Friday, March 17, 2023

A Fall Trip Around the Cabot Trail that almost didn't Happen

It almost didn't happen. That one thing that I have to do every summer or fall.  The one thing that I've done every year since I was born.  The thing I look forward to every summer.  The quintessential Cape Breton experience.  A time-honored family tradition.  I'm talking about my annual family road trip around the Cabot Trail. 

All summer, I assumed I would, at some point, go around the Cabot Trail but as summer slipped away and fall arrived, it started to look like that might not happen. A  variety of things occurred during those months that threw everything off.  I started a new job, my sister moved home from away and was due to have a baby, a category 2 hurricane struck the island and caused widespread damage and there were some car issues. By early October, it looked like we wouldn't be going around at all.

The weather was nice at the start of October.  So nice that it prompted some discussion about a potential day trip around The Trail amongst my immediate family members.  We set a date.  We would go after all!

We couldn't have picked a better day to do.  Besides the fact that it was a Saturday and I didn't have to work, it was sunny and fairly warm.  We hit all the traditional spots along the way.  Coffee at Robin's Donuts in Bras d'Or, a drive through the pretty town of Baddeck, The Red Barn so the shopaholic in our crew could get their fix and Flora's in Cheticamp, the look-offs in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park and, of course, supper at Coastal in Ingonish. 

After supper, we made the drive around the Keltic Lodge, stopped to check out the gift shop and parked for a little while at Ingonish Beach.  The latter being a request by me so I could admire that beautiful beach and the rolling waves and sip on my post-supper coffee.  I walked to Freshwater Lake, took in one of my favorite views and absorbed it all for a moment knowing that I wouldn't be back until the summer.   

The fall colors are usually at their peak that time of year but, unfortunately, the leaves had already mostly fallen from the trees in the big storm weeks earlier.  That being said, any trip around the Cabot Trail is amazing no matter the season or the conditions.  Being in good company certainly helps make it even better!

Sunday, March 5, 2023

An Amazing Day at Point Michaud Beach

I love Point Michaud.  After all, it's a long, sandy beach in a remote area of beautiful Cape Breton Island and there's nothing I love more than a long, sandy beach all to myself. But, there is one thing I don't love about this beach in particular; the water is always cold!

When I go to Point Michaud Beach, it's to sit in the sand and watch the waves or to walk the many kilometers along its shore. The couple of times I tried to swim there, it was just way too cold.  Sure, many people do swim there but they are local people who are used to the cooler waters of the south coast and many times, they are wearing wetsuits. I'm used to the warm waters of Dominion Beach and Inverness Beach.  Point Michaud Beach is more suited to the surfers who come from all over to surf the ideal conditions the beach is known for.  Sometimes the waves get quite big. I don't surf.  I also don't even put my toes in the water at Point Michaud Beach.  

Than, one day I made a last-minute visit to Point Michaud.  I was camping down the road with my father and when we parted ways to head home, I stopped at the beach to see an old friend who happened to be there that day.  It was a warm sunny day, but I didn't have high hopes of going for a swim.  

"Did you bring your swimsuit?  The water is lovely!" was the greeting I received as my old friend embraced me in the parking lot.   I must have looked at her like she was crazy because she responded with "no really, the water is the warmest It's ever been!".  I had my doubts but I changed into my swimsuit anyway.  I sat on the beach in the warm sun, delaying my entry into what I expected to be chilly water.  When my friend's young granddaughter ran to the water's edge and walked nonchalantly into the water like it was nothing, I began to think that maybe my friend wasn't exaggerating about the water temperature after all.  

I walked to the water's edge and watched the little girls jump and dive and splash around. The water was so clear.  I'd never seen it so clear before!  I slipped my sandals off and dipped my toes in the water.  It felt very warm but I knew that wasn't enough to gauge how warm it would be further out.  I slowly entered the water inch by inch.  It didn't get colder.  Eventually I was up to my waist in warm water that is usually the norm for the other side of the island.  I ducked and surprisingly, it wasn't a shock because, lo and behold, the water was so warm!  

I stayed in that water for over an hour riding the gentle waves, watching the surfers riding waves on their boards nearby.  Even in water over my head, it was clear, I could see straight to the bottom.  It was almost like swimming in the Caribbean Sea.  I'd never seen such beautiful conditions at Point Michaud before and boy, was I glad I took my swimsuit along on that camping trip! When the clouds rolled in and the air cooled, the water stayed warm but I knew it was time to get out of the water and dry off before the rain came. 

The rain did come just as I was driving along the coast headed for home.  I made a little detour to St. Peters to grab a coffee for the road and made that long, scenic drive down Route 4 along the Bras d'Or Lakes.  I'll never assume that the water is always cold at Point Michaud again because I hope to have a repeat of that amazing day next summer and every summer after!

Sunday, February 12, 2023

An Almost Ruined Beach Day Turned out to be one of the Best Days all Summer

The summer of 2022 was a strange one.  I was excited that Covid-19 was no longer a threat and the government had loosened restrictions so I was looking forward to getting back to beach days, road trips and camping excursions.  However, high gas prices, soaring inflation and work restrictions prevented me from having the summer I dreamed of while I was in pandemic isolation for the previous two years. 

Despite the hurdles, I vowed to take at least one day trip to my favorite beach, Inverness Beach in Western Cape Breton. I started to plan early because I knew I had a small window to work with when the weather would be nicest and I would have some time away from my work. I didn't care if anyone came with me or not so I didn't even try to plan the trip around anyone else's schedule.  I eyed the second week of August, I gave notice to my employer that would be taking a few days off and I got everything ready to go at a moment's notice.  My logic was that one of the days I choose to take off would be nice and I would be able to monitor the weather and head out on my way at a moment's notice when the winds and skies were just right.  Why plan a beach day if clouds, rain and wind is forecast?  I wanted the day to be perfect because I only had one chance. 

I chose the day and that day started out wonderfully.  Sunny, warm, not a cloud in the sky, at least not until I started getting closer to my final destination.  Grey clouds were moving in, the wind picked up and raindrops started to appear on my windshield. I pulled up to the beach hoping that at least the water was warm enough to keep some people swimming despite the weather but, much to my disappointment, everyone was leaving and soon there was no one left on the beach.  The surf was up and even the lifeguards didn't look like they wanted to be there.  

