back to Nova Scotia

July 13th, Sydney to Channel Port aux Basques, 18 miles cycling, 100 miles ferry

Newfoundland! I'm excited at reaching the last province on my trip. Today was an easy day, with a short ride to the ferry and then a six-hour ride across to Channel Port aux Basques. During the summer there are two or three ferries per day. However reservations are recommended for automobiles since it fills up. I took the 9am and made a day of it.

Left motel in Sydney and cycled around the bay to North Sydney. Little traffic on the roads and fair road surfaces for an early morning 13 mile ride. Mostly tourists on this ferry. Included in this set was a contingent of "Airstream" trailers, 36 strong and on a two month tour. Apparently, there is a active club doing these sorts of trips. This particular group was spending a month on Newfoundland.

Uneventful ride across on the ferry. Following are a few pictures.

Newfoundland shores! The shore area around Port aux Basques is mostly barren. A strong wind when we arrived. Understand that strong winds are common in Newfoundland. The weather can also be foggy and wet. I've been hearing about this island for a while, so exciting to be there. Close now, although I realize there are almost 600 miles of somewhat rough land ahead.

July 14th, Channel Port aux Basques to Doyles, 31 miles

Rain. Enough days left that I decided to take an easy rain day today. Left Port aux Basques under mostly clear skies and a beautiful sunrise. Cool temperatures in the low 40s. The landscape has a few trees, but mostly low bushes. The hills above town have a few snowfields visible, but are otherwise mostly rocky.

Once out of Port aux Basques, went past a stretch marked as "high wind warning". Apparently, trucks and railway cars have been tipped by the winds reaching up to 100 mph. Fortunately, light winds as I went through. A few rolling hills, but not yet the "very hilly" region I'd been warned about. My odometer wasn't reading all the miles. Stopped in Doyles for breakfast. As I left from breakfast it started raining, with some thunder. Saw a nice lodge besides the highway. It started raining harder. At this point, I decided to take it very easy and stop for the day. Only 30 miles, but also no need to bicycle in 40 degrees and rain (getting into 'end game' mode). It rained pretty hard until 1pm and then several times thereafter.

This is the 500th anniversary of John Cabot's discovery of Newfoundland. On May 2nd, 1497 a ship named the Matthew set sail from Bristol, England. It reached Bonavista, Newfoundland on June 24, 1497. The Queen came for the reinactment ceremony this year and there have been a series of festivals as the Matthew sails around Newfoundland. Given that I also left on May 2nd and made it about 4000 miles to southern Ontario by June 24th, the daily distances of the Matthew and my bicycle are remarkably similar. Also interesting to contrast the relative luxury (good maps, motels, internet,...) of the two trips.

July 15th, Doyles to Stephenville, 72 miles

Ugly weather starting out. Strong winds from the north with driving rain. That coupled with a rolling hills dampened my "last province" enthusiasm a little as I focused on crossing the province. The route first followed the Conroy valley before going from drainage to drainage. Mostly forest, a mixture of evergreen and deciduous trees. Road condition was better than expected. There was usually a 3ft shoulder. Climbing lanes were added for the hills. Traffic was usually light, although there was a "tide" of cars corresponding to arrival of the ferry.

First stop was the "Hungry Bear" restaurant at mile 30. I was a hungry and wet bicyclist when I arrived. Fortunately, the rain mostly stopped after breakfast. Wind and hills continued, mostly going from drainage to drainage.

Stephenville has done a good job with signage. There is a sequence of signs listing the kilometers left to the exit: 100, 90, 82, 78, 73, 66, 58, 53, 45, 36, 32, 27, 23, 22, 21, 20, 19, 18, 17, 16, 15, 14, 10, 1. Most signs also listed local services. I watched these signs count down as I got closer. Fortunately, the rain and overcast skies steadily improved.

Stopped in at the visitor center before taking the exit and cycling 12 miles west to the town. There was a large paper mill just before coming into town. Stephenville was established to support Harmon Air force base during WWII. The last few miles of road crosses old taxiways. Old hangers have been turned into farmers markets and small industrial operations. Part of the airport is still used and I saw a large "Cubano" airplane land. Many of the buildings, including the hotel are former barracks buildings.

July 16th, Stephenville to Deer Lake, 86 miles

Nice weather returns. Sunny skies and not much wind. What a difference! Still cool enough to wear mittens and a wool hat starting out. Though by the end of day I'm in a T-shirt. As I'm departing Stephenville there are already some jets taking off. Take the provincial road #460. It is in worse condition than the TCH, narrower and with spots where the road has deteriorated. Luckily traffic is light. First nineteen miles bring me through woods until I rejoin the TCH.

