irish loop off road (ILOR)

ilor

400 km, 5 days and 4 nights. Green triangles indicate where I camped.

Over the May 24th long weekend I tackled the route I’ve been calling “Irish Loop Off Road” or ILOR.  If anybody has a better name let me know (Paul C?).  Amy, Paul and I first tackled this route two years ago, that time riding it in a counter-clockwise direction and learning what worked and what didn’t.  This iteration of the route is much better.

This ride has it all:  80% of it is on dirt, the majority of the paved sections are on quiet roads; single track, dirt roads, ATV tracks, 2 hike-a-bike sections; great vistas; wildlife (I saw caribou, moose and a snowy owl on this trip); resupply is easy; free camping; water is easily available.

I now have GPX files for this route – if you would like them just drop me an email:  theslowbiker at gmail.com.

irish loop off road completed

Blue = rideable.     Red = hike-a-bike.  Pink = section not ridden 'cause I decided to drink coffee and get Amy to pick me up.  :-)

Blue = rideable. Red = hike-a-bike. Pink = section not ridden ’cause I decided to drink coffee and get Amy to pick me up. 🙂

What an adventure! Long, challenging days, got to places I had never been before and time with friends. Here are the details in no particular order:

* total distance was 425 km
* it took 7 days
* we rode at an average speed of 7 km/h and hike-a-biked at 2 km/h (this includes time for stops, food, swims, berry picking, etc)
* the section from the top of Holyrood Pond to Trepassey was a major hike-a-bike
* resupply was easy – we passed at least a store a day and often more
* we ate a lot of fish ‘n’ chips and club sandwichs at take-outs
* a bald Endomorph tire on the rear and a well-used Larry up front worked just fine
* blackflies and deerflies (“stouts”) were an issue – thank god it was windy
* Point La Haye to St. Vincent’s and Renews to Cape Broyle were the highlights in terms of trail conditions and scenery
* we saw moose every day
* we drank beer most nights ( thank you Liquor Express!)
* the trails in and around Renews will make for great winter riding
* locals are disappointed when you tell them you are from St. John’s – by the end I was tempted to start lying

Paul, Amy and myself at the start.

Paul, Amy and myself at the start.

Our rigs - a Mukluk, a Beargrease and a Pugsley.

Our rigs – a Mukluk, a Beargrease and a Pugsley.

In Avondale.

In Avondale.

Relaxing on the beach in Avondale.

Relaxing on the beach in Avondale.

In O'Donnell's.

In O’Donnell’s.

Hard to believe Amy is a top-notch Enduro rider.  :-)

Hard to believe Amy is a top-notch Enduro rider. 🙂

The trail between Admiral's Beach and Mall Bay was some of this...

The trail between Admiral’s Beach and Mall Bay was some of this…

...this...

…this…

...this...

…this…

...and this.  That climb you can see in the background (out of Mall Bay) is a killer.

…and this. That climb you can see in the background (out of Mall Bay) is a killer.

Near Gaskiers.

Near Gaskiers.

Foreshadowing.

Foreshadowing.

From Gaskiers to St. Vincent's the ride is through pasture land and the views are wonderful.

From Gaskiers to St. Vincent’s the ride is through pasture land and the views are wonderful.

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The barachois across the bottom of Holyrood Pond.

The barachois across the bottom of Holyrood Pond.

In St. Vincent's.  The dog was friendly but Skipper didn't think much of our plan to ride up the shore of Holyrood Pond.

In St. Vincent’s. The dog was friendly but Skipper didn’t think much of our plan to ride up the shore of Holyrood Pond.

The shore of Holyrood Pond is rideable - but just.  After 5 km we got off and rode to St. Mary's on the road.

The shore of Holyrood Pond is rideable – but just. After 5 km we got off and rode to St. Mary’s on the road.

On the trail from St. Mary's to the top of Holyrood Pond.

On the trail from St. Mary’s to the top of Holyrood Pond.

The start of Day 4, or as Amy put it: "The day we took our bikes for a walk."

The start of Day 4, or as Amy put it: “The day we took our bikes for a walk.”

We pushed our bikes up the pole line but once we got to the top discovered that there was a better trail out - doh!

We pushed our bikes up the pole line but once we got to the top discovered that there was a better trail out – doh!

Looking down Holyrood Pond from the top.  The hike-a-bike started a couple of kilometres later.

Looking down Holyrood Pond from the top. The hike-a-bike started a couple of kilometres later.

Caribou.

Caribou.

Moose.

Moose.

Half way into a 15 km hike-a-bike (7.5 hours) and Amy is still smiling!

Half way into a 15 km hike-a-bike (7.5 hours) and Amy is still smiling!

A refreshing swim in a pond...

A refreshing swim in a pond…

...and a bag of candy can be real morale boosters!

…and a bag of candy can be real morale boosters!

