When Jeff and I started out on the Great Divide, Montana seemed so far away, an almost impossible distance to ride. But after about a month of pedaling there we were, roiling through Big Sky Country. Montana has a true western feel with huge vistas, lots of cowboy boots, small country stores (I recommend the one just off route in Ferndale), and big pickups with Montana mudflaps. Jeff needed to get back to Vermont by end of August for work and time was quickly winding down.
As I write this I’m sitting on my couch, cold beer on the table, comfortable bed upstairs, and still wishing I was traveling. Acclimatizing after a trip can be hard and I don’t think I can make the adjustment after this one. Fortunately I don’t have to, the words “I resign as of the end of August” have been spoken. Those words were not easy to say, but in order for new doors to open sometimes old doors need to be closed. I have devoted so much of my energy over the past three and a half years helping to grow the company I work for, but I have devoted my entire life to being free, no kids, no pets, and no debt. I knew this day was coming, I just didn’t know when.
When I spoke those words I didn’t know what to expect. I hold a high position within the company and I am leaving at a time when I am needed most. Fortunately the person I work for couldn’t have been more understanding. New doors have opened, doors that I am grateful for. The next month is going to be a busy one. I have my responsibilities at work along with packing up, selling, or giving away most everything I own, but when it is over, I am free.
Now to finish this post about the bike trip I was just on:
Marine Atlantic’s Atlantic Vision ferry has more in common with a cruise ship than you average car hauling ferry,
and a good day to put on some miles. I’ll admit, at this point I shifted into get home mode and just put my head down and pedaled. The day was hot and there was a headwind, but I just climbed into my shell and rode as far as I could. By evening I was pretty spent and after stopping at a house to fill my water bottles, I was given directions to a pretty good camping spot right on the shore of Bras d’Or Lake.
My goal was to cross the Canso Causeway and head for Truro to catch the soonest train to Montreal. I wasn’t looking forward to this trip ending, but was looking forward to beginning my next trip and for this I needed to get home. After riding for around an hour haste got the best of me and I stopped into a store for a piece of cardboard and to borrow a Sharpie. It was a long way to Truro, so I made a sign with a few different destinations and folded it to display the one I was most interested in going to. After riding out to the TCH I flipped the sign so it read Canso Causeway and it wasn’t long before a car stopped to offered a ride. I wasn’t expecting a car to stop and really had no idea how my bike was going to fit inside, but this generous driver was determined to make it work. After flipping the seats, a bit of rearranging, a little disassembly, and a bungee cord, we were on our way.
Before crossing the causeway I stopped by the visitors center in Port Hawkesbury to use the Wi-Fi and check on the train schedule. While I was able to go from Montreal to Truro with one days notice, getting back wasn’t so easy. The day was Tuesday and the earliest train I could get on was on Sunday afternoon. Well, not much I could do about that, so I made my reservation, then made plans to go to Prince Edward Island for a few days.
With my new plan in place, but the weather pattern changing to rain, I decided cross the causeway and use my sign again. I folded it to read New Glasgow and within a few minutes my bike was in the back of a pickup and I was on my way again. After being dropped off at a strip mall and restocking on food, I rode north, through the poring rain to the ferry terminal north of Pictou. Camping spots that weren’t water or mud were pretty scarce, so I had considered taking the ferry that evening, but after finding a nice gravel spot under a cell phone tower I decided to wait until morning to cross.
The rain ended overnight and after rushing to pack up and a race to the ferry, I was on my way to PEI.
Leaving Norris Point my head was in a fog. I knew where I had to go and I knew how to get there, but my motivation to travel had dwindled. This really wasn’t a surprise, I usually feel this way when I know I’m heading back to reality, but this time the feelings seemed stronger. I really didn’t want to go home.
While reloading my bike after the ferry crossing to Woody Point, I got into a conversation with an American turned Newfoundlander. We discussed the beauty of the area he insisted I travel to the Town of Trout River, one of his favorite places in Gros Morne. When traveling within a specified timeframe, sometimes you need to draw a line and unfortunately, Norris Point was mine. With the hospitality I had become accustomed to in Newfoundland, he offered get his van and drive me there, and was very persuasive with his words. I had no reason to question his description of the place and the beauty it held, but I knew if I went it wouldn’t be a day trip, I would want to stay. With a sincere thank you, an explanation of my situation and the hope that my refusal was not insulting, I traveled on to Deer Lake.
