Canada Trip, 2016: Franey Mountain

The centerpiece of our stay in Cape Breton was our hike of Franey Mountain, an 1,100-foot ascent that took us between 3 and 4 total hours up and down. It could have been done more quickly but we took our time, soaking in and photographing the beautiful scenery of the Cape Breton Highlands along the way (as well as a pretty bird that I believe was a ruffed grouse).

There are two trails that lead to the top. The one we chose for the climb turned out to be the better one in terms of the views–we chose the other trail for the hike back down, which was much less challenging but also much less interesting from a scenery perspective. I don’t remember which was which, but if you’re looking at a map, the straighter looking trail is probably the less interesting one. Either way, you are likely to take both: one on the way up and the other on the way down.

Overall, it’s a beautiful hike. Climbers who reach the peak are rewarded with spectacular views of lush green mountains along a picturesque coast, as well as the opportunity to sign the hiker’s guest book attached to an Adirondack chair at the top. If you find yourself in Cape Breton, Franey Mountain is definitely worth a visit.

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Seattle Trip, 2019: Whale Watching Cruise

These photos are from my ill-fated whale watching cruise out of Seattle. I should have known what kind of day it was going to be when my 8 a.m. seaplane flight to San Juan Island was delayed for an hour because of fog. The delay meant that I would no longer have time to eat breakfast at a nice restaurant in Friday Harbor, so I walked down the street to grab a quick egg sandwich at Starbucks. When I returned to the marina I learned that the flight would be further delayed until at least 11 a.m., meaning that I would now have no time at all to enjoy Friday Harbor before the cruise. On top of that there was a chance the flight would be canceled altogether. At this point they offered me a refund of both the airfare and cruise, and I really wish I had taken them up on it and just spent the day exploring more of Seattle.

Instead, I decided to wait it out because I did not want to regret passing on the opportunity to see killer whales in the wild (the company claimed to spot orcas on 98% of their cruises). With two more hours to kill I decided to make the long walk back to my hotel room for a while. When I returned, the weather had finally cleared and we were off. The seaplane ride itself was cool. The pilot offered to let one of us sit in the cockpit with him. I thought it would have been a neat thing to do as the only solo passenger on the flight, but one of the other men beat me to it.

So we landed in Friday Harbor and pretty much had to rush to the meeting area. The cruise started off well—we spotted a humpback right away and I had high hopes—but that single whale was about all we would see. The rest of the 3.5-hour cruise involved brief glimpses of a couple of porpoises and a seal, an extended period of time spent looking at some wildlife on islands, numerous returns to following the same humpback whale, and long stretches just riding around looking at nothing. We never came within a sniff of a killer whale, despite them being spotted off the islands on the previous day by some of my fellow passengers. So much for that 98% success rate–I guess we were the unlucky 2%.

Essentially, when factoring in the seaplane airfare, it ended up being the most expensive 3.5-hour harbor cruise ever, and you could see it on the faces of my fellow passengers. After a while most of them just stopped looking for marine life, opting instead for the warmth of the cabin, their faces painted with looks of dejection. And that was that.

I’m not writing this to find fault with the tour operators, which is why I am not using their names; I’m just recounting my experience. I understand that the seaplane company could not control the weather, and that the cruise company could not control the presence of wildlife, but that does not lessen the disappointment, and this whale watching cruise was the worst I’d ever taken in terms of sightings. It just felt like a wasted day. It was one of the only nice weather days in Seattle during my stay and I spent it in waiting rooms, planes, and freezing boats with very little to show for it. By the time I returned back to Seattle that evening, I was too tired to do much of anything else after waking up at 5 a.m. to make my pre-flight check-in.

I think this experience has turned me off of whale watching cruises for good. I’ve only been on one really good cruise and that was the first one I ever embarked on about 20 years ago in Maine. That particular trip out of Bar Harbor featured wall-to-wall whales, dolphins, and other marine wildlife, which obviously spoiled me because every cruise I’ve taken in the years since has been comparatively disappointing.

Anyway, despite the lack of sightings I ended up taking around 250 photos. Whittling them down to the few I’m sharing here was quite a chore (I’d hate to think how many photos I would have shot if there had actually been whales on this trip!). In the end, I managed to get a few nice shots of the humpback whale and some of the island wildlife.

