Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Island of Cape Breton

On the road, early morning in Cape Breton

... has to be one of the most beautiful places I have ever had the pleasure to have visited.  Sure the economic past of the Island has been a checkerboard of gloom and doom literally.  Coal mine disasters, utter poverty, hurricanes blowing in off the Atlantic.  Yet through it all the people and mini-province* somehow always manages to bounce back and survive. 

AFTER a few days with my friends Dana and Danny and the menagerie, it was back on the road for me and my Suzuki DL.  Next to Yamaha's I've owned more Suzuki's than anything else.  My second bike was an 1968 A 100 'street scrambler' that I thrashed and jumped and crashed.  It's little 2 stroke rotary valve engine was willing enough and though not as 'civilized' as the Honda S 90 she replaced, she opened up a different style of riding for me that I still follow religiously, that being the street and dirt version of motorcycling. 

Abandoned railway lines...

True, the Zuke I was about to straddle had absolutely nothing in common with the A 100 except for one thing... regardless of what they both looked like neither was a true 'dirt bike'  Other than the high mounted exhaust pipes on both, these were not the kind of bike you would enter into a hare and hound scrambles!

This whole ADV touring concept of which the V Strom is part of, is really nothing more than a modern day watered down Paris to Dakar replica bike.  In reality I wouldn't ride this DL on anything but a smooth hard packed secondary road or desert track.  Sure I could ride the 500 pound plus ADV bike on the Castle Hot Springs road on a decent day, but wouldn't even think of riding it up the Crown King Trail even with it's last round of improvements! 

The Grand narrows Bras d' Dor Lake
True dual purpose bikes can still tackle such an off road ride but the V Strom is most definitely not one of those.

Wet grass, loose gravel downhill, to the water!
I had a bit of a concern as I started the engine after having said my good byes,  The dew was heavy and slick on the grass, I was pointed in the wrong direction as a result of the slope of the land and the angle of the kickstand.  I would have to turn the bike 180 degrees, ride it around the Honda Pilot sitting in the driveway down a rocky gravel slope, then make a tight off camber left hand turn onto the access road and by road I mean two tracks of gravel with grass growing in between.  If I screwed up the turn... it was a fast and sure drop of some 20 feet into the channel!  If that happened we'd need a crane to get the bike out of the salty water!

Cheap (?)  gas, Yayy!

Best bet was to wheel the bike backwards slightly downhill to give me some momentum pulling it slightly uphill.  All this to lessen the angles.  The bike loaded with gear, gas and hardware would tip the scales at right round 550 pounds, while I on the other hand, wearing my gear, just managed to break 150!

Not to worry, I'd been in much tighter situations and am still here right :) 

EFI  fired the 645 cc engine right up and after a brief warmup while I put on my gloves, we managed to negotiate the loose rocks and make the turn without getting wet.  Piece of cake!

Climbing out of the valley to the road was a wee bit tricky, the taller gearing making first gear feel even higher than stock, I clutch slipped smoothly while standing on the pegs of the big ADV, on several loose tight sections... only stopping briefly on the now unused but still in place railroad tracks. 

No sooner did I enter the pavement than an adult deer crossed in front on me from left to right.  I slowed from my 30 kph speed to a crawl and sure enough as my previous experience warned me, a young doe poked out of the brush and scampered headlong at an angle across my path.  I watched her (why do we call youngsters 'her' ?) until she found another driveway to enter the forest.  I pulled over to the left side of the road just in time to see Mother join up with the young un'.  What a fabulous way to start my morning!  I love seeing wildlife in the wild. 

Cape Breton is genuinely wild.

I was back on route 223 heading basically South West through Boisdale, through Christmas Island and onto the Grand Narrows.  Completely deserted, not another vehicle on the road, there stood what was once a swinging railroad bridge. 

Grand Narrows swinging bridge, now obsolete.

This relic long unused, rotated the tracks 90 degrees to allow shipping to pass.  I was able to travel up and down the road several times looking for that perfect photo opportunity blessed by the lack of traffic.

On the road in Nova Scotia

Camera stowed once again, DL and I heading towards the ferry at Little Narrows but after a brief photo op  at the ferry I decided to take the land route that passed south of the village and entered the Trans Canada below Whycocomagh.  It's a twisty back road ride well suited to the V Strom.  I do have to say my velocity was , errr... somewhat higher than the posted limit, the corners devoid of traffic, well paved and delightful with the throttle twisted. 

