Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Thanksgiving in Madran

I took a bus to Bathurst, arriving at the terminal on the afternoon of Thanksgiving Sunday. With no baggage (remember it had failed to make it aboard ship) I really felt like I was embodying the spirit of a traveling nomad: free-spirited and in search of adventure. Auntie Rita picked me up from the terminal, and then we cruised back to her place in Madran. Madran is only a half hour from Bathurst but it's sort of, hmmm, out in the country. Imagine old wooden fences, houses set back behind tall maples, chip seal roads, horses and dogs-that's Madran.

The following Monday we celebrated Thanksgiving. Last autumn my sister and I were cycling the Pacific Coast; we spent Thanksgiving in a windstorm, camped in the backyard of a woman who ran a thriftstore in Ilwaco, WA. For dinner, we splurged on a brick of the finest chedder and cooked it over a pot of swirly pasta with fresh chopped veggies. Even without fine accouterments, I still found I had a lot to be thankful for: good health, good company, good food. This year, however, I felt I was blessed with much more on the holiday.

Rita's place served as the gathering place for the feast. Monday morning was spent in preparation; and I admit I wasn't that much help, instead opting to ride the horse out back with my cousins Ashley and Sabrina. That evening 16 or 17 of us served up our plates smorgasbord style off the kitchen table before spreading out around the house to eat. Every possible sitting surface was taken; from the corner of the counter to the deck chairs on the back porch. It was a merry occasion and a happy reunion. Before desert, I was presented with a card and a cake, congratulating me on the achievement of biking from coast to coast. Thanks guys!

I spent one week in Madran. Cruising around town with my cousins Darcy and Wendy, making bracelets with Chloe and Sabrina, drinking coffee at Timmy's ("one milk, one cream, one sugar pleeeeeeese!") , and imagining up creative ways to eat leftover Thanksgiving turkey. Most days Rita and I would walk down to the little brook around sunset, just to enjoy the fall colours and the peaceful gurgling of the flowing waters.

On Friday we headed north on a beer run. Wendy behind the steering wheel, Darcy navigating us towards Quebec, Stacy and I gazing out the back windows and singing along to the music. We took the old road driving along the coast, up through Cambellton, and over the bridge to Point-a-la-Croix. This little excursion reminded me of why I loved Quebec: old buildings and cheap booze. We each bought a case of beer before heading back to Bathurst to celebrate Kathy's birthday.

Ridiculous wigs, wild dancing, and exaggerated storytelling filled the night. A bowl of stew mysteriously appeared in front of me late in the evening, and I can recall through the murkiness of my alcohol infused memories how deliciously salty the hot hot veggies were. God bless women who know how to cook-Thank you Tracy!

I woke the next morning wearing Wendy's silk leopard print PJ's, crashed on the sofa with Chopper the dog pawing at my forearms. Simply said, I was not at my best. My mood improved slightly when Sabrina cooked me up a cheesy omlette for breakfast. We worked on various arts and crafts projects throughout the morning, then headed over to my cousin Mike's place for a Saturday night shindig. Folks in the Maritimes definitely seem to enjoy their weekends. Guitars were pulled out and songs were sung. Somewhere abouts midnight Mike decided it was time to get to work making donairs for everybody-the kitchen morphing into a high efficiency restaurant assembly line and before 1:00am we had all been served up hot pitas filled with spicy donair meat and sweet, creamy sauce.

Throughout the course of the week, I began to realize more and more how much I was going to miss these dear folks on the east coast when I headed back west. This thought really hit home when I departed from the train station for Montreal. To my delight and surprise, thirteen, yes thirteen, people had gathered there to see me off. I've never had a sendoff of more than two people back home, so this all felt pretty special to me. I liked being part of a merry crowd. I guess I felt accepted and loved, and I think that's all one can really ask for in life. After we said our farewells and shared our hugs, I passed my ticket to the attendant and climbed up the stairs of the train. As the train pulled out of the station and chugged off toward Montreal, I looked back to see a crowd of relatives and friends under the dim streetlight; a mass of smiling faces all waving and snapping pictures from the platform. Good bye Bathurst! I'll be back, someday.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Back on the Mainland

