When I had given notice at my job and told my friends I was leaving to explore the east coast, a few of them asked if I was going to see Cape Breton. I shrugged and admitted that I hadn’t actually done that much research into it. (I hadn’t.) Well, let me tell you… it was within the first few hours of experiencing the Cabot Trail that I could surely declare it was the most beautiful place in Canada I had ever been…
In 2007, I set out on a 5,000+ km tour of maritime Canada in a car I wasn’t sure would last the trip for my first big solo adventure: mapless, without an agenda, and by the seat of my pants. Now, while I get ready for one of the biggest adventures I could dream up, I can’t help but reminisce that first big step – and all the shenanigans and misadventures that happened during it…
Here’s a touchy-feely journal I wrote while reflecting on my love of the Cape Breton Highlands…
The breeze bit through my sweater with a playful nip, almost as if daring me to step out further, bating me to breathe deeper. I relinquished to the temptation, invigorated. Tabletop-sized icebergs drifted nonchalantly as far as my squinting eyes could see while the frigid water washed over my bare legs, chilling them one moment and letting the May sun warm them the next.
I might’ve been hypnotized, but my stomach growled; I couldn’t recall how long ago it’d been since I’d bothered to eat. The passage of time had ceased to exist once I crossed the bridge into the Cape Breton Highlands; the only divisions were the moments between rolling waves, counting beats like nature’s metronome, and night from day, each passing marked by brilliant hues that sprawled across the infinite sky and set the water’s surface ablaze. Those sunsets, however, seemed to halt time altogether, painting the borderless horizon every shade from amber to indigo with an otherworldly fire.
As midnight loomed, I rolled into the Inverness Lodge, all six rooms of it, afraid to be a bother at such an hour, but the fatherly host greeted me with the hospitality of a friend from years past, chatting with the enthusiasm he might at lunch. Listening intently, I was as charmed by the man’s genuine friendliness as I was captivated by the stories he told. His fast-talking accent the Easterners are famous for was surprisingly endearing, but not nearly as much as his concerted effort to annunciate for my untrained ears.
I might’ve scoffed at his graciously “giving me his best room” (a classic line, no?) but for the fact that I had a private patio and a window as wide as the queen-sized bed overlooking the harbour where, the following morning, I watched the lobster boats make their way out onto open water, brought to life by the rising sun. It was then that I noticed there was no smell of fish clinging in the air as I might’ve expected, but rather an intoxicatingly clear breeze, lightly scented by fir trees.
Hunger alone peeled me off that deck and up the road for breakfast at the Coal Miner’s Cafe. The quaint 50’s diner-style restaurant smelled of coffee, pancakes, and aged wood, like morning at my grandparents’ cottage. Despite the unfamiliar faces, it provided a sense of home – along with a pleasantly stuffed stomach (and enough leftovers for a lunch).
Seduced by wanderlust, I was wholly immersed when I ventured into the highlands that rolled like ocean waves while the gulf stretched like a sheet of sapphire satin.
Having all my senses swooned save for one, I yanked free my iPod jack and let the radio scroll the stations before it settled on one, broken with static. In any other place I might have laughed, childishly amused by the French-Celtic polka music that seemed to be broadcast from a bubble back in time, but when one of Edith Piaf’s classics crackled from my car radio, a transcendence began.
I left the lobster boats running their courses in the south and continued my exploit, stopping to climb along cliffs and explore the webs of trails that wove through swamps and bush. Great rolling rocks split only by rivers and the road echoed the chorus of waterfalls spilling their spring runoff into ravines. Beaches scattered the eastern shoreline, set among the rocky outcroppings like doormats. When I found myself in the centre of one gazing across the Atlantic, exhilarated and unencumbered save for the pangs that hungered for leftover pancakes, it was from the edge of a world like no other.
Rolling waves lapped the shore, stirring up sand to take part in the music while setting a tempo for my pounding heart. An unseen force brewed in the rhythms. Cape Breton’s wonders are there for the adventurers to discover, found by exploring, but some are experienced only while standing still long enough to enjoy them.