mobile big pond by fatbike

I was itching for some fatbike adventure and boy, did that itch get scratched with a circumnavigation of Mobile Big Pond recently.  I had bikepacked the south shore of this pond during my solo trek through the Hawk Hills last year and had remained curious about what the north shore of the pond was like.

Mobile Big Pond is about a 30 minute drive south of St. John’s.  You will pass through Bay Bulls, Witless Bay and then Mobile.  Look for a convenience store on your left hand side; 1.3 km past that, on your right hand side, is the dirt road to Mobile Big Pond.

Mobile Big Pond, like other ponds in the area (Cape Pond, Mount Carmel Pond) have been dammed to power small hydroelectric stations.  Unlike other ponds the water levels vary in these bodies of water and I’ve found that in the summer and autumn the levels are low and there is a lot of beach to ride.

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We parked shortly after turning off the main highway (X marks the spot) and rode into the pond itself (appx. 10 km) but you could easily drive all the way to the pond if you wanted to.

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The view from the parking area. In Newfoundland you’re never far from the ocean.

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While riding into the pond we came across this interesting tractor and suffered from some fat tire envy.

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The view once you reach the pond.

We decided to ride the pond clockwise and early in the ride came across some big rocks to play on.

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Playing around with tire pressure – too little and you get rim strikes, too much and you get a bouncy ride and don’t float well on the beach sections.

Getting around the pond involves a little bit of everything; beach riding, river crossings and the occasional diversion into the pond itself!

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Darren taking the path of least resistance.

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The scenery is spectacular as you make your way to the western end of the pond.

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Replenishing our water supply on the north shore of the pond.

It took us 6 hours to get around the pond itself, which I measured out to be about 22 km traveled, which gives an average speed of 3.5 km per hour.  That is good to know for future treks that involve a mix of riding and hike-a-bike.  Below is a rough guide to what we encountered: yellow = hike-a-bike, purple = sweet beach riding and brown = a mixture of the two.

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I can’t say enough about how much I love the western end of this pond; it seems to have it all: beaches, crystal clear water, rivers, hills, wildlife (we saw geese and loons on this trip) and above all, silence.  It is spectacularly quiet in here.

We’re planning to return here, in the late winter or early spring, when ice on the pond will make this a completely different ride altogether.

looking for a long mountain bike ride in St. John’s?

Following a post on Mountain Bike St. John’s Facebook page, where Chris B threw out the idea of riding every trail listed on their web page in one day, I suggested a preparation ride for such an undertaking would be to ride from Shoal Bay Road to Fort Amherst, piecing together a bunch of trails and dirt roads to make one continuous (virtually all) off-road ride.

I’ve tossed out this idea before: last year to Chris J who floated the idea on an email but I don’t think ever attempted (correct me if I’m wrong) and this year to Ross Y who attempted it with a crew but they had so many freakish mechanicals they aborted their trip in Petty Harbour.

Since this route was my idea I figured it was high time I tried it myself, so I set off Saturday morning to see if I could do it.  The route is approximately 45 km long and estimated time to complete it was in the 8-10 hour range.  The route is as follows: Shoal Bay Road to Petty Harbour; Petty Harbour to Kilbride via Old Petty Harbour Road; Kilbride to Richmond Hill trail using a mish-mash of trails/pole lines; ride all of Richmond Hills’ Ridgeline trail (starting at the repeater tower) and exiting via Slingshot; ride the fire road to Shea Heights; finally, Shea Heights to Fort Amherst.

Ride Shoal Bay Road until you reach the ocean (6 km).  Turn left.

Ride Shoal Bay Road until you reach the ocean (6 km). Turn left.

The car wreck marks the beginning of the hike-a-bike up over the headland in the background.  This takes 45 minutes.

The car wreck marks the beginning of the hike-a-bike up over the headland in the background. This takes 45 minutes.

A view of one of the headlands you will soon be riding.

A view of one of the headlands you will soon be riding.