Whenever I struggle with decisions in life, I usually turn to two wheel therapy to help me through and this time was no different. I knew where I was going to camp and I knew where to get water for the night, so my mind was free to go where it wanted, or needed, to go.
When I arrived at my spot on Deer Lake for the night and set up camp, everything started to fall into place. I already wrote about is here in Following the T’Railway along the west coast of Newfoundland – Part 3, so I’m not going to retype, but when I awoke the next morning my direction was clear.
As much as I love riding a bicycle, the ease of hitchhiking makes this option very tempting. With some cardboard, a marker, a little patience and some luck you can travel almost anywhere and are almost guaranteed an interesting experience. While it was tempting to try to hitch my way back to the ferry, I knew I needed to ride, if for no other reason than to burn off the massive amount of calories I consume every day. The wind was blowing pretty hard out of the south, but I told myself I needed to ride to at least Corner Brook and really, there was no reason not to. I took the same route south as I did heading north and after a food restock at the Atlantic superstore, I headed out onto the TCH.
It’s quite a ways between Corner Brook and the ferry, so I didn’t think most locals would travel that distance. I had already made a sign indicating my desire for a ride to Port aux Basque at the visitor information center, the same visitor information center I made my sign for a ride to Gros Morne. The wind was blowing pretty hard out of the south, so my hope was a tourist with a pickup truck would take pity on me, but really I was OK with going anywhere, as long as it was south of where I was. I looked at my map, rode to the southernmost entrance to the TCH from Corner Brook, took my position and it wasn’t long before I saw brake lights and vehicle pulling to the shoulder. My ride wasn’t a tourist, but a local couple from the Codroy Valley and happened to live just down the road from the convenience store I destroyed the chocolate cake at. This ride couldn’t have been more perfect. The Codroy Valley is a beautiful place and I really wanted to see it, but with the weather I had on the way north it was practically invisible. With, once again, the most unbelievable Newfoundland hospitality, I was driven to their house, fed an unbelievable dinner, given directions to the best views of the valley and an offer to stay the night. Having gone through the area before I had a camping spot I really wanted to stay at, so after some great conversation and viewing some photos of what I could expect to see the next day, I was off on the T’Railway.
The ferry didn’t depart until 1:00am the following night, or technically morning, so I had plenty of time to cover the 30k or so to Port aux Basque. When I awoke the sky was clearing and after packing up I slowly made my way through The Wreckhouse and on to Red Rocks.
Following the directions I was given, including “go around the gate with the No Trespassing sign”
(in Newfoundland No Trespassing signs seem to be used more as a point of reference than instructions to keep out), I hiked the 20 or so minutes up to the antennas and had the most beautiful views of the valley.
The rest of the day was spent heading south, viewing in the sun what I had viewed in the clouds heading north and by late afternoon I had arrived at the Marine Atlantic ferry terminal, my final destination in Newfoundland.
Norris Point, I could have stayed there forever and I think some locals thought I was going to. One of the great parts of traveling is looking back and seeing how all the moments fit together to form an experience and how one little change would have changed the entire course of the trip. Being picked up by Bob and Julia while hitchhiking out of Deer Lake was one of those moments that shaped many days to come.
The wind was blowing pretty hard out of the north and the thought of riding the 50k or so, over the mountains and into a headwind, was not what appealed to me at the moment. My first stop in the Town of Deer Lake was at the local Salvation Army in search of a new shirt, with the hope that a collar and buttons would improve my chances of catching a ride. My second stop was at the Deer Lake visitor’s center to use the internet, fill my water bottles and borrow a Sharpie to make a cardboard sign indicating my desire for a ride to Gros Morne National Park. While debating my next move I met PJ Fernandez, a local from Deer Lake and hard core mountain biker.
We chatted for a while about bikes, computers and traveling, three subjects I always enjoy talking about.
