by Frank Glamser
Even though I had been riding motorbikes and motorcycles since 1957 (starting with a belt driven Whizzer), as I bought my first BMW a local BMW rider said I would ride farther than I ever had. How right he was! My first “trip” on the Whizzer was from Cleveland to Warren, Ohio, a grand total of 120 miles round trip. About ten years later I rode a Honda CB160 from Biloxi, Mississippi, to Syracuse, New York… a 1500-mile trip. In the late sixties and early to mid seventies I toured in the Northeast and mid Atlantic on a series of Hondas – CB305, CB350, CB450 – sometimes two-up with camping gear. My first serious touring bike was a 1978 Yamaha XS750E shaft drive triple, which was preceded by an XS650 twin. That Yamaha 750 took me on a number of multi-state trips when I lived in Texas. By then a long trip was 3,000 miles.
In the six years since I’ve had a BMW, I’ve tried to make one or two special trips a year. Recent trips have been to northern Arizona and southern Utah, Nova Scotia, and the Canadian Rockies and the Pacific Northwest. I was running out of new places to visit.
John Lyle, a long time Mississippi BMW rider in his seventies, visited Newfoundland last year on his KLR650 dual sport and was very impressed. John has ridden in Europe, Mexico, Alaska, Central America and most places in between, so his opinion meant a lot to me. The more I heard, the more I moved Newfoundland into the realm of the possible. Touring out of Mississippi to anywhere in the North or West means a minimum of 1500 miles one way before I start to see anything new, and most of that will be in hot and humid weather. It takes a few winter months to overcome that psychological barrier.
For me the weather here is often a primary consideration in the scheduling of a trip to another part of the country because I need to think about getting out and back on my fully faired K-bike. Because of this, I tend to favor a late May departure date when possible. At first blush this would seem to be a problem for a trip to Newfoundland. The season there for tourists is mid-June through August. May is likely to be cold (in the 50s), and some sites will be closed.
My partner on this trip, Craig Miller, rides an R1100RT and heat is not a big issue with him, but May is a slow period for his work and allows him a chance to get away. Ditto for me with my teaching schedule.
Considering our schedules, both of us are convinced that late May is a great time to visit Newfoundland for many reasons if you have good gear and a faired bike. First would be the scenery. Throughout the island the mountains are snow streaked and the northern coasts have substantial amounts of flow ice – beautiful white chunks of ice which have broken loose and drifted to sea as the rivers in Quebec and Labrador have thawed. Waterfalls roar down the mountains at that time of year as well.
Beyond scenery is the nearly total absence of tourists. You will have the roads and parks largely to yourself in the western part of the province. The motels and restaurants will have room for you as will the ferry. The extraordinarily friendly people of Newfoundland are even more so in the off-season when they aren’t as busy. Conversations were always readily available. We learned from a rider from Nova Scotia that many of the motels and restaurants present a different set of menu prices for the “season”. Between the weak Canadian dollar and the winter prices, we couldn’t believe how cheap food and lodging were. Gasoline, off course, is not cheap given Canadian taxes and the remote location of Newfoundland and most of the stations, but on a motorcycle that is not a major problem. All told we were extremely pleased at the timing of our trip.
During the early stages of planning for my trip, many presidents were very helpful. Paul “Tree” Mitcheltree was particularly so. He lives in Nova Scotia and is a frequent visitor to Newfoundland for business and pleasure. His trip report on Alaska on the IBMWR website contains a link to a report on Newfoundland and Labrador. Big John Blatz had some good advice and a bag of literature he delivered to me in Branson. Steve Anderson has been to Newfoundland three times so he was able to be very helpful. Marie, a lurker, airhead rider and teacher from Maine also passed along some useful information.
Because of individual commitments, Craig Miller and I departed from Hattiesburg on the same day, but we headed in different directions. Early on Sunday, May 20, Craig headed for his parents’ home in Cincinnati to attend a family function. I started toward Vermont for a visit with Larry Miller who had come to Mississippi in April. Larry lives about 1400 miles away so I was going to slab it. The pleasure trip would start in Vermont where Craig and I were to meet on Wednesday night.
The weather was perfect as I headed up to Birmingham, through Chattanooga, and on toward Knoxville. I’ve run this route many times, and only the cities have heavy traffic. For some reason the stretch between Tuscaloosa and Birmingham is always jammed. Maybe it’s the Mercedes plant. They are in the process of adding a lane to each side of the interstate so I guess someone has noticed.
The interstate north of Birmingham is always lightly traveled, and I find it quite scenic. If you haven’t checked out the Little River Canyon east of Ft. Payne, it’s worth a visit. For country music fans there is a museum for the singing group Alabama in Ft. Payne. There are many parks, mountains and lakes in northeast Alabama that make for good riding. Check the area out sometime when you attend the Rocket City Rally.
Because I-59 is so pleasant in Alabama and Georgia, the passage through Chattanooga is all the more unpleasant. Traffic wise it’s a weak imitation of Atlanta. Three interstates pass through an area that has limited options for roadways because of the mountains and the Tennessee River. East of town when the I-75 traffic from Atlanta joins the I-24 traffic, things really get tense on a motorcycle. With a mountainside on the right, a concrete divider on the left and trucks fore and aft, a fellow can feel a bit vulnerable.
Just south of Knoxville the routine riding ended. Traffic was still heavy, and it had begun to sprinkle lightly. Through the traffic a couple of hundred years ahead, I saw some kind of commotion. Dust and debris were flying, and I thought I saw a car sideways. Ever since I got personally involved in someone else’s accident a year ago and ended up sliding down the road, I have a new policy. When I spot something strange in the road ahead, I brake and get off the road. It can be an animal, a traffic jam, or just something that doesn’t look right. I braked (checking my mirrors) and headed for the shoulder. Almost immediately, traffic stopped. As we crept forward in one lane, I saw that a car had done a 360 and taken out a piece of guardrail. The car was resting across the passing lane. That could have been ugly for me.
Knoxville is one of many Southern cities that converging interstates and urban sprawl have overwhelmed. For twenty miles one highway handles the traffic of I-40 and I-75 as well as all the local traffic. Going through on a Sunday afternoon was a little better than usual, but when I made it to the far side of the city, things began to slow down. On my CB I learned that there was a major backup before the I-81 split. I had covered nearly 500 miles by four o’clock, but the next 100 miles were going to take four hours.
From the CB I learned there was also a major backup on I-81 just above the split. Checking the map, I figured a way to stay on I-40 past the split and then take back roads north around the jam. I found myself following a truck headed the same way that was willing to talk to me on the CB (most aren’t). He led me through the small towns and took me to the interchange north of the backup I hoped to avoid. All was well for about 50 miles until I hit a major backup caused by an unmanned construction site. Sitting on a hot K bike on a hot day among a bunch of idling trucks is a real bummer. At one point I got so disgusted that I pulled over on the shoulder and parked. Sitting on the guardrail, I fired up a cigar. By the time I made it to Kingsport, it was dark, and I was exhausted.
We’ve all heard of motels mistreating riders in the old days, but I don’t even think about it anymore. Maybe I should. I pulled into a Holiday Inn Express near an exit that had three widely dispersed motels. After sitting in traffic for a couple of hours toward the end of a 600-mile day, I was ready to park the bike. I asked the clerk what the rates were. She said $65.00. In small towns in the South, that is high. I asked about AAA and AARP, but she said that was her lowest rate. I said I didn’t want to get on the bike again so she finally relented. She said “I’ll go out on a limb for you.” She offered $59.95. Sold! The next morning I was having breakfast when a customer was paying his bill. A different clerk was on duty. I heard him refer to their standard rate of $59.95. Oh, well.
Interstate 81 through Virginia has to be one of the most heavily patrolled major highways in America. If you have a CB radio, it is clear the “smoky bears” are out in full force. Many of the reports tell of four wheelers receiving fast driving awards on the roadside. Directly, this is not a problem for a “five over” guy like me, but indirectly it is. Because of the heavy enforcement, nearly all the traffic is going between 65 and 70. This means the road capacity is strained as compared to a road with higher speeds. The faster the cars and trucks go, the less time they spend on the road. It also means people in the passing lane aren’t going much faster than folks in the slow lane. If a large truck is in the passing lane on a hill, the left lane soon becomes the slow lane.
It’s a shame the traffic is so congested because the scenery along I-81 in Virginia is impressive. The road runs in the valley between the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east and the Appalachians to the west so the rider is always looking at grand vistas on at least one side of the highway. Although the road runs in a valley, frequent changes in elevation are experienced, often with rivers and streams at the bottom. Adding icing to the cake are the many patches of wild flowers planted by the state.
Unfortunately for me, I traversed most of Virginia in the rain that day. Fortunately I had put the Gore-Tex liners under my Motoport Kevlar Ultra II suit that morning after my daily dose of the Weather Channel. I was also wearing my new Sidi On Road boots. Most importantly, the older KRT fairings must provide the best foul weather protection on any bike, past or present. As long as you are moving, the only heavy water contact is at the feet and the top of the helmet. When it’s warm, I usually wear my Cabela’s elkskin gloves because so little water makes it to my hands.
Crossing Virginia from south to north takes a long time, especially in the rain. Crossing West Virginia on I-81 takes only twenty minutes, and ever so briefly you get to enjoy a 70 mph limit. It would be interesting to hear how that strip of land ended up seceding from Virginia during the Civil War when the western counties did so. Wedged between Virginia and Maryland, I’d have thought those three counties would more likely have stayed with Virginia.
