Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Grand Reopening of The Keltic Lodge Resort

As a youngster with a wild imagination, I thought the Keltic Lodge Resort in Ingonish, Cape Breton was a place where royalty and movie stars stayed when visiting the island.  Every time I came across a picture of the resort or admired it from nearby Ingonish Beach, it's well-manicured lawns and stately main lodge reminded of something from an enchanted fairy tale. I envisioned women with big fascinator hats and Victorian-like dresses strolling through the gardens and men in tuxedos sipping Brandy and smoking cigars in a chandelier-lit lounge. The closest I got to the place was an impromptu mini photo shoot orchestrated by my parents who thought having us kids sitting together in one of the Adirondack chairs (or Keltic Lodge chairs as I called them because that's the only place I ever saw them) would make a fun, unique photo.  My curiosity about the place was fueled even more by rumors that well-known celebrities and politicians frequented the lodge.  Many years later, I would find out what it was that attracted so many visitors from around the world.
I was already living away in another province when I found out my sister would be working at the Keltic Lodge for the 2002 season.  My first thought upon hearing this news was "she can get the inside scoop on the place and tell me what it's really like inside and who stays there".  Before she was able to spill anything, I had the opportunity to get the inside scoop myself when I traveled home that summer and visited her at her home-away-from-home at the on-site staff residence.

I was a little uncomfortable with having to drive up to the resort and trying to find my sister.  Would I look suspicious?  Would security stop and question me?  It was, after all, a grand resort where the rich and famous took their vacations and I didn't want to look like some crazed paparazzi.  I was reassured that there would be nothing to worry about and that those things I heard about the rich and famous were just fairy tales fueled by local children trying to impress us city slickers who camped in Ingonish on summer weekends.  Was she serious?  Just fairy tales?  Or was she sworn to secrecy?

I arrived one evening in the early summer of that year and parked in the main parking area in front of the Balmoral residence.   I already had the back seats of my parent's mini van taken out and a sleeping bag set up in the back as I wasn't able to stay in my sister's room.  Because this post is supposed to be about the grand reopening of The Keltic Lodge, I'll sum up my time spent there that summer like this:
I learned that The Keltic Lodge is not some untouchable place where only the rich and famous stay.  It is not a stuffy, snobby resort with gold-plated railings, crystal chandeliers and bowtied garcons.  It is, however, a beautiful, magical place that caters to people from all walks of life.  That summer was one of the best summers of my life.  Through my sister and my time spent around the lodge while visiting with her, I met lots of people from all over the world, I sampled ice cream from the Atlantic Restaurant, I embarked on a tour of the inside of some areas, I enjoyed some wonderful evenings in the Sitting Room while Cyril MacPhee performed, I was introduced to the Thirsty Hiker Pub at the nearby Glenghorm Resort and even took my turn as the designated driver back to base and, most importantly, I fell in love with that iconic white building with the red trim that I'd admired from afar for so long.

Although I never had the opportunity to actually stay at the Keltic (besides sleeping in a van in the residence parking lot), I've visited the grounds many times and often park in the big parking lot near the restaurant during lightning storms (best place in the area to watch lightning, hands down!) when it's too stormy to stay in my tent at nearby Broad Cove.  I've always wanted the resort to succeed partially because my sister worked there, partially because it employs so many local people but mostly because it belongs on the Middle Head Peninsula.  It's the heart of The Highlands and without it, the area just wouldn't be the same.  A few years ago, rumors started to spread. The beautiful resort needed some major repairs and that it was for sale and that perhaps it would even have to close.  Those are just some of the things I heard.  That's why when I recently learned that some major renovations were done and there would be a grand reopening to show the public that the Keltic was, in fact, still alive and not going anywhere, I clicked on that "attending" button on the Facebook event page and made plans to attend it back on June 25th, 2016.  I wanted to be there and show my support for the new initiatives being taken to revive Cape Breton's premiere vacation destination.

A number of people were already roaming the grounds when I arrived but I was still able to find a parking space close to the building before it got too crowded.  I entered my name in the draw to win one of several great prizes (one of which was for a stay at the resort) and walked around the newly-renovated area.  I started to explore the Inn area on my own when a very friendly, well-mannered young man offered to give me the grand tour.  I was very impressed with what had been done with the suites and especially loved the ones with the glass doors overlooking the bay.  The spa was also very impressive and I especially loved the hot tub on the outside deck looking toward majestic Cape Smokey Mountain.  As I wandered around admiring the spectacular work that had been done to an already spectacular place, I heard the faint sound of a lone piper. And than I heard another.   
The ribbon cutting ceremony wasn't due to start for another couple of hours so I decided to take a spin around Ingonish to visit some of my favorite places.  I went to Black Brook, Warren Lake, Broad Cove, North Bay Beach, The Point and Ingonish Beach.  I even stopped along the way to buy a Frisbee at The Outdoor Store but there were none left. Guess a few people had that in mind for the weekend seeing as, in Ingonish, you are surrounded by beautiful sandy beaches perfect for a game of Frisbee.  On my wanderings, I noticed that there seemed to be more tourists around than usual for that time of year.  A telling sign to come?  Word is getting around.

