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  • A Trip to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia - 2014

    Dedicated to the memory of David E. Marr

    My sister’s husband Dave passed away last January after a courageous 4-year battle with a rare cancer. Last summer Pat (my sister) engineered what she suspected would be Dave’s last trip to their property in Marble Mountain in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia - 200 acres on the west shore of Bras d’Or Lake, a very large semi-salt water lake that occupies much of Cape Breton’s interior.

    One of Dave’s wishes was to have some of his ashes scattered on the waters of the Bras d’Or, so right after his passing Pat began working to get all their kids and grandchildren together all at the same; Liz and I were included. Dave had been to me the big brother I never had.

    Dave Cape Breton

    So on 18 Jul we loaded up our RV and headed Down East on our slow trek to Cape Breton. It is definitely nice to be retired and have the time to make our journeys in a leisurely manner. We had a little military business to take care of at Pease Air National Guard Base in Portsmouth, NH - Liz needed a new ID card. Stopping at the gate, we were told to pull over so the Security Police could inspect the RV. We had to get out and open all the outside compartments and they also took a look inside.

    Back on the road, our first night’s destination was Freeport, ME, where the town provides an RV parking lot for free overnight parking. We spent the afternoon at LL Bean’s flagship store, followed by a delicious lobster roll at the Freeport Chowder House.

    The next morning we took a walk around the village and paid a visit to the Freeport Community Center Thrift Shop where we always manage to find some interesting books. Then we headed up Route 1 to Wiscasset. Traveling north on Route 1 on a summer Saturday is not exactly fun - many, many cars and bottlenecks going through towns….like Wiscasset. Fortunately we were leaving Route 1 there to head to Whitefield, ME, to visit friends.

    20 Jul 14: Our friends treated us royally, even providing a cement pad with full hookups for our RV - can’t beat that. After saying farewell, we cut cross-country to Belfast where we once again picked up Route 1. Traffic wasn’t quite as bad today as most folks were heading south instead of north.
    While researching public campgrounds for my website, I had come across a little place in Pembroke, ME, called Reversing Falls Park, which seemed to offer primitive camping. We’re always looking for new places to explore so off we went. It definitely was primitive: there was not a single sign to identify the park, to explain the falls or indicate whether camping was allowed. We did see signs of recent tent camping and there was one trailer off on a side road, so we decided to go for it and spend the night. We parked off to the side of one of the turn-around areas with a great view of the falls. reversing falls12
    The falls is actually an impressive tidal eddy over large rocks in Cobscook Bay, which reverses nearly instantaneously -- there is no "slack water" between tides. The water rushing over the rocks gives the impression of a waterfall. The view from GoogleEarth shows the roiled water flowing into the bay.
    reversing falls18 reversing falls21
    cape breton 14-10 21 Jul 14: Off to Canada today. We stopped in Calais to fill our gas tank before crossing the border into New Brunswick at St. Stephens. A few miles into New Brunswick is a “must” stop: McKay’s Blueberry Stand, where one can buy fresh blueberry muffins and pies right out of the oven. The muffins are absolutely the best to be found anywhere. We bought a dozen muffins and two pies, one for my sister.

    We had hopes of spending the night at Paralee Beach Provincial Park north of Moncton, but it was not to be. The park was full, so we had to continue on our way. We ended crossing the border into Nova Scotia and in Amherst stopped at a private campground, Loch Lomond, for the night. We learned a bit about Canadian money here, in particular, the one-dollar coin called a loonie (because it has a loon on one side). Loonies were needed for the pay-showers.

    Driving the roads of New Brunswick gives one a chance to brush up on one’s French, as road and advertising signs are bi-lingual. One I particularly liked was one that said something about military veterans - the French version shown was “les ancient combatants”. I don’t know why they didn’t use the more common “vétérante“.

    US citizens could learn a thing or two about respect for their environment and property. We saw very few run-down, ramshackle houses; no matter how small or poor, homes were well-maintained - no peeling paint. Likewise everyone takes pride in their lawn. I suppose the damp weather makes it easier to keep grass green, but that also means it needs to be mowed more often, and every home, again no matter its size, had a neatly-manicured lawn.

