Monday, September 25, 2006

It was hard leaving St. John's but I knew that I had to eventually and with chilly nights suggesting that fall was closing in the sooner seemed the better. I headed out of town into a swift head wind, a bad indication of what was ahead for the next 600km across the island to Gros Mourne National Park. Nonetheless, I was extremely well rested and had my solar powered radio that I bought in Halifax to keep me going. A good rock station got me out of town but while crossing the barrens I found classical music suited better. Anytime on the coast I liked to listen to local folk jigging style music which created a true Newfoundalnd atmosphere. I knew it would be a long inland slog on the Trans Canada Highway but the shoulder was better and safer than I'd had since Alberta so I was happy.

I free camped in a nice spot my first night but for my second and third night I knew I had to find shelter. Hurricane Florence was bearing down on the island and was expected to hit with considerable force. I went into a tourist information to inquire where a cheap bed and breakfast might be on the road ahead. The cheapest option was 50$, a number that stung me just to here it. I was about to pay it rather than get blown into the ocean with tent and all when one of the girls working there offered that I could stay at her house. A much better option that whould save me a pile of cash and I'd get to hang with a local family for a couple nights, an important aspect of any travelling experience. She told me to watch for bears while approaching her community of Hodge's Cove. I kept my eyes open for any animals as I hadn't seen a single bear since Ontario. My keeness paid off when I spotted something very black down a powerline cut. I circled back just in time to see the blackness move and sure enough was an enormous black bear marking bear sighting #18 of my summer.

I settled in at the house and ate a delicous dinner. They were all extremely hospitable, not to surprising as Newfoundland has a reputation for that. Late that night the storm moved in. I could here the wind howl all night and in the morning I could see the horizontal rain driving hard off the Ocean. We were in a sheltered inlet so we went for a drive out to the point on the open bay. There the sea was crashing furiously, waves were pretty big but moving incredibly fast and when they smashed into the rocks water whould explode upwards and be carried off by the wind. It was definetly the best storm I had seen and was apparetly a pretty good one but by no means the hardest that they get there. The wind intensified and climaxed around 2 or 3 Pm when the house was shaking and the screen door sounded like it was going to go for a ride. Was I ever glad to be in the nice warm house and in good company then wherever else I may have been ( my little yellow tent whould have been shredded and drowned in a second). That night as the storm was dwindling down we went up to a bar in Clarenville and had a drink while shooting some pool. The next morning I thanked the family (thanks again Sheila, Monica, and Val) and even got a ride out to Clalrenvilee back on the highway and was off into Terra Nova National Park.

I found an excelent place to freecamp in the park at a seasonal campground that was closed for the season. The next morning I spotted a black fox as it scurried in to the forest. After that my ride across the island was relatively unexciting. You don't see much from the Trans Canada and most the side trips are pretty unrealistic on bike. The weather was mixed somedays very chilly and always with a light headwind. I found good places to freecamp everynight except got soaked by unrelenting rain on my last night camping off a gravel road that led away from the 420 junction.

As I closed in on Gros Mourne National Park the mountains grew taller and finally I was bombing down a giant hill towards the foot of a great fjord. I arrrived in Rocky Harbour and settled in at a cheap hostel for 15$. It had been a lonely 5 day ride across the island and to my dismay not a single other sole was staying there. I still had a dry bed and I hung up my soaking wet sleeping bag and tent to dry. At around 9Pm another guy showed up who turned out to be a local Photographer who had travelled all around Newfoundland and Labrador and had plenty stories to tell me and answered some of my wonders especially of the Torngat Mountains in northern Labrador. Polar Bears, black flies that murder, and carnivorous black bears, Oh man Im definetly going there some day.

The weather was atrocious the first day and I barely made it a couple kilometers from my hostel before turning back until around 3PM the rain stopped and I went for an excelent bike ride out to Norris Point with pleasant views of the Bonne Bay fjord. The next day I had a wicked plan helped partially by information from the photographer. Gros Mourne is renowned for its spectacular fjords. Fjords are canyons carved out by massive glaciers during the ice ages that slowly made there way out to sea depressing the land with their weight and grinding mountains into cliffs as they funneled into river valley and out to sea. Fjords are a relatively rare geographical feature only found where tall mountains meet the ocean and in cold climates. But in all occurences fjords always make for spectacular scenery. The fjords in Gros Mourne are not made from very tall mountains like those in New Zealand or Alaska only 500-800 meters but the cliffs that fringe them are stupendously steep and dramatic. With the long lines of shear cliffs that border them and the fact that they are now sperated from the ocean because the mouth of them has rebounded up since the glaciers melted and has actaully made them into fresh water lakes makes these lakes very unique. The most spectacular is Western Brook Pond(regardless of their size most lakes are called ponds this side of the island for some reason?) which is a particularily dramatic canyon of shear granite cliffs. There is a boat tour that runs up it that cost about 35$ which is about 25$ more than I would dare pay. He told me I could hike up a trailfor free of course and peer off the 700m shear cliffs, I was sold. Unfortunatley he also told me that I could ride my bike right into the campspot. I rode a liberating tail wind briskly up the coastal lowlands to where the pond came into view. Already from a distance it loooked majestic; a giant gap in the continous plateau of The Long Range Mountains like the gates of heaven or hell perhaps on this rainy day.

