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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.