Day 14 | August 26 | Dingwall to Baddeck | 135 km

The chorus of tent zippers begins a little on the early side this morning. I take my tent down one last time, have my usual breakfast, pack my usual lunch and leave camp at my usual time. Having a solid morning routine really helps on this trip.

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It’s so cold when Jim and I start out that we look forward to the first climb so we can stop shivering. We take a hilly scenic route through Smelt Brook and Neil’s Harbour and then rejoin the Cabot Trail at 24 km. The beautiful views seem to take my mind off the nasty headwind.

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After 45 km, we take a short break at a convenience store in Ingonish and continue to plod on.

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An hour later we hit Cape Smokey, the biggest climb of the day. It takes longer than I expect to reach the top, but it’s definitely worth it for the scenery. Lots of switchbacks require a very cautious descent.

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We take another break after 90 km at The Clucking Hen since it’s the last place to stop on this route. The clucking wind is really wearing me down at this point.

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We reach the Englishtown ferry after 100 km and follow Route 105 from there. Jim and I take turns drafting for 20 km until we can switch to the much quieter Route 205.

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I ride as fast as I can for the last 10 km. The excitement of finishing the tour taps into an energy reserve I didn’t know I had.

We arrive in Baddeck at 2:45, check-in at Telegraph House and relax on the deck with a cold drink and a huge sense of accomplishment.

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To those of you who followed along, thanks so much for your support! It was an awesome ride!!

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Day 13 | August 25 | Cheticamp to Dingwall | 73 km

Cape Breton Highlands National Park is cold and damp this morning, the kind of see-your-breath cold that calls for a late start. I’m the last one to hit the road at 8:40.

A few long, gradual hills at the start serve as a gentle warmup for what’s to come.

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Just 11 km in, I come to the first major climb of the day: French Mountain at 455 metres. It goes on for 5 km with one switchback after another, and then it flattens out nicely at the top.

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Mackenzie Mountain comes next with a summit of 372 metres. Since we’re already so high, the climb is barely noticeable but the descent sure is! With so many dangerous turns I do my best to keep my speed under 65 km/h. I can smell the rubber from my brake pads on every curve.

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A flatter section through Pleasant Bay gives me a chance to catch my breath before the toughest climb of all – North Mountain at 445 metres.

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On the way there, I see this very old looking shelter at the side of the road and feel compelled to stop.

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North Mountain is a 4 km climb at 13% grade. I churn the pedals in my easiest gear for 28 minutes before I reach the top, averaging about 8 km/h.

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It is absolutely grueling. What a relief it is to reach the top, and once again, the descent is the best part.

A long climb out of the valley takes me within 10 km of the campground, which turns out to have quite a view of its own.

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Tomorrow we’ll be heading south to Baddeck.

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Day 12 | August 24 | Linwood to Cheticamp | 170 km

Jim and I start out at 7 and turn directly into the wind. I have a feeling it’s going to be a long, long day. On the plus side, there’s no sign of rain in the forecast.

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Lots of climbing sets the tone for the day early on. Route 19 is gusty and hilly the whole way.

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We finally get to Port Hood after 65 km with every intention of stopping to rest, but of the few restaurants we see, nothing is open at 9:30.

The next town on the map is Mabou at 80 km, so we plod on. It’s a struggle to make it there with a headwind that won’t let up and hills around every corner. By the time we get to Shining Waters Eatery, we’re well overdue for a break.

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The wind gets worse from that point on. As much as it hurts physically, the mental aspect of a ride like this is the toughest part. I have to constantly distract myself just to keep it together. Taking pictures always helps.

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After 135 km we take another break at a small restaurant near Margaree Harbour. A simple baked potato gives me the jumpstart I need.

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The rest of the way to Cheticamp is more of the same. Brutal winds and a steady supply of hills. We reach the campground at 3:45. I then setup my tent, inhale three bananas and take a long nap.

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Supper is delayed an hour since so many people are late getting in. As usual, it’s worth waiting for. My huge plate of pasta disappears in no time flat.

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Day 11 | August 23 | Lower Barneys River to Linwood | 124 km

High winds overnight make it difficult to get much sleep. The tent is holding up well, despite yesterday’s episode of it blowing away before I could put the pegs in.

The forecast shows a chance of rain this afternoon, so most of us are planning an early start today. Brenda’s pancakes are popular at breakfast.

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Jim and I are the first to leave shortly after 7. A strong tailwind helps us keep a quick pace along the rolling hills of Route 245.

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As we approach Cape George Point after 45 km, the climbs get steeper and the descents get faster. A little taste of what’s to come in the next few days.

