Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Great Pedal and Paddle - 2008

Some of you may have read my previous post about planning an adventure with the hopes of a trip we’d refer to as truly Epic. The resulting itenerary was a 2 week journey that would see us cycling 1100KM’s (800 across Newfoundland in 6 days straight), then Kayaking the coast of Newfoundland’s Gros Morne National Park and ending with some hiking in the parks fjord’s which are nothing short of breathless. Our hopes where to test our limits, learn about life and little did we know, we'd end up discuss everything from politics, to careers, to women, to life, building a bond that will most likely last as long as our souls themselves. So how did it go…

As most trips of this extent the week leading up to the trip was nothing short of hectic! If I have one regret for the trip it was rushing the start. I finished work Friday afternoon, rushing to airport after trying to finish things up with work, scrambling to make my flight. Thankfully I made through security as boarding began and after a brief nap I’m landing in St. Jonh’s where Dave would be waiting for me after spending a few days relaxing with family. Greated by smiles and excitement it was game time. We arrived at his families, cracked a beer and proceeded to build our bikes, pack our gear, and prep for the next two weeks. As 3 AM rolled around we where close enough to being ready. The excitement had worn off, replaced by tired eyes as we retired to our rooms to make the best of the 5 hours sleep before starting our trip.

Up with sun, excitement in the air once again and a big breakfast to start off day 1. Dave's aunt and grandmother graciously offered to shuttle us to Cape Spear, starting at the most easterly point of Canada slightly behind schedule we were sent off with smiles, hugs and a little concern as motherly instincts prevailed. The first section of highway saw multiple short but steep grades, which combined with the added weight of the bags, and running a two ring set up was more noticeable then expected. This first pedal back to Saint John’s re-assured us this wasn’t going to be a leisurely pedal to average 120Km’s/day. All I had for time in St. John’s was a pedal along the harbor and lunch in town before we set off again in an attempt to get off the peninsula in our first Day. With the start of the trip so rushed I found it was hard to disconnect and get into the mental place this trips deserved. To start over I would have definitely taken a n extra day to enjoy St. Johns. However, aside from feeling like I was on a post work stress relief ride, the first day went flawless and we made it off the peninsula. The strong headwinds we faced most of the day had us questioning how much fun it would be to hold our pace as we stopped for dinner, devoured our food, and then re-awoke our tired legs to set up camp a little ways back from a tourist info station.

We awoke to a cloudy/foggy day from our humble abode (the cosy little tent you see was our shared accommodations for the next 2 weeks), with a gorgeous view of the lake. Pleasently surprised that our pre-mixed Nestle coffee packet actually tasted good, we pakced up and set off around 10:30 just as the sun was breaking through the clouds, which became the trend for the trip. Those first difficult pedal strokes burned till our tired legs warmed up after 5 or so Km’s. Then our bodies caved in and we fell into our groove alternating from riding side by side and drafting in tandem as we would for the next 5 days turning into a well oiled team on their way.

By the time we stopped for lunch over our tiny stove at the tourist center about 4hrs into our day my mind finally gave away. I had reached that blank state where the real world leaves your mind, hypnotized by the rhythmic rotation of your legs at 90 RPM nearing a state of meditation at times while appreciating life for what it really was. Then, there, in the moment, finally starting the journey. We completed our first full day reaching our scheduled stop at a local campground, with sites that lived up to the province’s nickname of “The Rock”. Regardless it was an ideal stop with a quiet lake and countless laughs, setting the tone for the rest of the trip. We spent the evening relaxing as we demolished our vacuum sealed sandwiches, had a refreshing (i.e. F#%^$& cold swim). Dave was then entertained by my determination to set up a hammock regardless of forgetting rope, and a chance to relax by a campfire in the heart of Newfoundland knowing we would barely see a city for another 2 weeks.

Day 3 was our shortest day, as we planned on staying at one of Dave’s aunts in Bishop Falls. With a smooth day of pedaling and multiple attempts to set speed record drafting and slingshoting each other to break 70Km/h on our loaded bikes down hills. The last 20 Km’s we got our first taste of rain. But our spirits where high and the laughs persevered as we pressed on. Nevertheless, mother nature did show me who was boss as I challenged her with devilish laughter as the rain intensified, but just as I was screaming “is that all you got” in a torrential downpour, the combination of a large puddle, a bridge and Jeep engulfing me in a tidal wave of water ensured she displayed her supremacy. We slowly pedaled into town drenched as the sun broke, with locals giving funny looks to these men in spandex pedaling through town in a rain storm. The stop provide a well earned hot shower, hearty meal, and a chance to explore a local village getting a feel for the true Newfoundland lifestyle.

We arose to more rain and a brisk morning. This was the last day of where the route averaged an elevation gain. But first we would have to conquer the forewarned Gambo Hill before a day and half of descending back to see level. After all the anticipation we pedaled through the town of Gambo, geared down for the climb and hammered to the top with authority. However just as we felt like true athletes, we stopped and realised that the tailwinds where so strong they would slow us down if turned and headed downhill resulting in more then a little help from the elements (but we’ll keep that between us). After nearly an entire day of on and off rain, we arrived into Gander and decided a dry room, with a hot shower was a better alternative then pedaling another 10 to 20 KMs past town after diner to set up camp in the rain after our longest day yet. After some consultation with locals we headed into town on foot for a hearty meal before heading in for an early night.

