Was It the Toughest Climb on the Journey… The 10,000 Mile Bike Trek

I found this spray painted bicycle at the top of Cape Breton's toughest climb and laughed. (photo by Jean Snuggs.)

I found this spray painted bicycle at the top of Cape Breton’s toughest climb and laughed. (Photo by Jean Snuggs.)

Gearing ratios on bicycles are complicated beyond my normal interest in things mechanical. Let’s just say there are high gears for scurrying down mountains, medium gears for flat road travel, and low gears for climbing mountains and fighting headwinds. The more gears you have, the greater your options and ease of travel. The goal is to bike at a speed that is comfortable for your level of physical conditioning while keeping undo pressure off your knees. (Trashed knees can ruin the most pleasant bike trip.) Maintaining cadence, which is the speed you pedal, and knowing when to shift are critical parts of keeping your knees happy. Beginners have to struggle through a steep learning curve, especially in climbing hills and mountains— and yes, I recognize the potential pun.

The reason for this discussion about gears is that it relates to the substantial mountain that Jean, Lindell and I faced when we left our camp at Cape North in Nova Scotia and cycled back up into the Cape Breton Highlands. It was a doozy. We could see it looming in front of us as we cycled through the canyon carved out by the Middle Aspy River. The closer we came, the more it looked like something a mountain climber might enjoy.

One of the steepest climbs along the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia was climbing up this hill into the Highlands.

The hill loomed in front of us. It was obvious we were in for a climb.

Was it the toughest hill I climbed on my journey? No. It wasn’t nearly as steep as my climb over the Panamint Range in Death Valley. And I had pedaled up several others that were much longer on the Blue Ridge Parkway. What made it so damnably difficult were my low gears— they weren’t as low as Jean’s and Lindell’s! While I was out of the saddle pushing down on my pedals with knee-punishing grit, Jean and Lindell were sitting down and merrily teasing me about my inability to keep up. Talk about a challenge. (grin) Had I been by myself, I would have simply noted the difficulty, complained to the universe, and pedaled on. And I wouldn’t have stopped at the first bike shop I came to and added more gears!

Here I am biking up a mountain in Nova Scotia with 60 pounds of gear.

I posted this photo at the beginning of the series. Jean took it as we crested the mountain. Note the bulging leg muscles that couldn’t keep up with two slight women— even with 5,000 miles of travel.

One of my happiest sights on the 10,000 mile trip: the top of the hill.

One of my happiest sights on any steep climb: the top of the mountain.

Let me note here that Lindell and Jean had a lot more going for themselves than low gears. They had both graduated from the University of Illinois with top honors in physical education and gone on to become highly successful community college track coaches. They had just completed a bike trip that was all about climbing hills. In addition to being bright and competitive, they were as tough mentally as they were physically. They had managed to keep up with me on the flats and downhills as well as busting my butt going up the hill.

Topping the ridge, we came across a bicycle outline that a cyclist had spray painted on the shoulder with the words, “Why?” We laughed in sympathy. Continuing on, we followed the Cabot Trail across the Cape Breton Highlands and down to the small town of Chéticamp on the Gulf of St. Lawrence, leaving the highlands with their Scottish influence behind for flatter, coastal lands with French influence. France had originally named Cape Breton, Île Royale, and had considered the island part of Acadia. We cycled down the coast though villages and cut inland to Margaree Forks where we said goodbye to the Cabot Trail and picked up NS Highway 19 known as the Ceilidh Trail, which we followed for 60 miles back to the Canso Causeway.

A very fast downhill (brakes advised) brought us to this traditional Scotch cabin known as Lone Scheiling. We had flashed by it on our bikes but Peggy and I stopped to admire it.

A very fast downhill after our climb (brakes advised), brought us to this traditional Scottish cottage known as Lone Scheiling. We had flashed by it on our bikes but Peggy and I stopped to admire it.

I took this photo out the window.

I took this photo out the window.

It was surrounded by yellow birch.

The cottage was surrounded by yellow birch.

One of which featured this colorful knot.

One of the trees featured this colorful knot.

A few ghost leaves still flung to branches, waiting for spring growth to push them off.

A few ghost leaves still clung to branches, waiting for the budding spring growth to push them off.

And this creek burbled along beside the cottage.

And this creek burbled along beside the cottage.

Climbing again, we came on this view of the west coast of Cape Breton looking out toward the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Climbing again, we came on this view of the west coast of Cape Breton looking out toward the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Signs along the road had been warning us about moose...

Signs along the road had been warning us about moose…

Finally, we got to see one.

Finally, we got to see one. These wonderfully humorous animals can be quite dangerous. You don’t want one chasing you down the road when you are on a bicycle. When I lived in Alaska, a cyclist came around a blind curve on a bike trail and ran smack into one! Fortunately, the surprised moose decided to run away.