I returned to the Keltic just in time for the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony and speeches.  Everyone involved in the resort's present and future success were so full of energy and promise for a bright future.  There was even mention of making the Keltic a year-round resort which I think would be fantastic! Unfortunately, I didn't win any of those door prizes but I felt privileged to be in attendance at such a wonderful event in honor of the resort and to be among the first people to learn more about what is coming from Cape Breton's premiere destination...which may sooner than later become Nova Scotia's premiere destination or even Canada's premiere destination.  And why not?  It has everything - The world-class golf course, beautiful scenery, sandy beaches, fun activities, warm hospitality and scrumptious food and drink.
I ended that afternoon with a hike on the Middle Head Peninsula Trail.  I hadn't done that trail in many years and thought it would be a fitting end to the day.   The breeze coming off the water was nice and there were no flies.  I walked right to the end of the peninsula and stood at what felt like the edge of the world and admired the awe-inspiring views.  On the way back, the wind died down and the flies came out in full force.  The final leg of the trail was pure torture.  I stopped at one point to get some bug spray from my backpack (I found everything but) and heard something fairly big moving in the bushes not far from where I stood.  I froze in terror thinking it might be a bear and when I got the nerve, I started moving slowly down the trail before speeding up again.  Fortunately, I was closer to the end of the trail than I thought and within minutes I was back in the safety and comfort of my air-conditioned Sonata.
I ate supper at the Seagull Restaurant before heading to my favorite cafe in the area for dessert.  One of my traditions when in Ingonish is to have a piece of that delicious carrot cake they serve at the Bean Barn Cafe and grab a coffee to go and enjoy it along the shores of Freshwater Lake while the sun sets.  But, much to my disappointment, The Bean Barn was closed early that day.  Despite that one hiccup, it turned out to be a great day in The Highlands.  One that made me appreciate that shining star on the Middle Head Peninsula even more.  The Keltic Lodge has always been special.  Amazing.  Spectacular.  Grande.  Now it will be all of those things and more for generations to come. And perhaps someday, I will leave the tent in the trunk and forego a night at Broad Cove Campground to spend the night in one of those luxurious rooms with a view. 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

A Spring Hike, A Foggy Beach and Lots of Old Houses

Spring may have started a while ago but Spring-like weather only came about fairly recently here on Cape Breton Island.  That means hiking season is just around the corner but it officially started for me with a hike in Framboise on a foggy but warmish April spring day.

I awoke that morning to the sun splitting rocks and abnormally high temps for the time of year.  The drive to the coast was nice until I actually reached the coast where everything was engulfed in a thick fog and the temperatures were about ten degrees cooler than they were inland.

Ferguson Road was my first stop.  I drove all the way down to the beach and than back to the half-way point in the road to take a rest and a little stroll along an old wood road that ran along a long-ago abandoned property.  It was so quiet there and all I could hear was the soft breeze in the trees and a few birds chirping.  Much quieter than the racket I'm exposed to at home where all I can hear 24-7 is the loud hum of a nearby power generating station.

I walked a piece up the gravel road towards the main highway taking in more of those nature sounds and felt at ease and more relaxed than I had in weeks.  It was like all my stress was lifted off my shoulders and tossed into the brush where I hoped it would stay.  Alas, upon returning to the real world, those stresses always come back but they are easier to manage after a long spell in the woods.

After my little leg-stretcher on Ferguson Road, I drove back to the main road and down a piece until I found a partially grown-in driveway to park in while I hiked in an area I had heard about.  I followed an old beaten path through a wooded area that led toward the ocean.  I expected to see some nice scenery but what I didn't expect to see was a few old houses. I love walking around the old, abandoned houses in that area.  I like to imagine the families that once lived in them and what their lives were like.  However, upon closer inspection of this particular house, I realized it was  still in use and was in the process of being renovated.  The American flag in the window gave away some clues to the ownership. And what a spot it is to renovate an old country farmhouse and turn it into a summer retreat that no one even knows is there...unless they venture on foot into the woods as I did.

Fog was rolling in as I broke through the trees and approached the coastal area.  I could faintly make out the rocky coastline and hear the waves crashing onshore but everything beyond that was a haze. I spotted an interesting-looking grassy area atop a giant rock and climbed to the top of it to get a better view of the ocean.  A couple of seals bobbed in the waves but I couldn't see very far. I took a seat in an area that was sheltered against the cool wind and ate my usual lunch - an egg sandwich, a muffin, an energy bar and some tea -  and walked some more along that rugged coastline until I came to a grassy area with a semi-beaten trail on it.  I followed it to see where it went....and, due to my curious nature, kept following it until I came to another clearing with some more old-weather-beaten houses.  These ones were most certainly abandoned and had been for some time.  A light mist was beginning to fill the air and I thought I could hear the faint yelp of coyotes in the distance as I headed back to my car but my day wasn't over yet.
A short drive took me to my next stop on Frank MacDonald Road near Grand River. It was getting later in the evening and the crickets were starting their nightly chorale.  I parked my car next to the gently flowing river and crossed the deserted road to walk up an old wood road towards the tree line.  I heard there used to be some old houses on that road and I wanted to check them out.  To my disappointed, the old houses that were said to be there were replaced by new ones.  I'm sure these homeowners weren't a bit disappointed when they laid eyes on that beautiful piece of land and decided to make their home there. I didn't linger too long on that land that was obviously private property and heard some more coyotes off in the distance as I walked back to the car.

