The Highlands

Greetings from the northern tip of Nova Scotia, home to the hamlet of Meat Cove, which sits at the end of a 13 km gravel road that hugs the steep coastline; a short but very rough road, featuring hills, switchbacks, big muddy holes and washboard ruts. This is Nova Scotia’s northern driving limit.

Actually, I captured the above photo a short distance back down the road from the settlement, just to get a little privacy and a better background view. On my arrival in Meat Cove, I was dismayed to find no available scenic parking space, due to a large gathering of RVs, SUVs and vans…

No Soup for You: The Chowder Hut was closed on the day of my visit…

This was my first visit—and the Pontiac’s first visit—to The Maritimes. I’d say that Cape Breton Island is my favorite part of the area; lots of rugged beauty there and plenty of hiking opportunities, which I hope to experience on a future journey.

After leaving Meat Cove, I made my way down the western shore of the island. I was quite happy to find a campsite perched above the pounding surf, with a nice view of the setting sun…

Below, the campsite view just before sunrise. The constant hum of the crashing waves made for a good night’s sleep…

A nomad’s life must have great charm. And though we rate the nomad low in the scale of social progress, his life, for all we know, may be the richest in contentment. His moving is at once the reflex and the cure of discontent. Home being always where he has chosen it to be, he’ll always love his home.

~ Rockwell Kent, from the book Salamina

End of the Road

Stone of the Canadian Shield, visible above and below the cool, clear waters of James Bay. This is the view from the end of Longue Pointe Road, north of Chisasibi. Here, the Pontiac sits at 53.974089° N 79.078265° W—the northernmost drivable point* in Quebec—parked among the boats of local residents and outfitters…

Moment of Zen: Enjoy the softly-lapping waters of James Bay in a brief video recorded on the rocks of the nearby shore…      YouTube      Vimeo

Asterisk

Actually, it is possible to drive farther north in Quebec, but I wouldn’t recommend doing so in a vintage Pontiac.

As I’ve stated in prior posts about trips to the northern limit of a provincial road system, my use of the phrase “northernmost drivable point” pertains to roads that (1) are connected to the rest of the North American highway system, (2) are open to the public, (3) can be used in all seasons, and (4) are suitable for passenger cars with low ground clearance.

Less than an hour south of the town of Radisson, a gravel road leads northeasterly off of the James Bay Road and takes you 414 miles (666 km) deep into the heart of Quebec’s vast boreal wilderness. This is the Trans-Taiga Road, and at it’s terminus you would be 59 miles closer to the North Pole than the spot where I am parked in the photo above.

This extremely remote road is open to the public, but it was constructed to service the area’s massive hydroelectric industry. It is mainly used by trucks, usually moving at high speed. There are no towns along the Trans-Taiga; access to fuel and food is very limited. Also, this road has a reputation for eating tires and windshields. Learn more about the hazards of driving the Trans-Taiga Road through this link.

(Below, a look at the first kilometer of the Trans-Taiga Road. This is as far as went went…just wanted a taste. Farther on, the road becomes narrower and rougher.)

I couldn’t justify the risk of damage to the Pontiac simply to get that extra 59 miles of latitude, so I passed on the Trans-Taiga. Additionally, I suspected that using the end of that road as a northern benchmark would have been anticlimactic; the thought of making that very long and difficult drive, only to arrive at a gated industrial complex in the middle of the forest, just didn’t thrill me. But conquering the full length of the James Bay Road and reaching the boat landing on Longue Pointe, overlooking the crystal-blue waters of James Bay…that felt right. To me, that spot does a great job of capturing that “end of the road” flavor.

I may drive the Trans-Taiga Road someday, but only in a 4WD vehicle that is outfitted for camping. Driving up Route de la Baie-James in the Pontiac was a great experience; I enjoyed the scenery and the friendly people I met along the way. If you’re interested in traveling either of these roads, I encourage you to make it happen. But take the time to research the trip before leaving home, and make sure your vehicle is thoroughly ready for the journey.

The 25th Day of December

My personal favorite? 1990. I had just moved to California eight weeks earlier. Didn’t have a job, an apartment or any friends upon arrival; I found those first two items in short order. The friends came later, but I was never one to sit at home due to a lack of someone to hang with, and I quickly launched a program of solo excursions exploring the beauty of the Marin County coast.

A year earlier, the Loma Prieta earthquake took a big bite out of the hillside just south of Stinson Beach, dragging a large chunk of Highway 1 into the sea. The scar is still visible today on aerial views.

The area was fenced off for a long time (over two years, I believe) during the lengthy reconstruction process. The northern gate was located near the far left edge of this map. This provided a perfect spot to park the Pontiac and roam the coastal trails, free from the noise of traffic…nothing but the sounds of birds, surf and the wind. I’d often see a few other hikers in the area, but on that Christmas day, I had the whole playground to myself.

One of my favorite spots was along that ridge you see to the northwest of Gull Rock. There is a giant slab of stone that sticks straight out of the hillside like a snake’s head.

This is a nice spot for sunbathing or meditation. I enjoyed stretching out on the cool, hard rock and staring at birds soaring on the breeze and listening to the waves crashing below. It also afforded a great view of the construction area, and during work hours, I would watch the bulldozers launch truck-size boulders on a long bouncing trek down the hillside (they seemed to be moving in slow motion), ending in a titanic, silent splash in the cold water.

The weather for this holiday visit was sunny with a nice sea breeze and a temp in the mid-50s. From the snake’s head, I spent a good amount of time working my way down to the rocks at the water’s edge…

…and then moving back up another section of the cliffs; rinse, repeat. Not technical climbing by any means, just scrambling, but the faces were fairly steep and demanded careful navigation.

The crown jewel of the area is a tiny, beautiful crescent of a beach and a cove (bottom center of map) located where Lone Tree Creek empties into the Pacific.

The “trail” to reach this wonderful stretch of sand is a precipitous little adventure clogged with large rocks, scrub and poison oak and it begins right at that “1” symbol on the map.

Due in no small part to the lack of a proper trail to this beach, I never saw any other people there during my many visits. It really is a fantastic spot to have all to yourself and it was always part of my itinerary when I’d leave my apartment on Carl Street and drive to the coast.

Once the sun got low, I walked backed up the silent highway to the Pontiac, loaded a CD (something appropriate for the mood and the scenery) into the boom box in the back seat, sat on the hood of the car with my back against the windshield and watched the sun blaze into the briny blue.

At this point, the mood for food came on with authority, so it was back over the Golden Gate and into Chinatown, which was fully open for business and fairly packed. I found a table and ordered a big dish of beef chow mein.

As for this particular slice of California, it’s been more than twenty years since I saw it last. Perhaps it looks quite different today, perhaps not. Stop by if you’re in the area and tell me what you see.

Note: These photos were shot on Ektachrome film with the only working camera I owned at the time, my grandfather’s vintage Argus C3 rangefinder, along with a handheld Weston Master II exposure meter.