During my last photo stop a rider on a Harley pulled up to have a smoke.  I delayed my departure in the early morning sun to chat with him.  He was doing much the same as I was on his big cruiser, just meandering along in the back country.  He wasn't familiar with the area hailing as it was from Ontario, but I did make a couple of suggestions about which route to follow next. A short time later as I was back tracking after my decision to bypass the ferry, we spotted each other once again, he lighting up another smoke and me waving as I went by, two lone riders both more than a half century in age, just enjoying life and riding our steel horses.

This is about as off road as the ADV bunch can take.  Fabulous bike, very tour able.

Once on route 105, the Trans Canada on the north side of Bras d' Or Lake I joined the fast (often with the speedo showing 160 kph) stream of traffic heading south to the causeway and away from Cape Breton.

I say again... beautiful, serene, quiet.

Steeper and looser than is looks.
Having last filled on the outbound leg at the community of Antigonish, I was looking for a fuel stop at the Petro Can just the other side of the bridge.  The DL is pretty stingy with fuel, I'm  certain the tall gearing which basically is ticking over at highway speeds, on the L/C V twin contributes to the good fuel mileage.  Sourced from Suzuki's SV 650 sport bike, the tall geared 6 speed delivered for my entire trip just over 69 miles per Imperial gallon.  By comparison our PT Cruiser Touring Turbo which is in itself pretty stingy, delivers about half that!  Considering this is the year to travel, with gasoline prices hovering around a buck a liter,** 70 mpg is something to write home about.

WHILE having a cafe and lunch at the stations Tim Horton's I spoke to a forty something young couple who, as I was to find, were from eastern Europe.  She Russian and he Polish Russian.  I will admit that her English was much better than his and I'll add that she was somewhat, well... gorgeous! He by contrast although not bad looking was indeed pretty plain.  She was blonde, blue eyed, friendly as Europeans can be... it reminded me of the German woman I met one day on the shore of the Adriatic while riding through Croatia. 

The Divvie that carried me across Europe in '08 and '09.  22 countries and 8 months worth.

Briefly, while sitting reading a novel in the sun, on a National Holiday, I hear this voice...  

"you are Canadian, yes?" 

I look up to see this red bikini clad woman standing dripping wet, framed by the light.  Taken aback by not only her accented English but also the vision framed by the sunlight directly behind her, to say she looked 'angelic' would not be stretching the truth.  I asked how she guessed I was a Canuck, when she answered she had seen me ride up on my Diversion and noticed the large CDN decal on my windshield.  As we spoke, I learned she was a coach tour guide from Germany, here in Croatia with her elderly parents, on holiday.  She told me that 'back in Germany' she had a Ninja 500, "A girls bike" as she said, while her husband rode an Eeks yay R 1300, (XJR 1300 Yamaha).

Enjoying a summer day.  Somewhere in Europe

Here I am sitting, on the grass talking to this scantly clad beauty in the red bikini, about travel, motorcycles, sunny days and all the while she is stripping off both pieces of swimwear.  Noticing my, ummm, stare... she asks me if I am offended by her nudity.  Surprised I answer, adding that in Canada she would be arrested, to which she laughed heartily and said to me  

"We Germans are much more liberated..."

'You certainly are, I thought to myself'

The Russian couple came to Canada 8 years ago and they're job was something out of the ordinary, well at least to me.  They were paid to drive large RV's from point to point across North America for rental or sales companies.  It paid well, they were reimbursed for their expenses and they could be twice across the country every month!  They're kids were grown and living on their own and what a fabulous career I thought to myself. 

Try finding this place on the map, I found it when I was lost, again.

ONCE back on the bike I began following the minor roads on the map. Routes 337, 245, 106 and eventually back on the Sunrise trail, route 6

First Island road sign on return trip.
The Link
Retracing my steps to the Confederation Bridge and home. 

On the way I rode through (rather than by) Crystal Cliffs, Georgeville, Ballantynes Cove, Doctors Brook, and New Glasgow where I stopped for a late lunch.  Enjoying immensely the quiet countryside that just so happens to be only a score of kilometers from the Trans Canada highway.  I did however by pass Franksville, Trafalgar, and Stillwater, after all... I am going to live here for years, have to leave something for another ride:)

Worth an hours wander... NB port of entry.

I pulled off at the NB port of entry just before the bridge for a little walk in my Prexports, among the dunes and through the tiny little but very informative Interpretive center.

I would roll on 2000 kilometers by the time I turned the Ignition key to the off position.  All smiles and hunger for experiences once again, temporarily... satisfied.

*I call it a mini province because Cape Bretoners are related to, but unlike the mainland Nova Scotians.

** 4.5 liters equal an Imperial gallon.  3.8 L translate to 1 US gallon

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