As, I wrote in the last post, Week 12 was a very fast ride from Halifax to Sydney where I would catch the ferry to Newfoundland, the island-province far in the Atlantic and Canada’s most easterly coast.
Week 13 started off with a little bit of sightseeing around 20km from Sydney as a new friend took me to Louisbourg.
To say that it was a beautiful would be an understatement so I will let you see for yourself with these images.
Thank you Monika!
On Wednesday, I took a bus to the ferry where I would head to Newfoundland to ride this province coast to coast and ultimately end up in its capital, St John’s.
Embarking on the ferry was pain free and I went into my own little corner to watch some movies and get some more sleep before the six hour crossing from North Sydney, Nova Scotia to Channel-Port Aux Basques, Newfoundland.
Here are some images from the moment we sailed from one side to when we arrived to the other.
I got off the ferry and into Newfoundland without knowing what to expect. All I know is that I was greeted with great weather which was amazing.
Not even half an hour on the island and I was given a warm welcome by local teenagers who were going around on their BMXes.
They even rode with me to the hotel where I would spend the night which was pretty cool convoy!
But something burst my bubble when I got to the hotel. Two things actually…
First, I realised that I did not have phone service on this island. My phone operator does not have a presence in Newfoundland so that meant that my phone was pretty much useless unless I got to Wifi spots.
I did not think much of it but this “handicap” would be the main reason behind my hellish time in Newfoundland as you will read on.
Second, the hotel price was crazy expensive even with the discount that the very nice receptionist gave me while telling me that I was lucky because I was also benefitting from low season rates which starts in June (we’re in April).
But I did not think much of this again and as you will also read later, this would the other reason behind my nightmare of a time in Newfoundland, as you will find out shortly as trouble did not wait long before showing its ugly head.
I woke up to a morning that was nothing like the day before.
It looked like some serious snow was about to fall but I had ridden in many storms before and just dismissed it and got on my bicycle.
I went into a coffee shop to get some breakfast and lunch for the road and by the time I hit the road, this snow showed that it was serious and was going nowhere.
Again, I did not think much of it and figured that it would a light snow fall which would quickly evaporate since the previous beautiful sunny day was proof that Summer or Spring were in full effect.
I got onto a famed bicycle trail that covers one end of Newfoundland to the next. It’s a popular path with tourists who are uncomfortable with cycling on the Trans-Canada Highway, the only road way to cross the province.
You will read later that, it would be a decision that would cost me dearly in time, money and energy.
But in the meanwhile, this snow was getting serious. Very serious. I did not want to admit it to myself but I was in a full-blown snow storm that would eventually reach 20cm!
I had to make some decisions. I was headed to Stephenville, 150km or so away and even with good weather, it was a long journey.
But in this snow, I was travelling so slowly that some quick calculations indicated that I would get to my destination by midnight and with the sun setting at around 7pm, I would cycle 5 hours in the dark in the middle of a wild, barely inhabited province, with not enough food, with never-ending snow and to make matters even worse without a mobile phone since I did not have any signal!
After 3 or 4 kilometres of this madness, I decided to turn around and head back to the hotel where I reluctantly asked for another room and I spent another fortune which seriously annoyed me but I had to think about safety first and foremost.
I spent all day in a hotel room doing absolutely nothing and getting all frustrated but I knew it was for the best.
The next morning, was a different day. As a matter of fact, here is a photo of what it looked like compared to 24 hours prior as evidenced in the image above.
And that snow would eventually melt away as the day got warmer.
I got on the bicycle and returned on the bicycle path but after about 30 minutes, I got fed up of it as it was full of rocks and gravel and it was not solid enough to allow me to travel at fast speeds.
So, I decided that I would cross Newfoundland on the highway and proceeded toward it and came across this sign that was like a punch in the stomach
Well, I was headed to St John’s and the sign that I had 890 km to go and the enormity of the ride just caught me off-guard especially as I thought of the previous day’s experience.
What if most of the trip was snowstorm-filled?
Newfoundland was obviously no holiday and right there, I sensed that it would be quite a challenging adventure.
Exactly three hours into the ride to Stephenville, I got a flat tire. I wish it was just a flat. It was a puncture which meant that my tire was damaged beyond repair and I needed a new one which I did not have.
The thing with tires is that most of the time it’s the tube that has an issue and I had replacements but this time it was a tire issue and I did not have a spare one, so I fixed it knowing that it was a short-term solution given the fact that the tire was damaged.
Simply put, I needed a new one and I did not have one and I did not have a phone to get some help.
I kept cycling along knowing that it was a matter of time before the tire got another flat and I was pedalling as fast as possible to break down as close to my destination as possible and perhaps get to a populated area where I would find a place with Internet to figure out alternative plans.
Sixty kilometres later, I heard a loud pop and that was the end of my tire and spare tubes and I know that I was done for the day.
