Reader Ride – Cape Breton, Nova Scotia: Island Hopping

Reader Ride – Cape Breton, Nova Scotia: Island Hopping
Sometimes you have an idea you know isn’t smart, but you go ahead regardless. Sometimes it turns out you were worried about nothing. Sometimes it turns out you were dead right, but things work out anyway. That’s what happened when I went off-roading in the Cape Breton Highlands—an area best known for the paved Cabot Trail.

I know there are hundreds of miles of gravel trails in the Highlands with very few details. I figured I should investigate, which is how I found myself aboard a 2014 Beta 498 RR, motoring towards the Canso Causeway at the island’s base.

I’m cold when I arrive—hours behind schedule—and it’s raining. But I head towards Judique, refuel, and hang a right down River Denys Road, where the trails start toward miles of open grit with nobody in sight. This is exactly what I came for. It’s ideal ground for hanging the rear out and tearing down logging roads—all the while looking for a campsite. An hour and a half later, I find the perfect spot—not a scenic overlook but a snowmobile camp.

The rain doesn’t quit, but I spend the night warm and dry. The weather isn’t ideal, but I make it to Cape Breton. Life is good.

Good to Bad to Worse

Life is even better on Saturday. Using my Backroad Mapbook, I guess at a route to Whycocomagh and head out. The softwood gives way to hardwood, blueberry fields, and old homesteads surrounded by rolling hills.

Many tracks here are predictable and doable by car, which means it’s predictable gravel and doable by any adventure bike. It’s an easy run to Whycocomagh, and I leave town on a sloppy, bumpy path leading to the main snowmobile route (the 104) that stretches across the island.

I wished for a bigger, more comfortable bike the day before. Climbing Salt Mountain, those wishes vanish—this is dirt bike territory. But once I get to the main outlet, I lay down the hammer aiming north—with only one concern—how far to the next gas stop?