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Riding the Trails of Nova Scotia

Written by  January 31, 2004

On a recent trip, Ramona and I trailered up to Portland, Maine and took the ferry over to Nova Scotia for a week. Come with us on our journey.

After arriving in Portland, we took a tour of the waterfront area with one of our friends. He showed us the longest street in America (7.8 miles as I recall) and the Promenade. A cup of coffee later and he left us after making sure we knew where to eat (DiMillos – a floating restaurant) and where the ferry terminal was located.

We embarked on the M/S Scotia Prince ferry at 8 p.m., stored our trike on the vehicle deck, put our gear in our cabin and explored the ship. A casino, lounge, and restaurant made the USS Forrestal look sad in comparison, but then the Forrestal had airplanes and we were authorized to blow things up.

We landed in Yarmouth at 7 a.m. after gliding through the water over night. Since we had met two other couples on the ferry, we took off together on the southern coast Lighthouse Trail towards Peggy’s Cove. The roads weave in and out of very picturesque fishing villages scattered all along the coast. Some coves are deep and might take you 45 minutes to snake thru the curves and dips to complete that cove which is followed by another. As I understand it, Nova Scotia has 61 lighthouses. They aren’t as tall as Hatteras, but one of the first coves we visited was Arcadia, which is where the Arcadians fled Nova Scotia (New Scotland) when they refused to swear allegiance to the King of England in 1755. When they left, they migrated to Louisiana and became Cajuns. It was fairly warm early in the day while we ate lunch on a deck at the Sea Dog Saloon, but it got progressively cooler as the day wore on. When we arrived in Peggy’s Cove, the wind was howling and the temperatures were in the mid-fifties. Peggy’s Cove is actually a point where an ancient glacier left huge rock rubble. It almost looks like the moon with huge boulders. A white lighthouse with a red top and a working post office are located at the point. We proceeded to Halifax to meet a friend who is a software engineer at the Chebucto Inn. After a great dinner and a few beers, our friend stole away quietly in the darkness as only a straight-piped 1970 Triumph can.

Day two started with a group breakfast and a visit to the Harley dealer in Dartmouth for the standard T-shirt shopping event. For long road trips such as this one, I save old underwear, socks and such during the year to dispose of each day of the trip to make room for new purchases. But we bought so many T’s here that we decided to ship all the new stuff home. It was here that our new found friends decided to go separate ways. The New Hampshire couple was continuing to Greenland and the couple from Portland had to cut their tour short due to work schedules. Ramona and I proceeded back to the coastal scene along Marine Drive to Sherbrook where we grabbed Route 7 to Antigonish. We rode up 104 to the Casano Causeway, which joins Nova Scotia to Cape Breton Island. We spent the night at the Cove Motel, where the lot was packed with identical red Honda Goldwings. There are several main roads in Nova Scotia with numbers like 101, 102, 103, 104 and 105. They are well maintained with surprisingly little traffic. The coastal roads are very curvy and less maintained. If you get tired of the curvy roads and need to make up time, you can head inland and grab a quicker road that usually runs parallel.

We began day three riding up 105 to The Red Barn where we received conflicting suggestions on whether to ride the Cabot Trail clockwise or counter clockwise. After a majority vote, the counter clockwise route won and we were off. The Cabot Trail is 181 miles of road that runs through the northern most tip of Cape Breton Island. There are spots where there is no guard rail and by going counter clockwise, the outside lane gives you the best view with a certain amount of hazard. We climbed to Cape Smokey where the view over the ocean was absolutely breathtaking. One of the most sensational views I’ve ever had on Planet Earth. We continued counter clockwise and spent the night in Margaree Harbor. The views on the west coast of Cape Breton Island were just as breathtaking as the others. There are many spots where you can see whales and/or seals thru binoculars or you can take a boat out to get a closer look. The upper portion of Cape Breton Island is a national park and completely unspoiled. The air was totally clear and the sky was brilliant blue.

Day four was a long ride back to 105 and then west along 104, 2 and 209 to get all the way to the tip of Cape Chignecto along the Glooscap Trail. This was our longest day in the saddle, about 400 miles. I had heard about the Bay of Fundy all my life and I wanted to see it in full view at high tide. The Bay of Fundy has the highest tides on earth at a maximum of 58 feet. The Garmin GPS came in handy when we misread the route signs in Truro. We quickly got back on the correct road on the northern side of Cobequid Bay. At Advocate Harbor we saw the fishing boats resting in the mud at low tide. Ramona even got to walk on the ocean floor before the mosquitoes ran her away. We spent the night at a bed and breakfast and I managed to charm our hostess out of a quart of her homemade cherry-rhubarb jam.

Day five started with a ride back east along 209 and 2 where we stopped at several antique shops. Along the way, I met a retired British Columbia detective who runs a bed and breakfast and antique store. He filled me in on all the local political issues of Nova Scotia. Also that afternoon, we saw whales just off a lighthouse near the Swissair 111 memorial. We returned to Truro and had a dinner of haddock while watching the Bay churn at high tide. Since we hadn’t got a good look at Peggy’s Cove on the first day, we took 102 back to Halifax and returned to Peggy’s Cove. We had dinner there and sacked out in a rented cottage.

Day six was a reverse of day one. We started back along the southern coast on the Lighthouse Trail through more coves and neat fishing villages along with antique stores and shops. We arrived in Yarmouth late in the day and settled in for our return voyage early the next morning. Ramona got to browse most of the shops and I had my first and only lobster dinner of the trip. The seafood of choice on this trip was haddock.

Day seven began the return voyage to Portland, Maine. We left Yarmouth at 9 a.m. It was very foggy but we did get to see about ten whales very close to the ferry. We slept on deck in our leathers and lost $1,000 playing bingo (no luck, no luck at all) which finished out the day. While waiting to disembark in Portland around 7 p.m., a standpipe exploded with a water spray on the cars in the outside lane on the starboard side. If we had been there, we would have been drenched. It was too close at a car’s width and we managed to inch forward a little to avoid the spray which we found out later was fresh water rather than salt water. As the ramp lowered, we saw that it was pouring down rain. I couldn’t believe it we had ridden the entire island the past seven day in bright sunshine with only wispy clouds and average temperatures around 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Too late to dig out the rain suits now, but we managed to get lucky and stay under the overhead bridge while the vehicles lined up for Customs/Immigration. However, the bottom fell out and it turned into a real frog strangler. We managed to get on 295S and after an unnerving hydroplaning episode, we managed to get to our truck/trailer, change and celebrated with coffee and Dunkin’ doughnuts.

Nova Scotia, which stands for New Scotland, is somewhat smaller than Scotland and reminded us of a huge state park with mountains and rugged shores in close proximity. The people were very friendly and helpful. The fishing villages in the coves were great for exploring and photographing. The food was great also. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and had zero problems. At the time, the American dollar moved from $1.58229 to the Canadian dollar to $1.62, so we charged almost everything in order to take advantage of the strong dollar. Since card companies negotiate the best rate, we used very little US cash, which carries a penalty.

Before departing on this trip, we ordered tour literature. They have a great large map and a special motorcycle touring manual.

So if you ever get a chance to ride the trails of Nova Scotia, don’t pass it up. We went in July. There is also a path via ferries to Greenland and Iceland. Until next time, enjoy the ride.

Story and photos by Bill Barham and Ramona Carter who live in Raleigh, North Carolina.