    22 Jul 14: Before leaving Loch Lomond, we made sure to dump our holding tanks and fill our fresh water tank, for at my sister’s property we would be boondocking with no hookups. We made it to the Canso Causeway, which connects Cape Breton to the mainland, at noon, and stopped to eat our lunch at the Cape Breton Visitors Center. We also filled the gas tank in case we needed to run the generator while at Pat’s.

    Heading out of Port Hawksbury, the roads get progressively worse, so it was a rather slow drive out to Marble Mountain. We arrived about 1330; Pat was doe to arrive the next day, so she had arranged for a neighbor to unlock the gate for us.

    The driveway down to her trailer is VERY steep and I doubt that the RV would make it back up. It would be an expensive tow if it didn’t, so a few years ago, Pat had a local contractor level out a parking place at the top of the hill. He did a great job getting it level. The weeds were rather tall around the camper, so I went down to Pat’s tool shed and found a weed-whacker. In a few minutes we more clear space around us

    cape breton 14-15 cape breton 14-11
    When we were here back in 2009, Dave had cleared a small area near the top of the drive that he had told us was pretty level. Well, not quite - when we parked, we were 7" lower on the downhill side of the rig. We had to build some ramps for the lower wheels so that I could get some space under the levelers for extra blocks to help get us the height we needed. We managed to get it up to only a one-inch difference side-to-side. cape breton070

    Marble Mountain is a very small village and it didn’t take long for everyone to know we had arrived. Pat had told a few of her friends that we were coming, so at least they didn’t think we were squatters. Pat arrived the next day.

    Internet access is hard to come by in Marble Mountain - quite expensive. However, there is a public access point at the Community Center, about half a mile from Pat’s place. So each morning I’d put my computer in my backpack and take a walk up to “town”. Sometimes the wi-fi was working, but sometimes not, so I never knew how successful I’d be. Generally I could get email, but trying to do any more was hopeless.

    cape breton 14-42 27 Jul 14: This afternoon we went to the annual Celebration at the Magalawatch Church at the Highland Village in Iona. The church was originally built in 1874 in Magalawatch, a little village near Marble Mountain. In 2003, it was placed on a barge and towed up the lake to Iona, and then pulled up a steep hill to its present location. The Highland Village is a small version of Old Sturbridge Village, depicting life years ago.

    This afternoon some of Pat’s kids arrived: son Scott and his family. Within the next few days, daughters Bonnie and Shelly, with their clans as well, would arrive. Pat’s little trailer could not hold all them (11) so friends of Pat’s had offered their cottages to be used. Scott’s family was in a fairly new, very modern house; certainly not a cottage as I would think of one. Shelly and her family were in a classic cottage: Large porch on the front overlooking the lake, big stone fireplace, open studs on the exterior walls, and two small bedrooms, one with two sets of bunkbeds.

    Bonnie and son James got to stay closer to Pat. A few years ago Pat and Dave built a small bunkhouse beside their trailer. In fact, I helped work on it during our last trip there in 2009. cape breton149
    30 Jul 14: After 8 days it was time to dump our holding tanks and get some fresh water. To do so we had to travel about 25 miles to Whycocomagh Provincial Park, where for a fee of $6.35 we could do both. The drive also gave us an opportunity to stock on a few things.
    cape breton 14-82 Camping in the boonies had an advantage this trip - we were able to use our outdoor shower. I rigged up a tarp under a portion of our awning that afforded us just enough privacy.

