Our buddy Wily recently made a serious solo trip on his vintage bike. Here’s his journal of the journey. Big thanks to him for sending us a great story to share. – TDR
Day 1. September, friday the 13th. Hit the road at 0700 on my trusty 1976 Honda CB 750. I had 5 days to ride, the goal was to check out the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, see some new sights, channel my outlaw biker on the open road and do some camping. I had been logging quite a few miles since I got back from overseas in May, mostly day trips with an overnight to Laconia during bike week thrown in (with my buddy Jeff P. on his BMW 1150). That trip included the Mt. Washington toll road on a day that only bikes were allowed, must have been a few thousand of them, no cars. Also mixed it up with all the Harleys chugging down the Kankamangus, touched western Maine and some beautiful roads through the White Mountains, including Franconia Notch. My trusty 750 four was pretty well dialed in, riding sweet. I paid $1,500 for it in December.
I had traded my clubman bars for some slightly more upright drag bars and added a small fairing to cut the wind a little. Mark and the boys at TDR had done quite a bit of wrenching to get the machine ready for the trip: new headset and front wheel bearings, new chain and sprockets, balancing front wheel, changing the oil and checking valve adjustment. I had a spare throttle and clutch cable, small tool kit, can of fix a flat, chain lube, safety wire, duct tape and p-cord.
I headed east on route 2 in light rain, about a 2,000 foot overcast ceiling with flat gray light in 5 miles vis. Met my cousin John R. in Montpelier, he had agreed to be my wingman the first day and escort me as far as a lunch turn around on his BMW 1200. “You still going in this?” he asked me. Yup. No time like the present, and the weather could only get better, I thought. The forecast was for 30% chance of rain, clearing as we got into eastern Maine. Man, wish I could be wrong as much as a weatherman and still keep my job. It rained harder and harder until our lunch stop in Mexico, Maine where John had done road rallies in his car racing days, so he knew a good hole in the wall diner where they cheerily dished out insults and good, cheap, greasy food. Bid adios to John, who rode back through 4 hours of heavy rain to get home. I was enjoying the scenery, cranking Hendrix, Zeppelin and Santana on my iPod, and thankful that it wasn’t cold, cause I was pretty soaked.
Stayed on route 2 to Bangor, then took route 9 to Calais, Maine for the Canadian border crossing into St. Stephen. I was making good time with light traffic and a fuel stop every 120-130 miles, averaging 38mpg. Lots of cool farms and houses to look at, small towns and a pretty scenic route with twisties, hills, rivers and lakes on the roadside. Had a bird strike at 70mph just before dusk on the trans canada highway. I watched as a big brown speckled sea gull came in left to right in slow motion, was going to land on the road, then went around in the flare as he saw me or heard the throaty roar of the rat bike’s 4 into 2 pipes- I just had time to roll off the throttle and duck as he hit my right hand on the bars, morting himself out and tumbling in a ball of feathers. Just missed my mirror, hitting the armored knuckles of my glove, no damage and no swerve.
11 wet, character-building hours of riding brought me to Dipper Harbor, New Brunswick, at the campround of eastern outfitters, a sea kayak tour company where my family had camped a month before. Camping is $10 a night, and they have a cool beach house with lots of windows, kerosene lanterns, no electricity, a sweet view of the harbor less than 50 yards away at high tide (massive tidal variation here on the Bay of Fundy, about 38 feet in Dipper Harbor), and most importantly, a wood stove. I built a fire and hung up all my wet gear then joined DeeAnn and her husband Bob for some delicious lasagna and lots of good conversation. Definitely check that place out if you get a chance- they also have a place on the Southern Coast of Newfoundland in Ramea where they lead kayak trips through the fjords- added that to the bucket list.
Had the kind of deep sleep that comes after a long day, fresh air, a good sleeping bag, full belly and getting dry.