October 9th: When the ferry finally hit the port of North Sydney on Saturday morning, I was exhausted. The crossing was rough, the North Atlantic waves rocking the vessel starboard to port side throughout the blackness of night. Too cheap to spring for a cabin or dorm bed, I spent much of the night trying to arrange my body in a comfortable position within the restriction of the lounge seat. Marine Atlantic has this ridiculous rule about passengers not being permitted to sleep on the floor; they say it's not safe and hygienic or something. Of course, I'm sure it's just a ploy to get passengers to throw down the extra cash for the sleeper cabin upgrade. The ferry does, however, provide free shower facilities, which I took advantage of.

When we unloaded the vessel, the foot passengers were transfered off the boat via a shuttle bus. We were a tired and grumpy lot, probably because we'd waited an extra 5 hours for the ferry to depart and then the sailing was an hour or two longer than usual due to rough seas. Just before we made it to the terminal, a customer service representitive boarded the shuttle, apologising profusely for the delays, then announcing that the checked baggage had, unfortunately, failed to make it on the sailing. C'mon Marine Atlantic! The shuttle, full of already disgruntled passengers, was in an uproar. Me? I was to tired to do anything but sigh and wish that I hadn't abandoned my bike in St. John's, because if I still had my bike I wouldn't have checked my baggage, therefor I would still have all my belongings with me.

So I filled out a form, marking down Antigonish for baggage destination. Marine Atlantic promised to send my luggage along on the evening bus, but I wasn't overly hopeful that I would be seeing my belongings anytime soon. As it turns out, I didn't regain possession of my bags for another four days, meaning that I had to borrow clothes and rely on kindness of donors (thanks Rachel and Wendy!) for the time being.

If you check out my entry Rainy Days in Antigonish (September), you'll see why I was keen to visit this north coast Nova Scotian university town again. Rachel, a free-spirited girl from the organic bakery and her family had taken me in last month when the weather turned foul. I spent a couple of days hanging around the house, getting to know her mother Dolna, father David, and brother Julian. There's few things I love more in this world than reunions with old friends, or people that I hardly know but wish I could know better, so I planned to drop by and see the Garbarys one last time on my way to New Brunswick for Thanksgiving.

With my handlebar bag slung over my shoulder and my sleeping bag tucked under my arm, I headed out toward the highway to hitch a ride. On route, I was accosted by a shuttle bus driver who promised to get me to Antigonish before three, and it "wouldn't cost too much". Now, if there is one thing that I've learned from backpacking southeast asia, it's that you should never, EVER board a vehicle prior to negotiating the fare. But at this point, my mind was impaired by exhaustion in such a way that I was incapable of making thought out decisions, so I merely shrugged my shoulders in agreement and let him hustle me into the crammed minivan with all the other human sardines. Bad decision.

I hate shuttle buses. The air-conditioning never works, the music usually blows, and I always seem to get stuck with a middle seat. It was a scenic, but altogether unpleasant ride through Nova Scotia, with eight of us in a seven passenger van. When it came time for me to exit in Antigonish, the driver dropped me off at Tim Hortons because he didn't know the location of the address I gave him, then declared that I owed him $60 for the ride. The conversation which followed went something like this:

me: "sixty bucks? That's a lot of money! That's, like, my food budget for the week! I don't even have that much cash!"
driver: "hmmm, well how much do you have?"
me, pulling out my wallet, and counting my bills, the driver leaning over to make sure I wasn't missing anything: "$55, I only have 55 dollars"
driver: "Well, $50 is fine. It's a good deal; that's what you'd pay on the bus" (and I googled this later; because I'm a student, or have a student ID, it would only cost me $37)
me: "hmmm, well if I hitchhiked I wouldn't have paid a it's not that good of a deal for me, is it?"
driver (with his palm extended): "$50 dollars"
me: "I'm not giving you all my money. How about $40? That's fair."
driver: "How about $50, Miss" (said as a statement, not a question. I think he was getting tired of my incessant bartering)
me, and by this point, I'm not too impressed with this shady little shuttle bus driver who doesn't inform passengers of the fare before boarding: "Listen sir, you had seven passengers in a six passenger van; I could report you. How about $40." (also a statement)
driver: "fine."