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A Road Trip Through the Maritimes

My late summer Canada road trip is coming together. I’ve booked all of the places we’ll be staying during our two-weeks in the Maritime Provinces and plotted out the counter-clockwise route we’ll be taking, a rough map of which you can see here:

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The above route will involve about 2,100 miles of driving (not counting day trips and sightseeing detours) and 44 hours on the road (counting time spent on ferries), so my new RAV4 hybrid will be getting quite a workout!

Here is our rough itinerary:

Day 1: Driving up to southern Maine and crashing overnight at my sister-in-law’s house.

Days 2-3: Bay of Fundy

The Hopewell Rocks

We will be staying in a cottage overlooking the Bay of Fundy, first stopping in the seaside town of Saint Andrews for linner (i.e., in between lunch/dinner). During our stay the plan is to visit the Hopewell Rocks at both low and high tide (the Bay of Fundy has the highest tidal range in the world), Cape Enrage, and Fundy National Park, as well as the Fundy Trail and sea caves in Saint Martins. A visit to Saint John is also a possibility, though not as high on the list.

Days 4-5: Prince Edward Island

This will be our home in PEI.

Our next stop will be Prince Edward Island, famous for its rolling hills, red soil, and as the setting of the novel Anne of Green Gables. We don’t have any specific plans for our two days here; I figure it’s a good time to recharge after all of the driving and activities of the first three days, so we may just relax on the beaches and take some lazy drives around the coast. We will be staying at a B&B on the northeastern coast, an area that is supposed to be less touristy.

Day 6: Cape Breton and the Ceilidh Trail

Glenora Inn

This will mostly be a travel day as we hop on the ferry from Prince Edward Island to Nova Scotia and then make our way up to Cape Breton. Along the way we may stop in New Glasgow for lunch before crossing into Cape Breton and taking the scenic Ceilidh Trail along the coast all the way up to our stop for the night near the highlands: The Glenora Inn and Distillery, known for its whisky, where we’ll have dinner before settling in for the night in a private chalet nestled in the hills above the distillery.

Days 7-9: Cabot Trail and Highlands National Park

The Cabot Trail

This is the main attraction of the trip for us, a chance to meander through a landscape similar to what you might see in Scotland. We’ll begin on Day 7 with a drive along the Cabot Trail, famous for its picturesque beauty. Along the way we will stop and hike the Skyline Trail before continuing on to our destination for the next three nights: a private cabin overlooking the ocean near Ingonish. On Day 8 we will do more hiking in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, highlighted by an ascent of Franey Mountain. Finally, Day 9 will see us heading up to the Meat Cove area at the northernmost tip of the island for a whale watching cruise on a converted fishing boat.

Days 10-11: Halifax

Halifax

On Day 10 we will begin the long drive from Cape Breton all the way to Halifax in Nova Scotia, where we will be staying in a B&B not far from the waterfront. The first night will likely be a late arrival, so we’ll probably just walk along the boardwalk and get something to eat. On the second day, we can wander around the city (possibly visiting the Citadel at the top of the hill) or, if we’re feeling up to it, take a 90-minute drive north to hike out to Cape Split, a hike that comes highly recommended due to the spectacular view at the end of the trail.

Days 12-13: Yarmouth and the Lighthouse Trail

Lunenburg

After leaving Halifax we will embark on a daylong drive to Yarmouth while following as much of the scenic coastal Lighthouse Trail as possible (we won’t have time to do the entire route), taking us through towns like Peggy’s Cove, Mahone Bay, and Lunenberg, the latter of which might be a good place to stop for lunch. Other possible stops include The Ovens (to do some sea cave spelunking) and the Kejimkujik National Park Seaside Adjunct. Our late arrival in Yarmouth will leave us one free day to explore the town (and scratch the wife’s antiquing itch).

 

Days 14-15: The Long Journey Home

Yarmouth Ferry Terminal

We’ll be waking up early in the morning in Yarmouth to catch the ferry to Portland, Maine for what is supposed to be a 5.5-hour journey across the Atlantic. The ferry is not cheap–in fact I believe it may have been the most expensive single booking of our entire trip, more so than any of the lodging. Anyway, after departing the ferry we will once again crash at my sister-in-law’s house in southern coastal Maine before beginning the final leg of our journey back home to New Jersey.

I can’t wait to get underway; I’ve always wanted to do a big road trip, and a two-week jaunt through the Maritimes should be epic, though we’ll still only scratch the surface of everything the region has to offer. The rest, alas, will have to wait until next time.