Day 2. Up before dawn, loaded up the bike and hit the road in overcast skies. Super cool deserted back roads to get back to the Trans Canada, I rode mellow to enjoy the ocean views and watch out for moose or deer as dawn cracked and the sun rose off my right. Then it started raining again. Made good time on the Trans Canada, it’s a smooth, fast, winding highway with almost no traffic (except through St. John) and seemingly no mounties. Tightened and lubed my chain at the second gas stop, only maintenance so far. Stopped for lunch, fish and chips, in Pictou, Nova Scotia. Checked out the Grohmann knife factory and picked up a couple souvenirs from the factory seconds, a Canadian Army issue belt knife and a trout and bird knife for my collection, plus a couple gifts.
Mid afternoon, crossed the Canso Causeway at Port Hastings into Cape Breton. Still light rain, on and off, not enough to get through my gear- today I stayed mostly dry. Had to keep making time to reach Meat Cove “The End of the Earth” before dark- it’s about 6 miles up a dirt road along a cliff with drop offs to the ocean, and I didn’t know how gnarly or washed out it would be in the rain after dark. Stopped for gas in Whycocomagh, a Mi’kmaq tribal town along the shores of Bras d’Or Lake, and the friendly teenage attendant checked time on google maps and told me I still had 4 hours to Meat Cove- hmm, I better be able to beat that. All the scenery had been good so far, but it got even better when I joined the Cabot Trail, counter clockwise, near Baddeck (famous as a home of Alexander Graham Bell, and where he flew his Silver Dart on 23 Feb 1909, the first powered plane to fly in Canada). Got a delicious lobster sandwich and coffee in Wreck Cove, wished I had more time to check out Ingonish as I sped through, and had a hairy go of it in almost zero visibility fog up and over a mountain pass with some gravelly hairpins and drop offs to the crashing surf which I could hear, but not see, below.
Passed through Dingwall and Cape North and made it to Meat Cove as the light faded. The chowder hut there was closing in 5 minutes, had some killer seafood chowder and bread, then Justin the friendly young guy who runs the campground when he’s not fishing told me to pick whatever campsite I wanted and showed me around. Number 13 is spectacular, out in a barely tent-sized clearing on the cliff, but closed since someone died there recently stepping out of his tent to take a leak in the dark. I pitched my tarp over the bike, tying it to a picnic table and getting a long branch from the woods with my new knife to give myself a shelter out of the rain to pitch my tent under. Too tired to deal with gathering wet wood and bulding a fire, I settled for a hot shower and hitting the rack. Other campers I talked to there were from Scotland, South Africa, Virginia, Toronto and Philadelphia. They had been seeing whales all day, dozens of them, but they skedaddled before I arrived. I did see seals and a bald eagle. Slept well and miraculously stayed dry.
Day 3. It was still raining when I got up, so stayed in the tent reading. Justin made me some hot water in the closed chowder hut for coffee and oatmeal- As part of packing super light, I had purposely not brought a stove and planned on fires for cooking. Had a nice conversation with Justin’s best friend, a local fisherman. I could barely understand him, and not just because he was drinking bud heavies- his scottish accent was so strong and his english included a lot of words I’m not familiar with. Some parts of Nova Scotia (New Scotland) are pretty much like regular Scotland, including the terrain, weather, music, food, language…
Mid morning the rain let up, so I packed up and rode back through the mud to Cape North, then through some spectacular glacial valleys and over small mountains to Pleasant Bay, where I had another killer lobster roll and chowder at the Rusty Anchor. Kept going counter-clockwise on the Cabot Trail, a beautiful stretch along the coast through Cape Breton Highlands National Park. I took my time and stopped to read signs, take pics and talk to people at different scenic overlooks- the sun even came out! Met a cool Scottish biker from central casting out for a ride on his immaculate 50s something BMW with a few of his buddies (from Sydney, NS I think).
