Friday, March 19, 2010

The Margaree Valley of the Dolls

Never ask for directions in Cape Breton.

"You see that road there, right."

Right? As in turn right? There was a final high-rising intonation. Was that a question?

"Take that road... right, and go all the way 'til you sees the laundromat on your left, right. Then you heads west, and you keep goin' 'til you sees the sign the says the road to the pier, right. And if you sees the sign for to go to New Wadderferd, turn around, right, cuz you've gone too far."

According to the guide book, I was in the Oxycontin capital of the world, but I couldn't buy any, anywhere. What's worse was I kept going right, followed by another right until I ended up right back where I started – in the Tim Horton's parking lot, in my pyjamas, killing time until the sun came up because I was told by the little bastard not to "clomp around" so early in the morning.

So how was your March Break? Cuba, Panama, Aspen. Piss off the lot of ya. I spent five days in an ashtray of a rink parking lot lodged somewhere between the Sydney Tar Pits and the asshole of the Earth. Thank Christ it was sunny, and the little bastard's team won the Provincials, or I would have been really cranky.

And just try maintaining a healthy lifestyle on a road trip. In rural Nova Scotia. In early spring, when the scurvy is killing them off faster than the 26'er of dark rum they had with their Beep for breakfast. I asked one clerk for an apple and she looked at me like I was on fucking fire.

"No, but we got some oat cakes."

I confess to falling off the UWeight wagon rather abruptly one evening at our hotel, thanks to a fellow hockey mom, some leftover pizza and a bottle of Bleasdale Mulberry Tree Cabernet Sauvignon. But I scrambled back on, and we left Sydney with a carload of medals and happy boys – heading toward Baddeck and the other Cape Breton – the drop-dead gorgeous natural wonder that takes your breath away. Stopping to stare at the Cabot Trail clinging to the coast, I had forgotten how small one can feel surrounded by such overpowering natural beauty. You certainly don't feel that in the liquor store line-up on a Sydney Saturday night.

Pulling into the Inverary Resort in Baddeck was like going home. Years ago, I'd spent a few months in a farmhouse near Wreck Cove and my weekly trips to Baddeck were a touchstone to the outside world. Back then, I'd stock up on wine, magazines and fresh oatmeal bread from the Highwheeler Café. In March, Baddeck was pretty much a ghost town, but for the welcoming lights of the Inverary. While the boys took a swim, I strolled past the black clapboard cottages, down to the lake. I imagined coming back in the summer to play tennis and guzzle gin & tonics by the "inland sea". The Bras d' Or lakes are saltwater, but lack the multitude of creepy things this Georgian Bay swimmer can live without. If it wasn't March I would have followed the dogs in for a swim. As the light faded over the lake, I realized if industrial Cape Breton was was the evil stepsister, this part of the island was Cinderella.

The next day, I suggested a hike to Uisge Ban Falls – which is apparently Gaelic for "no fucking way". The boys were tired after all that hockey, and at 14, hiking with someone's mother sounded about as appealing as church. I also suggested we come back to the Inverary in the summer to fly fish, golf, and cycle bits of the Cabot Trail – the flat bits preferably. To that I got a resounding "ya".

Alas, the March Break is grinding to a halt. Neighbours are trickling in with annoying suntans, and enviable jet lag. I may not have a fresh stamp in my passport, but I had a relaxing, poverty-stricken good time, surrounded by genuinely nice people. And besides – Oxycontin, or no Oxycontin – watching your happy, healthy kid win – at anything – beats an all-inclusive ticket to a tropical paradise any day.


The Inverary Resort is located in Baddeck. They have great golf packages and make a wicked bowl of oatmeal.