Just up the road a bit was another old wood road...or at least the faded remnants of an old wood road.  There was a clearly defined ditch to the sides and a power line but the old road itself was all grown in.  I knew there had to be something in there - a house or business - as the power line led somewhere or at least it did at one time.  Alas, I hiked into that brush until it started to get dark and out of fear I might get lost or approached by a prowling coyote, I turned back towards the car having not found whatever it was the power line hooked up to.

There was still enough light left in the sky when I drove passed an old house on the side of the road that looked like it had been abandoned for many decades and was about to fall in on itself.  Of, course, as you probably already guessed, I got out of the car to explore a little.  The property was quite large as was the house and when I closed my eyes, I could almost hear the children who once played in the yard and the adults having tea on the back patio.  I imagined what it must have been like to live in such a remote place so many years ago, how hard the winters must have been but how peaceful it must have been in the warmer months surrounded by all that nature.  I could tell that it was once a very stately property and it pained me to think that somewhere out there there are grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the people who once lived here who have no idea their ancestors once stately home still stands with some of the furniture inside still intact.  And there I was admiring it and thinking how they would love to know about the place.  Who knows what other treasures are held in the confines of the walls, old dressers and floorboards.  

It was almost dark when I returned to the car for the last time that day and started back the way I came - over the dark, lonely country road through Framboise, Forchu, Gabarus and Mira - and met an abnormal amount of traffic when I hit Marion Bridge.  I soon realized that these carloads of people were headed back to their country homes after spending the evening Chasing the Ace in Sydney.  For anyone who is not familiar with the Chase the Ace Phenomenon that has hit Cape Breton, it's a charity/lottery event with a huge jackpot that draws tens of thousands of millionaire wannabes from all over the Maritimes.  It's not for me.  I'd rather spend a day in the woods or along the seashore any day over waiting in line for two hours to play a lottery.  To each their own I suppose but for the last few Saturdays, it meant more room on the beaches and trails for me!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Majestic Rockies

The first time I saw the Rocky Mountains of Alberta back in the summer of 2008, I cried because it was one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

A Book Review of "The Changing Season" by Steven Manchester

The Changing Season

A novel by Steven Manchester

You know how certain songs or pictures can bring back memories of childhood or high school and those memories either make you smile, laugh or cringe? I recently read a book that took me back to that awkward time between childhood and adulthood and had all of those emotions brought back to the surface along with some fond and not-so-fond memories of that tricky life transition. That book is called The Changing Season and was written by Steven Manchester.

Before I even finished the first page of this book, I knew I was in for a good read...and a roller coaster of a read in fact. All the elements that one would expect in a good book are in place early on and take the reader straight through to the finale. The book starts at the end of one era in the characters' lives, takes reader's through the entire next phase of their lives (which is a short but very important one)and ends right before the next stage starts. We have a good indication of what's to come in the characters' lives at the end of the book because the author creates a solid profile for each one - good and bad.

The best thing about thisbook is how I was able to relate to it based on my own experiences at that time in my life and how I was able to look back and finally be able to smile at the realization that everyone was right - things do get better after those awkward years that seem so dramatic and traumatizing to the young and naive.

I love the way the book is laid out and how it follows the various characters lives as they go different ways and childhood friends drift apart.  However, the main character (the one we grow attached to from the start) remains in focus throughout and it's from his view that we see these transformations transpire.

So grab your copy of The Changing Season today and go back in time to a place when all seemed so unattainable and the world seemed to be crashing at your knees....until that one moment when everything fell together and your future lay before you.  Reminisce about those days as you go along for the ride with Billy and his faithful companion Jimmy and Vicki and Charlie and Mark as they maneuver through that last bit of freedom before real life takes over and childhood is left behind for good.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Possible Travel Plans for this Spring/Summer/Fall - Help me Decide!!!

It's that time of year again. I'm about to be laid off from my seasonal office job and have some spare time coming up where I can travel almost anywhere I want and can't decide where to go. I have ideas. That's the problem. I have too many ideas. I'd like to say I've made progress in my planning but, alas, I've not. I have a list. Yes a list of places I would like to see. And that's all. At least I have a list...a list that I can't seem to narrow down. Perhaps you, my loyal reader, can help me.  Ok so let me give you a run down of my choices first and we'll go from there.

1) St. John's, Newfoundland - I used to live in this wonderful city and love it and miss IT dearly.  I haven't been back there is more than two years so I was thinking perhaps I should make a visit this year.  If I do, this would be a small trip and I would go somewhere else too which takes us to trip option #2 which could very well be an excellent choice for a side trip from St. John's.
2) St. Pierre et Miquelon -Also known as France in North America are a series of small islands in the middle of the North Atlantic off Newfoundland that I've had my eye on for quite some time.  If I were to go there, I would either fly from Sydney, Cape Breton via Air St. Pierre or I would take the Newfoundland Ferry to Argentia, spend a few days visiting friends in St. John's and grab a shuttle to the ferry in Fortune that goes to St. Pierre.