On the way up you begin to get some stunning views of the coastline.

On the way up you begin to get some stunning views of the coastline.

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Let the riding begin!

Let the riding begin!

The best riding is around Motion Head.

The best riding is around Motion Head.

Close-up of Motion Head.

Close-up of Motion Head.

I stopped and had a feed of bakeapples...

I stopped and had a feed of bakeapples…

...blueberries...

…blueberries…

...and watched the fishing boats.

…and watched the fishing boats.

Petty Harbour.  The road to the right of center is Old Petty Harbour Road.

Petty Harbour. The road to the right of center is Old Petty Harbour Road.

It took me 3 1/2 hours to get to Petty Harbour and I seriously contemplated quitting at that point.  I was trashed from all the hike-a-bike, the trail was narrow and deep causing a lot of pedals strikes and it was terribly grown in which made for poor riding.  The only thing that kept me going was that I vowed I would NEVER ride this section again and that meant this was my only chance to complete the whole ride.  Fortified by two Pepsi’s, an apple flip and a Kit-Kat from the convenience store in Petty Harbour I soldiered on.

It’s interesting to note that after Petty Harbour I only took one more picture. I got into a bit of a zone (read: zombie-like trance) and just wanted to get the mission accomplished.  Old Petty Harbour Road starts with a killer climb but once at the top is pretty easy.  Then onto Ridgeline/Slingshot which is a workout in itself, let alone after 4+ hours of riding.  I made it to the store in Shea Heights where I got a Gatorade and a Vachon cake to fuel me to Fort Amherst.  Then it began to rain.

Last known picture of the writer.  Yes, I was as tired as I look.

Last known picture of the writer. Yes, I was as tired as I look. At the top of Shea Heights.

I made it to Fort Amherst 7.5 hours after starting.  God bless my lovely wife for picking me up and ordering me a fish ‘n’ chips for supper.

Thoughts

* I’m glad I completed it but I can’t say I’d recommend it.

* Petty Harbour to Fort Amherst would be a good trip.  That eliminates all the hike-a-bike which really trashes you.

across newfoundland by fatbike

The Newfoundland T’Railway is a 900 km long linear provincial park, stretching from St. John’s in the east to Port-aux-Basques in the west.  The notion of riding it has long been on my mind and this year I attempted and completed it.

The beginning.

The beginning.

The stats

The route is 900 km long.

I completed it in ten days.

Riding west to east was a good decision – I had tailwinds on 7 or 8 days out of ten.

I had one day of rain.

I saw lots of ATV’s and zero cyclists, zero hikers.

I saw no moose but lots of other wildlife sightings (see below).

Traveling time ranged from 8 - 12 hours per day.  The rest of the time I was doing this.

Traveling time ranged from 8 – 12 hours per day. The rest of the time I was doing this.

The gear

I used a Surly Pugsley for this trip set up in a bikepacking mode and in my not so humble opinion it was the perfect bike and set up for the trip.  The big tires provided cushioning against the uneven surface and float when the ballast got deep and loose.  Bikepacking mode kept the overall weight low.

The scenery

As predicted the section from Port-aux-Basques to Badger was the most scenic.  Central NF (Badger to Terra Nova Nat’l Park) was mostly boreal forest – the good news is that the trail in this area is in good shape and you can make good time.  From Terra Nova to St. John’s there is a great mixture of scenery.

I camped on this beach the night I arrived in Port-aux-Basques.

I camped on this beach the night I arrived in Port-aux-Basques.

Start my trip with some beach riding?  Yes Please!

Start my trip with some beach riding? Yes please!

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Cape Ray.

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Codroy Valley.

My campsite on Georges Lake.

My campsite on Georges Lake.

You see a number of old rail cars converted to cabins along the way but this was the best.

You see a number of old rail cars converted to cabins along the way but this was the best.

Taking refuge on the only day of rain.

Taking refuge on the only day of rain.

The Gaff Topsails are stark and desolate.