So we both stormed off, me feeling slightly victorious but still wishing I hitchhiked and saved myself the forty bucks. I can almost guarantee the ride would have been more comfortable than inside that crammed, stuffy shuttle.

I walked up to the Garbary place around 3:15 in the afternoon, admiring the magnificence and splendor of the fall maples as I went. Inside, their kitchen was alive with the bustling of bodies and the scents of Thanksiving dinner preparation-Dolna with half a dozen tasks on the go and Julian baking up pecan pies. The stress from the past 24 hours faded away, and I was happy to be at a home, even if it was someone elses. David served me up some of their fresh veggie stew, and I ate for what I realized was the first time since I woke up that morning.

We spent the rest of the evening in the kitchen prepping squash and pies for the following day, cooking up a harvest feast for dinner, and chatting about all the little things that make up life. Late at night, Dolna tried to teach me the ways of the Cryptic Crossword, but I was too tired to follow. I crashed on the sofa bed, comfortable in Rachel's baggy purple tie-dye pants.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Hitchhiking off the Rock (Part 2)

I forgot to mention that the my journey off Newfoundland was bound by a certain time constraint: I desperately wanted to make it to Bathurst, New Brunswick, for Thanksgiving. After spending time on the road, I was beginning to feel a longing for familiar places and faces, and so I knew if I could make it to my Auntie Rita's place in New Brunswick I would be all good.

So the truck driver Larry gave me a lift all the way to Deer Lake; a town which lies only a few hours from the ferry terminal in Port aux Basques. By the time we got to our destination, the world was dark and it was raining pretty hard. Larry kindly dropped me off at the Irving Bigstop, an sizable gas station/truck stop/diner complex on the side of the highway. Parked in the vacant gravel lot behind the garage were a couple dozen big rigs. Larry figured I could sleep in the back lounge (a spacious room outfitted with sofas, payphones, and a tv) until morning then find a driver going to Port aux Basques. I figured I could do better than that: I hauled my bags into the lounge, pulled out the rabbit-eared phone book, and looked up my old friend Edna's number. After all, she said to give her a visit if I was ever in town again...

I first met Edna when I appeared on her 'bridge' on my second day on the rock, querying if I could spend the night in her yard. Conversation flowed as easily as the tea we poured, and I ended up back at her place around sunset a couple nights later when I was returning from my adventure through the mountains of Gros Morne national park. A little surprised to hear from me at 9:15 on stormy Thursday night, Edna came in her husband's big blue pickup truck to pick me up. By 9:30 I was drinking tea and watching the hockey game with Edna, her husband, and their friend Eddy. During the commercial breaks I shared with them my wild escapades over Newfoundland landscape, stopping abruptly when the puck hit the ice and then taking off again with a gusto once the ads resumed. I slept soundly, tucked under a hand stitched quilt in the basement, the dull roar of the furnace in the next room lulling me to sleep. Waaaaaaay better than a night at an Irving Bigstop.

The next morning Edna and I drank three cups of tea before she dropped me back off at the gas station on her way into town. My plan was to find another lift with a trucker, putting me in Port aux Basques with time to kill before the evening ferry. I began to ask around (btw: it does feel weird to wander up to burly men in lumberjack shirts and boots, strike up conversation, then ask for a lift. But, like all things in life, after a few runs it becomes normalized), and quickly learned that the trucks were parked behind the station first, because of high winds in the Wreckhouse, and secondly because the ferry schedule was out of wack. Rough seas and two out of four boats in the service yard totally threw off the scheduled sailing, and most of these trucks were going to be parked at the Irving for quite some time.

