Riding Day: 1 (Editor’s Note: If you missed part one be sure and give it a read https://www.movementsportsmag.com/2018/02/23/bikepacking-in-newfoundland/)
Awaking from a relatively sleepless night, I rubbed my red and tired eyes to see that Newfoundland was now in sight. I gathered with the rest of the guys for our last decent breakfast in the main dining room and, as we ate, The Rock began to grow larger and larger in our view. It was a wet and overcast morning, the weather that we knew to expect, and following breakfast we made our way down to the bottom of the ship to gather our bikes and gear. One advantage of being on bikes was that we were allowed off the ship first and made our way to the main ferry terminal to make use of their water fountains, bathrooms, and dry floors.
The skies were cloudy and swollen, what the locals would call a ‘thick’ morning, and the moisture in the air spoke to the incoming storm. Before finishing our last gear check, the skies opened up and it was time to take out our rain gear and head off into the pouring rain, but not before snapping a few photos in front of a ceremonial rock to commemorate our arrival to ‘The Rock’. If we were looking for a good omen to begin our trip, this was most certainly it.
We rolled out in a paceline, buoyant with the adrenaline that comes from the start of a long-awaited trip and the lack of sleep from the night before. We were like schoolchildren heading outside for a nice, long vacation break. All we had to worry about was what was right in front of us. No more. No less. The trail looked like any rail trail one would recognize from the east coast – large, chunky gravel rimmed by brush and grass, with only one exception, the ATV’s and the tracks they left behind. Due to the heavy trail use, there were huge puddles of muddy water and an endless line of up-and-down moguls as far as we could see. We quickly learned to ride the edges of the trail, which meant lots of scratches on our upper arms and knuckles from the unrelenting brush that lined the path.
Day 1 was 100% coastal, which meant thick, deep sand. To my left, nothing but the vast expanse of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. To my right, sand dunes, brush, and the occasional abandoned building. Our group of five rode steadily through the pouring rain for the first couple of hours, finally stopping in what looked like an abandoned garage on the edge of a bluff. We stopped for a few minutes to shake out gear, change socks and gloves, enjoy the local graffiti and grab a snack, before we headed out into what we thought would be a week of rainy hell.
After a few hours of trail riding, the ATV traffic from the ferry was starting to catch us and pass in groups of 2-3 to nearly a dozen at a time. Some of them, but not all, were polite and gave us as wide a berth as possible on the narrow trail. Others buzzed by quickly, glaring at us with expressions of confusion – we must have been a sight!
By noon, we were all craving something other than food bars and decided to make our first foray into foraging on The Rock. While I had studied and searched Google for food options along the way, the western edge of the island seemed to have nothing but gas stations roughly 30 miles apart, which can be quite a distance considering we were averaging about 10 mph at best. I’ve foraged for mid-ride food in gas stations throughout the USA, China, and Europe, but this island was a little different, as EVERYTHING was trucked in – that meant lots of pre-packaged and shelf-stable junk. We found our first Irving Gas station of the trip somewhere around a tiny town called Benoit’s Siding. With our bikes parked along the building, we assessed our surroundings, which comprised of the gas station, a few buildings, and the main highway with trucks rambling along the coast.
The folks inside the station looked at us as though we had three heads as we scoured their shelves for something healthy or familiar, but what we found would become a mainstay meal for the rest of the trip. Enter the “Hot Pizza Sub,” or HPS, this was a baggie-wrapped, shelf-stable sandwich containing a flavorless cheese, mystery meat, and tomato sauce. Yes, it was disgusting. Yes, I ate two, plus two cans of Sunkist and a bag of chips and grabbed an extra sub for the remainder of the day. Assuming this would be our only option for food for the next few days, we stocked up on ramen, candy, and other junk food – it was grim to think that this would be our only option for a while and I was really starting to dread the idea that I would be consuming nothing but preservatives for a week. BIKEPACKING!
As we wrapped up lunch and started packing up to continue the journey, the skies cleared, and the temperature went up from the high 40s to the high 60s, with 100% humidity, in a matter of minutes. With bugs swirling around our heads, we hopped back on to continue our journey to the Wishingwell campground in Jeffrey’s, about 25 miles northeast of our current location. The rest of the ride was a little rough, as this section of trail was clearly unpopular and therefore overgrown. We were stuck riding in single-file through stinging brush at a relatively slow pace, as the grade started to kick up at mile 35.
Arriving at the Wishingwell in the late afternoon, I signed us in to our campground, found the showers, and got situated. This spot, like many others we would find on the island, was family owned and operated. The manager’s accent was a mixture of brogue and French and I could barely understand him, but he made it pretty clear that there were no services for miles in either direction, so we all unpacked our stoves and ate boiled bags of food for dinner (I had the second HPS for dessert). As we were wrapped up for the night, our neighbors in the RV across the camp dropped off a gallon of their personal water supply, from a well up north, and asked us to drop by their campfire when we were settled for the night. We learned about the island, their culture, and got to see some homemade instruments our new friend John had made. As we thanked him and started back toward our tents, he told us not to expect any sleep that night due to the usual ruckus from the live band and carousing at the pavilion on the opposite side of the park. He wasn’t kidding – it was a sleepless night and we had a tough day ahead of us – only 95 miles between Jeffrey’s and Corner Brook to tackle!
Stay tuned for part three of this adventure in our next issue.
Jed Kornbluh has been around cycling his entire life – his parents own a tandem shop in New Jersey and he’s done just about everything there is to do in the bicycle industry: racer, bike messenger, ham-fisted lousy mechanic, coach, salesman, sourcing agent, and entrepreneur. In 2015, Jed sold his share in clothing company Sommerville Sports and has since been focusing on other pursuits, including getting back to his love of writing, riding a lot, and figuring out how to live in New England. Expect articles on bike packing, cyclocross racing, beer tasting, and general adventuring.
Jed resides in Connecticut with his family, dog, cat, and bicycle collection. cyclingtextiles.com