Trepassey is finally in sight.  We pigged out at the restaurant and then went to the store to pick up beer and chips.

Trepassey is finally in sight. We pigged out at the restaurant and then went to the store to pick up beer and chips.

The trail between Trepassey and Biscay Bay has had upgrades up to this bridge - about the half way point.  We found a trail up to the highway and made camp.

The trail between Trepassey and Biscay Bay has had upgrades up to this bridge – about the half way point. We found a trail up to the highway and made camp.

 

The old road from Portugal Cove South to Chance Cove is in pretty good shape, though it peters out near the park boundary, and, you guessed it...

The old road from Portugal Cove South to Chance Cove is in pretty good shape, though it peters out near the park boundary, and, you guessed it…

...more hike-a-bike!

…more hike-a-bike!

Near the wind farm in Fermuse.  This section was lovely for the scenary and trail conditions.

Near the wind farm in Fermuse. This section was lovely for the scenary and trail conditions.

ILOR 2014 157 ILOR 2014 170

Ferryland.

Ferryland.

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Taking a dip near Cape Broyle.

Taking a dip near Cape Broyle.

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I said goodbye to Amy in Cape Broyle and rode up Horse Chops Line to Mount Carmel Pond.

I said goodbye to Amy in Cape Broyle and rode up Horse Chops Line to Mount Carmel Pond.

The water levels were high in the resevoir so the beach riding wasn't as good as the last time I rode here.  I cut it a bit short and did a hike-a-bike over to Cape Pond.

The water levels were high in the resevoir so the beach riding wasn’t as good as the last time I rode here. I cut it a bit short and did a hike-a-bike over to Cape Pond.

 

Sunset on the last night of the trip.  On Cape Pond.

Sunset on the last night of the trip. On Cape Pond.

 

 

Please see Amy’s blog for her excellent write up of the trip.

irish loop off road

ILOR final

Red = off road, blue = pavement

In a few days a group of us will set out on our fatbikes to pioneer a route I’m calling Irish Loop Off Road (ILOR). The route is approximately 400 km in length and 320 km of that will be on a combination of The T’Railway, dirt roads, beaches, ATV trails, abandoned railroad branch lines, old roads and a bit of bog hopping and bushwacking thrown in for good measure. I’m anticipating it will take us six days to complete. A full write up with pictures when I get back.

cape shore & irish loop

Cape Shore

Our route. Yellow blobs mark where we camped.

Paul and I headed out recently to ride both the Cape Shore and the Irish Loop – 500 km in 4 days.  We were blessed with wonderful weather and often favourable tail winds.  Summer has finally arrived in Newfoundland.

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Leaving St. John’s I’d suggest riding out to Witless Bay and then cross the Witless Bay Line to gain access to the Trans Canada Highway. There’s less traffic, it’s more scenic and it leaves only 10 km of riding on the TCH.

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Next exit for Salmonier Line.

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I’d suggest Route 93 for Colinet vs. Route 91. Again, more scenic.

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In Colinet there is a store and nearby is this Newfoundland pony, a breed of pony unique to here.

Between Colinet and Placentia is 21 km of gravel road.  It's in generally good shape.  I've ridden it with 28c tires, fully loaded (the bike, not the rider, though that's not a bad thought), with no issues.

Between Colinet and Placentia is 21 km of gravel road. It’s in generally good shape. I’ve ridden it with 28c tires, fully loaded (the bike, not the rider, though that’s not a bad thought), with no issues.

The section between Point Verde and St. Bride's is very hilly for 40 km.  You've been warned.

The section between Point Verde and St. Bride’s is very hilly for 40 km. You’ve been warned.

The roads on the Cape Shore are in good shape and have very low traffic.

The roads on the Cape Shore are in good shape and have very low traffic.

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The view as you cycle along the shore.

The view as you cycle along the shore.

Ship Cove.

Ship Cove.

These magical cows in Ship Cove produce...

These magical cows in Ship Cove produce…

Guinness!

Guinness!

Gooseberry Cove.  This is a provincial Day Park, though I've camped there without issue.

Gooseberry Cove. This is a provincial Day Park, though I’ve camped there without issue.

Gooseberry Cove.

Gooseberry Cove.

The long and winding road.

The long and winding road.

Near the turnoff to Cape St Mary's Ecological Reserve is this restaurant and campgound.

Near the turnoff to Cape St Mary’s Ecological Reserve is this restaurant and campgound.

We didn't go to the Cape this trip but it is worth a visit.

We didn’t go to the Cape this trip but it is worth a visit.

This is part of what you would see if you went there.

This is part of what you would see if you went there.

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This is where we spent our 2nd night, in Harricott.

In St. Vincent's, now on the Irish Loop, Day 3, where we saw lots of humpback whales.

In St. Vincent’s, now on the Irish Loop, Day 3, where we saw lots of humpback whales.