Realizing that none of these guys were going anywhere today, I bought a $1.24 coffee and strode across the road to thumb a ride. A couple of young fellas in over sized hoodies wandered past me, half halfheartedly leaning their thumbs out toward the passing highway traffic. I was picked up in 10-15 minutes by a fellow named Jerry driving a Honda with black leather interior. It turns out he was mayor of a small town not too far from Deer Lake, and although he was only going to Cornerbrook, I welcomed the ride. The scenery on this section of the journey was spectacular; gigantic rock cuts, smooth blue lake water, and the fiery colours of fall maples. We listened to Newfoundland music and talked all the way to Cornerbrook, where we stopped at Timmy's for more coffee, and Jerry hooked me up with a bus ticket to Port aux Basques. It seemed like my lucky day :)

The hitch was that the bus didn't leave until five pm, and it was hardly noon. Jerry dropped me off at the Plaza (a shopping mall way up on the hill), not far from the bus terminal. I abhor shopping malls. And after spending so much time surrounded by the fantastic wonders of nature, I find my repugnance towards such an artificial setting has grown. But, I figured that spending an afternoon in this deplorable place was a sufficient trade off for a free bus ticket. So I took up residence on a wooden bench not far from the entrance and commenced to make bracelets, read Farley Mowat, and write in my journal for the duration of the afternoon. I felt like a hobo; my bags strewn out on the floor beside me and my lunch spread across the bench. I had a few random conversations with the elderly, and was rescued by Jerry who stopped by after his meeting to take me sightseeing around the bay before dropping me off at the bus depot. The bus was filled with college kids traveling back to the mainland for the long weekend, and it was an hour late.

A few hours later we exited the bus at the terminal. When I bought my ticket for the ferry, I was informed that the boat was going to be a couple hours late as well: instead of the 10:30pm scheduled departure time, it was to leave at 1:00am. Unfortunately, the boat failed to depart berth before 3:30am, giving me plenty of time to descend into madness as I waited in the florescent lit terminal.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Hitchhiking off the Rock (Part One)

When I arrived in Cape Spear, I intended only to stay for an hour or so and then ride into St. John's to celebrate my achievement. I was thinking maybe a couple of shots at the bar, some ridiculousness out in the street, and perhaps kissing a codfish or two. Apparently that's something that they do around here. But once at the cape, I just didn't want to leave, and so I loafed around the lighthouse and the barracks and gun emplacements until sunset, then retreated to the community of Blackhead, only a stone's throw from the cape. It was a clear night and my fingers were numb by the time I reached the village. I knocked upon a kind woman's door, and began spouting off my story and queried if I could pass the night in her garden (that seems to be what folks call their yards round these parts). Of course, being a Newfoundlander and possessing the natural curiosity and generosity common to their kind, she invited me in for the night.

Her name was Margaret. Wearing glasses and a friendly smile, she told me that she was a widow, lived on her own, and had a lifelong love of the outdoors and a penchant for last minute travel. So instead of partying it up wildly on George Street or sleeping alone in my tent, I celebrated my arrival by sharing a cup of tea and some chocolate coated biscuits with Margaret and her friend Jerry. Life is so perfectly unpredictable.

I passed that night, and the one which followed, in the home of couchsurfing host Jenn and her fellow room mates: Nicki, Chris and Matthew. Aside from four artsy, zany, totally awesome individuals living together in a funky old house, there was also five cats and a couple of bunnies. I slept in the living room with the floppy eared rabbits; Peter and Big Mama. The sight of these cute carrot crunching creatures took me back to my childhood, and the fond recollections of long afternoons spent on our back lawn with bunnies hopping about, munching on dandelions and leaves of lettuce.

After I arrived in St. John's, I realized that I had to somehow make my way off this enormous mound of rock that has treated me so well for these past couple weeks. I hadn't really given this too much thought, since I was more concerned with making it to my destination than the aftermath involved in departing from it, but quickly decided the best way to make my getaway was to post my bike home and hitchhike off the island.

