I ate breakfast at Evangeline’s in Cheticamp. It was already beyond mid morning when I sat down in the popular, slow serving diner. I was slow getting ready in the morning. I was already sick of setting up and breaking down my camp. Too many moving parts. It was a tiresome chore and on this morning I let it drag me down. I wrote a post, too. I thank those of you who took time to read it. I was getting sick of posts, too. I wanted to be doing them more than anything else in the world. Editing photos and writing lively pieces and posting them together for people to see and read. But like my camp, my photo editing and writing technologies were less than they could have been. It came to feel a chore to do anything on-line. It was clumsy and slow. “I’ll be carrying a compact PC next time out”, I told myself. “None of this clumsy garbage.” Too many moving parts. And they don’t play well together. I finished my business at the diner, paid up and headed towards the park: CapeBreton Highlands. And straight into the teeth of French Mountain.
Upon entering the park one starts to use a lot of simple words; wow, beautiful, woah, unreal, man, dude, really, shit. They do as good a job as any at describing what you see. Outrageous beauty. The coastal road undulates on the approach to French. A couple of the climbs were steep but thankfully short. They were much harder than I had hoped. I didn’t have good climbing legs. But as I seem to be able to do, I got to the top of them.
The sun had broken through shortly after entering the park and it was quite bright and warm when I dug my teeth into the base of French Mountain. Man, it was steep. And long. I really had no idea how long. I could have easily researched the details of the mountain and had a better idea of what I was in for, but I didn’t really want to know. I needed curiosity to be the driving force of my climb. I needed the desire to see what lay beyond the next turn to pull me up the mountain. It did.
French Mountain is easily the longest, steepest mountain I have ever climbed on a bike. Some parts were unbelievably steep, others incredibly tight. Some were both. In some places the incline was so steep and the left banking corner so tight that a climbing oil truck arriving at the same time as a decending SUV who didn’t have sense enough to brake further up the hill so as to give the oil truck and the poor bugger on the bicycle who is sitting on the high side of the steep curve with an oil truck passing beneath him some room. Nah, he had to put his mass into the tight corner as well. Make it nice and cosy.
Disaster averted I continued to climb, getting encouragement from people at some of the look off points. I was feeling real good. After what felt like an eternity of pumping leg over leg, turning wheel over wheel, I felt that I must be getting somewhere in my quest to conquer the beast. A right turn loomed up ahead on a more gentle grade than any I had seen since I first dug my teeth into this giants throat. The turn opened into a wider view of the road ahead. “Seriously?” I questioned. And kept questioning. “Seriously?” A series of sweeping turns lay ahead, with stretches so obviously steep. There was still a long hard way to go. Then I laughed. What else could I do? So I had a long way to go? Big deal. I would just have to keep going.
Up, I told myself and up I went. Push after push after push after push. Up. There came a moment a time later when I just knew I was going to make it. I had a little quiver enter my breath for a moment, but I knew that allowing it to take hold could kill everything. I realize in the grand scheme of human physical accomplishment me climbing French Mountain on a bicycle is somewhat far down the list. But I had never done anything like this before. I had climbed some big hills but this was my first real mountain. And I climbed. Sometimes rocking my whole body; legs, arms, torso, working in unison to propel myself forward. Up.
At what turned out to be the last viewing area on the mountain I asked a man with a camera to take my picture. I told him and his female companion my Facebook name, told them I would love a copy of the picture. We shared pleasantries and I continued on. I hope they find me and send me the picture. Up.
A little while later I took a turn and stared at what I immediately knew was the last big stretch of the mountain. It was straight up and fairly steep. But it didn’t matter. The mountain had been beaten. It was a muted celebration; a light fist pump, a slight chest thump. And a couple of joyous whoops. I was at the top.
The rest of the ride was academic. The few climbs there were were assailed with ease. The scenery was beyond words to say, right until it disappeared into the rain and fog. A descent of Mackenzie Mountain, in the rain and then out of the mists, to a haven that looks poured from Eden’s mold. Pleasant Bay. It was a big day, and for me, a great accomplishment. But also a real eye opener. You see, I’m being told that the worst is yet to come. Tomorrow, I have to set my wheels upon North Mountain. It is by all accounts the most difficult climb of the clockwise tour of Cape Breton Highlands. Harder than French Mountain. Good god! But there’s no going around it. Not that I would if I could. So, there is only go over it. And I will do that by doing what I always seem to be able to do. I will just keep pushing and turning, and going. Up.