Selbyville, Delaware to Newfoundland, Canada
Heading north now and the great adventure truly begins!
As per the usual, you can choose between reading or watching, or both.
After visiting family and friends for three weeks, I found myself thinking I’d need to rush to get from Delaware to Sydney, Nova Scotia in time to catch the ferry to Newfoundland that I had booked several weeks before. And after studying the map and distances, it turned out I was right. I’d need a string of 350 mile-days to do it. This sprinting part is somewhat boring, so I’ll skip the minor details here in favor of the more detailed write up of Newfoundland below. On the way, I stopped over for the night in Binghamton, New York, Montpelier, Vermont, and then Bangor, Maine, camping in the latter.
Skipping the I-95 corridor, I rode through some incredible scenic areas of Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine including the Poconos, and the White and Green Mountains. All simply amazing!! On a friend’s suggestion, I took the Kancamagus Highway, or “Kanc,” from Lincoln to Conway in New Hampshire and it is also spectacular!
In Vermont, I also started to see my first warning signs for moose, which people seemed to talk about everywhere I went. Locals say dawn and dusk are worse as the moose, licking salt from the road, are hard to see and like to follow headlights. I only saw one, though, dead by the side of the road.
The further north I went, the daylight hours increased and the temperature decreased. I had planned to “wait out” the colder temps when I planned my trip, but still had some chilly morning starts in the 30’s, with each day ending in the 60’s.
Camping in Bangor was nice as folks got together in the campground for a bonfire and made Poutine in honor of Canada’s Victoria Day.
Poutine, my first time having it, was delicious, simply French fries with gravy and cheese!! Everyone likes French fries, gravy, and cheese, right? But, when you put them all together – Dayum!!
The ride from Bangor to the Canadian border was desolate and devoid of gas stations. And of course, I did not fill up before leaving Bangor. I coasted into a gas station finally in Calais with zero bars on my fuel gauge, and of course, my spare can was empty because I did not think I’d need it yet!! I told myself never to take off without a full tank of gas again!
This two-hour ride from Bangor to Calais was also the first time I felt really alone and isolated on my trip, both from a physical and social perspective. On this route through Maine, not only was there no one around to talk to, or cars to share the road with, but my better-half, Tracy, who I love and adore, I began to miss immensely. “Alone time” in the helmet, right? Well, we are mad about each other, and I’ve missed seeing her every day. I kept reminding myself that I’d planned my trip to see her about every two months over the year and a half course of my trip, but on that lonely road in the backwoods of Maine, I started to worry that would not be enough. Shaking off those feelings, barely, I composed myself enough for the border crossing into Canada.
Immediately upon entering New Brunswick, I knew I was in a different place. First, everything is in metric, and as the eastern provinces are dual-language, English and French, so, too are the road signs. I enjoyed the math exercises to convert from kmh to mph as I did not switch it over on my bike. Celsius is another matter as the conversion equation is kind of jacked up, haha!
I can’t say much about New Brunswick nor Nova Scotia as I bypassed the more coastal scenic routes in order to cover miles. Making my way into Nova Scotia, I can see them off in the distance, growing every minute, large, no… huge, no… JAYSUS!! GIGANTIC windmill generators. These beasts must be 500 feet tall with blades nearly that long!! Then I see the warning signs, one reading that the crosswind (had to be a crosswind, right?) routinely gusts to over 100KMH, or 60 miles an hour! Well, it was grey, foggy, and drizzly already, so why not throw in some crosswind, too? That day, those windmills were spinning with quite the velocity, and I quickly found out why. HOLY SH*T was that the hardest stretch of hanging-on-for-my-life riding I have ever done. I think I may have wet myself, too, although I couldn’t tell because although it was cold and I was wrapped up like flesh burrito, when I finally got through it, I was drenched!
After pushing hard for four days, I made it into Sydney in time to take a couple of days off the bike and catch up with the blog. I also took care of some logistics, like doing some laundry and picking up supplies, including getting some tie-down straps for the ferry.
At this point while writing this, I am thinking I should do a separate post for Newfoundland, but, no, I’m not… It’ll just have to be a long one. I have a lot to say about my travels through Newfoundland.
The next day, one I’d been looking forward to for months, perhaps even a year, I was off to Newfoundland. The ferry runs from North Sydney, Nova Scotia to Port aux Basques, Newfoundland. At the terminal in Sydney, there are only two motorcycles in the lines of cars, mine and my bike’s twin, two fully loaded GSs, both pointing toward Newfoundland.
