Newfoundland/Labrador Day 7: Beautiful Day in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
All days on the road are good. But some days on the road are absolutely outstanding. Today was one of those days. It’s 11 p.m. and I just returned to my hotel after listening to a wonderful music performance by an unlikely set of singers. More on that later. First, today’s ride
Because I’ve made good time on the trip so far and haven’t any mechanical set backs or delays, I had some bonus time I could use to good riding advantage. When Marilyn and I were in Nova Scotia in 2007 (I think) [I’m unsure of the year, not who I was with], we were lucky enough to ride the Cabot Trail in the northwest corner of Cape Breton. The Cabot Trail is one of those rides that, once you’ve done it, you want to do it again. So today I did it again. We had pretty good weather the first time, but today’s was even better with bright blue skies, puffy snow-white clouds, and temperatures approaching 80, which apparently is considered a heat wave for June in Nova Scotia. I reversed the direction of the ride from the first circuit, and started on the western side and rode north and east. The mountains in this corner of Nova Scotia rise about 2000-3000 feet from sea level and the Trail includes rides along the beach and over some of the highest passes. A large part of the trail runs through Cape Breton Highlands National Park and the roads inside the park are decidedly superior to those maintained by local jurisdictions.
I recognized several of the stops Marilyn and I made on along the way including a cultural center in Cheticamp focusing on the Acadians, French-speaking settlers who were largely forced out by the British after the Seven Years War ended in 1764. Many of them resettled in Louisiana and are known today as Cajuns. But a significant number stayed behind in Cape Breton and that corner of Nova Scotia is largely French speaking. When I stopped for lunch in Cheticamp at a boulangerie (bakery) for the best cranberry and blueberry muffins I’ve ever had, the radio was playing music that could have been confused with Louisiana Cajun zydeco. Interesting to hear country music sung in French
The scenery along the Cabot Trail is almost always spectacular, and was sometimes spectacularly distracting as I tried to keep one eye on the mountains/coast/valleys and the other eye on the road where pot holes and road breaks lay in wait for inattentive motorcycle riders. I navigated the various pitfalls successfully and made several stops at well-planned overlooks, which gave me a chance to put both eyes on the gorgeous scenery.The road followed the coast and then headed into the mountains for 70 joyous miles of roller coaster twisties that let me scuff the tread on the sides of the tires for a change and scrape some chrome off the bottom of my floorboards.
The ride took a little longer than I thought it would due to muffin stops and scenic overlooks, but I still managed to get to Sydney where I’m spending the night by about 5:30 and in time to start the second half of my day.
One of the best things–maybe the best thing–about rides like this one and the ride to Alaska last summer are the unplanned, serendipitous gifts of fortune we get from time to time. And tonight’s event was one of those. About 20 miles from Sydney is a town called Glace Bay, which has a coal mining museum I had wanted to visit the last time we were here but didn’t. When I looked online this morning to check on hours of operation and current exhibits, I discovered that the coal miners’ choir known as “Men of the Deeps” was going to be performing tonight at the museum. Marilyn first discovered the group on PBS about eight years ago and I had wanted to see them perform since then. Formed originally in 1966, they’ve toured all the major cities in North America and have sung around the world as well. Rather than go into any more detail here, let me just give you a link if you want to learn more about this amazingly talented group of miners and former miners. Click here for info on “Men of the Deeps.
I had expected to be entertained, but the hour+ performance was more than that. It was a lesson in cultural history and working class pride. These guys not only sing and tell mining stories through their songs, they evince a profound sense of pride in being in an elite group that made industrialization possible through their hard and dangerous work. They’re aren’t touring outside the area this year, but the expectation is that they will tour possibily next year and certainly in the 50th anniversary year in 2016. If they’re booked anywhere near me and I know it, I’m going to go hear them again
After the performance I got a chance to talk with several of the miners/singers. One was near 80 and had been with the group since its 1966 beginning. Another was the son of a long-term member. Another was a 76-year-old with an obvious ability to enjoy life by doing what he enjoyed. One insisted I share his hat. I was honored.
I left the performance with toes tapping and spirits buoyed. What a great ending to a great day. Tomorrow I’m going to return to the museum and learn more about them and the work they and thousands of men like them did underground (under the sea, actually since some of the mines tunnel under the sea bed).
More pictures on Flickr. Click here