Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Scrubdown!

I just finished cleaning my bike, using the handy new bike repair stand I bought as soon as I came back from my Newfoundland trip. The stand makes it much easier to clean and adjust the bike; it was $100 well spent.

Using degreaser, a cassette scraper, brushes, and old socks, I was able to degrease the chainwheels, cassette, and chain down to their pristine silver sheen. I cleaned the wheels, buffed up the frame, lubed all the moving parts and cables, and voila! My bike shines once again.

I still have to put on the fenders and racks, which parts will need to be cleaned beforehand as well. By then, the replacement middle chainring to replace the one I mysteriously bent should have arrived, together with the replacement for the spoke protector I broke when my bungee cord got tangled up in the cassette. After I take the bike in to the shop to get these repairs done, I will be riding once again like the wind.

Bikes not Bombs gentrified out of a home

Bikes not Bombs is looking for a new location.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Back in Boston

Alas, Newfoundland is but a memory and a collection of pixels now. I'm settling down into the familiar routines of the everyday, but will spend some of my free time over the next few weeks completing my trip journal on this blog and organizing my pictures. Check back often!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Rain, screech, and Vikings!

We have just entered St. Anthony, on the north end of the Northern Peninsula. We spent the last two days in the L'Anse aux Meadows area, site of the first authenticated Viking settlement in 1000 C.E. We toured the actual settlement location (a UNESCO World Heritage site), walking on the turf which has been placed on top of the archeological dig when exploration ceased in the late 1970s, and visiting some of the recreated structures on display there. We also went to Norstead, a completely fake Norse settlement that aims to capture, complete with play actors (who, alas, speak English), how the Norse may have lived at the time. It was all good fun and informative. Vikings rule! They made the cold, wet journey on the North Atlantic from Norway through Greenland in small wooden ships, never losing sight of shore, trying to settle new lands.

We've been having a cold, wet journey of our own, as the weather this week has been rainy and cool. This made for less-than-comfortable biking, and we've been staying in B&Bs the past three nights just so we wouldn't have to deal with the frigid, windy rain that's here at the moment. Much as I enjoy camping, a warm mattress and a full meal are welcome comforts!

Last night, we became honorary Newfoundlanders (with certificates and everything!) when we were "screeched in." This is a tradition that involves drinking a shot of screech (a form of rum) and kissing a cod (literally). We did this at The Norseman Restaurant in the town of L'Anse aux Meadows as part of the dinner theater (silly skits, local stories, and folk music) they put on several times a week. The food there was awesome, by the way, among the best we've had here.

Today we intend to explore the legacy of Dr. Grenfell, a missionary who settled in St. Anthony and helped the locals become more self-sufficient. Tomorrow we take the bus south to Port aux Basques, where we'll just do a day bike trip before catching the ferry to Nova Scotia. Our Newfoundland adventure is coming to an end! Luckily, I'll have a chance to ramp down from vacation mode over the several days it will take me to organize my notes and pictures and complete my blog.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Rocks, fog, and moose

We just finished having our second breakfast at Cow Head, after camping overnight at Shallow Bay. The terrain is now flat, and we seem to have a tailwind. We are aiming for Port au Choix tonight, if everything works out.

The weather is bright and sunny once again (some scattered clouds) after two days with intermittent rains. We can't complain, though: overall, the weather has been excellent on this trip! Recent highlights include a tour of the Tablelands, a geologist's paradise whose roots hark back to the genesis of Pangea; a hike halfway up Gros Morne Mountain before the rains came; a moose sighting on the road, just ten feet away from me; and a cold boat cruise of misty Western Brook Pond, an ultraoligotrophic pond with what used to be fjords (no longer saltwater, though...)

Monday, August 15, 2005

On the West Coast

We're in Deer Lake right now. We took the ten-hour DRL bus from St. John's yesterday; happily, we had no problem getting our bikes on board in spite of the conflicting reports we had heard (wrap your bikes, box your bikes, they're out of business, they don't take bikes). We wound up getting up gawd-awful early (5am) after a lateish excellent meal (11:30pm) just so we could pack, bike to the Memorial University bus stop, and then take our wheels off and wrap our bikes in plastic sacks. The trip was made more tedious by our forgetting our reading materials, deck of cards, chess set, and MP3 player in our bags under the bus, so we had to distract ourselves by looking out the window into the foggy morning and watching (it pains me to admit this) the Olsen twins in some lame movie about a reality TV show, "The Adventures of Stitch and Lilo", and the modern version of "Freaky Friday." Blech.

