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.

Thin red line 002

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.

75 thoughts on “across newfoundland by fatbike

  1. Hey Malcolm,

    Right tool for the job, the pugsley. Looked like just a great trip! Love this: “half Stalin, half Buddy Holly”
    Guy

  2. What a great ride. Fab pictures too. Very envious. Have forwarded the fb link to some pugsley riders in Scotland. Are you on twitter?

  3. What a great post for what must have been a super trip. I would love to do something like that. What’s next . . . retracing the route of Wallace & Hubbard?

  4. Excellent, we are big rail trail fans, and I have this one on my list for a family ride one summer. I hadn’t heard of anyone doing the whole trail by bike. Was the ATV traffic enough to make you nervous or just a few per day?

  5. Enjoyed the write-up, it looks like a great trip and congrats on finishing it. Are there many routes in Newfoundland that can be ridden in the wintertime? I know some areas that have snowmobile trails don’t like having fat bikes on them. Thanks

    • Thanks Tom.

      There are lots of places to ride here in the wintertime and there are no rules forbidding bikes from the snowmobile trails. I do realize, however, that when on snowmobile trails I am an anomaly and behave accordingly. I expect snowmobiles to be on the trails but they sure don’t expect me. I’m also cognizant I can hear them coming but they can’t hear me coming. I simply pull over and let them pass and there are no issues. I have never been treated badly by a snowmobiler but have had a lot of questions and a lot of encouragement for what I do.
      In terms of snow/conditions/trails the best place is western NF, followed by central NF. Here in the east our conditions are less consistent.
      Here is a link to the provincial snowmobile federation: http://nlsf.org/cms/

    • I’m flattered I was a source of inspiration for you and congratulations on your first off-road ride. I hope you enjoyed it enough to do many more. Also, Happy Birthday!

  6. Great report. Fun to see mile zero of the Trans Canada Trail…. now I know what I am shooting for. Really itching to make that ferry trip one of these years. If you want to see what the trail looks like between where you are and where I am in Vermont – check out my ride last year (and 2009) http://audaxvermont.blogspot.com/ and photos at https://plus.google.com/u/0/photos/108377311123808474629/albums/5579898055831242865 Actually trying to extend this bikepacking route so you can ride from St John’s to NYC!!! Anyone want to race an east coast route?

  7. Pingback: Across Newfoundland by fatbike or road bike | Trails and Tours

  8. After reading your blog a while back, I decided to tackle the T’railway myself. I ended up doing (with a friend) from Corner Brook to Grand Falls. I wanted to it it all however time did not permit. It was a great trip and something I will always remember. You are right about the Gaff Topsail! It was definitely the most challenging area but also quite amazing to ride through. Thank you for inspiring me. I would not have done it if I didn’t come across your blog. 🙂

    Chris from Halifax but raised in Deer Lake Newfoundland 🙂

    • “Inspiration through perspiration!” – maybe that should be my new motto! Thanks for the kind words, Chris. That is a solid 200 km ride you just did. I’d love to know more: how long did it take you, what type of bike(s) did you use, advice you’d give others?…

  9. wow!! so amazing….makes me want to do this trip…from Ottawa. I think I’ll start learning how to fatbike and then get myself a trip (on my own) across this huge country of mine!! (or maybe fly there and then bike it!!)

    thanks for sharing….awesome pics and story!!

  10. Hey – my son and I are planning on making this trip this summer (august) using mountain bikes. I picked up Sue Lebrecht’s book and wondered if the trail information in her book is still accurate. The book was published in 2003 and I am wondering if you know whether the trail has been upgraded much since then… Enjoyed your post of your trip….

  11. Hi
    I started biking only recently but I was wondering during your trip was it difficult to find a spot to pitch a tent? In Newfoundland it seems to be quite a challenge to do.

    • My experience is quite the opposite. I’ve found free camping in Newfoundland to be quite easy. So much of the land is Crown land, there is lots of water available and I can often pitch my tent where there is a nice view.

      Glad to hear you have recently discovered cycling. Maybe we’ll meet on the trail one day.

      • Well I was thinking more along the lines of finding a spot which is not a bog or a rock and is flat rather then private vs crown land. That is good to hear though that you did not have difficulties camping along the way. Thanks for your reply.

  12. Great pics , I’m planning on doing the same trip this summer on a Pugsley. What would you do different and what did you do for water ,or did you have enough for each leg of the trip? How many flats did you have and did you take an extra tire?

    • Glad to hear you’re going to ride the Trailway. The Pugs will be perfect.

