Chapter 3: Nova Scotia and The Cabot Trail

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Kirsty and I were pretty sad to be leaving Newfoundland last week. We spent the last few days with Gerard at his honey farm in Placentia, being put to work building fences and clearing rocks for planting quinoa along with Kari and Elena from Mexico. It was great to have a good break from cycling and to stay in one place for a few nights. Gerard was also super generous and took us out to see the gannet colony at Cape St Mary’s on our last day. 70000 gannets – what a way to see out our first province!! Newfoundland was a big challenge (cold, windy and hilly!) but the people we met made it unforgettable.
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On the way to the Cape we spotted another cyclist who was packed up looking like a tourer, so we pulled over to say hello. Adrienne had been cycling since March around Eastern Canada and was due to get the same ferry as us that afternoon. We were super excited about a potential new friend (!!!) and we ended up meeting another cyclist, Pete, on the boat too.

The 16 hour ferry ride wasn’t actually too bad… we spent the first couple of hours chatting with Pete and Adrienne, exchanging stories and plans and eating at the buffet. Three sea sickness tablets later and I was out for the count, waking up two hours before the boat docked in New Sydney. Just enough time to write a couple of postcards and have a shower before we cycled off on to Nova Scotia.

The weather was initially a bit drizzly and grey, but we stopped in for coffee and some breakfast with Pete and Adrienne. We were all planning to head towards the Cabot Trail, voted one of North America’s best scenic drives. Pete  had organised to hire a car and drive the trail, as it is quite a detour off the East – West journey and he planned some different detours on his was to Vancouver. Although Kirsty and I were already behind “schedule”, we decided to join Adrienne for her ride around the trail. We’d been told it was worth the miles and the hills, and we figured we could make the time up elsewhere.

We had to do about 30km on the Trans-Canada highway to get out of North Sydney and on to the Cabot Trail. Kirsty and I had mostly avoided it in Newfoundland, so I found the business in Nova Scotia a bit terrifying! Cars pass at 120kmph and it feels like they are centimeters away… It’s noisy and busy, and with the drizzle and wind just wasn’t that enjoyable. Turning off in to Englishtown was such a relief.
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As soon as we hit the Cabot Trail I was in love. We opted to take a short cut and took a 5 minute ferry from Englishtown to Jersey Cove (which was free for cyclists!) and then cycled along a causeway for a few kilometers. We started to look for a place to pitch our tents, but we came across “Joyful Campsite” and at $12 each decided to treat ourselves for the night. There were heaps of RVs but we were the only tents and had a pitch right on the waterfront. Kirsty even managed to hang her hammock and both her and Adrienne went for a swim, so we were all loving it.

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We left camp the following morning just before 10am, and had a really cruisy first 25km. Cape Breton is just stunning, and the Cabot Trail takes in some amazing coast line. We stopped at the Dancing Moose Cafe following a recommendation, and oh my god I had the best pancake I’ve ever had!! It helped of course that the staff were super friendly, there were chickens on the doorstep, and we sat in the sun. A great way to start our Cabot Trail journey.wp-1498216752927.jpg

The next 25km were more challenging… I felt really heavy (pancakes!) going up even small hills and then we were faced with Cape Smokey – apparently the 10th worst hill for cyclists in Canada. It’s only a 211m gain but climbs this over 2.2km. It’s steep! You get to look up on the climb from below, and the first corner made us all fall off our bikes as we instantly lost momentum! It was steaming hot and for once there was very little wind, so it was kind of torture. We got lots of encouraging toots and smiles from passing cars coming up and down the mountain, and thankfully weren’t overtaken by any other bikes. As we reached the top though, a campervan pulled over and a cyclist climbed out!! He didn’t even have any bags… what a cheat!!
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The downhill was really fun and as we pulled in near the bottom a man from a hotel office came out with drinks for us! We downed them quickly, cycled on a bit further before stopping at an ice cream shop for a longer break to escape the burning heat. We’d done about 50km and planned to do another 20 or 30, but after 60km we were all done in. We pulled in to a little harbour and asked a couple in a house if we could camp on the beach in front. It turned out they owned the land so they showed us round the back of their property where it was flatter, slightly more sheltered and we had a private beach (where we all went for a swim!) and a view over the cliffs.

