Last summer, I got to take a long-distance ride with my friends. Normally, I go solo on longer trips, because everyone else is working. Everything worked out for a group ride in 2021, but after a couple of days on the road I was wondering: Were they going to start accusing me of false advertising?
There were four of us, crowded around Matt’s kitchen table, maps and checklists and laptops spread everywhere. It was early spring. We were planning our getaway from COVID. If the inter-provincial borders opened enough, we’d pack the bikes and ride from Saint John, New Brunswick to St. Johns, Newfoundland. I’d ridden Newfoundland before, but the other guys hadn’t. They all liked the sound of the adventure, although Scott wasn’t sure about the ferry ride, and Glen wasn’t sure he could get the necessary time off work.
It’ll be great, I told them. Big sky scenery you can’t see anywhere else on the east coast, friendly people. Some surprisingly good motorcycle roads. Don’t worry about the ferry.
A few months later, Glen had the time off work, Scott had a bottle of Gravol, and we were sailing from Cape Breton to Newfoundland.
Rain poured down in the Port Aux Basques parking lot, trickling through the edges of our riding gear as we waited for the nice lady with the clipboard to check our paperwork. Even though we’d had to show that same paperwork to board the ferry in Cape Breton, and I had observed no mid-Strait stop to pick up other passengers, it seemed the Newfoundland government was taking no chances. The irate Newfie in the next lane over rolled his window down, and complained about the restrictions. At least he was warm and dry, in his truck.
About an hour later, Matt (on his Suzuki V-Strom 1000), Glen (on his BMW R1100 GS), Scott (on his Yamaha Tenere 700) and myself (on a borrowed KTM 390 Adventure) were rolling inland.
The great thing about riding in Newfoundland is, the scenery is fantastic as soon as you get off the ferry, as you ride through massive rocks tipped with spruce trees The not-so-great thing about riding in Newfoundland is, the oft-foul weather means you don’t always get a good look at all that scenery. Since we were the last vehicles to leave the parking lot, we ended up having to pass every single vehicle that was on that ferry, riding fast in dirty conditions, low-laying clouds scudding overhead. Eventually, it was supper o’clock, and we pulled off at the Irving restaurant in Crabbes River—we all needed a hot meal and a break.
The waitress rolled her eyes and waved her hands as soon as we walked in and started peeling off our gear. Still, we all got a good supper out of it—except Glen. The waitress refused to take an order for eggs, which was the only thing he could safely eat off the menu, due to allergies. So much for that famous Newfoundland hospitality.
From there, we had another hour’s ride or so—the other guys split off into Stephenville for the night, and I kept on motoring to Corner Brook, where I had long-lost family to catch up with.
The next day started with a ride towards the corner of Gros Morne National Park. I wanted to show the guys the Tablelands, one of the most striking visual landscapes in Newfoundland. The bad weather was still hanging around, but at least the road got better, once we hit the turn-off for Trout River. With low tourist traffic, Route 431 was probably as clear as it’d ever be, and we got a chance to wear just the tiniest bit off our sidewalls.
Arriving in Woody Point, the weather was still foul—time for lunch, wait for the skies to clear, right? Turns out the wait staff at this food stop was almost as uninterested in their job as the waitress the night before. What’s wrong, has COVID made all the friendly people crabby?
No worries, at least the skies were clearing as we saddled up—and those dark black clouds rolled right back in within seconds, basically as soon as we fired up our engines. The ride to Trout River through Tablelands was a bust as far as scenery, but we still had something to talk about. The fog was as thick as tar, and once you added in rain, this was just about the most rotten, soggy weather we’d ever ridden through.
We turned around, pointed towards Deer Lake, and I was starting to wonder: I’d talked up the island’s hospitality, and that wasn’t really working out. We hadn’t really been able to enjoy the scenery, either. Was the trip going to be a bust?
The weather changed as we headed inland around Deer Lake, and pointed the bikes down Route 420, towards Jackson’s Arm. The hope was, we’d get into some twisties in the foothills of the Long Range Mountains, and that we’d find a campsite in an outport somewhere, preferably on a beach.
The road wasn’t exactly thrilling at first. Like most of the feeder roads that branch from the Trans-Canada towards remote outports, the builders laid out the track as straight as possible, and it was all the worse because we could see the Long Range Mountains in the distance to our left, rising out of a spruce bog wilderness, promising better views and riding. But as we drew closer to the coast, we got into hilly curves, and suddenly, we were riding through tiny outports. Life was good. No, it was great—this was what we came here for.
The road ran out in Jackson’s Arm. Not long ago, you could catch a ferry here, taking you to the truly remote outport of Harbour Deep. It seems that service is discontinued, with people of Harbour Deep being re-settled elsewhere in the province. In fact, it seemed most services in this area were discontinued; the gas station was dilapidated (perhaps it was open at restricted hours?) and the campground also seemed shut-down.
What to do? The sun was setting, and we needed to set up our tents. Where the road ran out, we found what appeared to be a sort of fenced-off municipal park. Scott and Matt pitched their tents, I hung my hammock … and Glen opened his bike’s bags to discover he’d left his tent home, a thousand kilometres away in New Brunswick.
How very CMG of him! Matt and Scott both had room to spare in their tents and offered it to him, but Glen resolved to stick it out under a picnic table, after throwing a tarp overhead. Good thing it was so cold that the bugs had all disappeared … maybe. There was some communal concern that Glen would instead end up with frostbite, only to be finished off by the fox that was scuttling around the campground, no doubt expecting a handout of food.
Sorry, Mister Fox, we were too busy stuffing our own faces. Cans of beans, a pack of sausages, and whatever else we could cook up on the driftwood bonfire, and it all tasted great, with the waves lapping all around the cove and a sky filled with stars. With the clouds gone, the night was clear and cold, and we were starved from a long day’s ride. Lunch in rainy Woody Point had been a lifetime ago, and now that the weather looked promising we were once again stoked at the idea of yet another full day of riding ahead, with the middle-of-nowhere outpost of Harbour Breton as our destination.