Smitty's poorly planned and barely thought out touring misadventure (warning, so many photos)

Sup y’all. Back from tour and figured I’d share since this was my most epic bike adventure yet.

I’d planned for the better part of a couple months to ride “somewhere on the east coast” for 10 days and the suggestion came up to ride Nova Scotia’s Cabot Trail. Seeing as I didn’t have any better idea, I google image searched the trail, thought it looked fun and booked my ticket out east. What followed, was weeks and weeks of training and preparation so I could go in with the best chance of success and having an enjoyable tour.

Yeah not really. In actual fact, I didn’t even get my wheels built until 5 days before my flight, didn’t set my gears up until 36 hours before my flight and packing my bike…

Photo of my bike immediately upon completing packing at 1:17AM. Plane take off was 6:30AM.

The plan is to land at Halifax international airport, set our bikes up, buy some supplies in town and crash for the night before riding out to the trail in the morning. At 4AM on the way to the airport, I’m informed by my step dad “You know, the airport is about 20 miles away from the city, right?”.

No, I did not know that. I also didn’t realize that the only road between the airport and city is a highway that is not even remotely rideable. What started as “set up our bikes and ride around the city” turned into a 65km ride through unmarked dirt access roads and private driveways and 4-wheeler tracks. When we regained paved roads, we got lost repeatedly. A map would have helped, or having through to bring a compass…

We ended up in town at 6PM, after about 5 hours of riding and getting lost. Taking the day as a writeoff we went to check into a backpackers hostel.

Which was full. We spent 15 seconds cursing in the street before a girl on a bike rode by and offered us a backyard to crash in. We camped in the backyard, they brought us to a barbecue with their friends, we consumed beer from giant bottles locally called “Growlers” which hold 6 beers a piece, things were good.

Disturbingly though, any mention of the Cabot trail brought knowing smiles from people we met, and comments like “I hope you guys like climbing”. I fucking hate climbing, and it wasn’t until the shuttle was dropping us off at the start of the trail that I was told there would be 4 separate mountains we’d have to summit.

I fucking hate mountains.

We arrive and immediately it starts raining on us. I was feeling pretty bummed out about this until we hit the first corner and were struck by how beatiful the scenery was

It kept raining like woah, so we decided to stop at this rad fucking park on the shore of a lake at the base of a mountain. Hot coffee and hot dinner was made, and we decided this would be as good a place as any to camp out for the night.

Before doing so we swam in the lake to get a bit cleaned up, and swimming in the rain was an amazing experience. Darkness had settled and we decided to look for a camp site. We quickly learned that you don’t look for a campsite after darkness unless you’re an idiot, and one surprise river crossing with all our gear later, we’d found a suitable spot in the woods.

And it fucking poured. All night. Worse than any rain storm I’d seen all year. The Tarptents held up pretty well except if anyone gets one I strongly recommend opting to seal the seems yourself. We had them sealed by the manufacturer, and well, they weren’t sealed. Pretty steady dripping all night long from the seams.

It was a damp ass morning but at least the weather had cleared

This is the lake we swam in

And we set out immediately into a… 40km/h headwind. Not 40km/h gusts, but solid 40km/h the whole way. We’d later learn that the trail is notorious for this.

After a fairly murderous ride, we came to a bridge linking the interior we’d ridden through with the coast.

The coast was exactly what I’d expected. Cold, wind swept with turbulent seas and threatening clouds.

Beautiful ride though, and the hills had mostly leveled out after a morning of short but very steep and punchy climbs. Would have been downright mellow if not for the headwinds coming on so strong they could bring you to a dead stop on a downhill

We were feeling pretty good all afternoon, and with three hours left until darkness we saw a sign letting us know that there would be a backpackers hostel in the Bay only 35km away. Three hours should be pretty easy to bang out 35 K, so we set that as our goal. A map would have been useful here, as within 10 minutes the road entered this

Cape Breton Highlands National Park.

If you never have the opportunity to ride into a series of mountain passes thinking up until then you’d be on flat ground, allow me to assure you that this is a pretty fucking stupid feeling.

A series of quick, ridiculously steep climbs, followed by steep descents, followed by more climbs. The wind had turned into a vicious crosswind at this point, and I was almost blown off a cliff on a descent which commonly has some kind of geographic phenomena that causes 100km/h winds regularly. I was feeling pretty sketched out at this point, but thankfully I was relieved to come upon some climbing to mix things up.

A lot of climbing. About 4 kilometres of 12% grade climbing. I fucking hate climbing, and this quickly became a slowmotion hell grind in my tiny bail out gear, pushing 60pounds of baggage up a hill about about 30rpm pedal rotations. It sucked, but I did not walk.

The summit turned out to be this weird plateau of scraggly pine tress and cold wind.

It went on for a bit, and the sun started setting at which point we really started hustling. Lots of flat ground perfect for camping, but we were also in bear country, and were conscious of the fact that tarck bear giveth, but tarck bear also attacketh you in your tent while you’re trying to sleep.

The sun was getting pretty low, we turned a corner and my mind was suddenly blown

All day we were presented with stunning views everywhere we turned, but this one was enough to leave me stunned. We pulled over the bikes and just looked for a good 15 minutes.

We made it to the hostel just as it got dark, I ate some delicious lobster, drank some delicious beer, took a killer dump and slept under a roof in a dry bed.