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After quite a restless night in some pretty strong wind, we set off before 8am for what would be our hottest, hilliest, longest and furthest day!! It was already 27 degrees when we got going and was hilly straight away. It was really pretty though and after 20km we turned off the main road to take a scenic coastal route. We were passed by the support vehicle for 5 touring cyclists (one of the men’s wives who was driving their stuff between campsites) and she stopped to give us all some powerade at the top of one of the hills. Not long afterwards, my chain came off while trying to drop down gears too quickly up a steep hill, so the said 5 cyclists caught us up and overtook us, rather smugly for a group not carrying any gear!

We stopped around noon for some coffee and wifi, having already covered almost 40km. We stopped again along the road a bit for some shade and packed lunch, before setting off again around 3pm. We knew we had two more “big hills” on the Cabot Trail and were keen to get through one of them before stopping for the night. The next 30km were killer. It rained, was windy and was hot!! We were all feeling tired from a lack of sleep and the previous 40km, so the next hills felt extra hard. The “big hill” (North Mountain) went on FOREVER! It wasn’t as steep as Cape Smokey, but was longer and took about two hours to do the 12km or so of up. Adrienne was a good motivation for both me and Kirsty, and we were so, so glad to get it done. The downhill was AMAZING, I clocked 58kmph before I got scared and put the brakes on, but the roads were emptying and we had the place mostly to ourselves.

We stopped near the bottom of the hill at MacIntosh Brook campsite, an unmanned Parks Canada campsite. As it is Canada’s 150th birthday this year, lots of entry fees to National Parks are waived, so we got this campsite for free. There were signs up warning about bears and coyotes, so we cooked and stored our food inside the hut, and made sure we had no rubbish lying around. I thought I was going to be up all night worrying about it, but after the long day I was fast asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow, and didn’t wake up til the morning.

We set off early again, excited to get over the last “big hill”. It was so much better tackling the hill in the morning, and it was so incredibly beautiful again. We stopped at every viewpoint for a rest and to take pictures, and just took our time going up. We thought we reached the top quite a few times, but more steep sections kept on coming just around the corner. McKenzie and French mountains kind of merged together, but after 40km we were at the bottom of them both, enjoying our packed lunches again. The downhill of French mountain was the best ever. If you google The Cabot Trail, it is what the pictures are of. I really wished I’d had my GoPro on video so I could relive the exhiliration, but I guess there will be more like it to come over the next 7000km. The satisfaction of pushing to the top of a big mountain, enjoying the view at the top then cruising down the other side is totally addictive.

We stopped in Cheticamp for a couple of cakes, and then a fish burger. We hung around for a couple of hours while Adrienne got her bike fixed at a local shop before we headed to Grand Etang where we had arranged a Warmshowers stop for the night. Kevin cooked us fish that he’d caught the day before and entertained us with stories of other cyclists he’d had passing through. We slept soundly inside before a delicious breakfast and setting off on the road again!

The cycling from here was easy, we were all feeling pretty slow so just took our time along all the undulations. We stopped after 12km for a coffee and (two) grilled cheese sandwiches, and to also catch up with Wifi and emails. We then cruised for another 45km to the little town of Inverness. The cycle was beautiful, the road was quiet, the wind was soft and the sun was shining. Kirsty and I treated ourselves to a paid campsite at Inverness Beach so we could have a swim, shower and rest. If only Day 1 Kirsty and Lauren could see us now!!

