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