The next day and half, went smooth with an increase in average speed as the hwy averaged a slight downhill grade for the entire day. This portion exposed us to the nicest scenery so far pedaling through the scenic Green Bay area. Our nights stop ended up in an Inuit Quarry after exploring an old abandoned campground, where after nearly losing a knee falling through an old water powered Mill we decided on setting up elsewhere. However the old go kart track provided a few fun laps.

Day 5 would see us end our trip on the Trans Canada at Deer Lake and head North towards the edge of Gros Morne National Park.We had lunch at the top of the last descent into Deer Lake where we'd be back at see level. On the outskirts of Deer Lake we found an Oasis, A berry booth! We filled tupperware with fresh berries for the days ahead. The end of the day saw the entrance to Gros Morne where we had two options. Set up camp in town or pack up with canned beans, power aid and snacks to pedal to the top of the first peak in Gros Morne. A brief discussion leads us to an easy conclusion and we where off “attacking” (or slowly persevering) up what turned out to be a 45 Minute standing climb up approximately 2300ft. But at the top we where greated by a Moose and what was one of the most spectacular views I’ve seen reminding me of the coastal Fjords from my time in Norway making sure we new it was the right decission. After figuring out where to set up our tents in a hidden location as it may have been a no camping zone, and avoiding what looked like the area that a bear took a nap in after gorging on berries, we had dinner and enjoyed the evening., reading, writing, laughing. When the sun rose we took our time enjoying the morning view, and set off at 10:30 once again on par with our routine that was about to end as we transitioned from cycling to exploring Gros Morne National Park.

We had an easy pedal into Rocky Harbour, where we were set to celebrate with our first pints (or a drunken stupor) since we set out in Gros Mornes, Rocky Harbor. Rocky Harbor is a picturesque coastal Nfld. village. An afternoon was all it took to reasure me that life in Toronto (or major city centers for that matter) was but a stepping stone on my path to find a road to Nowhere. (Read my initial blog post from March 08 to understand the analogy.) After enjoying an afternoon of walking along the coast, pizza and wings, and countless local beers in the local pub at capicity with patrons over the age of 60. We retired to our B&B in the wee hours of the morning, after a phenomenal day to transition from our cycling portion of our trip. Next we made the short pedal (yet painfully long as the previous nights pints took their toll) we arrived at Sally’s Cove, home of Gros Morne Adventures, for our second rest day before setting off on some kayaking and hiking excursions in one of Canada’s most beautiful landscapes. With our arrival came a slight suprise though. Our local courier didn't deliver our gear which resulted in having nothing more then what we packed for the cycling portion (i.e. a lot of spandex and river shoes). But the small hick up wasn't going to get us down, and the situation provided amunition for countless Earl's Courrier jokes. (I am still confused how Earl made Dave feel guilty for the fact that he forgot to pick up our stuff?)

For the next two days we experienced our first taste of ocean paddling, which has planted the bug for future adventures (Watch for a 2010 or 2011 Torngat Mountain Range Trip). Oddly enough Kayaking is the opposite of what I look for in most activities searching a rush, a thrill, excitement, and adventure. Ocean and Flat Water kayaking generaly sits at the opposite end of adventure exploring at a relaxing and soothing pace but is something I plan on doing much more of in the years to come. Especially if my body starts to reject some of the more aggressive hobbies I partake in.

The balance of trip saw a scenic hike up Gros Morne Mountain which we made good time completing a 4 hour round trip including lunch and photo op's, which we ended with a 10ish KM Jog back to Rocky Habour. Some relaxing time by the beach, reading by the ocean, and an exploratory trip to Brooks pond which lead us to planning our trip ending hike. On our last day we woke early and cycled up to brooks pond for what was going to be an 8 hour unmarked hike (I'd almost list as an Epic)to the top of the Fjord that lines Brooks pond (I strongly suggest that any backpacker add the long range traverse to the list of places to go). The hike to top is about 2.5 hours where you traverse multiple different Geographic areas starting off on a marked trail through marshland, forest, and along beaches for about hour till you Veer off up a trail that was created by water run off and it’s another hour hike up approximated 800m (or 2,400ish feet) for an hour till the trees start to shrink and then you eventually reached the tundra’esque terrain, with nothing for vegetations except for tuckamore and berries. Once up top we were greated by amazing views, 2 herds of Cariboo and 2 groups Moose. We continued to hiked another half hour to the first ridge that gives you a view point down Fjord. We extended this moment sitting up top the Fjord with a view of nothing open spaces, and no signs of humanity as long as we could. We were forced to leave before we lost daylight to find our way home for a last pint and to catch a ride back to Deer Lake, and ultimately what the majority of us sadly call reality.

Did we succeed at getting what wanted out of this trip? I’d be hesitant to call the trip a true Epic, a few hic ups in our plans resulted in the trip being a little less “adventurous” then we expected for me to classify the trip as a true Epic. (However I think my standard of Epic is a little higher then most.) Nevertheless I’m sure Dave will agree the trip will forever rank as one of the best trips we’ve done. It has set the framework for many adventures to come, we’ve came just a little bit closer to answering those question that we have about life and ultimately solidified a friendship that will last a life time promising to ensure we continue searching out adventure and never look back and say I should have!