Eagles. We woke up thinking about eagles. Bald eagles. We'd heard there was a pretty good population of bald eagles on Cape Breton. Andy was determined to photograph one in the wild. I grew up with a dad who likes to use his thumb and forefinger to shoot red-tailed hawks in trees during highway driving, so I have cultivated an eye for spotting birds of prey at 65mph.
After a decent breakfast and stocking-up of baked goods at The High Wheeler Cafe in Baddeck, we packed up the car for the day's journey. We needed to cover over 150 miles of driving and include a 3 hour hike so we had to get a move on!
Less than an hour into our drive north, BALD EAGLE! It was just too fast, in midflight, and Andy hadn't yet developed the bald eagle photo protocol, which mainly involved keeping the camera in his lap every time he wasn't driving.
Bald Eagle: 1 We continued on, stopping every so often to take in the beauty and breathe in the coastal air.
We eventually wound our way up the coast to Neils Harbor, a blip on the map just as the Cabot Trail takes a hard left away from the Atlantic Ocean. This little town had heaps of lobster traps:
...a whirligig store:
...and an ice cream shop inside a lighthouse:
Coming from New England, it really felt like home.
Coyotes were also heavily on my mind. Today was the day we would hike the Skyline Trail on the west side of Cape Breton. A lone hiker had been attacked and killed on this trail in 2009 and, for whatever reason, that story stuck with me. Hey, I'm not trying to mess with any Canadian coyotes (even if it's an obvious fact that anything Canadian is infinitely nicer than its American counterpart). So we thought it best to get educated on what to do should we be confronted with a coyote - or any wild animal for that matter. It turns out that coyotes are generally timid toward humans. If one starts following you, a good tactic is to make some noise. Being a man of the modern age, Andy was pretty sure there was an app for that. I laughed, but he actually found a good one that played all kinds of jarring and loud sounds, among them: police sirens, ambulances, fire trucks, horns, dramatic spy music, and church bells. Dramatic spy music was the obvious choice. The drive continued. We headed inland and snaked our way across Cape Breton in a thick fog, surrounded by lush trees.
It rained on and off and we started to wonder if a hike was really in the cards for today. By the time we found the small pull-off to the trail, the rain dwindled and the clouds didn't seem as threatening. But the mud might be something to contend with.
I had read that the skyline trail hike was a must-do, but that weather could really dictate the experience. One reviewer wrote "Best Fog I've Ever Seen!" and said it wasn't worth it. Others wrote that this hike had the best payoff of their lives. Despite the mud and misting rain, we kept on. Other than coyote, hikers see moose and black bear on this trail. Andy had his head on a swivel and his spy music app at the ready. The trail took us through some very different landscapes. It began as densely packed forest.
Then transitioned to wide open fields. Hello sky! The sun was trying so hard to join us.
Then these walkways appeared that are meant to protect the fragile vegetation in the area.
All of this gradually led us to the edge of the island, overlooking the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.
When we got to this point, I thought, "oh wow - you can't beat that view" but it got better...like, way better.
Who's got two thumbs and a penchant for falling down stairs? This girl! Those painted steps were the best idea ever. I was so thankful for whoever thought to do that. Also, it looked badass. The steps continued winding downhill, closer and closer to the gulf. The sun began peaking through the clouds. With each step, I found myself more in awe. Not just of this place. But of nature, life, and every experience we get to have in it. So spiritual...and so totally overwhelming. I found myself in one of the most beautiful places I have ever stood, looking out into nothing and everything all at once. I had found my one true partner in Andy and a crushing gratitude in that moment made me want to sob with happiness. Everything was perfect. This was our view.
It was at this moment I turned around and found Andy laying on his stomach, arching his back and trying to get the best goddamn photograph in the world. I think he succeeded. The positions this man gets into for his art.
After an hour of hanging out, the sun dipped back under the clouds and we decided it was probably time to make our way back to the car. Those stairs were pretty easy going down. Going back up was a different story - my Fitbit said I climbed 73 flights that day! Thighs aflame, we made it back to the car as it got dark. We consumed way too many chocolate covered espresso beans and drove south to the town of Cheticamp to get a real meal. We found it at Le Gabriel Restaurant and Lounge. Another half hour of driving and we'd get to settle in for the night at the Margaree Riverview Inn in Margaree Forks. What followed was like a movie. Exterior: Rural Canada. Hellish downpour. I am pretty sure we drove the same loop of road three times, trying to find the front office so we could check in and go to sleep already. After twice bothering some lovely french-speaking individuals in their home, and multiple attempts to get cell phone service, we found the front office. Locked. Lights out. This is when my cell phone miraculously decided to pick up service. An older man answered and I explained that we were here to check in. He was nice enough meet us at the office and get us our key. We were just so happy to know we didn't have to sleep in the car. Pro Travel Tip: When booking a hotel room, ask if/when their front office closes. The room itself was more like a storage locker. Yes, there were curtains on the windows and a comforter on the bed, but I'm pretty sure the floor and walls were solid concrete. But, hey, there was a coffee machine! After a terrible night's sleep (awful mattress), we left early the next morning Prince Edward Island-bound! Day Four was mostly driving - it was actually nice to let our muscles rest after all those stairs the day before. But those same muscles tensed right up when we got to the bridge. You see, we had two options for getting to PEI: 1. Take a ferry from Caribou, Nova Scotia to Wood Islands, PEI for $70 2. Drive an additional three hours and cross the Confederation Bridge for whatever cost it is to cross a bridge these days...$10 bucks maybe We chose the bridge option. Until my dying day, I will never forget our astonishment to learn that the bridge would cost $FORTYFIVE to cross. Sweet bridge though.
Up next, we'll: ...visit a crazy man's compound built out of glass bottles ...make a bed and breakfast owner super duper sad ...and ponder if Andy can eat a potato larger than his body! NEXT