Crossing the Potomac River puts you in Maryland, which is flat, largely urban, and about ten miles wide at this point. There are lots of exits with gas and eats, but not much to see as you anticipate the Mason-Dixon line and Pennsylvania. Even without the signs you might guess when you hit the Keystone State. On the plus side there are old farms and quaint rustic villages. On the minus side, the road gets rougher, and the truck traffic gets heavier.
By now it was approaching late afternoon, and I had been riding in the rain nearly all day-sometimes heavy, sometimes light, but always raining. I’m not comfortable going much more than 60 or 65 in the rain so my progress was slower than normal. This was going to put me in Harrisburg, the state capital, at around rush hour-never a good thing, but truly a bad thing in the rain! As I approached from the south, the number of lanes increased along with the traffic. The frequent exits and entrances common to urban areas required constant lane and speed adjustments as traffic exited and entered the highway. My driving lights were on, and I was wearing my Vision vest. I tried to maintain a cushion in front for the unexpected. In those heavy urban traffic situations, I always fear the sudden appearance of debris from under a vehicle in front of me. We’ve all experienced that waiting gator, muffler or piece of scrap iron.
I had just crossed the bridge over the Susquehanna River when it happened. I was in a curve to the right climbing from the river with my sight distance limited by the crest of the rise. Just as I could see over the rise, I spotted a mattress in my lane. Fortunately it was only blocking the right wheel track so I could straighten up from my line to avoid it to the left. Immediately, I spotted a van on the shoulder with a long rope dangling from its roof. DUH! I thought only country folk tried to pull a stunt like that.
By now I was getting frazzled. Traffic was heavy; construction zones were everywhere; the rain was relentless; and I needed gas. North of town I pulled off for fuel and a mental health break. If I hadn’t been convinced I was in Yankeeland, this would do it. I walked into the station office looking for a little sympathy and human contact. Soaking wet on the outside and riding a motorcycle in rush hour traffic should have evoked some pity. “Crappy day, eh?” says I. “Yep” says he. “Any idea how far north the heavy traffic goes?” says I. “Nope,” says he. It was clear I was an intrusion. Oh well, time to hit the men’s room.
The good news was the traffic eased within twenty miles as many of the trucks headed east on I-78. The bad news was I was going to start crossing mountains in the rain. As I climbed, the temperatures dropped, and the fog appeared. Things were getting really dicey as visibility tanked, and the road got curvy. My speed was dropping as well, but the trucks, the ever-present trucks were still flying by. Emergency flashers on, I moved to the far right of the lane. It was time to get off, but I couldn’t see exits until I passed them. In the heavy fog I wasn’t going to pull over on the shoulder. Soon I was thinking about deer. This was Pennsylvania mountain country where you regularly see dead deer on the roadside. Early on I had seen a billboard touting motels in Hazelton. If I could just get there and off, it was time to quit. All I had to do was not hit a deer or get run over. Four states and 500 miles in the rain were enough.
All’s well that ends well. I made it to a reasonably priced family owned motel across the street from a bar and an Italian restaurant. I was dry. Life is good.
A common question heard by riders is what do you do when it rains. If you are a serious rider who travels far from home, you ride in the rain. East of the Mississippi that is particularly true. For most of us it isn’t much fun, but sometimes you need to get somewhere at a specific time. It was Tuesday, and I needed to cover 400 miles to get to Larry Miller’s house in Wallingford, Vermont. A quick check of the Weather Channel early Tuesday morning revealed that the entire northeast quadrant of the country was experiencing rain. Craig Miller would get wet riding from Cincinnati to Pittsburgh that day, and I would be in rain as well. I grabbed a couple of donuts in the motel office next door and proceeded to pack up. Miraculously, Hazleton wasn’t experiencing rain while I loaded the bike. I don’t mind rain too much if it starts after I’m underway, but packing in the rain is a real bummer.
Soon I was heading north in light rain toward Wilkes-Barre and Scranton to participate in rush hour with all the trucks and commuters. Those old urban areas in mountainous terrain often have interstates that make me feel claustrophobic. The hills and the cities were there way before the road so concrete dividers and shoulders constrained by sheer rock are common. Throw in a gaggle of eighteen-wheelers, and it concentrates the mind wonderfully.
Listening to the truckers on my CB, I noted a shift in the balance of accents and the tenor of the discussions. Compared to the Deep South, I heard more cussing and more hostility. Population density, heavy traffic, and job pressure can bring out the worst in people. The bitching and cussing got so bad I killed the radio in Scranton. Another thing I had noticed on the previous day was that gas was getting more expensive as the roads were getting worse. At home I was paying $1.40 as compared to $1.70 in Harrisburg. As I approached New York State, I figured I’d better top up at one of the Pennsylvania exits to save a few pennies. In southern states seeing a sign on the interstate, which says fuel, is available at the next exit usually means just that. In the northeast I discovered time and again that it means there is a town nearby that has gas somewhere if you can find it. Days later Craig and I would wander about Hanover, New Hampshire, in search of promised fuel, but this time the station was only a mile off the “big road.” Unfortunately, the gas was $1.80 in New Milford, PA.
As I approached Binghamton, New York, the rain was getting heavy and steady. My Fog City shield allowed me to keep my helmet closed, and my Olympus Monsoon gloves were keeping the rain off my hands. For some reason traffic was light, and I had no trouble picking up I-88 toward Albany. Although the road looked fairly new, it was badly broken up in places. Most disconcerting were the long wide cracks parallel to the direction of travel that almost qualified as edge traps. The poor visibility and the crappy road made for a stressful morning.
One of the small irritations of rain riding is getting water droplets on the back of your faceshield. There is nothing I’ve found to prevent it or remove it. When it gets bad enough, I find a place to stop so I can clear the shield and start over. Of course, you have to have a place to stop where you won’t be standing in the rain. That is particularly true with the K-RT series bikes because the fairings are so well designed that important things like controls, switches, instruments, and tank bag are well protected from the rain as long as you are moving at a decent rate. Park the bike in the rain, and everything gets wet. Ordinarily that is not a big problem. I just find a gas station with a large roof over the pumps that is connected to the station itself. In the summer it’s a good way to get out of the hot sun. However that is not a common design in the northeast. The pumps are usually covered but the path to the station is exposed. One would think that a region that has plenty of rain and snow would cover the customers coming and going. The problem became evident when I exited west of Oneonta to clear my shield and take a break. The first station had no sheltered place to park, nor did the second. I didn’t want to stop if I couldn’t find shelter. I proceeded down the highway to the Oneonta exit and attempted to follow signs to fuel without success. I passed the site of the Soccer Hall of Fame and would have stopped on a sunny day, but I wasn’t finding a gas station with a roof for my bike. In despair I turned off the main road to turn around in a residential area. As I was turning the bike on a side street, I spotted a Jehovah’s Witness hall with a covered driveway and porch. The Lord works in mysterious ways. I parked in the drive and sat on the porch eating peanuts and drinking water. It was a lovely break. I considered relieving myself out back, but thought better of it.
Before I hit the New York Thruway, I wanted to eat lunch and gas up so I pulled off at the last I-88 exit. Again I followed the arrows to food for a mile or so until I lost my patience. Doubling back, I went to the station/snack bar near the exit. The pumps were covered, but the area between the modern building and the pumps was not. I parked near the door and pulled out my EZ Touring cover. Damn it! I was going to stop and eat.
The eating area had tables and booths so I took off my jacket, helmet, and gloves and spread them about. With my wet red suit, I must have been a spectacle to the many people coming and going and those sitting nearby, but New Yorkers are special. Not one person spoke to me in half an hour. In Texas or Kansas or Alabama or Nova Scotia that would not have happened.
When I’m riding, tollbooths really piss me off. We don’t beat up the roads, and the booth area is downright dangerous with the oil and slop underfoot. You have to hold up the bike without your hands while you remove your gloves. Then you have to find money. It is a real PITA. This time I knew that all I had to do was pick up a card so the wet gloves stayed on. I stuffed the card in my thigh pocket, mangling it with reckless abandon in the process. That first leg of the Thruway east after I-88 is free so I took great pleasure in handing in that wet, crumpled card at the next exit. The attendant acted like I was handing him a used Kleenex.
A short run up I-87 to Route 7 and I was aimed toward Vermont. Almost paradoxically the New York drivers seem to be in a hurry, but they are afraid to go fast. They tailgate, cut you off, and switch lanes, but they aren’t gaining any ground. In Atlanta they do all that at 80mph. If we are all going the same speed, there is no reason to crowd me.
Not far east of Troy the road gets narrow and twisty. On a sunny day it would have been fun and scenic, but that day it was raining and tense all the way to Bennington, a quaint town indeed. The lovely old buildings and the outdoorsy looking “granola girls” along the sidewalk made it clear this was Vermont. I stopped for a coke before heading north and paid a deposit for the first time in recent memory. Yep, this was the “Green” mountain state. I asked for some directions and some local boys and a repairman were friendly and helpful. I was no longer in Hillary country.
The road north to Wallingford was lightly traveled and in good repair. On a nice day it would have been pretty, but, on that day of cold rain, it was only to be endured. Wallingford is what I call a “poke and a plum” town. You poke your head out the window as you drive through, and you’re plum out of town. Larry Miller lives about a mile east of town, and most of that is forest. As he had promised, the snow had melted, and all three rails of his fence were now in view. It was an ugly day but a beautiful home. The garage door was open in expectation of my arrival. Mission accomplished.
