I’d like to begin by giving full credit to Geoff Smith for identifying this route on GravelTravel.ca. Geoff is clearly an avid dual-sport rider and he has done a great job identifying routes in Newfoundland & Labrador for dual-sport riders. Now it is time for these routes to be conquered by bikepackers!
This route is 400 km long, with 300 km on abandoned railbeds and what is referred to locally as “the old roads” – the former roads that joined communities along the coast. These old roads are very scenic and very hilly.
My riding partner for this trip was Paul C. We had never ridden together and had only met face-to-face a week before the trip but had been carrying on an online bromance for about a year. Paul was the friend of a friend and we “met” when I heard he owned a fatbike (a Fatback) and I began peppering him with questions via email. Paul came well prepared and fit – exactly what you want in a trip partner.
The ride from St. John’s to Brigus Junction is scenic. It begins in a major city, passes many ponds, crosses Manuels River, then begins to hug the coast to Holyrood. The trail then turns inland and passes through boreal forest. The branch line beginning at Brigus Junction is good but not as well maintained overall as the Trailway. It stays mostly inland until Harbour Grace, with brief coastal appearances at Clarkes Beach, Bay Roberts and Spaniards Bay.
We made camp near Tilton Pond after a 12 hour day and covering 140 km. We had cool, cloudy weather with a light tailwind most of the way. There had been a lot of rain in the previous week so we were often avoiding puddles, which was a theme that continued throughout the trip.
It rained overnight but stopped in time for us to eat breakfast and break camp. This was by far the best day of the trip in terms of scenery. From Harbour Grace to Upper Island Cove (where the route turns inland to cross the tip of the peninsula to Old Perlican) the route follows a lot of coastline. The old roads are a challenge to ride up and a scream to come down. You’ll LOVE the descent into Salmon Cove!
The Kyle is a grounded ship near Harbour Grace.
We put in another long day – 12 hours to cover 100 km and camped at New Melbourne beach. This is a favourite among the local surf scene.
This day entailed riding 100 km from New Melbourne to Whitbourne on the road, in order to pick up the Trailway again. I had never ridden this section of road before and was really looking forward to seeing new sights. Unfortunately, we had headwinds all day (50 km/h with gusts to 70 km/h) so it turned out to be a day from hell.
This covered much of the same ground as Day 1 but in the opposite direction. We were blessed with good weather and a good tailwind. We covered 90 km in a leisurely 8 hours or so.
Paul rode a Salsa Fargo with 2.4” tires pumped up like rocks, while I rode the Surly Pugsley with 4.0” tires pumped up firm, but with a bit of give. We both noted how much better my bike handled on the trail, while Paul’s bike shone on the road.
Dis ‘n’ dat
There is an option to pick up a dirt road in Carbonear (called Valley Road on this end) that will take you across to Hearts Desire (called Country Road on that end). It is about 20 km long. I have never ridden it. This could be used to shorten the route we took or give you alternative ways to ride the route.
I didn’t care for the road riding after 200+ km of trail riding. A little would be OK but 100 km was too much. Next time it might be nice to set up camp in the Salmon Cove area and then ride to Upper Island Cove and back as a day trip. You don’t miss anything by not riding the section to Old Perlican.
If I was to do the exact same route again I’d like 5 days to do it in.
The cue sheet I drew up was invaluable for navigating through the towns and places where the trail is not so apparent or gets consumed by the highways.
I used my Hilleberg Soulo tent with just the fly and groundsheet and was happy with that. Bugs were never an issue and I had room to move about and sort stuff. Paul used a bivy sac and tarp combo and believes he would have been better served with a tent.