We managed to work ourselves up a lot after hearing stories of coyote and bear attacks, so when we were in the campsite we made sure to store our food away from our tents. Unfortunately, we woke up to a raven-caused-massacre the next day. They’d pecked apart my dry bag full of food, eaten all my cereal bars and most of our porridge. Then left the rubbish and dragged the remains in to the woods. I hate ravens!! But at least it wasn’t coyotes… and it’s actually quite nice having one less bag…
After Inverness, we cycled on to Creignish. 69km passed with ease and I really loved crusing along yet making great progress at the same time. We stopped off in Mabou for a snack and again in Judique for a coffee at the Celtic Music Centre. The scottish heritage along the Cape Breton coast is really cool, almost more Scottish than Scotland! We started to look for somewhere to camp around Creignish, and ended up knocking on a door to camp in a garden. We were lucky to be warmly welcomed by Keith and Bernadette, who had a great view over the ocean and cooked us a delicious breakfast the following morning. Another case of Canadian hospitality that we will never forget.

We had quite a wet and windy night and the next day was very humid, but we cycled on for another 73km to Antigonish. It was a pretty non-descript day and most of the time I felt like pulling over for a nap. The wind picked up around lunch time, so by the time we reached Antigonish and I had a plate of poutine in front of me I was extremely happy. We had organised a warmshowers stay and were to be there for 7pm, so we wasted some time in the local craft beer bar. I had a taster board of 6 local Nova Scotian beers, the Big Spruce Kitchen Party Ale being the clear winner for me! Yum. We were hosted by Sarah and Chad in Antigonish who were an amazingly inspirational couple, and sent us off again with a great breakfast and a warm fuzzy feeling.

Our last cycle day in Nova Scotia was a beautifully sunny day so we decided to take the scenic road between Antigonish and New Glasgow. It took us through Arisaig, Knoydart and Lismore, all places from near by us in Scotland. The coast was beautiful and while we were in a gas station we got talking to a man who, as it turned out, was on the Warmshowers website. He invited us to fill up our bottles with cold water so we stopped in with him and his wife about 10km down the road. They had an amazing property right next to a river with lots of land, and they bought it for about £40k! Think we might move here…!

We’re now in New Glasgow enjoying a rest day being helped out by Alasdair and Cheryl, my friend’s dad’s cousins. We’re now at 938.1km total, and have done 100km more in the last week than our whole time in Newfoundland. Nova Scotia has been super special, warm and green and beautiful, and we are stoked to be ticking off our second province. Bring on Prince Edward Island tomorrow!
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We have been asked “Why?” a lot on this trip. Why Canada? Why cycling? Why now? And although we say something different each time, the best answer we’ve come up with so far is “Why not?”. A week is an emotional rollercaster, and even in a day I have lots of ups and downs. But the ups are always worth the downs, and the views we’ve been having are priceless. This is my biggest challenge to date, but I’m so glad I’m pushing myself one day at a time to get it done 🙂

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Chapter 2: The Irish Loop

If it’s all about the destination, then take a bloomin’ flight…We’re going nowhere slowly, but we’re seeing all the sights!

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So many songs have been in my head this week, ranging from Oasis “no one saiiid it was gooooing to be eeeassy” to Wicked’s “you and III, we’re defyyyying gravity” and James Taylor “I’ve seen fire, and I’ve seen rain”. A big mix of emotions, but we’re now 318km in so I feel it’s more allowed.

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The Irish Loop has taken us south around the Cape Race peninsula, as seen by the black line on the map above. We set off from Sherry and Kenny in Bay Bulls on a cold, but dry Tuesday morning and had Ferryland in our sites. Kenny had cooked us up some bacon and eggs before setting off and my tyres were still inflated, so we were feeling raring to go. The iceberg in Bay Bulls even gave us a farewell flip before we set off, which was very cool to see happen! The coast coming around Whitless Bay, Cape Broyle and Ferryland is wild and rugged and resembles Scotland in some ways, except for the icebergs in the bays. It was a very hilly cycle, although we were both starting to feel stronger and could stay on the bikes longer. The hill coming out of Cape Broyle was brutal, with a pick-up truck even stopping to offer us a lift. I proudly declined, saying it was good for our legs to keep going… to which Kirsty was a bit annoyed!