3) Scotland (and possibly Ireland, Wales or England because they are so close) - I have a number of reasons for wanting to visit Scotland.  For one (and probably the most influential reason) I am of Scottish ancestry and would like to visit the land where my ancestors came from. Plus everyone else in my family has been there and loved it so I know I will too.  I want to see the rolling grass hills, the castles, the sparkling lochs and maybe even meet some distant cousins who share my last name.  I also like the idea of visiting another continent besides North America and Europe seems like a great place to start for a first overseas trip.

4) New Zealand - A destination that has been at the top of my bucket list since I was a child.  It has all of the qualities I like in a destination and everyone I know who has been there loved it and recommended it as a top destination.  The only downfall for this trip would be the expense.  Flights are very expensive and I hear everything else in the country is too.  Time may also end up being another factor as I have so much going on at home with moving and family visits etc that I would not be able to put the time needed aside to really enjoy New Zealand.  I think a minimum of two weeks is needed to really get something out of a trip that far away from home but who knows I might decide to take the plunge and go anyway!

5) Alberta - Specifically the areas spanning Canmore to Jasper National Park and that is because I have one sister living in Canmore and another one living in Jasper. I like to travel to a new location every year but I haven't been to the Rockies in 7 years and with both sisters living here, I think perhaps it might be time to make another visit to the region.  Besides, it's not like I won't be getting a quality vacation; after all, I am the one who cried the first time I laid eyes on those mountains while driving in a long stretch of highway leading out of Calgary and into that vast Canadian Wilderness.
Alright, so there you have it.  My list of potential destinations to travel to this spring/summer/fall.  My criteria for travel this year is as follows:
-Money is an issue this year due to a big move from one place to another and major car repairs.
-Time is also an issue this year due to having to move and working two jobs and not being able to get too much time off.  Ten days would be my max for travel this year.
-Much of July and August are off the table due to other commitments such as two family reunions and family members coming home for visits.
-The Caribbean region is off-limits this year (and probably for the next few years) simply because I would like to explore other regions of the world and have already been to that region several times.

So I think you have enough information to help you help me make this most important decision.  Perhaps you have another idea that I didn't list or maybe you've been to one or more of the ones I listed and can share your positive or negative experience traveling there.  Any tips, suggestions or stories are welcome.  I'm all ears :)

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Throwback to the Past

The Fortress of Louisbourg is a rebuilt 17th century French Fortress that often hosts events, such as The Grand Encampment pictured here, that take visitors back to a time when war was a real threat and citizens and military personnel alike were always on guard and ready for any attack from the English.  Being at this event was like being back in the 1700's as the crew does an excellent job of making it as authentic as it can be....and as you can see, it's pretty darn close to the real thing!  Even the smell of gunpowder permeated the air along with the sounds of musket firings and cannons and everyone dressed the part to a tee.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Entrance to Paradise

The main passageway leading to one of my favourite beaches, North Bay Beach in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park in Ingonish. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Sunset Over the Gulf

I travel quite a bit and have made many memories on the road and abroad but sometimes the best memories are had right in my backyard...or close to it.  Happened upon this scene quite by accident while on a drive around the Cabot Trail back in 2008.  I stopped to use a washroom at a roadside rest stop and noticed this spectacular scene unfolding before my eyes.  I stayed there for a long time just watching the sun disappear below the horizon and the sky was filled with stars by the time I got back in the car and headed for home.  Just one of many impromptu detours I've made on my journeys. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Las Vegas Strip in 2009

Before I arrived in Las Vegas, I always pictured The Strip as a two-lane road with some big hotels spanning one or two blocks.  How wrong I was and how surprised I was to see that multiple lanes pass through a mile-long stretch of lavishness that can only really be experienced by seeing it yourself.  Hard to believe it's been 7 years already since I made my first trip to Sin City.  Time to plan another one!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Although I go around the Cabot Trail about a dozen times every year in the summer and fall months, I've only gone completely around the trail once during the winter and I captured this photo of a lone horse peaking out of an old barn on a lonely country road in Rear Baddeck.  I remember this trip well.  I woke up to a beautiful, sunny day that saw much of the snow on the roads melt and decided to take my mother on a mini-road trip.  It was one of the last road trips I took with her before her passing in 2013.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

A Lovely Winter Day's Hike - Exploring a New-to-me Beach and Enjoying a Leisurely Stroll Through a Desolate Winter Wonderland

When it starts approaching the Christmas holidays, I know the long wilderness hikes are done for the year. It gets too busy during those last few nice days we sometimes get toward the end of December and it's usually too cold to go on very long hikes in January.