So I traded my panniers in for a brown vintage bag (I don't know how to describe it: it's neither a suitcase nor a duffel bag, and I bought it at the Sally Anne for $3.99) and bought some mittens in case my hands got cold from sticking my thumb out on the side of the highway. Oooooh, and since the thrift store was having a half price sale, I doubled my wardrobe by buying a few kids t-shirts and a retro ski jacket with a pink pop-top collar. And I invested in jeans! Ahh, sweet denim how I've missed you :)

While in St. John's I hung out with Jenn and her room mates, drinking espresso and being entertained by the silly peculiarities of our animal friends. Jenn and I went for cheap beers downtown at trivia night in a local pub, and then stayed up late, snacking and chatting in the dim light. The night prior to my departure, the four of us ran wild in the kitchen, preparing what is called a 'cooked meal'. This delightful feast consisted of a plethora of root vegetables (turnip, parsnip, carrots, potato and sweet potato), seasoned and cooked up in a big ol' pot with a delightful amount of garlic and onion. Since the house was composed of vegetarians/vegans, we cooked up a tofurky (my first!) and stirred up some veggie gravy. A variety of puddings, pickles, and pickled beets accompanied the meal. I was in heaven, once again surrounded by awesome folks and delicious food. Desert was apple crumble paired with vanilla ice cream. Then we strode off to The Rooms; St. John's art gallery/museum/archives, which happened to be free that evening.

My next ride was from a young guy with a pickup truck. He took me a little farther out of town, to Conception Bay South, and then tried to unload his bag of groceries on me. Sigh, I'm definitely going to miss this Newfie hospitality. So after I convinced him that I didn't have room for his cereal and spaghetti-os, I strolled into the Irving truck stop to buy myself a coffee. Only once I had my coffee in hand did I realize I had forgoteen my awesome handcrafted sign in the back of his truck. Bummer, man. I asked around the gas station for a ride going west, but with no luck. So I took up my post on the side of the highway, brown bag by my side, hands tucked inside my teal and white thrift store mittens, right thumb extended towards oncoming traffic.

The day was deteriorating fast, and what looked like a promising morning was quickly becoming a dark and gloomy afternoon. Luckily, I waited for no more than fifteen minutes before I was picked up by a big rig headed west, going all the way to Deer Lake. I thanked my lucky stars and jumped up into the cab, where I spent the next seven hours with my feet on the dashboard, singing along to old country songs and chatting away with Larry like he was a long lost uncle. Life was good. Every so often I would say, "and that's the spot where I camped on such-and-such date" or "I spent a night with some folks in that there town on the right". I quickly decided that although I still prefer bikes to motor vehicles, means of transportation with engines do have some noteworthy advantages over self-propelled locomotion. First of all, they get you there fast; what took me a week to cover on bike took less than a day in truck. Secondly, they provide protection against the elements. As the rain pelted down on the windshield, I sipped my coffee and smiled to myself.
I was going home :)

Monday, October 11, 2010


"I think that every Canadian should cross the country at least once; first of all, to appreciate it's vastness. Secondly, to comprehend it's diversity"

-Bob Gardiner, Fox Valley (Saskatchewan)

I made it! October 4th marked the day I reached Cape Spear and ended my bicycle journey through Canada. I've been on the road for a total of 130 days; a time span which exceeds the period of employment for my last six jobs, and all previous relationships with gentlemen. Ha! So, with a commitment to my journey that doesn't necessarily reflect all other arenas of my life, I rode my steel stallion through the gorgeous autumn afternoon, halting only when I reached the limits of the continent.

Cape Spear, about 15 km from Newfoundland's capital city of St John's, is the most eastern point in North America, geographically closer to Ireland than the province of Saskatchewan. My journey has taken me though thunderstorms and hurricanes, floods and excruciating heatwaves. I've been tried and tested, and both my bicycle and my soul have proved their worth, holding steadfast to the spirit of adventure. When I rounded the final corner in the road, my ultimate destination appearing before me like the sudden end of a giant roll of carpet, I burst into tears. Even thinking about it now, I still can't find the words to convey the welling and exploding of emotion inside my heart, and I find my eyes become watery. The cape, illuminated splendidly by the late afternoon sun, was more beautiful than I could have fathomed. I rode down the final kilometer of windy road, absorbing the sound of the wild Atlantic waves crashing up against the high rocky shores, my target set on the sight of a lighthouse perched proudly upon a tip of rock jutting out into the sea.

