Friday, November 25, 2016

Broad Cove Camping Memories

Last year I didn't get to do a whole lot of camping because I was working all summer. Things worked out a little differently this summer and for the first time in over two years, my dusty camping gear came out of storage and I was finally able to indulge in one of my favourite pastimes. In fact, it seems like I spent the better portion of my summer in a tent. First it was those two freezing nights in Engishtown, followed by four nights at Broad Cove Campground in Ingonish, four more days in Cheticamp while attending a family reunion and two more nights at Broad Cove. But it's always my camping trips at Broad Cove that I treasure most. I know that campground like the back of my hand. And I should know it well because I've been going there every summer since I was kid. When I sit at the picnic table at lot 87 and stare up at the night sky, it feels like I am twenty years in the past and a teenager again. I feel so alive and so free. Nothing ever changes in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park and that is what I love about it. Broad Cove Campground stays the same too...well for the most part. I noticed this year that some of the bathrooms were recently painted, the benches on top of the hill by the beach have been moved and a new path created to get to the beach due to some erosion happening there but other than that, it hasn't changed since the first time I camped there more than two decades ago.

Those four nights I spent by myself at Broad Cove were pure bliss.  While the idea of sleeping in a tent sounds awful to most of my friends, I would sleep in a tent 365 days a year if the weather on the East Coast would allow it.  I love the sound of leaves rustling in the trees, waves rolling ashore,  coyotes howling at the edge of the woods, crickets chirping near the lake, and birds singing at first light. I even love the sound of rain landing on the top of the tent and sometimes I am lucky enough to hear the footsteps of an animal creeping around my tent.  More times than I can count, those eerie footsteps have led to impromptu snapshots of moose, coyotes and foxes coming in for a closer inspection of my tent.  I also love the very early mornings before everyone else is awake and when the dew still covers the tent and grass. There is just something so pure and natural about waking up and walking out into the fresh, pristine wilderness. Even being creative with trying to prepare a decent breakfast in the great outdoors is something I embrace. Knowing I can be self-sufficient and resourceful is like challenging myself to see how well I can do without all those fancy, artificial comforts of home.
Broad Cove 
The summer of '94 was when I first discovered Broad Cove. I stayed with friends who rented a lot there all summer.  I liked it so much, I told the rest of my family about it and we continued going there year after year from that point on. My parents liked it so much, they bought a second-hand RV and starting parking it at lot 63 all summer. Years later, I had my own car and I had become very independent. Not a good mix for a restless teenager looking for adventure. It didn't take long before I started making that two-hour drive to my "summer home" on my own. Many times, I had it all to myself. At 17 or 18 years old, staying in the RV was likened to staying in my very own house. It had everything I needed to allow me to spend every moment I could up there.

I moved away in the fall of 2000 and spent almost every day of that last summer in Cape Breton taking in those long, lazy summer days in Ingonish. It's what I missed most when I moved to another province far away from that beautiful strip of heaven deep in the Highlands National Park. That first year away went by fast and before I knew it, I homeward bound. A few years after I moved away, my parents sold that old RV and I was forced to reunite with an old love; camping. I did a lot of camping as a kid but forgot a lot of things like how to set up a tent and how to start a fire.  I bought my first tent at a local Canadian Tire store for 29.99 and a few other things to get me started and packed up the car and headed to Broad Cove.

The tenting section of Broad Cove Campground is quite different from the RV section. It has more trees, it's less crowded and there are more chances to have encounters with wild animals. I drove around the tenting section for quite a while searching for the perfect campsite - one that was close to the facilities and not too remote but far enough away to be quiet and not drenched in light pollution. I found the perfect site that fit all my criteria; lot 87.  And I survived my first solo camping trip and rekindled my love for roughing it in the great outdoors.