The last two winters here on Cape Breton Island have been hellish to put it mildly. The most snow seen in decades. And not just snow either; snow layered with ice and slush. Not very ideal for hiking. I don't think I hiked even once during those two winters. I spent most of those dreary, snowy days inside a gym on the dreadmill trying desperately to keep in shape. So having experienced two winters in a row like that, I just assumed this winter would be the same. Fortunately, so far, this winter has been quite pleasant.
New Year's Day signifies the end of a very busy time of year for me and that signifies the beginning of a more laid-back time of year that allows me more time to enjoy my favourite pastimes. On the first day of 2016, I checked the long range forecast to see if, by some miracle, the nice weather was predicted to hold up long enough to allow me to get outdoors before the arrival of the inevitable bad weather that was sure to come eventually. I wasn't holding high hopes that it would but lo and behold, the forecast showed sun and higher than normal temperatures for the next two weeks. Ideas for day hikes started flooding my brain. So many hikes I could do!

The first opportunity to embark on an outdoor winter adventure came a few days after New Year's Day. I awoke to a beautiful sunny day with fairly mild temperatures and no wind. I rounded up some winter hiking gear and jumped in the car and headed towards the Framboise area thinking I would do a hike on Morrison Beach, drive around looking for deer on the back roads and grab a coffee in St. Peter's. However, during that long early-morning drive, I decided to make the most of the day ahead...and
that day turned into a memorable winter adventure.

I heard mention of people hiking along the beach at Belfry Lake but never attempted it. According to my father, I was there as a child but since I have no recollection of that visit, a hike at Belfry would be a new experience for me and it was the perfect day to explore a new beach.
I turned onto a dirt road lined with beautiful homes owned by Europeans judging by the German last names on the mailboxes. Many Europeans, mostly from Germany and other central European countries, flocked to this area in recent years. I'm not sure why but I imagine it has something to do with getting away from their densely populated cities back home and escaping to the scenic, rugged and sparsely populated coast on Southern Cape Breton. And who can blame them?

I came to the end of the road and parked the car off to the side. I scanned the area; a rocky beach on one side, a lake on the other. I headed right to the beach and hiked toward a river that I hoped would be crossable if the tide was low enough. The air was very warm for that time of year. There was no wind so there wasn't even a spray coming off the ocean. It was like a spring day. I regretted wearing my long, heavy Colombia parka and thermal socks. Unfortunately, what I didn't have was waterproof boots to cross the river that blocked me from going any further. Had it been summer, I would have just taken my shoes off and walked or swam across. I headed back towards the car but kept going further down another section of beach while being watched by a couple of seals offshore.
I crossed over some dunes and came to the lake side where I took a little break to have a snack, skip some rocks in the lake and take some pictures. Just as I was standing up to continue along the lakeshore, I saw a large mass come out of the water and make a loud splash. Judging by the wake it left, it had to be something quite big. At first, I thought it was a beaver as they make lots of noise when they feel threatened. Otter was my next guess. However, when the mystery creature resurfaced and again made its presence known, it was revealed to be a seal. The curious little bugger who scared me half to death must have followed me all along the beach.
The hike at Belfry was supposed to take eight hours but since I only got an hour of hiking in there, I had to find somewhere else to hike so the day wouldn't be wasted. It's a long way to go to hike for only an hour especially on such a rare, nice day. I left Belfry and continued towards Framboise and turned off the highway again when I reached Crooked Lake Road.
The road leading to Crooked Lake is more populated than some of the other roads in that area and there are plenty of interesting dwellings along the way. A totem pole decorates the lawn of one resident and someone recently built my dream home - a log cabin overlooking the lake. The last time I tried to drive down crooked lake road a few weeks before in the late fall, it was so muddy I had to turn around and head back to the highway. This time, the ground was frozen and I was able to make it all the way to the beach. Well almost. The giant pool of water at the end of the road looked frozen but the ice turned out to be thinner than it looked. I heard the unmistakable sound of ice about to crack and just managed to back my front tires onto the dry ground when the ice gave way. I don't think it was very deep but probably deep enough to get stuck or even do some damage to my car. I didn't have enough room to turn around and face back towards the highway so I just backed the car off to the side and shoved the thoughts of having to make a 48-point-turn with a giant puddle in front of me, a steep embankment to a lake on one side of me and trees on the other side out of mind for the time being.
Light snow was falling but the late afternoon air was still warm with not a breath of wind when I started my hike along the Crooked Lake Beach. I love this beach. It's long and surrounded by steep cliffs that to me, look almost otherworldly compared to other beaches in the area. It's hard to say which beach along the south coast is my favourite but Crooked Lake is high on the list.
The surf was rough and the tide was coming in so I quickly made my way along the beach to a trail further down. The rocks I was walking on were freshly wet which meant the waves reached quite high just before my arrival. I tried to walk as quickly as possible to the little hill up to the grassy trail that lead through a section of woods and onto an old wood road. I turned to the left on that wood road and went deeper into the woods. Someone had very recently followed the same route as there was fresh footprints. Sometimes the footprints veered off into the woods where there were rabbit snares.
The last thing I thought I would happen upon was a house out there in the middle of nowhere but happen upon a house I did and what a house it was! I don't know who managed to build all the way in there but whoever they are, they built my dream house in my dream location. I didn't go beyond that point and turned back towards the main road as it was starting to get dark and the coyotes would soon be on the prowl.
Although the sky was quickly dimming into twilight, it was still easy to see due to the snow-covered ground which also made it easy to see the fresh prints that must have only appeared on the road a few minutes earlier. This alarmed me because there were no animal tracks on the road on the way in. My fears subsided after close inspection revealed the prints to be that of a deer. A few deer by the looks of it. A buck, a doe and a younger doe. I followed the tracks right to a fork in the unexpected fork in the road; I thought that one road was it and it would lead me back to my car. I had no idea where the other road went but being the audacious, curious soul that I am (some might call a young lady who ventures off on a trail in the middle of nowhere in coyote country at dusk a little foolish), I did what any adventurous soul would do and I took the road unknown.