The Gaff Topsails are stark and desolate.

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A granite quarry in The Gaff.

A granite quarry in The Gaff.

The view from a campsite in Central.

The view from a campsite in Central.

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The pitcher plant, our provincial flower.  It thrives in bogs and is carnivorous - how appropriate.

The pitcher plant, our provincial flower. It thrives in bogs and is carnivorous – how appropriate.

Near Terra Nova.

Near Terra Nova.

A statue of infamous premier Joey Smallwood - half Stalin, half Buddy Holly.  In Gambo.

A statue of infamous premier Joey Smallwood – half Stalin, half Buddy Holly. In Gambo.

Along the isthmus.

Along the isthmus.

In Avondale you will see the only remaining section of rail line.

In Avondale you will see the only remaining section of rail line.

As you approach St. John's there is a lovely section that goes along Conception Bay.

As you approach St. John’s there is a lovely section that follows Conception Bay.

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Bridges

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St. Fintan’s.

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Robinsons.

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Fischell’s Brook.

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The longest bridge is this one at Bishop Falls.

The longest bridge is this one at Bishop Falls.

Maps

All I used was a free road map from NL Tourism.  It shows a thin red line for the T’Railway and that was enough to navigate the whole route.

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Click on image to enlarge.

One of the best things I did was copy and paste a distance table from the T’Railway web site.  This was invaluable for planning throughout the day where I might get food, might think about setting for a target for the day, etc.  I referred to it often.

The table I took from the T'Railway website.  It tells you the distance between towns and the distance to St. John's.  I taped it on with packing tape.

The table I took from the T’Railway website. It tells you the distance between towns and the remaining distance to St. John’s. I taped it on with packing tape.

People

As always on adventures, meeting people is a highlight, and an especially welcome break from yourself when traveling solo.  I met two couples on ATV’s on the west coast who offered me cookies and a can of pop, another couple on an ATV who stopped and asked “Is that a Pugsley?” (I just about shit) and offered me a place to stay if needed in Grand Falls, and a mountain biker in Deer Lake who was all jazzed about my bike and what I was doing, to name just a few.

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These kind proprietors filled my water bottles with ice.

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I met the Calnen brothers, who were from Nova Scotia.  They come over every year because Newfoundland is so ATV friendly.

I met the Calnen brothers, who were from Nova Scotia. They come over every year because Newfoundland is so ATV friendly.

The trail

The condition of the trail was good.  The roughest section was in the Gaff Topsails which are the most remote section of the trail and the section that gets the worst weather.  The only time I dropped my tire pressure was in this section as there were a lot of “baby heads” and I was bouncing a bit.  The trail was in its best shape in Central and approaching St. John’s, where you could easily ride a road bike.

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There were a few times when I could ride beaches instead of the rail bed, like this section near Stephenville Crossing.

There were a few times when I could ride beaches instead of the rail bed, like this section near Stephenville Crossing.

It was heaven compared to the rough surface of the trail!

It was heaven compared to the rough surface of the trail!

You ride until you come to this bridge; cross under it, come out the other side and head for the road bridge because...

You ride until you come to this bridge; cross under it, come out the other side and head for the road bridge because…

...this bridge is closed.

…this bridge is closed.

Though the rail line crossed the top of the Main Dam in Deer Lake users are now rerouted below it.

Though the rail line crossed the top of the Main Dam in Deer Lake users are now rerouted below it.

I took every opportunity I could to take a dip.  Near Howley.

I took every opportunity I could to take a dip. Near Howley.

The only day of rain was in the Gaff Topsails.  Note the water on the trail.  A lot of days like this would be really unpleasant.

The only day of rain was in the Gaff Topsails. Note the water on the trail. A lot of days like this would be really unpleasant.

The high point on the trail is in The Gaff.  Mile 328 refers to the distance from St. John's.

The high point on the trail is in The Gaff. Mile 328 refers to the distance from St. John’s.

Signage overall is lacking; it is at its best in Central.