We spent our 3rd night in Chance Cove where it is free to camp.

We spent our 3rd night in Chance Cove where it is free to camp.

The road to the camping area is 6 km of gravel.

The road to the camping area is 6 km of gravel.

It is worth every km to get there.

It is worth every km to get there.

On the way out the next morning.

On the way out the next morning.

We spotted this caribou.

We spotted this caribou.

For those on the run.

For those on the run.

Tors Cove.

Tors Cove.

Random bits:

– we did this in 4 days but 5 would be more pleasant, especially if you were to take in Cape St Mary’s

– we saw moose, caribou, grouse and humpback whales

– resupply was easy as many towns had small stores

– traffic volume is low except when you get close to St. John’s

the irish loop

Irish Loop sign

Packed

Packed and ready to roll!

The Irish Loop is a 300km circuit south of St. John’s that should be on any touring cyclist’s radar when in Newfoundland.  Named after the rich Irish heritage that populates the coastline this ride has it all: barrens, the ocean, moose, caribou, whales, head winds, tail winds, quiet roads – the list goes on.

Irish Loop map

If starting in St. John’s I highly recommend heading out to Bay Bulls and then crossing the Witless Bay Line versus heading out on the Trans-Canada Highway (TCH).  The roads are quieter and Witless Bay Line gives you great exposure to the glacial barrens that you will be seeing all along the trip.

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The town of Bay Bulls

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The barrens of Witless Bay Line

I like to do this trip in 3 days, 2 nights, typically camping near St. Mary’s on the first night and at/near Chance Cove the second night.  I also strongly advise you to ride this counter-clockwise for two reasons:

1) During fair weather the winds are typically out of the southwest; this puts the wind at your back while crossing the barrens which begin near St. Vincents and end near Cappahayden.  I’ve ridden it the other way (clockwise) and this section was pure hell with a headwind.

2) There are many more towns in the last 100 km if ridden counter-clockwise which makes for easier resupply when you’ll need it the most.

This time I did the trip in two days and a bit, leaving after supper on Friday and returning home on Sunday.  I camped the first night on Witless Bay Line (40 km), near Chance Cove on night two (160 km) and then rode the final 100 km from there.

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Relaxing at camp on Witless Bay Line barrens.

Moonrise

There was a lovely moonrise that night.

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Dreaming of big mileage the next day

If you take the Witless Bay Line then there is just 10 km to ride on the TCH until you get to Route 90 or what is know as the Salmonier Line.  This road heads south and again, if the weather is fair, this will be the section where you encounter a headwind.  This section of the road gets less traveled the further you go, winding itself through boreal forest, along rivers and eventually the ocean.

Salmonier River & Pratt house

The Salmonier River. That is Chris and Mary Pratt’s residence – highly regarded painters.

Salmonier 2

About 10 km on Salmonier Line is this nature park – a great place to see Newfoundland wildlife.

St. Saint

Saints, saints – everywhere there are saints!

The Worker

Clearly St. Joesph knew about headwinds.

Mouth of bay

The mouth of the bay.

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Near Gaskiers.

At the southern end of Salmonier Line is the town of St. Vincents.  It is significant for two reasons:

1) there is a great beach there where you can often see humpbacks feeding, and;

2) The road takes a sharp left (east) and the wind finally is at your back!

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Chillaxing at St. Vincents beach

whale spout

Can you spot the humpback whale spout?

Fence & bike

From St. Vincents the road begins to climb from sea level up to the barrens.  I think this is my favourite section of the route.  There is just something about all that nothingness that tickles my fancy.

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Atop the barrens looking back at St. Vincents beach.

the barrens

Why it is called the barrens.

caribou

This was the only caribou I saw and it was shot!

Plummeting down from the barrens with a tailwind is a real thrill and gets you to the town of Trepassey where there is a motel with a restaurant, a take-out and two convenience stores.  Another great way to ride the loop is to do it in two days, staying overnight at the motel.  This allows you to pack light and make better mileage each day.  Doing it counter-clockwise means doing 170 km the first day and 130 km the second.

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A well deserved fish ‘n’ chips at First Venture take-out.

After leaving Trepassey you soon pass by the road to Cape Race; it was here where the distress call from the Titanic was first picked up.

cape race

A side trip to Cape Race should be considered. The road is gravel, but rideable. Oh, and there are a few hills. Don’t say you weren’t warned! It is 20 km each way. Along the way you can also visit Mistaken Point, a place where some really significant early life-form fossils were found.

At Portugal Cove South the road turns north and you are in the barrens for another 15 km.  Beginning at Cappahayden, however, you start getting into small fishing communities every 10 km or so.  You also get into the hilly section, which lasts all the way to Bay Bulls.

Aquaforte Hbr

Aquaforte

tongues

Fish for sale along the way. Yep, we eat every part of the cod, including the tongue.