The campground last night was surprisingly empty, and we chatted with Chris and Susan from Ontario, who are cycling in Newfoundland for a week. We wound up not getting the early start we intended today, so we just had a warm breakfast at a gas station, and we're getting ready to climb some big hills into Gros Morne. We'll get to Trout River tonight or tomorrow. Woo hoo!

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Falling off the edge of the continent

La Manche Provincial Park to St. John's by way of Cape Spear

After walking our bikes up the arduous slope from our campsite to the main road, we pedalled past the steep hills at Tors Cove and Witless Bay (where we stopped for our second breakfast, the first time this trip this hasn't turned into lunch) into St. John's. We took a detour toward Cape Spear, the most easternly point in North America. This is where many of the bikers on trans-Canada trips begun in British Columbia end their trek. It must be an extremely emotional moment for them; I know it was for me, and I've only been on this trip for a few days!

The hills getting to Cape Spear are very steep, and the strong winds blowing out to sea made steering the bike somewhat challenging. Make it we did, though, and saw the old lighthouse, took the obligatory picture on the eastern tip of the continent, and watched the drama of gannets dive bombing for fish as a whale puffed away in the distance. We spied St. John's in the distance, in a small-necked harbor ("The Narrows"), and set out in that direction.

After struggling up and down the hills away from Cape Spear, we started the long, scary descent we'd heard so much about into the city. It's a series of steep inclines, with a sharp hairpin turn under the highway right before one lands at Water St., one of the main avenues. In truth, the descent was nowhere near as terrifying as the anticipation-- still, I was glad to have good brake pads. With help from some folks at a convenience store, we located our hostel--- and had to pedal up a series of hills (which would quite hold their own in San Francisco or Seattle!) to get there.

The hostel is more of a rooming house. The people who run it are certainly nice, but we were laughing at the "suite with a view and a futon" that we got: we're in the attic room, on a futon mattress on the sloping floor (the whole house has settled) overlooking, past the roofs of other houses reminiscent of East Boston, the industrial port in the harbor. Still, though, it's conveniently located and quite luxurious after several nights of camping in the wild.

Distance: 49.02 mi
Pedal time: 4:53:25
Ave. speed: 10.69 mi/hr
Max speed: 37.8 mi/hr
(back-dated entry)

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Of storms and puffins

La Manche Provincial Park, La Manche Village, Bauline East

Today, our butts did not meet the saddles. After getting up at camp and having REI freeze-dried meals for breakfast, we hiked out to La Manche Village, a small, isolated settlement destroyed in 1966 by a fierce storm that swept away the houses perched on the rock overlooking the ocean). The views were, once again, spectacular, but it's hard to imagine what life must have been like for the villagers, connected to the outside world apparently by only narrow mountain-side trails.

Our hike then took us to the town of Bauline East, where we had a late lunch and then signed up for Colbert's Puffin & Whale Tours. The ship took us around an island, a huge rock whose rock strata were plainly evident, and on which many puffins nested in a manner reminiscent of Cape St. Mary's. Most fascinating was watching the adorable puffins floating and flying on the water. They are not the most gracious fliers: they flap their short little wings furiously, like a wind-up toy, as they follow their stout colored beaks in search of food. The youngest (or was it most stuffed) of these penguin doppelgangers had a hard time gaining altitude; quite often they would simply skim the surface of the water before giving up and diving under as they tried desperately to escape the pursuing seagulls.

After returning to camp, I once again marveled at the night sky. I was amazed by what a difference even a pair of binoculars makes. I think perhaps there may be an amateur telescope in my future. For now, though, we keep looking for a travel-size star chart we can consult during the next few weeks at camp.

No biking today
(back-dated entry)

Shooting stars, hiking, and puffins

We're here at Bauline East finishing up a light lunch before we embark on a boat tour to see puffins and whales. Today is a bike rest day; we just hiked up to this town from La Manche Provincial Park. We were able to get a sweet camping spot there, and last night I saw the sky mottled with stars as I never have before. It was humbling.