Thinking my beach day was ruined, I decided to try and make the best out of out anyway.  After all, I drove over two hours to get there. I stopped for a coffee in the little town of Inverness before driving toward Cheticamp. As I drove along the coast, the sky started to clear and the sun came out.  I saw cars parked along the road to Chimney Corner which I thought was strange since it had just been raining. I drove down to check it out anyway and a good thing I did; the beach was beautiful!  Low tide, no waves and all sand.  This beach is a little more sheltered than Inverness and that was my theory as to why it was so nice there.  The water was incredibly warm.  I stayed there in those warm waters for several hours, content that I got my beach day after all.  Chimney Corner is a close second when it comes to favourite beaches in this area of Cape Breton so I was perfectly fine spending the afternoon there.  

 Later that afternoon after I had walked the beach and dried off, I continued on to Cheticamp where I grabbed some Nachos from Le Gabriel and ate them on the boardwalk.  I looked off in the distance and could see nothing but clear skies towards Inverness.  The sunsets in Cheticamp are nice but the sunsets in Inverness are incredible. Inverness sunsets are one of my life's greatest joys and that day was my only chance to enjoy one that summer. I headed west and back to where I started.  I walked up to the edge of the dunes to check out the conditions of the beach and couldn't believe what I was seeing.  The seas were calm, the tide was fairly low, the horizon was clear and there were dozens of people in the water!  I didn't argue with myself for long.  I knew it was late and had to hit the road soon but I couldn't pass up this opportunity.  I grabbed my beach gear, changed into my swimsuit again, found a place in the soft, warm sand to make my base and immersed myself into that sparkling water.  The water was so clear I could see right to the bottom.  There's one thing I love more than Inverness sunsets; swimming toward those last rays of the sun and feeling as if I'm the last person on earth, one with the mighty ocean...and that's exactly what I did until the sky turned dark and the air turned cool and I made the long drive home. 

Saturday, January 28, 2023

A Time-Honored Tradition

I have many traditions.  I guess you could say I'm just a traditional person.  I often reminisce because I have so many great memories and I've been lucky to have had many different experiences.  One of the events I look forward to now year after year is not something I always did. No, it's not something from my childhood or from my college days.  It's a tradition that started not long after I moved back home after being away in another province for more than a decade. This year was year seven for this special tradition.

I love camping.  My father loves camping. I love the great outdoors.  My father loves the great outdoors. I tend to head to Ingonish in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park to camp.  Dad tends to head to Framboise on the south coast of the island to do his camping. Somewhere along the line, we came up with the idea that we should do a father-daughter camping trip.  We chose a lovely, remote spot on top of a hill overlooking the ocean at Ferguson Beach near Framboise.  That was over 4 years ago.  This summer, we embarked on our seventh annual father-daughter camping trip to that exact same spot. 

We had planned to go earlier this year because our previous trips were taken in late August and early September when the nights are cold and damp. However, due to the extreme heat and humidity we experienced this past summer, the trip ended taken place at roughly the same time as usual.  Fortunately, there was a couple of days of clear skies, zero precipitation and warm nights forecast for the last week in August so we jumped at the opportunity and weren't disappointed with the outcome!

There's only one thing I don't like about our camping spot; lugging all our gear up that hill!  But, I have to say, the effort definitely pays off.  The views are spectacular and leaving the car at the bottom of the hill far from our site gives a feel of roughing it in the middle of nowhere.  Just the way I like my camping!

Once we have all our gear on the hill, we get to work.  Dad likes to get everything set up before doing anything else so the hardest part is out of way so we can relax for the rest of the trip.  I agree. Nothing worse than setting up a tent at dusk with the flies eating you alive!

It took a little longer to get set up than usual and this time, it was my fault!  Missing tent pegs and even missing parts from various tents.  I don't have a lot of space at my little apartment to lay things out and get organized.  I took my camping gear out from under the bed back in June and put in the trunk of my car .  I assumed all the parts were there.  Instead, I had 4 tents and various parts for 4 different tents but none of the tents had all their parts. Catch my drift?  I had to improvise and this came after I had set up and tore down all four tents.  It turned out ok but we suffered sunburns and horsefly attacks during the ordeal!

 There was still plenty of daylight left after we had a quick lunch. We were tired and worn out from working in the sun so we went for a drive along the coast to see if we could spot any wildlife or see if anyone was fishing in the brooks. Not a soul around except for road workers but we did spot a hawk and a bald eagle. 

 With sunset approaching, we decided to take a quick hike up the beach before getting the fire ready and settling in for the night with some beer, snacks and stargazing. We only made it so far because the tide was high and we were unable to cross to the other side of the stream that opens up to the ocean.  When the tide is low, there's very little water in this stream, but such was not the case on this day! We sat for a bit and listened to the ocean and the seals that were making a lot of noise on a nearby island. The island is quite a distance away but when the wind blows the right way, you can hear what sounds like hundreds of them barking. 

Back at camp, the sun was just starting to set.  I took a seat on my beach chair to get ready to enjoy the show.  Waves rolling ashore, a gentle, warm breeze and a roaring fire under a clear, star-lit sky.  It doesn't get much better than that!

I slept like a baby that night. I don't know if it was the soothing nature sounds that lulled me into a deep sleep or the fact that it was so warm that night.  I fell asleep quickly and didn't wake up until the crack of dawn. 

For once, it wasn't cold and damp first thing in the morning!  That's one of my least favourite things about camping! I took an early morning stroll to the shore to watch the sun come up and listen to the birds chirping.  These are things I can't enjoy at home so I cherish them every chance I get! Before I poured my cereal into a bowl, I went down over the hill where I spotted a lush blueberry patch the day before.  I scoped up a handful to jazz up my otherwise plain bowl of cereal. I could live outdoors!

We took another walk along the shore in the other direction and sat by the river in the sun while we enjoyed some cold beers.  Tearing down the tents is always faster than putting them up so, in no time, we had everything packed up and in the cars.  We always part this way; Dad heads towards Framboise to look for wildlife and fish the brooks and I head towards St. Peter's for coffee.  On this day, the temperatures were climbing into the mid-20s so I took the long way and made a stop at Point Michaud Beach.  I rarely swim at this beach as the water temperature is usually much colder than what I'm used to on this side of Cape Breton Island. However, on this day, the water temperature was a beautiful 21 degrees Celsius.  I spotted a friend walking through the parking lot and she confirmed it for me; "the water is lovely with a gentle wave". Good thing I brought my swimsuit!  

