Heading Home – Woody Point to the Newfoundland Ferry

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.

Deer Lake Camp 2When 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.
Red Rocks Building
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.

Codroy Valley View 4
Codroy Valley View 3
Codroy Valley View 2
Codroy Valley View 1The 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 and Gros Morne National Park – The most relaxing places I have ever been.

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.

Flower ViewThey 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.

Wild Cove CampWhen 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.

Wild Cove Camp 2Out of the many hundreds of places I have camped in my life, I have never camped in a place nicer than Wild Cove or a town more laid back than Norris Point.

Old Shed

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.

Wild Cove SunsetI 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.

That evening she told me about her travels, from Iceland to Australia to Africa and beyond. Her stories are amazing and just scratch the surface of what she has experienced.

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.

and traveled through the town of Rocky Harbour.

Rocky HarbourI also stopped in the town of Sally’s Cove, a town I would have passed right through if I was in a car. The buildings and boats, to me, were a great excuse to take some photos.
Lobster Cove Head 3

Lobster Cove Head 2

Lobster Cove Head 1

Lobster Cove Head 4

Lobster Cove Head 5Western Brook Pond is a beautiful place

and most people hike in and take a boat ride through the fiord. For those who prefer an alternative, there is the Snug Harbour Trail, an 8km unmaintained trail, complete with a river crossing,

to a beautiful cove and on this day I had it all to myself.
Snug Harbor

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.

Wild Cove Sunset 2With 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.

Following the T’Railway along the west coast of Newfoundland – Part 3

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 pedaled south to Deer Lake, a beautiful spot that I camped at on the way up, and that evening, after a Faxe, I found myself again.

Deer Lake Camp 2

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.
Flower ViewI 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.

Bog View 2This 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.

The next morning, after filling up my water bottles from an ice cold spring just down from camp, I headed for Corner Brook, the biggest “city” on the west coast of Newfoundland.

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.

The sun was going down as I rode along the east coast of Deer Lake, but I wanted a camping spot with great swimming and a beach, I found what I was looking for.

Deer Lake CampFrom the Town of Deer Lake the T’Railway heads east, through the Gaff Topsails and eventually to Saint John’s, but my plan was to head north, to Gros Morne National Park.

Following the T’Railway along the west coast of Newfoundland – Part 2

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.

Cloudy MorningBut Norris Point is quite a distance from where I started in Newfoundland, and this distance is filled with a lot of stories.

Trail 2After 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.

The total population for Newfoundland and Labrador combined is just over 500,000 people, so major towns are spaced quite a distance apart,

but you get plenty of warning before you need to turn on your blinker,

and make a decision on where to eat.

When the highway parted from the railway, I followed the gravel and spent the rest of the day chatting with locals while riding through small settlements, bogs, and forests.

Setelment 1

Trail 3Railroad Bridge

I’ve never toured at a slower pace, but then again, I’ve never ridden my bicycle through a more beautiful place.

Side Trail

Hut on Trail BWSometime 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.

Being that I’m touring self supported with a few days worth of food, and fresh water abounds on this island, getting lost really isn’t a problem and just adds to the adventure.

I came across a few water crossings along this route with bridges that were out

and a few camps scattered in the woods

Traileruntil I finally dead ended at an old quarry.

After not finding an outlet that I was willing to chance,

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.

Bog ViewThe 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.

Where I watched the sun set over the old rail bed.

Following the T’Railway along the west coast of Newfoundland – Part 1

I haven’t written a post since I got to Newfoundland (with the accent on the third syllable, not the second) and to be honest, it’s because I’m at a loss as to how to describe this place. The nicest people I’ve met while traveling through the Maritimes have told me the truly nicest people are the people of Newfoundland – and they are right. I’m going to break this trip into a few posts, but first I must try to describe what I have experienced.

From my first morning in Newfoundland, having breakfast at Timmy’s in Port-aux Basques and spending two hours learning from a local about working on Hibernia, the worlds largest oil platform off the coast of St. John’s, and towing icebergs out of the platforms path, I knew this was a special place. Many people come to this island, hop on the TCH (Trans Canada Highway) stop in Corner Brook or Deer Lake, then zip on up to Gros Morne, without ever experiencing the true hospitality that exists in the small settlements along the coast of Newfoundland. It was a pleasure to “need a bit of direction”, because I was also guaranteed a great conversation, complete with the local dialect, and an offer of something, whether it was a refill of cold water, supper, or the last cold beer. The scenery on this island is unmatched and my photos certainly don’t do it justice.

Slight detour, I’m typing this from The Cat Stop, the local pub in Norris Point (bear that in mind if you decide to read further) and a whale just surfaced right off the back porch where I am sitting, I spit beer onto my laptop and yelled “holly crap”, everyone looked at me, I pointed to the whale, the locals shrugged it off as an everyday occurrence, the tourists snapped photos, and everything is good now – this island really is paradise.

Anyway, my first day was overcast and damp, but it was a perfect day to cycle along the ocean.

T'Railway StartI headed out of Port-aux Basques around 3:00pm along the T’Railway, or better known in Newfoundland as “the old rail bed”. There’s part of me that wishes it was sunny, but then I wouldn’t have experienced the dramatic scenery the clouds presented.
BridgeI quickly realized that 200K, or even 100K days were not going to happen here. The riding was a little sandy and rough, but it was the walks on the beach that slowed me down.

Waves BWNewfoundland is not a place to rush through. The T’Railway is primarily and ATV (or bikes as they are known up here, and I ride a pedal bike) trail and runs right through the heart of the small settlements along the cost of this island. I met Curtis, a 17 year old who wants to be a welder. He’s never left the west cost of Newfoundland, but can’t wait to, and if I was 17, I would want to leave as well, but at 40….. We talked for a while about getting in trouble in school, life dreams and independent learning,  as opposed to formal education. As one who took the former route and found a bit of trouble in school, I really enjoy taking with teenagers and hopefully showing them there is an alternative to driving the square peg through the round hole, as society wants us to do.

