Saturday, November 22, 2014

Nova Scotia - Day 5: Whale Watching, Cabot Trail Bike, Cheticamp

We woke up a second morning in Dingwall - the only time we stayed in the same place twice during this trip. H, B, J, and I made hasty preparations to load up the car again and make the trip back to Pleasant Bay, where we had been the afternoon before. This morning we would be going on a whale watching trip!

We made Mr. J as comfortable as we could in the car, where he would hang out in the slight chill and overcast skies. There are several companies that operate out of the harbor. We ended up with Captain Mark's, which came well recommended. (Fun fact - one of the captains buses the local kids over the Cheticamp during the school year. Other fun fact - our guide on this particular day is a fishing boat builder during the off-season.)

In order to get close to the animals, they operate using of tricked out Zodiacs. Because they are small craft, low down on the water, one needs to wear exposure gear:

Although a variety of whale species migrate through this area (right, humpback, blue), the only ones that stick around for long are pilot whales, which look like very large dolphins with a blunted face. After cruising along the coast for 20-30 minutes, we spotted a pod not far off, and went in for a closer look.

These creatures work in groups to hunt, sometimes using bubbles to corral schools of small fish into a tight group, then one by one cut through the center to snatch a tasty treat. Unlike our dolphin watching in New Zealand, we didn't see much above-the-water antics. But like New Zealand, we saw young ones boppin' around. I had the GoPro with me, and so we do have some video. But like usual, I haven't edited it down for public consumption yet. Too late, the captain suggested I dunk the camera under the water to get some shots. Oh well. After a while the pod relocated and we lost track of them. Around the same time the wind picked up and made things pretty choppy, so we headed in closer to shore and started on our way back. We saw groups of seals, some of then quite large. For the most part we could't get too close because they are quite shy. This young'un was curious though.

Then gone in the blink of an eye!

There are also bald eagles that nest along the shoreline. This particular nest was easy to pick out from the white streaks on the cliff below. (click to embiggen - see if you can pick out the eagle perched on top)

Back at shore we met up with Mark and Holly. Just a little ways south of Pleasant Bay along the Cabot Trail the road starts switchbacking steeply up. We wimped out a bit and drove up, about halfway, to an overlook. According to the signs behind the benches, at certain times of year you can spot migrating whales from here.


After a hasty picnic lunch, Hilary and I geared up and hopped on the bikes. Mark and Holly each took one car (and B, and J) and pushed on to Cheticamp - about 40 km farther on. The road continued upward:

And leveled out a bit as we pass a trailhead that leads down to Fishing Cove:

The road continued gently upwards for many miles across the wooded, boggy plateau of French Mountain. This is national parkland. At this time of the year, we more or less had the whole place to ourselves. The colors and vegetation were reminiscent of what one might find in parts of the White Mountains, but we could spend ten or twenty minutes without encountering so much as a passing car. The only thing that made it a bit unpleasant was an unrelenting headwind.

We took a brief break at pulloff to use the bathroom. This spot had a boardwalk trail through a prototypical alpine bog. (says the helpful sign that reads "Bog")

I was curious to see it, but didn't want to spent a lot of time on it (we had many km to go, and it was chilly being stationary). So while Hilary was using the facilities, I checked it out on two wheels:

Navigating the boardwalk at modest speed while also taking a selfie is only slightly stupid.

A bit further up the way we topped out - the highest spot on the road. Not much to speak of, except for this ICBM...water heater...voodoo influencer...phallic symbol thing.

Not long after cresting the top and enjoying a well-earned gentle downhill, we suddenly spotted a moose across the road!



He was, I suppose, mildly curious, but paid us no mind

The road eventually gave us a pretty sweet downhill. We next to no cars around, I felt like I was bombing some descent in a alpine stage of Le Tour.

The road rejoined the coast at this overlook. Ahead you can see the road leading to Cheticamp. Hilary and I posted this picture to the Capital Multisport facebook page (our monthly team meeting was that evening), and tried not to look too boastful.

For the next several miles, the road undulates up and down, sometimes with only the guide rail between you and the Atlantic. This stretch is the one that gets into all the tourist materials. The overcast skies lessened the effect slightly, but it was still amazing. Here's the same stretch, but looking back north from the other end.

After a few more miles, the road makes a large bight around an inlet, then you pop out of the National Park and are on the outskirts of Cheticamp. We felt welcomed:

We met up with the rest of the family at our lodging for the night - the Cheticamp Outfitters Inn. We had adjoining halves of a small cottage. The place has some shore frontage, although it's a collection of boulders and not a beach per se.

After some stretching, but before getting too cold or showering, I decided that I ought to go for a brief swim. Why? Well, mostly to say that I've swum in Nova Scotia in October:

Yes, it was cold, but not horribly so. I did a very quick circle - maybe 40 feet all told - then picked my back onto the rocks and into the shower!

That evening we went out to dinner at the All Aboard Restaurant, where we had a very pleasant time. Among our many culinary delights, we had a bucket of mussels delivered from the boat just a few hours before. Tough to beat that!

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