    31 Jul 14: Today was devoted to commemorating Dave’s life. In the morning we set out in three boats into the lake, where we cut engines and held on to each other’s boat while George, a Marble Mountain friend of Dave’s, gave a short eulogy and after Pat scattered the ashes and covered the spot with wild flowers picked that morning, he led us in prayer. Late in the afternoon Pat’s friends hosted a reception in Dave’s memory. Another Marble Mountain friend, Gary, gave a very touching recounting of the wonderful times that he and Dave had shared over the years. Daughters Bonnie and Shelly, who have beautiful voices, sang two of Dave’s favorite Cape Breton songs, including Rita McNeill’s “Home I’ll Be”. Now I cannot listen to that song without tears coming to my eyes

    Dinners all week rotated among the kids and we even managed to get in a rather outrageous croquet game. Although we didn’t get to finish the game, Scott’s wife Barb was declared the winner, since she was ahead and about to become poison. Looking back, perhaps that wicket in the tree was a bit much.

    2 Aug 14: We headed back to the Highland Village in Iona this afternoon for a Gaelic Music Festival. Some great musicians and dancers. We sprawled out on the hillside above the stage and enjoyed the music.

    cape breton 14-59 cape breton 14-63
    Bonnie and James had their dog, Bruno with them on this trip. Poor Bruno was suffering from a failing kidney and was rather weak. At the festival, James had to carry him up the hill to where we were sitting. It’s sad to report that a few days after they got home, Bruno took a turn for the worse and they had to put him down. cape breton 14-65
    cape breton 14-57 On our way to Iona for the festival we followed this motorcycle with sidecar a few miles. Riding in the sidecar was a large black dog!
    Among the various projects that Pat dreamed up for her little brother (me) was a ramp for her new kayak. She needed something to help her get the kayak from the water up over the banking to a grassy area where she could leave it when not in use. I scrounged up enough lumber to fabricate something that seemed to work well. She even had some old carpeting which I used to cover the portion of the ramp that the kayak slid along. She reports that it’s working well. cape breton 14-81
    cape breton 14-86 Poor Pat. This was one of those great ideas that didn't pan out as expected. Wanting to have a place for the gang to congregate and escape the mosquitoes, she had bought this massive screen house and hauled it up to Marble Mountain. It fell to the guys to figure out how to set it up. Fortunately that was the day we had to go dump our tanks, so that was one project I was able to duck. <g>

    We heard a great line about Cape Breton: “North America is a small island off the west coast of Cape Breton.”

    9 Aug 14: On we go. After another stop at McKay’s Blueberries, we crossed the border back into the US at Calais. There are no campgrounds in the immediate area, so we, along with several other RV’ers, spent the night at the local Wal-Mart.

    I’m always intrigued by some of the old cars we see in our travels. The two standouts on this trip were a 1932 Buick and a beautifully-restored Studebaker. The Buick was on display beside the Community Center in Parrboro, NS, while we followed the Studebaker a ways down Route 1 near Thomaston, ME.

    10 Aug 14: Instead of the coastal route south from Calais, we drove down Rt 9, the Airline Route. Among the small town through which passes is Beddington, where Liz lived when she was a teenager. Things have changed a bit; back then there were 17 people in town, 5 of whom were Liz’ family. Her father had a gas station and diner there, no trace of which is seen today.

    We were headed for South Thomaston and one of our favorite campgrounds, Lobster Buoy Campsites. Got a fairly good site for two nights and then we were able to move to one of the prime oceanfront sites for another two nights. No stay at Lobster Buoy is complete without a walk to Waterman’s Beach Lobster for the bestest lobster roll in Maine. It’s served on a warm round bun with a very generous portion.

    We were there at the time of a full moon, which really accentuated the tides. There was a difference of 12’ between high and low tides. A storm came along with strong easterly winds which made the high tide even higher.

    cape breton 14-07
    cape breton 14-08 cape breton 14-09

    We got to meet some interesting folks here. There was a Dutch family there with two young children. They had rented a large Class A motorhome for a couple of months and were touring the northeast US and eastern Canada.

    On our last full day there, a young German couple arrived on bicycles. They were on a two-week ride along the Maine coast. They had flown into Portland and bought their bicycles there.

    14 Aug 14: It’s been windy and rainy for the past 24 hours and we awoke to the same this morning, our last. Time to pack up and head for home.

    See y'all next time!