TCH has nice three foot shoulders and nice surfaces. It also has hills. In this stretch to Corner Brook, when I'm not going up a hill, then I'm going down. Fortunately, well graded and frequently with passing lanes. There are also several nice lakes along the way: George's Lake, Pinchgut Lake,... I stop for breakfast at Pinchgut Lake at mile #39.

Corner Brook has some large hills as the highway bypasses the city. The town is the second largest in Newfoundland (after St. John's metro area), and there are four exits off the TCH. I had eaten just an hour earlier and thus decide to bypass the town, though take a picture from one of the hills.

Just as I pass the third exit into town, I look down and see my rear wheel has acquired a wobble. Uh oh! Corner Brook is the last town I know has a bike store (before St. John's), so I back up to the exit and find the T&T Bike Shop. Diagnosis worse than expected. The rim has developed cracks around several spokes and may not go much further. They don't have a suitable replacement rim. There is a reason I've been carrying this spare wheel since Edmonton! I'm still a little nervous about this rim (it got me from Laird River to Edmonton, but...). I buy an inexpensive 700mm metal wheel, all they have in stock, and decide to take it with me. A bit of a gamble since the metal wheel will also add to the weight in back. I do find out there is a bike store in Gander, no rims there but we'll have to see.

Cycling out of Corner Brook, the road goes through the Humber Valley. It passes Marble Mountain Ski Area which claims, 1600ft vertical drop and best skiing east of the Rockies. Stop there for a late lunch. Not much past Marble Mountain, the nice shoulders go away. Log trucks use their horns in this province. Some areas of construction.

I cycle into and through Pasadena. This part of the route goes right along Deer Lake, with several pretty views. Need to concentrate a fair amount since traffic is a bit heavy and shoulders are minimal. Stop in the town of Deer Lake. At this point #430 would go all the way north up the penninsula, and interesting spot to explore.

July 17th, Deer Lake to Springdale, 77 miles

Deer Lake is another town with an old WWII air base. It is still in use as a commercial airport serving western Newfoundland. This area is still going through tough times. Province-wide Newfoundland's unemployment rate exceeds 18%. There is still a moratorium on fishing of cod a result of US & Canada (& others) overfishing George's Bank. Not too many ads in the "help wanted" part of the newspaper, but there are at least four ads for positions located in Alberta.

Timber. Lots of log trucks today. Empty trucks passing me and full trucks going back towards the Corner Brook paper mill. Fortunately, a nice three foot shoulder for most of the way. A few exceptions like a five mile stretch before the #420 intersection and the last fifteen miles. Otherwise, continued excellent road.

Mostly forest along today's route. There is a gas station at mile #29 and Fort Birchy restaurant/campground at mile #50. I ate before I left Deer Lake and have lunch at Fort Birchy. Several trailer parks such as those shown, along Grand Lake and Birchy Lake. Otherwise forest until mile #62 and the #410 turnoff. Signs for several tourist attractions here including iceberg watching and a ski area.

The forecast weather was dry in the morning and showers in the afternoon. By that measure, afternoon arrived at 9:30am. Intermittent showers throughout the rest of the day. Sometimes heavier rain. By the time I decide to stop at the Springdale exit, I'm fairly wet. Unfortunately, forecasts for the next few days day more of the same.

July 18th, Springdale to Grand Falls - Windsor, 58 miles

Another day with rain showers and clouds. Left Springdale and it was still dry, however it started raining soon afterwards. The road went over a few low hills and then briefly along the bay. After that slowly climbed up and over a drainage. Long stretches of forest with not much else. I must have passed a "divide" because I now had full log trucks passing me and going towards Grand Falls rather than the Corner Brook Mill. Passed several small lakes with campgrounds, including "Kona Beach".

Light drizzle as I cycled along. Stopped at the first restaurant in Badger at mile #39. After breakfast the rain came down much harder. I was soaked by the time I arrived in Grand Falls. This part of the route went along the Exploits River. In addition to paper, Grand Falls also has a large Salmon on its town entry sign. While it was still early, decided to stop here and dry out.

Grand Falls - Windsor was holding the annual Salmon Festival. The Atlantic Salmon spawn in fresh water rivers such as the Exploits. The young Salmon spend two years in the river before migrating out to sea. The Atlantic Salmon rendezvous off the west coast of Greenland where they grow for a year or two before returning to their native rivers to spawn. Atlantic Salmon do not die after spawning and may run back to sea and spawn for several times during their life.