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The Irish Loop is so named because of the massive Irish influence and immigration along the coast and in this part of Newfoundland. We were amazed at how strong the accent has stuck through generations of families living here, and sometimes we struggled to understand locals as we would in rural Ireland. We managed to get south of Ferryland to Aquaforte without too much trouble, but as we struggled to find somewhere to set up camp we ended up asking a quiet BnB if we could set up in their garden. As she didn’t have any guests staying she kindly said yes, so it was nice to be somewhere sheltered and safe for the first evening out on the road.

On Wednesday, we set off from Aquaforte, this time with Biscay Bay in our sites. We’d had a dry night but it was still chilly so we aimed for coffee. We’d seen a sign for a cafe the evening before, so were expecting one in about 12km. We rolled in to Renews and were delighted to come across Merrymeeting, a perfect little arts and craft centre run by a man called John. He came out to greet us, wanted to hear our story and let us listen to local music, which sounded like traditional Irish folk music. He offered us fresh crab caught from the harbour, chilli he had on the stove, water with iceberg ice and fresh coffee. Combine all this with the wood burning stove he had on and it was kind of perfection. We reluctantly left after over an hour, and John gave us his card, telling us to call if we had any trouble around the peninsula.

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The cycle south from there flattened out a bit and we cycled through some amazing barron lands. The trees disappeared and we were surrounded by lots of ponds with fishing huts alongside. We had a nice tailwind for most of the way, only really noticing the wind when we stopped for a snack.

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We had a really enjoyable roll downhill for about 10km in to Portugal Cove South, I genuinely don’t think I pedalled at all! We wasted some time in the Interpretive Centre there, learning about the incredibly old fossils at Mistaken Point and staying out of the wind. The ladies in there even gave us a free coffee. We set off to find somewhere sheltered to camp and got a spot on the hills about Biscay Bay hidden away from the road. It was a beautiful spot but the ticks were a bit rampant.

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We started to get in to a good little routine; setting off around 9.30, cycle for an hour or so, find a cafe for a coffee and some wifi, then cycle the rest of the day ’til we find camp. So on Thursday we set off from Biscay Bay and made our way round to Trepassey. We stopped in for coffee but stayed for a burger and chips! Which was kind of lucky because once we left there we had 40km of headwind through some more barron lands. This was a mission mentally and physically, the wind didn’t let up at all and we didn’t really stop or speak. Kirsty did a slow motion fall along here which had to be the highlight of the day… cycling along at 10kmph, drifting out of concentration, hitting a pothole and ending up on her side. Lucky no vehicles and only a couple of scrapes…plenty of giggles! We stopped for a rest once we came back in to a community and ended up setting up camp as we had ran out of energy. The fog rolled in quickly and the temperature dropped too, we saw some seals jumping and playing in the water and had a chat with a man who was walking his cat. I decided to sleep with my spanner next to my pillow… just in case 😉

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Friday was a great cycle day. The fog had cleared when we woke up in St Vincent’s and we set off with a tailwind, which we certainly appreciated after the day before. John at Merrymeeting had told us to stop in and see Orla at the postoffice, but unfortunately she was off on her holidays. We carried on to St Mary’s where we stopped in at the Claddagh Inn, a beautiful converted nunnery which was run by a couple who’d previously worked at Machrahanish airbase – such a small world. We also ran in to the couple from Montreal who we’d met on our first night at Cape Spear, so it was lovely to catch up with them again. We had coffee, freshly baked cookies and a shower here… it was amazing! We set off feeling brand new, if it wasn’t for our smelly clothes!

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We cycled for another 5km or so and came across a pub serving lunch, we couldn’t say no after the terrible headwind the day before so we stopped in for “the best fish and chips on the Irish Loop”. It was definitely delicious, and after we got talking to some workmen in there, one gave us $20 to “get ourselves some beer along the way”, and another left his phone number on Kirsty’s bike.. on the back of a cigarette packet.. more giggles for sure.

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We stopped in some woods just outside St Catherine’s for the night around 4pm as we’d already done over 50km without really thinking about it, and didn’t have anywhere to be in a hurry. We’d heard the rain was due to come in so we were keen to get set up before that happened. We got set up in plenty time, but the wind and the rain overnight was horrendous! Kirsty nearly lost her shelter, and the noise of the rain and the wind kept us up all night. One of my bags was pushed against the side of the tent so let in some water, and I was generally not very happy when I “woke up” on Saturday morning.