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Turning south on Route 337 puts us into the wind for the next 35 km which I find very draining. Covering 80 km without a break is a challenge for me, but there are no places to stop on this route.

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We get to Antigonish at 10:15 and fuel up at The Prissy Pig. According to the map, we’ll be heading east again so we should have a tailwind pushing us.

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Highway 104 is very busy but has a good shoulder most of the way. Still, I can do without the whooshing of the trucks and RVs going by. It’s a relief to see our exit sign and leave the heavy traffic behind.

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The last 25 km gives us more rolling terrain with a tailwind most of the way. Gradually the sky gets darker and the air feels thicker as we near the campground.

At one point a German Shepherd starts to chase us as we go by but gives up quickly. From then on I have the theme song to The Littlest Hobo stuck in my head.

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Going flat out gets us there just before 12:30, and we immediately setup our tents. It starts raining at 12:50 and a few minutes later it’s coming down in sheets.

The sun comes back just in time for supper when Mike serves up a delicious vegetable chowder.

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Tomorrow is our longest day of the tour, and after what I did to my legs today, I’m thinking it’s going to hurt.

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Day 10 | August 22 | Charlottetown to Lower Barneys River | 112 km

I take my time getting on the road this morning since the Wood Islands ferry doesn’t leave until 11:15. A late departure from the residence still leaves more than enough time to cruise along at a comfortable pace.

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I follow the TransCanada for the first 30 km and then switch to a more rural and hilly Route 23 the rest of the way to the ferry. Surprisingly, every single side road that joins it is unpaved.

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When I reach the dock at 9:45, I still have a good 90 minutes before the next ferry. I take a seat in the gazebo and it isn’t long before I’m joined by eight others from our group.

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We’re on the road again at 12:45 and ride straight into the wind for 10 km. Pictou Causeway is particularly gusty.

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The road into New Glasgow is unmarked and I miss the turn, but I eventually find my way thanks to some friendly locals. For the last hour I follow a very rural Merigomish Road and an even more rural Route 245.

The heat of the afternoon starts to take its toll when I run out of water 20 km from camp. My pace slows but I keep pedaling, certain that there’s a corner store along here somewhere. There has to be.

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There isn’t. I’m so thirsty it’s all I can think about. With 7 km to go, I see three people in front of a house with tools so I stop and ask if there’s a corner store nearby. Unfortunately the closest one is a few kilometres past the campground.

As it turns out, the woman happens to have an ice cold jug of water in her truck. She fills my bottle, I thank her several times and I finish the ride with a new appreciation for random acts of kindness.

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Day 9 | August 21 | Rest Day in Charlottetown

It feels great to sleep in until 7 this morning, and to have no real agenda beyond exploring the city.

The downtown area has lots of old buildings, boutiques and restaurants. It reminds me of Saint John in a lot of ways. Cruise ship passengers and tour buses comb the streets while carriage tours pass by with a distinctive clip-clop.

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I meet my cousin Rob for lunch at Cora’s and then I head down to the waterfront where there’s live music, more restaurants, a yacht club and lots of happy tourists.

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Then I come across this little hut on the dock that rents paddleboards by the hour. I’ve been wanting to try paddleboarding for years.

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I go out for an hour to see what it’s like and it’s an absolute blast! I come close to falling a few times – especially when the jetskis go by – but I get the hang of it after a bit and manage to stay dry.

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Tomorrow we go back to Nova Scotia for the final leg of the tour, including the infamous Cabot Trail.

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Day 8 | August 20 | Murray Beach to Charlottetown | 87 km

Hungry mosquitos have a way of hastening my morning routine like nothing else. Today’s ride isn’t terribly long but getting across Confederation Bridge, when a bike shuttle is required, is best done early.

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Cape Jourimain is only 16 km from the campground. We take a number and the shuttle arrives 30 minutes later. It’s a bit of a hassle to remove everything from the bike – bags, water bottles, pump, bike computer, etc. – and put it all back on when we get to the other side. At any rate, it’s looking like another beautiful day.

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After 35 km of gorgeous countryside, we stop into a fabulous chocolate shop in Victoria. The dark chocolate covered peanut clusters are worth the trip!

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We get into Charlottetown at 12:15 and find our way to the residence at Holland College. They won’t allow us to check-in yet, so we put in a little time at Starbucks and check out a couple of bike shops.

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I’m sharing a room with Eriko tonight, and when she mentions going to the Anne of Green Gables musical, I decide to tag along and soak up some PEI culture. I read the book years ago and the show is very well done.

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