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.

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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.

Train, Trail and Ocean – From Montreal to Cape Breton

As much as I love touring by bicycle, it’s the touring, not the bicycling that usually holds the great moments. The 20 hour train ride on the VIA Rail, a part of the trip I was not looking forward to, but ended up being one of the highlights.
Life on the Train

Pack a diverse group of strangers into a few train cars, add a few beers, and a good time is bound to happen. But really, it was much more than that, it was the life stories told, stories from the past and stories of dreams yet to come. You can spend your entire life trying to find the path you want to travel and a few words from a total stranger can point you in the direction you need to go and give you the confidence to get there. It’s a safe bet that a few of us who rode the train will remember the time spent together for the rest of our lives.

As great as the train ride was, it was also nice to stand on stationary ground and that ground started at the Truro Nova Scotia train station.
Truro Train Station

A surprise was also waiting at the train station in the form of a Canadian police officer and Officer Chein (his trained drug sniffing chocolate Labrador Retriever). For the record, I had nothing on me, but it didn’t stop me from thinking about what’s been in my panniers in the past and how long the sent lasts. Officer Chein did find a bag on the ground containing a bit of “glaucoma medication”, but the owner was no where to be found and the police officer just put it in his pocket for “future training”. I hope Officer Chein likes his reward the next time he trains :-)

From the train station I took low traveled paved roads to some really nice dirt roads

where I found a place to camp for the night.

I awoke the next day to a sunny sky, a strong tail wind, and a heat wave. The temperature hit over 90 degrees F. with high humidity. Regardless, when a tail wind is blowing and there is ground to cover, it’s best to make the most of it. I traveled over 100 miles that day on everything from singletrack trails to the Trans Canada Highway.

I did hit one bout of rain, but it happened just as I was passing an old one room schoolhouse that has been turned into a museum. It was a perfect place to stop and learn a little history (as well as stay dry and fill my water bottles).

If there is one thing I’ve learned in my years of bicycle touring, it’s the more non bicycling locals tell you to avoid a road, the better the road is. I ended the day on just outside the town of Mulgrave on the Old Mulgrave Road, a no traffic dirt / logging road that was as great as all the locals said it wasn’t. I found an abandoned concrete building and with the swarms of black flies, horse flies, deer flies, and other biting insects it seemed like a great place to camp. It was also riddled with bullet holes and broken glass, but that just added to the charm. I named this place Hotel Baghdad and I’ll let the photos tell the story.
Hotel Baghdad 4

Hotel Baghdad

Hotel Baghdad 3

Hotel Baghdad 2

The next day I was feeling pretty shelled from the heat and miles, so I took it easy and made my way over to Cape Breton Island. I was going to hit Cape Breton on my way back from Newfoundland, but I figured it would be better to see on the way in case my plans change and I come back a different way. After crossing the causeway to the island I picked up a rail to trail that is part of the Trans Canada Trail.
Trans Canada Trail

I had a slight headwind, but the views were beautiful and this was just what I needed to recover. I also found some great spots to swim in the ocean and wash the grime from my body.

I rode the trail for the rest of the day, along the ocean and through the woods.

The following day I continued north along the Trans Canada Trail, found some more great swimming spots

and finally joined pavement where I met the Cabot Trail.

For such a famous cycling destination, the shoulder of the Cabot Trail / road is practically non existent, but the traffic was light and everyone was courteous. My plan was to reach the town of Cheticamp and take a rest day and along the way I met a local cycling couple who offered me their ocean front land to camp on for the night.

The view from the tent along with the ocean breeze made this a perfect spot.
View From My Tent

Fishing Boat

All rest days should start with a good time the night before, so I found some live music in town, had a few to many beers, and shot some pool with the local fisherman.

Mind you, I really don’t know how to play pool, but is seems like rule number one is look like you do and anyway, alcohol is the great equalizer so I gave it my best shot . I ended the evening by swerving my way back to my campsite on the ocean and passing out in my tent to the sound of fishing boats hauling in their catch. Yeah, it’s been a great trip so far.

