was able to search return flights to Glasgow and Edinburgh for under 600 bucks on various dates. When I searched with AirMiles, I was able to find return flights that would only use a quarter of my miles (about 3500 miles) and set my bank account back 850 bucks in taxes and fees. Yes, you read that right. It's cheaper to fly from Canada to Europe with cash only. Save your AirMiles for domestic flights which only carry fees of about 200 bucks or less. This was a disappointment to me because, as any of you AirMiles collectors know, these miles were set to expire on December 31st (that has since changed and now the miles carry no expiration date).  I did have another option available to get an almost free flight to Europe and that was my WestJet Dollars. I used my expiring AirMiles to order a new tablet and a pair of snowshoes.

Everything came together perfectly at that last minute. Before I knew it, flights were booked, hotels were booked and a 5-day Highland and Isle of Sky tour was booked. I even managed to find some advanced tickets to enter Edinburgh Castle without having to wait in line. Early on the morning of September 15th, I hopped on a shuttle to Halifax Stanfield International Airport to catch my flight that evening. I was lucky to only have to share the shuttle with one other non-chatty, non-annoying traveler so I was able to catch up on sleep that I knew I wouldn't get on the plane.

I made good use of my 7-hour layover in Halifax by charging my gadgets in the onlyoutlet I could find, catching up on text messages, eating fast food, reading, rearranging my carry-on luggage to make it the right size to be taken on-board, booking my return shuttle, exchanging currency, chatting with the lady trying to get people to sign up for a credit card, twiddling my fingers and staring at the ceiling. When it was time to check in, I made a silent plea to the luggage gods asking them to please, please let me board the plane with two pieces of carry-on luggage and a purse. The ticket agent looked at my bags and asked if that was all I was taking on-board.  I said yes, asked no other questions and pretended not to be surprised when she asked me to proceed to security. I quickly walked away before she could change her mind but couldn't help but smile at the realization that I had finally done it; I, a former over-packer, had managed to pack all of the necessities needed for a 9-day, transcontinental voyage in two carry-on bags.  

Flying with one of my favourite airlines, WestJet, is always a pleasure.  Besides a bit of turbulence, the flight was uneventful and I arrived in Glasgow almost an hour ahead of schedule. As I walked off the plane and headed straight for customs and immigration (which was a surprisingly quick process that day), I took great pleasure in not having to worry about waiting for checked baggage! With the last leg of my journey to the Old Country complete, I set out to start the next journey; an overland trip to the city of Edinburgh. This was a part of the trip I didn't plan ahead of time. All I knew was I had two options; a train or a bus. I didn't care which one I took as long as it was affordable, safe and quick. Welcome to Glasgow, Scotland.  Next stop....the city of Edinburgh.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

A Book Review of "Ashes" by Steven Manchester


A novel by Steven Manchester

Ashes is one of those books that pretty much anyone can relate to in some way.  Whether you have siblings or don't have siblings we all have someone in our life that we parted ways with for one reason or another.  And many of us long to rekindle that relationship by putting the past to rest and forgetting whatever it was that caused the rift in the first place.  The only problem is, most of us don't know how to do this and end up regretting waiting so long after it's too late.  That is, unless fate intervenes and does the hard work like with the main characters in this book.
While the main characters - brothers Jason and Tom - were estranged for some years, a major family event brings them back together in a huge way that sees them spending more time together than either of them wishes.  The reader follows the adventure they embark on in amusement and as it unfolds, we watch as two brothers who were enemies for years become friends again.  Throughout the whole ordeal, we see true feelings that had been buried for years come back to the surface and we see insulting jabs turn into brotherly teasing and we see ourselves in some way or other as we all have, at one time or another, been estranged from someone we want to reunite with but don't know how.  This heart-warming account of a reunion between two people who drifted apart offers the reader a wide range of emotions from sad to angry to happy.  Life's trials and errors separated them and those same trials and errors brought them back together through a common ground they always shared.  As the brothers start to reminisce about the good and the bad of their upbringing, it is that foundation they started out with that kept them attached through their years of separation even if it was by very little.
Ashes is far from predictable and far from typical.  From start to finish, there are twists and turns and lots of surprises.


Saturday, January 14, 2017

Collecting Glass by the Sea

I like to be a busy body with lots of hobbies and interests and I'm always on the look-out for new activities to occupy and open my mind to new things.  This past summer, I took up a new hobby that many people around Cape Breton have been doing for years already; collecting sea glass.  For those of you who live away from the ocean and perhaps aren't familiar with sea glass, I'll provide you with a short summary.  No it's not the practice of picking up broken beer bottles left behind by teenage beach parties.  Sea glass starts as regular glass (brown, white and green are the most common) that somehow makes into a body of salt water and after 30-50 years of being tossed around in the rough salty seas, it takes on a smoother, rounder frosted look that can be used for many things including making jewelry or artwork.

I remember the exact moment I developed an interest in sea glass.  I was browsing the exhibits and vendors at the Festiville Festival in Baddeck when I noticed some peculiar artwork on display.  Upon closer inspection, I realized it was pictures featuring scenes cleverly put together with sea glass.  I'd never thought of doing something like that and I thought the pictures were more than cute enough to make some of my own to display in my new apartment and showcase my love for everything beachy.  A few tables down, someone else displayed jewelry made from sea glass and after that, I was hooked!  Not only is the glass very pretty and unique, it's versatile.

The very next day, during my morning walk on Dominion Beach, I saved my empty Tim Horton's cup once I was done drinking my morning coffee and used it to hold all the sea glass I picked up along the way.  I found quite a bit of white and green glass and even a few pieces of brown but none of the blue that I am told is one of the rarest colors of sea glass out there.
My sea glass gets bigger and bigger after every trip to the beach!

