Sunday, July 15, 2012

To the Cape & Back 

A tour operator's wet dream; views, breezes and whales

Duration 2:36:35 hr
Distance: 54.4 km
Max Speed 65.3 km/hr
Avg speed 20.2 km/hr

Like many people, I am a creature of, nay, a victim of inertia. Like Newton's First Law: every object continues in its state of rest, or of uniform motion in a straight line, unless compelled to change that state by external forces acted upon it.

When you spend too much time sitting at a desk, you continue in that state; when working hard earning a living, you continue in that state; when lying on a couch after a holiday meal, you continue in that state. That's why I sometimes find it hard to do anything on a day off. You can get stuck doing errands or in front of a television watching a game but I didn't want to do either. Thankfully Mike has an "extra" bike of some quality so when the opportunity came up to do a challenging ride with another person, I was up for it.

“ was never in doubt that would become our mantra, "If that old fart can, I can!"”

Despite a growing number of cyclists in Newfoundland, there aren't many good routes shared. For some reason, cycling hasn't reached the level of running whereby you can simply type in "a good 10km route" and the Internet spits back hundreds of options. With that in mind we made our own. We'd both heard of people riding out to Cape Spear and Mike had ridden to Petty Harbour before and the distance from home seemed about right, so after consulting Google maps we decided to drive the route to both get a sense of the distance and the hills that inevitably lay ahead. When we got there, it was the sort of incredible vistas and ocean breezes and whale sightings that make a tour operator's wet dream. There was a large contingent of motorcyclists gathered for some reason and one lone older cyclist on a hybrid road-mountain bike. Mike said, "If that old codger could get up here, then we can." I'm pretty sure he had an extra inner ring (making it 30-speed bike or something) after we saw him make his way up the hill, still it was impressive and it was never in doubt that would become our mantra, "If that old fart can, I can!"

View Bicycling directions to Cape Spear in a larger map
A map of a similar ride departing from Bowring Park

Saturday morning, while Toronto was locked in an oppressive extreme heat alert that kept the city under a smog advisory, half a world away (St. John's often feels half a world away from anything) Mike and I headed out on one of the best bike rides I can remember. The temperature never got above 24°C, under a partly cloudy sky with a cool ocean breeze as we started towards Cape Spear. We knew what lay ahead. We knew we had our work cut out for us.

Our goal. I have no idea of the elevation gain but let's just say "difficult"

Usually a 50 KM ride would be a 1:30:00 hr or something, but this isn't a typical 50 KM ride. It's got everything a visit to Newfoundland could offer, namely hills, picturesque towns with brightly coloured houses and ocean views and ends up at one of Newfoundland's iconic spots, the Cape Spear lighthouse. Cape Spear is North America's most Easterly point. Growing up here, it becomes such a cliché that you forget what it means. Yet to stand there, looking out to the Atlantic or back towards Cabot Tower (another St. John's icon), you can only feel small. …and whales? Yes, there are whales. The previous night we were there during a gorgeous setting sun, a dramatic sky and saw a very active pod of three whales juking and jiving and spouting playfully nearby (Potheads? Grey? I couldn't tell you. You see dorsal fins and huge sprays and who cares, this is real, like a live version of National Geographic!) The ride there is mostly downhill as you go through Petty Harbour (our former home town) and you easily hit speeds of 45 km/hr or more just coasting, but then you hit the first climb in Maddox Cove and that's when the fun begins. If you don't recycle your breakfast (I came close to having the same breakfast twice) you will be rewarded with a massive downhill run through Blackhead. That joy is short-lived as you turn towards Cape Spear. I've never had a climb that long or steep. I know it's not the Col d'Aubisque but it was the biggest hill I've faced on a bike. Again, when you go up, you must go down. Coming down the other side, I reached a top speed of 65.3 KM/hr but I knew we'd have to face that on our way back.

King of the mountains, Gino Bartali racing to get back on the bike.

Once we got there – only about 27 km from where we started, it felt epic. Recently, I've been reading Road to Valour about Gino Bartali, an Italian cyclist who won The Tour de France and Giro d'Italia in the 30s and 40s, so it's full of descriptions of classic racers on their single speed bikes. Seeing as I was basically in my lowest gear for most of the day, I felt I'd gained a little insight into those rides of yesteryear. I felt as if I had actually accomplished something. As I was charging up the hill into the parking lot I laughed at the idea of riding to the point of exhaustion and just ending up in the same spot seeming like "an accomplishment" but I'll still log it as one of the great rides I did this or any summer. Mike arrived about 3 minutes behind me. It turns out, he'd dropped his chain. I guess that means I "attacked during a mechanical" not unlike Contador had done to Schleck in the Tour de France. Did Mike have a "stomach full of anger" like Schleck? Nope. We snacked on Rice Krispie Squares and Clif Bars. Then we had to think about the ride back which was a whole lot harder.

I felt like a cyclist of old having reached our summit (thus the photo treatment of old)

Mike with a stomach full of snacks after dropping his chain on the way to the Cape.

The long hill back up through Blackhead was gruelling. A muscle I'd tweaked in my left calf was starting to haunt me and I kept telling it "hang in there and you'll get all the beer and rest you want". That's when my thighs would tighten and complain and I found myself asking my body, "Ok, who else wants out? Which muscle am I going to hear from that I didn't know I had? Alright? We're all in this together so just keep moving and we'll get through this." When we finally got back to to Bay Bulls Road I had to get off for a minute and stretch my back a bit. We knew this intersection well enough. We'd both gone to Goulds Elementary (I went from Kindergarten to 6th grade) and I remember the convenience store here was deemed off limits by the school (not that I had any money to spend in it anyway). As we climbed up Doyle's Road, the last hill, I looked over at the school where I spent so much time as a kid and as a cub scout, then looked away, giving no more thought to sentimental things. My future lay ahead, not behind and the ride still wasn't done.

By the time we'd finished we had gone less than 55 KM, (a typical weekend ride for me is 80-90 KM) but what a 55 kilometres it was. I promised my body beer and a rest and I always keep my promises.

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