The end

28 August 2010

DAY 15: Gander to Clarenville, 85 km

DAY 16: Clarenville to Conception Bay, 118 km

DAY 17: Petty Harbour and Cape Spear, 75 km

DAY 18: Boxing bikes and Signal Hill

DAY 19: St. John's

Because we'd had relatively long cycling days in Newfoundland, we had the luxury of taking it pretty easy on our last two days of cycling. And it was a good thing that we did, since the weather took a turn for the worse: it got cold and headwindy. What's more, the hills got steeper and longer as we approached Terra Nova National Park, and stayed that way pretty much up to our arrival in St. John's. So while we covered less ground, we still spent a good deal of time on our bikes.

On our third-last day of cycling (Day 15), we stopped for a bit of a break about 75 km into the day's ride. We ended up having fish and chips at a diner and before we knew it, it was getting too late to cycle much further. Fortunately, though, a friendly Newfoundlander working there told us about a great spot to camp only about 10K down the road. Just off the highway there was a clearing in the forest around a nice little lake. The locals take their trailers down there and set up a de facto campground—the perfect spot for us! We arrived there at sunset and put up our tents. Michael and I decided to go swimming, despite the fact that it was only about 15 degrees out and windy, making it extremely cold. Nicole and Frederique (Michael's girlfriend, who joined us for NL) thought we were crazy, but it was our last night camping out, so we had to do it!

Our last campsite

The next day was our (unofficial) last cycling day, and we were eager to arrive at our destination, Sunset View Bed and Breakfast in Conception Bay, just outside of St. John's. I was put in contact with our hosts Elaine and Fraser Inkpen through a friend, and was both eager to meet them and to sleep in a bed for the first time in many days*. We braved another day of less than ideal weather, arriving at the Inkpens' before 7. We received a very warm welcome, complete with snacks, beer, wine, traditional Jiggs dinner and blueberry cake for dessert. We couldn't have asked for a better end to our cycle touring days.

The following morning, after a lovely breakfast of fruit, oatmeal**, blueberry pancakes, turkey bacon, toast and all sorts of jams (blueberry, dogberry and partridgeberry), we set off for the day's cycle, what was meant to be an easy pedal through Petty Harbour, a small fishing village, and on to Cape Spear, the easternmost point of Canada and the official ending point of Michael and Nicole's cross-country ride. At first, the weather was unpleasantly cold, wet and windy. But we were fortunate to have it clear up for our ascent up to Cape Spear. And what an ascent it was! Probably the steepest climb of our trip, followed by a steep downhill, followed by another climb. It was tough, but we managed, and it was worth it! The view was spectacular, as was the feeling of being finished! We had a picnic of apples and celebratory wine before cycling back to the Inkpens'.

Petty Harbour

View from Cape Spear

That night, the four of us had a delicious meal at Oliver's in downtown St. John's, compliments of Frederique's parents. I had a seafood platter with mussels, shrimp, scallops, salmon and cod. SO tasty! After dinner, we headed to George Street, the street with the most bars per unit area in all of North America. Step one: get screeched in. We did this at Trapper John's, and it was hilarious! A shot of Newfoundland Screech rum, kissing a stuffed puffin's ass, followed by some ridiculous NL saying and Bam! you're an honourary Newfoundlander. We then proceeded down the street from bar to bar. Despite the fact that it was a Monday night, some of the bars were pretty happening and stayed open till well past 2am. Everyone was super friendly to us, and we managed to stay out till closing time even though we were used to a bedtime of 10pm or earlier. 'Twas an excellent celebratory night!

The next day was Michael, Nicole and Frederique's last day. After packing up our bikes, Fraser took us to see Signal Hill before dropping my cycling buds off at the airport. That evening, Fraser and Elaine took me out for some of the best fish and chips I've ever had at a restaurant overlooking a peaceful little bay. I spent the following day wandering around St. John's on my own before finally flying back to Toronto.

On top of Signal Hill

St. John's harbour

Many thanks to Elaine and Fraser, who treated us like family during our stay in their home. And thanks to all of you who have been following my blog! Hopefully there will be more cycling and blogging to come :)

*Despite our best efforts, we were unable to stay in a motel since Cornerbrook. Every time we tried, they were booked up. But we're not complaining: it worked out, and we saved lots of money! :)

**But not just any oatmeal: this was probably some of the best oatmeal I've ever had, made with milk and bananas. The best part? A scoop of vanilla frozen yogurt on top! Yum!


19 August 2010

DAY 9: Port aux Basques to Wishing Well Campground, 86 km

DAY 10: Wishing Well Campground to Corner Brook, 134 km

DAY 11: Car trip to Gros Morne!