One of the special things about the IBMWR list is that we hope to meet each other in person someday. That is why most of us use our name and hometown in our signature. One of the presidents I’ve gotten to know well is Larry Miller of Wallingford, Vermont. We started corresponding about the Motoport Ultra II riding suit over a year ago and moved on to politics. We were able to become friends on the Internet in spite of living 1400 miles apart. In the midst of a hard winter, he agreed to attend the Dogwood Trail Rally in Mississippi this past spring. Temperatures were in the 30s when he departed, but it was 85 in Crystal Springs, Mississippi, when we met for the first time at Louise’s Barbecue. While he was down here, we attended the Mississippi rally, Branson, and Shane Smith’s crawfish boil. My initial plan for this year’s trip was to head for the Great Lakes, but Larry and I hit it off so well, I wanted to swing by Vermont somehow. One thing led to another, and the Newfoundland trip took shape. Before long I was parked in his garage on that Tuesday evening. After I got my wits about me, Larry took me to Rutland for a steak dinner and a Guinness. All the rain riding faded into the background as we talked into the night.
Craig Miller wasn’t scheduled to arrive on his R1100RT until the next evening so we were able to do some sightseeing in the rain in Larry’s Volvo during the day on Wednesday. I saw some twisty roads and great scenery in the mountainous country nearby. That morning the Heifermeister, Ted Hall, called and invited us to dinner at a nearby restaurant. He and a bunch of buddies were leaving on their bikes the next day for northern Quebec. It would have been great fun, but we had to stay home for Craig’s arrival.
Although Craig and I had put on over 1400 miles to get to Vermont, the real trip would begin on Thursday morning. Our route would take us north to Rutland and east on Route 4 to White River Junction before we headed north again to pick up Route 2. That would take us within view of the White Mountains on our way to Bangor, Maine. From there we hoped to make it to the Canadian border on Route 9.
On Thursday morning we headed out under cloudy skies and another foreboding weather forecast. The American flag in Larry’s front yard was flapping in the wind, and Bear Mountain, which sits across from Larry’s house, was shrouded in low lying clouds. For Craig and me, it was cold as well. Throughout the trip I was very glad that I had bought one of the new Gerbings thin jacket liners. I had one of the original uninsulated models for a couple of years, but I was concerned about the possible cold in Newfoundland. The new model puts a little thin insulation over the wires to increase efficiency. Even when it’s turned off, that puts some extra warmth on your chest, back, arms, and neck. With the collar fully zipped and rolled over, it takes the form of a turtleneck. That’s what I was wearing as we headed to downtown, one light Wallingford. That’s what I was going to wear many more times in the next week.
Craig likes to say that I tried to get crosswise with the police three times on our trip. This was the first time. We pulled up to the red light, and I looked both ways. No one was coming so I turned right on Route 7 and headed for Rutland. I checked my mirrors, and I was alone. Craig hadn’t moved. Whoops! I guess I missed that no turn on red sign. We made it to Rutland in no time, and it still wasn’t raining. I had washed my bike the day before to get all that winter sand off, and I hoped to keep it clean for a while. About the time we passed the city limits to the east, it started to rain. By the time we passed Killington, it was raining hard. Then, and throughout the trip, I was glad I had a new set of Michelins.
Crossing Vermont from west to east is at once hard and easy. It is hard because there are only a few roads that cross the state, and they are all crooked. If you are out for a ride, they are very entertaining. If you are trying to get somewhere in a hurry in the rain, they are frustrating. Crossing Vermont is easy because the state is very small and very narrow.
Craig and I were crossing on Route 4 out of Rutland. The road snakes around Killington Peak (4241 ft.) and the famous ski resort. After that, it shadows a branch of the White River nearly all the way to the Connecticut River and New Hampshire. Every two to five miles there is a small village with a curious mix of run down houses and beautifully maintained Victorian era homes and public buildings. All along the highway, little shops beckoning the tourist abound. Whenever I travel in the New England, I am always struck by the juxtaposition of rural poverty and the country gentry. It must be painful to heat with wood out of necessity when some of your neighbors do it because it’s the lifestyle du jour. Poverty is rough everywhere, but in West Virginia or Mississippi your neighbor doesn’t have a 700 series BMW.
After a short one-exit blast on I-89, we picked up I-91 north which parallels the Vermont-New Hampshire border. I had needed gas for quite a while since my last fill-up in New York State days ago. The rain had stopped, and the sky had promising patches of blue so I was ready to travel. Fooled yet again by one of those “fuel” signs on the interstate, we exited across the border from Hanover, New Hampshire and headed east over the river on an ornately festooned bridge which struck me as over done for the setting. Soon we were at Dartmouth College, a truly impressive campus. Suddenly everything was neat, clean and in good repair. Bicyclists and joggers were all about, and the young women were well scrubbed, devoid of make-up, but brimming with the confidence spawned by the knowledge that they were smarter than most people.
New England appears to eschew signs as visual pollution. If you are local, you know where things are and where the roads go. But for tourists, once you leave the interstate, you are on your own. Failing to find a sign or arrow to the promised fuel, we wandered aimlessly taking in the sights. Finally, more by good luck than good management, we stumbled on a station just past the understated football stadium (Ivy League doncha know). I announced to Craig that we were in New Hampshire. He said his GPS didn’t say so, and that he never saw a sign. Well neither had I; that’s the point. In the South you get a big tacky welcome sign with the governor’s name.
Back on I-91 heading north at a true 70-75, our morale was growing. The sky was blue; the sunshine was bright; and the traffic was light. After days of rain, this was a real boost. The winding river valley and outcroppings along the highway provided for a picturesque morning until reality reared its ugly head. I had just pulled into the hammer lane to get by a truck when I was facing a hunk of cast iron I beam in the left wheel track. I had plenty of time for a minor swerve, but Craig told me later that the car behind me didn’t. It locked up the brakes and almost hit the guardrail trying to avoid the beam by going around it on the left. Be careful out there guys and gals.
There are at least two ways to pick up Route 2 to the east. You can stay on the big road until you hit it, which is what I did two years ago with Gene Dalton, or you can take a shortcut. If you are in a hurry, take the long way. Craig and I took the short cut by crossing into New Hampshire at Woodsville and picking up Route 302 to Twin Mountain. From there it was Route 3 to 115 to 2. If you are not in a hurry, take the short cut. You will see towns and scenes that time forgot many years ago, and you will have the road to yourself.
Route 2 is not a particularly entertaining road, but it has some lovely vistas of the White Mountains, most notable of which is Mt. Adams which approaches 6,000 feet. It also crosses the Appalachian Trail before entering Maine. Because it was still May, there was plenty of snow on the mountaintops and little traffic on the road. In July, it’s just the opposite. Crossing Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine on a motorcycle in mid summer is a frustrating experience. Can you say motor home?
Maine is a relatively poor state, especially the interior. Most towns have a down-at-the-heels look tempered by an aura of ruggedness. Riding across Maine is not uplifting, but it is instructive. It’s the hidden America you don’t see in the media. On a motorcycle you feel the surroundings, and you see the dirt and cracked streets. You look into people’s eyes as they check you out.
Our plan was to jump on the interstate (I-95) just west of Bangor and take it to I-395 to skirt the city. From there we took Alternate 1 to 46 north to 9 east. This approach avoids most of the ugly traffic. To illustrate the point, in town, Route 9 is Main Street south of the river. From the Bangor area to Canada and civilization on Route 9 is about 90 miles. If you need gas or food or a bowel movement, you might want to deal with it early rather than later. The last 40 miles is basically uninhabited. Two years ago much of the road was rough or under construction. Now, most of it is new and wide. The construction zone is very small, and the older parts of the pavement are not bad. One other thing-it is patrolled.
As you approach the Canadian border on Route 9 you will merge with Route 1. At that intersection is a large Irving service station and restaurant in case you or your bike needs some fuel. About seven miles later you will be in Calais where you will cross into St. Stephen, New Brunswick. With towns on both sides of the border, this is a rather busy crossing. After a few routine questions, Craig and I were waved through. That has been my normal experience in many previous crossings into Canada with the exception of last year in Alberta. The authorities there searched my bike because “Mississippi is such a big gun state.”
If you take an immediate right out of the downtown crossing (there’s one to the west), you will be on Canadian Route 1, which will take you to St. John. More important right then is the fact that there are at least two banks down the street with all hours ATM’s to stock up on Canadian money. You will get about three Canadian dollars for every two US dollars. This was a constant source of joy throughout our trip.
At this point Craig and I had been on the road for ten hours, and we had lost an hour when we crossed into Canada. At seven o’clock local it was time to find a motel and a meal. The lovely seaside resort town of St. Andrews was only 30 miles down the road so that was our destination.
New Brunswick is a province that many Americans go through to get somewhere else, be it Nova Scotia, Quebec, PEI, or Newfoundland. That’s a shame because there are many beautiful towns and areas to see. The Bay of Fundy and Gulf of St. Lawrence coasts have many areas worth a visit. Riding anywhere along the St. John River is very pleasant. The Rocks Provincial Park just below Moncton provides a dramatic view of the 40-foot tides the area is famous for. Don’t miss it.
St. Andrews was a fashionable resort town in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. It contains a number of museums and historic sites as well as lots of trendy shops and pricey restaurants. Most impressive to me are the 30-foot tides. Everything looks normal at high tide, but you will be stunned at low tide. It’s like someone pulled the plug. All the tributaries and inlets suddenly are mud holes as is much of the shore. The Bay of Fundy has the highest tides in the world, which are caused by the Atlantic Ocean being jammed into the narrow area between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick with no outlet.