Good By USA, Hello Canada

After a great ride on Sunday, I decided to spend an extra day at my parents house, so I didn’t leave for Montreal until Tuesday morning. Not a problem, it’s only 85 miles from there to Montreal where I catch the train to Nova Scotia. The ride north was perfect, not to hot and a light tail wind. I followed dirt roads and low traffic paved roads, through the Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge, to New York where I crossed into Quebec. Unlike entering the States, all I had to do was show my drivers license and tell them where I’m going and how long I intend to stay. No passport needed, no bags searched and no feeling like a criminal.

After crossing the border I followed the Route Verte, Quebec’s amazing collection of low traffic roads and cycling paths, north through small towns and farmland. Route Verte 2 took me to Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu where I then joined Route Verte 1, which took me to Montreal.

Route Verte 1
Route Verte 1

I’ve traveled this route a few times before, but I am still amazed at the effort the province of Quebec puts into there cycling infrastructure.

Chambly Canal Locks
Chambly Canal Locks

My traveling style is definitely low cost, so the one thing I never do is pay to camp. Fortunately, I have found most Canadian’s attitude towards stealth camping to be supportive and I always “leave no trace”, so no harm is done and I’ve never been hassled.

Lots of things prohibited, but camping isn’t one of them
Lots of things prohibited, but camping isn’t one of them

Many sections of the Route Verte allow camping, or at least don’t prohibit it, so with a little work, some great free campsites can be found. I spent my first night in Quebec camped about 30km from Montreal in a patch of woods along the Chambly Canal.

 No fires allowed, but nothing mentioned about camping
No fires allowed, but nothing mentioned about camping

My plan was to get to Montreal early, check my bike and bags at the VIA Rail station, and enjoy some unencumbered time in the city. The closer you get to the city the more cycle paths there are, so it can get a bit confusing at times, but most people are more than willing to tell you the way they think you should go.

 Yes, this was built just for bicycles and yes, it’s a whole lot of fun spiraling down
Yes, this was built just for bicycles and yes, it’s a whole lot of fun spiraling down

Bicycle travel is a huge part of the Quebec culture and many Québécois regularly commute to work by bicycle.

 No, this is not a college campus, it’s one of the many bicycle parking areas around the Canadian Public Broadcasting building
No, this is not a college campus, it’s one of the many bicycle parking areas around the Canadian Public Broadcasting building

I stopped for some lunch in Old Quebec, a beautiful part of the city that still retains much of it’s old time feel.

 Foot traffic only on this street
Foot traffic only on this street

I was also told by someone I met that the Jazz Festival was currently going on, but before I went to enjoy the music, I went to the train station to check my bike and bags. The process couldn’t have been easier. It cost around an additional $30 to bring my bike and gear on the train, but no boxing or disassembly was required.

 Train station yard sale
Train station yard sale

After checking in my bike and gear it was off to enjoy the music.

Montreal Jazz Festival
Montreal Jazz Festival

6:00pm came to soon and it was time to board the train. Next stop, after a 20 hour train ride, Truro, Nova Scotia.

And I’m Off, Spending July Touring in Newfoundland

Photo a Day 6-30-2013

Vacation time is finally here! Yesterday I left Ripton, Vermont for Newfoundland via a few days of cycling, a 20 hour train ride, more days of cycling, and a ferry crossing to the island. I was originally going to use my bikepacking setup and ride my Salsa Fargo, but in the end I decided on my tried and true Surly Long Haul Trucker.

Jeff decided to see me off with a morning ride over Natural Turnpike for a second breakfast at Bristol Bakery. The weather was hot and humid, but the sun was shining and there was a light south wind pushing me north. I always seem to have an interesting wildlife encounter on the first day of a bike tour and this day was no different. I was enjoying the flat peddling on a nice country road when I heard a crashing in the brush to my left. Looking over I saw a large black bear about 10 feet away, who seemed as startled by me as I was of him. He ran about 20 feet, stopped, then stood up on his hind legs for a sniff of air. Needless to say, while this was definitely a Kodak moment, personal safety won out. While I did slow down to admire this beautiful animal, the weight of my bike and the food in my panniers made stopping seem like a bad idea.

The rest of the day, while enjoyable, was rather uneventful. I stopped in Burlington to deliver a set of tires I had to my friend Dan and to see the progress on the house he and his wife Jen just bought. After that, I continued north on familiar roads to my parents house where I spent my last night in a bed for quite a while. The train from Montreal to Truro Nova Scotia leaves Wednesday evening, so I will spend the next two days casually riding north.