Weather and Legs permitting, Newfoundland is a great place for days rides to bicycle touring. And if you like mountain bikes but are kind to the trails and back roads, it is phenomenal. Here are a few rides that I have done or would like to do. Personally I like day rides, but I have done a three day ride around the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia. For today I’m going to concentrate on rides near and around home (St. John’s, Newfoundland).
St. John’s and vicinity has a number of definite advantages for riders. First, there are enough hills around to really get your legs in shape. Second, there is usually enough of a breeze to keep you cool under almost all conditions. Third, there is the scenery. Fourth, there is the natural beauty. Fifth, there are spectacular vistas, Sixth, …
Let’s start with some short training rides that I have always liked.
Kilbride to Cabot Tower (10.6 km one way)
The last 2 km are by far the hardest. This is a ride for you after about your first week riding. The first 8 km are flat or descending, and it is a pleasant warmup to Signal Hill. This is a 500 foot climb over a horizontal distance of about 1.4 to 1.8 km, starting from either Water Street at the Hill of Chips, or Water Street at Temperance Lane. It is an act of willpower, but when you get to the top you feel really transendant, and any other cycling is a breeze (except Cape Spear).
Bay Bulls and Back (24 km one way)
This is my first two hour ride each summer. It is not hilly, except through parts of the Goulds and the drop into Bay Bulls itself. I always take a brake at the convenience store halfway up the hill south of Bay Bulls, both because I can start the return flying downhill, and because of the view of the Bay.
Cape Spear and Back ( 28 km round trip starting at the South Side Road)
This is the one that tests your will power and stamina. You start at the base of Blackhead Road and climb about 400 feet to Shea Heights (aptly named). This is a grind and takes the energy out of you legs. Then comes the good part. You gradually climb out of the village and then there is this very steep hill about 50-80 feet high. I’m usually in first on this one and my knees are complaining. But after climbing this you have conquered the South Side Hills, and there are only two more hills to climb. The second is relatively easy, and the third is a little steeper but short. When you get there, most of North America is behind you.
On the way back, the first hill is steepest (but not as bad as Shea Heights), the second is easy and the third is moderate but a longer push. When you get back to the top above Shea Heights, you have a great view of the city, and you can go as fast as the right angle and u-turns will allow.
Some people would rather go out to the Goulds, cut down to Petty Harbour and back to Blackhead Road rather than attempt the South Side Hills. But they return along Blackhead Road and go down though Shea Heights. From the start to Cape Spear along the alternat route is 29 km, and the total round trip is 43 km.
The only hill climb that challenges me more than the first climb on this ride is the ride up Leslie street after finishing the Cape Spear ride.
Windsor Lake Loop (25.5 km starting and ending at the University)
Don’t use this during heavy traffic times. A weekend morning, or maybe after the evening rush. This is part of the old triathlete route, and had a steady but gentle climb, a longer flat section, and a fun descent at the end. It usually took about an hour, and was a good constitutional.With the new construction it might be a bit hairy these days.I usually start at the Education Building at MUN. Head west on the Parkway, hang a right on Thorburn Road, climb until you get to thr Bennett Road turnoff just before Sunshine Park, cut across the Old Broad Cove Road, hamg another right onto Portugal Cove Road, head back along the lakeside, turn right at Newfoundland Drive, then Higgens Line, then Allandale Road, then right on the Parkway, then back to the Education building. Watch the traffic on the Prince Philip Parkway and on Portugal Cove Road between the Airport and Newfoundland Drive. Otherwise it isn’t bad.
Kilbride and the Marine Drive (54 km round trip)
This is a long joyride, with some ups and downs and some nice scenery. The version here is what I used to do on a quiet Sunday, after I’d been riding a while. Because of the hills, I’d often take up to three hours. But the scenery and the good riding was worth it!
Start in Kilbride, ride to downtown, along Harbour Drive, up Signal Hill, around Quidi Vidi, out Lody Bay Road, start the Marine Drive, always scoot down into Logy Bay to have a gawk, though Outer and Middle Coves to Torbay, back along Torbay Road to MacDonald Drive, then across to the Parkway and the Cross-town Arterial, then back home through Kilbride, with a possible diversion through Bowring Park and out Brookfield Road to Pearltown Road, then home.
My Ride From Hell (including the appropriately named Witless Bay Line, 84 km)
For this ride I had decided to scoot down to Bay Bulls and back. When I made it to Bay Bulls, conditions were warm but overcast. Usually I stop for a snack, but I continued for a little bit. Then I saw the Witless Bay Line turnoff. This road is infamous for desolation, and a cousin of mine was killed one winter there while hunting. There are only a couple of cabins for the entire 21 km of the road, the terrain is a combination of flat barrenlands with a little tuckamore, and it is lined up with the prevailing westerly winds.
Anyway, I started to ride along it. Then some showers started, the wind changed to a headwind, and the temperature dropped. I was wearing cycling shorts, a cotton shirt, and had a bottle of water and my wallet. I was getting cold fast but decided to try for a little longer and hoped for a convenience store or a gas station to resupply and warm up a little. I’d been cycling steadily for over an hour when I got onto the Line, and my legs were a little tired. I thought if I kept up a steady pace, it would keep me warm, like on my shorter rides.
After about 10 km I was really starting to lose energy, and I was really slowing down. I had trouble with even shallow hills. After an hour on the road 2 cars had passed, both in the first five minutes of my time on the Line. The only thing I could think of was to keep a steady pace, put my head down, and continue; if I stopped I thought hypothermia might set in. Every time I topped a rise there was the hope for a store, but the best I saw where one or two cabins with no cars beside them.
After an hour and twenty minutes on the road there were still no signs of civilisation, and I was wondering where the Trans-Canada had gone. Then I topped a rise and about 1-2 km ahead was the intersection, and there was a gas station that I had eaten at as a child. But it was abandoned.
So the situation was this. I was in the middle of barrenlands, and 37 km from home. However, I would be heading home with a tailwind, and somewhere between Butterpot Park and the Manuals Access there should be a gas station.
Here was the strange thing. When I started cycling along the highway, the drizzly rain had been over for about 15 minutes. I was moving almost as fast as the breeze, and I started warming up. Then I started feeling stronger, and about halfway back the temperature started rising and a few holes broke out in the clouds. My shirt was almost dry, and the shivering stopped. There were more hills than on the Witless Bay Line, but I didn’t mind them. I made it home safely and didn’t feel that bad, especially when I changed to warm clothes and ate a bit.
My guess is that I had mild hypothermia in the classic situation that catches so many outdoorsmen. Temperatures were well above zero, but they get damp and the cool breeze and evaporation accelerates heat loss. The trick is to keep going while husbanding your resources until you can dry off and warm up.
While nothing serious happened, if conditions had been worse, or if I had been in an accident in the middle of nowhere, …The fact that my cousin Brian had died of exposure in the same place made me pause and think about this. I haven’t cycled that road since then.
Anyway, if you get in trouble on the Witless Bay Line, there were no gas stations and no convenience stores there the last time I looked.