I’m not sure why I had so much anxiety about driving solo across the border in the Winnie. I told myself I could turn around and come back at any time I felt too far outside my comfort zone, but so far, all my fears have been unfounded. I don’t really miss the Tracker all that much thus far, given that I am doing more touring than parking. I’ve been able to navigate with ease, and so far, internet access has been above expectations.
Before I left, I visited the AT&T store in Ellsworth, Maine to see if my 10 year old plan was worth updating. I switched to their “Unlimited Plus” plan, which as the name implies, gives unlimited everything and no contract for only $15 more a month than what I was paying for 450 “rollover” minutes, no text plan, and 5GB of no-roam data. I’m still scratching my head on how I missed that opportunity. The only catch is, I can’t roam for two full consecutive months, or I will lose the roaming aspect. But I’ll be back before that time period is up. So far, the AT&T coverage has been better than I anticipated, as is wifi availability. I have done a little “black top camping” at the Walmarts as I move east, and even they offer a “wmguest” account.
So with my new found confidence, I decide to revise my strategy a bit and head directly for Newfoundland on the most direct route possible. I’ll take time to explore Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island at a more leisurely pace on the way back. I am doing this for one reason only. I want to see the icebergs. When I was in Antarctica back in 2009, the ice turned out to be one of my favorite parts of the trip. I’d like the chance to experience those big, beautiful bergs once again. They are typically melted by mid-July, so time is fleeting.
As soon as I’m across the border, I call Maritime Atlantic to ask how soon in advance I need to make ferry reservations if I want to cross over to Newfoundland sometime within the next week. Her answer, “Now!” Still, I can’t get a reservation to accommodate the RV for five more days. So I’ll head east across Nova Scotia and explore the eastern end until time for my ferry crossing.
I am embarrassed to admit my lack of geography knowledge when it comes to eastern Canada. I’ve spent time in the Canadian Rockies in the west, but this is my first foray into the east. I had no idea Nova Scotia meant “New Scotland.” But as I approach Cape Breton with its lush rolling emerald green hillsides and steep rugged headland cliffs overlooking the blue-grey Atlantic, it’s certainly easy to understand the association.
I position myself in the eastern end of Nova Scotia and decide to explore Cape Breton Highlands National Park while I wait for my ferry reservations. There are two scenic drives that loop up and around the cape, the first of which is the Ceilidh Trail which skirts along the western side. A Ceilidh (pronounced, “kay-lee,”) Gaelic name for “gathering” is a traditional Scottish jam session. Nova Scotia is home to the largest Scottish Gaelic speaking community outside of Scotland, and in fact there is a “Gaelic College” on the Cape whose mission is “To promote, preserve and perpetuate through studies in all related areas: the culture, music, language, arts, crafts, customs and traditions of immigrants from the Highlands of Scotland.”
Cape Breton is also known for its traditional fiddle music brought to North America by Scottish immigrants. I’m not a dancer, but Celtic music makes me want to break out in a Scottish jig. The fiddle is probably my second favorite instrument behind the violin. When I took violin lessons, I asked my instructor “What’s the difference between a violin and a fiddle?” His answer, “About two thousand dollars.”
There seem to be music festivals taking place in this region throughout most of the year. There is even a large brochure listing the music venues. This week, it’s “Kitchen Fest,” with different musical events taking place across the cape. Fiddle, piano, bagpipes in each of the local pubs. Unfortunately, these are all in the evening. This is the first time I miss the Tracker, as I don’t want to drive the Winnie down the skinny cape roads after dark with moose-crossing signs at every milepost.
The next section of the scenic trails is the Cabot Trail, which loops directly through the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. I am a bit apprehensive as I want to get a campground in the National Park, but again, I have no reservations. There are many campgrounds to choose from, but since I am without the Tracker, I want the campground closest to the Skyline Trail, the park’s “signature hiking trail.” I whirl into the Cheticamp Visitor Center and ask about availability. She says “I have two remaining spots!” National Park 1, Winnie 1.
Next up…The “world famous” Cabot Trail…