Daniel and Jen are a couple from Vermont who toured much of the island of Newfoundland in July and August. We had lots of email correspondence, but despite our hopes to meet up on the trail/road this was the closest we came:
Daniel floated the idea of writing a guest piece for the blog and I jumped on it right away. What better way to document more about the cycling opportunities here than through the eyes of someone visiting Newfoundland for their first time? So, I give you: Daniel and Jen’s Most Excellent Adventure!
In July of 2014 we set out on what became a 5 week bike tour of Newfoundland, beginning on the west coast and making a clockwise loop around the island. While known for its icebergs, codfish and abundance of moose, Newfoundland is also home to a seemingly endless network of gravel, dirt and secondary paved roads. We opted for routes that would get us into the more remote parts of Newfoundland, places better suited to bike than car. Our efforts were repaid with a real sense of wildness, a fascinating combination of sea and sky, and the friendliest folks we’ve ever come across. For the adventure-minded cyclist, it doesn’t get any better than Newfoundland.
For those interested in the details of our trip we’ve provided information on routes, gear, logistics, etc. at the bottom of the page.
Here is a map of our travels.
Before embarking on the T’railway, we loosen up our legs with some rocky doubletrack near Gros Morne. Western Newfoundland has an impressive network of single and doubletrack, and no shortage of amazing views to match.
Deer Lake to Howley – Our first of many encounters with quads and quadrupeds. Sections of deep, golf ball sized gravel made the first 30k a bit of a slog but we rode, and pushed on, hoping conditions would improve.
Howley to Gaff Topsails – With railbed grades that rarely exceed 3% we forgot that we’d been climbing almost nonstop from Howley. However, diminishing tree height and increasing rain/fog/drizzle remind us that we’re gaining elevation.
Gaff Topsails – At 1554 feet up the weather lifts just long enough for us to get a glimpse of the famed Gaff Topsails. Trail conditions surrounding the Gaff Topsails were generally rockier, and more technical, than any other section of our trip.
Gaff Topsails to Grand Falls-Windsor – Drying out after the wet and wild Gaff Topsails.
Gaff Topsails to Grand Falls-Windsor – The T’railway made clear the weak points in our bike kits. A snapped front rack (shown), a demolished pedal, an abraded pannier, and a cracked water bottle cage forced us to spend a day repairing and rethinking our setup.
Grand Falls-Windsor to Twillingate – Having rode the T’railway as far as Notre Dame Junction we decided to head north in search of icebergs. The paved stretch from Notre Dame Junction to Twillingate was buttery and fast compared to the gravelly railbed, although the throngs of retirees wielding house-sized RV’s were a bit unnerving.
Twillingate – This iceberg was grounded just offshore . . . in waters 150 meters deep.
Twillingate – Just north of Twillingate, on the road to the lighthouse, we found one of our favorite campsites. An abandoned park named Sleepy Cove provided us with a full evening’s worth of entertainment: icebergs, a group of humpback whales, and spawning capelin.
Twillingate to Gambo – On a whim, we decided to ride highway 330/320 which hugs the coast from Gander Bay to Gambo. Although paved, this was one of our favorite rides of the trip. The ocean was always in view, traffic was light, and we got invited to a birthday party (!!!). Unfortunately our camera battery died shortly after and we discovered that we left the charger back in Deer Lake.
Gambo to Goobies – Thankfully we were able to borrow a charger in Glovertown. Back on the T’railway, we wound our way though the boreal forests just west of Terre Nova Provincial Park.
Gambo to Goobies – Though quiet and car-free, the T’railway offers little in the way of protection from the sun. With temperatures regularly climbing into the 30s we often had to find some midday relief.
Gambo to Goobies – Luckily there are thousands of rivers and lakes to wash away the heat and dust at the end of the day.
Goobies to Fortune – At Goobies the T’railway continues east to St. John’s. Given our timing and penchant for lingering we thought it best to leave the Avalon Peninsula for another trip. With a cold and damp handshake, the fog welcomed us to the Burin Peninsula.
Goobies to Fortune – At times Newfoundland is impossibly charming
Goobies to Fortune – The road down the Burin had relatively light traffic after 10am and a reliable southerly headwind. If we could have seen through the fog, we’re convinced that the view would have been spectacular. By the time we got to the bottom of the Burin Peninsula, the fog had lifted and the Atlantic, once again, came into view.
