Touring the Maritimes by car is a fine Canadian tradition. The highlands of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, offer one of the world's most roller-coaster-like roadways, the Cabot Trail. Drinking in its views of the ocean far below on one side and towering cliffs on the other, I regret shaving a few bucks off the rental fee by skipping the insurance.
The Cabot Trail detours inland, avoiding the province's northernmost tip. When we reach this turning point, my girlfriend and I choose to leave the beaten path, which is how we end up at Meat Cove.
Where the Gulf of the St. Lawrence meets the Atlantic Ocean, at the end of a dirt road with all the thrills of the Cabot Trail but none of the guard rails, we pick up a few pamphlets at a shack-like greeting centre. Meat Cove Camping promises our stay will "become a lasting memory." Following the lonely road, we arrive at the rocky-ass end not just of Cape Breton but of Canada itself.
A sloping grass plain pitching into the sea, the campground is exposed to whipping winds on all sides. The owner, Kenneth MacLellan, a man with a face like a piece of driftwood, gives us something approaching a greeting. He doesn't look arsed whether we stay or not, but agrees to show us around the sites. He recommends against certain campsites for tonight because "it might get a little bit windy." Since we're already clutching our hats, we ask for clarification, but we only catch a few words: "50 kilometres an hour" and "gale-force."
By now it's too late to leave, so I pull the rental onto a site by a cliff and pray the parking brake holds.
Out here on the edge of nowhere, our flimsy dome tent seems more insubstantial than ever. The sun's still peeking through the clouds, so we follow our slope to a steep cliff that drops to a small beach of sharp pebbles and stones. The water is cold and refreshing, and we wade into it, fish nibbling at our toes. The crash of the surf and a dangerous undertow put us off any actual swimming.
Grey clouds now loom all around, so we scramble back up the hill to cook a quick dinner of canned seafood chowder. Soon it's spitting rain, and the wind is definitely picking up. We stuff everything inside the tent and dive in to sleep.
At some indeterminate hour we're awakened by a Blair Witch buffeting of the tent. The gale is upon us, and it is fucking terrifying. The walls are shaking. The rain tarp is threatening to blow off, and water is sluicing through the tent's nylon walls. How securely are we nailed down? The whole tent is lifting; I wonder how long till the pegs are pulled out of the spongy earth to send us rolling and crashing onto the surf and rocks below.
This goes on all night. Sleep is impossible. After the tent wall hits my head with the force of a punch, I complain, "It's like we owe the weather money and now it's sent a few boys over to collect."
We giggle about this, but our mirth is drowned out by the wind and we go back to being scared.
And then, at some point, we notice a strange light right outside the front door of our tent. It seems bright enough to be the moon. How had we not seen it before? Slowly, we unzip the flap and peek out. There in the distance in the channel is a strange and ghostlike ferry, lit by electric lights, whose slow progress we watch with our binoculars.
It's spooky but somehow calming to know it's out there - reassuring enough to let us sleep at last, or at least to let Liz sleep. I spend the rest of the night calculating repayment schedules for the rental's inevitable slide into the deep.
When dim daylight creeps into the tent, we emerge to find the car still there; I'm not brave enough to check its tracks to see if it's shifted. We decamp in record time.