Stowing his rod and reel into a big new touring bike from Harley-Davidson, Steve Bond sets out for the east coast where he discovers that Cape Breton is more than the Cabot Trail.
Motorcycle Riding Doctrine Number One states: “It’s all about the ride, not the destination.”
Bond’s Rebuttal: When you’re on the wrong end of a thousand kilometres of boring, sometimes it’s okay to be about the destination.Which is why, at six one morning I left my home in Oshawa, Ontario aboard an Electra Glide Ultra Classic, and pulled into Sackville, New Brunswick at 10 that night, having covered 1,445 kilometres. Enjoy the ride? Hell, I just wanted to get there.
Sadly, the quickest and shortest route to the Maritimes is through Montreal. There’s paralyzing traffic on the one road through the city, and it’s been under construction for 30 years. Next is 500 km of terminal monotony. It’s flat, featureless and straight until you hang a right at Riviere du Loup and head for New Brunswick. I’d never done an extended trip on an Electra Glide before and the big Ultra impressed me that first day on the road. Rolling along in sixth gear with the cruise control set at 110 kmh equalled 2,500 rpm, a setting that was right in the motor’s sweet spot
Entering New Brunswick, you lose an hour to Atlantic Standard Time, but the speed limit changes to a very civilized 110 kmh which, over a long day, is a significant saving over the archaic 100 kmh in Ontario and Quebec. As dusk approaches, I notice several moose and far too many deer too close for comfort near the shoulder of the road. I crank up Dylan’s Desolation Row on the stereo, hoping Bob’s wailing will keep the critters away. I’m meeting my friend, Ron Peter, who’s aboard his 140,000-km Yamaha FZ1, in Sackville. We’re spending a couple of days with our mutual friend, Norm Sheppard, (a former Canadian 125GP Champ) then riding on to Cape Breton where our significant others are flying in, renting a car and meeting us at a house we’ve rented in East Margaree, a small village located a stone’s throw from the famous Cabot Trail.
After a 1,500-km day, what do you do next? Go for a ride of course. Norm saddles up his gorgeous 1979 six-cylinder Honda CBX that he restored last winter, and we put in a full day exploring the scenic Bay of Fundy area. It’s only about 360 km from Sackville to East Margaree—an easy jaunt on pretty good roads. The first night in the rented house, we toast our arrival with ice cold beer, steaks on the ‘cue, baked potatoes and a young, but adequate, Argentinean Pinot Noir. Life is good.The Margaree Valley is one of the most beautiful spots I’ve ever seen. The Margaree River branches into three channels here and first thing in the morning and at dusk, trout and Atlantic salmon are rising in the calm waters, and bald eagles soar overhead.
Saturday, before our ladies arrive, we do the 300-km lap of the Cabot Trail to the far reaches of Cape Breton under absolutely perfect conditions: sunny, no wind and temps of plus 22. You can do it in half a day if you keep the picture taking of scenic viewpoints to a minimum. Stop at each interesting photo-op and you’ll need a week.
The pavement quality varies from excellent to dismal and back again with no warning. The stretch leading up to the Highlands and the Cape Smoky area (so called because it’s pretty much always foggy), would rival the finest roads that California has to offer, while the roads an hour on each side of Baddeck are patchy, bumpy and not very pleasant.
Off the trail, you take your chances. The scenic loop up around Neils Harbour is without question one of the most disgraceful stretches of almost pavement it’s been my misfortune to ride upon. But Neils Harbour is so darned purdy, it’s worth it. Back at the ranch, we head down to the local dock when the boats come in and buy fresh lobster for $4.50 a pound. We ask the boat captain about keeping the lobsters fresh till “dinner time” and are immediately corrected for our faux pas.
“Now are yis from Cape Breton or ‘away?’ Cos here, ‘dinner’ is lunch and ‘supper’ is what yis from away call dinner.” Um, gulp, will they be okay on ice till six pm or so? “They’ll be fine boys,” he replies, with a wink to his co-workers. And they were. It was a dinner fit for a king. Norm had a couple days off work and joined us, even though we forgot to tell him where the house was. “You can find anyone in the Maritimes in an hour and a half,” he says. “I just went to the local Coop store and they knew all about the two motorcyclists from Ontario who rented the Leblanc place. Easy”
Other Attractions on Cape Breton
There are several interesting side trips off the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton. The Margaree Salmon museum is a fascinating spot and the curator, Francis, is more than willing to show you the rods, reels and flies that salmon anglers have been using through the years since the late 1800s.From there, it’s a short hop to the salmon hatchery where my mouth was watering over the 10- to 12-pound Atlantic Salmon brood stock as well as Speckled Trout in the five- to seven-pound range.
Most of one day was spent at the Alexander Graham Bell Museum in Baddeck. In addition to inventing the telephone, Bell was one of the pioneers of North American flight with the Silver Dart back in 1909, and builder of a hydrofoil boat that set speed records in 1919.
Mabou (home of the Rankin Family) is 60 km south and the Red Shoe Pub (Proprietors, the Rankin Sisters) is a great place for dinner… er, or supper. Twenty klicks north of Mabou lies Inverness Beach, one of the best locations in North America for beach glass, pieces of broken bottles or pottery that have been worn smooth by actions of the waves and tides. Local artists make attractive jewellery out of beach glass and after only a couple of hours beachcombing, we discover some really nice pieces.
On a morning walk, Cherie (my significant other) and I are watching bald eagles soaring over the Margaree River when one suddenly plummets toward the river and plucks a silvery trout from a riffle. Wow. Never seen that in person before. One of the locals tells us the house two doors down from us had a bear on the porch the previous night, and the week before, a cougar was spotted just down the road.
After a great week, it’s time to head for home. The girls steer for the airport and Ron and I decide we’ll go back through Maine.It’s 900 km to Guildford, Maine and the next day I log another 1,100 km from Maine to home. Most of that was on two lane roads during US July 4 traffic in 30C heat.
In total, I put almost 5,000 km on the big Harley, averaging 5.7L/100 km, and developed quite an affection for it. It’s comfortable, rock-solid stable even under severe sidewinds and the new touring chassis makes it quite capable in the twisties. The luggage gives you more storage than a three-bedroom condo, while the quality stereo and cruise control make the journey infinitely more bearable, whether you’re heading to the east coast, west coast or home for dinner. Or supper.
Story/photos by Steve Bond Canadian Biker