I rode my bike 4 km in passing by all the poor lazy people who were walking to the ferry ride. Then I arrved at a large brook where the bridge was washed out. I took off my shoes and forded across once bringing my bike on my shoulder and then again carrying my bags. The water was thigh deep and the brook was 30 feet wide but the current wasn't dangerously strong nor was the water dangerously cold so I considered it not to dificult. Right away biking the trail there seemed hopeless as the mud was everywhere interspesed by rocks and roots. I still pushed pulled and for short times rode my bike 3 km in. It started pouring rain and I got frustrated so I grabbed my day pack and abandoned my plan to camp opting rather after my hike to sleep at a hostle not far down the highway. Hiking on I was glad I no longer had my bike and finally the rain stopped and the skys cleared. After about 2 hours of extremely rapid hiking I had gained the alpine and was thrilled with the views around. It was still a good walk across the barren alpine tundra to the edge of the cliffs but as I approached them I knew that I was in for a magical view. I slowly inched up to a sudden drop where the safe and solid ground below me dived into nothingness. A solid distinguished line which if crossed by a mere inch would result in an irreversible rapid accelaration and not long after a catastrophicaly sudden deceleration. Cautiosly and aware of the exposure I progressively neered that line, the magnificent lake came into view. The view was absolutely breath taking from the top of my 700m cliff. More cliffs ran off into points with shear granite faces and then across on the other side of the lake another mind boggling wall of granite. Since entering Newfoundland I saw many beautiful photos of this very lake photos that were taken by expert photographers who waited for the perfect light to catch it in its prime. Sometimes after seeing many photos of something it will lessen its integrity and when you finally see it it is less impressive. As I saw the lake it was far more beautiful than any pictures could possibly imply, it possesed a unique sense that could not be captured on camera. An incredible feeling inwhich time and ruggedness melted together.

I was so ecstatic that I was jumping with joy and screaminging in laughter at the view before me. Just then I looked to my left and two black bears, a mother and a young cub, were watching me curiously from about 34m away. They watched me and then started running along the ridge across from me and went right out onto the tip of the point over the lake. It was an incredibly inspiring wildlife encounter I just couldn't believe it. I sat back and watched them run wild and free along the dramatic cliffs and into the distance and then off over the hump of another mountain. Wow!What an experience.

I hiked out and got back on my bike while heading back to the highway I passed through an area called The Moose Yard so I was very attentive and watching for moose, sure enough I spotted a large bull moose having a snack right off the trail so I pulled over to watch him. What luck two bears and a moose in a day's hike, but it was not over at that. He walked around and then onto the trail and began towards me. I was a little concerned because it is rutting season and the bulls can be dangerous this time of year. The towering animal lurched his way towards me but then veered off the trail and began out into the lake. I had to follow. As soon as I was on the lake I looked across to see another moose peering towards us. OH no, theres no way! It was another bull. I knew what I was about to witness so I followed right into the shallow lake shoes and all and slowly inched my way slightly closer.They met in the middle of the water and put there heads together and began pushing and smashing heads while grunting and thrashing there feet in the water. What raw power as the two bull moose probably over 1000lb each faced off in a natural fight. It was over and my moose retreated back towards me so I sloshed through the lake back onto the shore and made my exit. I rode down the highway towards the hostle in Sally cove while the sun was setting over clouds on the gulf of St. Lawrence. Thats right watching the sun set over the ocean, this is indeed Canada's other west coast.

What an incredible day it was and I arrived at the hostel brimming to tell people what I had seen. The guy who ran the hostle owned Long Range Adventure Guiding and had spent his entire life hiking and guiding in these montains but only once had witnessed two moose rutting. It was a very lucky day for me, probably the most inspiring day of nature encounters ever, perhaps the best day of my life. The next day I was due in for a rest so I chilled in the hostel playing with there dogs and watching movies. I returned to my Rocky Harbour hostel the next day hoping to meet Steve Fox. I met Steve originally on Vancouver Island at the start of my trip and then again in Winnipeg. He was doing exactly what I am doing crossing Canada on bicycle and was scheduled to arrive in Gros Mourne that day. He was not there when I arrived but before it got dark he showed up and it was a great reunion 5000 kms later. The next day we hiked up Gros Mourne Mountain, 807m the second tallest on the island and were rewarded with very nice views of 10 mile pond another fresh water fjord although less dramatic then Wester Brook Pond. The fall colours were really taking over the valleys but because of a lack of maple trees and a large population of birch the valleys were a mellow mixture of green and yellow with hardly any red.

