sloths go west

Thursday, 28 June 2018

the Viking trail

real date: 15th August 2017

Everyone knows that Christopher Colombus discovered America, don't they?  That's why they celebrate Colombus Day in the U.S., right?  Except Colombus never reached north America, let alone 'discovered' it.  As all good historians know, the man now given credit where credit is due is Leif Eriksson, an Icelander who came to explore west of Greenland in the early 11th century.  It's believed he landed with his men somewhere around the St. Lawrence gulf and as a Viking settlement has been identified at the northern tip of Newfoundland, this has UNESCO world heritage status as a possible first European settlement. The Vikings called the area Vinland because they found grapes growing here.  Can you imagine that?  

We can't as we pedal southwards along the western coast of the northern peninsula.  We go from fishing village to fishing village.  Lots of crab pots and lobster pots are stacked up on the shoreline.  In a small shop we tell the shopkeeper that we're cycling to St. John's, the provincial capital on the east coast.  "That be quite a ride, that be" she coos in understatement.  There's a definite hint of Irish accent in the voices of the Newfoundlanders we meet.  It seems to have prevailed across the years since Irish, Scots and English settled here to fish.  On our second day it rains.  We take a long lunch in a visitor centre and then push on, finally stopping for a cheeky camp in a village on some land cleared for building.  Continuing southwards the next day we have glorious sunshine and inglorious headwinds that sometimes kill us dead in our tracks.  It's exhausting but we just have to plod on.  In the distance we can see the mountains of the Gros Morne National Park rising up from the coast.  The tops are flat and the sides are steep. 

looking out on the St. Lawrence Seaway and back across to Quebec
 We want to stop and camp but have run out of water.  We turn off into the village of Portland Creek to fill up, only to be told by the dour shopkeeper that the village has no water but she can sell us some bottled. She points to a collection of small plastic bottles.  I wonder how many we'd need to fill our big bottles and the Ortlieb water carrier we also use each evening.  So here we are - up Portland Creek without a paddle.  Down the road we cross a stream but there's a very bad smell around.  Blood stains on the road indicate some sort of roadkill incident and we assume the carcass is not far off.  Happily, there's another stream further along, so we fill up there and filter it just to be safe.  Our campsite this evening is in a field full of wild flowers behind a hedge of trees.  It's perfect.

The Gros Morne national park is on our left as we continue along the coast.  Passing through Cow Head village we're chased by a silent rottweiler who starts lolloping after us along the road.  A neighbour calls him away from us and it takes me a good hour to get the adrenaline out of my system.  I'm scared of dogs but I'm really scared of big dogs that don't bark.  They cannot have friendly intentions, can they?  

We stop at one of the access points to the park and Gayle goes for a long walk to take photos while I sit with the bikes in an over-flowing carpark and read.  There's a non-stop trail of visitors walking in or out of the park, along a boardwalk over the boggy approaches to reach the shore of the rather dramatic Western Pond.  There you can take a boat tour of the lake which reaches into the surrounding mountains.  It looks like a thriving business.  Only four people look like they are kitted up for an overnight stay in the park and I reflect on how the visitors seem to 'consume' the park's attractions.  It reminds me of Windermere in the English Lake District and it amuses and depresses me in equal measure.  But hey, the sun is shining and not everyone wants to rough it out in the woods. 

That night we camp just below the road in a thicket of bushes that just about gives us cover from the road above.  We play hide and seek with passing cars when we need to move about the tent.  That's the only problem with light nights these days.

In the morning we find one of the park campsites to get water.  The campsite is perched on a clifftop and has basic facilities.  And it's busy.  People are arriving to camp early in order to grab a good spot when others set off.  It's nice to chat with other people but we're not tempted to stay.  Instead we continue to a village where we just about manage to stock up.  And as it's now raining we opt for a restaurant burger 'n' chips lunch.  In the afternoon we reach the main visitor centre for Gros Morne National Park.  It's busy with staff and visitors.  It seems that people planning on backpacking into the park get a briefing from staff first.  We just want to get some shelter from the rain, get online and maybe get a bit of laundry done.   At closing time we are cooking our dinner in the carpark and wondering where to camp.  Thankfully there are a series of trails cut into the forest leading to cross-country ski-routes for the winter.  We want to get away from the carpark for an undisturbed night so we head along the tracks and camp on hard ground surrounded by dark thick forest.  The sky is dark and threatening.  It all seems a little bit spooky.

It rains most of the night.  

At first light we return to the carpark where a few overnighting cars are parked.  There are also two other cyclists.  Their stuff is spread out in the carpark.  The two young men are from Montreal and when they turned up last night they chose a spot we had also looked at - a nice bit of grass behind a hedge.  What they hadn't realised was that the whole carpark drained into the grass.  At some point in the night they were flooded out and now they're trying to dry off.  They're very cheerful and cool guys and we do the usual exchange of stories - where we've been and where we're going.  Considering their crap night they laugh a lot.  Clearly they are quite mad.  We are sorry to say goodbye - it's been a while since we've met any cycle tourists.