Saturday September 7, 2013. Final Post

Canada is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-boggling big it is. 

Douglas Adams, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (as modified)

Had it not been for the lure of sleeping in our own beds and the excitement of seeing our grandchildren, we might have spent a few more days in St. John’s, if only because it is such a charming and delightful place. Perched on the rocks overlooking St. John’s harbour, the city appears to be a smaller version of a northern San Francisco, with its steep streets and brightly-painted wooden houses. St. John’s has experienced a few great fires, the last being in 1892, which destroyed much of the city. As a result, the old city streets are lined with 3-story houses rebuilt in attractive Second Empire style. From our hotel room, we had a spectacular view of Signal Hill and the Harbour.

With some relief and, yes, a tinge of sadness, we left our bikes at Canary Cycles to be boxed and shipped to us c/o West Point Cycles in Vancouver, courtesy of Purolator. There, we ran into fellow cyclists, Jesse and Jackie, a young couple we had met waiting for the ferry at North Sydney. Flying from Montreal, they had begun their cross-continent trip in San Diego, cycling up the west coast to Vancouver, along Vancouver Island, taking the ferry to Prince Rupert, and then making their way across the country to St. John’s. We exchanged stories later over drinks and dinner at the YellowBelly pub. We were also on the same walking tour of St. John’s the next day, led by a flamboyant Mr. Doyle, who took us through the backstreets of the city, past Garrison Church, Lieutenant Governer’s House and the disused Confederation Building, occasionally stopping to recite amusing excerpts of speeches or newspaper articles relating to Newfoundland’s colourful past.

A walk up Signal Hill gave us wonderful views of the Atlantic Ocean as the ever changeable weather cleared to blue skies and sunshine. It was instructive to learn more about Marconi’s first transatlantic radio transmission, especially given that, at the time, no one knew why it worked. The Art Gallery housed in “The Room” was showing a 50-year retrospective of Mary Pratt’s work and we were also pleased to be able to see more paintings by Christopher Pratt and by their teacher, Alex Colville. Yesterday ended listening to a local band playing Irish, as well as more contemporary, music in O’Reilly’s Pub.

We started our long flights home with a good view of the Avalon Peninsula and what appeared to be the TCH. Flying across the country, it was funny to think that we had really cycled the entire way! Maritia and Jade met us at the airport in Vancouver, with a big sign welcoming us back. It’s great to be home!

In wrapping up  this trip blog, we would like again to thank all of our family and friends for your support on the way; those who commented on the blog and added humour to our days, those friends who welcomed us with such wonderful hospitality, to Marius and Helen for wanting to join their uncle and aunt in this adventure and providing great company through Quebec, to Maritia who arranged for flowers, chocolates and a balloon to be delivered to our hotel room in St. John’s, and, finally, to our fellow cyclists whom we encountered on the road, for sharing your experiences, your friendship and love of cycling across this incredible land.

It was a blast!

p.s. Some things we learned (or which were confirmed) over the past 3 1/2 months on the road:

– we can cycle for 8 hours (or more), day after day, indefinitely, with a good night’s sleep and sufficient food;
– we can feel really tired at the end of a day and wake up looking forward to getting back on our bikes;
– we did not experience any cumulative physical fatigue, rather the daily exercise was itself invigorating (one of our more surprising observations);
– the strain of the traffic and poor road conditions can be as tiring as the physical demands;
– with enough “cushion” time built in, we can deal with (almost) anything that nature and the roads bring on;
– making minute changes to height and tilt of handlebars and/or saddle can result in significant relief of discomfort caused by maintaining cycling positions over many hours (thanks to Chris, the bike shop owner in Jasper, for that piece of advice);
– we like cycle touring and plan to do more (also a surprise);
– Canadians are as friendly and “nice” as our reputation suggests (and were invariably supportive of our venture);
– Canada is huge (but not too big to cycle across);
– the history of wrongs inflicted on Canada’s indigenous communities is shockingly common right across the country;
– small Canadian towns are selling their souls to the big box stores;
– music is essential in handling the boredom or stress of certain stretches of highway;
– life without good espresso is less fun;
– the spinoffs  (no pun intended) of such an expedition are about more than the physical.

Best clothes:
Goretex jackets (Arcteryx and Rab) and helmet covers; Gore cycle jackets, Ice Breaker clothes (apart from cycle shorts – Gore and Suogi are more comfortable);

Best bike accessories:
Mirror – essential
Rear lights (flashing – were noticed by drivers many times)
Ortlieb waterproof panniers;

Best extras:
Belkin power bar with USB plug-ins (for iPhones, iPads, iPods and rechargeable lights)

Repairs/ replacements (we needed very few due to expert advice on bikes and equipment from West Point Cycles):
Four new  tires (Charlottetown)
Brake pads (Edmonton)
Chains (Ottawa)
7 flat tires

Wednesday September 4, 2013. Day 87

Whitbourne to St. John’s

As Isy has said, we have finally run out of road! After 7,340 km, we are at the end of our journey. We are tired and elated and can’t quite believe we have actually done this!

We arrived in St. John’s after 7 hours of some of the hardest cycling we’ve done so far. We fled the motel early and went next door to Robin’s Donuts for “breakfast”, then pedaled off on the #1 (TCH), continuing across the hilly Avalon Peninsula, under leaden skies and with winds gusting to 60 km/hr. After 30 km, the road turned south, the headwind was ferocious and it began to rain. We passed the sign to Cupids, the first English colony in Canada, founded in 1610. For the last third of the ride, we were heading northeast, so the wind was easier, although strong cross winds frequently threatened to blow us over. Turning on to the #2, we finally began a long and welcomed ascent towards our final destination.