A very brief wave of anxiety came over me when I crested a steep hill and looked down to see that the road kept going as far as my eyes could see. The anxiety quickly subsided at the realization that this just meant I would be spending more time in the woods doing what I love most. I started to hear little rustles in the trees but the comfort of knowing those deer were close by and were not on the run, reassured me that there were no predators in the area.
I rounded a bend and almost abruptly, the road ended and I was back on the other old wood road that I started on. The unknown road must have been newly put in for cutting pulp. A few minutes after that, I was back on the main road and could see my car ahead in the distance. I had made a complete circle and although it was dark and lightly snowing and I had been walking for a few hours, I was sweating. I removed a couple of layers and threw them in the car but I didn't get in the driver's seat; I kept walking back toward the beach. This time I walked in the opposite direction. The snow was starting to subside and there was a faint twilight still left in the sky, enough to allow me to see the silhouettes of those steep cliffs and the cresting waves.
Earlier, I noticed a footpath going up the hill in the parking area. Yes, you know me well. Of course I followed it. It was steeper than it looked but the climb was worth it. What a view and it was evident that someone else once thought the same thing because there was a beautiful monument for a someone's dearly departed who once spent time there.
I didn't want the night to end. I regretted not taking my camping gear. Had it been in the trunk of the car, I think I would have built a fire and set up camp right there for the night. Would it be too cliché to say it was magical? Surreal? It was something. It was a night I won't soon forget.

The Framboise area always had a kinda creepy, spooky feel to it at night. It's remote, there are not a lot of people around, street lights are sparse and it's an old community with lots of abandoned Victorian houses, old graveyards and stories to go along with them. And speaking of old graveyards, there's one just off Crooked Lake Road. An old one from the 1800's. It's in the woods, it's not marked and it's no longer used but it's pretty easy to find if you know where to look. The headstones are still in decent shape and it's interesting to read them and see who they belonged to.

I heard voices nearby and started back to the car in case someone thought I was perusing the neighbourhood looking for an easy way to break into cabins. I paused for a minute in the middle of that dark road while giant white snowflakes fell around me and took in the utter stillness of that lonely country road. I could live in a place like that.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Spotted on my Morning Walk

A Bald Eagle perched on the bridge at Dominion Beach.  I see this guy almost every morning during my walk along the sandbar and sometimes there are two or three of them hanging around.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

The Story Behind my Renowned Hiking Stick

I do a lot of hiking and love it. In fact, I think I'm addicted to the thrill of finding new trails to explore. Despite my love of hiking, surprisingly, I'm not a gear hoarder. I have the basics - comfortable hiking boots, comfortable clothes, a few rain items, some first aid and emergency items for long hikes, a trusty backpack and my coyote stick. Yes you read that right. My coyote stick. It's a walking stick that doubles as a weapon should a pack of hungry coyotes surround me. No I don't go around beating coyotes with sticks. I love all animals. I would only ever hurt an animal if it were to defend my life.
Now, to you, this stick might simply sound like a regular old walking stick. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is no ordinary walking stick. This walking stick has a history, a story. So since my coyote stick is such a big part of my hikes that I write about on this blog, I thought I would officially introduce it to my readers and tell the world the story about how it came to be.

I can't remember exactly when I acquired my renowned walking stick but I think it's safe to guess it was around 2010 because it was after I moved back to Cape Breton from Newfoundland. It was given to me by my father and it was given to my father by beavers. Yes, that's right. Beavers. Well, they didn't actually give the stick to my father; he took it from them. There were several sticks involved in the infamous beaver damn stick heist but no beavers were harmed and no beaver dams were damaged during this heist. I doubt the beavers even noticed a few missing sticks out of the thousands strewn over their property.
Me and my cherished Coyote Stick getting ready to head out for a weekend of Camping
I assume you are at least vaguely familiar with beavers and their extraordinary carpentry skills. To put it into perspective for you, the world's largest beaver dam (which was only discovered fairly recently in Northern Alberta) is 850 meters long and can be seen from space. My dad was fishing in the Framboise area of Cape Breton when he stumbled across a much smaller (but still fairly big) beaver dam that was under construction. To us humans, we think of a beaver dam as just a pile of sticks haphazardly piled together to stop water flowage. To beavers, dams are more than just homes, they're fortresses. There were hundreds of perfectly sanded down sticks sitting near the bank of the river the day my dad stumbled upon that beaver dam. The beavers "sand" these sticks with their teeth, not sand paper. (Thought I should clarify that just in case.) Dad picked up one of these freshly-sanded sticks and instantly thought "what a good walking stick this would make". Not often does one stumble across hundreds of perfectly-made walking sticks in the middle of nowhere that look and feel better than most of the ones you find in stores...and cheaper too! So he grabbed one for me as well. All that was needed before the stick was ready to be used was a coat of varnish to spruce it up and a few decorative touches to personalize it. With these final touches complete, dad presented the walking stick to me. It comes with me on every hike and also protects me against coyotes while walking up my long, rural driveway and protects me in my car in the unlikely event of an attempted carjacking or robbery. I have no doubt this stick would do some major damage if it ever had to come to that!