July 19th, Grand Falls - Windsor to Gander, 68 miles

A peaceful calm morning. Heavy overcast skies on the verge of fog. Not much traffic and a quiet ride through the forest. Many trees with an occasional small pond. Thinking some already about the end of the ride. Getting closer now.

Eight miles down the road, stopped at the Irving truck stop in Bishop's Falls for breakfast. Country music playing away. Strangely similar to others all across Canada, though less trucks and truckers here than further west. After Bishops's Falls, cross the Exploits River and then a few larger hills to climb and descend. The town of Norris Arm proudly proclaims, "We are a drive through community", in an attempt to lure traffic from the TCH.

At mile 28 reach #340 and the turnoff to Lewisporte and the ferry to Labrador. Briefly contemplate riding the ferry up and back. Unfortunately, this would take four days and suspect that gets old after a while. There is a road in Labrador that would be nice to cycle sometime: Trans-Labrador Highway, currently ~700 miles of mostly gravel road from Baie Comeau, Quebec to Goose Bay. Apparently with the discovery of nickel and diamond deposits at Voisey Bay, the road is even being upgraded. Perhaps best to wait a few years until it might be paved.

After #340, more rolling hills and forest, though more open patches in the forest than before. Stop for a little bit in Appleton and talk with a cashier in the local grocery. Finally, cycle in the last miles and reach Gander at mile 59.

Gander is a town created around an airport. The site was chosen in 1935 to support trans-Atlantic air travel. This particular location was picked because there was less fog than places such as St. John's. When the airport opened in 1938, it was the world's largest and had one square mile of tarmac. During the second world war as many as 10,000 servicemen lived on base and thousands of bombers and fighters flew across to Europe. After WWII, the town site was moved away from the runways and a modern town created.

Both the airport and air base are still used and aviation is still primary part of the economy. Streets are named after aviation pioneers. Recently, Canada announced that Atlantic region air traffic control was being consolidated in Gander. I stopped in to visit the North Atlantic Aviation Museum and their displays. I also cycled out of town to the site of Canada's worst air crash. On the site, a plane carrying 248 members of the U.S. 101st airborne and 8 crew crashed in 1985. The memorial, pictured at right, was created and dedicated to the victims. It stands in quiet woods about half a mile from the highway.

July 20th, Gander to Clarenville, 93 miles

Long day today. Strong winds from the southwest, i.e. headwinds for much of my route. In addition, Terra Nova National Park was pretty, but also as hilly as anything I'd seen since Corner Brook. Fortunately, beautiful sunny skies all day long.

Left early and cycled along Gander Lake. Apparently, Newfoundland has agriculture, but other than some beef cows, I haven't seen much on my route. (Among the tidbits I found were: Newfoundland produces 95% of the milk needed; Newfoundlanders eat 8x per capita turnips compared to the rest of Canada). Instead, very quickly outside these towns I'm cycling through forest. This route goes along Gander Lake, but also has some hills to climb and descend. Winds still light as I stop for breakfast at mile 19. Climb over the next hill and reach Joey's Point, an overlook looking down on Gambo. I'm there about five minutes before a convoy of at least eight RVs arrives. U.S. tourists going through Newfoundland. Other than these sorts of collections, there are fewer tourists here than I would expect given the scenery.

Slowly into the wind and across to Glovertown. Shortly thereafter enter Terra Nova National Park. This park has many beautiful fjords, forests and many hiking trails along the way. Some Larch trees, a tree with needles and pine cones, that loses needles in the fall. Nice scenic views, but also many hills. Throughout the park the road has an eight foot paved shoulder. The wind continues as a strong headwind.

Stop in at the visitor center on the way out to see what I should have seen. Cycle past Port Blandford and then across the Bonavista Peninsula. The road goes back to a four foot shoulder. See the "castle" at right, complete with antena! Pass a ski area on my way to Clarenville. Clarenville claims to be "hub of the east", with government services and road crossings. Just after 6pm when I arrive.

July 21st, Clarenville to Whitbourne, 60 miles

Windy day. Strong winds out of the southwest, mostly headwinds. The clouds are low and go zooming past. The road has several hills as I climb past the "Northwest arm" to the "Southwest arm" and eventually to the "Come by Chance River". With a continuation of 4ft shoulders, Newfoundland takes my prize as best bicycling roads (Alberta and Nova Scotia deserve honorable mentions).

After the first ten miles, the skies keep darkening and it starts to rain. A headwind with a driving mist/rain is a bit uncomfortable as I slowly climb up and then over to the #210 intersection. Stop here for breakfast at Irving. The gas station is home to "Morris", a large metal moose. I dawdle a bit over breakfast and rain stops by the time I finish. Winds continue strong.