It was strange to be alone in such a monumental part of my journey. I sat down at a wooden bench with a view, made up a peanut butter and jam sandwich with the last of my thick sliced bread, and drank my thermos of coffee that I had picked up at Tim Hortons over an hour ago. Of course, I'm never alone very long, and I found myself chatting away excitedly with some gentlemen who were in town for a week long course.

Looking at my bike, I couldn't help but be proud of my two wheeled friend; over 10,000 km on this journey and only five flats! Oh the places we've been, the people we've seen, the friends we've made, and the days that will fade into foggy memory. When I look back and think about how I rolled out my front door with my father on that sunny Monday in the end of May, on route to Port Renfrew to dip my foot into the Pacific, it all seems so far away. When people asked where we were going, I would turn my head and jubilantly holler, "Newfoundlaaaaaaaand!" and they would shake their heads, muttering, "you're going the wrong way...". The following day, when I dropped my friend (and by friend I mean bicycle) off at a bike shop on Water Street, to be shipped back to Vancity, I certainly felt uneasy about being without my wheels. Separation anxiety, maybe?

For me, traveling is always a transformative experience. I thrive when I'm on the road; hours of the day slipping away as I pedal forward on the smooth pavement, surrounded by an ever changing landscape of incomprehensible beauty and my only concerns revolving around immediate survival. Food, water, shelter, swimming (which doubles as showering), and companionship are my only real needs. I think when I'm focused solely on living and the pursuit of pleasure, without the overwhelming burden of society's technical mumbo jumbo to weigh me down, I'm more me. I feel that each day I go without watching TV, using the internet, setting my alarm clock or using a microwave, I become a bit more real and a little more human. I've found I've been able to gain a better understanding of who I am and what I truly desire in life. I suppose the new challenge that I'll face is to bring the self-awareness and enthusiasm that I've found and nurtured on the open road into my everyday life, wherever I am at.

I'm not going to say that I despise the conveniences of our modern world entirely, but I know that I'm happier and healthier without them at my fingertips. I'm going to miss pulling over on the side of the road to pee in the bushes, stopping in roadside diners with greasy breakfasts and coffee refills as far as the eye can see. I'm going to miss the nightly entertainment of the sun set, and the waking glow of the early morning light on my tent. Most of all, I'm going to miss rising each morning with a giddy feeling bubbling up in my stomach and the knowledge that I have no idea what it going to happen throughout the course of the day.

So what have I learned over the past few months? That hopes and dreams can be achieved through daily perseverance. That each day brings new surprises. That the unknown possibilities of the world will simultaneously amaze and terrify me for as long as I continue to roam. I've learned that Canada is an awesome country; a place of outstanding natural beauty, overwhelming geographic diversity, pulsating urban communities, and open-hearted people. I realize that family, friends, and food are more valuable than gold. I've come to see my body as my most prized possession, and vow never again to take for granted such a beautiful and fantastic thing. Without it, this adventure wouldn't be possible.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Brooks and ponds and canned milk, oh my!

I love the language of Newfoundland;
a brook is a stream
a pond is a lake
a bridge is a deck
and canned milk is the norm for tea and coffee (I was told this was because fresh milk used to be impossible to ship to the island since it went sour so quickly. Thus, evaporated canned milk became the norm.)
People also tend speak a bit faster than I'm used to, and drop the 'g'. So you could be fishin', swimmin', playin', eatin', drinkin', or cookin'.

I also dig the whimsical and lyrical nature
of the place names: Heart's Delight, Come by Chance, Good Adventure, Tickle Harbour, Little Bay, Chapel's Cove, Harbour Grace, the list goes on! There are places that sound a little
more ominous, like Deadman's Cove, or a perhaps even slightly risque, like Dildo. If one were to ask me what a dildo was, my answer certainly wouldn't be "a place on Trinity Bay in Newfoundland", but it's right there on the map. The name was so good that they even christened a town South Dildo. Who would have thunk it?