I've seen blue sea glass around and have heard of people finding it but to this day, I only ever found one very small piece.  That first day of my newly-found sea-glass-collecting-hobby, I discovered a possible theory as to where all the blue glass (if there were ever any on Dominion Beach) was going; about a dozen people with containers in hand were walking along the beach with their heads down.  A short conversation with one of them confirmed that she, and most likely all of them, were collecting sea glass as well. I had no idea until this summer that so many people took an interest in sea glass.  What started out a few days earlier as a quest to take up a new hobby quickly morphed into a competitive sport that involved me heading to the beach first thing every morning to race the other collectors to the newly washed up loot.  I went in all types of weather and sometimes even went several times a day.  Every time I went to a beach anywhere, I took a container with me to collect any glass I found. I raked large piles of washed-up rocks to find hidden morsels and even waded out into knee-deep water to collect the ones that didn't quite make it to dry land.

Driving through Inverness on the western side of Cape Breton Island one afternoon, I decided to stop and take a walk along the very long, sandy beach with my Tim's cup.  I started at the far end and walked for quite a long time and didn't see any glass.  I was more than half way down the beach before I saw any and, at first, there was only a few pieces and than all of a sudden, there was so much of it, my cup was soon full and I had to start filling the pockets of my jeans and jacket.  As usual, it was lots of white with some scattered green and brown pieces until something blue caught my eye in the sand among some bigger white pieces.  I picked it up and to my surprise, it was a piece of the rare and much sought after blue sea glass!  It was very small but blue nonetheless.  To me, after searching for just one blue piece all summer, it was like finding hidden treasure or winning the lottery.  I tucked it away somewhere safe and it is now in the jar with all the other sea glass.  A reminder of the day I hit the jackpot of sea glass collecting.
The only blue piece of sea glass I've found so far.

My collection of sea glass is fairly large now.  I haven't really done anything with it yet.  I have it in a cookie jar displayed on my microwave stand in my kitchen.  For now, it's a rather pretty ornament in my apartment until my creative side decides to do something, well, creative with it.   What was once coke bottles, beer bottles and who knows what else may someday be a lot more.  Decades ago, they were thrown into the water to sit until they became another person's treasure...maybe someday fifty years down the road, after I create a work of art with the pieces, my collection will be another person's treasure.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Kayaking St. Esprit Lake

I get a lot of invites to go for coffee or to go hiking or to walk the beach but I usually don't get invites to go kayaking. I only kayaked a few times and really like it but I don't have a kayak of my own and don't know too many people I can go kayaking with. My wish to get such an invite came true a few weeks ago when a friend who kayaks asked me if I would like to spend a day kayaking on St. Esprit Lake near Framboise. Of course I said yes...but with some reservations. For one, it was late in the fall and the air was starting to cool so I was concerned that my inexperience would make me more likely to tip the kayak and end up in the water.

I packed a lunch but had a hard time packing for the actual kayaking. The weather can do anything that time of year and I had no idea what to wear. I ended up packing shorts, tanks, sweaters, jeans and splash pants and a couple of jackets of various thickness and sneakers, boots and sandals. I also packed extra of everything so I had something dry to wear for the drive home if I happened to fall in the water.
Usually I take the shorter way through Gabarus and Forchu to get to the Framboise area and take the long way via route 4 home but on this day, I took the long way there. I arrived ahead of time at what I thought was Lake Esprit and waited for my friend to show up. And waited. And waited some more. After twenty minutes had passed, I drove up and down the stretch of road to see if I could see her anywhere and to make sure I was at the right place. I saw no sign of anyone and returned to the same spot near a lake that was near a sign that said Lake Esprit.

After an hour had passed, I began to again wonder if I was in the right place. I drove up and down that strip of secondary highway again but this time I went a little bit further and that's when I learned that I had been waiting in the wrong place all along. Fortunately, it was only noon and there was still almost 7 hours of daylight left so we had plenty of time to still enjoy a nice afternoon kayaking on this lake that is much larger than the one I had been waiting near.

My friend reassured me that it would take a lot to tip the kayak and, at first, I thought she might be just saying that so I wouldn't back out. Getting the kayaks off the car proved to be a little difficult but putting them back up proved to be more difficult as I found out later that evening. Decked out in my silly-looking water shoes and life jacket with my waterproof camera in hand, I waded out a few feet and hopped into the kayak. Once I was on my way, it didn't take long to realize that yes it would, in fact, take a lot to tip the kayak! I bounced up and down and swayed side to side and was unable to cause the kayak to even near tip. This gave me some reassurance for the rest of the trip and I was able to relax.
I got soaked pretty much right away but the air, even on that October day, was warm and the water was surprisingly warm too. I did well for my third time kayaking and was doing well keeping up with my more seasoned guide. I earlier told her I would prefer to stay closer to the edge of the lake but found myself leading the way toward the middle of the lake. I felt so comfortable out there on the water.

The weather held up all afternoon. I couldn't get over how well everything came together that day. The lake was as calm as anything. There was hardly any wind. The sun was shining. It was warm.  Loons were calling nearby. The sound of waves crashing onshore could be heard on the nearby beach (the lake was near the ocean). It was perfect. It was wonderfully serene.
It took about an hour to cross the lake and reach the beach. We pulled the kayaks onshore and found a nice spot on the beach to take our lunch. After tea and egg sandwiches, we took a little hike along that beach and stole a glimpse of the rough Atlantic surf which had tossed up a bit of seaweed during recent offshore storms.