I pass Sunnyside and cross over to the Avalon Peninsula. From here, the road seems to follow ridge lines and cross over a surprising number of hills. The town of Come By Change has an oil refinery. Gas prices here are close to $0.75 Canadian per liter (~$2.00 U.S. per gallon).

Some areas are forested, but there are less trees on the Avalon Peninsula than central Newfoundland. Some barren hills with tundra. The road follows the middle of the peninsula with some longer climbs by #202 and #203. The road slowly turns northwards, and I start having more crosswinds and even tailwinds. Still only have 45 miles at noon, lowest total in a while.

Reach Whitbourne and decide to stop for the day. Rather than tire myself out going for St. John's, leave some fun for the next day.

July 22nd, Whitbourne to St. John's, 71 miles

Home stretch! Today I cycled in to St. John's including a side trip to Cape Spear. It was exciting to reach St. John's. As I left, there was already a stiff breeze blowing from the SW. Fortunately, a tailwind for most of the route.

First six miles were without a shoulder. After that a multi-lane divided highway with a shoulder. A moderate amount of traffic on the road heading towards St. John's. The scenery varied between forested areas and more open grassy/rocky hills. The road climbed up and over several hills including Hawk Hill at mile 23. Several nice provincial parks.

St. John's is a city with huge geographical boundaries. I reached city limits at mile 35. The city itself didn't really start until mile 47 or so. Shortly thereafter, made a stop at the Avalon Mall and bought one-way airline tickets back. After that over the hills and downtown to the hotel at mile 55. Hurrah!

47 degrees 31 minutes 17 seconds North, 52 degrees 37 minutes 24 seconds West. Cape Spear is the easternmost point in North America. Cycling was much easier as I left my gear at the hotel. This was fortunate as the route included three large and steep hills and was otherwise very hilly. Took the obligatory photos, viewed the 1835 lighthouse and saw the WWII bunkers. On the way back stopped in for ice cream at a small store. While tourism was up, his store receipts had gone down due to the province creating a government snack shop at Cape Spear. His tax dollars at work.

Cycled back to the hotel over the last hills and in. 71 not very difficult miles overall.

July 23rd and 24th, St. John's, 9 miles

Two and a half days in St. John's before flying back. St. John's has a beautiful natural harbour with a narrow opening. On the north side of that opening is Signal Hill. Nice historic park including Cabot tower, built in 1897 to celebrate 400 years of the discovery. Apparently, there is some doubt on exactly where Cabot landed, Newfoundland, Cape Breton or perhaps even Maine? Newfoundland has been the most organized with their celebrations though.

The first permanent settlements happened nearly a hundred years later in 1582. The old town is on the side of the hill on the south side of the harbor. The streets were layed out with horses in mind and thus mostly go across the hills to avoid sharp grades. One can still ride a horse carraige around town for ~$65. Many shops downtown including a bicycle shop. One section has many pubs and is apparently famous for its "pub crawl" where one visits each pub for a drink.

St. John's is geographically closer to Ireland than to Thunder Bay. There is also some influence in the traditional music. I found it interesting that I was approximately equidistant from Moscow as from Fairbanks.

I spent time exploring Signal Hill, visiting the Newfoundland Museum (great!), wandering through town, visiting Quidi Vidi fishing village and some time relaxing, doing laundry, etc. Following are my favorite pictures from what I took around town.

July 25th, St. John's to Williston, Vermont

End of the trip. I flew back from St. John's via Halifax, Saint John and Boston to Burlington, Vermont. After the trip, I spent a weekend with my parents in Vermont, then five days back in Massachusetts before moving on to the San Jose, CA area to start a new assignment with Hewlett-Packard. A new adventure!

This bicycle trip had been in my dreams and plans for a long time. Overall, the trip went largely as expected and I really enjoyed it. Particularly enjoyed the ability to travel from day to day, experiencing the terrain and people, dealing with minor adventures (weather, mechanical, bears,...) as they came up. I'm pleased HP could accomodate a three month leave. Traveling with a computer was fun, thanks to the "internet crew" for encouraging notes and following along with me.

I felt like I experienced a small slice of each of the ten provinces as well as Yukon and Alaska. I've collected a long list of places to go back to visit on bicycle and otherwise: Denali NP, Top of World Highway, Haines/Skagway loop, Laird River, Banff, Quetico, Iron River, western Manitoulin, thousand Islands, Gaspe, Acadian Peninsula, PEI, Cabot trail and the Trans-Labrador highway. Wait until the next trip!

At the same time, I'm looking forward to getting back at work; having the same faucet controls two days in a row; seeing the same people I saw yesterday, and otherwise being in one place for a while.