DAY 12: Corner Brook to Sandy Lake, 95 km

DAY 13: Sandy Lake to Grand Falls-Windsor, 159 km

DAY 14: Grand Falls-Windsor to Gander, 102 km

It's been a while since my last post—internet access and time have been scarce! We've taken the ferry from North Sydney, NS to Port aux Basques, NL and have been cycling through Newfoundland ever since. I must say, it's been excellent! Newfoundland is both stunningly beautiful and spectacular for cycling. It's mountainous, but fortunately the roads have been built mainly between the mountains, so both uphills and downhills are long and gradual. This makes for great riding, especially when paired with perfect weather and friendly people. Newfoundlanders are awesome! I think this is the province where we've gotten the most honks of encouragement, and where people have been the most willing to bend over backwards to help us out when we've needed it. Just this morning, for instance, one man spent 15 minutes drawing us a detailed map locating the bike shops in Grand Falls-Windsor and then paid for our breakfast!

The Ross twins have seriously adapted to the Dan-Agnes way of doing things. I must say, I'm quite impressed! Breaks have become longer and more chilled, cycling days have been (on average) shorter and we've had some super-fun nights drinking wine and trying to create the perfect s'more (you know how hard it is to actually get the chocolate to melt? Well, we've figured out a way!). A definite highlight of Newfoundland has been Gros Morne National Park. Because we were having bike problems and didn't want to take a hilly, 80-km detour off the Trans Canada, we decided to leave the bikes with a mechanic in Corner Brook, rent a car and spend the night in Gros Morne. We didn't have a whole lot of time, but made the most of it. We did a short hike up to the fjord-like Western Brook Pond and then set up camp at Lomond campground. We had the best swim of our trip there: the water was cold, but somehow extremely pleasant. And we saw a moose! We'd seen two others before, but they were on the road and would quickly retreat to the forest as soon as we could get close to them. Also, they didn't have antlers. This one, on the other hand, was hanging out between camp sites, nonchalantly chomping on the grass while us curious humans looked on curiously. I couldn't believe how close it came! At one point, it was literally on our site! Michael got some good pictures and a video, soon to come.

Today we arrived in Gander, and have only about 350 km of cycling to do over the next three days! I can't believe how quickly this trip has gone by. We're already talking about where we should cycle next. Suggestions?

(More photos to come!)

(Mis)adventures on the Cabot Trail

13 August 2010

DAY 7: Pleasant Bay to just past the summit of North Mountain, 15 km

DAY 8: Neils Harbour to North Sydney, 122 km

My stay in the hostel was seriously refreshing. When Michael and Nicole came to pick me up yesterday afternoon, I was totally pumped to ride again. My body hadn't yet fully recovered, but my spirit had, and I was now ready to take on this Cabot Trail I'd heard so much about. We began riding, and for about 8 km we were flying. This part of the trail was amazingly beautiful, we had a slight tailwind, and it felt like we were going down more than up. That's when we started ascending North Mountain. This climb was INSANE, with a grade of 13% over 3 km. In case this means nothing to you, it's steep. And long. I was in my lowest gear, standing on my pedals, and still only managing to go 5-7 km/h. The only thing propelling me was the amazingly spectacular view and the honks, waves and thumbs-up of encouragement from motorists. What an awesome feeling it was to reach that summit!

After taking some pictures, we began the long and equally steep descent down the other side of the mountain. Not long into it, Michael was stopped at the side of the road. I pulled over to see what was up, but because Nicole had already gone ahead, we decided to relay her messages via cars that we'd pull over. I think these messages tell the story best.

Message 1: "Hi, there is a cyclist waiting a ways down the mountain. Could you please tell her that Michael broke three spokes and got a flat tire, so we'll meet her as soon as we're done fixing it?"

Message 2: "Hi, there is a cyclist.... Could you please tell her that Michael has fixed the spokes, and is currently fixing the flat, and we'll be down to meet her shortly?"

Message 3: "Hi... Could you please tell her that after fixing the first flat, Michael immediately got a second. We're going to try to hitch a ride in a truck to meet her and try and fix it again there."