On the way back to where we started, we did a few detours and ventured into some unknown corners of the lake around some unknown bends. Some places looked dangerously shallow but we made it through the thick grass and rocky bottom and were back to smooth sailing.  Although the weather held up, it did turn cool quickly but not cool enough to keep the flies from coming out. Darkness was coming fast too and although neither one of us wanted to return to dry land, we knew we had to soon or risk hypothermia. Also, if we stayed out too long, someone was bound to spot our cars parked on that dark road and wonder if we drowned while out on the lake. If not for those two factors, I would have stayed out there on that wide open lake all night long listening to that loon and gazing at those stars.
By the time I got back to my car, my feet were so cold, I could no longer feel them. I changed into dry clothes as discreetly as I could behind some trees. With the kayaks finally secured on the car and a clear night sky above, I drove the long way home with the heat up as far as it would go. I made a little detour to St. Peter's where I stopped at a Tim Horton's to grab a coffee for the long drive home. A kayak purchase may be in my near future. This is totally something I picture myself getting hooked on!

Friday, November 25, 2016

Broad Cove Camping Memories

Last year I didn't get to do a whole lot of camping because I was working all summer. Things worked out a little differently this summer and for the first time in over two years, my dusty camping gear came out of storage and I was finally able to indulge in one of my favourite pastimes. In fact, it seems like I spent the better portion of my summer in a tent. First it was those two freezing nights in Engishtown, followed by four nights at Broad Cove Campground in Ingonish, four more days in Cheticamp while attending a family reunion and two more nights at Broad Cove. But it's always my camping trips at Broad Cove that I treasure most. I know that campground like the back of my hand. And I should know it well because I've been going there every summer since I was kid. When I sit at the picnic table at lot 87 and stare up at the night sky, it feels like I am twenty years in the past and a teenager again. I feel so alive and so free. Nothing ever changes in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park and that is what I love about it. Broad Cove Campground stays the same too...well for the most part. I noticed this year that some of the bathrooms were recently painted, the benches on top of the hill by the beach have been moved and a new path created to get to the beach due to some erosion happening there but other than that, it hasn't changed since the first time I camped there more than two decades ago.

Those four nights I spent by myself at Broad Cove were pure bliss.  While the idea of sleeping in a tent sounds awful to most of my friends, I would sleep in a tent 365 days a year if the weather on the East Coast would allow it.  I love the sound of leaves rustling in the trees, waves rolling ashore,  coyotes howling at the edge of the woods, crickets chirping near the lake, and birds singing at first light. I even love the sound of rain landing on the top of the tent and sometimes I am lucky enough to hear the footsteps of an animal creeping around my tent.  More times than I can count, those eerie footsteps have led to impromptu snapshots of moose, coyotes and foxes coming in for a closer inspection of my tent.  I also love the very early mornings before everyone else is awake and when the dew still covers the tent and grass. There is just something so pure and natural about waking up and walking out into the fresh, pristine wilderness. Even being creative with trying to prepare a decent breakfast in the great outdoors is something I embrace. Knowing I can be self-sufficient and resourceful is like challenging myself to see how well I can do without all those fancy, artificial comforts of home.
Broad Cove 
The summer of '94 was when I first discovered Broad Cove. I stayed with friends who rented a lot there all summer.  I liked it so much, I told the rest of my family about it and we continued going there year after year from that point on. My parents liked it so much, they bought a second-hand RV and starting parking it at lot 63 all summer. Years later, I had my own car and I had become very independent. Not a good mix for a restless teenager looking for adventure. It didn't take long before I started making that two-hour drive to my "summer home" on my own. Many times, I had it all to myself. At 17 or 18 years old, staying in the RV was likened to staying in my very own house. It had everything I needed to allow me to spend every moment I could up there.

I moved away in the fall of 2000 and spent almost every day of that last summer in Cape Breton taking in those long, lazy summer days in Ingonish. It's what I missed most when I moved to another province far away from that beautiful strip of heaven deep in the Highlands National Park. That first year away went by fast and before I knew it, I homeward bound. A few years after I moved away, my parents sold that old RV and I was forced to reunite with an old love; camping. I did a lot of camping as a kid but forgot a lot of things like how to set up a tent and how to start a fire.  I bought my first tent at a local Canadian Tire store for 29.99 and a few other things to get me started and packed up the car and headed to Broad Cove.

The tenting section of Broad Cove Campground is quite different from the RV section. It has more trees, it's less crowded and there are more chances to have encounters with wild animals. I drove around the tenting section for quite a while searching for the perfect campsite - one that was close to the facilities and not too remote but far enough away to be quiet and not drenched in light pollution. I found the perfect site that fit all my criteria; lot 87.  And I survived my first solo camping trip and rekindled my love for roughing it in the great outdoors.

For the next dozen years or so, lot 87 was my second home. My escape. My sanctuary. My little slice of paradise in the Highlands. Every chance I got, I took off and headed for that little grassy spot and set up my temporary home complete with clothesline and dining area. Sometimes I received visitors, both two-legged ones and four-legged ones. Moose, coyote, rabbits and squirrels mostly. The nights at lot 87 were my favorite; laying on the picnic table watching the stars and listening to the distant of the waves crashing onshore. There was nowhere else I would rather be.
Lot 87 at Broad Cove Campground
When I learned I would have the summer off work this year, I immediately decided that much of it would be spent camping at Broad Cove. As soon as I'd see a forecast that promised sun and warm temperatures for a few days straight, I loaded the car and off I went into the wild Highlands of Cape Breton. Although lot 87 will always be my favorite campsite at Broad Cove, I decided to try something different this year. I wanted to be able to have a campfire on my lot. Since lot 87 has no fire pit and is far from the beach, I decided to try out one of the sites at the other end of the campground. As I drove around looking at the sites, lot 171 jumped out at me; spacious, enough trees for a clothesline, close to the bathrooms, close to the beach and equipped with a fire pit. I spent four amazing nights in Broad Cove during that first trip. It didn't rain the whole time and the temperatures stayed warm overnight so I didn't near freeze to death like in Englishtown the week before.  I spent four days all by myself and it was awesome. Nights spent by the fire looking up at the night sky, roasting marshmallows. No television, internet or phone to disturb me. It was heaven on earth.
My set-up at lot 171 at Broad Cove Campground
Whenever I find myself at Broad Cove, I also find myself doing a lot of reminiscing. I hear the children laughing and playing like children do when they are suddenly immersed in the great wild wilderness and when I close my eyes, I can recall a time when that was me and it feels like only yesterday. Nothing ever changes up there. It's easy to go back to that time in my life and I always try to relive those happy days spent on that campground as a kid. I walk along the dark gravel roads at late at night with only the moon and stars to guide me.  I revisit my old "neighborhoods" at lot 63 and lot 87 to see how things are doing. Nothing has changed. I stand and close my eyes and hear the sound of children playing and smell the smoke from their campfire and imagine it is my old summer friends coming to greet me (summer friends are the friends from all over the world who I only saw when I came to Broad Cove every summer). When I open my eyes and come back to reality and see those children sitting around their fire, I wonder if they are the children of any of my old friends. Facebook wasn't a thing back than so as we got older and moved away, I lost track of my old summer friends. I love being brought back to those incredible summers of my childhood and remind myself how lucky I am to have had such an amazing place to spend part of it.