She was right, the water was lovely. I stayed in for about an hour and reluctantly dried off when the air started to cool in the late afternoon. Well, I think you know by now what came next if you've been following this blog and my trips to Framboise!  Coffee in St Peter's and the long drive home on Route 4 along the scenic Bras d'Or Lakes.  Another one ticked off my summer 2022 bucket list. 

Saturday, January 21, 2023

A Cape Breton Family Road Trip

"I'll only go for a drive if it's not for too long" was the response my sister gave my father when he proposed we go on a father/daughters day trip somewhere on Cape Breton Island.  Years ago, my father loved going for long drives but now that he prefers to just go from point A to point B, he seemed pleased with this.  "We'll, where would you girls like to go?". My suggestions of Inverness or Ingonish was too far and my sisters suggestion of Louisbourg was shot down because it's always too cold and foggy there.  We all agreed that there wasn't much to do in Baddeck that time of year and The Cabot Trail was out of the question!  There really was only one other area of the island we could go.  Well, it was actually several areas that were interconnected via a series of back roads.  Dad suggested the route.  He said it wasn't a long drive.  He was wrong. 

With no destination in mind, we just drove and ended up on the 125 Bypass and than onto route 4.  I think Dad was hoping we would go to his favourite spot in Framboise but instead of keeping straight in East Bay, we decided to head towards Iona.  Not a bad choice; it's a beautiful drive through Northside East Bay, Eskasoni and Grand Narrows.  However, in Eskasoni, we found ourselves unsure of where to go next. 

"How about we take the ferry at Little Narrows, drive up the Trans Canada Highway and take the Turn-off to Orangedale, drive through Marble Mountain and stop in St Peter's for supper before taking the back way home through Framboise" dad suggested.  "It shouldn't be too long of a drive" he reassured my than 7-months pregnant sister who made it clear she was not in the mood for a terribly long day on the road. 

I love the drive through Northside East Bay and Eskasoni in the fall when the leaves are starting to change.  Really, any drive along the Bras d'Or Lakes is nice any time of year!  We passed through Eskasoni and almost made it to our first destination when we met a road block. Odd since we did not see any signs indicating there was a detour ahead. A road maintenance worker  confirmed that yes we indeed had to turn back the way we came. I remember many years ago a friend pointed out that I don't pay enough attention to road signs.  I guess the same can be said for my father and my sister.  None of us noticed the sign 15 kilometres back that warned of a road block ahead.  There was even a big flashing arrow pointing to where we needed to go to make the detour around the area where the work was being done. 

We finally made it to Grand Narrows and Iona.  We took a little break to enjoy the views from the high parking lot at the Highland Village Museum before moving on.  Once we made it across Little Narrows on the car ferry, we drove west along the Trans Canada Highway before making the turnoff towards Orangedale and Marble Mountain. 

The road that goes through Marble Mountain and area has been described as one of the worse on the island and we discovered that that was indeed true!  Potholes so big I thought the car would fall apart or we would end up in the ditch trying to get around them!  

Somehow, we made it across that bumpy old road intact and drove into the pretty little town of St. Peters. At Louie's Cosy Corner, we sat down to a hearty meal and relaxed before making the final leg of the journey.  We had two options to choose from: head down Route 4 along the Bras d'Or Lakes or take the "back way" through one of the most rural areas of the island through Grand River, Franboise, Forchu and Gabarus. We choose the back way.  Why not at that point.  We had already been on the road much longer than we intended so why not make the most of it?

We stopped at one of our favorite beaches and stretched our legs near Grand River. It's so peaceful in this part of the island.  All you can hear is the wind howling through the trees, the seagulls squawking  and the waves crashing ashore. We took our time going over that incredibly bumpy highway known as the Fleur de Lis Trail (it was almost as bad as the road going through Marble Mountain) and watched for deer and other animals that often come out in the early evening. 

It was dark when we got home. Tired we were but also satisfied with the lovely day spent together.  After all, with a new baby and winter on the way, it could be a while before we get another chance to hit the road together!



Tuesday, December 13, 2022

The Forgotten Beach - A Day at Black Brook Beach

I first started going to Ingonish as a child but I really started spending a lot of time there when I was a teenager and a friend of mine had a camper parked at the Broad Cove Campground. That was my first real introduction to the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. I went back and forth to that camper for several summers before my parents bought one and parked it a few lots away on that same campground.  That family I had been spending summers with prior to that had moved away and no longer came to Broad Cove but I continued to go and have been going there every year since. 

I remember the first time I went to Black Brook Beach.  My friends mother packed us all into the truck and drove ten minutes north into the National Park between Broad Cove and Neil's Harbour.  Of course, having never been there before, I thought we were going to take a dip in a freshwater brook!  There is a brook there with freshwater that leads to the ocean which is lined by one of the most beautiful little beaches I had ever seen. 

For many years,  I returned to that beach but, for some reason, I stopped going and started swimming at other area beaches like Ingonish Beach and North Bay. I think it was a partially because more people started going there so it got quite crowded and the beach was getting smaller and smaller every year so there was less space on it. 

I don't know for sure how long I stayed away from Black Brook but I'd say it was at least 15 years. That streak was broken this year when I finally returned to my once favourite beach and I'm sure glad I did!

I picked up a friend at the Joyful Journey's campground in Jersey Cove and headed to Ingonish for the day.  Our intention was to swim at The Point as I've had luck there recently.  It's calm, it's sandy and I rarely see jellyfish there.  However, on this day, it was calm and sandy but it was polluted with jellyfish!  We headed to Ingonish Beach to check it out and alas, polluted with jellyfish too!  North Bay was too rough and covered in seaweed.  

Defeated, I suggested we try one last place, my old favourite, Black Brook.  When we arrived, the parking lot was almost empty which was a good sign especially since it was high tide and there would be very little space on the beach. 

Things looked decent from the parking lot.  The water looked clear, there was a gentle rolling wave and there were a few people in the water.  However, I couldn't tell if there were any jelly fish lurking on the surface!  Upon closer inspection, I saw none so the remaining test was the water temperature.  