Craig and I found an inexpensive motel (no small feat there) just west of the hockey arena. It looked like something out of the fifties because it was. That was to be the case for the next week, time and again. To be fair, Craig and I usually gravitated to the cheap motels. On the other hand, we did find a nice restaurant that night.
There are two basic ways to get to Nova Scotia on a motorcycle. You can take a ferry from Portland, Bar Harbor, or St. John to western Nova Scotia, or you can drive to Moncton and head east. I had taken the road coming and going the previous visit, but had not seen the western part of the province. Our plan was to take a ferry coming or going depending on the ferry schedule. Before leaving home, I had copied down all the ferry schedules we might need from the internet. One was leaving St. John around noon. This gave us time for breakfast and the 60-mile run to St. John.
We were at the ferry terminal by 9:00, and they had plenty of room. We bought our tickets ($35 U.S.) and were assigned to a lane in the parking lot with the one other bike going that day. It was an old Gold Wing with a Vetter fairing and luggage owned by a friendly guy from Ontario. He was headed to visit his brother in their boyhood hometown.
The trip to Digby took about three hours. We gassed up and took the two lane (RT.1) to Annapolis Royal, the site of the oldest European settlement in Nova Scotia. It is a town of stunning historic architecture where you could easily spend a couple of days. We cruised the main drag slowly, feasting on the eye candy, and then we headed for the four lane to Halifax. Because our objective was Newfoundland, the only area of Nova Scotia we were going to check out was the Cabot Trail. I felt a little guilty as we passed the Berwick, which is the home of IBMWR president David Thompson. As he reports, the valley is beautiful when the apple blossoms are in bloom.
If you consult a map, you will see that the four lane dips down to Halifax and then back north again in a V shape. You will also see a Route 14, which appears to cut right across the V. The Honda rider on the ferry had mentioned it was an entertaining road when he was younger. For us, it looked like another one of those short cuts. We had stopped in Windsor, the birthplace of hockey, for a drink and a look at the map. I asked the girl in the grocery store if Route 14 was a good way to shorten our trip. She said you often got stuck behind trucks so it really didn’t save much time. By our calculations it would save us about thirty miles, and it was already late because of the ferry ride. Craig and I both said words to the effect of “How bad can it be?” We pulled off at the Route 14 exit and headed east.
Initially the road was a bit narrow and rough, but nothing too unpleasant. Traffic was light, and we were making progress. The honeymoon ended when we saw the sign advising us of road construction for the next ten miles. Suddenly all pavement disappeared, and we were on hardpack and gravel. Occasionally there would be a large patch of baseball sized gravel which could be avoided by going into the on coming lane, but usually the light gravel and the hardpack was doable with great amounts of concentration. Then it got really bad. The entire right of way was covered with six-inch deep loose gravel. Both of us were on fully loaded, top heavy touring bikes, and I had skinny tires. At first I tried the far right because it was smooth and predictable. That took me too close to mail boxes, and I was bogging down. I moved into the wheel tracks, but that meant an uneven, unpredictable surface. I was sweating bullets and thinking of crashing the whole time. I was in second gear doing 20-25 mph. Any slower and I would stall; any faster and I would crash. In retrospect this was the nastiest part of the trip. Craig had pulled way out of view as each of us did the best we could to survive. After what seemed like an eternity, I saw Craig’s flashers in the distance. The road had reappeared, and he was waiting for me. How bad can it be?
As it turned out, the rest of the road was curvy, hilly, and very entertaining as the Canadian rider had remembered. There were a number of beautiful farms and churches along the way as well. We made it to the slab and wicked it up to 75 to get to Truro for the night. We found another one of those cheap 50’s motels across the street from a Shoney’s style restaurant. The rotary phone wasn’t much help with our calling cards though.
Ever since we left Vermont, the weather had been superb. Mornings were in the low 40’s and highs were in the high 60’s. As we departed Truro for the Canso Causeway and Cape Breton Island, we were anticipating another good day. Traffic on Route 104 was extremely light as it had been throughout Nova Scotia. This was quite in contrast to my July experience of two years ago, especially on Cape Breton Island.
We crossed the causeway and picked up Route 105 toward Baddeck and the Cabot Trail. The last time I had run it counter-clockwise so this time it would be clockwise. About five miles south of Baddeck is the turn off for the section of the trail which crosses the island. If you are looking to camp, there is a KOA with a restaurant just past the turn off. The road crossing the island has lots of curves and elevation changes and is sparsely populated. It’s nice, but nothing special, and the pavement is rough as was much of the trail this time.
When you hit the coast, things get much more interesting. Villages appear every few miles with lots of local traffic and activity. In peak season you would be bumper to bumper, but we breezed right through. The French influence may be seen in the large Catholic churches which are much more ornate than the tall white wooden Protestant ones that dot the province. In Cheticamp the French heritage is particularly evident. It is also a good place for seafood.
Arguably the most dramatic view on the Cabot Trail is above Cheticamp, just within the border of the national park. Going clockwise it will be over your left shoulder so pay attention. There will be a turnoff and parking area for great pictures. After that you will be inland for a while in mountainous terrain. In some of the higher areas there was quite a bit of snow among the trees and alongside the road. Every few miles there was a little emergency shelter for people stranded along the road in the winter. Soon you drop down to the coast and sea level via a series of switchbacks that require a fair amount of attention. If you crash, the nearest dealer is in Halifax. I guess he’s there either way.
At the northernmost point on the trail is Cape North. It includes a cluster of homes, a picturesque wooden church and a lovely restaurant which had been a general store over 80 years previous. In addition to a good menu, the restaurant boasts and excellent collection of local artifacts which are displayed on the walls. If you take a left at the restaurant and leave the Trail, you will pass through some small communities until you reach Bay St. Lawrence, a little fishing village with some great views. This is also the road to the Meat Cove turnoff. Many presidents like Ted Verrill are big fans of Meat Cove. For us it was a little out of the way and at the end of a gravel road. I’m not a gravel guy.
Coming around the east side of the trail, I saw many beautiful vistas that I had missed going the other direction. This happened so frequently that I am convinced that clockwise is the way to go. Just don’t miss the fabulous vista above Cheticamp.
Somewhere at about the three o’clock position on the trail is the last gas for a long time-maybe 40-50 miles. I know that because Craig, who has a large tank, pulled over and asked me if I needed gas. My trip meter was at about 160 miles, and the station was a small shack in an island of gravel. I said we could go a little farther to find something nice. Famous last words. In no time things got very wooded and very remote.
Earlier in the day we had make the decision to take the midnight ferry to Newfoundland. This would save us a lot of time and a night’s lodging cost. We followed the Trail to Route 105 north with me still looking for gas. My trip meter was over 200 with no civilization in sight. I began to go a bit slower as the highway climbed a substantial ridge. On the long downhill on the other side, I pulled in the clutch and coasted. I was over 210 by then. In the distance I saw a very long high bridge over a substantial body of water. I really didn’t want to crap out up there. By now I was creeping along at about 40 mph, holding my breath waiting for a cough or sputter. Soon thereafter, with great relief, I spotted an Irving station. As I removed my helmet, Craig was laughing his ass off. He asked if I had coasted down that big hill. He asked me if I had enjoyed the bridge. At that point it was all very funny. We proceeded down the highway to North Sydney and the ferry exit.
Right after you take the exit for the ferry terminal, you run into a number of tollbooths where they sell the tickets. It was 6:00, and we were advised that the midnight ferry was sold out. We purchased standby tickets ($35 U.S.) and were assigned to a lane number. We parked the bikes in the assigned lane and took a break. The man directing traffic at the front of the lot told us we would probably get on, but we’d have to wait until all the reserved folks were loaded.
We had a long time to kill so we decided to do laundry. The ferry is right downtown, and there is a walkway painted on the pavement to the main street. There was a laundry about four blocks away (we asked) so we locked up our helmets and covered the bikes and headed out. After doing our laundry, we walked back to the main drag and had a big Chinese dinner.
Back at the bikes at about 10:00, we repacked all our clothes and waited. We shot the bull with a number of truck drivers who lived in St. Johns, Newfoundland but who drove all over the U.S. and Canada. As we were beginning to learn, people from Newfoundland are incredibly friendly.
The staging area for the ferry is massive. There have to be over 30 lanes, each of which is hundreds of yards long. The ferry is an ocean going vessel that can take 70 loaded tractor-trailers or 350 cars or some combination thereof on two decks. At around 11:00 they started moving vehicles onto the ship, and everyone was going ahead of us. Occasionally the traffic warden reassured us, but he said we would have to wait our turn. Just before 12:00 he gave us the go ahead to join the big trucks on the lower level. We were the last to get on behind the trucks. Crewmembers dropped a pile of heavy-duty tie downs next to the bikes and offered to help. We had things pretty well under control, but a female crewmember kept coming by to make sure we were doing OK. Like I said, these folks are friendly.
We secured the bikes and cable locked our helmets and riding suits. We took anything we thought we might need (wallets, camera, pills, jackets, etc.) and headed up the three flights of stairs to the main passenger area. Mama mia! This was one big boat.
The trip from North Sydney to Port-aux-Basques, Newfoundland takes almost six hours across open water. Fortunately, the facilities aboard the ship are excellent. There are numerous cabins you can book if you wish to get some serious shut-eye. There is a cafeteria, bar, and gift shop in addition to many lounges with large reclining seats. Craig and I picked a couple of seats in the television area to watch the evening news. The chairs are like first class airline seats with more leg room. We dozed on and off and probably got two hours sleep.