We’d planned to hide out in our tents ’til the weather passed as it was meant to clear up, but I had serious cabin fever so cycled off in search of cafe options for the morning. I discovered the local one didn’t open til 12, but there was one a 20 minute cycle up the road, not in the direction we were planning to go, but as we were desperate for a warm hideout we headed that way.

Over a coffee, sandwich and sweet potato fries, we decided to change our plans for the next few days as we couldn’t face heading south in to the head wind again. This meant we’d be missing out on the bird colony at Cape St Mary’s, but we were both relieved that we had the same thoughts that heading north would be a nicer option. We also remembered that Stephanie’s parents lived on one of the harbours in that direction, so were so delighted when Stephanie said we’d be welcome to stop in there for the night.

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We cycled north with the wind at our backs and our moods definitely lifted. We stopped in at Salmonier nature park, the province’s sanctuary for injured animals. It was free to wander around and we saw a snowy owl, caribou, moose and arctic foxes. Not quite as cool as seeing them in the wild, but at least we now know what to look for! The wind turned once we crossed the highway, and we had a beautiful (but hilly and headwindy) cycle around to Conception Harbour. We were greeted with smiles and lasagne, and were so happy not to be setting the tents up in the wind. We’ve taken the opportunity to wash our clothes, and are actually staying on for a second night as we couldn’t say no to a family barbeque this afternoon. Our plan is to set off with fresh heads in the morning, exploring some more of this northern peninsula, before heading south to Placentia where we have organised a Workaway on a bee farm for a few days.

It’s easy to focus on your negative thoughts, telling yourself the challenge ahead is too big for you, and it would be oh so much simpler to just catch a flight home and cosy up on the couch. But, really, we’ve had it pretty easy so far and with a bit of reflection the “challenges” don’t seem so big. The positives have been huge, meeting some amazing, kind people, experiencing beautiful coast lines and eating delicious fries with dressing and gravy. The journey ahead is still daunting, but I plan to make the most of the adventure, and continue to cycle with the wind at my back and sun on my face.

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Chapter 1: Newfogland

It’s been less than 60km of riding and it’s already super hard! I’ve had a big dose of reality sent my way, and have (hopefully, finally) learnt to properly change a tyre.

We had a very smooth start leaving the airport, the task ahead seemed big but mostly exciting and the upcoming adventure softened the sad “see you soon”s. Getting the bikes on the plane was simple (and free!) and leg one went without a hitch. We had to pass through immigration during transit in Halifax, and as there were two Kirsty Blacks on the system we were slowed down a bit. We missed the luggage carousel to put our bikes on, so had to go back through oversized luggage. The bike boxes wouldn’t fit through the scanner so we had to unpack them for inspection, but even that went super smoothly and we weren’t in a rush so there was no stress at all.

Leg two to St John’s was also very smooth, and setting up the bikes in arrivals attracted us some good attention. Everyone was amazed at what we were setting off to do. We cycled out of the airport (on the right hand side of the road) and made our way to Dom and Stephanie’s house. Dom used to work with my brother Robbie, and had very kindly said we could stay with them for a couple of nights to get ourselves sorted. Kirsty’s chain fell off the derailer at the first intersection, and my front wheel was more than a little wobbly when we pulled up at their door, but all in all it was pretty good.

On Friday morning, we headed to the local bike shop (Canary Cycles) as we’d arranged to pick up some spare parts. We had originally planned to cycle across the whole of Newfoundland, following the East to West spirit. However, Flora and Don in the bike shop quickly told us how miserable this would be as we’d be cycling along a motorway for two weeks, just surrounded by trees and swamps. They suggested cycling around the perimiter of the Avalon Peninsula instead, which brings in a more scenic journey and takes us to a different ferry which lands at the same spot in Nova Scotia. So we’re doing that. We booked on the first available ferry, which “unfortunately” isn’t until the 17th June, so we had two weeks to cycle about 400km.