Luckily for me, I broke down a few minutes away from a motel where I was able to seek shelter from the evening that was starting and was getting cold and use the Internet to get in touch with my hosts in Stephenville and tell them that I was stuck.
Fortunately for me, Lori, my host offered to come and pick me up and while I waited for her, I was having a friendly conversation with the motel owner and operator and to this day, I am grateful for the company and for allowing me to use her phone, Internet and facilities.
My first ride in Newfoundland while in a VERY beautiful setting was a total disaster but I was grateful to have been stranded near a place where I found refuge and for my hosts who offered to come and bail me out.
The next morning, I decided to stick around Stephenville because I needed to figure out what to do with my front tire that was out of commission and frankly because I was tired and needed a break.
So Lori my host took me on a small hike around where she and her family live and the best I can do to showcase the beauty of Kippens (the exact location where they are located in Stephenville) is to share the images below and let you see for yourself.
Oh by the way, I almost forgot to mention that Lori raises chicken for the eggs which is something I have noticed a lot in Eastern Canada. I got to feed them and I liked that a lot!
And how is this for good fortune?
It turns out that Lori and John, her husband are avid cyclists who have gone on many trips across Canada.
They kindly took off tires from their personal bicycles and gave them to me to use until the next city where there was a bike shop and from there, the store would hold those tires for them until the next time they came to town.
Which means that the following day I was ready to hit the road towards Corner Brook.
To my lovely surprise, John (Lori’s husband) and Jerry, a friend of that family, decided to see me off and make sure that I would be fine on the road by riding the first 30 km with me.
The rest of the ride to Corner Brook was pleasant and I loved every minute of it even if it was full of hills but they were smooth and the downhills were steep so I would gather enough momentum that would help me in my climbs.
Furthermore, there was no wind so that helped a lot.
The following day, I went to get my bicycle looked at and purchase new tires at Cycle Solutions. That bike shop was top of their game and they fixed all my problems in a prompt and efficient manner.
Naturally a photo with the whole crew was a must 🙂
After I took a quick ride through the city. The only thing I will remember about Corner Brook is that whomever built it was fond of hills!
Imagine my surprise when I saw a Jamaican restaurant!
This is getting long but yes, it was a long week so let’s move on…
So with my new tires, the world’s most puncture-proof according to the marketing hype, I got back on the bike without knowing how far I would go since at this stage, I had realised that the maps had nothing to do with reality since they were not up to date at all!
I cycled and cycled and cycled and out of the blue it started getting dark and the motel that I was looking for was nowhere to be found given the inaccuracies of the map.
I rode past Deer Lake, a small but major town along the way.
Light rain started falling and it was getting dark and somehow the motel in Sheppardville that I had researched on the Internet was nowhere to be found and I started to panic a little bit.
Luckily for me as it was really getting dark, I saw a motel and cycled past it and I was so lucky because the operator was shutting down for the night since it was off season and she had only one client.
I was a total mess by she welcomed me in. After all, I had ridden 150 km and 100 km were in a moderate but nonstop rain.
I was so proud of my clothes since while they were soaked, I was dry and warm and could even afford to smile and joke around.
The kitchen was also about to close and they fixed me a quick meal and I went straight to bed with the heating at full blast to dry my clothes and keep me warm since it was a cold and damp day!
The bicycle was a total mess too. I brought it in the room so that it could dry too because I was in no mood to ride a frozen bike the following morning.
The next morning, I woke up, got dressed in my sweaty and dirty clothes since I did not have access to laundry.
The good thing is that most of my cycling kit is comprised of merino wool and odor-resistant materials so while they’re full of mud and sweat, I can still get around without stinking and causing people to collapse.
That day was warmer and with a little drizzle. I don’t remember what the ride felt like but my Strava notes indicate that it a flat road and there was no wind or rain so I was able to keep it moving.
I remember however seeing the 500km mark which is basically the halfway point and I told myself that although the previous rides had been hell, it certainly could not get worse but as you will read shortly, it did big time and I almost died in the first meaning of the word.
I got to Grand-Falls and checked into yet another modest but overpriced motel and at that stage I had just stopped counting money because I was growing frustrated and broke but I did not have a choice as it was either that or sleeping outside in freezing temperatures.
My next ride was from Grand-Falls to Gander, a 100km trip.
At the 50km mark, the skies opened and it started raining. Not some light rain but heavy, heavy rain that showed no signs of stopping within the next hour or so.
I was in the middle of nowhere as usual, this is Newfoundland after all, so my strategy was to just keep on cycling and I was sure that my cycling kit would keep me dry anyway since it had done so with flying colours in a few instances the days before.
After three or four hours of these strong showers, I started suffering from hypothermia. I had never had it before but before embarking on this trip, I did a lot of reading and I have learned to monitor the signs and I was displaying all the symptoms to the extent that I was not even able to focus anymore.
I was so cold that my brain had basically stopped working and it was only focused on the simple task that I had given it: to keep my eyes fixed on the road while my legs did the pedalling.
