A Ferry Good Time

Trip Start Jun 06, 2004
Trip End Jun 30, 2004

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Flag of Canada  , Nova Scotia,
Saturday, June 26, 2004

We must have re-set our internal clocks firmly, because we both awaken at 5:30 am. No time to doze off today; we pack quickly and zoom off for many miles before stopping for breakfast. I order french toast with fresh fruit topping. I am mentally picturing berries of some sort, but instead the "topping" is a side bowl of fruit salad. I am disappointed despite the generous size, since it is mainly composed of melons and grapes, neither of which I particularly favour. Our orders are preceded by a basket of tiny hot, fresh, free muffins which would have been ample for me if I had only known. I grumble about having too much food, which even I can see is an unreasonable stance, and Henry rightly has little sympathy.

I have always thought of Cape Breton Island as a single island as its name implies, but careful examination of our map seems to show that it is actually three islands which almost meet at various points. However, since one of the narrow channels is named St. Peter's Canal, it may be artificial. The gap between mainland Nova Scotia and the southeast corner of Cape Breton is equally tiny, and spanned easily by a bridge. Our limited time forces us to travel up the middle away from the coast, although some of the time we are on the Bras d'Or scenic route, which hugs a large inland sea misleadingly called Bras d'Or Lake. Or is it actually fresh water? In our anxiety to make the ferry, we never do get our curiosity satified, even when we stop for gas. Sea or lake, it is a lovely sight and aptly named as it gleams in the sunshine.

We branch off northwest toward the coast on the Cabot Trail itself. Maddeningly, we get trapped behind two enormous motor homes, one of which is pulling a car. They crawl along ahead of a pickup truck and us at 40 kph. Presumably they are aware of the truck at least, but they rudely hog the road and we lose precious time waiting for a safe place to pass. I can feel my stress level sky-rocketting. Have they cost us the ferry? By the time we are finally able to pass we both have to go to the bathroom, but we can't risk letting them get by us again, and we hold on grimly until we figure there are enough miles built up to let us make a brief pit stop in Northeast Margaree.

The scenery has been largely unimpressive, and I have been wondering whether the Cabot Trail is really worth all this angst. But now we reach the coast, and by the time we are in the park proper we, too, are in awe of the steep plunges from sparsely treed, rugged mountaintops through precipitous river valleys to white ocean coves and back up. The road twists and turns around sheer cliffs, and Henry has to drive with caution. Back in Wolfville we had laughed at the proprietor's story that he crashed a brand-new bike on the Cabot Trail when he rode off the road awestruck by the beauty. But now that seems like sober fact.

We stop for a quick lunch at a little roadside cafe in the tiny village of South Harbour. Unfortunately its menu is considerably less impressive than its advertising. For example, "Mexican!" turns out to mean only nachos. "Chinese!" is frozen egg rolls. We stick to burgers; a good choice. I phone my kids and actually catch them all at home. A warm lump rises in my throat on hearing their voices. Between that, gobbling my food, and realizing that we are only halfway around the Cabot Trail when I thought we were almost finished, I suffer great protests from my stomach as we make our final push.

I can't believe it when Henry pulls into a blacksmith/sculptor's rustic studio. But he is adamant that he must have a break. I darkly suspect his motivation, since Henry is a blacksmith himself and is always interested in talking with a fellow artisan. On the other hand, I am now desparate for a bathroom again. There is no public toilet, but the smith good-naturedly agrees to let me use his own facilities. The toilet is spectacularly filthy, but I am in no mood to be delicate. Business accomplished,I herd Henry away in a process similar to sheepdogs darting repeatedly at sheep, although I don't have to go as far as actual nips.

Now we have to make a tough decision: there is a choice of routes ahead. One is shorter, but involves a short ferry ride across St. Andrew's Channel. The other takes us about eight times farther by road and bridges. We have no idea when the ferry will go or how long it will take. It looks like we have just enough time to take the long route. We plump for the long but certain route and have a beautiful, if tense, ride down one side of the channel, around the end, and right back up tantalizingly close to where we had been in the first place. A long bridge tests our mettle with a stiff breeze, and then we are homefree on the big highway leading to the ferry. We arrive, laughing with relief, with 25 minutes to spare!

So of course the ferry is one hour late. We have plenty of time to get our tickets. We are informed that nobody is allowed to lie down on the floor to sleep. One can pay the regular fare and sleep in a regular chair. Or increments of extra cash can purchase a daynighter reclining seat, a bunk in a dormitory, or a bunk in a private stateroom. Daynighters seem OK to us, so we have a modest splurge.

There are lots of other bikers, and we chat while eyeing the ferry, which is much more enclosed than our west coast ferries, and clearly intended for open ocean. Finally we get the word for motorcycles to proceed. But Gzowski won't start! Henry tries repeatedly as I yell, "We just have to PUSH it on!" An agonizing eon later, the motor roars and we drive off our penultimate province in style. The huge interior deck has regular permanent tie-down brackets, and Henry sets to work and ropes Gzowski solidly in place. We will not be allowed to return to the car deck once underway, so we lug a considerable amount of gear with us to the higher levels. A long trudge later we finally locate the daynighters. They are disappointing. A huge room is pcked with them and they barely recline at all. We have just about decided to make a change when another couple shows up: they have been assigned the same seats. The four of us go down to the purser and I shell out another $22 to get dormitory bunks instead, leaving the daynighters for the other couple. The purser informs us sternly that all the dormitory bunks are now full, so we will be sharing our pod of four bunks with two other people. But I feel it is money well spent if Henry has a better chance of getting some sleep. He needs to be cosetted after all his hard work. As it turns out, the purser is lying. Nobody else ever shows up, so we decide that he just wants to cut down on nookey. In any case, we now have a more secure location for all our stuff, so we leave everything but our wallets there and go in search of the cafeteria.

The food is reasonably good, and beer and wine are available for those who want to spend the money. After dinner we go to watch the floor show, "Bugs Green and Friends". Bugs is horribly hearty, and is accompanied by his determinedly sparkling wife. They plow jauntily through pub songs and sentimental standards. I can't stand it and retire to the cafeteria to catch up on my journal and read. But Henry watches for a long time, even appreciating Bugs' home videos, which apparently feature Bugs "and Friends" carousing mildly at a backyard barbeque. I forgive Henry his low tastes when he liberates an unopened mini-bottle of wine somebody has left unused on another table and presents it for my late-night drinking pleasure.

Although we had looked out the windows repeatedly until dark fell, there was never anything to see but ocean. Now it is pitch-black and we are tired from our long day, so it is an easy decision to turn in early and try out our pricey bunks. One more province to go!
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