My plan was simple and centred around the week-long Gaelic College summer school in Cape Breton. I would join some Gaelic friends in Nova Scotia a few weeks earlier who were meeting some Nova Scotian Gaelic contacts. I would spend the interim weeks cycling from wherever we ended up to the Gaelic College. I felt the plan needed no more work than that. My only real worry was that I was going to spend a considerable amount of time camping and there are bears. While there I learned that I didn’t just need to worry about bears, there are also cayotes.
Part of my cycle was the Cabot Trail, like the North Coast 500, this loop road is iconic, beautiful and steep. While pedalling towards it I was growing concerned about the weight distribution on my bike. All my gear was back loaded and on steep hills this can result in the bike bucking, not ideal. It was also very, very hot so a lot of the kit was unnecessary, if I could just unload some of it…
I stopped at the Red Shoe, Mabou, for a lunchtime refreshment and struck up conversation with the bartender. The usual ‘where are you from?’ questions quickly turned into a plan to join him, his friends and some Norwegian hitchhikers at the Broad Cove Scottish Concert that evening. I could camp on his lawn and I had heard about the concert and was thrilled to get the chance to go. So, our rag-tag group of travellers and friends headed off and we all had a great time. Even better, one of the group, David worked at the Gaelic College so the next day I packed a full of surplus kit and left it behind with my new friends, what could possibly go wrong? The next day I pedalled off, lighter and happier, to complete the Cabot Trail.
Days later my aunty, who lives in Barra, messaged me about a text she had received from David asking if we were related. It turned out, as things do in the Gàidhealtachd*, that the stranger I had met knew my aunty. When I arrived at the Gaelic college the bag of stuff I had left with a stranger in good faith was lying on my bed.
I was expecting the trip to be fun, travelling normally is, but I also wasn’t expecting to be truly surprised. Yet I was, by the warmth of the hospitality I received for everyone I met, and I struggled to choose one but I hope this story does the kindness of Nova Scotians justice. I could have mentioned the lady who helped with a place to stay and food when my flight was delayed for 24 hours or the man who offered to drive me, my bike and all my gear to the airport just to save me the 90km cycle. Even when you are so far from home you can still feel so close in the Gàidhealtachd.
*Gaelic way of referring to the Highlands