 We set up on the beach and stripped down to our swimsuits.  I put my toes in first.  It felt warm.  I inched in a little more.  It still felt warm.  I beckoned for my friend to join me and, reluctantly, she did.  She found it cold.  I'm sure I have a higher tolerance for ocean water as it always seems like everyone else finds it cold!  I dove in. It was warm.  She dove in and found it just tolerable.  Nevertheless, we enjoyed swimming in those clear waters for the rest of the afternoon. 

When my friend complained about her legs being numb and headed to shore, I stayed in the water for about another hour.  I could have stayed longer if I hadn't gotten so hungry.  The option to eat out is always there while on road trips around Cape Breton and there are quite a few amazing restaurants around the Ingonish area.  However, I prefer my old standby when the weather is nice and I prefer to be outdoors by the ocean; an egg sandwich, yogurt and granola bar.  This has been my standard beach meal since I can remember.  It serves me well.  Filling and healthy. 

 When the clouds started rolling in, the wind picked up and it looked like we might get a rain shower, we packed everything up and headed for the shelter of the car just in time to miss the inevitable.  When we reached North Bay, the rain had stopped and we went for an evening stroll along that long beautiful beach before making the long journey back to the campground in Jersey Cove.  

I prefer staying in a tent when I camp but a camper trailer is the next best thing.  It's closer to nature than my apartment in town. We ate some snacks and sat around a campfire before the distant thunder sounded like it was getting closer.  I slept like a baby to the sound of crickets, thunder and the water rolling ashore at the beach nearby. In the morning, I watched some hummingbirds feeding on the deck and a bald eagle soaring above. The drive home wasn't as peaceful as the drive the night before.  It was a workday for most people and everyone was heading to jobs and appointments in the city.  But that's ok because I had the memories of the day and night before to think about as I drove back into civilization.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Afternoons Spent in the Ocean are the Best Part of Summer

Back in early July, many parts of the world were baking under extreme heat warnings while here in Atlantic Canada, temperatures were still in the single digits, the north winds were howling and rain was an almost daily disappointment. I've always said the best thing about living on Cape Breton Island is our beautiful summers, however, early in the summer of 2022, it didn't look like we would have a summer at all! Than, all of a sudden, it hit. 

Extreme heat, record-breaking temperatures and humidity, blaring sun and long stretches without precipitation. That was the weather we were blessed with (or cursed with depending on how you feel about this type of extreme weather) for weeks starting in mid-July.  People around me complained endlessly about the heat and some even wished for snow. I thought they were foolish because I, personally, was loving it! Perhaps that was because I was lucky enough to be able to spend most of my afternoons at the beach, in the ocean with a refreshing sea breeze and the cool waters of the North Atlantic caressing my skin. 

 I've always loved the ocean.  I love the ocean in all seasons.  I love being by the ocean.  I love being in the ocean. I love everything about the ocean.  I love the smell of it, the sound of it, the feel of it, the look of it. I even love the taste of it! When that salt water hits my lips, I'm taken back to my childhood when mom would coax us kids out of the water to eat our lunch. With fingers wrinkled from hours spent in the water, the salt on those wrinkled fingers would transfer to our peanut butter sandwiches to give a delicious sweet and salty taste that only people who grew up along the ocean can relate to. 

I love the ocean so much that I have a hard time understanding how anyone else couldn't love it.  I wondered about this a lot this summer when I listened to the people around me complaining about the heat and how they had nowhere to go to escape it.  It boggled my mind how they could be only minutes away from the world's biggest swimming pool and not want to jump in that clear, blue water.  

I also learned that there are people who don't like the feel of sand between their toes.  I'm sorry, what?!? One of my life's greatest pleasures is taking my shoes off and burying my feet in the sand. A close second would be walking barefoot in the surf. But none of these things compare to being completely immersed in the ocean, at one with that immense body of water. 

 Dominion Beach is my beach of choice when it comes to escaping the heat close to home. It's only a ten-minute drive from my house, it's beautiful, it's long and it's sandy. I've been going there since I was a kid. I'm 42 now so I've been going there for a long time.  It changed a lot since the 80s when I first started going there. 

I don't go to the area where the lifeguards are.  It's too noisy and crowded there.  I park in the parking lot on the other end, walk over the bridge and walk along the boardwalk to the end and another few minutes along the beach until I reach my spot.  It's a lobster trap that washed up in a storm a few years back.  It's position mid-beach is the perfect location for my afternoon swims.  I found a piece of plywood that also washed up in a storm and placed it on top of the lobster trap to make a comfortable bench.  

On days when it's more crowded, like on weekends or holidays, I'll reach my spot to find someone else sitting there. As much as I love it, I never ask them to move, instead I'm happy to see someone enjoying it as much as I do.  I take a seat on the large piece of driftwood that's nearby and is equally comfortable when my spot is occupied. 

It doesn't take me long to settle in. I don't take any of that bulky, colorful beach gear with me.  No umbrellas, tents, toys, chairs or kitchen sink. Just myself, a towel and an Alexander Keith's.  My main goal is getting into that water as soon as possible!  No wasted time spent sitting on the beach working on my tan or engaging in small talk with the regulars.  Time wasters, I say!  Plenty of time for beach gossip after the sun goes down or the bay freezes over. The window in which I can enjoy being in the ocean is much too small to spend on shore. Mid-July to early October if I'm lucky. 

 Whether the water is clear and calm or rough and murky, I take it as it is. When it's clear, I watch the crabs and lobsters inching closer to my feet for an inspection.  Sometimes I let them grab them, other times I keep moving away as I watch in amusement as they try to catch me. When it's calm, I lay on my back and enjoy a relaxing float while watching the clouds go by above.  When it's rough, I let the waves push me ashore to be sucked back out to catch another one. If the water is murky, I'm not as relaxed as usual.  I like to see what's around me especially when we now know there are Great White sharks lurking close to Cape Breton's shores. 

When I've had enough, I take my place on my makeshift bench and have a cold one while the hot sun dries me off and the sound of the ocean lulls me into a relaxed state of being where I forget about the problems of the world for a little while.  They float away with the breeze.  I'm usually shaken out of that state by a seagull impatiently squawking at my feet looking for a handout. 