Hitchhiking with a loaded touring bike is not an easy task and when you need a pickup truck in the land of cars, sometimes catching a ride can take a while. I headed out onto 430 North, the main travel route to Gros Morne and the Northern Peninsula, with my sign in hand and a fresh new look. I’ll admit, I’m an impatient hitchhiker, so when 20 minutes passed without a ride I started to reconsider my options. That is when Bob and Julia arrived.
They are the grandparents everyone dreams of and happen live in the town of Norris Point, a small town and tourist stop within the boundary of Gros Morne National Park. They had driven past me, but noticed my cardboard sign and Julia felt sorry for me, so she asked Bob to turn around and pick me up. With unmatched Newfoundland (and Labrador, where Bob and Julia are both originally from) hospitality they rearranged the cab of their pickup so I would have a comfortable spot to ride, then took me on a driving tour of the southern part of Gros Morne National Park. This was a tour that money could not buy; it came straight from the heart. They told me about their children, grandchildren, life on the island when they were younger, and pointed out the great hunting and fishing spots along the way. We stopped to enjoy the great scenery and photo opportunities.
They also insisted I stay in Norris Point and said they were taking me to the best camping spot in town. Traveling without a plan allows for opportunities such as this and I had no intent on questioning their judgment.
When we arrived in town they took me past their own house, a place they have lived for over 50 years, and mentioned most everyone in town “owns their own house”, as in built without a mortgage and not owned by the bank. Freedom and a simple lifestyle are hallmarks of Newfoundland life. After a quick trip down the main street, so I could see where the ferry to Woody Point left from, they delivered me to Wild Cove, my home for the next 4 nights.
I spent my first evening taking in ocean smell, the breathtaking view, and watching the sunset over the horizon, with Bob and Julia as my company.
I didn’t leave town the next day, and there was no reason to, everything I needed was right here from a small grocery store, to great hikes, to a great pub. I spent my time taking photos, hiking along the shore and enjoying some internet time with a few pints at The Cat Stop.
I also met Claudia, an amazing woman from Germany who was camping at the opposite end of Wild Cove. She is one of the most well traveled people I have ever met and is traveling across Canada, down the western States, up to Alaska, and eventually to the tip of South America. For this adventure she is driving a custom Toyota Land Cruiser that she had shipped over from Germany.
The next day had a wind out of the south, so it was a perfect day to travel north. With my bike stripped of it’s panniers and just a backpack in the front basket, I headed to Western Brook Pond to hike the Snug Harbor trail. I passed an old abandoned fun park along the way.
The wind that blew me so easily to the north, fought me mercilessly back south. Rather than fight back, I chose the one thumb alternative and hitched my way back to Norris Point. After a few pints at The Cat Stop with Claudia, I watched another beautiful sunset from comfort of my tent.
With some rain overnight and a grey start to the morning, it seemed like a perfect day to do……. practically nothing. I spent the morning and early afternoon at my new office on the back porch of The Cat Stop, went for a few short hikes, then it was back to The Cat Stop (there is a trend here, thank you Kane for the great hospitality) for an evening of open mike. Really, I hardly noticed the music and spent the evening consuming a few too many pints with Claudia and just enjoying the conversation instead.
The next day it was time to leave paradise. Claudia was traveling north and eventually taking the ferry over to Labrador and I needed to travel south and eventually back home to Vermont. With one last stop at The Cat Stop, I grabbed the ferry over to Woody Point and began my return trip to reality.
As much as I’ve loved my time in Newfoundland, It’s also time to leave. I’m typing this from the Marine Atlantic ferry terminal in Port aux Basques, waiting for the 1:00am ferry, after downing a Faxe, my canned beer of choice for this tour (once again, keep this in mind if you choose to read further). $3.99 for a 10% beer seems like a bargain to me, but I’m still on vacation and my budget is not as strict.
I’d rather take a later ferry and arrive in North Sidney during the daylight, then take an earlier one and arrive in the middle of the night. I really don’t want to leave here, there is so much to explore, but if I don’t, the next adventure can’t begin. Ah, the next adventure, this trip has definitely changed me and this change I needed to make. After leaving Norris Point I had an empty feeling inside, I felt lost in the world.