The nature of bike touring enables one to meet various people that one might not bump into otherwise. Take, for instance, Edna: a retired woman in her sixties from Deer Lake. I me
t Edna on her bridge one night, when I startled her while she was having a smoke with the dog around sunset. I was on my nightly quest to find a place to rest, and she (being the friendly sort) invited me in for a cuppa tea, served with canned milk or course. Edna has short grayish hair and a set of prosthetic hips.

And, she was bad ass. I mean, she didn't take no crap from nobody. If the youngsters were being lippy, or people were taking her hospitality for granted, she laid it down for them in simple terms, then gave'em the boot. She enjoyed her tea and her cigarettes, quilting and hand stitching, and talking to her grand daughter on the phone (studying at St. FX in Antigonish) before bed. She liked to use the words "livid" and "savage", like, "Oh, and let me tell you, I was livid! I says to meself, 'Edna, you can't let them get away with that! It's savage!'"

Edna cooked me up a trio of fried eggs, made up the basement room, told me to get in the tub and have a nice long soak, then put the kettle on for another cuppa tea. We chatted about this and that, but eventually the conversation took on a somber quality as she described to me her family history of Huntington's disease. It's weird; here's this woman who I hardly know, sharing some really painful, heavy stuff with me at midnight in some town in Newfoundland. I could never have imagined myself being here, at this moment, but yet already I look back on it and realize the richness my experience. Sometimes life isn't all fun and games, and one thing I've heard countless times since I've arrived is, "Well, at least you're above ground" or variations of that theme. I get the impression that people here can put things in perspective a bit better than some of us mainlanders, and realize that however bad things may seem, as long as you aren't buried six feet under things could be a whole lot worse.

Hmmm, what else have I been up to...pedaling along the TransCanada for the most part. Enjoying the fall colours, crisp air, and warm cups of coffee at roadside diners. I've met dozens of awesome people, thus contributing to my higher than normal levels of
personal hygiene (I remember weeks in Ontario and Quebec when I didn't get a shower, now I shower every other day!) and quality of eating. I've heard the phrase "damn girl, you've got a lot of nerve!" more times than I can count. I don't know if I have nerve, or just some bizarre faith in humanity. I just trust that things will work out alright for me. Why shouldn't they?
I don't watch the news, so I don't really know what's going on in the world. Stories of murders and drug busts and foreign wars escape my ears when I'm on the road. But what I do know is this: I know I can survive in my tent if temperatures dip below freezing, I know that even in the middle of nowhere I'll still find a stream to fill my water bottles in, and I know that the world is full of interesting characters and beautiful people, and hope that luck and chance will bring me in contact with them.

So my friend Megan's father John worked with a fellow Don who owns a B&B in Glovertown, just off the TCH near Terra Nova National Park. I came in possession of this man's address and thus made my way into his home
and his family's life for five days. Ha! They had no idea what they got themselves into (nor did I). Big meals with tasty deserts, boating on the bay, whiskey and sprite, hours of colouring books and crayons, and a more than a few good conversations. Don and his wife Laurie enlightened me to the delights of partridge berry jam, 'fresh fish', and 'couldn's' (food that you couldn't finish last night, so you eat it tonight). Their carrot topped four year old son Steven showed me how to use the washer and dryer, ride an ATV, and operate the toaster. He also made me laugh; spinning around the floor in circles and throwing the words "big ol'" into every other sentence, for example, "and then the quad got stuck in a big' ol' mud puddle!" or "yeah, they used a big ol' tractor to get it out". It cracked me up.

