112.7 km – Bridgeville to Linwood
I almost quit today. I stood right on the edge and stared hard at the possibility of not continuing on. But then I did.
The day actually starts out great. We wake up in our cozy Airbnb bed, pack up, say goodbye to Daisy the dog, and start pedaling. We cruise along on paved road for a while, but before long have to turn off onto another dreaded “mountain” road (Cumming Mountain Road, this time). Once again the dread proves to be well deserved. Cumming Mountain Road is an incredibly steep, incredibly chunky dirt track. I give up on riding almost immediately and begin pushing my bike up the hill, and Gummies soon follows suit.
At the top of the climb we find a gorgeous field stretching out as far as the eye can see, lit by morning light filtering through the clouds. We stop to take in the view and let our heart rates decrease back to a normal level. I glance at the vegetation on the roadside and immediately exclaim, “BLUEBERRIES!!”. The whole road is lined with them. I clamber off my bike to begin picking, and Gummies asks me to grab some for him as well. As I’m picking, my eyes start to wander, and I realize that this entire field, as far as the eye can see, is carpeted in wild blueberries. We have hit the mother lode.
Bikes are quickly abandoned on the side of the road as we eagerly being devouring blueberries by the handful. I have never seen anything like this. One small brush of a branch with your hand yields an entire fistful of fruit. The tough climb up here immediately becomes worth it. After a few minutes of mindless, joyful picking and eating, I quickly glance around to make sure we aren’t about to disturb a bear enjoying its own breakfast. I know that if I was a bear, this is where I would want to hang out.
No bears are in sight for the moment, but as we continue riding we start to notice plentiful patches of blueberry-filled bear scat, so they are definitely around. After we leave the blueberry patch, the terrain becomes much more gentle and we are able to ride fairly easily (as far as gravel roads go, at least). We are eventually spit back out onto a more major paved road. There is a “community kiosk” on the corner, a small shelter with a bench of some informative plaques about the history of the area. We decide to sit and take our first snack break.
As we sit there, a cold wind begins blowing and dark grey clouds begin to move across the sky. We put on our puffy jackets, which feels slightly ridiculous given it’s August. A light rain begins to fall, which soon transitions into a decidedly not light rain. We hang out a bit longer than we would have otherwise to see if it will blow over, but it’s not looking promising, so we head out into the rain.
We ride on the pavement for just a few short kilometers, and then we are back in the dirt. We fly down a hill, coating our legs and bicycles in gritty mud. The rain occasionally lightens, but never stops. We keep pedaling. We come over a crest in the endless dirt road, and miraculously the surface becomes perfectly paved, and we are able to coast downhill for a long while. The rain actually stops, and by the time we reach the bottom I am almost dry again.
We see another community kiosk and decide to have lunch. And of course, as we sit there the rain starts absolutely pouring down once again. I am dreading having to get back on my bike. Not only is it raining, but I know we are just about to have to ride a short stretch on the extremely fast and busy Trans-Canada Highway. We have avoided going on these types of roads as much as we can, but route options are limited out here and for this short stretch there aren’t any other viable options.
As I sit there mulling over our inevitable fate, a car pulls up at the kiosk. An old man gets out and starts studying one of the informational signs. He ignores us at first, then suddenly turns to us and asks if we are from the area. When we inform him that we are not, he launches into some kind of tale about the history of the area. It’s difficult to understand exactly what he is telling us through his thick Maritime accent. He then proceeds to sing us a song in Gaelic, before wishing us safe travels and driving off. We stare at each other in stunned silence, neither of us quite sure what just happened.
We head out in a moment where the rain lightens, and a few minutes later we are turning onto the highway. It is absolutely terrifying. I am pretty comfortable riding with vehicle traffic, but this is way outside of my comfort zone. It’s one of the few times on the many adventures I’ve taken where I feel like I should legitimately fear for my life. At first there’s barely even a shoulder, but after a few seconds there’s at least a bit of pavement for us to ride on. I instinctively cringe every time a massive truck passes going 120 km/h. Just as I’m thinking the one silver lining is that we don’t have to do this terrifying stretch in the rain, it begins dumping again, the hardest rain we’ve experienced all day. I just keep pedaling, gritting my teeth and waiting for a hydroplaning car to take me out from behind.
Finally, finally we turn off onto a the much calmer highway 4 (but only after running across the four lanes of traffic in our slippery cycling shoes). I pull over to the side of the road and break down in tears, finally letting my fear flow through me. I think I’m mostly relieved to still be alive and in one piece. The heaviest rain has blown over at this point, but it sprinkles lightly on and off as we cruise along highway 4 into the town of Antigonish. I have spent most of the day just trying to get to this point, knowing there would be somewhere to shelter from the elements. We have been in the middle of fucking nowhere all day long, the small community kiosks providing our only form of shelter, so seeing the golden arches of McDonald’s glinting in the distance almost makes me burst into tears for a second time.
It is at this point that I face the decision of whether or not I want to keep riding. I am absolutely miserable sitting in that McDonald’s. The thought of getting back on my bike and continuing to ride makes me feel like crying (again). Gummies asks me what I want to do, and I honestly do not know. He tells me he wants to continue, but is willing to do whatever I need. I almost wish he would just say he also wants to quit, just so I don’t have to make the decision. I don’t really want to quit, but I also don’t want to get back on my bike. I tell him I don’t think I can make it all the way to Meat Cove. My legs feel shot, and the hardest climbs are still ahead. He says we can just focus on getting to camp tonight, and then make our next decision. I think quietly to myself for a few minutes. I want to get as far as Cape Breton Island, so we can say we did at least the entire mainland of the province. I think I can get as far as Inverness. The Cape Breton Highlands still absolutely terrify me and I feel sure there’s no way my legs can carry me that far. “Let’s keeping going,” I say.
Somehow, the rest of the day flies by, and my mood has lifted exponentially by the time we finish riding. We ride the last ~40km in one non-stop stint, and we are on nicely paved roads with fairly gentle terrain for the rest of the evening. The rain subsides, the clouds being to break up, and the sun even shows itself a bit. My hatred for my bicycle lifts with the clouds. We see the ocean for the first time in three days, and that feels significant. It is a completely different ocean from our last sighting, back at the Bay of Fundy.
When we finally arrive in camp, we have cycled over 110 km, our longest ride since day one. My legs feel completely toasted. But I am happy. I pushed myself to the breaking point, and then I crawled over it and kept going. We boil up pots of ramen, retreating into the tent to eat when swarms of mosquitoes appear seemingly from nowhere. I read my book for a few minutes before crashing deeply, deeply into sleep.