Thursday, July 16, 2009

Channel Port-aux-Basques, NL: Goodbye, Newfoundland

The memory of the ride south from Gros Morne is a bit of a blur. There is a recollection of wind...strong wind...strong wind in our face...strong wind in our face while going uphill. It all comes back in a flash when I see one of these signs..I swear there were a hundred of them, warning us of the next grade.

We bit it off in 5 km pieces -- John would lead for five, then I would lead for five. One 10 km cycle might take an hour. We were going along the Trans-Canada Highway, a good quality road with ample shoulder, except where the rumble strip that took half of our allotted area and was tough to stay within the boundaries while going uphill in the wind. We went along a section with next to minimal services for 80+ kilometers, so we were loaded with food. One long day we ended up in Barachois Provincial Park, 10 kilometers further than noted on the map, where complications kept us from eating dinner until almost 9 pm. We both agreed it was some of our toughest biking yet.

Somewhere halfway it rained, and we retreated to a hotel to regroup. We checked the weather, and noted the warning for high winds in the Wreckhouse area. We did a search to find where this was, and saw it was the area we were to pass through in the next two days.Wreckhouse winds are a local weather phenomenon at the southwestern tip of Newfoundland, where the Long Range Mountains meet the sea. You can read all about it here. Fortunately for us, the condition passed before we got there. There was little more than a warning sign, a weather station, and a parking area for trucks to pull over and wait out the winds to mark ground zero.

We rounded the last pass through the mountains for our final descent to Channel Port-aux-Basques for the ferry ride that would take us to Nova Scotia.

This ferry is a main artery for shipping goods to Newfoundland. Although the boat was scheduled to leave at 10:30 am, we had to be there no later than 9 am to keep our reservation. They lined all the potential passengers in lanes by vehicle type -- look closely at the photo below for our steeds, first in line in Lane 11. Passengers like us and automobiles could reserve a place, but trucks were first-come-first-serve. The five hour trip cost them $500, and if there was no room they had to sit in their lane and wait for the next boat. If they wanted to reserve a slot, it was $1000 -- no mercy.

We were the first to load, and we road our bikes up the ramp into the ship and looked back on all those still waiting. The ship was well-equipped for passengers. Spacious with different seating areas -- tables with electric outlets, reclining seats in darkened areas for snoozing, seats in an area to view a movie, or a bar with live entertainment. It was like an airplane ride without being cramped.
Newfoundland is a wild place -- with less than 500,000 residents, there is lots of space with few people. Perhaps that is why the people are so kind -- it is the help-thy-neighbor spirit that makes it possible to live in such a challenging place. For a Californian it would be difficult to transplant here -- I could not live on root vegetables alone -- but for someone who was raised here, I sense the pull of the place. We leave it with great respect.
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