My last stop is always the beach. This is pretty much the only thing that has changed at the campground. The two benches that stood just past the parking lot overlooking the ocean are now gone. Now, you might think that's not a big deal and that the loss of a couple of benches is a minor thing but to me, those benches played a huge role in my time at Broad Cove. I've read entire books on those benches, I drank my first (yes underage) beer on one of those benches. I saw my first unidentified flying object from the bench that was closest to the woods and how could I forget something like that! I've witnessed countless meteor showers, sun rises, sunsets and moon rises from those benches. I slept under the stars on those benches and hid in the wood's whenever I heard the park warden's truck coming after hours. And I stood at alert on top of one of those benches with a giant stick in my hand after being chased by some sort of wild animal late one night. so, as you can see, it was a huge disappointment to see that those benches are no longer there.

The beach is pretty much the same except now you have to go through the woods to get to it. This is no easy feat in the pitch black. I used my cell phone as a flashlight and tried to find my way down the stairs, all the while waiting for a rustle or a growl in the bushes to scare me senseless and send me tumbling. Just like old times. We used to walk the nearby beach path in the middle of the night as kids just to scare ourselves. That night, as a thirty-something adult, I laid down in the cold sand and watched the night sky feeling like I was 16 again. In the back of my mind, I knew I had to pack up my gear and head home the next morning but for those few moments, I imagined I had nothing else to do but lay there without a care in the world. The sound of the waves lulled me into a semi-conscious state while the sound of a lone loon could be heard in the lake behind me. This is my "tropical" paradise.  No palm trees and turquoise water.  Just the rough Atlantic coast, the crisp, clean air and beautiful beaches that stretch for miles.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Labour Day Weekend in Cheticamp

Since I moved back to Cape Breton almost six years ago, I developed a yearly tradition of taking a road trip every Labour Day Weekend. Usually I end up going on these road trips by myself and usually I go around the Cabot Trail or to Halifax. A few years ago, I went to Digby and stayed at the Digby Pines resort for a night. This year's Labour Day weekend was a little different. I still went away for the weekend but this time I had company.

A friend of mine has a birthday that falls on the Labour Day long weekend. This year she wanted to go out of town for a weekend so she asked me if I would like to join her. I love a road trip and a few days out of town so when she informed me it would be a 3-day long birthday celebration at a bed & breakfast is Cheticamp, I jumped at the chance.

While there is no doubt the weather in Atlantic Canada can be unpredictable any time of year, it's at it's most unpredictable during the late summer and fall. It can do anything that time of year. It can rain one second with temperatures in the high twenties and within a mere few hours be below 0 and snowing. This is especially true of long weekends. It always seems that the weather takes a turn for the worse right before Victoria Day, Canada Day, Labour Day and Thanksgiving. What a surprise we got when this Labour Day weekend arrived and the forecast was calling for warm temperatures and sun all weekend. While I wasn't totally convinced this would remain the case for the next three days, I tried to keep a positive attitude while I was loading up the car with the weekend's provisions.

We reached the Cheticamp Outfitters B&B in mid-afternoon. Check-in was a breeze as our host Veronica set us up in a cozy room with a fantastic view. The property is set quite a ways from the main road and the closest neighbor is quite a ways away too so there is virtually no noise around the property.
Cheticamp Outfitters B&B
After we unpacked, settled into the room and had a tour of the property, we went for a drive and a nice walk on the beach. Plage St. Pierre is a beautiful sandy beach and on this day, it was perfect for wading into the crystal clear waters. Although the air was a little cool with the wind coming from the northwest, the water was still very warm. On this day, there were no rocks or seaweed so it was perfect. We walked the entire beach before heading into the town of Cheticamp to grab something to eat at Wabo's Pizza.
Plage St. Pierre, Cheticamp
For the longest time, I thought Wabo's Pizza only served pizza. It wasn't until a few years ago when I stopped there to get something to eat that I realized they have a pretty extensive menu, pizza being just one of those items. On that occasion several years ago, an item on the menu caught my attention; deep fried cheesecake. I tried it and fell in love. My intention was to order it for dessert that night and to introduce my friend to the wonderful world of deep fried cheesecake...but it wasn't meant to be. The sit-down restaurant area was closed when we arrived so that left us with the pizza take-out upstairs. We ordered a medium pep & cheese pizza to go. A couple of beers on the porch enjoying the clear night sky and peace and quiet of the country before heading to bed and that was how day one of Labour weekend 2016 went.

We awoke early the next morning and headed upstairs for breakfast. Now usually, when I get an included breakfast, it's a few pieces of fruit, some toast and maybe some cereal and juice. Well, the breakfast at Cheticamp Outfitters was certainly nothing like that! Eggs whatever way I wanted, the fluffiest and quite possibly the most delicious pancakes I've ever had along with homemade muffins, toast and juice. Put it this way; I didn't have to have lunch the three days I stayed there because breakfast kept me going until dinner!

