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.

4 Comments

  1. I’ve cycled across Nfld on the highway (2015) and you were given great advice in Canary Cycle – your current route is much much much nicer and quieter, which will give you time to get things sorted out and your road legs! You have big hills in front of you and am glad to see that you’re walking them – my first month I cycled up *every* friggin’ hill (it was some sort of stupid point of pride thing!) but then finally about half way around Nfld I started walking up hills and was a much happier cyclist! With the side trips I suggested to Cape Race, Mistaken Point, Cape St Mary’s – you’ll fill your days. Take your time at the outset and enjoy the Newfoundland scenery and hospitality – I grew up down on Burin Peninsula and that’s an excellent ride around it, but you don’t have time – I did do it on my tour as wells as the French islands of St Pierre et Miquelon, which was amazing! Newfoundland is even windier, wetter, and foggier than Scotland most of the time – so you’ll get used to Onwards Through the Fog. I trust you have bright orange or yellow vests/jackets to put on for visibility. Drivers are very good – I got lots of waves and honks, and I’m sure two young ladies will generate even more! Anyhow, am glad you got out to Cape Spear, despite the fog and some sightseeing in St John’s – and very very glad you went to the Terry Fox Memorial! There’s a lovely one at Thunder Bay where he had to end his Marathon of Hope. I saw him the day he started -12 April 1980 when I was going to university in St John’s. Enjoy the hills! They are relentless 🙂

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  2. Love love loved reading this. Hopefully all these setbacks are teething issues. Tomorrow is always another day. Very relieved to read how wonderfully welcoming the locals are, giving you both showers and warm beds! Love you both ❤️ Xxx

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