The path of the voyage is essentially north so the early stages of dawn were first evident on the starboard (right) side of the ship. The coast was visible for quite awhile before we actually entered the harbor between what appeared to be a very small gap. The seas had been very smooth so we hadn’t been very concerned about the bikes, but it still felt good to find them the way we left them. You may recall that we were last in line, which meant we were going to be the last off. The PA announcer repeatedly advised people not to start their engines until it was clear to move forward. The guy in one of the trucks near us must have been hard of hearing. He fired up his diesel about ten minutes early and seriously fouled the air we were trapped in.
We pulled off the ship about 6:00am and stopped in the parking lot to check our gear and make plans. I had purchased only a few liters of gas before finding the ferry so my bike wouldn’t be top heavy, and Craig had bought none so our first priority was fuel. After that we would head up the west coast for about an hour before breakfast. It was about 40 degrees, but it felt great. Three Harley riders were also in the lot enjoying their cigarettes. Without fairings or warm clothing they didn’t look very enthusiastic about getting underway. We never saw them again.
At this point it may be helpful if I were to share the master plan. Based upon personal recommendations of list members and a fair amount of reading, I had a list of places we were going to visit. The actual order would be flexible depending on weather. In an order roughly based on nearness to the ferry, the list included: Rose Blanche lighthouse, Port au Port Peninsula, Bay of Islands, Gros Morne N.P., The Viking Trail from Deer Lake to St. Anthony, The Arches, Port au Choix, L’Anse aux Meadows, and Twillingate. We weren’t going to make it to St. John’s because of the distance and the fact that the ferry serving that end of the island doesn’t operate until late June. To give you some idea of the size of the island, it is over 440 miles from Port aux Basque to St. Anthony, and at one point you are within 9 miles of Labrador. Not surprisingly, it’s a lot colder at the northern end.
Words, especially my words, cannot adequately describe the awesome beauty of Newfoundland. Photographs fall short because of the scale of Newfoundland’s scenic vistas. Allow me to quote from a National Geographic guide book: “…A place of staggering elemental beauty, here you find ancient mountains and fjords, cliffs and crashing sea, beaches, forest, and windswept barrens, and a panoply of wildlife- moose, caribou, black bears, bald eagles, whales-plus weathered fishing villages…” I think you get the idea.
Because the weather was likely to be favorable for the next couple of days, we decided to bypass the sights in the southwest and head north toward St. Anthony on the Trans Canada Highway. After filling up and selecting the right clothing, we were on our way.
In a matter of minutes civilization disappears, and the mountains are all around you. About 15 miles north you will pass through an area with mountains on both sides of the road and signs warning of dangerous winds which have been clocked at 90 mph. Apparently the arrangement of the mountains on your right can generate its own weather. Take the signs seriously as the winds were known to blow trains over in the past. As it turned out, we had no problem coming or going, but I have heard from riders who got tossed about pretty well.
About ten miles south of the Stephenville exit near Steel Mountain, we stopped at a combination gas station-restaurant for breakfast. For about $5.00 Canadian we got a really complete breakfast. We also got lots of advice and conversation about Newfoundland from the waiters, the cashier, and various long haul truckers. I can’t overemphasize how incredibly friendly and helpful the people of Newfoundland are. After a very long break, we headed north to Corner Brook, the largest city on the west coast, and then on to Deer Lake, the terminus of the Viking Trail or Route 430. It was only midday, but we really hadn’t slept much so I was a bit concerned about my old reflexes. We had read and heard repeatedly about watching out for moose, especially on the west coast. They said there were 14 per square mile in the park.
Route 430 goes right through Gros Morne National Park on the way to the coast. You will see mountains, forests, rivers, and lakes of great beauty. That’s not all you are likely to see. When Craig’s Hyper-Lites fired up the first time, I knew what was up-a moose at high noon. Craig, with his young eyes and reflexes, was our point man. When his brake light went on, I would brake and look for the moose. After about four roadside sightings, I was losing my nerve. I didn’t need to be dodging moose on no sleep. Craig agreed, and we headed to Rocky Harbour for lunch and lodging. After a great lunch, we went next door to the aptly named Ocean View Motel, a modern upscale place that faced the sea and ultimately, the sunset. For about $50 Canadian we got a newly decorated room with cable TV and a modern phone. They had only reopened the previous week, and we were in one of only three or four occupied rooms that night.
After a good nap and a bit of a walk to look at the fishing boats, we had dinner at the well-appointed motel restaurant. I had a lobster dinner ($10 US), and Craig had a cod steak ($8 US). We were in high cotton, indeed. After dinner I enjoyed a cigar and a scotch while watching the sun set across the bay with an ancient lighthouse twinkling in the distance. It was hard to imagine things could get much better, but they did.
After our complimentary motel breakfast, we headed north on route 430 again. This would take us to the coast and through the remainder of the park. As the result of all we had read and heard, we remained on the alert for moose, and our vigilance was rewarded. Over the next two days we saw about 15 moose, all on or next to the road.
It is estimated that there are 150,000 moose in Newfoundland. They like to eat the vegetation along the road, especially in the spring when salt from the winter run off is available. From what I saw, they appear not to spook like deer, but seem to amble on their own good time. When you spot one, you should brake and stop until you are sure it has left the area. The greatest danger appears to be colliding with one standing in the road. You will note that many of the large trucks have heavy-duty iron cages on the front, which are called moose guards. You will also periodically see long multi wheel skid marks on the highway. That is from someone suddenly spotting a moose in the road. Since you cannot see a dark brown moose in the dark, you don’t want to be on the road from dusk until dawn under any circumstances. Night or day you will want to take it easy.
As you head north along the Viking Trail, you will have the ocean and coast on your left and snow streaked mountains on your right (in late spring). These mountains extend the entire length of the west coast, and they are an extension of the Appalachian chain. They are unlike any mountains I have ever seen. They look like a continuous monolithic wall that has emerged from a plain. The visual impact of these strange mountains coupled with the coast for over a hundred miles is stunning.
A few miles north of Gros Morne is the Arches Provincial Park which highlights an interesting triple arched limestone formation at the water’s edge. The rock has been carved by wind and water to produce a series of arches through which you can see the ocean. The park includes picnic tables, rest rooms, at least one large rabbit and a parking area.
Our next turn off was at Port Saunders, a relatively populated area with stores, services and a hospital. We proceeded through town to the Port au Choix National Heritage Historic Site, a visitor center that chronicles the various native peoples who have occupied that coastal area over the centuries. Nearby is the site of an important archaeological dig which provided insight on the area’s early inhabitants. It’s a little hard to get to, but well worth the effort. Even the view from the parking lot is impressive.
As we backtracked through Port Saunders, we stopped at the Esso station on the left. We gassed up, parked the bikes, and went inside for a break. In no time we were engaged in an informative conversation with the owner who offered us some fresh home made partridge berry muffins his mother had just delivered and coffee from his personal pot. Yet again we were struck by the friendliness and generosity of the locals.
Just as we returned to Route 430 and headed north, we had one of the most entertaining experiences of the trip. To our left and above the road were four caribou that were running in a pack parallel to our path. Caribou are like deer on steroids with pie plate sized hooves. Those suckers are big. We immediately slowed to a crawl and covered our brakes. The animals were only about 30 feet from the road. We both were concerned that they would swoop down in front of us. After about 50 yards of this little game, one broke away and headed into the woods. Soon thereafter the other three ran down to the road and then headed north in our lane right in front of my point man Craig. They continued to run directly in front of us for a couple of hundred yards before heading into the woods on the right. The whole experience was spellbinding to say the least.
An amazing aspect of our trip was the repeated experience of thinking we had seen it all, and then seeing something else. Here we were grooving on the gas station hospitality and the caribou appeared. Again and again, the scenery would blow us away.
As we were continuing north, the temperature was dropping. We were approaching Labrador and the infamous north Atlantic. Soon we came upon the turn off for the ferry to Labrador, which is visible from the northern coast and only 10 miles away at one point, but what really took us by surprise was the ice. All along that section of the coast the intensely blue water was sprinkled with large brilliant white chunks of irregularly shaped ice. Near and below the water line various shades of blue and green could be seen. The whole spectacle was nothing less than awe inspiring, and it went on for miles.
After a string of fishing villages, the highway heads east across the island. Because there is no human habitation for over 50 miles, you will want to check your fuel at Eddies Cove. As we were coming into town and decelerating, I noticed a couple of girls in a red Camaro approaching from a side street on the left briskly. Surprisingly they blew through the stop sign right into my path. Because I had covered my brakes and was watching closely, I was able to brake hard and avoid a collision. I guess kids in red cars are the same everywhere.
The section of the Viking Trail from Eddies Cove to the east coast is barren and uninhabited. When you reach the coast you will want to head north through some small settlements to L’Anse aux Meadows, the site of a 1000 year old Viking base camp and modern visitor center. Unknown to us, the site does not open officially until June 1, and we had arrived on May 28. Fortunately, the people inside getting ready for the season let us in anyway and answered our questions. The center was extremely educational so you may want to time your trip accordingly. Looking out over the lowlands and north Atlantic where Vikings lived 500 years before Columbus’ voyage was moving. There were still snowdrifts and lots of ice in the water to go with a stiff breeze and 40 degree temperatures. Those Vikings must have been tough dudes.