Stopped at a fishing harbor in Cheticamp, a French Acadian town, for gas, tighten and lube the chain again, get some pastry at a boulangerie. Followed the west coast south through Margaree harbor, Dunvegan and Inverness, exploring some dirt and gravel side roads that got me closer to the water. Took a really sweet hour detour around Lake Ainsley- fast, sweeping turns, up and down hills, smooth road with not a soul around, always keeping the lake to my right. Stopped in Mabou for dinner, at a place called the Red Shoe Pub. It’s owned by the Rankin sisters (apparently Nova Scotia’s most famous Celtic musicians) and they had a duo playing celtic tunes on the piano and fiddle. Some geezers got up and danced jigs as I munched on shepherd’s pie and salad. Explored Mabou harbor as the sun dipped low in the west, then headed to West Mabou and a campground. Got a fire going, pitched my tent and whittled while I watched the stars get brighter and brighter. Had cell phone reception, so checked in with the War Dept. back home, she and the kids were doing great and probably not missing me as much as I missed them.
Day 4. Up at dawn, packed up and headed west on a dirt road, thinking that it might connect to something and get me back to the main road, which it did. Nice views out across the Gulf of St. Lawrence toward PEI and the Gaspe peninsula in rosy early morning light. Stopped for cafe au lait and pastries at a French bakery and to make sure there was gas in the next town so I didn’t have to double back, as I had been on reserve for a while- there was, she said. While gassing up, ran into the guy whose face I had seen on all the Billboards “re-elect Seamus MacDougal” or some name like that- he was super friendly, had been to VT, lived in Halifax where he was a representative for his town of Judique and all of Cape Breton in the provincial government.
Back across the Canso Causeway to mainland Nova Scotia, stopped again at the Grohmann knife factory in Pictou to try again to get a tour, but you needed 4 people and I was only one. There’s always next time. Rudolph Grohmann’s story is a cool one, a Czech knife maker escaping after WWII to relocate his family knife business somewhere safe. Took a detour along scenic route 6, the sunset trail, through towns like Tatamagouche (great cafe/art gallery called Green Grass Running Water), Wallace, Pugwash “world famous for peace”- look it up, I don’t make this stuff up. As I reached Amherst and prepared to cross back into New Brunswick, it started raining again. Perfect. Hauled the groceries on the Trans Canada again, and just when reserve tank was running low, pulled off at an exit that said fuel, only to ride 10 miles in the middle of nowhere (toward the Fundy National Park) with no sign of gas.
Stopped when I saw a group of 6 bikers, they were looking for gas too. Nice guys, from Cape Cod. One of them got back, he had asked a farmer, nearest gas was back onto the highway and one more exit. I was glad I was with them in case I flamed out, but just made it to the Irwin station (165 miles on one tank). Ran into my first traffic, stop and go through St. John at rush hour, so pulled in to a KFC for dinner to get some of the Colonel’s finest mashed potatoes and warm up. Another hour and I was back in Dipper Harbor at the beach house. No one home, so I set up camp, walked along the beach, read until just after sunset and hit the rack.
Day 5. Left a note for DeeAnn and Bob and $10 for camping and was back on the road before dawn. There was frost all over the bike when I got up, and it was clear and cold. Rode for an hour, then pulled into a Tim Hortons for coffee, donuts, and to warm up and listen to the locals who obviously gathered there every morning, they all knew each other. Back across the border into Calais, Maine, and my exhaust pipes had been separating a little from the last section of pipe so I had a pretty good roar going. I had wrapped them both in safety wire so they wouldn’t fall off if they got looser, but decided to get some metal dryer duct tape at a hardware store and fix ’em good. Lubed and tightened my chain again, and that was it for maintenance for the whole trip.
Last day was beautiful weather, sunny and cool, and I retraced my steps down route 9 to Bangor, then route 2 back through Maine, NH and VT. Got home around 1700 and decided to pay my respects to the good folks at The Daily Rider, get a picture with them and let them know the rat bike had performed brilliantly.
Will definitely go back to Cabot Trail, it fully deserves its reputation as one of the world’s best motorcycle rides. Next time I’ll allow a full week to do more exploring and hiking, and go with a couple buddies.