When the sun sinks low in the sky, the air cools and the mosquitoes come out to play, that's when I know it's time to head home. Reluctantly.  Sometimes I return at sunset to watch the last rays of the sun slip into the horizon while my feet soak in the warm surf.  Sometimes I just stay home and wait with anticipation for my next trip to the beach.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

A Night in Jersey Cove, Cape Breton

Jersey Cove is a beautiful community on Cape Breton Island.  It's close to everything, it has mountains, hills, ocean, forest, hiking trails and scenic look-offs.  However, I never really spent much time there until recently.  Sure, as a child, I visited the Giant MacAskill Museum on the Englishtown side of the ferry and beachcombed along the beach near the ferry docks but on most of my visits to this pretty little community, I was just passing through to get somewhere else.  Most of my visits consisted of waiting for the car ferry to pick me up and take me across the little channel to the highway on the other side that would take me to Ingonish or around the Cabot Trail. 

I had the chance to spend a little bit of time in Englishtown this summer.  Well, it was Jersey Cove on the other side of the channel to be exact. I got on the ferry and instead of driving through  to go somewhere else, I stopped at the Joyful Journeys campground and spent an evening with a friend who recently parked her camper trailer there for the summer. 

I'd been to that campground a few times in the past to visit friends of friends on the way home from Ingonish. I admit, it didn't do much for me but to be fair, whenever I stopped there, it was dark and the visit only lasted 20 minutes at most. I didn't seem like my kind of place.  It looked small, there was no sandy beach and the trailers looked they were too close together for my liking.  I'm used to camping at Broad Cove in Ingonish where there are lots of trees, a long sandy beach and plenty of space for privacy between lots. 

The visit I enjoyed this past July was different from the past ones.  It was daytime and I had more time to explore and actually enjoy it. 

A trip to a nearby beach that I never new existed was one of the highlights of the trip!  I love finding new beaches and this was a nice one, too! A walk along the shore, a drive around the area (there's a hiking trail I never knew about  so, of course, I made a mental note to check it out next time!), watching some adorable humming birds in the bird feeders, watching eagles soar above the water, stargazing on a picnic table by the shore and relaxing around a campfire before turning in for the night were some of the other highlights.  

 Now that I know there's more to Jersey Cove than I thought, I'll stop there more often and enjoy its natural wonders!

Sunday, October 16, 2022

A Weekend at Rita's Retreat

As a child, I got a kick out of driving up the long driveway in Coxheath, Cape Breton and admiring that beautiful home with the well-manicured lawn and indoor swimming pool. "look, I think that's her in the kitchen" my mother quipped one day.  "Her" being renowned Cape Breton singer/songwriter Rita MacNeil.  Every time we went for a family Sunday drive, us kids would be in the back seat chiming "can we drive around Rita's mansion?". And that's what we would do. No one seemed to mind us taking a little peak.  Just a young, nosy family out for a drive, trying to catch a glimpse of a local celebrity.

 Years later, Sunday drives with my parents were replaced by coffee runs and aimless road trips with friends.  For many years, I didn't lay eyes on that beautiful home in Coxheath.  It wasn't until June of 2022 that I would get to see the house again and even sleep inside! 

I received a call from my friend inviting me to a party that was taking place at an Airbnb in Coxheath. After not getting out much for more than 2 years due to Covid, I jumped at the chance to get out of the house and do something different and see some people I haven't seen in a long time. Curious as to where exactly the Airbnb was so I would easily find it when the time came, I searched for the address on Google Maps. That's when I learned that I would be staying at that house I used to beg my parents to drive by on those long ago family drives!

I drove up to the house and it was almost exactly as I remembered it. I couldn't wait to get inside! I always imagined what it would look like inside and I have to say, I was quite impressed!  As an Airbnb, Rita's Retreat has everything!  Well, first of all it's huge!  The main house where I stayed had several bathrooms, a games room, a huge fully-equipped kitchen, dining room, piano room, sun porch, and large patio. However, the best part was the indoor swimming pool!

There was drinks and pizza around the dining room table before venturing to the bottom of the hill to sit around a campfire. Even though it was quite late when I returned to the house, I couldn't resist a late-night swim in the beautiful pool. 

All in all, I strongly recommend anyone local looking for a beautiful place to host an overnight event like a family reunion or any large families traveling in Cape Breton to book this amazing property but I hear it's quite popular and can book up quickly!

Sunday, September 4, 2022

Book Review - Secrets of a River Swimmer

Secrets of a River Swimmer

A Novel by S. S. Turner


My intention was to finish this book sooner, but things didn't work out that way!  I did start reading it as soon as I got it back in March and at about the half-way mark, things started going a little haywire as life sometimes has a tendency to do.  I liked it, it caught and kept my interest until I was forced to put it down for a while. I finally finished it...and here is what I thought.

Be warned that you'll need to pay attention to catch onto what's going on at the start.  Once you realize that the entire story is an eclectic, playful and sometimes dark mix of reality and fantasy.  There's no right or wrong way to interpret what's going on; I think the main objective of the book is to realize that not everyone's life is as rosy as it appears and behind closed doors, everyone has their issues.  I think it can be interpreted in many ways, but that's the gist.

Without going into too much detail and spoiling the book for you, it's basically about the main character who is having some issues in life and contemplates ending it all before jumping into a river and into a world of fantasy where he meets other characters much like him and others with questionable motives.  With a goal in mind, he sets out on the path to something better.

I liken this story to something like Alice in Wonderland without the children's elements. It's quirky, it's funny, it's relatable and it's sometimes sad. I loved the various pop culture references throughout that brought some familiarity to the overall picture. As you follow the main character's adventure, you'll be taken to unexpected places, you'll meet fascinating characters and you'll learn new life lessons and things to ponder in your own life.

My final thoughts? I loved it!  Reading this book helped me realize that I'm not alone in any suffering I experience and there is a light at the end of the tunnel if you just seek what it is you need to get through it.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

A Hike Down The Long Road to Caplin Cove

Another Great Cape Breton Hiking Adventure Before the Summer Heat

But First, the Long Drive on that Familiar (and Bumpy) Road - The Fleur de Lis Trail

I know that road in rural Cape Breton like the back of my hand.  Probably not as well as my father knows it as he's been driving it weekly for the past 60-some years, but I know it quite well. On this particular day, driving along the Fleur de Lis Trail from the exit from the Sydney Bypass (or 125 as it's often referred to), through Marion Bridge, Gabarus, Forchu, Framboise St, Esprit, L'Archeveque and Grand River felt like deja vu because I had just done the exact same drive less than a week earlier.