I was hoping for at least one last beach day of the summer and it came that second day in Cheticamp. After breakfast, we headed down to the Frog Pond Cafe and grabbed some coffees for the road and embarked on a mission I've been wanting to do for a few years; search for the Cheticamp Gypsum Quarry. For years, no one would tell me where this secret swimming hole was but nothing stays secret for long with the internet! Someone let the cat out of the bag and with the newly-posted directions all over the internet, I was able to find it very easily. It was nowhere near where I thought it would be and was in an area that I drove by all the time. A fifteen-minute hike took us to the quarry which, I must say, is a very nice body of water surrounded by high cliffs. Of course, I forgot my camera in the car so I don't even have the proof that I finally found it after so many years. You'll just have to take my word for it!
The Frog Pond Cafe in Cheticamp

We didn't swim that day at the quarry as the water felt very cold. Instead, we drove to Chimney Corner Beach near Margaree. Chimney Corner has been my favourite beach as of late. Any time I go there there's no rocks, no seaweed and no jellyfish...except this day. Actually, I don't think I've ever seen as much seaweed on any beach as there was on that beach that day. The piles were almost as tall as me. We waded into the water a bit but were too grossed out by the large amount of debris floating around and thousands of these strange little green fish swimming around us. We dried off and drove toward Inverness to see if we would have better luck there.
Massive piles of seaweed on Chimney Corner Beach

By the time we got to Inverness, the air had cooled so we didn't bother changing into our swimsuits before going down onto the beach. We walked for a bit enjoying the last rays of the early evening sun and collected some beach glass. (I've recently developed an addiction to beach glass and pick up every piece I see. I recently found a piece of rare blue glass, which is the equivalent to winning the lottery in the beach glass world). The water looked rather cloudy, rough and rocky until we got to the end of the beach closer to the wharves. There, the water was crystal clear much like the water you see in pictures of beaches in the Caribbean. No Seaweed, no rocks, so jellyfish. It looked very enticing and when I put my feet in to check the temperature, it too was much like the waters of the Caribbean. That did it for me. I decided right than and there to go back to the car and change into my swimsuit and go for an evening duck. The cool air made the water seem so warm that it ended up being more than just a duck. The sun was setting when I got enough nerve to leave the warmth of the early-September ocean and brave the chilly, evening air. I soaked up every moment of that refreshing swim thinking it would be the last one of the year. Little did I know that more than month later, I would again be again taking a dip in that exact same spot. We've certainly had a nice fall this year on The Cape!
Some sort of stone monument built by beachgoers at Inverness Beach

That evening, we were supposed to meet friends at Le Gabrielle for supper. Our little jaunt in the ocean set us back a little and we were running late. In fact, we were so late that we didn't have time to stop at our room to change! Into the restaurant we strolled with our damp swimsuits under sundresses, sandy flip flops and dripping hair. We got a few stares from curious onlookers but things like that don't bother me anymore. The older I get, the more I realize that opportunities need to be jumped on when they appear as they may never arise again. The conditions were perfect for that evening swim and it's a memory I will never forget. I'm willing to accept a few stares from total strangers I will never see again in order to jump on an opportunity like that.

We sat in the lounge area at the back of the restaurant where some live music was being enjoyed by a fairly large crowd. I ordered some delicious nachos (some of the best nachos I've ever had actually!) and enjoyed listening to a mix of modern and classic rock mixed with some traditional Acadian songs. Later, back at Cheticamp Outfitters, I retreated to the porch and cracked open a beer to enjoy on that clear, crisp evening. I was only sitting there a few minutes when I heard a very loud commotion in the bushes a few feet away. I didn't stay out there long enough to see what it was. I bolted inside and stayed inside until the next morning when the culprit revealed himself. I was sitting on the porch checking my email and phone messages when I heard a commotion in the bushes a few feet away from me. Yes the same sound and the same bushes as the night before. The brightness of the morning sun made me more bold and I stood up, eyes on the bushes to await for the creature to make an appearance. With the amount of noise being made, I was expecting a coyote or a bear or something fairly large to come out. I waited...and waited....and out popped a rambunctious little chipmunk! Imagine. A little chipmunk scared me enough to send me running indoors! He ran around in circles knocking everything in his path over. Little flower pots and ornaments went flying. He stopped and stood up on his back legs, took a good look at me and retreated to a hole in the ground.
The rambunctious little chipmunk that frightened me the night before he posed for this picture.

First on the agenda for our last day was a hike of the Skyline Trail. I've done this trail hundreds of times over the years but my friend had never done it. I agreed to take her which was no problem for me since it's one of my favorite hiking trails. I often take people on hikes along this trail. So much so that I think I should be officially named the Skyline Trail Ambassador. Cape Breton Island experienced a record-breaking year in tourism for 2016 and the traffic that lined the road near the trail head of the Skyline was one of many indications of just how many tourists were around at any given time. I'd never seen so many cars parked along there before. The trail itself was the same. People everywhere. Crowds of people of every nationality on the planet. I heard languages that I didn't even recognize and saw license plates I had never seen before in these parts. For example, I saw my first Alaska license plate in Cape Breton this past summer. New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, Arkansas and Texas were some others I spotted multiple times this past summer. That day on the trail, I spotted my first moose of the season. Poor thing was being tortured by tourists. I stood watching as, one by one, people left the trail and went into the woods where this poor moose was trying to get some rest. They got right in his face with their cameras. It was a bull too. I tried to explain to several people that it was very dangerous to be getting that close to a bull moose but to no avail. This has always been a problem on The Skyline Trail where moose are fairly common. It hasn't happened yet, but it won't surprise me one bit when I someday hear that a tourist got mowed down by a giant bull moose who finally got tired of having a camera shoved in his face.