One of the women in the center advised us that there was an iceberg in the bay at St. Anthony which would be visible from the observation point at the very end of Route 430. On the way south we stopped at the restaurant in Gunners Cove, which was recommended by the center staff for lunch. It was nicely decorated inside and included a gift shop. We tried a traditional dish called fisherman’s brewis that was a combination of cod chunks and soaked hard bread pieces mixed together and well seasoned. It was quite good and incredibly filling. Soon we were winding our way through the substantial little city of St. Anthony in search of an iceberg. We found the look out point at the far edge of town where the highway ends. This area is called “iceberg ally” and includes an observation deck, sod house, snack bar and parking. Indeed there was a large flat iceberg there about the size of a football field and about ten or fifteen feet high above the water. It was pretty impressive.
Craig is fond of saying that Newfoundland has only two roads-The Trans Canada Highway and The Viking Trail (430). If you cover much ground in Newfoundland, you will be traveling those roads in both directions. We were at the northern tip of the island so we would be retracing our steps down the Viking Trail.
Crossing the top of the island twice from coast to coast reinforced our impression that the weather in Newfoundland can be very fickle. Depending on your proximity to water, the direction of the wind, and cloud cover, you may be warm or cold. These large temperature swings are very apparent on a bike, but we were still surprised to suddenly hit heavy fog at midday as we were returning to the west coast. We were along the barren stretch of 430 with very few options. There was no place to pull off, and we didn’t want to get run over from behind. However, foremost in our minds were all the moose and caribou we had seen the past two days. We plowed through the fog slowly until we could pull off at the gas station at Eddies Cove. Going down that coastal highway in the fog in moose country didn’t sound very attractive. Soon a pick-up truck coming from the south pulled in for gas. I asked the driver how far the fog went. He said maybe five or ten miles, and then it was sunny. Off we went hoping to find the sun before we found a moose.
The main highways in Newfoundland are generally good to excellent-far better than what I’ve seen in parts of the northeastern U.S. What I really liked is they are clear-cut on the shoulders for 50-100 feet to give you a chance to spot wildlife. They are also lightly traveled in the western part of the island in the spring. We rarely followed anyone nor were we followed for very long. Newfoundland drivers are very courteous. They don’t pull out in front of you, and they don’t tailgate. When they follow, it is from 50 to 100 yards back. The only time I was tailgated that week was by a guy with New York plates.
On our way back down the coast, we stopped in Port Saunders again to check our guidebooks for motels. The Newfoundland tourism agency (1-800-563-NFLD) puts out an excellent guide that includes among other things listings of lodging all over the province by region. Because the book is so large, I had cut out the accommodations pages. We stopped in front of the Esso station again and were soon joined by the owner for another extended conversation about the local economy and activities. Before long he asked if we would like to go in the station for some rum-a friendly guy indeed-but we had a ways to go yet. We finally found a place to stay at Daniel’s Harbor after riding much closer to sunset than we cared to. I had refused a motel up the road because I thought he was gouging us. The dimmer the light became, the dumber I felt. The old motel we stayed at just south of town has an attached bar where you can converse with the locals.
The spectacular weather of the past two days had ended. As we headed down to Rocky Harbour for breakfast, we ran into light rain, and weather reports suggested it would be around awhile. After breakfast we went back into the park to explore the section south of Bonne Bay. This requires following 430 east to Route 431 which goes west past the Tablelands to Trout River.
Because we were not in a hurry and pretty much had the road to ourselves, the light rain was an inconvenience, but it did not keep us from seeing what we needed to. The one sight you don’t want to miss is the Tablelands. This is an area where the earth’s tectonic plates have collided and forced a section of the earth’s mantle to the surface. Because the mantle is normally under the earth’s crust, its mineral content does not support plant life. As you ride through this section of the park, the Tablelands are on your left, and the normal landscape is on your right. The left side is brown and barren like parts of the American Southwest while the right side is lush and green. It’s a weird scene. Just beyond this section is an area of frequent high winds that required our full attention.
Backtracking yet again we headed east toward Deer Lake and the Trans Canada Highway. Our ultimate objective was the north coast and Twillingate Island. But first we had to cross a very large barren section of the island in the rain. Throughout most of its history, Newfoundland has been inhabited on the coasts with limited contact across the landmass. The highway was only completed in the 1960’s although it was preceded by a railroad that is no longer in operation.
The highway is well maintained and lightly traveled for the most part. Most of the time it is three lanes with one side or the other having a passing lane. The only problem, and it was big for us, is the fact that the heavy truck traffic has depressed the wheel tracks severely. This puts relatively deep standing water in the wheel tracks when it rains heavily or for an extended period of time. This was a constant source of concern, as we had to periodically cross the water to change lanes. We later learned that this road is known for hydroplane crashes in the rain, and we saw one the next day on our way back.
We made it to Grand Falls that day where we found a motel on the western edge of town. The restaurant wasn’t open for the season yet, but the bar was. We ordered pizza delivered, and I had a few beers. We watched the Canadian weather channel hoping for some relief, but to no avail. My Motoport Ultra II and Sidi On Road boots would serve their purpose yet another day.
Grand Falls is a small industrial city that is a center for the lumber industry and salmon fishing, but for us it was a place to sleep and get out of the rain for a while. When we headed out in the morning, the sky was overcast and drizzling. We rode east to Route 340 and then north to the island dotted coast. Many of these islands have been settled for over 200 years.
As we passed through Lewisporte and the small villages on the way to Twillingate, I noticed that the architecture and settlement patterns were very different from what we had experienced on the west coast. In the fishing villages in the west, housing tends to be concentrated around the harbor or bay with almost no housing along the highway between villages. The housing itself tends to be very small and plain with one story and a few small windows. This may be a function of cost or climate or both. Approaching the north coast, I noticed the housing was much larger and more stylish, and there were isolated houses along the highway. I assume this was indicative of a better economy and greater population density.
As you reach the coast, the scenery becomes impressive. The area is laced with islands, large and small. The highway crosses various bridges and causeways as you progress from island to island until you reach Twillingate Island. The road ends in a parking lot adjacent to a large lighthouse and an observation deck. On all sides of the lighthouse there are trails that lead to spectacular views. Often there will be an iceberg in view. That day there was a very small one in the distance. There is also a little coffee house/gift shop with nice embroidered tee shirts. It’s also a good place to get out of the rain. Heading back into town, we located a small combination laundry/seafood shop. We were almost at the point of wearing our clothes inside out so we stopped. While we were hanging out waiting on the machines, we spoke with many of the locals including the owner. He left to pick up some lobsters, and when he returned he gave us a little lobster anatomy lesson. He also explained that most of the lobsters caught in the area went to the States.
It was time to cross the island in the rain again, but first we stopped in Lewisporte for a late lunch. As you are heading west the restaurant is on your right just before Route 430 comes to a stop sign before a left turn. They have great pie. Crossing the island this time was really unpleasant because the rain was heavy all day. The wheel tracks on the highway were full of water, and sometimes water drained across the road on hills. We weren’t able to go much faster than 55 or 60, and that was pushing it. What was really exasperating was the cloud of water thrown up by the numerous trucks passing by. For the last 60 miles or so there is no place to pull over so if you have water inside your face shield or on your glasses, it’s too bad. At one point the right side of my Fog City face shield suddenly steamed up. I don’t know what happened, but it was scary. Between the periodic but regular truck generated water blasts, a partially occluded face shield, great amounts of standing water, and approaching dusk, I was at my limits. The only thing that kept me going was the lack of turn-offs or rest areas. I kept looking at the distance to Deer Lake signs and holding my breath.
The Deer Lake Motel on the right side of the highway just after the exit for 430 is thoroughly modern, and it has a nice restaurant and bar. Of course, all of this was irrelevant at that point. It could have been the Hot Sheet Motel and charged by the hour, and we would have signed in. We must have looked like a couple of drowned rats when we sloshed into the lobby.
Amazingly, I was dry on the inside. The K75RT fairing does a super job of keeping water off the rider as long as you are moving. Looking at Craig’s clothes, I thought it looked like his modern R1100RT fairing was letting a lot more water hit him. His Tourmaster Cortech riding suit was also less effective than my Motoport Ultra II in dealing with an all day rain. Both of us now swear by our Sidi boots.
From here on out we would be getting closer to the ferry and home. When we were at the top of the island, I was keenly aware that I was 400 miles from the ferry and another 300 miles to a BMW dealer. In many of the places we passed through, we were over 100 miles from a hospital. Now we would be heading toward cities, and hospitals, and tow trucks. It was a good feeling.
Before I pick up where I left off, I’d like to cover a few odds and ends that may be of interest for future Newfoundland visitors. One concern people may have is the availability of fuel. Generally, most small villages have a gas station because of the need to supply local cars, boats and snowmobiles. I also noticed that many of the stations do repair work as well. But there are times when you will be over 50 miles from fuel so you will want to check your map regularly and plan accordingly. Another concern people may have is the degree of speed enforcement. We saw very few RCMP or local law enforcement personnel in Newfoundland as compared to Nova Scotia where we saw them frequently. That said, the few times we came upon a cop, it was always a surprise, and we would have been nailed had we been speeding. I also noticed that locals pretty much run the speed limit or less. Given the moose and caribou, the lack of hospitals, the lack of motorcycle repair facilities, and the odds of waiting a very long time for medical or mechanical assistance, you really don’t want to risk a get off.