A number of years later, my coyote stick is still going strong and I consider it to be one of my most prized possessions. Other people are intrigued by it too. I've had a number of folks stop me on the trails to comment on what a nice walking stick I have and to enquire as to where they can buy one. Just recently, I overheard a little boy ask his father "did you see that cool walking stick that girl had" as I hiked passed them. I tell people the truth when they ask me where I bought it. I tell them it was made by beavers. And they look at me like I have ten heads. I joke around with dad that he should start a beaver sweat shop and sell the sticks for profit. Judging by the number of people interested in my walking stick, he'd be rich in no time!

Monday, December 28, 2015

My Winter Travel Plans..or Lack Thereof

Overall, it's been a good year but one thing really disappointed me; I didn't get to go on my annual vacation. You know, that trip I take every year to a foreign land that I've never been to before? Yeah that one.

Lots of things came together to make 2015 the year of the Staycation. Technically I did travel to an international destination when I flew to Barbados at the last minute in December but it's getting so close to a year since I got on a plane that for the sake of rounding things off, we'll just say I haven't traveled this year...because it has been slightly more than 365 days since I left Canada.

I planned to travel to Newfoundland in the spring but was called to work from June to October. Having a set-in-stone date for the end of work meant I could plan to go anywhere I wanted for however long I wanted and I had 4 months to think about where to go and plan an amazing trip. I thought about it a lot. First, I thought of doing a multi-country tour of Europe. That was soon replaced with the idea of going to just Greece. That idea faded fast when the Syrian refugee crisis reached its peak and it looked like traveling anywhere in that region might be a bad idea. Hawaii also crossed my mind around that time but it was New Zealand that I finally settled on as my travel destination for the fall of 2015. I made the decision to visit the North Island and planned to do a semi-guided tour with GAdventures. I looked at flights and set up flight alerts to keep track of prices. I did tons of research on the Island. And it didn't happen. None of it fell through. It's the end of December, just days away from 2016 and my renewed eligibility to be recalled to work and I'm here writing about how I didn't take that trip to New Zealand instead of writing about my experience in the place that has been at the top of my bucket list since I was a child. Yeah it's a bummer alright.

The downward spiral leading to the demise of my most recent travel plans started with a dull ache in the right side of my head that turned out to be a toothache. A trip to the dentist revealed a severely decayed wisdom tooth in desperate need of either a costly root canal or an almost as costly extraction. I made the appointment to have it taken out the following week and continued to make plans for the upcoming trip that I already told everyone I was going on, much to the envy of my friends and co-workers. Meanwhile, I discovered that the house I'm living in is to be sold next spring and I have to find another place to live which will double my cost of living. My car started to act up around this time too. The brakes were grinding, the engine light came on, a loud squealing started under the hood and something was rattling under the front end. I dropped it off at the garage one morning and 4 hours and almost fifteen-hundred dollars later, my car was returned to me only to be parked in the yard for emergency use only as I was no longer able to afford to put gas in it. And to top it off, the dentist called only two days before my scheduled appointment and informed me that they were unable to do the extraction as it was more suited to a dental surgeon who specializes in more complicated extractions like mine. That appointment ended up being a month away - during the time I would be traveling. So with all that having happened over a short period of time and the fact that I suddenly became short on both time and money, I cancelled my trip. And yes it broke my heart. No I am not being my typical sarcastic self, it really broke my heart.

Some excitement started to stir right before Christmas when rumours started to spread that some people may be called back to work in January. At first I hoped I wouldn't be because I hated the thought of driving to work every day in blustery, winter conditions. But the idea of having the summer off started to appeal to me and I hoped they would call. They didn't...yet...and with January quickly approaching, I don't suspect they will. Either way, I've started making plans to travel as soon as time allows me to do so. I have three options for the near future: 1) If I get called back in January, I will travel to a climate that is warm around the time I get laid off again which will be May or June. I'm thinking Western Europe...England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. 2) If I don't get called back in January, I know I'm safe until at least April when call backs start again so I'm thinking I will use some of my Airmiles that are soon expiring and head somewhere warm in South America or the Caribbean. Argentina is a destination I am seriously considering. 3) I am also considering the option of not going anywhere until the fall of 2016 and saving up to go to New Zealand. Three great plans of attack, one tough decision. I think the best way to tackle this whole scenario is to do minimal planning until almost the last minute so I don't face disappointment again and just play it by ear and see how things transpire.

