Friday, August 19, 2011
2011/08/17: 85 km to Witless Bay
As we left the dry haven of our efficiency unit, Daniel quipped that the hoped the next tenants weren’t Muslims or Jews. We’d cooked and eaten an entire pound of bacon, not to mention three fried eggs each. With no fume hood, the place smelled strongly of our hearty breakfast.
We went a short way to the tiny, archaic Museum of Sealing and Whaling, which consisted of a random assortment of bones, presumably from various marine mammals. With no labels, who knows which bone was which? There were some old photos and yellowed newspaper clippings too, and several harpoon cannons that we weren’t allowed to fire. We stayed longer than we naturally would have to avoid setting out in the heavy rain that had started. There is a processing plant in South Dildo which was built to render whale blubber, but has now been converted to process fish. In a certain way, the museum was a nostalgic look back at a community for which the whaling and sealing had been the original catalyst.
The rain tapered off as we set out, and it was warm enough to peel off layers as we pedalled through an eerie fog. Much of the time we are a strung out threesome: Daniel, followed by Chris at some distance, followed by Margo at yet more distance. I was quite taken by surprise when a female voice said “Hi” just behind me in the mist. A young woman on a lightly loaded bike passed first me, then Chris, then Daniel. Some time later, a man in his fifties caught up to us. They were a father and daughter from Toronto, riding from Victoria to St. John’s. They’d taken the summer ferry to Argentia, so would ride for only one day in Newfoundland.
We’d decided on a final route that would include a puffin-watching outing and a visit to Cape Spear, so we turned off the TCH onto No. 13, and raced directly east toward the coast with a gale at our backs. The straight road rose and fell across a moorland laced with tarns. As we dropped towards the coast, we saw trees that had been snapped and uprooted by recent gales.
We arrived at another efficiency unit we’d booked in Witless Bay, and our hostess spoiled us by bringing raisin buns and banana bread to go with our tea. When she spoke, I could have sworn she’s just stepped off the boat from Ireland. The accent has changed as we’ve moved across the island. The roots of Newfoundland dialect are the West Country of England and the south eastern counties of Ireland. We were in an area proud of it’s Irish heritage.
2011/08/18: 61km to St. John’s
We rode the short distance to Bay Bulls where Daniel had reserved our boat trip to see North America’a largest colony of Atlantic puffins and other seabirds at Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, and set off aboard a catamaran. The patter about the puffins was interspersed with Newfie humour and traditional music. Many of the songs were Irish ballads I hadn’t heard since I used to listen to folk music my father would play on the gramophone.
Puffins are tiny creatures, only 20 centimetres long. They spend eight months of the year living solitary lives on the open ocean eating capelin, and only come to land during the breeding season. They mate underwater, lay a single egg in a burrow, and take turns catching fish for their chicks. They have to run a gauntlet of marauding herring gulls that try to snatch their fish each time they return to their burrows. When they take off from the water, they look like oversized bumble bees flying just above the surface, wings whirring like propellers, and little orange feet dangling comically behind.
Back on land, we rode the steep coastal road towards Cape Spear, the easternmost tip of North America. The road had no paved shoulder, and as I gathered speed on the final descent, a car waited just behind me while I “took the lane.” Gleefully, I dropped forward into my speed demon aerodynamic position and let gravity do its work. Yeeee haw!!! Wheeeeee!!!!
Down by the historic lighthouse, the driver of the car that had followed me came up, looking incredulous, and asked “Do you know how fast you were going?” He announced that according to his speedometer I was “over seventy.” This agreed with the maximum speed recorded of 72.1 kmh recorded by my odometer, a high for this trip and close to the the high for my recent bike touring career. Daniel had recorded 70.8 and conservative Chris (who had to brake so as not to overtake cars) 66.7. Yes, I am by far the slowest uphill, but I like to optimize my descents in an attempt at compensation.
Cape Spear lay bathed in sunshine, and I waved across at Cape Finisterre, one of the two westernmost points in Europe (the other is Cabo da Roca, Portugal) , that Chris and I cycled to in 2007. “Hola” I called, as I waved. It was a whole lot closer than Vancouver.
The ride back up the hill was a grunt, if ever there was, but we made it to St. John’s and our hostel. Now for some cod tongues, scrunchions, toutons. And bring on the figgy duff!