48 Hours

Up and down and tossed around on New­found­land’s west coast

Canadian Cycling Magazine - - CONTENTS - By Christina Palas­sio

New­found­land’s west coast

The wind pushed me up Bonne Bay Road, through the Mars-like ter­rain of the Table­lands, where mas­sive shifts ex­posed the Earth’s man­tle to the sky. Not an hour ago, I was de­scend­ing the same road, white-knuck­ling as the wind re­peat­edly shoved me out over the me­dian strip. That was just the start of the pum­melling. The ex­treme and un­pre­dictable con­di­tions of New­found­land’s west coast are matched only by the majesty of the sights on High­way 430, a.k.a. the Vik­ing Trail, which in­cludes Gros Morne Na­tional Park, sea­side out­ports, a fresh­wa­ter fiord and breath­tak­ing look­outs. Bik­ing the North­ern Penin­sula is all about let­ting go and en­joy­ing the ride. (Just men­tally, though – def­i­nitely keep your hands on those brakes.)

Be­fore you start out, con­sider mak­ing an of­fer­ing to the Anemoi, Greek gods of wind – you’ll want them on your side. “The wind is what it’s all about here,” said Kevin Flynn, pres­i­dent of Bi­cy­cles New­found­land and Labrador. “If you can get the tail­wind, heav­ens, it’s won­der­ful.” Flynn and a friend cy­cled the Vik­ing Trail in 2016, part of his project to bike all cor­ners of the prov­ince. “To be hon­est, we weren’t pre­pared for what was ahead of us. Go­ing down over the long hills in Gros Morne Na­tional Park, we got a head­wind, and were go­ing 12 or 15 km/h so we wouldn’t be blown across the road and into traf­fic. I was look­ing for­ward to pedalling up the hills for a break. Twelve hours later, the winds were on our shoul­der, and they just blew us up the coast.”

The Vik­ing Trail stretches 526 km from Deer Lake up to

“The wind is what it’s all about here. If you can get the tail­wind, heav­ens, it’s won­der­ful.”

St. An­thony via L’anse aux Mead­ows Na­tional His­toric Site, where Leif Eriks­son is said to have made the first Euro­pean land­ing in North Amer­ica around 1,000 AD. The route is at once quaint and oth­er­worldly; I felt like I was rid­ing on the edge of the land­scape and his­tory. The change­able winds and weather and sur­feit of sights make tack­ling it over a cou­ple days a tough task. It’s best to choose a sec­tion and make sure to leave time to ex­plore off the bike. From Deer Lake, it’s 32 km of false flats to the edge of Gros Morne Na­tional Park, the un­esco Her­itage Site that’s home to the epony­mous peak. To get to the Table­lands, you can veer off onto High­way 431 and ride the hills to the trail­head. Or con­tinue to Nor­ris Point and take the ferry to Woody Point. Just don’t be late – “It’s a 5:30 ferry and a 5:31 swim,” the boat op­er­a­tor warned. This is Flynn’s favourite sec­tion. “Cy­cling through the park, you get some beau­ti­ful vis­tas. The white caps of Bonne Bay are just spec­tac­u­lar,” he said. Back at Nor­ris Point, stop for a snack and a beer at The Cat Stop, then ride north past the sleepy, salty towns of Rocky Har­bour, Lob­ster Cove and Sally’s Cove to Western Brook Pond. The shoul­der isn’t wide, but the qual­ity of the road is good, and driv­ers will usu­ally give you a wide berth.

If you can get off the bike here, do. A 45-minute walk will bring you to the en­try­way to the 16-km-long lake, once a fiord that was carved by glaciers and then cut off from the ocean by re­bound­ing land. The two-hour boat ride will take you past water­falls that tum­ble over steep cliffs, and sev­eral ar­eas where rock col­lapses have caused ma­jor waves.

“What makes this area unique is that ev­ery day you’re see­ing a new piece of scenery you’re never ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore,” said Julien An­der­son, who biked the Trail this past sum­mer. “Each day brings a com­pletely dif­fer­ent view.”

From here to L’anse aux Mead­ows, it’s all open road, spruce and lupins against the back­drop of the Long Range Moun­tains. If you catch the pre­vail­ing south­west wind, you’ll fly. We rode by dozens of fenced-in, road­side gar­dens grow­ing in peat-rich soil, cars stopped on the side of the road while peo­ple tended to cab­bage, car­rots, onions – the mak­ings of a Jiggs’ din­ner.

More fre­quent than the road­side gar­dens are aban­doned houses and fish­ing sta­tions left by the cod fish­ery col­lapse. The land that was fished and worked for cen­turies, first by Paleo-es­ki­mos, then by French, Basque, English and Ir­ish set­tlers, is now home to fewer and fewer hu­mans – the pop­u­la­tion of many coastal towns has dropped by 10 per cent or more since 2000.

But there’s no short­age of hu­mour and warmth. At the pic­ture-per­fect En­tente Cor­diale Inn in Port­land Creek, we asked our host to share a tra­di­tional New­found­land ex­pres­sion. “Fuck off,” she dead­panned with­out miss­ing a beat.

What other sur­prises might you en­counter? Breach­ing whales, pass­ing ice­bergs, blue­berry fields, light­houses and moose sight­ings, of course.

be­low The Table­lands and Woody Point from across Bonne Bay in Gros Morne Na­tional Parkop­po­site L'anse aux Mead­ows Na­tional His­toric Site

above The rolling ter­rain from Deer Lake to Rocky Har­bour

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