      I can’t think of anything I’d do different. In fact, I enjoyed it so much I’m going to do it again this summer, but east to west this time. On the Pugs again. 😃👍

      Water is plentiful along the trail so no worries there. I did not bring a spare tire and can’t see any need for you to either. Zero flats.

  13. Hi, I did the west to east route on the highway 40 yrs. ago. All hands tell me the hwy. is too dangerous now. As a 60th birthday gift to myself I am planning the rail route this summer, or next . I am told I should get either a pugsly or an icecream truck but the top of the line would be the E.C.R. Did you consider any of the other companies? What kind of tire did you use , and what size.
    Your article here is fantastic!

    • Hi Robert,

      I don’t think the highway is all that dangerous, but it is uninteresting. I’m certain you’ll love the ride on the Trailway.

      I used the Pugsley because that is what I own. My bike has Rolling Darryl rims and I used 3.8″ Husker Du’s for tires.

      My next bike will be a 29+ and I think the ECR would be an excellent bike for trans-Newfoundland.

  14. Great blog post! I’m planning on doing this route next summer and wondered if you think 7-8 riding days would be too ambitious. Thanks.

  15. hello!
    i admire you doing this kind of journey which seems very Amazing! i’d love doing something like that one day. i am a swiss amateur road biker and i’d planned very luckly a tras NFL. the way you did seems to be pretty nice but not for road bike, right? maybe mountain bike as well. great. i hope i can share one day such an experience with you and people. good job! it’s an Amazing experience and a lesson of your person! cheers from switzerland, pascal

      • What about a monster cross or touring bike (i.e. Surly Cross-check)? Our group will have a variety of riders on a mix of bikes and we’re wondering if some might have issues on their touring/CX bikes. Thanks.

      • Monster cross, maybe; traditional touring bike – you’ll be under-gunned. There are sections of the Trailway where there is lots of loose ballast; other sections, like from Howley to Badger, the ballast has washed away and it is rough. That said, there will be much of the Trailway that can be ridden on a traditional touring bike. If that is the only bike you have then an option will be to hop on and off the Trailway, using the highways to bypass rough sections. But, if this is going to be your only crack at this ride AND you want to enjoy yourself, bring the big tires – think plus bike or fatbike.

      • Don’t know if you read this blog post?: https://theslowbiker.wordpress.com/2014/09/29/newfoundland-by-bicycle-a-guest-blog/

        Dan and Jen covered both the roughest section of the Trailway (Howley to Badger) but also some of the smoothest (Stephenville to Corner Brook, east and west of Gander) on bikes with 2.0 and 2.2 tires. Here’s part of what they took away from their experience:

        Jen ran 2.0 knobby tires while Daniel ran 2.2 knobbies. Tires with high volume but low rolling resistance worked well for our mixture of paved, dirt and gravel roads. The loose gravel sections of the T’railway were the most challenging and got us thinking of the benefits of fatbike touring. Though there is no perfect bike for this type of our, a rigid mountain bike with bikepacking bags or tight-fitting panniers would work well for most sections. As Malcolm has shown, a fatbike takes the edge off of the more gravelly sections, while less voluminous tires would make for speedier road riding.

  16. Thinking about doing this ride in June with a couple friends. Did a trail ride from Washington DC to Pittsburgh a few years ago ( C&O Canal Towpath and Great Allegheny Passage trail : 300mi in total). I rode a hardtail with panniers. Have the option of a Fat bike (LG) but I own a Maya trailer that I can haul with the hardtail so I am tending towards this option. Had a question for you regarding camping along the trail. I prefer sleeping in a hammock rather than a tent. Is this a practical option to use here ?

  17. Has this ever been done in the winter i.e. fat biking on snow?

    I am assuming it would get a lot of snowmobile traffic — it would be semi-groomed. And with all the communities for re-supply and the proximity to the highway it would be easier/safe than the “Iditabike”….thoughts?

    • That idea has been on my radar for awhile. You are correct in assuming it gets snowmobile traffic and resupply is easy. Late February/early March would probably be the ideal start time, as days are getting longer but still lots of winter left.

  18. Hello, I’m an international student from México and I’m a couple of months from leaving Newfoundland.
    I just knew about the trailway and I’m really interested on doing it, I’m a very good athlete but not a professional biker so I wanted to know if an average mountain bike would do it.
    Thanks 🙂

    • Yes, I think it can be done on an average mountain bike. If you encounter sections that are too difficult you can always get off them and onto the highway which is never too far away.

  19. Good day! Five knuckleheads (including myself) are fat bikepacking the T’railway the first week in August(Port Aux Basques to St John’s) . The information we have gleaned from you has been fantastic. I have a route question for you. From Corner Brook to Deer Lake, were you able to avoid riding on the highway? Cheers, Whit

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