We will spend the next couple of days sight-seeing, resting, organizing the shipment of our bikes back to Vancouver and generally reflecting on and celebrating what we have accomplished. We fly home on Saturday. We will do a post-script in a day or two. Thank you to all our family and friends for your constant support and encouragement, beds, meals, biscotti, Rice Krispie squares, granola bars, afternoon tea, flowers, etc. etc. It has meant a lot to both of us!

We remain on the traditional territory of the Mi’kmaq People.


Tuesday September 3, 2013. Day 86

Argentia, NL to Whitbourne

We had a smooth and enjoyable 16.5 hr  sailing on board the  MV Atlantic Vision, with its many amenities, including an excellent restaurant and comfortable cabins. We did not take advantage of the casino or cinema (Skyfall), but did listen to some live music in the bar for a while, before retiring to watch the ocean through our porthole. Newfoundland was visible in the grey distance this morning for a long time before we saw the harbour at Argentia. Our bikes survived the journey, having been secured with a number of rubber straps that Paul had been salvaging for the purpose  from the side of the highways over the past several weeks. (Lois had not at first questioned the collection of these items, as this is the kind of thing Paul does from time to time!)

Just off the ferry, we stopped for photos at the “Welcome to Newfoundland and Labrador” sign, where we also said goodbye to Meghan, another cyclist also completing a cross-Canada tour. Thinking that an espresso would be nice before our day’s ride, we noticed a sign for Philip’s Cafe, in Placentia. Having just negotiated a very steep climb up from Argentia, this meant going down again to the next harbour (and back up), but it was well worth it. The roaring fire was not really necessary but there is definitely an autumnal chill in the air. Jim, from Florida, touring by motorcycle, with a friend on another motorcycle and another driving a Corvette, said we were his heroes and took a photo of us. Castle Hill, nearby, was the site of a French fort before the British took over the island in 1713. Our landing place, Argentia, was a US base during WWII and Churchill met Roosevelt aboard ship in Placentia Bay, in 1941, to finalize the Atlantic Charter.

We cycled north-east against a solid headwind, across the rugged “moorish”landscape, which looked bleak under the grey sky. We are staying in a rudimentary motel on the Trans Canada, where the water is running brown out of the taps, because of well contamination. Nothing, however, can damper our spirits tonight as we contemplate our final ride into St. John’s tomorrow!

Wildlife Notes: Northern Gannet

The original inhabitants of Newfoundland were the Beothuk People. The last known Beothuk died in the mid 19th century. They died out for a variety of reasons. The Island of Newfoundland was then the traditional territory of the Mi’kmaq People. There are several Mi’kmaq communities here. In 1949, when Newfoundland joined Confederation, there was no specific arrangement for the province’s Aboriginal people. While the Inuit and Innu of Labrador have negotiated land claim settlements, the Mi’kmaq are still struggling for status under the Indian Act.

First views of Newfoundland
First views of Newfoundland

Monday September 2, 2013. Day 85

Baddeck to North Sydney

As we keep reminding ourselves, this trip isn’t over until it’s over. It can still throw anything at us, and it does! (Paul is convinced that snow will be added to the list of potential elements, even though none is forecast for the region in the foreseeable future!)
We suspected that the 57 km ride to North Sydney ferry terminal was not going to be straightforward when 1) our shoes were still wet from yesterday (shoe covers work to a point, but not against torrential downpours) and 2) the weather was grayer and windier than forecast. However, we were excited to be heading to Newfoundland, our 10th province, and were pleased to find good espresso on the way out of town. The #205 was by the lake and quiet. The #105 (TCH) was fine and then we were confronted by Kelly’s Mt and a 250m incline over 7km against a headwind.The view at the top was spectacular, however, despite the mist,  and we enjoyed the long ascent down to the Great Bras d’Or Channel. But, then we had to cross the long Seal Island Bridge across the channel. The bridge was narrow with no shoulder and pedestrians were prohibited. We had no choice but to make our way slowly across, trying not to look at the fast- moving waters below, and hoping no semis came rumbling along behind. From then on, the hard shoulder up the hills was filled by a rumble strip which did not help our mood! Eventually, we got to North Sydney in blowy misty rain. The ferry was docked waiting for us with a reserved cabin for the 14-hour crossing to Placentia Bay.

We are on the traditional territory of the Mi’kmaq People, specifically the District of Onamag. We passed through the First Nations community of Bras d’Or.

Sunday September 1, 2013. Day 84

Port Hawkesbury to Baddeck

We waited for Haven Coffee Bar to open at 9:00 for our morning espresso fixes and for sandwiches for lunch. We then headed out along the #105 east (TCH), following the Blue Ridge. There are no more coal mines on Cape Breton and only one in Nova Scotia, at Stellerton near New Glasgow. Gypsum, however, is still extracted and we passed the Melford Mine. According to Wikipedia, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Nova Scotia gypsum was highly sought after as a fertilizer by American wheat farmers, so much so that there was a lively smuggling trade which resulted in the “Plaster War” of 1812.

The weather was misty, alternating between showers and a fine drizzle in the morning, and then developing into a heavy thunderstorm in the afternoon as we approached the north shore of Bras d’Or Lake, an inland sea of partially fresh/ salt water. We are staying in Baddeck, a town at the start and end of the Cabot Trail loop. Alexander Graham Bell spent most of the second half of his life in the area and was apparently accepted as part of the community.

We are on the traditional territory of the Mi’kmaq People, specifically the District of Onamag. We passed through the communities of Waycobah and Wagmatcook.