We met an Australian couple on the mountain who were very interested in our trips so they ofered to buy us dinner that night. We went out to a very fancy restaraunt(by our standards anyway ) and had spicy caribou lasagna with red wine and partridge berry crisp for dessert. That was delicous! You dont have to feel to bad about eating caribou or moose in Newfoundland there is an incredible abundance. In Labrador for example there is more caribou than people, actually its a whooping ratio of about 30,000 humans:1,500,000 caribou.

The next day we parted ways again and I headed to the Southern half of the park and he headed north. Unfortunately the water taxi was not running across the short gap of Bonne Bay so I had to ride the whole traverse of the bay about 80 km or a 4 hour bike ride over some of the biggest hills in the country east of the Rockies. I settled in at a hostel in Woody Point but during my one day there I accomplished very little. I had planned to hike around the Table Lands an incredible sub range of mountains that is an exposed piece of the earths mantle found on the earths surface. Its soil is extremely toxic and not the bravest of plants can grow on it soil making for nice alpine strolling. Due to the nasty weather I decided to cycle along the base of the mountains through a pass called by locals"The Gulch" to a fishy village only 16 km away. That was the hardest 16 km I cycled on the whole damn country. The wind was funneling down the gulch with unrelenting gusts of 60-80km/hr. The wind was carrying rain that blasted side ways into me stinging my face and eyes and soaking me and chilling me. Even without my bags on I had my head low and I was working like hell only to make 7 km/ hr. After about 2 hours I made it to the village and did some hiking from there. the ride back to Woody Point took me only 25 minutes with the tail wind and also aided by the tail wind bombing down a steep hill I reached a max speed of 74km/hr the second fastest on my trip.

After that I was finished in Gros Morne and it was time to get moving again so I headed out backtracking towards the highway. I absolutly hate backtracking on a bike, It is such a useless application of your effort with no sense of adventure or progress, nonetheless, I pushed on a made it back to the Trans Canada. As I approached Deer Lake a thought came over me, There was an international airport there and I could fly home right then if I wanted. The thought of home seemed nice at the time so I went in and inquired about flying to Vancouver. They told me $1600 so I said see you later and began down the highway towards Corner Brook.

IN Gros Morne I met a guy at a view point who offered I could crash at his house in Corner Brook so I did and saved myself a chilly night. After that it was another 250km down island again fighting head wind continuosly until arriving at the wrecking house. this is the windiest place on the island where a perpetual wind falls off the Long Range Mountains and tractor trailers and campers are flipped like burgers. When the train was in service the wind here was known to blow it right off its tracks. There was a fisherman with a unique ability who was employeed by the train company to sit and smell the wind;if he smelt bad wind coming on his command the train would not pass. Its all the little stories like this that make Newfoundland what it is; afterall its an island of fisherman. I was lucky and it was an extremely calm day but there was still a 40-50km/hr headwind which lasted about 10 km of unenjoyable biking.

I had to wait 6 hours to catch the midnight ferry so I cooked up a feast on my little stove and ate until I good eat no more. It was quite sad to be leaving Newfoundland but at the same time very relieving, the uncertainty of the weather this time of year is woorysome when riding your bike all day exposed to whatever the wind may bring you. This was by far the longest stay I had in a single province but I still had barely scratched the surface. There is so much to see and do in Newfoundland but one really needs a car to travel it properly. I know for certain this is one province that I shall definetly be returning to.

As I got off the ferry back on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia as sense of relief flushed over me. Not only was the air already noticably warmer but I knew that this was going to be the last day of my epic bike ride. I had decided rather than to ride to Halifax I would end it just as soon as my odometer clicked over 10000km. I ended my day at 10014km and took to bussing. I wont describe how shitty the bussing experience was as the bus didn't come but rather end it on the good note that I was finished and I had no more need for biking or camping, I had biked across the whole country and then plenty more and that was that. IN the days before I had decided that would be a good time to end it, more that sufficient in my mind and I had to get back to Vancouver to meet my buddy Sam who whould join me for the next journey. Me and Sam make an incredible adventure duo and we had been talking the last week and planning a trip into South America. The plan is still very open at this end as we dont have plane tickets but were sure to bring full mountaneering and backcountry gear that will allow us to travel the remote and rugged parts of South America that few get the chance to see and experience. As one epic trip comes to an end another one begins. Doing what I do is an incredibl;e formula I've found in which to live my life. Work damn hard, save your money, and then travel hard. Seek adventure and rewarding experiences by putting yourself into different circumstances with a different attitude. Keep an open mind and be observant of the surroundings. This will almost always give some kind of sense of satisfaction but I guarentee that it will always bring knowledge in one form or another. An incredible way to learn when the world is your classroom.

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