Mini-trips, or Staycations as some people like to call them, are always in the works but I don't really count any trip made within Canada as a "real"trip which is defined by the use of a passport and the crossing of at least one border. I have quite a few WestJet dollars and I'm thinking I may use them for a trip Out West to see my sisters in Alberta.
Although I didn't get the chance to travel to a far-flung destination this year, I still managed to explore some new places closer to home and enjoy some relaxing time spent in some of my favourite places around Cape Breton. I'm rarely idle, I'm always itching to go somewhere and if that somewhere happens to be to places closer to home, then so be it. There are more than enough places to explore around here. So many beaches and trails that I have yet to lay eyes on. That being said, my itchy feet won't allow me to stay put for too long. Only time will tell when and where my next international adventure will take place. I can only hope it will be sooner than later!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

A Late Fall Hike to Grand River Falls

A hike to Grand River Falls was in the making for over a year before it finally happened this Fall. Something always got in the way every time I tried to plan this hike. Weather, last minute appointments, a busy work schedule and last minute car repairs are just some of the things that got in the way. However, it is often said that things happen for a reason. I believe the reason so many things got in the way of the hike being done months ago had to do with the powers-that-be working their magic to align everything just perfectly...because everything was perfect that day including the weather which was perfect with no precipitation or wind. This is a rare event in late fall anywhere in Nova Scotia, especially in Cape Breton.
Grand River Falls
Grand River Falls is located in an area of the island that I'm just starting to really get to know. I call this entire area Framboise but it is actually a number of small communities spread out over a fairly large area. The Trail is about a half hour from the town of St. Peters. The area is quite remote with few houses and few people so I was pretty much guaranteed to get some much needed one-on-one time with nature.

I found the trail entrance without any trouble and it looked surprisingly well-maintained. I parked my car near the main road as I didn't want to chance bringing it onto a poorly-maintained backroad in the middle of nowhere but the trail actually did look good enough to drive on! I put on my hunters orange vest and toque (it was still deer hunting season when I did this hike, so better safe than sorry) and grabbed my sturdy walking stick.

It was easy walking along that old wood road. I had no idea how long it would take me to get to the falls but I figured it would be a while since I couldn't hear any water running. I'm guessing it was about 30 minutes into my walk that I started to hear the roar of water rushing downward and I reached the falls about ten minutes after that.
The falls were nothing like I expected. I had no idea what they were going to look like but I imagined them in a different way. For starters, I didn't think there would be so much water and I didn't think they would be so easily accessible.
The most unique feature about the area around the falls is the salmon ladder that runs alongside the falls. In early summer, salmon can be seen using the ladder which has been in place since the late 1800's and to this day serves the purpose of aiding in the maintenance of the salmon population. I didn't see any salmon on this day but it was still interesting to see it and get an idea of how it works. I later heard that bald eagles are often spotted fishing for their lunch when the salmon arrive so I made a mental note to myself to go back there in the summer.
the salmon ladder
I wandered around taking pictures and familiarizing myself with the area before finding a spot that overlooked the cascading falls and river. I always carefully choose my resting/picnicking spots based on the following criteria:
1) Comfort
2) Scenery
3) Safety
4) Shelter
The spot I picked as my resting place to have my tea and egg salad sandwich fit all my criteria perfectly. It was comfortable, it was surrounded by beautiful, natural scenery, it was safe and it was nicely sheltered out of the wind.
I stayed there for some time taking in that invigorating, fresh air. Winters are long and harsh in Cape Breton and the fall is usually not much better with cold, north-easterly winds and lots of rain so I was very lucky to have been graced with such a warm, sunny day. I let my senses take over. I let my eyes take in the sight before me - trees dancing in a gentle breeze and fresh, clean water cascading downriver through a valley of red, gold and orange fall foliage. I let my nose take in the smell of damp moss and slowly dying forest. I let my hands feel the last remnants of summer around me knowing full well that soon it would be covered in a thick white blanket of snow and ice. I let my ears hear the singing of the birds and rustling of the leaves that would soon fall silent.
I tried to stretch out the hike back to the car for as long as I could, stopping every so often to engage my senses in those tranquil surroundings but, alas, I spotted a glimmer of late afternoon sun hitting the hood of my car in the distance and in a few seconds my late-fall hike, the last real hike of the season, came to an end.
If you've been reading this blog for some time now, you probably know me fairly well or at least well enough to know that just because a hike is completed that doesn't mean my day is completed. I spent the early evening driving around the country back roads of the Framboise area looking for deer and other wildlife. I did see one deer darting across the road but fortunately I didn't see any of those bears that have recently been spotted in the area. I drove around some more admiring the old abandoned country houses that dot many of grown-over fields before driving through L'Ardoise and onto St. Peter's to grab a coffee and make the long drive home along Route 4 and the Bras d'or Lakes. Another trail knocked off that list!
An old Abandoned House


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