We awoke just outside Margaree Harbour, Nova Scotia where a spectacular ocean view was all we could see through the windows of our borrowed RV. We had camped in a rest stop along the Cabot Trail and despite the endless stream of cars that pulled in for a photo and a momentary respite from the road we felt very private and secluded hidden away inside the Sunseeker as we lingered over breakfast and coffees.
When we finally got our wheels moving it wasn’t for very long. A few dozen kilometres up the road we stopped in Chéticamp for some groceries. It was a beautiful, sunny day so we parked the RV in the far corner of Co-op’s small parking lot and spent an hour or so exploring the town. We walked along a boardwalk that jutted into the ocean and enquired about a whale watching trip. After much humming and hawing we decided to stick with dry land for the day and save ourselves the $40 per person fee. We drifted into a gift shop where I noticed a stack of brochures on the counter. I picked one up and saw that it was a map to all the gift shops in the province. I immediately thought to offer the girl behind the counter $10 if she would put them away until we left but I wasn’t quick enough. “What’s that?” m’lady asked, sidling up beside me and reaching for one of the pamphlets.
If my ploy had worked it would have gotten expensive in a hurry. The boardwalk’s other two gifts shops had the same pamphlets on their counters as well. And to be fair, I was the only one of us that actually bought anything anyway.
So after seeing all that we could see in and around the boardwalk in Chéticamp we meandered back to the Sunseeker to continue our journey, m’lady holding her gift shop guide in one hand and a single red rose in the other.
Somehow she had managed to be born and bred here in Canada and still not seen a single, real-live moose in her 30+ years. In past trips through moose country we’ve always kept our eyes peeled but never caught sight of any. She had even started to suggest that moose were probably fictional (a scam created by big-wildlife to promote tourism) – or perhaps extinct. And though she was understandably skeptical, I was confident we’d find her a moose somewhere on our drive through the Cabot Trail and sure enough, we did.
Shortly after we got on the highway we came across several cars pulled off to the side of the road, each one chock-a-block with tourists pointing cameras. I eased the RV onto the shoulder and there he was, a large bull moose sitting at the edge of the forest about a hundred metres away. He sat conserving energy in the late-morning shade, remaining motionless except for the occasional subtle turn of his massive head, movements which belied the impossible ease with which he somehow held his enormous sixteen-point rack aloft.
We stared and gaped in awed wonder for quite some time, soaking him in. M’lady was hoping the moose would stand up and show his full size but aside from a few head turns and a lot of ear wiggles he just sat there like a huge photogenic beast with no concerns and nothing to prove; the Prime Minister of the forest.
Eventually we left and not five kilometres down the road we hit paydirt (figuratively, fortunately): a female moose and her two young’uns meandering through a field just off the road. We pulled in and hung with them for a long while. M’lady had to admit, it was looking like the fate of the extinct moose species was starting to turn around!
Not far along we came to the entrance of Cape Breton Highlands National Park. We stopped in and exchanged an entrance fee for a trail map, unhooked our bikes from the rack for the first time and headed off on a glorious trek through the forest. We explored one of only four cyclable paths in the massive park, a huge protected area that covers the entire northern chunk of the Cabot Trail. After a really great ride we redangled the bikes off the back end of the RV and hit the road. We took it slow – an inevitable choice given the constant rolling hills and mountains the Sunseeker struggled to ascend – and stretched the day out even further by stopping for a couple of nature walks and enjoying a lunch lingeringly prepared and consumed within the cozy confines of our turtlebus.
Leaving the national park we detoured north and stopped briefly at Cabot Landing Provincial Park. The namesake park holds a memorial dedicated to Giovanni Caboto, the famed explorer who landed somewhere nearby (though no one knows exactly where), thus ‘discovering’ America (an assertion that the good people of Bonavista, Newfoundland would certainly dispute). I found it rather ironic that Cabot’s landing point was not on the Cabot Trail itself. But then, how would he have known where the trail was?
Our trek north was intended to take us to Meat Cove. My map told me getting there would involve about fourteen kilometres of dirt road winding along crinkly sea cliffs, which seemed like a scenic little jaunt. As we were navigating the turnoff towards Meat Cove a local stopped his car and flagged us down. He told us we were crazy if we thought we were going to get our RV to Meat Cove, and if we did get it there we certainly weren’t going to get it back out.
That was all I needed to hear.
Instead we ended up camping just a few kilometres from the turnoff, in Bay St. Lawrence, a small (and I’m talking small) fishing village at the tippity-top of Cape Breton island. We parked at the end of the road and set up for the night at the top of an old, unused boat ramp a couple hundred metres from the dock. We were across from what appeared to be the only merchant in town, a small snack shack with a couple of picnic tables out front. We did a walkabout and peered in vain at the ocean looking for whales. There was a buoy in the distance that sounded off regularly with a mournful drone that sounded like a dirge. We entertained ourselves with the dramas of the wharf birds and were astonished to watch one gobble down a fish that was nearly half its size. Inspired, we marched back to the snack shack and ordered dinner. M’lady had the fish ‘n chips while I went for the double burger with frings.
It was with an easy vacationing joy that we watched the sun settle into the sea and eavesdropped on the accents of the bored local kids that owned the other picnic table while our chef prepared our greasy dinner and the buoy moaned in the distance.
By the time the guy called us over for our food the moths were dancing around the light bulbs and the kids had started towards home. We took our Styrofoam boxes across the road to our camper and ate ‘er all up and went straight to bed. The clock said it was still pretty early but at the end of the road in northern Cape Breton, clearly the day was done.