Another question you might have concerns the gardens and large piles of stacked firewood you will see along the highway no where near a populated area, especially along the Viking Trail. We were told that people could get a permit to cut 8 cords of wood for winter heating. They cut and stack it near the highway for pick up as needed. The gardens on public land are tilled by people who do not have good soil next to their homes. They just stake out a spot at will. The presence of both the gardens and stacked firewood in remote areas is testimony to the honesty of Newfoundlanders.
After a good night in the Deer Lake Motel, we headed south toward Corner Brook and the Captain Cook Trail (Route 450). A few miles south of town it began to rain again. Just as we exited in Corner Brook the rain got pretty heavy so we decided a long break for breakfast was in order. We pulled into a shopping center that had a McDonald’s in the parking lot. Craig spotted a shopping cart shelter in front of a grocery store that we used as a personal garage. I was getting fed up with rain and was content to eat, read the paper, and wait for a break in the weather.
After an hour or so, our wish was granted. Patches of blue sky appeared above the city and river below, and we were on our way. We had trouble finding our way through town, and traffic was heavy. Eventually we stumbled on signs with a little Captain Cook pointing the way. The road runs along the wide Humber Arm to the Bay of Islands. As you get near the end, the view of the islands to your right is beautiful, but what will really knock your socks off are the waterfalls exploding out of the mountains on your left. Don’t quit until you find Bottle Cove. The last turn (a left) is not marked, but it is right before a school.
Soon we were backtracking again to pick up the Trans Canada Highway to Stephenville and Route 460. Our ultimate objective was the Port au Port Peninsula, the main French area of Newfoundland. The road follows the periphery of the peninsula, and it provided some of the most spectacular views of the trip. Many areas of the south coast have sheer cliff drop-offs to the sea that are reminiscent of the west coast of Ireland. It was here that we also saw some of the greenest grass of the trip. Often there would be a flat green meadow running to the edge of a cliff that dropped straight down to the blue sea. You don’t want to miss this area!
The French presence could be seen from the road in a number of ways. The schools had French names; the houses were more colorful and varied than in English areas; and there were lots of children. We stopped in a little but nice restaurant a mile or two before Cape St. George. I thought I’d be cosmopolitan as we entered so I said “Bon jour, Madame.” She responded “Hi, there.” Turns out this middle-aged woman was French, and her parents were francophones, but as a child she was not permitted to speak French at school. She said she understood the language, but didn’t speak it very well. Now children are instructed in French, and they speak it at school.
If you have an old map, it may not show Route 463 making it all the way to Cape St. George. That road is now complete so you can make a loop of the peninsula. The new section runs from Cape St. George to Mainland through some mountainous terrain. Put simply, the road is awesome. Along the way you will spot an oil well on your right. All indications are that the area may be getting more drilling in the future. As you drop down into Mainland, be sure to pull off the main road toward the sea. The view of the mountain meeting the water to your left is a real treat as is the view along the beach to the right. Not that I noticed, but two pretty French girls staffed the little post office/general store/gas station in Mainland.
The homes and yards all along 463 were some of the neatest and most colorful we had seen. There were also lots of children playing on or near the road (French=Catholic). You will want to go very slow here to avoid young rollerbladers and bicyclists. Once into Stephenville, we began to look for a motel. We stopped in front of a furniture store to check our guidebooks and ask for advice. As I was inside a boy had approached Craig with questions about the motorcycles. He looked to be about 16, and he was very neatly dressed, but more like a middle aged man. He wore dress shoes, slacks, and a nice windbreaker zipped up almost to his collar. He had a couple of pins on his jacket that a younger child might wear. One said California Sheriff or some such. His hair was neatly trimmed. His speech was very controlled and monotonic.
He walked up to Craig and said, “We don’t get many German motorcycles around here, not many Italian ones either.” A little later he pointed at our plates and remarked “…the Magnolia State.” Craig asked how he knew that. He said he saw it in the encyclopedia. Then he asked if we were from Jackson, the state capital. This kid was really blowing us away. We explained we were from Hattiesburg, 60 miles from the Gulf Coast. Rocking back and forth a bit, he replied in a choppy fashion: “Oh, yes, the coast, Gulfport, Biloxi.” This kid was freaking us out. We were closer to Europe than Mississippi at that point. As we mounted up shaking heads, the kid asked if we could do him a favor and honk our horns. We gave him a good hearty blast as we pulled out toward the motel on Main Street. A psychology friend suggested the boy might have been an idiot savant. All I know is it was a weird experience.
As we were leaving Stephenville on Route 490, we passed through what had been a large cold war era United States Air Force air defense base. The base closed in the Sixties, but the buildings and main runways remain in use as civilian facilities. As an old Air Force man I found this very interesting. I also noted the flat topography in all directions that must have been a major factor in the base’s location.
A few miles after joining the Trans Canada Highway, we saw a platform and nest on top of a telephone pole off to the right. A large bird, which Craig later identified as an osprey, was leaving the nest. Craig is pretty good at this having seen a bald eagle back in Nova Scotia.
Soon we stopped for breakfast at the restaurant we had visited on our first day in Newfoundland. The folks recognized us right away, and we enjoyed telling them about all of our adventures. We had plenty of time to visit because Craig had made a reservation for the five o’clock ferry the night before. We were only 75 miles from Port Aux Basque with only one thing left on our agenda: the Rose Blanche lighthouse.
As we headed down the highway into the Codroy Valley under a patchy sky, I was struck by how much prettier it looked than I had recalled from our first day. At one point the mountains on both sides of the road were so impressive that we pulled over to take some pictures. Perhaps being up all night on the ferry or the initial excitement caused me to have tunnel vision the first time through. In any event, if you arrive by ferry, you will see the valley coming and going.
At this point our trip was about over. We had seen all manner of spectacular scenery. All that remained was a short 30-mile run down Route 470 to see a lighthouse we had read about. We had plenty of time for a leisurely ride out and back. You may recall that our initial plan was to hit the more distant locations first, and then to work our way back to the ones closer to the ferry. As it worked out, that was a good approach.
One more time we had underestimated the diverse landscape of Newfoundland. Within a few miles down that twisty, undulating road we could have been in the Scottish Highlands. The rounded rocks and hills were covered with lichen and moss. There were small pools of water at various levels surrounded by a boggy peat-like sod. Periodically we would see little fishing villages or the sea crashing into the coastal rocks. This was the piece de resistance. This was the grand finale for one awesome adventure. Do not miss that road.
Rose Blanche is a pretty good-sized fishing village and the end of the highway. A ferry serves the rest of the villages to the east, as it did Rose Blanche in an earlier day. The coast is very rocky in that general vicinity, and it has been the scene of many shipwrecks over the years. For that reason a lighthouse began operation in 1873, and it continued in service until the early 1940’s when it was replaced by a modern unmanned beacon nearby.
Restoration of the old stone lighthouse was begun in 1996 and completed in 1999. Local guides will walk you out to the lighthouse which is set about 60 feet above sea level on the tip of a rock strewn peninsula. You may tour the interior to see what must have been the solitary and spartan lifestyle of a lighthouse keeper. A number of well-maintained foot paths with lovely views of the rocks and the sea transverse the area around the lighthouse. Craig and I really enjoyed this slice of history, and we highly recommend it. So early in the season we had it to ourselves.
We finished our itinerary with the ride down that scenic road which included a stop to walk closer to a spectacular waterfall we had seen on the way in. By then our morale was sky high. We remounted and headed for Port aux Basque in the knowledge that we had seen and done all we had hoped to. Back in town, we stopped at a Tim Horton’s for a leisurely lunch. They include a donut with most of their lunch specials. That’s a little weird, but mighty tasty.
By then it had begun to rain, but we didn’t care. After a long break in the restaurant, we headed to the ferry terminal to buy our tickets. Traffic that day was very light so we went right to the front of the line. More accurately, we were told to park right in front of the blue pick up truck that was already parked in the front of the line.
We felt a little self-conscious pulling in front of the guy so we went over to explain. He was a bilingual francophone from northern New Brunswick who was returning from a business trip to Labrador. He was very friendly, and we had a very enjoyable conversation with the fellow until we were advised to load. This time we were the first on so we parked at the very front of the upper deck. That meant we would be the first off as well. The ship wasn’t even half-full, and our voyage back to Nova Scotia was uneventful. We were getting pretty good at this ferry thing, and we were basking in the glow of an incredible adventure. Craig had made a motel reservation for that night, and we were feeling a bit like savvy travelers at that point.
One of the unique things about Newfoundland is its time zone, which is half an hour different than Atlantic Time. That meant we gained half an hour on the ferry. When the bow of the ship opened, we were on our way to the Clansman Motel in North Sydney, which is located about a block east of exit 2 off Route 125. As we were checking in, a number of automobile travelers from the ferry lined up behind us suggesting that Craig’s reservation was a good ides.
That morning in North Sydney may have been the coldest of the trip. It was probably in the high 30’s so I decided to plug in my new Gerbing’s jacket liner and the gloves I had bought from Robert Munday. We both needed gas because we like to leave the tanks low when using the ferry so we headed to the Irving station on Main Street. With our tanks full we went back out to 125 and headed south to pick up Route 4. Very early on Craig spotted a bald eagle swooping down into the median in search of breakfast. He always sees the good stuff and then tells me what I missed at the next stop.
Although Route 4 is a two-lane road that goes through a number of towns and villages, we rarely had to slow down, and we pretty much had the road to ourselves. And a pretty road it was with lots of lake views, forests, curves, and hills.