Again, I met my friend in the parking lot of the big church in Grand River and we drove together to Caplin Cove. Well, not exactly to Caplin Cove but to the road leading to Caplin Cove. The road is not well-traveled which means it's in very poor condition. We drove a little bit and when the conditions deteriorated, we parked and hiked the rest of the way. But that was the intention of the day anyway; to go hiking!

A Long, Difficult Trek to the Coast

I hoped we would be able to drive in at least a kilometer or two before the road got bad.  I knew the road was about 7 kilometers in so that would make the trek 14 kilometers total and I wasn't sure if we would have the time.  Alas, we had no choice.  My car wasn't going any further on that road! 

We coated ourselves in sunscreen and bug spray and grabbed our gear and a few beers to have on the beach when we arrived and headed off on that old wood road into the unknown. 

The walking was good for a while and then I saw it in the distance; a huge puddle.  Actually, it was more like a lake right in the middle of the road. I just knew by the size of it and how it went clear across the entire road that we have to do some bushwhacking to get around this one. We carefully made our way through the bushes ad swarms of flies and emerged with wet feet, bug bites and branches stuck in our hair. I hoped this would be the only such obstacle we would face.  Boy, was I wrong. 

Long story short, there ended up being 18 more large puddles like this, some even worse.  After several hours of navigating around them, we emerged at the coast soaking wet, full of mud and covered in bug bites.  


Was it worth it?

Despite being tired and battered, I instantly knew we made the right decision to do this hike when I laid eyes on the beautiful scene before me.  I forgot how beautiful this rugged, remote coast was and just wanted to see what was beyond every bend! But first, we needed to rest.  I pulled two Alexander Keith's out of my backpack and we sat barefoot in the soft sand and enjoyed some cold beer.

When we felt sufficiently rested, we started hiking to the left side of the beach.  One bald eagle.  Two bald eagles. Three...four...five...six bald eagles!  Seems that we happened onto a bald eagle colony.  There were old ones and young ones, perhaps generations of a family not used to seeing people in their peaceful, remote hideaway. 

The wind was strong enough that I could feel a cool mist coming off the ocean as I trekked around bend after bend, curious to know what was behind each one.  We found a little beach at a point where it didn't look like a good idea to go any further and ate our lunch. Because it took so long to hike to Caplin Cove and we still had a long hike back, we had to cut our visit short to be out before dark. I took one last look at that incredible vista knowing that it could be another ten years before I lay eyes on it again. 

The Long Walk Back to Civilization 

If getting around the large puddles wasn't hard enough, the mosquitoes were out in full force as w started the journey back to the car. I always said it seems like the hike back is always quicker than the hike there. Fortunately, this seemed to be the case on this hike!  Or perhaps we just learned how to better navigate those puddles. 

In what seemed like no time, we were back in one piece despite being sunburned, bitten and exhausted. I dropped my friend off at her car and, following tradition, took the long way home with a detour through St. Peters where I grabbed a Timmie's coffee for the road. Now, onto swimming season.  Hiking will take a backseat until late September but I'm looking forward to two months of sand, sun and vitamin sea!

Monday, July 4, 2022

Summer Has Arrived in Cape Breton!


Outdoor Adventures, Sunburns and Bug Bites 

Enjoying some Hiking in the first Days of Summer Before it gets too Hot

Summer is finally here on Cape Breton Island but it's still cool enough to enjoy a few hikes before it gets too hot and my outings turn into lazy beach days swimming in the cool Atlantic Ocean rather than days trekking through the woods in the hot sun. 

Hiking in the summer is doable but the combination of heat, sun and bugs can make it unbearable at times.  I prefer to save my big hikes for the late spring and fall.  Recently I embarked on two amazing hikes; one to a location I had never hiked before and the other to a location I haven't hiked in many years and have been longing to get back to.

But First, Lunch

The first hike was supposed to be to the place that I had been before but that day turned out to be too windy for a coastal hike.  I met my friend in the parking lot of the church in Grand River, Richmond County.  Past Gabarus, Forchu and Framboise but before Point Michaud and St. Peter's for those of you are vaguely familiar with the area.  For those of you who aren't, it's in southern part of Cape Breton Island in an area off-the-beaten-tourist-path. 

We turned onto a remote gravel road and parked by a very old farmhouse because it looked like a nice spot to have our lunch before heading out on the hike. We sat near the weather-worn steps of the old homestead.  

The house had to be close to 150 years old. I doubt anyone has been inside since the family packed up and vacated it many, many moons ago, no doubt for better employment opportunities in a big city somewhere in New England, Ontario or western Canada. Perhaps their grandchildren and great-grand-children don't even know the old property still exists.  The treasures they would find within!  A part of their heritage if only they knew about it! After tea and sandwiches, we walked around the old property and found some interesting old farming equipment and some things we weren't quite sure what they were. 


Exploring a New-to-me Trail

The trailhead for the hike of the day was only a short distance up this gravel road.  We parked and hiked into the forest.  I had no idea how long the trail was and there really wasn't any point in asking my friend because every trail is "just a short one" even if it's 10 or 20 kilometers long. I was ok with that.  I had nowhere to be, I had nothing planned for that evening and I was just itching to spend a day in the woods.  After the long winter and the stress of the pandemic, this was long overdue! I didn't care if it took two hours or 20 hours, I was game. 

We walked. And walked some more. All the while catching up on gossip and what has been going on in our lives since we last embarked on a hike the previous fall.  The weather was ideal for hiking.  Warm enough to not need a jacket and cool enough to be comfortable. There was a lovely, steady breeze that kept the flies at bay and the odd light rain shower which were welcome refreshments. 

Finding Paradise By A Lake

Eventually we arrived at a lake where we thought we would sit and enjoy a cold beer. There was nowhere comfortable to sit and the flies were bad near the water so we moved on to the next one.  The next lake was perfect!  There was a little shelter with some seats and a nice breeze that kept the flies away.  

There was a slight but constant ripple on the lake and a haze that the sun's rays just barely poked through.  The trees rustled in that gentle breeze and the sound lulled me into a relaxed state.  The beer also helped. The stillness of the world around me in that moment was so peaceful and the sounds were like the ones you hear on those relaxing yoga soundtracks that city dwellers meditate to after spending 2 hours in rush hour city traffic after a long day at work...but this was the real thing . 