This is when I met Stefan, a retired surgeon from Germany, which turned out to be freakin’ righteous in so many ways.
He, too, is doing a TransCan and Panamerican run, but at a slightly different, and somewhat broken, pace. So, we had a lot to chat about right off (and he could speak English, quite well, I might add). The other great thing was I planned to show up in Newfoundland without a plan, really just winging it. Stefan, on the other hand, had put together an amazing plan, and I begged to pair up! So, my original seven-day visit grew to 11 days, which was fine by me if I could cost-share rooms and follow his plan! And his plan turned out to be AWESOME!
I spent the first night on the “Rock” in Port aux Basques in a nice Bed and Breakfast. Here, I had my first introduction to Newfies and was impressed immediately. Very nice, friendly, hard-working, and hardy are the words that sprang to mind. They seemed interested and happy that I’d come this far to visit their island, and perhaps a bit crazy to do so on a motorcycle in May! Turns out the weather in Newfoundland in May is very unpredictable, changing hourly and by the mile. One minute, it is grey, cold, damp, drizzly, and windy, and then the next minute the sun pokes through the clouds, shining warmth through your suit and onto your skin.
Speaking of windy, if you plan to visit Newfoundland, be aware there is a stretch of road on the TransCan just north of Port aux Basques that will actually shut down due to high winds – no traffic is allowed through. It’s due to the mountains acting as a funnel as winds come down from the north. Here, a sign read the max recorded wind speed was recorded at 240kmh! And I’ll bet it was a cross wind, too, haha!
The next day, I headed north along the west coast and felt like I’d stepped onto another planet.
Large granite hills with shear faces gave way to higher tabletop shaped mountains that stretched as far as the eye could see, and the road goes right between them! The Long Range Mountains, as they are called, cover the entire western portion of Newfoundland and are showcased in Gros Morne National Park about halfway up the island. The spectacular scenery made my head spin, taking it all in was a challenge as each new turn another scene would unfold before my eyes better than the last. And I had my first moose sighting, one just ambling along the highway on the shoulder.
I finally rejoined Stefan in the park where we’d planned to camp, but the forecast was calling for below freezing temperatures. Since we’d decided to cost-share rooms, the high prices became tenable so we stayed in a nice hotel in a small village along the shore, in Cow Head, after visiting the lighthouse in Rocky Harbor just before. It was clear we’d beat the tourist season by a couple of weeks as the hotel, although open, was clearly in the final stages of getting ready, with the paint still fresh smelling on the walls.
The next day, we headed to the far north of Newfoundland to a place called St. Anthony’s. A small fishing village completely isolated from the world, it seemed, before a road was built in the 50s.
We took in L’Anse aux Meadows, where the first Europeans were believed to have visited the North American continent over a 1000 years ago.
Again, we were early and the visitor center was closed “officially” but they let us in to get warm, which we needed as the temperature was about 32, which helped explain all of those building-sized white things floating by the harbor – ICEBERGS! Funny thing I learned about L’Anse aux Meadows. It is obviously a mix of French and English, but only so because the British were not too bright on this one. The original name is L’Anse aux Méduse, or Bight of jellyfish. When the Brits took over, they mistook Méduse for Meadows, it is supposed because the peninsula looks like a large meadow of peat. Haha!
We stayed two nights in St. Anthony’s and the next day booked a whale watching tour. AGAIN, we were too early in the season for whales, but we did drive-bys on dozens of icebergs, and saw sea lions and bald eagles. Coming back from the boat was the coldest I’d been yet as it was raining pretty steady and the temps were still hovering around 35F.
Our next destination was Twillingate with a stopover for one night in Deer Lake to get there. Did I mention Newfoundland is pretty damned big! It’s roughly the size of California in square miles! We chose a different route back and hit wildlife jackpot, seeing five moose and three caribou within about 15 minutes. None of them seemed to mind me stopping and taking their pictures. East of Deer Park, the land flattens out dramatically.
Twillingate is a sleepy, touristy village on the northern coast where everyone seemed to know one another. And our small bed and breakfast was filled with people from all over the world. We also saw icebergs here, but they were larger than those we’d seen up north in St. Anthony’s, taller. In Twillingate, there was an accent I had to work hard at to make out, and several expressions for which I simply gave up on. Most folks are descendants of a mix of Irish and British, which explains the accent. Still, just the nicest people!