After a great sunny drive around St John’s and the surrounding areas with Dom and their beautiful toddler Seth, we stocked up on more camping gear and tried to get our heads in the game for setting off on Saturday. We went for a trip up Signal Hill and checked out the Terry Fox memorial, both very cool on a sunny evening.

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Saturday rolled around and Kirsty and I worked together to change my new tyres… and one hour later we were done. We cycled to the supermarket to stock up on food for biking and camping, then said some sad farewells to Dom, Stephanie and Seth.

The first cycle off was a mission. Kirsty was more mentally prepared than me, but I was taken aback by how wobbly the bike felt with all the weight. It was near impossible to cycle uphill, and pushing it wasn’t much easier at all. Downhill through the city was terrifying too, so we pretty much walked our bikes out of St John’s. We were aiming for Cape Spear, the most easterly point in Canada (and North America) and our official starting point. It was 18km to get there and felt mostly uphill. We both had to walk the majority of them, and the mammoth size of the task ahead hit me like a brick. 12km in and my back tyre was flat…I’m still so proud that I didn’t actually cry. Thank goodness for Kirsty and her positivity to keep me from booking a flight home then and there. (Over-reactions much!!) We managed to get it changed on the side of the road, with a couple of cars stopping to offer help – one of them even offering his house up the road if we needed it.

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We managed to cycle on until we reached the lighthouse.. not that we could see it through all the fog. We did see a coyote in the car park though. We camped up at Cape Spear for the night, cooking dinner in the rain and listening for coyotes. We woke up on Sunday morning raring to go, officially starting the East to West journey. It was foggy, damp and cold, and I had to keep focusing on the next 5 minutes only as I panicked if I even thought about the next hour, never mind the next day. “Be In The Present Moment” was my mantra for the morning.

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We both felt heaps stronger than the night before, and could cycle up more and more hills. I learnt that it was actually easier for my body and mind to stay on the bike rather than getting off to push. After about an hour, we reached Petty Harbour where we came for lunch on Friday with Dom and Seth. We stopped in for a coffee at the Watershed Cafe to escape the fog and rain, and were greeted by the friendliest staff and customers. After hiding in there for over an hour, we had a list of camp spots from another customer, and a free cookie from the owner. While in there, we also had a text from Stephanie to say she had a friend in Bay Bulls, and when we messaged Sherry to say about stopping to say hello she immediately invited us to stay.

The cycle south from Petty Harbour to Bay Bulls was pretty good, the only scary thing was getting used to being on busy roads as drivers on Newfoundland aren’t too used to bikes. Most gave us plenty of room though, and we just had to concentrate hard to stay in a straight line. We came in to Bay Bulls as the sun was coming out, and after a little explore of the harbour and awing at the resident iceberg we made our way over to Sherry’s. And just as we were arriving my tyre went flat again… WAH

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We were shown more Canadian kindness and were given showers, washing machine use and a warm bed for the night. The rain came in a lot so we were very thankful not to be in the tents. I repaired the tubes and tried pumping them up again, but sadly they were flat again within a couple of hours. As the tyre and rim were good as new, I guessed I was doing something wrong when changing the tubes.. so sadly made a plan to go back to the bike shop in the morning. We went over to the neighbours house, where they had an outdoor fire inside a gazebo overlooking the harbour, pretty beautiful.

And now it’s Monday. We woke up to heavier rain than yesterday, and it hasn’t stopped yet. We headed back in to St John’s in Kenny’s car (another Canadian kindness) and got the tube sorted pretty easily. The bike shop man (Don) confirmed it was catching when I was changing them, so gave me some advice to stop it happening it again. As the rain still hasn’t stopped, Sherry and Kenny have offered for us to stay another night to stay dry. So we’re repacking, oiling gears and pumping up tyres! Getting ready to set off with fresh heads (and dry gear!) in the morning.

350km to the ferry and 11 days to do it…although it feels like a slow start, I am certainly grateful for this forced time to iron out all the creases and get used to the bikes.