There was no sign of the owners of the nearby boat ramp or the little shelter we were occupying. I'm sure if they magically appeared, they wouldn't mind two women sitting down for a cold one. Around here, they'd probably pull out a chair, start a fire, take out some guitars and invite us to stick around for some more.  But, we were fine just the way we were and for about an hour, we just sat there and took in as much of those sights and sounds as we could. 

We walked for a few more kilometers before reaching an old building perched up high on an embankment.  If we weren't really looking at everything so intently, we might have missed it.  It was dark-coloured and tucked behind some big trees. My friend tried to access it from one end and found a way in.  I went to the other side to check it out but got stuck in some trees and couldn't go any further.  It seemed to be some sort of old workshop.  Like, really old.  Perhaps over 100 years old. I'm not too keen on entering old buildings like that.  I'm always afraid they floor will give out!  I passed on the opportunity to go inside.  


The Home Stretch

We reached the third lake on this hike and took a little break before finishing the last leg of the trail. It was after 6 in the evening when we got back to the car.  The flies were just starting to bite and a heavy rain shower was moving in.  Just in time.  

We parted ways but headed in the same direction.  Instead of leaving the way I came, I took the long way home and made a detour through St. Peter's where I grabbed a Tim's coffee and took my time driving home along the Bras d'Or Lakes. Midway home, I started feeling a burning sensation in my shoulders and my skin was hot to touch.  I pulled over to inspect my "injuries". Sunburn. Great. My advice to you: wear sunscreen when hiking even if it's cloudy and drizzly!


Tuesday, June 14, 2022

With Spring, Comes new Life

The Night Stalker

I thought I was alone but a shadow kept appearing in my peripheral vision.  I could see something watching me from over the sand dunes. When I turned my head to see who or what was watching me, it disappeared behind the dunes.  

I could feel my heart beating faster and I picked up my pace and headed toward the parking lot and the safety of my car.  Whoever or whatever was watching me was following me all the way down the beach.  When I reached the bridge to cross to the parking lot, I heard a scuffle in the darkness not too far away and whatever had been there, took off into the darkness.  

At that point, I knew it had to be some sort of animal.  A coyote? A bobcat? There are no bears here.  I ran the rest of the way to my car, hoping whatever it was wouldn't return to grab me for a late-night snack. 

The Great Reveal

That scary walk on the beach near my house was ten years ago. I've since found out who the beach stalker was and met her and her whole family. Generations of beach stalkers have come and gone since then and I've befriended every single one of them.  And now for the great reveal.....


I know, so scary, right?! 

All joking aside, I managed to laugh at myself when I realized my stalker was just one of these adorable little red foxes.  Over time, they became accustomed to me being around and now they even wait for me to pass by their den every evening during my walk.  Not too many people even know they are there because not too many people go far enough up the beach to reach their home. 

Getting to know the Resident Beach Critters

I lived away for a long time so I wasn't aware of the generations of foxes that made their home on this beach but I managed to piece some of their history together by talking to some long-time beach-walkers.  Through observation, I've learned their habits, where their dens are, when their kits are born and what they like to do for fun. 

Now, I know their routine. Every March, I see Dad fox scurrying around more than usual and digging random holes in the dunes.  Around this time, Mom fox disappears, not to be seen again until sometime in late April or early May. And I wait.  I wait until I see more activity around the den that Dad has been hanging around all winter. I wait for Mom to start coming out of the den more.  When I see her, I know it's almost time.  

And I wait some more.  

I wait to see one little furry face peek out of the entrance...then two....then three....until finally, they emerge into the great big world for the first time! I try to be there, from a safe distance of course, as they see this whole new world for the first time. 

Sometimes, one of them will lock eyes with me and tilt its head sideways in confusion at the strange creature lurking in the shadows. There's always that one brave one in every litter who'll wait until Mom isn't looking before inching closer and closer to me for closer inspection. Sometimes, the little one even tugs at my shoelaces.  But, I never try to touch or interfere. I just watch.

When I first started observing this den, Mom would bark at me and shuffle them all back into the safety of the den if one of her curious little ones got too close. Now that generations of this fox family have come to know me as a regular fixture on that beach.

From Toddlers to Teens to Adulthood

For a few months every Spring and early Summer, I return to the beach almost every night to watch these babies grow from tiny, nursing furballs to adolescents learning how to hunt for rodents. Playtime is my favourite time. 

Their hilarious antics include chasing their tail (and sometimes their siblings' tails), somersaulting over one another, play fighting and stealing anything they can get their little paws on. If someone loses something at the beach, it can usually be found near their den!

As spring turns to summer, the kits get their red coat and grow so big that you can't tell them from their parents. Day by day, I see them less and less until they leave the comfort of their birthplace for good, leaving Mom and Dad fox with another empty den...until spring comes around again.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

How I got that Shot - An Adorable Fox Kitten Seeing the World for the First Time

All through the long, hard Atlantic Canadian winter, I look forward to the hot days of summer, but there's one event that I look forward to before the temperatures start to soar and the summer clothes comes out of storage; the new life that emerges from the sand dune den on the beach near my house. I'm talking about the generations of a fox family who've lived on this beach since I can remember and the little ones that are born there every spring.

The preparations start in early winter. The adult pair start digging various holes around the dunes for potential dens. When Mamma fox disappears and only the dad can be seen foraging for food in the evenings, that's when I know she is getting ready to welcome a new litter of little ones. 

From  mid-April onward, I watch the den like a hawk. Of course, my intentions are not actually that of a hawk.  I'm hunting but not for a meal; I'm hunting for the perfect photo of one of those little ones as they emerge from their warm, dark den and face the big, scary world for the first time. 

In early May, I knew that the a new litter of kittens had been born. The habits of the adults suddenly changed.  They were more watchful and they were hanging out in the same area where the den from last year was. 

One nice evening when I thought one of the little ones might peak out for the first time, I parked myself a little ways from the den where I could see the main entrance.  Mom was sitting nearby and Dad was watching my every move from his perch on a nearby dune. When anyone else goes near this den, the adults bark and give chase. But, they never seem threatened by my presence. They know me and I guess they know I have no ill intentions to their precious little ones. 