The Cabot Trail often requires road work after a rough winter.

The Cabot Trail often requires road work after a rough winter. Peggy and I were entertained by this effort at a traffic stop. Don’t you wonder they got the earth mover up on the hillside?

This impressive cliff was near the road work.

This impressive cliff was near the road work.

Leaving the Highlands, we came on several small communities along the coast where fishing is a major industry. Whale watching is also popular off the coast.

Leaving the Highlands, we came on several small communities along the coast where fishing is a major industry. Whale watching is also popular off the coast.

The Cabot Trail heads inland across much flatter country. Spring waters still flooded this field.

The Cabot Trail heads inland across much flatter country. Spring waters still flooded this field and the grass had yet to turn green. Last year’s cattails can be seen in the left foreground.

I'll finish off my Cape Breton photos with this rather lovely stream.

I’ll finish off my Cape Breton photos with this stream, which spoke to me again of the wild aspect of the island.

Our exploration of Cape Breton was over and my time with traveling companions was drawing to a close. We picked up highway 104 back through Antigonish and on to New Glasgow where Jean and Lindell said goodbye and biked south toward Halifax and their plane. I continued on my lonely journey west, following Highway 6 back to the coast and through towns with wonderful names like Tatamagouche and Pugwash. New Brunswick and new adventures were waiting.

NEXT BLOG: Peggy and I detour to Prince Edward Island, meet the mayor of Victoria, and eat a scrumptious lobster roll.

26 comments on “Was It the Toughest Climb on the Journey… The 10,000 Mile Bike Trek

  1. SPLENDID, Curt!!! can’t wait for your next blog-post and for a chunk of lobster, of course… 🙂
    * * *
    have a relaxing Sunday and a pleasant week! cheers, Mélanie

  2. That Scottish cottage has quite a view. Whoever spray painted that bike image has our sense of humor!! The trip this time around must be more enjoyable having company with you.

    • I really enjoyed the company, G, and I always do. I have never been afraid of traveling solo, however, and also enjoy it. The spray painted bicycle was choice… and ever so appropriate.:) Thanks as always. –Curt

  3. Gosh so much beauty! And so much hard work. So strenuous!

    I love the photo of the “ghost” leaves and the creek and the knot in the tree. The beautiful intricate details and designs in nature. The streams and spring waters are so lovely…. the colors are amazing.

    And spotting a moose. Lucky you!

    Peta

    • The hard work made the beauty all the more enjoyable, Peta. You really have a sense of seeing and experiencing the world when you are bicycling, or walking. I always love the close-ups such as the leaves and knot, as well as the grand scenes.Thanks! –Curt

    • You would probably be surprised, Juliann. Over the years I led long distance bicycle and backpacking treks, I was continually amazed at the ability of people to adjust to hard physical challenges… and come back for more! 🙂 I am glad you are enjoying my posts! –Curt

  4. All that gear! Yikes my calf muscles bulged in sympathy just reading. As mentioned in another post this is one o my favorite parts of Canada. That you got to see a moose up close and not in your windshield a special gift.

    • Laughing. Seeing a moose in you windshield is definitely not an experience to be wished on anyone, Sue. Around here it’s the blacktail deer that become hood ornaments far to0 often.
      I did find that carrying the gear on my bike was much easier than carrying it on my back, however! 🙂
      While the Atlantic Provinces lack the grandeur of the Rocky’s, they certainly have beauty and charm of their own. –Curt

  5. I had this sudden vision of a group of tourists, circa 3050, looking at that spray-painted bicycle and saying, “You know, there was deep religious and spiritual significance to these pictographs, but we can’t interpret them any more.” Who knows: With the staying power of some paints these days, it might happen.

    I love the photo of the flooded fields and clouds. There’s such variety in this world, and such beauty.

  6. That view of Cape Breton probably helped ease the pain of biking such a steep hill. But I’m not so sure even that would have been enough for me! Really like that Lone Scheiling, a new term and architectural formation for me. Just glad I didn’t have to bike to it to see it! — Rusha

    • You can always count on at least one reward when biking up a hill, Rusha— the downhill side. 🙂 But yes, most of the hills (and mountains) I climbed on my trip rewarded me with a lot of beautiful scenery. Thanks. –Curt

  7. I had to laugh at the first photo – why oh why put yourself through this?!😀😀 but following your blog and reading about the adventures, experiences and as always the battle of wills within yourself I can see why – only wish I could! The moose photo is terrific, real character. Yep, dangerous to run into and I know someone who survived having their car overturned by hitting an elk at quite high speed. Also I took a double take on one photo as was sure it was from the islands in Sweden, the harbour looked frighteningly familiar. A small world indeed!

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