The Fault in Our Car
We began the day at the Alexander Graham Bell museum, along the Cabot Trail around Baddeck. We thought it'd be interesting to poke around - after all, we figured it'd be mostly about the making of the telephone. As it turned out, Graham's life and inventions far surpassed the telephone - as a noted teacher of the deaf and proponent of his father's system for teaching deaf students to speak.
In fact, what was most striking was that the museum didn't talk all that much about the telephone - a good chunk of it was dedicated to the Silver Dart, the first manned flight in the British Empire, flown not far from the site of the museum. Bell assisted in the creation of the Silver Dart, and lived a short distance from Baddeck.
Bell's forward-thinking spirit and childlike enthusiasm for tinkering meant that he ended up producing tons of prototypes, some of which were almost a century ahead of their time. Bell actually produced the first cell phone - similar to his telephone prototype, only that the electrical signals were sent via light. Though he called it his greatest invention, it would have been impossible to commercialize at the turn of the century. Still, the principle of bouncing electromagnetic waves around to send signals sans wires was the same one behind the invention of the cell phone.
After a lively walk around and new information in our heads, we started of on the glorious Cabot Trail and began the great loop around Cape Breton Island. The road conditions were somewhat poor to start off, but improved immensely once we entered Cape Breton Highlands National Park.
We poked around the nearly deserted visitor center and then entered the all-but-deserted park. We stopped at the pull-offs and traversed some of the smaller trails ... but the trails gave us worse views than from the road, so eventually we decided to stick to the places that we knew we could see stuff from. The fresh bear droppings along our first trail kept us on our toes - or, should I say, in the car.
Rain and mist came in and out, on and off, for most of the day. Hungry, we stopped at a place featured on the Canadian equivalent of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, a show called You Gotta Eat Here - Coastal Restaurant in Ingonish, a place that did a pretty good job at advertising its television appearance. I got the burger that was featured on the show - the Ringer Burger - which is piled with onion rings and some kind of sweet honey barbecue sauce. It looked a lot bigger than it really was due to the onion rings, but it was still quite filling.
We headed back on the Cabot Trail, winding in and out of the park. Most of the prettiest scenery on the Trail was on the other side, which we got to as we turned and began heading north and back down on the north edge of Nova Scotia.
Of course, this is the time that Murphy's Law began to kick in.
We began a slow climb up a mountain, stopping at the ample pull-off areas for breathtaking panoramas of the seascape and landscape - the Trail far below, mountains above, valleys with small babbling brooks, and the Atlantic Ocean, stretching out until it met the sky.
At the second of these pull-offs, my dad said that he felt the car acting funny - like it wasn't rolling all the way. He chalked it up to trying to start from 0 on an incline with a lot of weight in the trunk ... that is, until we got to the next pull-off. Something smelled kind of funny, and sure enough, our back right tire was smoking slightly.
We figured that it just got a little hot while going up and down massive inclines, so we stopped for a good while until it had stopped smoking and no longer radiated heat. I kept an eye on it in the rearview mirror and my mom kept her window down so she could smell it if it started smoking again.
Without any signs of trouble, we reached the next pull-off. My dad slowed the car down, put the emergency brake on, and we all heard a pop. The next thing we knew, smoke was coming out of the brake apparatus anew, and my mom briskly warned us that there was a small fire.
I launched out of the car and threw what remained of my water bottle on the tire, which steamed up. We dumped quite a bit of our water supply on the tire. It was still hot when we were done, but the fire and smoke had gone out. The smell, as thick in the air as the midges we would come to hate, was still there.
It's at times such as these when faith in humanity is restored, for half a dozen different cars rolled up to see if we were fine. We must have been quite a sight - three folks gesturing and talking around a tire with a veritable puddle around it. We met a family from Salt Lake City visiting a family member in Maine, who took my dad down to an emergency call box two kilometers down the Trail. (We had tried OnStar, our cell phone, and the cell phones of anyone else who had offered help, all to no avail. There's no reception on the Cabot Trail.)
We met a independently-minded older lady from Austin out on a free-wheeling road trip of her own. She didn't know where she would end up before turning back, but was thinking about hopping on the ferry to Newfoundland. She offered us fruit and water, but we assured her that we had plenty of supplies.
The Salt Lake City folks returned and my dad emerged from their small sedan. We thanked them profusely for their trouble and offered to pay them, but they refused. He'd contacted a tow truck in Chéticamp, where we were originally planning to spend the night anyway. We had to wait another hour or so, but we spent it talking to the families that drove up to offer us their help.
Eventually a man came up from Pleasant Bay, a little village that we'd gone through at the base of the mountain upon which all of these events transpired. Interested in the car - as many guys who know cars are - he poked around and posited a few theories as to the origin of the fire. Whatever it is, it will likely be a pretty easy fix, even if they have to bring in parts from Sydney - which is just a few hours' drive away along the northeast edge of Nova Scotia.
Eventually, the tow truck came barreling up the mountain, right before we were totally eaten alive by the pesky and ever-curious midges. We gave the driver a brief rundown of the situation, and my dad drove the car up onto the bed.
Unfortunately, the cab was even smaller than the one we all had to cram into in Texas last year. We were all crammed into an area of about one and a half seats. We maneuvered around to the least uncomfortable position in the cab, to the amusement of the driver. I was originally going to sit equally on parents' laps, but to do that, I would have had to basically lean over because my head wouldn't fit upright. So I got the other window seat, my dad was in the middle, and my mom sat halfway.
This meant that there was no room for seat belts. My mom leaned over onto my dad or myself depending on the curve. We were packed into that cab like Sardines playing Twister, and we were keeping the driver laughing by cracking jokes left and right. By the time we had traversed the most scenic parts of the Cabot Trail and made it into Chéticamp, our driver felt like an old friend.
We rolled into the small repair shop, met a fellow with green teeth, and got a ride to the motel just up the street. I had my reservations (no pun intended) at first ... but this place is actually pretty nice. People up here put pride into what they do. It's a small-town kind of feel without Americana ... Canadiana, perhaps?
For dinner, we walked a little ways down the street and ate at the restaurant adjoining the Harbor Inn. It was good food and good ambiance - I ended up with the haddock, with some kind of dill sauce on the side. Dessert was fried ice cream. All in all, not our best meal, but it was excellent. (My dad ordered his first beer in 32 years.)
Tomorrow: depending on the car situation, we'll either get a little farther down the road (after backtracking to see what we missed on the last little stretch of the Cabot Trail) or staying in Chéticamp another night. At most, we'll spend just one more night in this sleepy little town, but that would be unexpected.