We'll probably head over to St. John's tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Awed by Newfoundland

I'm here at the Irish Loop Coffee House in Witless Bay, Newfoundland, on a slow dial-up Internet connection. It's been hard to get Internet or cell phone access--- and Newfoundland is keeping us quite busy.

In the few days we've been here we've encountered fog and rain and steep hills(our first day coming in from the ferry), sunshine and flat bogs (since then, mostly), and native hospitality (a family invited us in for breakfast at Branch). Breathtaking views everywhere! We've been to Cape St. Mary's, a bird sanctuary on the cliffs where migratory birds nest; truly a memorable site. The towns that appear on the map are often no more than a few houses; we count ourselves lucky if there are convenience stores or restaurants.

Right now we've finished cutting across to the Eastern side of the Avalon Peninsula. We plan to camp at La Manche Provincial Park for a couple of nights, before heading north to St. John's, which promises to be the big city around here where we should be able to tune our bikes, do some laundry, and maybe blog a bit more.

More updates to follow when we get more, faster Internet access (St. John's, I would think.)

Sunday, August 07, 2005

The Birds

St. Mary's Ecological Reserve

The biking from St. Bride's to Cape St. Mary's was mostly flat, a long stretch of road through a tundra mottled with squat trees and bog, the mountains in the background. Upon arriving at the visitor's center we looked out from the observation deck, and there they were, a white sea of birds on the cliff about a mile away.

After we walked through the exhibits, trying to memorize the distinctive markings of each bird, we embarked on the trail to the cliff's edge. What an experience! Everything quiet and picturesque until we turned the final corner, and then the shrill cacophony of birds accompanied by the smell of guano and fish. We were standing on the edge of a 100m-long cliff, just a few feet away from the Bird Rock where black-legged kittiwakes, cormorants, gulls, thick-billed murres, common murres, razor-billed auks, northern gannets, and black guillemots nested. Most visible were the gannets on the top of the rock, and we could see through the binoculars the parents caring for their young, which had at this point grown quite large but still had their newborn down.

We returned to the main road and had a late lunch at the RV park/restaurant there. We fetched our gear from the hotel at St. Bride's and returned to set up camp at the RV park. Not a lot of net distance covered, but the time spent looking at birds was well worth it.

Distance:27.21 mi
Pedal time:2:32:35
Average speed:11.24 mi/hr
Maximum speed:30.7 mi/hr

(back-dated entry)

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Hills, rain, and fog

Argentia to St. Bride's

So it begins: we set foot on Newfoundland today. We arrived disembarked the ferry at Argentia, said good-bye to our traveling companions, and took off. People kept talking about the big hill leaving the ferry terminal, but that wasn't so bad. What was bad were practically all the hills that followed. The road from Argentia to St. Bride goes from one cove to another, so it's up and down over and over. Both Knox and I had to push our bikes up a few of those hills.

To make matters worse, the weather did not cooperate: it was foggy all day, particularly on the hills. There's nothing like laboring uphill into a fog bank, not being able to see five feet in front of you, and then careening downhill equally blind. Moreover, what started out as a light mist, calling for my light jacket, turned into heavy rain at times. We were both soaked.

Less than ideal conditions for biking, to be sure, but they made for an even more dramatic view from the road. Not even a full day here and already we're in love with Newfoundland!

We stopped for breakfast in Placentia, a lovely little town with a boardwalk and a drawbridge, and decided to spend the night in St. Bride's in an efficiency unit at the Capeway Motel, an impeccably clean little establishment.

Distance:27.21 mi
Pedal time:2:32:35
Average speed:11.24 mi/hr
Maximum speed:30.7 mi/hr
(back-dated entry)

Friday, August 05, 2005

A half-hour of difference

North Sydney, Nova Scotia to Argentia, Newfoundland

Our ferry across the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the Joseph and Clara Smallwood, operates on Newfoundland Time, which is half an hour ahead of Nova Scotia's Atlantic Time. I think this is the first time I've been in a half-hour time zone.

My loaded bike felt rather wobbly and hard to steer when I left the hotel this morning; it was a bit worrisome as we traversed the streets of North Sydney looking for lunch and doing last-minute errands.

