It’s not often that when Atlantic Canadians plan a road trip that their own backyard comes to mind.
Most opt for places like Montréal, Toronto, or somewhere further west that offers more of a change from the sleepy pace that is the Maritimes. Too frequently do we overlook the treasures that lay right under our noses — in this case, one of the best driving roads in the world. Opened in 1932 and named after the famed explorer Giovanni Caboto, the Cabot Trail, nestled in the north of Cape Breton island has been heralded as scenic perfection. This is every gearhead’s wet dream.
Crossing the Canso Causeway, there is little to indicate what hides in the northern county of Victoria. If anything, the crossing leading into the island of Cape Breton is somewhat shoddy in appearance, and populated solely by family sedans or SUVs. Views of the Bra d’Or Lake are the only hints that all is not as it seems.
Edging closer to the common starting point of the Englishtown ferry, the old Nova Scotian adage rang true: if you don’t like the weather, wait fifteen minutes. Skies that were soft and blue gave way to grey clouds and ominous rain, setting a somber tone. This is no place for trailer-queens or show cars.
Climbing the hills toward Ingonish Beach, the rain had ended and a tranquil fog set about the Highlands. For most, the brief journey between Ingonish and Cape North offers restaurants, gift shops, hiking trails and powerful ocean views. But we’re not like most.
Our thrills don’t come from walking through the woods while being eaten alive by mosquitoes. We long to test ourselves against the pavement. To feel the crisp change of gears. To make our hair stand on end, nailing the perfect apex on a mountain pass.
It’s in the path leading into Pleasant Bay that the true masterpiece begins to reveal itself, corner by sweeping corner, winding upwards into the mountains. I should mention, if you are going to do some spirited driving, take my word — you really need to know the limits of your machine. There is no margin for error.
For some, what comes next is reason enough to make the trek from just about anywhere in the country. It’s not uncommon to meet people from places thousands of kilometers away that came just to marvel at the most stunning view Nova Scotia has to offer.
So the next time you plan to hit the road and search for driving perfection, don’t forget to check your own backyard.
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