“Where are ye headed with all that gear?”
The people here are friendly-both the locals and the tourists. The environment is rugged, cold and harsh but everywhere there’s an air of optimism. A mountain is called a hill. A lake is called a pond.
After building my bike in the airport, I cycle out to Cape Spear – the most easterly point in North America, before heading to my hostel in St. John’s. There I make friends with another cyclist, a gentleman from Alberta who is also cycling across Canada. I visit The Rooms, hike Signal Hill, and have a drink while listening to some live music on George St. – all the appropriate tourist stuff. At the hostel, I pull out my travel fiddle, a staff member grabs her guitar, and we have an impromptu kitchen party.
My first full day of riding is difficult but the views are incredible. The rail trail I had planned on taking around the island is made of deep gravel that’s like riding in sand. When the gravel gives way to rocks the size of golf balls, I give up on the trail and head for the highway. I tent in a campground about 75km outside St. John’s.
The next two days are nothing but hills, hills, hills. The climbs in Newfoundland are immense and the highway traffic is heavy – I’m only making about 3/4 of the distance I’d planned to each day. Nights are chilly – around three degrees Celcius – and I’m glad I have a good sleeping bag. Still, the views are amazing. I’ve only had a faint hint of the endorphin high I’m used to on long rides but I’m sure it will come. On the third night, I head to a campground where the owner offers me a bed in the loft of her castle-shaped motel. I accept gladly.
Now for the part that’s been the hardest, and reason it’s taken me so long to post an update. The morning after my first day of riding, I received terrible news. A cyclist was killed the day before on the Trans Canada Highway – the part that I skipped by taking the rail trail. It was my new friend from Alberta. We’d left together that morning, only I’d wanted to see the Terry Fox monument and he’d wanted to buy fuel, so we said we’d meet further down the trail. I saw him from a distance early afternoon but he was leaving the trail and I still wanted to continue on it, so after trying unsuccessfully to flag him down, I decided to catch up with him later. I never got the chance.
My friend, I am so sorry you didn’t get to ride across the country, so sorry you never got to sleep inside your sleeping bag inside your bivvy inside your tent (“camping turducken”), so sorry you didn’t find happiness on the west coast, so sorry for the way your family must be feeling right now. They didn’t release your name, so I won’t either, but I will share some of the cycle touring wisdom you shared with me during our brief friendship:
The climbs in the Rockies may be longer than in the Maritimes, but they’re nowhere near as steep. Maritime riding is harder.
If you sleep in the clothes you’ve worn all day, your sweat will make you cold. Change into dry clothes right before bed.
If you get caught free-camping, it can go one of two ways: Either they’ll think, “Oh it’s just a cycle tourist. I’ll let him have a good sleep,” and leave you alone, or they’ll think “Oh, it’s a crazy person. I’ll steer clear of him,” and leave you alone.
The first few days of touring are always the hardest.
My friend, I hope you are right about that last one. Rest in peace.