Bittersweet was the day I rode out from Ingonish and it was both bitter and sweet for precisely the same reason. The journey was nearing an end. It would be great to complete it but at the same time there was an emptiness that I find often accompanies such times and, of course, that nagging what next question.
It was a calm day. One of the calmer days I had seen in a while. The sky was slate grey tingeing blue. The water was flat and featureless on Freshwater Pond save the reflected clouds and trees. The riding was smooth and effortless, gliding in and out of coves and bays choked with the now fading autumn colors. Much brilliance and beauty remained, but the dark shroud of winter’s sleep crept ever closer to the tips of all things living here. Soon there will be nothing but the bare white of naked trees and the cold wind of winter. And of course, blankets of snow.
For the last time on my journey I exited Cape Breton Highlands National Park and a twinge of sorrow touched me. It was the kind of sorrow you feel when you leave someone or something you love and you don’t know when or even if you will see them again. They are hollow and lonesome feelings. Yet I could not help but carry a small smile upon my face all the while in spite of them.
I rounded a corner that brought me into the bottom of Ingonish Harbour. Words would have failed me again in describing the scene had I sought them, but by then I had given up trying. So, I just smiled, shook my head lightly as if in disbelief, and took a deep breath and exhaled. Tranquil. It was easier to describe how things felt than how they looked.
A short relaxing ride later I arrived on the lower slopes of Smokey Mountain. Smokey Mountain when approached from the south is a very long and very intense climb. Much more so than any mountain I had climbed so far. But I was approaching from the north which meant a much longer but much gentler climb to the peak. From either direction the ride would be worth the effort just to get to see the view from the top. Again, as before it was a smile and shake of the head but this time the actions were accompanied by a muted “wow.” The ride down the south side of Smokey is tremendous. It would have been great to be able to be a passenger and just look around during descent but there was no chance of that as I was riding so I occasionally stopped to have a look and take a few photos. To give you an idea of how long and steep the descent was, I could smell the smoking brakes of cars and trucks as they passed me along the way.
After Smokey it was back to the gentle, effortless ride that had preceded it. It was a pretty straightforward ride. Shortly after Smokey I settled into a workmanlike rhythm. There were few hills of note and the gentle tailwind helped propel me the 40 kilometers down the highway to the Englishtown ferry in well under two hours. 6 kilometers more and I reached the end of the Cabot Trail. It was finished. I had ridden the entire Cabot Trail. In Englishtown I had even bought a little pin that says so. From there it was a long ride up Kelly’s Mountain. Like anyone who has driven the Trans Canada to or from the North Sydney ferry, I remembered Kelly’s Mountain. I thought it was about the worst hill I had ever seen, but after riding the Cabot Trail, it didn’t seem so significant anymore. I more or less bombed the downhill. I grew so impatient at one point that I actually switched into high gear and started pedaling for all I was worth. I even pedaled straight through the tight right hand turn at the bottom, almost catching up to cars that had passed me earlier in the bargain.
From there it was a fast ride across Boularderie Island to Bras D’or, 92 kilometers from my start point that morning and a mere 30 kilometers from my final destination in Sydney. I felt like I could make it easily but it was already late in the day and riding in the dark on a relatively unknown road was not high on my list of priorities. So I hunkered down for the evening. I awoke at a decent hour the next day, packed up my rig for the last time, grabbed a little breakfast at the Robin’s just down the road and headed off, covering the 30 kilometer jaunt in about an hour and fifteen minutes. And that was that. It was over. The ride was finished.
I have been back in St. John’s almost a week now. I haven’t seen anything more than a brief moment of sunshine since the day I rode from Pleasant Bay to Ingonish. It’s really starting to drive me bat-shit crazy to be completely honest. And of course there is that nagging “what next” question that still needs to be dealt with. I have to say at this point that I am not sure. But I do know one thing, the VeloTramp will ride again. There is a saying that I am sure you are all familiar with that says, “All good things must come to an end.” I guess that’s true. It certainly seems to be true often enough to be worth repeating from time to time. But there are other truths as well. I like the one that goes, “Every end is a new beginning.” And that is how I must view the end of my ride, as a new beginning. Okay, so right now I am at the beginning of the next VeloTramp Project. I don’t yet know where the next ride will take me or when, but I promise you this. From a marketing and distance point of view it will be bigger and better than this ride. But there is no way it could be more beautiful than Cape Breton. It truly was an incredible place to ride. Sometimes we hear so many good things about a place that by the time we get there our expectations have become unrealistic and we find ourselves a little disappointed. Not so with Cape Breton. Sure, I had people tell me again and again how beautiful, how incredible, amazing, unbelievable etc. etc. etc., the island was. But like me, their words were insufficient to the task, and, truthfully, there was no way it could have been over-hyped, for Cape Breton in fall must truly be one of the most beautiful places on earth.canada