Waiting for the ferry, we encountered Dick and Pauline (from Toronto) and Roger and Gary (completing a trans-Canada journey from Vancouver), cyclists whom Knox had met a few days ago as he made his way across Nova Scotia. We got a chance to hang out with them as we loaded the ferry (piling our bikes flat on the floor, alas, as there was no dedicated space for them) and upstairs in the lounge. Dick and Pauline had been to Newfoundland before and gave us good tips on where to go.

We were lucky enough to reserve bunk accomodations. They were very comfortable and allowed us to catch several hours of shut-eye on the crossing.

(back-dated entry)

Wind!

My bike and I both arrived fine in North Sydney yesterday. I had a two hour lay-over in Halifax (where customs inspected my tires for dirt!); unfortunately, that was not enough time to go into the city. I bought some travel fiction (An Innocent in Newfoundland by David McFadden) at the airport instead and read that over lunch. The plane from Halifax was a tiny 18-seater; the co-pilot was the flight attendant, and there were no lavatories on board.

I had to wait a while at the Sydney airport for a cab large enough to take my bike box. Boy, was it windy! It's going to be a blast(!) biking in Newfoundland... But the light! Oh, the light! In less than a day I have seen some truly spectacular effects of sunlight and shadows. It's a photographer's dream.

I finally met up with Knox at the North Star Inn, which overlooks the ferry terminal. We had a snack, a nap, and then I assembled my bike. Everything went smoothly, except for the front fender, which took some adjustment, and the rear brakes, which I only just now finished centering. We've pretty much sorted out what we're taking with us and what we're leaving in the hotel to pick up when we come back. As I type this, Knox is cleaning his bike; we will then go down"town" so he can do laundry, we'll get a second breakfast, and then we'll board the ferry to Argentia, Newfoundland.

(On a technical note, I hate Windows. I wanted to upload the pictures so I can post them on my blog while I'm out here if I have the time, but Windows won't read my camera as a normal external drive and fails when it tries to install the hardware it recognizes but doesn't have a driver for. Grrr... At any rate, I have more than enough memory to carry all my pictures home with me, which was the plan all along.)

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Ready to go!

I am all packed! The first thing I did this morning was take apart my bike. I couldn't quite remove the left pedal; everything else went smoothly. I put the disassembled bike in the canvas bike bag Knox left me, and that in turn inside the cardboard bike box I got at the bike store. I hope it doesn't get damaged along the way. I am checking two additional bags (one with my clothes and camping stuff in the back panniers, plus the tools I need to assemble the bike; the other with the food in the front panniers and Knox's odds and ends). My helmet and some toiletries are in a carry-on, and my handlebar bag as a "purse." Honestly, I don't really think I overpacked. We will trim stuff at the hotel in North Sydney if necessary, but I think it will mostly be stuff that was not meant to go on the bikes anyway: the tools and the sea salt bath scrub... Mail is held, cab is ordered... Time to go to sleep. Adventure awaits!

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

It's a lifestyle...

Today I cancelled my participation in the Commuter Check program. I was already one month ahead, and I'm not even going to be around for August. Moreover, I expect to continue biking to work until dusk creeps into my evening commute. As winter approaches, I expect I will start taking the train regularly again. In the meantime, I will just save the money.

Monday, August 01, 2005

That was simple

I just took off the crazy racks and installed them properly. You can see above how they look. What the hell was so hard that a reputable bike store did not know how to deal with low riders? Sheesh. I can't believe I had to waste my time doing what they were paid to do. The hardest part of the whole ordeal was finding the hardware. You'd think bike stores would have the Allen bolts ready for customers to buy, but no, not at all. They send you to hardware stores. The neighborhood hardware stores I tried didn't have Allen bolts either; I had to bike to Framingham to get to the Home Depot, where I stocked up on as many sizes of "cap screw sockets" (as they call them) as I could. It turns out that four #10-24x1-1/2", plus some washers and nuts, did the trick. After Home Depot, I rushed home and managed to make it to REI before they closed. I got front panniers! I was considering the water-tight Ortliebs, but I've got Ortliebs for the back and thought it would the handy to have some outside pockets. They should serve me well.