After about two hours we stopped at a nice restaurant for breakfast. Two couples sitting at the table next to us engaged us in friendly conversation. It turned out that one was a BMW motorcyclist from Nova Scotia who has toured extensively in the U.S. He had also been one of the runners in the Cabot Trail run we had observed the week before.
As we were enjoying ourselves, Craig asked me if I had paid for my gas that morning. Whoops! At most Canadian stations you have to go inside to pay, and I hadn’t. It was an honest mistake, but now I was a criminal fleeing the scene of the crime. How hard could it be to spot a big guy in a red suit on a touring motorcycle? This could get ugly for me. I needed to check with the police before they found me. It was a Saturday so the local police station was closed. The guys we were talking to recommended the RCMP station in the next town. Following their helpful directions we found the station, and I walked up to the door to bare my soul. The door was locked, but there was a phone on the wall. I picked it up and reached the local dispatcher. She transferred me to the Sydney district. I explained everything, gave her my name and address and promised to send a check when I got home. (I have.) We had the address on Craig’s credit card receipt. Problem solved. Confession is good for the soul.
At this point our objective was to eat some miles. We picked up Route 104 and followed it all the way to New Brunswick. It was a beautiful, sunny day, which allowed us to make great progress. The only thing that bothered me was the short toll section that charges $3.50 for cars AND motorcycles. For some reason that struck me as excessive. I think I had some company because that section of the four-lane was deserted. In New Brunswick we followed Route 2 around Moncton to Sussex and Route 1. That took us to Saint John and St. Stephen. By then we had covered almost 500 miles.
We stopped on the edge of St. Stephen for gas and a break. One of the young guys at the station told us about a truck route around the town that would avoid all the Saturday afternoon traffic and lead to a less congested border crossing. It was good advice.
Craig likes to joke that I tried to get arrested three times on our trip. This was number three. Craig pulled into the U.S. Customs area just ahead of me so I stopped and shut down my engine. It was obvious we were together so Craig answered many of the questions for both of us. The guy then looked at me and asked about alcohol and tobacco. I mentioned my half flask of scotch and a handful of cigars. As the words “cigars” left my lips, his eyes got real big. Quickly I said “No, No, not those kind!” I explained I had brought them to Canada from the States. He said it was a good thing for both of us because he didn’t want to do all that paper work.
By then it was raining pretty steady, and it was pushing 7:00pm. Traffic on Route 9 was a bit heavier than when we had come the other direction. During the 90-minute run to Bangor we saw two motorcyclists heading north on naked bikes. One guy had a beanie helmet. I’ll bet that rain stings. Somewhere along the road a pick up and an SUV approached from a forest road. The truck started to pull out in front of Craig and braked suddenly. Craig thinks his PIAA’s saved him. After the truck pulled out between us, the SUV started to pull out in front of me. Suddenly the woman driving braked hard when she spotted my headlight modulator. Given the hard rain, neither Craig nor I could have stopped. We pulled off at the first motel on the outskirts of Bangor. It was a little mom and pop affair, but adequate. There was a small hole-in-the-wall restaurant across the street with great, cheap food. After dinner we wanted to call home, but because the rooms had no phone, we had to ask the woman who owned the place to dial calls from the office. Craig gave her his calling card and asked her to dial the 800 access number. She must have dialed 900 because she sat there and was making strange faces. Turns out she got a porno number and was listening to some explicit stuff. We got it straightened out, and everything worked out fine. On the weather channel that night things looked bleak all the way to Virginia. We turned in hoping for the best.
The Weather Channel in Bangor made it clear we would be riding in the rain again. The whole northeast quadrant of the U.S. was green on their map. Fortunately, it was not raining as we packed the bikes that were still wet from being covered in the rain the night before. I had all the rain and cold weather gear possible, but the idea of riding in east coast traffic in the rain was off-putting to put it mildly. At least it was Sunday, and the summer vacation season had not yet begun.
Just south of Bangor the rain started in earnest, and it didn’t ease up until New Hampshire. One more time I was glad I had put on a new set of Michelin Macadams (50/50e) when I left home. Even though it was a cold rain, I was comfortable in my Sidi boots, Motoport Ultra II, Gerbing’s jacket liner, and Olympus monsoon gloves. Normally my Shoei RF 800 helmet and Fog City equipped shield allow for decent vision, but that day I was having problems. Somehow water was finding its way to the back of the face shield making it difficult to see in the heavy rain and fog. Occasionally, a cold drop of water would hit my cheek or nose. All told, it was a really crappy morning.
After a thoroughly unpleasant experience two years ago in July during rush hour, I swore I would never take I-495 around Boston again. On the other hand, I favor interstates in the rain because of the lack of cross traffic. We decided to try it with Craig promising to let me bail out if I became uncomfortable.
That was never necessary as the rain soon let up, and the traffic was manageable. We sailed right through Massachusetts and into Connecticut without incident. Progressively, the traffic got heavier the farther south we went. A thunderstorm hit us just as we were entering heavy urban traffic around Hartford and some jerk in a black Camaro insisted on sitting ten feet off my butt at 60 mph for at least a mile. I tried waving him around, tapping my brakes and hitting my flashers, but he was oblivious to all my efforts. I was relieved when he finally pulled around.
I saw something on I-84 in western Connecticut that I’ve never seen before. On some of the long hills there would be an extra slow traffic lane on the right marked by a double set of dashed white lines. Strangely, no one was using them. People sat packed in the center lane doing 55 in a 55 zone. I just zipped by on the right at 60 and made great progress. I’m not sure that was legal, but it worked. I ran with my fuel light on for almost 50 miles trying to avoid Connecticut gas prices only to pay $2.00 a gallon for regular in a ritzy area at the first New York exit. As an added bonus, the clerk had the personality of a porcupine. At that point Newfoundland was suddenly a distant memory in a far away land.
Although we were just slabbing it, I was struck by some of the beautiful scenery along I-84 in southern New York. The mountains in the distance made for some super vistas. What really got my attention in Pennsylvania was the proximity of heavy forest to the right-of-way. Allowing the heavy foliage to reach the shoulder on both sides of the road strikes me as irresponsible given the heavy deer population in the region. As I noted in an earlier report, the Canadian highways provide a 50-100 foot clearing to give drivers a chance to spot wildlife. It may also reduce the incidence of animals running onto the road. Having seen the Canadian roads, I was extremely uncomfortable in many areas of Pennsylvania.
We called it a day in Wilkes-Barre at the Red Roof Inn. Because Craig and I had stayed there on the way to Rhinebeck two years ago, we knew it was nice as well as being near a BMW dealer-Two Jacks. We both had been well over 5,000 miles since our last oil change so it was time to start looking.
Fortunately, they were open on Mondays. They were backed up on service, and one technician had called in sick. The owner who was very friendly agreed to lend us a drain pan, filter wrench and shop rags in addition to selling us the oil and filter. I did the same thing last year at Hansen’s BMW in Oregon, and I am convinced it is the way to go. You get a quick oil change and the dealer’s service schedule is undisturbed. You just have to be willing to work in a parking lot.
When it’s not raining and foggy, I-81 between Wilkes-Barre and Harrisburg is very beautiful. It is mountainous, heavily forested, and sparsely populated. We weren’t paying much attention to scenery at this point, but it was impressive nonetheless. The same thing is true about I-81 in Virginia. The mountain vistas on a sunny day are some of the best you will see in the eastern U.S.
I had planned to spend a few days at my mother’s in Winston-Salem, N.C. so Craig and I were going to part ways in Roanoke, Virginia. He had visited his mother in Cincinnati on the way up, and now it was my turn. I made it to Winston-Salem by 8:00 and Craig made it to Tennessee. We both covered about 600 miles that day under blue skies. At this point I was still over 700 miles from home, but psychologically, the trip hand ended. In a few days I would cross the mountains in western North Carolina on my way to Chattanooga via US Route 74. From there it would be on to Birmingham, Meridian, and Hattiesburg. In a fitting final day of my travels, I would be in heavy rain in North Carolina and in Mississippi.
Every time I return from a long trip, I rediscover my love affair with my BMW K75RT motorcycle. Things like shaft drive, heated grips, and an electric windshield make touring so much more pleasant. Because this trip had plenty of rain, I was also reminded of the excellent weather protection afforded by the older K bike fairings. And of course the ABS added a little peace of mind in all that rain. Beyond all the standard BMW features is the K75 itself. It’s the Maytag of motorcycles, the Energizer bunny of bikes. Mile after mile, day after day, in any weather, it runs and runs without a hiccup. Just touch the starter button and the engine springs to life without hesitation or complaint. And a smooth engine it is. The only limitation on daily mileage is how long you are willing to sit. It’s like a Japanese car. Just put regular gas in it and go.
Having a good reliable motorcycle is important, but having a good riding partner on a long journey is very important. Craig Miller was just that. Mild mannered, flexible, and tolerant of an old man’s eccentricities, Craig usually led the way and kept us on an even keel. He kept us from getting lost, and he kept me from running out of gas, even when I tried to. If you need a guide or a moose spotter, Craig is your man.
Finally, I can’t say enough about the friendly, helpful, courteous people of the Maritime Provinces, especially Newfoundland. I have always been a big fan of Canada and Canadians, and nothing has changed. In many respects they are a more “civilized” lot than we Americans. Whether that is because of history, lower population density, a harsher climate, or some other variable, I like it. If you haven’t toured Canada on your motorcycle, you are missing some good riding and some good folks.
1993 K75RT, 1992 K75RT parts
BOOF #136, LPR #20, IBMWR tag