The morning came and we set out to do some laundry and continue our journey. This turned into a bit of a fuck off day after we spent an hour and a half doing laundry, then stopped for a huge lunch.

No word of a lie, this is the view from the step of the laundromat I was sitting on

Waiting for laundry to finish we found these TAF chairs to sit in

And fuck it, let’s do lunch all proper like

It was now 1 o clock, we were feeling pretty determined and we… “Now Entering Cape Breton Highlands National Park”, AGAIN. I can only hope I didn’t give some old person a heart attack when I yelled “FUCK” coming upon this sign. We didn’t even make it 2 kilometres before ending up in that shit again.

And you know what?

Bros this sucked SO MUCH

At the top, someone had been fucking with the mountains and cut the pointy parts off and left us with this

However, what comes up a 3km 13% grade, must also go down a windy road super fast being chased by the acrid smell of burning brake pads.

I fucking hate climbing, but I’d do it again to ride those twisty steep downhills again.

An overshot corner would send you down a long long way, but the view to your death was pure bonertown

The highlands dropped us off on the other side of the island at which point the wind picked up super strong again and it started raining.

We stopped in this rad little corner store on the ocean and the first person I see is some hard as fuck fisherman type guy with a crazy accent and only one eye.

It was like I’d descended a mountain and ended up right smack dab in the midst of my stereotypes about the maritimes!

We camped in some random woods out back of the community centre and got caught once again in a crazy rain storm. This one had lighting, which was pretty sweet. In the morning we packed up all our damp gear and set out again. Oh good, “now entering Cape Breton Highlands National Park”. Fucking figures. I really probably should have researched this before hand. Or you know, bought a map.

This view would have been sweeter from a chairlift.

It goes without saying that once again we had 35km/h+headwinds.

My touring partner was really hurting and getting bummed out about the constant ass kicking the trail was dishing out. We went whale watching, didn’t ride too far, and camped for the night.

We set out again in the morning, fool me once, can’t get fooled again. Cape Breton Highlands National Park again. Obviously. Rain all day too. Obviously. 35km/h headwinds. Obviously.

The weather broke in the afternoon and we did some more mountain climbing. The mountains weren’t unlike all the other climbing, except that at some point you noticed that you were still climbing without hitting any kind of downhill.

When you did hit the downhills though, they were crazy. This was probably my favorite one. Super steep, super tight turns with super high consequence for blowing a turn.

There were a couple points where beyond guardrail you saw nothing but ocean below. Friggin amazing backdrop to a really crazy ride. More than a few tire skid marks that pointed towards cliff sides as well. Without looking into it too much, I’d bet money this section was responsible for at least a few of the deaths on the trail this year.

The rest of the ride was really anticlimactically boring after this and I didn’t get pictures.

We made it back into town at 10:30PM thinking we would check into the hostel, which was again full, which sucked. My tour partners shitty mood peaked in shittyness at this point and we went our separate ways because his sulky bullshit was worse than any of the struggles we’d had to plow through up to now.

With no place to sleep though, I ended up sleeping on a park bench down by the waterfront, which fucking sucked. It was cold and I was constantly worried I’d be woken up by people kicking the shit out of me and robbing me. After that morning I checked into the hostel and spent two days chilling around town, eating ice cream and being real relaxed and happy about things.

Coming home I had a chance to do some research and apparently the Cabot Trail is widely regarded as one of the hardest rides in Canada. Compared to the Rockies which typically has 6% climbs, many of the Cabot’s climbs are 10% or greater. It’s also notorious for harsh weather, featuring a lot of wind and rain. That said, it’s probably the best ride I’ve had of my entire life. Every corner I turned featured scenery more beatiful than I’d ever seen before in my life, and it’s an awesome challenge but it’s also a short challenge, being doable anywhere between 3-5 days. I recommend anyone riding it to take the full 5 and spend lots of time eating sea food, and looking at stuff, and whale watching. If anyone is seriously looking for a bike vacation, do this shit. After doing it I don’t think it’s exaggeration when the ministry of tourism describes the trail as world renown.


My friend/roomate/cyclingbro is a nova scotian and has ridden the trail before on a supported trip and highly recommended it, your pictures make me wanna do it even more!

I also hear the local hardmen ride it in one day.

Fucking. Amazing.

That looks like a fucking blast.

Epic ride bro.


One day would be mental. I could have banged it out in three if I was more efficient but there’s so much shir to just stop and look at. One day is really intense though


Would try to smang in one day unloaded, but the hostel possibility sounds rad with the weathers they be having


scenery looks amazing. I really like the sound of this too… 3-5 days is totally doable for me just about any time of year and i actually like climbing so, fuck yeah!

I enjoyed your story and the fact you went in to it so blind, im sure that made it that much more fun though, at least after the fact. haha

nevermind. that was obnoxious.

dug the tale, and well done

yay! that’s bootiful

Fun write-up and great pictures.

I am pleased about this development.


Awesome Smitty. Thanks for sharing your adventure.



dig the trip and the pace

i always tend to smang on and never take pics - kudos man thanks for sharin

Putting everyone’s mini randos to shame itt.

What a great Canadian adventure. I would often think of the east coast when I lived in Canada. Sailing or biking it. I never made it outside of Quebec though. Canada was too damned big for me.

I share your sentiment on climbing, and it’s heartening to know that people who hate it as much can do tours like this.