For the next dozen years or so, lot 87 was my second home. My escape. My sanctuary. My little slice of paradise in the Highlands. Every chance I got, I took off and headed for that little grassy spot and set up my temporary home complete with clothesline and dining area. Sometimes I received visitors, both two-legged ones and four-legged ones. Moose, coyote, rabbits and squirrels mostly. The nights at lot 87 were my favorite; laying on the picnic table watching the stars and listening to the distant of the waves crashing onshore. There was nowhere else I would rather be.
Lot 87 at Broad Cove Campground
When I learned I would have the summer off work this year, I immediately decided that much of it would be spent camping at Broad Cove. As soon as I'd see a forecast that promised sun and warm temperatures for a few days straight, I loaded the car and off I went into the wild Highlands of Cape Breton. Although lot 87 will always be my favorite campsite at Broad Cove, I decided to try something different this year. I wanted to be able to have a campfire on my lot. Since lot 87 has no fire pit and is far from the beach, I decided to try out one of the sites at the other end of the campground. As I drove around looking at the sites, lot 171 jumped out at me; spacious, enough trees for a clothesline, close to the bathrooms, close to the beach and equipped with a fire pit. I spent four amazing nights in Broad Cove during that first trip. It didn't rain the whole time and the temperatures stayed warm overnight so I didn't near freeze to death like in Englishtown the week before.  I spent four days all by myself and it was awesome. Nights spent by the fire looking up at the night sky, roasting marshmallows. No television, internet or phone to disturb me. It was heaven on earth.
My set-up at lot 171 at Broad Cove Campground
Whenever I find myself at Broad Cove, I also find myself doing a lot of reminiscing. I hear the children laughing and playing like children do when they are suddenly immersed in the great wild wilderness and when I close my eyes, I can recall a time when that was me and it feels like only yesterday. Nothing ever changes up there. It's easy to go back to that time in my life and I always try to relive those happy days spent on that campground as a kid. I walk along the dark gravel roads at late at night with only the moon and stars to guide me.  I revisit my old "neighborhoods" at lot 63 and lot 87 to see how things are doing. Nothing has changed. I stand and close my eyes and hear the sound of children playing and smell the smoke from their campfire and imagine it is my old summer friends coming to greet me (summer friends are the friends from all over the world who I only saw when I came to Broad Cove every summer). When I open my eyes and come back to reality and see those children sitting around their fire, I wonder if they are the children of any of my old friends. Facebook wasn't a thing back than so as we got older and moved away, I lost track of my old summer friends. I love being brought back to those incredible summers of my childhood and remind myself how lucky I am to have had such an amazing place to spend part of it.

My last stop is always the beach. This is pretty much the only thing that has changed at the campground. The two benches that stood just past the parking lot overlooking the ocean are now gone. Now, you might think that's not a big deal and that the loss of a couple of benches is a minor thing but to me, those benches played a huge role in my time at Broad Cove. I've read entire books on those benches, I drank my first (yes underage) beer on one of those benches. I saw my first unidentified flying object from the bench that was closest to the woods and how could I forget something like that! I've witnessed countless meteor showers, sun rises, sunsets and moon rises from those benches. I slept under the stars on those benches and hid in the wood's whenever I heard the park warden's truck coming after hours. And I stood at alert on top of one of those benches with a giant stick in my hand after being chased by some sort of wild animal late one night. so, as you can see, it was a huge disappointment to see that those benches are no longer there.

The beach is pretty much the same except now you have to go through the woods to get to it. This is no easy feat in the pitch black. I used my cell phone as a flashlight and tried to find my way down the stairs, all the while waiting for a rustle or a growl in the bushes to scare me senseless and send me tumbling. Just like old times. We used to walk the nearby beach path in the middle of the night as kids just to scare ourselves. That night, as a thirty-something adult, I laid down in the cold sand and watched the night sky feeling like I was 16 again. In the back of my mind, I knew I had to pack up my gear and head home the next morning but for those few moments, I imagined I had nothing else to do but lay there without a care in the world. The sound of the waves lulled me into a semi-conscious state while the sound of a lone loon could be heard in the lake behind me. This is my "tropical" paradise.  No palm trees and turquoise water.  Just the rough Atlantic coast, the crisp, clean air and beautiful beaches that stretch for miles.

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