I continued north on the T’Railway to Red Rocks, one of my favorite parts of the old rail bed so far. Abandoned buildings right on a foggy ocean, truly an amazing place.

Wreck House Site 2 BW

Wreck House Site 4 BW

I’m going to leave this here for now, but I will say, everyday on this island has been more relaxing than the last.

Riding the Cabot Trail through Cape Breton National Park and hopping the ferry to Newfoundland

Monday was a rest day and after Sunday night, I kind of needed it. I found an all you can eat breakfast buffet in town and spent two hours helping myself to first, second and third breakfasts. When the waiter told me not to hold back, I don’t think he realized how many calories I needed. After filling my hollow leg I went to the post office and mailed a few items home. The total weight was only five pounds, but mentally I felt better not having to lug the stuff along for the remainder of the trip. The rest of the afternoon was spent catching up on email, this blog and backing up my photos.

I rolled out of town around 3:30 and headed to the entrance of Cape Breton National Park.

I wasn’t sure what to expect of this park. I’ve been to many of the National Parks in the lower 48 states, so I have pretty high expectations and I must say, Cape Breton did not disappoint. From the moment you roll in (I entered from the western side) the views are breathtaking.
Cape Breton View
Cape Breton Plateau View

Everyone talks about the hills and yes, they are there, but no worse than you would find riding around Vermont.
Cape Breton Hills

The main climb for the day, up French Mountain, was long, but the grade was pretty lax. Still, for a world renown cycling destination, there is no paved shoulder on the road and many inexperienced cyclists ride two abreast swerving like toddlers without training wheels. Many honking horns were heard.

With my late start I planned to ride to the town of Pleasant Bay, but once I reached the plateau high above the ocean, my plans changed a bit.
Cape Breton PlateauThe temperature was about 15 degrees F. cooler and the views beckoned me so slow down and enjoy the ride. This combined with an emergency shelter / cabin along the roadside sealed my decision on where to camp.

So there I sat, typing this out and enjoying the sunset and the beautiful ocean view.
Cape Breton Plateau SunsetI awoke the next day to cooler temperature and another clear sky. I planned on riding the remainder of the Cabot Trail, so I got an early start so there would be time to enjoy the views.

The early morning start also allowed me some traffic free time on the road and I saw two moose within my first fifteen minutes of riding. I have a healthy respect for these horses of the woods and when I see one stopping to take a photo is not what I want to do.

I wound my way down the mountain

and up the next climb, a pattern that repeated itself throughout the day.

After hours of climbing and descending, photo taking and eating, I finally reached the east side of the park and the Atlantic Ocean.

As I’ve mentioned a few times, the cycling is great, but when they constructed the Cabot Trail cycling is not something they considered, but they do give cyclists there own lane, for about 2 miles, at the east entrance of the park.The wind was at my back, so I decided to push on and take the short ferry crossing to Englishtown. I was told about a dirt road on the east side of the crossing that had some great camping spots . It had been a high mileage day so far and I was pretty tired, but my legs felt fine and this would leave me with only 30 kilometers or so to ride the next day to reach the Newfoundland ferry. There was also a ski area marked on my map, but it was located right on the ocean, so I figured it must be a mistake.

It turns out it wasn’t. This must be one of the lowest elevation ski areas in Canada and it was also the start of the last big climb of the day. With the miles I had ridden so far for the day, I’ll admit it, this climb hurt a bit. Fortunately this was it for the big climbs and rolling hills took me to the short, and free, ferry crossing.

It was around 8:30 by the time I reached my camping spot for the night and at one time I’m sure the camping was great, but it seems some recent flooding had wrecked a little havoc. No matter, I was plenty tired and there was a bridge that was still standing that was perfect to pitch my tent on.

The next morning I rode past the Englishtown Fire Department and judging by the tall grass outside the bay doors, they haven’t seen any action in a while.

There was a dirt road called Kelly Lane on my map that I had planned on taking it over Kelly Mountain, but with the conditions I found at my camping spot the previous night, I wanted to make sure it was still passable. There was an older woman doing some morning yard work and I stopped to ask about the road condition. She reported that it was really washed out and to make matters worse, she said the biting flys were the worse she’s seen in years. Judging by the cloud of flys swarming around her head, and the fact that she seemed oblivious to their presence, I took her word for it and decided to continue on the paved road.

With fresh legs and a full stomach, the climb wasn’t so bad and the long decent lead me to a beautiful ocean cove where jellyfish were swimming around feeding on…… whatever jellyfish eat.

I arrived in the town of North Sydney, around noon

and with plenty of time to take the 7:00pm ferry to Newfoundland. The remainder of the afternoon was spent stocking up on food, hanging out with two Hobos, who by the way made about 35 dollars in unsolicited handouts during the two hours I spent with them, and taking advantage of the free shower at the ferry terminal, the first so far for this trip. The call to board came around 5:30pm and after being reprimanded for not wearing my helmet, I rode my bike on to the floating city.

The crossing is around six hours, so it put me arriving in Newfoundland at around 1:00am with the time change, but also allowed me to catch the sunset on the Atlantic.
Ferry SunsetThe Hobos I had met told me the visitors center in Port-aux Basques had a huge overhang in the back if the building that would be perfect for camping, so that is where I stayed last night and fortunately so, because we had some rain during the night. Right now I’m typing this from the local Tim Horton’s, the Dunkin Donuts of Canada, waiting for the weather to clear and later today I’ll be heading north on the T’Railway, locally known as “the old rail bed”. Hopefully the sunny sky will return.