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NL T’Railways attracting more cyclists

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By Jaymie White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter PORT AUX BASQUES — Every year, ATV and off-road vehicle users traverse the Newfoundland T’Railways between St. John’s and Port aux Basques, but cyclists taking the trip is not nearly as common. Friends Michael Bourque, Ronald Josey and Michael W. F. Roberts of New Brunswick saw an exciting opportunity to visit areas in the province that they had only read about before. “I’ve crossed Newfoundland several times on my bicycle from east to west and return, Port aux Basques to St. John’s and back and also up to St. Anthony and back to Port aux Basques. I’ve done that several times on the road and camping all the way,” said Bourque. “I wanted to know more about central Newfoundland and I saw this posting of the T’Railway, and it’s considered a provincial park, which is kind of interesting.” Before they got started Bourque did some due diligence. “I did some research on it, and I also did some research on communities along the way that are no longer populated. One in particular, called Millertown Junction, which is right in the central part of the province, it’s found between Howley and Badger, and if you look at the map, you’ll find it it’s almost in the geographic centre of the island and it was a really important hub of activity a long time ago when there were two railways in Newfoundland.” Millertown Junction was the place where the Buchans Railway connected with the Newfoundland Railway main line, and the connecting point for passengers to Millertown and Buchans. “At one point, there were over 100 people that lived there. Now it’s abandoned. The only way to get there is by using this old trail and there’s even an old post office building that’s now used as a camp,” said Bourque. “I thought it was really interesting so I convinced the other two guys — which for a while they were a little a bit upset halfway through considering the conditions — but eventually they came around. We decided we’d go together.” For the entirety of their trip, they were entirely self-supported. “We carried all our gear with us and we booked a ferry in Argentia for the September 10, and this was way before Hurricane Lee was announced, and we arrived late on the 10th. So we stayed in Placentia for one day and then we left from Argentia and we crossed the island. It took us about 12 or 13 days. We finished on September 23rd, which is the day before the anniversary of Fiona,” said Bourque. Having to experience Hurricane Lee during their trip proved more than little memorable. “That was a special time, but I didn’t know that there would be another hurricane. It’s definitely not as tragic as Fiona, but I’ll tell you, the night of the hurricane, we were wilderness camping at the center of the island at Junction. Oh, it was blowing incredibly, like all night. We almost had to put rocks in our tents so they wouldn’t blow away,” said Bourque. “It was raining too, and the next morning we got up and we had to make breakfast in the rain and then fold up our tents and continue, because, if you look at the map to go from Badger to Howley on a bicycle, if you’re in pretty good shape, it’ll take you two days. So we were in the wilderness area during the whole hurricane, and there was no way in or out besides the trail. So that was kind of exciting.” The trio met other cyclists taking the trail, and that might become more commonplace in the near future. “We met a few that broke down on the road. We met three that were crossing it, but it’s extreme athletes, endurance athletes, and the group is small,” said Bourque. “There’s a website called Bikepacking.com and what’s going on is they’re trying to establish a bike trail that goes from Cape Spear to Key West in Florida.” That trip also sounds interesting to Bourque, who may, one day, decide to attempt it. “It’s broken up into eight components. The first component is the trail we were on that’s across Newfoundland, the Boreal Trail. The second component is in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Maine. The third component is in the States and then the fourth and the fifth are all in the States as well,” said Bourque. “So the idea is for extreme athletes to do this trail. What they’re trying to do is establish a trail for extreme cyclists that is similar to the Pacific Trail that runs from Jasper to New Mexico. A lot of people have done the Pacific Trail, but very little people have done the East Coast Trail from Cape Spear to Key West.” There were, of course, numerous highlights on the trip across, but one area definitely stands out for Bourque. “The most exciting, above all is the area between Badger and Howley, and it’s the centre of Newfoundland. It includes the Gaffe Top Sail and the Mizzen Top Sail. Those are rock formations similar to Ayers Rock in Australia,” said Bourque. “As far as you can see, the trail goes through this peat bog, but out in the distance you see these rocks, these rock formations, and I think there’s five of them and they’re all named based on sails of ships. Like, there’s the Gaff Top Sail, that’s the big one, and there’s the Mizzen Top Sail, and then there’s two or three others. You find that in central Newfoundland on the trail and there’s no real access in there other than on the trail. You can’t jump in the truck and drive there. So that was really exciting because there is a lot of history here and the rock formations are really cool, and the people we met up there — there’s cabins and there’s hunters — and they’re all very nice.” Unfortunately, the trails were not very forgiving on their bicycles. “ATV use is pretty heavy and I think because of the ATV use, it kind of batters the trail up. But that’s what it’s designed for, so some places are really bad, totally flooded, and it’s hard to push your bike through the gravel too, sometimes,” said Bourque. “We had several breakdowns. One guy broke both of his racks that held the pannier on the bike. We repaired them by making splints with duct tape and tie wraps with pieces of alders. Another guy cracked his bike frame and we were able to find a gentleman that welded it for free.” A pannier, which finds its origins in the French word for basket, is essentially a bag to put gear in when travelling on a bicycle. The repair was made by fashioning a split, much like a fractured leg, using duct tape, white plastic and alder branches. The crack was caused by excessive vibrations while cycling through a particularly rough section of terrain. That gentleman who did the welding was Doug Lane, and he and his wife own a campground in Gambo. The cyclists found more of the same generosity along the way too. “They were just lovely. We needed to get some groceries and they actually drove us into town to pick up groceries. It was wonderful,” said Bourque. “There was another lady in Argentia, we were at a campground. It was raining and she came over to our tent and picnic table and she had cooked us a beef stew dinner, just out of the blue like that. We never asked for it, and during one breakdown, a gentleman stopped in his pickup truck and put our bikes in his pickup truck and took us to the next town so we could get our bikes fixed.” One of their biggest takeaways was how pleasant the people that they met were. “Even though it rained, even though we had a hurricane, even though the trails were rough, the people every day we had a bit of sunshine by meeting someone that was friendly, like incredibly friendly. The world needs more Newfoundlanders.”

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