I had originally planned to go to Ghana, Africa for the winter, but I realize I still haven’t seen my whole country. I haven’t been to Alaska and Hawaii, but these are states I want to live in for a bit and not just travel through, so they take a different plan. Where I really want to go is the Deep South, the land of strange accents and even stranger food. I’ve traveled through the northern and central part of the US by vehicle, met the great people and have seen the great sights, but the south….. it’s intrigued me and scarred me at the same time. I’ve spent some time in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge rock climbing and I must say, it’s definitely different than Vermont.
The plan is to leave in September, travel south, far south, then west to desert of Moab Utah. Doing this I avoid the heat and bugs of the southern states and arrive in Moab for the winter, something I have wanted to see for years. From there, who knows, that’s a ways away. My plan is to head south to Tierra del Fuego and hopefully the Falklands Islands, but I’m wandering, not touring, so my plans are subject to change.
Anyway, before I do any of that, I must finish this trip, the focus of which has been riding the T’Railway. Since arriving in Newfoundland my pace has been quite relaxed and it is rare that I am up and riding before 9:30am, this day was no exception.
I was a little ways outside Stephenville Crossing and at this point the trail runs quite a bit further inland than the TCH. No traffic noise and beautiful scenery.
This was also the day for meeting locals. I’ve meet quite a few great people up until now, but on this stretch it seemed every ATV going past, although there weren’t many, would stop, shut the engine off, and ask “so…. where you from”? This would, of course, lead to a twenty minute conversation that included some life history, local knowledge, directions to a great camping spot and an offer of….. something. These are the moments I will miss most from Newfoundland.
I was told that Big Cooks Pond would be a great spot to camp, but unfortunately it’s also the local party spot and not what I was looking for. I continued along Cooks Brook, on a slight downhill grade,
looking for a better spot and met a couple who’s minivan had broken down (cars use this section of the trail as well). In typical Newfoundland style, a broken vehicle is not a problem, but a great excuse for a campout, complete with a barbecue. I was, of course, given a plate of food, a cold beer, and an invitation to camp. This was a low mileage day, but this is not a race.
After exploring the downtown, restocking my food supply and some quality internet time, I burned through quite a bit of the day. The T’Railway is a bit difficult to follow out of Corner Brook, so I jumped on the TCH and blasted downhill to Steady Brook with the hope of finding dome ATV trails and avoiding the long highway ride. I wasn’t disappointed and was given directions linking back roads and trails back to the old rail bed.
It seems like my rest day at Norris Point may turn into a rest week, but with a bit of rain overnight and an overcast start to the day, I really don’t mind, I’ve never been this relaxed.
After leaving Red Rocks and continuing through the Wreckhouse Site, I wound my way north on the T’Railway, where it veers inland and follows the Codroy Valley. It was around 9:00pm, but the sun was still up when I came upon a corner store in the middle of nowhere. Stores in Newfoundland seem to open late and close late and I still had an hour to spare at this one. I was looking for something reasonably healthy, but instead, bought a frozen chocolate cake and proceeded to destroy it, much to the amusement of the locals.
Buzzing from 2,000 calories of sugar, I continued on until I found a grassy area overlooking a marsh where I set up camp and drifted off to sleep just as a light rain started.
In despite of the great weather I’ve been having, Newfoundland is a wet island and anything left stationary for too long will have something crawling or growing on it.
The rain stopped overnight, but the fog hung in for the morning, so with no views to be had in the Codroy Valley I hopped on to the TCH, which ran parallel to the T’Railway for this stretch of the ride.
I’ve never toured at a slower pace, but then again, I’ve never ridden my bicycle through a more beautiful place.
Sometime in the afternoon I came upon a fork in the trail where I decided on the path of least resistance. Unfortunately, this turned into the path of most resistance and I got myself lost for a few hours in the back woods of Newfoundland.
I came across a few water crossings along this route with bridges that were out
I backtracked until I met a local Newfoundlander, who was enjoying a beer while watching the wildlife. After telling me where I was, how I managed to get there, along with stories about growing up in the area, he guided me out, waiting at the intersections to make sure I went the right way.
The sun was getting lower as I continued on and in a stroke of Newfoundland luck, I met a salmon fishing guide who shared some great conversation and directions to a beautiful river camping spot for the night.