From Twillingate, we made our way to St. John’s, or as those folks in Twillingate called it, ‘the Big City.” We rode through the low rolling hills of Dildo Provincial Park (yes, that’s how it’s spelled!) and Terra Nova National Park. The scenery again picked up as my head was on a swivel trying to take it all in. Simply amazing riding!
And St. John’s is a big city, a completely modern place compared to the older world living found in most of the rest of Newfoundland, such a contrast! Riding into the city was challenging as we arrived right around rush hour! Rush hour is something we had not seen the last couple of weeks. In St. John’s, we booked a room at the local college. They rent “Summer Accommodations,” which are just empty dorm rooms now that classes are over. Best $27 lodging ever as we had the bathrooms to ourselves as well as great wifi!
We planned two nights, so we had a day to explore. We visited The Rooms, a combination museum, art gallery, and holder of provincial archives, then next door the Basilica of St. John the Baptist.
We tried Signal Hill in the morning, but it was completely fogged in, so we tried later and were rewarded by our persistence.
Afterward we hiked 6 miles or so around Qidi Vidi Village and Lake back to the university.
The next morning, upon leaving we decided to take photos at the very end of the Trans-Canada Highway, which actually starts on Vancouver Island 4800 miles to the west.
Then, we headed to Cape Spear, the eastern most point on the North American continent. Simply breathtaking!
Our next stop heading back west was the small village of Botwood, chosen because it’s halfway across the rock and had an inexpensive hostel.
Turned out to be the best night we had on the island, a great hostel that gave a chance to chat with other folks until late at night about our travels. And the hostel was super clean, with an awesome common area, kitchen, and grocery store right across the street. Met a cool chick from Montreal there and chatted forever.
By the way, we had to head back west to Port aux Basques because the ferry from Argentia (south of St. John’s) back to North Sydney had not started yet! Again, too early!
The last night on the island found us back in Port aux Basques, where, frankly, I was exhausted! Not just from the riding, but from the total immersive experience of a beautiful place and its people.
Before boarding the ferry, we shot over to Rose Orange Village and Lighthouse just east of Port aux Basques, and that turned out to be some of the best riding we’d done on the island, definitely a must see with great twistied there and back!
We spent 11 days on the island and I would do it again in a heartbeat!
Final thoughts on Newfoundland
I think Newfoundland should be on everyone’s list. It is a place of such contrasts west to east, north to south, in climate, scenery, road conditions, but everywhere we went, the people were some of the friendliest I’d ever met. And the scenery is top-tier and ever better on two wheels where you can smell the evergreens and wet pavement going by. Moose and caribou are everywhere if you luck a chance to see them, and icebergs!! Wow! The roads are something to watch for, though, as even the main roads have potholes, with the secondary roads even worse. We encountered dirt and gravel a few times and that was only when we left the beaten track to explore the smaller villages.
Another interesting feature of almost all of the roads is a center washboard and two ruts where the cagers drive. So, you can vibrate yourself half to death in the middle or let the ruts jangle your front tire all over the place at 65MPH.
The last thing I’ll mention is the weather. We came a bit early, so most have told us, but beating the tourist season meant no crowds or heavy traffic. But, it also meant we had the most unpredictable and quickly changing weather I’d ever experienced. Although it never got below freezing, we did see some snow in St. Anthony’s, and I felt cold most of the time there. Hour by hour, and mile by mile, you just never know what to expect.
Oh, one more thing. I had planned my trip from the start to be solo. But, meeting Stefan on that pier in Sydney has changed my thinking on this. It’s good, not just from a security and financial standpoint, but having someone to chat with about the day is pretty cool, and Stefan and I got along great! I look forward to when our paths cross again down the road in California or wherever.
My recommendation: Do it!!
- Because Newfoundland is quite expensive to travel through, I recommend ditching the restaurants and instead go grocery shopping and make your own meals, which can save you quite a bit of money.
- I had never slept in a university dorm room nor a hostel – good accommodations for about $30USD.For now, they are my two favorite places to stay after camping. For both, I found them on booking.com.
- Laundry. I’ve had no problem getting laundry done. I had a hotel do my laundry once with all the bedding they were washing, an AirBnB hostess let me throw in a load with hers, and then hung it all out to dry on the line, and then I managed it at a hostel for a loonie (Canadian dollar, or about 80 cents U. S. No problems, just ask.