Friday, August 10, 2012

Pack the Car and Leave This Town

For the most part, this was your typical “driving day.” In a nutshell, I went the 410km (which I assume is about 975 miles) from Halifax to Ingonish on Cape Breton Island. However, since it was an international driving day, there were some extra added dimensions to this leg of the journey.

One of the possibilities of which I’ve been terrified all week is the prospect of getting a speeding ticket. While I don’t think it would show up on my driving record – I don’t think Massachusetts has reciprocity agreements with sovereign foreign nations; that sounds unconstitutional – I keep thinking of Locked Up Abroad. Granted, I doubt I’d be locked up for a speeding ticket (unless I’ve been doing this metric conversion thing waaaay wrong), and I don’t think a Canadian prison would be the hellhole a labor camp in Laos would likely be. But still, the thought of getting a ticket has me thinking about how to contact the US embassy, the fact that I don’t know their phone number, and the fact that my phone is basically off, what kind of paperwork I’d even show the officer, whether the US would let me back in with an outstanding ticket… Is my Jewish side showing?

But all things considered, I know that it’s going to be alright (I think it's gonna be alright...). I’m getting more comfortable driving here. I decided that if US radar guns have a 10% margin of error, so must Canadian ones, so I have at least 10 km/hr of wiggle room. Still, I like having someone in front of me to follow, as long as they don’t have Florida plates.  I’ve also studiously avoided “tourist tells” while driving. You know, the things that if the guy in front of you does them you instantly know he doesn’t know what he’s doing or where he’s going. Things like signaling, slowing down, and then deciding not to turn at the last minute. Things like getting in a left turn lane and then sheepishly trying to move over when they realize they meant to keep going straight. Things like randomly braking to read every road sign. Things like blatantly ignoring the norms of the road in a way that disrupts what everyone else is trying to do. All these things are made far worse when you have an out of state (or out of country) license plate.

So far my only tell was slowing down to take a picture of the Cabot Trail sign when I first got on the famous byway. But I don’t consider that one particularly egregious because everyone who takes that road is on it for the scenic value, so the guy behind me was probably thinking about doing the same thing. Had it been someone trying to make it the last 3 blocks to home without some idiot stopping right in front of them, it would have been a different story. But just like such actions are acceptable on the Pacific Coast Highway, I have declared them kosher here, as well.
When I’ve told people that the Cabot Trail is like an east coast version of the PCH, I’ve gotten a lot of incredulity. How could there be something like that here, when there’s nothing like Big Sur in this half of the continent? As it turns out, there totally is something like Big Sur! Cape Smokey is a 750-foot peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic and then falls straight into it. The Cabot Trail ascends this mountain in about a mile. When I dared peer down into limbo the view was not all that dissimilar to the PCH. I’d show a picture, but there was never a turnout that allowed me to stop. Just when I was about to get upset about this, I realized that it was because there would have been no room to put one. Maybe I’ll have better luck with that tomorrow.
After about 6 hours on the road I reached Cape Breton Highlands National Park. That’s an ironic name because the highlands for which the park is named have no trails from the developed areas of the park and are virtually inaccessible (although we’ll see about that on Sunday. I may have some insider information that will crack the island’s interior). Instead, the park is centered around the Cabot Trail, which runs along its borders. My plan over the next few days is to travel along the Trail, taking hikes and finding other interesting scenery along the way. Today was just the beginning of that, with a set of stairs leading to Shelob’s lair a view of the coastline and a breakwater that forms a freshwater lake.
My other stop for this afternoon was Mary Ann Falls. I’ve learned this week that the French word for waterfall is chutes, which is fitting because when I got to this one there were about a half dozen people jumping off it and sliding down it. While I waited for them to vacate my picture, I perched Gordo on a rock where I was reasonably confident he wouldn’t decide to jump off and go for a swim. He liked it so much he even looked at me when I tried to take his picture:

Anyway, here’s the waterfall:

Then it was back to my campsite, which I did not previously realize was a 2-minute walk from the ocean. This is not an exaggeration. To the left of my tent are 5 more campsites, and then the ocean. So while I hadn’t planned on it, how could I pass up the opportunity to catch a sunrise over the ocean (since this east side of the island isn’t really well suited for sunsets). I decided to scout the area out this evening – The towering cliffs should help tomorrow morning, too.  

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