That's right: after fixing three broken spokes and a flat, which took just under an hour, Michael got yet another flat in the same tire just as he began to move. He was frustrated. I thought it was kinda funny. So we waited at the side of the road for a pickup that could give us a ride to Nicole, where we would continue the repairs. Just as we were getting frustrated by the fact that all the trucks that were passing us were going the wrong direction, one of them pulled up beside us with a message from Nicole! It turns out she'd misunderstood the last message, thinking that we were having a hard time hitching a ride, so she arranged a truck to come to us! It also turns out that Nicole was literally just around the bend, waiting for us at the first lookout. We sat down and Michael proceeded with his repairs, while Nicole and I prepared a sumptuous feast of instant pudding, made with water and powdered milk. What a marvellous idea: you mix two kinds of powder (pudding and milk), add water and stir. Voila! You have pudding (or at least a brown, pudding-like, liquidy, lumpy substance).

After many attempts to figure out what was happening with his tire, Michael gave up. Nothing seemed to work; his inner tube kept popping. By this time, sunset was approaching, so we called the park warden, who came to pick us up. He drove us to Niels Harbour, a small town further down the trail, and dropped us off outside a medical centre there. This was the furthest he could take us, since it was out of the park bounds. Here, we got lucky: two paramedics who were on duty right where we were dropped off, Mike and Lyell, offered us a place to spend the night and treated us like kings. They have a little paramedic apartment where they spend 24-hour shifts. The place was newly renovated, had a couch, cot, TV, and a nice kitchen. Lyell brought us food from the medical centre and towels so we could have showers. The next morning, Joe, who was taking the next shift, made us eggs and toast and sausage for breakfast. It was so awesome to have a great place to spend the night, with such good company! These guys really made us feel at home there.

Mike the paramedic drove our Michael to Sydney this morning, where he got his tire repaired (it turned out he only needed some new rim tape). Nicole and I had a lovely cycle to North Sydney: gorgeous weather, a nice bit of trail, lunch and baked goods halfway, and a greasy dinner at the end made for a fantastic day. Tomorrow we catch the ferry to NL! We have to board at 4 am... ugh.

The Ross twins never stop

11 August 2010

DAY 3: Amherst Shore to PEI National Park, 107 km

DAY 4: PEI National Park to New Glasgow, 117 km

DAY 5: New Glasgow to Mabou, 170 km

DAY 6: Mabou to Inverness, 21 km + (much needed!!) rest

As you can see, we've covered a lot of ground since my last blog entry. I've discovered that Mike and Nicole are insane: all they want to do is cycling and other high-energy activities! When Dan and I did our cross-Canada bike trip, we did a lot of cycling (see older blog posts), but we always took the time to relax. We'd try to finish riding early to make a tasty dinner, and we'd take a day off every few days. We'd often take two-hour long lunch breaks, we'd sometimes have a few beers or some wine in the evenings and we'd spend time just chillin'. Mike and Nicole are quite the opposite. Every day is packed with miles and miles of cycling with stops for site-seeing. Lunch breaks are functional; they are for refueling, not resting, not relaxing. We ride late into the day and have to hurry to set up camp when we arrive. Cooking doesn't happen: we live on a hearty diet made up largely of peanut butter and banana and honey sandwiches, cereal (made with powdered milk), fruit, nuts and candy. It's just quicker that way, and besides, all eating is functional: it's just the intake of calories that we need for cycling. In fact, everything we do that isn't cycling or site-seeing is functional. So today I decided that I needed a day off—with or without Mike and Nicole—to recover. Let me fill you in on what led me to this decision.

Michael and Nicole: always planning!

We left the cottage at Amherst Shore in good spirits, crossing into New Brunswick and then taking the Confederation Bridge across to PEI. After an uncharacteristically long lunch break,* we cycled north to Cavendish. We saw the house that was the inspiration for L. M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables (my favourite ever book) and the surrounding area and then continued cycling to the north shore of PEI. Around sunset, we found a beautiful spot to camp. Michael and Nicole set up the tent while I went swimming. This was definitely the highlight of my day. A long day, but so far, so good.

I went swimming in this little bay. We camped up here :)

The next day, however, got a bit tougher. Because we were crammed together in our "three-person" tent, and it was very windy at night making the tent flap noisily, I got maybe two hours of unsettled sleep over the course of the night. And the morning started with rain—always miserable. Fortunately, though, the rain cleared in the evening and we made it to Charlottetown with relative ease. There, we saw Province House, a meeting place for the provincial legislature and the location of the conference at which the idea of Confederation was first discussed. After that, we continued cycling towards the ferry to NS. This was, for me, a tough ride. The roads weren't the greatest and the hills were the annoying kind, where the downhill ride never gives you enough momentum for the next uphill. And my body was already tired from the previous day's ride.