Fortune to St. Pierre et Miquelon – From the southern tip of Newfoundland it’s only a hour and a half ferry ride to the French colony of St. Pierre et Miquelon. We intended to stay a couple of days. Instead we stayed a week and even then were reluctant to leave.
Miquelon – Though St. Pierre’s bakeries and cobbled streets were lovely, we were drawn to the wilder islands of Miquelon and Langlade.
Miquelon – This remote island, two ferry rides away from the far southern coast of Newfoundland, had everything a cyclist could want. Sweet (and a little salty) oceanside strawberries!
Miquelon – A herd of wild horses!
Miquelon – And grassy singletrack!
St. Pierre et Miquelon to Bay L’argent – After taking the ferry back to Fortune from St. Pierre we began retracing our steps back up the Burin Peninsula. Same road, same fog.
Bay L’argent to Burgeo – The outpost communities along Newfoundland’s southern coast are accessible only by passenger ferry. Because cars are not allowed on the ferries, most travelers we met were limited to an out-and-back. With bikes, however, we were able to cross the southern coast from east to west and complete a rather elegant loop of Newfoundland.
Bay L’argent to Burgeo – Outpost communities, like McCallum, harken back to a time when fishing dominated the culture and economy. Today the story is much different. Declining poplulations, lack of employment opportunities and incentives to relocate are threatening the longevity of these coastal communities.
Bay L’argent to Burgeo – After a morning’s ferry ride we had a chance to stretch our legs riding from Poole’s cove to St. Jacques. With the McCallum-Francois ferry running just once a week, we took a few extra days to explore the towns (and hills) northwest of Fortune Bay.
Bay L’argent to Burgeo – While biding out time between ferries, we spent the weekend at the South Coast Music Festival in St. Jacques. We were two happy campers having found ourselves with an abundance of traditional Newfoundland music, fish cakes and wild berries.
Bay L’argent to Burgeo – The southern coast has a number of remote communities, each one worth exploring. However, after a week of sailing on, or waiting for a ferry we were antsy to get back on our bikes. Francois, pictured above, will have to wait for another trip.
Burgeo to Deer Lake – From the map, the Burgeo highway didn’t seem terribly inspiring. However, this stretch of road was unexpectedly awesome. Very few cars and a ripping tailwind made for a whooping and hollering kind of ride.
Burgeo to Deer Lake – Views like this made us feel like we were passing by an unexplored landscape. No roads, no trails – the Annieopsquotch Mountains are an adventure waiting to happen.
Burgeo to Deer Lake – With rumors of an impending 3-day storm, we made quick work of the last stretch of the T’railway. When the gravel got deep we dreamed of coming back to Newfoundland with fatbikes. . .
Burgeo to Deer Lake – On our last night a cold wind began to blow, a reminder that summer, and our bike tour, was coming to an end. The following day we pedaled the last 80k back to Deer Lake and soon after we were on the ferry, watching Newfoundland disappear beneath the horizon.
Jen’s Surly Disc Trucker.
Daniel’s Surly Troll.
Revelate frame bags with a rear rack and small Jandd Mountain Pack Panniers
Surly Disc Trucker
Arkel rear panniers with a Revelate Tangle frame bag and Velo Orange front rack and bag
Both bike configurations worked well. The Revelate frame bags felt solid on the bumpy stuff, while the Arkel panniers offer almost bottomless amounts of waterproof storage. Our only complaint is the lack of waterproofing on some of the Revelate bags and the Jandd rear panniers. Days of rain, drizzle, fog kept our non-waterproof bags in a state of perpetual saturation. Non-waterproof bags work fine in a drier climate but in Newfoundland, waterproof gear is essential.
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.
The ferries along the south coast have an irregular schedule so it’s best to call ahead to determine when each ferry runs. We found that the easiest way to do this was to call the ferry office (1-888-638-5454). Outside of the Avalon Peninsula the only bike shop we came across was in Corner Brook. We brought a beefy repair kit and were happy to have extra parts when the T’railway rattled our bikes. Extra spokes, tire boot, spare brake pads, an assortment of nuts and bolts, pipe clamps and dry chain lubricant proved to be very useful, in addition to the standard repair kit.
Our ride took us in a clockwise circle and the only backtracking we had to do was a couple of days on the Burin Peninsula. We came across a few other bike tourists (maybe 10 other people) but everyone else was riding across the island and returning by bus or ferry. In addition to our loop, we discovered another possible variation on this loop. A dirt road runs from Howley to Buchans and then from Buchans to the Burgeo highway. This would allow for an abbreviated loop or an alternative to returning west from the south coast.