Since we were already in the area, I drove to Pleasant Bay to show my friend where Gampo Abbey is. She had heard there was a monastery somewhere around the Cabot Trail but didn't know where. I love going to Gampo Abbey, especially after a long hike or drive. It's such a quiet, relaxing place with little nature trails and spectacular scenery.
Gampo Abbey

We drove straight to Cheticamp Island after our restful stroll at Gampo Abbey and tackled another hike we had heard about in the area. I never attempted this one before so I was quite excited to be hiking a new trail. There was some confusion as to where it started and what way to go once we came to a fork in the trail but we managed and got to see some great views. Part of the trail winds around one far end of the island around a grassy area and along rocky cliffs. An old graveyard lies near the trail and someone obviously still takes care of it although the headstones date as far back as 1846.
The old gravesite near the hiking trail on Cheticamp Island

On the way home that evening, I planned to stop at the Dancing Goat to grab a coffee and snack for the road. I thought that place never closed but lo and behold, it was shut down that night when we drove by. Disappointed, I decided to do the next best thing; Make a detour to Baddeck and get some of that ice cream I love in the little ice cream shop on the main street. Thankfully, that was open. After a little walk around the town, we were on the home stretch and unfortunately, close to the end of the Labour Day long weekend.
Part of the oceanside trail on Cheticamp Island

Monday, October 31, 2016

Finding the Fabled Marble Mountain of Cape Breton Island

The summer of 2016 is going down in history as the summer of seeing new places around my beautiful island home of Cape Breton. And one of the places I discovered was a previously-unknown-to-me swimming hole in a little village called Marble Mountain. All along, I thought the only other Marble Mountain was in Western Newfoundland but after hearing that there was such a place in Cape Breton, you know I had to go check it out. I did a little research and saw the pictures of the clear, blue water and a beautiful beach surrounded by cliffs and mountainous terrain. I had no idea where such a place could exist in Cape Breton but I wasn't all that surprised to learn it was on the Bras d'Or Lakes and in an area that I've been meaning to explore for years and never really had the chance. That chance came in Mid-August when I made an impromptu decision to head out on a mini road trip in search of the elusive Cape Breton Marble Mountain.

With the help of Google Maps, I soon had a good idea where this Marble Mountain was located but copied down some directions from just in case. I drove for almost 2 hours all the way to Whycocomagh where I found the turn off to Orangedale where Marble Mountain was said to be located. As most of you probably know, google maps doesn't let users know when a detour is in place and you will be sent off onto a rugged, old gravel, pot-holed ridden road into the unknown. Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened to me...but not right away. I made the turn off and there was the blazing orange sign telling me that a detour was in place. Nowhere on this sign did it say where the detour would take me, how long I would be rerouted for, what the condition of the road was and whether it would lead me back on the right track. And to make matters worse, I had no cell coverage and there was no one around to ask. I wanted to go swimming so badly that day so I decided to go the other way towards Port Hood instead and try to get some beach time in there. Usually Port Hood is good for swimming and I figured if it wasn't, there was always West Mabou and Inverness beaches which were also nearby.

I arrived at Port Hood around noon and took a little drive around the village. I went down a road I've never gone down before and found another section of beach I never knew existed so I checked it out. It was too crowded for my liking but perhaps a nice spot to check out again in the future. The main section of beach where I usually go wasn't to my liking that day either; too rough, too much seaweed and too rocky.

West Mabou Beach was next...and unfortunately for me, not to my liking that day either. I set up on the beach and at least tried to go in the water but it was just too rough and too murky with seaweed and debris. I love swimming in the ocean as long as I can at least semi see the bottom. I like knowing what is around me by seeing it, not by feeling it brushing up against me!

I didn't bother to go to Inverness that day as it was getting late. I decided to chance the road to Marble Mountain as a last ditch attempt to get some swimming in before dark. The detour I had avoided earlier took me onto a gravel road that wasn't in the best of shape. I drove and drove forever, only waking from my semi-consciousness brought on by boredom when I hit a pothole that was so bad I thought I would have to call a tow truck. I figured a flat would be inevitable but thankfully that didn't happen. It seemed like I was driving for hours by the time I reached the main road again. And than it felt like I was driving on that road for hours too. It felt like I was driving for so long that I began to think I took a wrong turn somewhere and soon, I realized that I didn't know where I was.

I drove for so long and it was getting so late that I succumbed to the realization that I wasn't going to find Marble Mountain that day. I was headed in the direction of Eskasoni or St. Peter's so I figured I would eventually come out near one of those places and there would be signs telling me which way to take home. I was hooking up my iPod to the car stereo and settling in for a long drive home when I saw it; a green sign with the words "Marble Mountain" on it! I pulled into a look-off on the side of the road and got out to stretch my legs and have a look below. I could see the beach from this look-off. I knew it was the right beach because it looked exactly like it did in the pictures online. After driving up and down that strip of road looking for an entrance and stopping a woman in front of her house to ask for directions, I finally found the road that lead to the beach area. I paid the three dollars (a small price to pay to finally get to cool off in the clear waters of the Bras d'Or Lakes) parked the car, got changed in one of the changing rooms and walked down to the water. There was a family enjoying an evening dip so I didn't have to swim alone. The water was absolutely beautiful. Warm and crystal clear with no seaweed or jelly fish. It was a little rocky but not too bad. I just floated on my back as they last rays of the sun started to disappear behind the hills. The air might have been cooling off, but that water seemed to be getting warmer and I had some trouble forcing myself to head back to shore. When I did, it was almost dark.