Since I left Glovertown I've been making my way east, day by day pedaling closer to my ultimate destination of Cape Spear. I spent a night in Deep Bight then a night in Chapel Arm, enjoying fantastic seaside scenery and Newfie hospitality along the way. I love the Atlantic, the wooden lobster traps piled high on wharfs and the feeling of flying down the windy roads reaching into the coves that dot the coastline. I wish I had more time, that autumn wasn't upon us, so I could explore the peninsulas and bays that make up the backbone of Newfoundland culture and livelihood. Life doesn't unfold on the highway; it unfolds in the communities where people live, work, and play. But alas, it's the highway I must follow if I want to arrive in St. John's before the winter sets in.


Monday, October 4, 2010

National parks and natural beauty

Newfoundland and Labrador have three national parks, and I cycled through two of them; Gros Morne and Terra Nova. The third national park, Torngat Mountains, is rather inaccessible, being located waaaaaaay up at the northern tip of Labrador.

To get to Gros Morne I had to journey off of the TransCanada Highway (TCH). I pedaled north 70km through mountainous terrain and alongside a fjord to Rocky Harbour, pronounced "RAAcky Harbour" by the locals. The ride was spectacular but challenging; I faced off against a ripping headwind the entire way. It was so forceful that I had to pedal not only up, but down the slopes as well. The air was cool and crisp, the clouds peeling away to reveal the blue sky as I reached the harbour.

Ask anybody, and they'll tell you: Rocky Harbour is beautiful. I arrived during the Golden Hour, so it was especially brilliant. A large curved bay cut into the mountains, dotted with colourful homes and B&Bs. I cruised down to the beach to eat a sandwich and soak up the last of the sun, then I went about finding a home for the evening. I first three doors I tried were unresponsive; I guess no one was home. I continued up the hill scoping out lawns for possible tent pitching spots, and caught the attention of a couple of roofers. We got to talking, and one invited me to pitch my tent on his lawn down by Bakers Brook. The brook was a few kilometers from Rocky Harbour, so I was given directions, ("don't go over the bridge, turn left before it and continue down the path until the water meets the sea. My cabin is the green one, not lime green mind you. Light green.") and set out to find this place. Cyril, the gentleman who called out the directions to me, would meet me at his place after they were done shingling.

I arrived at the brook, which was actually in the national park, just as the sun was setting. There was a little wooden sign with the words BAKERS BROOK carved in it, pointing down the path towards a dozen little cabins in various colours. A boat or two leaned up against an old shed, lobster traps stacked outside. It was a windy day and the waves crashed up against the smooth rocks and boulders protruding out of the sand. "where the water meets the sea" was a beautiful place, and I was feeling pretty good about discovering yet another awesome place to camp, for the price of free.

I took in the sunset, set up my tent, and ate a tuna sandwich. Cyril (a 50-something fisherman/carpenter/handyman) arrived home from work, started up the wood stove, and invited me in for beer. We spent the night drinking and laughing and telling stories, since it was Friday and Cyril had the following day off. After spending the entire day in the sun and the wind, my face quickly turned an embarrassing tomato shade of red once I warmed up by the fire and had a couple beers. I was happy to be so far from home and find myself sitting at a little wooden table in the company of this friendly fellow with a sleaveload of old stories to share and a cooler full of beer.

I came in for toast (with home made jam) and coffee, a couple of fellows dropped in to say good morning, then I took off on my bike for the lighthouse at Lobster Cove. Before long I was pedaling back through Gros Morne (this time with a tailwind), reveling at the magnificent mountain scenery once more. I loved gazing up at the mountains and seeing where the tree line vanished and only gray rock remained at the peak.

The other national park that I visited, Terra Nova, was right on the TCH. I was staying with some friends of friends in Glovertown, just outside of the park, and rode right through Terra Nova on my way to St. John's. Much of the park was closed in the wake of Hurricane Igor; toppled trees and washouts wrecked havoc on the park. By the time I arrived, the washout on the highway were all fixed up, but I was shocked to see all the uprooted trees.

The beauty in Newfoundland isn't limited to the national parks. I've been loving the entire journey across 'the rock'. The brooks and ponds, the fiery colours of the fall leaves, and the quaint fishing communities built atop solid rock. It makes for splendid cycling, great lunch spots, and fantastic pictures.