The ferry ride was relaxing—hooray for built-in, mandatory relaxation!—but we arrived in NS when the sun was about to set. Nicole and Michael wanted to reach Mabou the next day to see some live Celtic music at a pub owned by some of the Rankin sisters, but we were still some 200 km away. So in order to avoid a 200-km day, we decided to cycle on to New Glasgow, where we would stay in a cheap motel to get some good sleep for the big day ahead. And that we did—but in order to do so, we had to cycle at night, which I find absolutely terrifying. It turned out that New Glasgow only had big hotel chains, so we took the cheapest of the three and stayed there. I must say, sleeping in a hotel is AMAZING after all of this cycling. My body was so tired! There was nothing better than a warm shower and a clean, dry bed :)

The next morning, we got up and had a fantastic breakfast at the hotel: eggs, sausage, cinnamon buns, coffee... yum! Michael easily ate four times as much as I did (I'm not exaggerating), and Nicole was not far behind. You can tell those two have been cycling for three months! They know how to eat! And then our long day began. We cycled non-stop for two hours, had a quick break, then cycled for another three or so, for a total of 110 km. All this before lunch! We ate as soon as we crossed the causeway onto Cape Breton Island, and then continued cycling. We finally arrived in Mabou at around 7pm. We cycled a total of eight hours that day. EIGHT HOURS! And that doesn't include breaks. Needless to say, my body was dead. We went for a swim in a nearby inlet and then had tasty food and beers at the Red Shoe, the Rankin sisters' pub. We camped outside a house that was being renovated.

Swimming here after our eight-hour, 170-km day. Amazing!

The plan for today was to begin the Cabot Trail. Again, we started in the rain. The hills were already getting crazy, and at one point a truck with a trailer came too close for comfort as I was speeding down at 57 km/h. And my body hurt SO MUCH from the previous days' rides. When we reached Inverness, I started talking to Nicole about how I didn't think my body could handle the intensity of the Ross twins' (did I mention that Mike and Nicole are twins?) schedule. I badly needed a day off! We decided that I would hitch a ride to Pleasant Bay and meet up with Mike and Nicole the next day. I thought it would be easy enough to find some friendly tourists with a truck, but I was wrong. And the young man staffing the info centre was completely useless: he didn't even tell us that there was a shuttle heading there (we asked, but found out only later from a local that such a thing existed). Fortunately, though, we met Shirley and Candace, a mother and daughter with a small rental car who kindly offered to take me to Peasant Bay, since they were also heading there. It was a tight squeeze, but we took apart my bike and I sat with it in the back seat of their car, for the one-and-a-half hour drive to the Bay. I'm SO GLAD they took me. We're staying in a nice little hostel here. I did laundry, and am enjoying my day off. But tomorrow, it's back to the grind with the Ross twins.

*We were distracted by a lone cross-Canada cyclist who was trying to latch onto our group. He and Michael shared geeky interests and a background in engineering. Nicole and I were irritated. We managed to get rid of him, but it wasn't easy.

The beginning

7 August 2010

DAY 1: Moncton to Fort Beausejour, 50 km

DAY 2: Rest (!)

Three years ago Dan and I finished our cross-Canada bike ride, and I've been itching to do more cycle touring ever since. So when my friend Mike told me he was doing the trip with his sister Nicole this year, I was determined to join them for a leg of their trip. Since Dan and I never ended up doing Newfoundland, I decided to join Mike and Nicole for this final portion of their trip. I will be writing about it here! To those of you who followed my blog the first time around, welcome back! And if you are new, I hope you enjoy reading about the triumphs and trials involved in a trip like this one and that maybe, just maybe, they will inspire you to go on one yourself! :)

I couldn't have asked for a better start to this trip. I flew into Moncton yesterday, assembled my bike and met up with Mike and Nicole. As soon as we started cycling, I couldn't stop smiling: there is nothing quite like the freedom of traveling by bike! It also helped that we had a strong tailwind, making going at speeds of up to 40 km/h a breeze (ba-bum-ching!). But I think that even if the weather had been horrible, the renewed sense of novelty I felt would have made the whole thing seem amazing. We only cycled 50 km, arriving at Fort Beausejour, a historical site with a beautiful view and high winds. From there, we were picked up by Yvon and Hugh, family friends of Mike and Nicole. We stayed with the family in their cottage at Amherst Shore, NS, right near the border with New Brunswick. The view of the ocean and the red sand beach were gorgeous, and we were treated like kings. We had tasty sangria and a lobster feast for dinner. Since I've only had lobster one or two times, and Mike and Nicole had never had it, we were very appreciative of the step-by-step instructions for how to tackle the massive beasts.

We accepted the family's invitation to stay an extra day, so here we (still) are. That's right: after a measly 50K of cycling, I get a day off. I'm certainly not complaining!