The steep hill I had to come down to get to the beach area was much harder to get up than it was to get down. I got so far and my car started to struggle and than started to slide backwards! In an instant my foot instinctively hit the gas pedal and with some effort, I finally made it to the top. Instead of backtracking the way I came and going through that dreadful detour again, I turned left and kept heading to what I was pretty sure was the St. Peters area. When I reached the sign for Dundee, I knew I was on the right track. I never really gave Dundee a second thought when passing through in the past. It's always just been that place I drive through to get to St. Peter's when I go that way. But on this drive through Dundee, I really noticed the sheer beauty of the area. Stunning. I have no idea how I didn't even notice how beautiful that area is until that night. As I got to the edge of the village area, I noticed something on the side of the road that started to move and it took me a second to realize it was two deer. A doe and a young fawn still with spots on her coat. They slowly passed in front of my car and went into the woods. A few minutes later, I spotted another deer on the side of the road.

In St. Peter's, I got a coffee for the road and headed towards Sydney via Route 4. I only got as far as the turn off to Loch Lomond where a blockade was in place with a sign pointing me in the direction of Loch Lomond, another long, gravel road in the middle of nowhere. It seemed like I was driving forever on that back road. It must have been an hour before I reached the highway again but a significant amount of traveling had been cut off my trip as I came out near Big Pond. They say things happen in three's and that night, I witnessed a 3rd deer-crossing but this time, the deer was erratically running all over the place and I nearly hit it...right in front of my father's house on the South Bar Highway!

Monday, October 10, 2016

A Fantastic Summer...has Turned into a Fantastic Fall

Summer was awesome. Kicked it off with a relaxing (and cold) camping trip to Englishtown Ridge followed by an endless string of events that saw me fully in my element; at the beach, in the sun, outdoors! The Grand Re-opening of the Keltic Lodge, Canada Day at the Fortress, a family reunion in Cheticamp, several trips to Baddeck and Framboise, camping for a total of 9 nights at Broad Cove, hiking the Mabou Highlands (and a number of other trails!), swimming at Inverness Beach and Chimney Corner and a 3-day birthday celebration in Cheticamp on the Labour Day Weekend. On September 16th, I saw summer off with a bang when I jumped on a flight headed to Glasgow, Scotland where Explored the cities and Highlands for nine days. So now you understand why I have not been posting much lately! I've been busy exploring and traveling and gathering ideas for the posts that will be coming in the near future. This is what happens when I work for three summers straight. I go crazy making up for all that lost time spent in the office when I would rather be in the woods, on the beach or jet-setting off to some faraway land.

Fall is off to a great start. Well, except today. We are getting some of the nasty remnants of Hurricane Matthew and it's not pretty. People being evacuated from their homes, cars floating down rivers that were once streets, more than 200 milliliters of rain in some places - and that fell in less than 12 hours. Only 48 hours ago, I was swimming in the ocean at Inverness Beach! Imagine, swimming in the ocean on October 8th one day and being slammed by a tropical storm the next. We've always had crazy, unpredictable weather here in Cape Breton but the last few years, it seems to be getting crazier. So far this fall, I've kayaked in St. Esprit, I've been around the Cabot Trail and I've been doing a lot of beach-combing. Trying to take in as much of that sun and warm air as possible before winter arrives.

Celtic Colours started this week too and I am hoping to take in some of those events. There is a guided Hike of Mica Hill that I would like to do on Wednesday if the weather is good and also a guided walk in Judique I would like to do. Next Saturday is the big final show of the festival that I go to every year so that should be a a blast as it usually is! I also have some air miles I would like to use before they expire on December 31st so I may just jump on a plane once again this fall and head to the Rocky Mountains of Alberta to visit my sisters in Canmore and Banff. So that is where I'm at with the blog. I'm still here. Lots to come. Stay tuned :)

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Camping Trip at Englishtown Ridge

Anyone who has followed this blog for any length of time knows by now that my favourite camping spot is at a campground called Broad Cove near Ingonish in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Over the years, I have explored many areas of my little island home but rarely spend an overnight at any other campground besides Broad Cove. A handful of times, I stayed at familiar ones like Lake O'Law in Margaree and MacLeod's in Inverness, but I almost always end up on the East side of the highlands. My car even seems to instinctively know which way to go when we reach the turn off to the Englishtown Ferry and sometimes I find myself going down that road quite a piece before I realize I didn't intend to go that way at all! But anyway, back in early July, I made that turn with full intentions on going to Englishtown....and no further. Englishtown is that place I pass through to get on that little car ferry that takes me across the little channel that separates the village from that long stretch of road that leads to my favorite spot North of Smokey Mountain.

I arrived at Englishtown Ridge Campground in the early afternoon after what seemed like a short drive compared to what I am used to when I head out for a weekend of camping. I found the place pretty easily and made my way up a gravel road and proceeded to the check-in building. I was surprised by all the amenities and services that are available at this campground. Just within the check-in area, there's a pool table, scenic cafe-like sitting area, snacks and full washrooms with showers. Outside, there's a swimming pool with a slide and a sauna. I'd never stayed at a campground with a sauna before and made full use of it during my stay!
Selection of a campsite was easy. I fell in love with the first site I laid eyes on. It was at the front of the property overlooking the bay and almost right next to the pool, chalet and bathrooms. Despite being so close to such modern amenities, it still felt like I was roughing it. There were trees all around me so it looked like I was in the middle of nowhere. I like to rough it as much as possible. That's what camping is all about for me; being one with the outdoors and escaping the routine of home.
I set up my tent as quickly as possible because the flies were really bad. Once everything was ready, I set out to explore my surroundings. Although I'd been to Englishtown many times, I never spent time there except to stand outside my car while waiting for the car ferry to take me across the channel. Upon arrival at Englishtown Ridge, I promised myself I would make the most of my time in the village to explore as much of it as possible. I started with a walk around the campground to get an idea of who else was staying there, what they did for fun in the evenings and where everything was located. The campground is fairly large with lots of families who seem to know each other, most likely from previous years of camping in the same area. One of the many things I love about camping is the sound of children laughing and running freely in the great outdoors. It brings back many memories of my own childhood summers camping around Cape Breton Island and the friends I made, the people I met and the adventures I went on during those long summer days that seemed like they would never end.