I knew I was close in distance but I had no energy left as the cold had taken it away but I was cycling so slowly that my body got colder and more wet.
It got so crazy that I tried to stop but could not even find the energy to unclip from my pedals so I was just stuck on the bicycle almost literally.
Even the hills which normally make me sweat and generate body heat did not work. I was just drenched with rain and I was slowly shutting down.
It got so bad that after a while I found myself cycling in the middle of the highway without noticing and as I was zig-zagging between the road and the shoulder.
And this is not some small regional rural road. It was the Trans Canada highway, the busiest road in Newfoundland.
Eventually, I told myself that I was in serious danger and just told my brain to give me enough motivation to find the next place available for shelter as I would stop there and basically warm myself up as I was slowly fading out and losing consciousness while still cycling which is amazing in itself as it felt that I had blacked out but never fell of the bike!
95 km into my 100 km journey, I saw a petrol station and even if I had 5km left to my destination where a warm house and shower awaited me, my body did not have the will, strength and energy to carry on and so I dropped off my bike and almost crawled into the service centre and basically told the staff that I was in distress and needed help.
I had 5 km left or 20 minutes to be precise and I could not carry on!
The Irving fuel station staff was amazing. They gave me a hot chocolate and a hot glass of water to hold in my hands to warm them up.
They took off my gloves and allowed me to basically undress and put the clothes in newspapers and I am not exaggerating when I say that the water that came from it could have filled a bucket.
My gloves were still so wet that one ingenious staff member put them next to a fan to try and dry them as much as possible.
I have to say that the hot chocolate felt like I had gotten CPR as I felt my body coming back to life and the agony I was going through just vanished.
I could not stick around for long as I did not want my muscles to get all stiff. So I got back onto the bicycle to finish the 5% left on my bicycle and within 20 minutes I reached Gander and after a nice shower, lovely meal and conversation with my very interesting host, I slept like a dead man.
I almost forgot that I ate two chocolate bars in one sitting because I felt that I had deserved them given the agony I went through 🙂
So what went wrong? I should have not ridden in that rain that is what happened. I should have stopped in the first city town that I came across and waited for it to stop and resumed my ride later. But when I chose to carry on, I had no choice but to keep on pedalling as I found myself in unpopulated portions of my ride.
I find that at this time of writing I have become scared of the rain which is a good thing but also a bad thing because my mistake was to ride in it for far too long.
I spent 48 hours in Gander getting over my terrible ordeal and I used that time to wash my bicycle which was starting to look like a mess.
I went to sleep and in the morning, I woke up to a lovely surprise.
My host and some of his friends that I had met the night before at the small get-together he had organised were going to ride with me part of the way to support me but also to enjoy the beautiful Saturday.
Jamie, Jon, Caroline and I hit the road towards Clarenville on the foggy morning that would eventually turn to a beautiful sunny day with mild winds and scenic routes.
At Gambo or 43 km into the trip, we parted ways as they had to head back. I took a final farewell photo. I will never forget this amazing group of people.
They are very private and so I cannot talk about who they are exactly but I am glad to have met for now and for the future.
So at Gambo where we separated, I had a 100km left to cycle to Clarenville which was okay because I had enough time ahead of me as well as a friendly weather.
This would turn out to be the most enjoyable ride in all of Newfoundland despite the presence of so many endless but smooth hills.
That is because I came across a huge park. You perhaps don’t know this but I LOVE parks and cycling in one was heaven on Earth.
Enter Terra Nova National Park of Canada.
For the next 40km or so, I just flew into that forest. Yes, I was on the Trans Canada Highway but in the middle of a forest.
I took a lot of video over photographs that I don’t have time to upload but trust me, it really made my day!
I even stopped to have a little picnic
Notice how the distance to St John’s my ultimate destination kept shrinking from the initial 890km? That brought a smile to my face 🙂
Eventually I got to Clarenville.
While there, I tried to check into some hotels but there were expensive. I eventually found one outside town that was closed for the season but the operators opened it up for me which was very kind of them.
It was a sort of castle in Newfoundland and I was the only guest so I was a king in my own private hotel, I guess!
The inside was very enchanting (that is not a real dog. It caught me off-guard too).
The next day, a Sunday, a family that was following my adventures on Facebook invited me to spend a night at their house which went well as it was good to be with more wonderful Newfoundlanders after a some trying times in this province which Spring had forgotten.
My hosts had a cat that had quite a personality
After this long week, I went to bed ready for the last two rides to St John’s, my final destination in Newfoundland.
As you have just read, the past seven days were quite filled with some extreme adventures but also with lots of beautiful people and places. I learned a lot about travelling, cycling and myself and I was able to grow as as human being and as Christian as in every single second, I had to rely on The Most Hight for survival and He took care of me via his beautiful people in Newfoundland.
I will be the first to admit that I am not looking forward to such trying times again though.