Burgeo once had a population of 2000 and a thriving fishing industry, but today has only half that number, and its main purpose seems to be to connect the ferry with the TransCanada Highway.
We landed not looking forward to the prospect of riding the Barrens in worsening weather. Highway 480 was the main road through town. We decided to stop at Sharon’s Diner, which looked like the last restaurant, to bulk up on hot food for the trip. Sharon herself waited on us. As we ate our fish and chips, we asked about how we might get a ride to the T.C.H.
“I’ll call my son,” she said. “He knows everything.”
Less than an hour later, our bikes were in the back of a one-ton delivery truck, Cheryl was riding with the driver, and I was following in a rental car. It turns out that Sharon’s son had just repaired the truck for a business in Stephenville, and needed to deliver it. Having someone drive the chase car so his man could return to Burgeo was a perfect arrangement. We paid the driver, who promptly drove off to the grocery store to make a run for his mates back at the garage in Burgeo. We mounted our bikes, and went in search of the Dreamcatcher Lodge, which he recommended.
Stephenville was well south of the point where Highway 480 intersected the T.C.H. Cheryl wanted to visit the Gros Morne National Park before we left the island. The pictures were amazing, especially of the Western Reserve Brook Pond. We finally decided to rent a car, leave our bikes and come back to them. It was 1700 Friday afternoon when we started calling around – only to find out that the car rental agencies had all closed for the weekend. We finally got through to the Enterprise Rent-a-car in Corner Brook and made a reservation for the next morning, after reserving a taxi service that could send a van to haul us and the bikes to Corner Brook.
It started raining as we rode the taxi to Corner Brook the next day. Under cover of the parking deck at the Valley Mall, I locked the bicycles to a secluded bike rack while Cheryl went in to rent the car. Soon, we were speeding up the T.C.H. to the Gros Morne National Park.
The weather continued to worsen, becoming cold and windy, but not very rainy. By the time we reached the parking area for the Western Reserve Brook Pond, the wind was howling at 20 knots or more from the southwest. We had to walk 3 km across the wetlands to reach the Pond, where the tour boats were. At times, Cheryl and I were leaning hard into the wind. I held her tightly by the arm, because she was light enough to be blown off the boardwalk.
We reached the tour station to find it crowded with nervous-looking tourists. After I bought our tickets, the operator announced that conditions were so rough on the Pond, that they recommended that persons prone to sea sickness not go on the tour. We bravely boarded the boat and stayed inside while the craft backed out and headed for the pass. The wind reached gale force. Only a few could stand up and brave the weather outside to take pictures. I took Cheryl’s camera out for her, and also shot some pictures with my phone.
After 45 minutes into the 90-minute tour, the captain decided that it was too dangerous, and returned to the pier. We were given a full refund which made the entire adventure free of charge.
We leaned even harder into the wind walking back. The rain picked up just as we made it back to the car. We ate lunch in the parking lot, feeling the wind buffeting the car.
I was impressed and grateful for Cheryl’s skill driving the car through the storm, as we headed to Rocky Harbor to look for shelter for the night. We settled into the Gros Morne Cabins, which were solidly built, wooden cabins with bedrooms, living area and kitchen. The owner’s family owned the general store and the restaurant across the street, which made everything close and convenient.
The diner across the street proved the adage about not judging a book by its cover. Formica tables and painful neon lighting did not prepare us for excellent cuisine and service. Only the prices matched the diner paradigm. I had a pie made from moose meat, for which the restaurant was famous, and which I had to try, being in Newfoundland. It reminded me of other gamy meats: lean and tasty.
We spent the night watching and listening to the storm batter the harbor and the coast. It was hard to believe that it could get any worse.
But that storm was only a local gale, common enough at this time of the year.The next day was relatively calm and partly sunny. We drove to Norris Point, toured the southern part of the Park, and had lunch in Woody Point off Bonne Bay.
A quick visit to the Visitor Center at Park Headquarters, and we were on our way to Corner Brook. It was dark when we found the Garden Inn and settled into the charming B&B in a quiet neighborhood.
The next day, 22 September, we drove down to the Valley Mall and turned in the car before the deadline.
By then we could feel the tropical system coming. We huddled in Tim Horton’s outside the Mall for a while, then decided to push our bikes to the bus stop outside town. The bus did not arrive until 1800 that night, but we had nothing else to do in Corner Brook. We stopped at Cycle Solutions (http://www.cyclesolutions.ca/) on West Street, a fine bicycle shop in the best tradition. We were able to get out of the rain, and pump up our tires.
I found a replacement windstopper cap to replace one I lost in Stephenville, more Ex-Officio underwear, some long-fingered gloves for the cold weather, and, best of all, the Shimano cycling shoes that I had been looking for. I was delighted to be leaving my heavy old MTB shoes behind.
Struggling against the crosswind, we pushed our bikes up West Valley Road to the edge of town. It took us three hours to cover the 4 km from Valley Mall to the bus stop in a gas station near the T.C.H., with water above our ankles flowing down the street at times.
We arrived in the early afternoon, with almost six hours to wait for the bus. I quizzed every pickup driver stopping for gas if they were going south, but all of them were local, or heading the other way. We were cold and wet, and it was taking forever to dry out, even though we surreptitiously had turned up the heat in the waiting room.
It was already turning dark by the time we boarded the bus in the storm. We already knew that the ferries had been cancelled the night before, so there was no assurance that we would sail that night, even we made it to Port-aux-Basques.
The storm blew its worst for the next three hours, my admiration for the skill of our driver being matched by my wonder at the storm. Semi-trailers trucks had gone off the highway already, but we kept the road safely. Traffic was extremely light. By 2100, when we rolled our bikes into the ferry terminal, the rain was lessening and the wind abating. The terminal and parking lot were filled with cars, trucks and families who had been stranded for two days by the ferry cancellations. Fortunately, bicycles don’t count in the load calculations, so when the decision to sail was made, we were among the first on board.
The ferry was the M/V Blue Puttees, which we had seen in North Sydney two weeks earlier, lying alongside Atlantic Vision. She was a solid ship, and we felt almost no motion as she pushed into the gale. I was surprised at this, and asked the crew if the storm had abated that much.
“No,” the purser said, “it’s still blowing 40 knots out there, but it’s dead ahead.” The ship with its heavy load was just slogging through the waves in a straight line, so there was no rolling.
We dozed in the recliner chairs and looked forward to the sight of Nova Scotia in the morning. We had encountered incredible courtesy and generosity in Newfoundland, a beautiful land we would never forget.