Since the town of Baddeck is only twenty minutes away, I decided that first evening to take a drive and see what was going on in the little village that evening. But first, I stopped at the interesting-looking fish and chip stand down the road from the campground and ordered myself a decent plate of rather expensive home fries. The fries were pretty good but it was the eye-catching trinkets the owner had displayed around his little business that caught my attention.
I love Baddeck. I think it's the prettiest little town I've ever laid eyes on. Not very much was going on that evening but there was quite the crowd gathered around a stately-looking super-yacht parked at the wharf. I walked past it to get a better look and whoever was inside gave a friendly wave to the crowd through tinted glass. I'm not usually the starstruck type but with a yacht that size, I had to wonder who that shadowy figure was on the other side of that glass. Surely it would have to be someone with a lot of money so it would have to someone well-known right? One can only speculate! I walked down to the little boardwalk and up to the main street where I did a little window shopping and got some ice cream from my new favorite ice cream shop in Cape Breton where you can have two or three scoops of whatever flavors you want. And yes, you can mix and other words, you can have 3 different flavors on the same cone!

I arrived back to the campground just in time to take a walk down the road. Across the street from the campground is a hall with a wrap around deck where I was able to watch a most spectacular sunset over St. Anne's Bay. I continued walking as far as the ferry loading dock and passed by some horses grazing in a field and some men fishing on some docks. A more peaceful and fulfilling lifestyle than that of city dwellers in my opinion. Back home in town, I'm sure nearly everyone was inside watching television while people in the country were embracing these small things...or big things depending on how you look at the world. I'm realizing as I get older that the things I once thought were small were actually the big things. I know this, because many of those "small" moments are memories I go back to often and cherish more than any day spent in the house watching television.
Back at camp, I tried to get a fire started to help keep the flies away and take a bit of the edge off the cold, early summer air. I ended up with more smoke than fire for the first while, ran out of kindling which had to be sought by the dim light of a flashlight and than, finally, got some decent flamage going and was able to sit back and relax with a nice cold beer and some roasted marshmallows. The night sky was clear and the only sound I could hear was the the Englishtown ferry loading and unloading.
By the time I was ready for bed, the night was dead quiet. Even the ferry was silent as traffic died down for the night. I settled into my tent but it was so cold that I had a hard time falling asleep. I must have dozed off at some point but was awoken by some loud sounds shattering the dead silence. Banging. Some voices. Some scurrying sounds in the bushes. An animal of some sort. And lucky me, I had to leave the not-so-comfortable confines of my freezing tent to go to the bathroom and enter the even more uncomfortable and freezing outside. I didn't bother to go all the way up to the flush toilets. It was dark and no one was around so I risked being eaten by whatever animal was lurking around and ventured into the nearby woods. More scurrying sounds in the bushes but this time they were only feet away from me. I quickly returned to the tent and tried, to no avail to get some sleep. I lay there shivering all night long. At one point, I was so cold, I thought I was in the early stages of hypothermia. The next morning, once I de-thawed, I discovered that the noise I had heard was a rambunctious racoon who raided my neighbors food stash and made a big mess around their site.

After a breakfast made over a Coleman Stove (which included some surprisingly good coffee), I made my way across the little bay on the Torquil MacLean and drove along the windy road along the north shore until I spotted an interesting-looking road I'd never been on before. If you know me well enough, you know that I, of course, drove down this road. I do this a lot. I can't help it. I'm naturally curious and I love seeing new places and exploring new corners of my little island. After I satisfied my curiosity, I settled in for lunch at a restaurant I never ate before. Trying out new restaurants and cafes is something I like to do too. All part of that curiosity complex I am afflicted with. The Clucking Hen was quite packed as I expected it would be with the jump in tourism this year. They say its due to something called the Trump Bump brought on by what was supposed to be a joke created by a local radio station enticing Americans to flee to Cape Breton if Donald Trump wins the election. It turned into probably one of the most effective tourism campaigns ever for Cape Breton Island. I don't know the exact numbers as of yet but based on the crowds and line-ups, I'd say it was a record-breaking year. I took the last table closest to a window as I could possible be and ordered a veggie sandwich. And it was delicious. Actually, it was very delicious with lots of fresh veggies and perfectly-meshed toppings. I must have passed this place thousands of times on the way to Ingonish over the last twenty years and never bothered to stop. Now I will.

I noticed something else along that road I'd traveled countless times; a sign indicating a hiking trail called Red Island. Again my curiosity got the better of me and I grabbed my hiking stick and started down the trail to see where it went. In the end, the flies ended up getting the better of me and I turned back. A project for the fall when the air cools and the flies die off.
I took the long way back to Englishtown via St. Anne's with a pit stop at the North River Falls trailhead. I heard there was another shorter trail there and wanted to see if it was true. Turns out, there is another trail so that will be another fall project. My dad and I did the longer 19-kilomtre North River Falls Hike a few years back but I don't think I will attempt that one again for a few years.

The last night wasn't as cold as the first and I slept soundly the whole night and awoke to the sound of birds chirping and trees rustling. I hate tear-down day. Not because of the work involved in putting all the gear away but because it means going back home and back to reality. I always say if we had tropical weather in Cape Breton, I would live in a tent. As it stands now, that tent would be an igloo six months of the year. Cold and snow aren't really my favorite things so I'm forced to rent an apartment. Who knows, maybe the poles will shift someday in my lifetime. I could just move to Costa Rica and live in a treehouse on the beach...but Costa Rica's 365-days-long summers don't even come close to any Cape Breton Summer even though it seems they come and are gone in the blink of an eye.


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