Signage overall is lacking; it is at its best in Central.

The trail often crosses the Trans-Canada Highway - where it does tunnels have been put in place.  They are a great place to take shelter from the sun or rain.

The trail often crosses the Trans-Canada Highway – where it does tunnels have been put in place. They are a great place to take shelter from the sun or rain.

In St. John's the trail runs parallel to some major streets...

In St. John’s the trail runs parallel to some major streets…

...but just as quickly you are back into sections where you wouldn't know you were in a capital city.

…but just as quickly you are back into sections where you wouldn’t know you were in a capital city.

The railway station is the green roofed building and the end of the trip for me.

The railway station is the green roofed building and the end of the trip for me.

Food and fuel

Access to stores occurred every day. Most communities have a small convenience store where you can get a least the usually array of junk food;  I was able to get bananas, for example, most days. For those of you not from Newfoundland convenience stores here also sell beer, and if you are really lucky they may also have a Liquor Express so you can get wine and distilled spirits as well. Also, fuel for alcohol stoves was readily available in most of these stores as well – it is sold as gas line antifreeze, about $1.60 for 150ml (three good burns).  Canisters and white gas were available in the major centers (Corner Brook, Grand Falls, Gander).

I couldn't wait to eat these again.  They are called "Scramblers" and they are available at a convenience store in Stephenville Crossing.  They are tart sheels filled with egg, onion, green pepper, cheese and topped with bacon!

I couldn’t wait to eat these again. They are called “Scramblers” and they are available at Karl’s Konvenience  in Stephenville Crossing, right next to the T’Railway. They are tart shells filled with egg, onion, green pepper, cheese and topped with bacon!  I ate two there and bought two more for the road – just $1.50 each.

You MUST go into this store in Howley.  It has been years since I've seen a general store like this.  They have EVERYTHING!

You MUST go into this store in Howley. It has been years since I’ve seen a general store like this. They have EVERYTHING!

Be sure to stop here when passing through Gambo.

Be sure to stop at Chestnut Tree Cafe when passing through Gambo.

I ate a lot of wraps with peanut butter.

I ate a lot of wraps with peanut butter.

Critters

I saw no moose for the entire ride but did see rabbits, grouse, spawning salmon, fox, caribou and beavers.

A beaver patrolling the pond.

A beaver patrolling the pond.

This beaver dam interrupted the entire trail!

This beaver dam interrupted the entire trail!

My best wildlife encounter was when I came upon this family of foxes...

My best wildlife encounter was when I came upon this family of foxes…

...Dad approaches...

…Dad approaches…

...pisses on a plant...

…pisses on a plant…

...and then walks by me with a look that implied "And I'll piss on you if you mess with my family"!

…and then walks by me with a look that implied “And I’ll piss on you if you mess with my family!”

I also enjoyed watching this beaver for the longest time...

I also enjoyed watching this beaver for the longest time…

...and then it was joined by another!

…and then it was joined by another!

Spot the grouse.

Spot the grouse.

A true friend

Nancy was kind enough to meet me at the end of the trip with a cold beer and to snap this picture of me.

Nancy E was kind enough to meet me at the end of the trip with a cold beer and to snap this picture of me.

ADDENDUM

CB to DL

I failed to point out when I posted this a few years ago that I got from Corner Brook to Deer Lake by staying off (mostly) the Trans-Canada Highway.  Leave Corner Brook via Riverside Drive.  This will take you to the highway, which you will have to ride on for 3 km until you get to Steady Brook. In Steady Brook get on Marble Drive and head east until it ends at a farm on your left.  Follow the easement through the farm to Strawberry Hill Lodge. Cross under the highway to Johnson Drive, then turn left on Bonnell Drive. Cross under highway again then cross river into Humber Resort.  Follow Lakeside Drive until it ends.  Bear right and then start using Google Earth or whatever you use/have to negotiate the woods roads on the north side of Deer Lake to the town of Deer Lake.