It was starting to get dark but I didn't have to wait long to see and capture one of those little cuties peaking out into the world. It happened fast.  Had I turned for a second, I would have missed it.  In an instant, a little face was looking out at me in wonder.  It didn't seem curious about anything else going on around the den - the seagulls flying overhead, ducks floating in the bay - it just seemed completely fixated on me. I snapped the photo and the little one retreated back into the safety of the den.  

I didn't realize the photo had come out so well until I got home.  It's a keeper.  Only taken with a phone so maybe a little out of focus but it certainly captures the cute moment effectively! 

Friday, April 29, 2022

When the Lights go Out, it's just Another Winter Day in Atlantic Canada

Living in Atlantic Canada comes with its unique challenges.  Don't get me wrong, it comes with a lot of perks too. Incredible summers, a laid-back lifestyle, long stretches of sandy beaches, stunning scenery and a way of life like no other anywhere else in the world.  But there's the weather to contend with. The horrible weather that strikes between late September when those tropical storms and hurricanes barrel up the coast and between the months of January and March when we get dumped on with relentless snow, freezing rain and unforgiving winds. As if shoveling snow, navigating a landscape blanketed in a coating of ice or dealing with flooded basements isn't enough, there's the power outages.  I'm not just talking power outages that last a few hours, I'm talking widespread blackouts that leave tens of thousands in the dark and cold for days, sometimes even a week, at a time. 

It's not so bad when it happens in the Fall when the temperatures are above zero. It's downright dangerous when it happens in February as it did recently in Nova Scotia during a severe ice storm.  Yes, for those of you who are not familiar with the weather here, not only does snow and rain fall from the sky, ice does too. And boy, does it do a lot of damage.  Besides coating roads and structures with ice, it coats the power lines and trees with it too. You might look at a picture of this phenomenon we call Silver Thaw and think "wow, that's so pretty the way the tree branches glisten in the sun like that!"  Yeah, pretty alright. Until one of those heavy branches falls onto a power line and knocks it to the ground, plunging everyone on that grid into darkness. 

When news spread that a massive freezing rain storm was headed my way, I wasn't overly concerned. We get a lot of these storms. I'm used to them. In the back of my mind, I knew that a power outage was likely but I felt prepared despite the annoyance it would cause. I didn't realize at that time how much trouble a few hours without power could cause.  That's because it ended up being more than a few hours.  It ended up being four days. 

The day started off like any other February day in this corner of the world.  Cold and damp but with an eerie "calm before the storm" feeling in the air. The winds came up first. Then came the rain. That rain soon turned to a freeing rain that continued for about 48 hours. I lost my electricity around the fifth hour. That evening, it was still gone. Doable as long as the power company was correct and it would be back by the next morning. My fridge was still cold, the temperature in my apartment still livable as long as I kept my winter thermal gear on.  I was managing just fine with candles and flashlights. I sat in the dark watching cars go by on my darkened street.  One car.  Two cars.  Three cars.  100 cars. Wait, did I already see that car 4 times?  It occurred to me that, despite the high price of gas, many people were taking to their cars to get warm and charge their phones. At 1.50 a liter, I wasn't that desperate yet. 

 At around midnight, I tossed two thermal sleeping bags over my bed and crawled in for the long night ahead. Surprisingly, I fell asleep fairly quickly.  When I awoke, the power was still out. And by this time, the power company was saying it wouldn't be back until the next day. That caused some panic.  My first instinct was to save my precious food. With the cost of food these days, who can afford to toss out a fridge full!  I gathered up all my perishables and put them in the car where it was colder for the time being. Breakfast was out of the question. A granola bar for the road. I gathered up a toothbrush and change of clothes and headed for Dad's. 

Dad's power was out too. MacDonald's breakfast it was. MacDonald's had no power either. The mile-long lineup at the Tim Horton's drive-thru meant they had power as long as it didn't go out before we got to the window. We made it. I don't usually eat greasy breakfast sandwiches and sugary donuts but that morning, it hit the spot. 

Dad's power was back on by the time we got back. A drive-by of my neighborhood determined mine was not. Not happy with my day's routine thrown out the window and the inconveniences that come with not having power (the worry of pipes freezing), I retreated to the warmth of Dad's for the day and watched never-ending coverage of Covid-19, Freedom Truckers and the tension building up between Russia and Ukraine. By nightfall, my neighborhood was still in darkness.  I made the decision that it was too cold to stay there that night. I returned home to retrieve more of my belongings and was greeted with a scary surprise. 

 As I walked to my door, I could hear a beeping noise coming from somewhere in the darkness.  As I opened my door, I realized it was coming from inside my apartment. It took a second to realize it was my carbon monoxide detectors going off. If it had just been one going off, I would have thought perhaps the cold was affecting the batteries and triggering a false alarm. But it was two. And they were both doing the universal four quick beeps with a short pause which is the alarm indicating that there's carbon monoxide in the air and to get outdoors and call 911.  My first thought was to alert the other residents on the other side of the house. After frantic knocking, they finally came to the door. They had a gas stove going which I assumed was the cause. The alarms did not sound after the stove was turned off but I was glad I was staying at dad's that night.  It would be warm and I'd have the peace of mind in case there was danger present. 

I still felt uneasy when I returned home the next morning to check on things but everything seemed fine and the alarms weren't going off. The power company updated the date my service would return; the next evening at 11 PM. I gathered up more provisions and headed back to Dad's. 

That evening when I returned to check on things, I noticed that a mildewy smell was starting to set in.  By this time, it was so cold and damp in my apartment that I could see my breath.  The power company was now saying the power might not be back at 11 PM the next evening but the afternoon on the following day. They ran into unforeseen issues. I was losing my patience. 

After four long days, the lights came back on, the furnace kicked in and I was able to return home.  And yes, I shake my head and wonder why I go through this year after year for the last 41 years. You're probably wondering why anyone would choose to stay in a climate like this when there are so many other places to live that aren't buried in snow or covered in ice for half the year. Cape Breton summer, that's why! I endure this every winter because I know a Cape Breton summer awaits after the long cold and darkness.  If you've never experienced a Cape Breton summer, you should.  And maybe you'll never leave once you experience those long hot days by the sea and warm summer nights that are like none other I've experienced anywhere else. But you better have some long johns, some patience and some thick skin!


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