Tag Archives: fishing

Vicious Cycling

11 Sep

Newfoundland is kind of inkblot-shaped, with peninsulas jutting out in every direction from the line traced by the Trans Canada Highway. Here, everyone just calls it the TCH, which makes it sound like a mind-altering chemical compound. We’ve mostly been following the TCH, since it’s the only way to get from west to east in most parts of the island.

Based on overwhelming recommendations, we made a detour for Gros Morne National Park. The park is situated on the largest of Newfoundland’s many protrusions, and to get there from the TCH is a day’s worth of cycling on hilly terrain. We were obliged to add 3 days to our journey: one day there, one day to hike, and one day back.

Gros Morne Mountain is the 2nd tallest peak in Newfoundland, a 806m summit. The hike is 16km to the top and back, and it’s described as ‘strenuous’ in the information booklet. We were stationed at the nearest campsite, a hilly 13km away from the trailhead — a warm-up for our rest day. With pedal clips on our shoes and a pannier for a backpack, we headed up.

We won’t lie — it wasn’t easy. Our legs were sore for the next few days. But the unique tundra landscape made it all worthwhile.

Lately we’ve been doing a lot of ninja camping. It’s called ‘ninja’ camping because the idea is to remain well hidden, possibly because you are not technically supposed to do it. In Canada, though, it’s legal to camp on crown land, and most people with huge properties wouldn’t care or know you were camping there. It’s free, it can be more peaceful than paid camping, and it’s very easy to do in remote places. However, one forfeits access to a shiny (or not-so-shiny) flushable toilet, sink with running water, laundry room, wireless internet, a manicured lawn or wooden platform to put up your tent, and other goodies that might be available at a paid campsite. We have found that ninja camping is a good excuse to spend extra money on pies.

The fall weather has moved in already: we had another wet and windy day. It felt like cycling through a cloud with the wind spitting the misty precipitation in our faces. It was a relief to finally arrive in Gander, where we couchsurfed with Randy and Sharon. They were wonderful hosts, and made sure we got plenty of calories for the road.

Randy told us about the job situation in Newfoundland. Historically, cod fishing was the main industry, but in 1992 the government put a moratorium on cod fishing and compensated the fishermen who lost their jobs as a result. Since then, there’s been a trend for people to go work in oil extraction “out west,” that is, mostly in Alberta. A job in the oil sands pays significantly more than an equivalent one in Newfoundland. Randy has worked in Fort McMurray and shared his first-hand experiences with us.

“Fort Mac” is not a fun place to be: that’s why the pay is so high. It’s hard work in an unpleasant, toxic environment. There is not much to do besides work, and nowhere to spend money, but the money keeps pouring in. Gambling is not allowed but of course people play poker for high stakes, and some end up losing their earnings.

When the workers are back home on their time off, they spend. The cash seems endless, because there’s a lot of it all of a sudden. Many people buy expensive things: a truck, a house, a boat, an RV, a skidoo… They end up with debt. No matter how much they hated Fort Mac, they need to go back again because they have loans to pay off. Randy has met some people who started with a financial goal in mind, but are unable to stick to their plan, accumulating more debt instead of saving. Of course, those without a plan to begin with are even more susceptible to the lures of expensive stuff. Randy says a lot of younger people are unable to keep tabs on their budget.

Nowadays you don’t need to travel to Fort McMurray for oil jobs. For example, we cycled past a foul-smelling refinery near Arnold’s Cove. In the last decade, the offshore oil industry has been rapidly developing in St. John’s. This has brought new job opportunities and capital into the city. The city is now considered one of World Energy Cities and the unemployment rate is one of the lowest in Canada. These benefits come at a price: inflated prices for living, environmental degradation, and more big trucks on the narrow roads of St John’s.

Advertisements

Moose-ion: Impossible

5 Sep

In Vancouver, when you have a ferry reservation you need to show up a half hour before it leaves. In North Sydney, it’s two hours! We became aware of this minor difference 70 minutes before scheduled departure time and with 30 minutes of cycling still ahead of us. To add to the fun, our reservation was only for 1 bicycle. We had to go through a complicated cancellation and re-booking process while the attendant radioed to the ferry guys to wait for us. It all worked out in our favour, and although we love an epic tale for the blog, we’re happy that we weren’t delayed another unspecified number of days.

This is the final round: our 10th and last province. Let’s review the wildlife scores. Bear sightings are 4-2 with Anya taking the lead. Moose sightings are 2-0 with Anya again in the lead. Since Newfoundland is famous for its large moose population, Maria has a fighting chance to see one before she flies home. Though the scores will likely still be in Anya’s favour, Maria is on a mission to improve her moose sighting score from nil to at least one.

We’re moving fast, but the seasons are moving faster. Fall has arrived in Newfoundland: it’s colder, and the days are getting noticeably shorter. The cold is pleasant, for now. As for the daylight, we need to budget our time accordingly and leave on time in the mornings. Also, Newfoundland is on its own, special time zone. The time here is not an hour, but just a half an hour later than Nova Scotia.

With the ferry arriving an hour later than expected, we did not have a lot of daylight time to cycle. We camped in JT Cheeseman Provincial Park, just 10km off the ferry. In Ontario we would always avoid the provincial parks due to the insanely inflated prices. But we were pleasantly suprised: camping was only $15 a night, there was a hot shower, and each site has its own blue box for recycling!

The next day the forecast was not promising. We had breakfast at the beach and enjoyed the majestic view of stormy clouds. As we were leaving, the rain started coming down a bit. To our surprise, the storm never caught up to us. We cycled with the the wind blowing at our backs and did the 144km to the Barachois Pond Provincial Park with no problem.

The day after, though, the weather gods figured we needed a thorough wash. Perhaps they thought we needed a blow-dry as well, because we got massive headwind. Somebody should tell the weather gods that blow-drying is usually after, not during, a shower. We hadn’t used rain pants in a while and of course forgot to put them on at the relevant time. Cold, wet, hungry, and more tired than one might expect, we stopped at the first restaurant we came across. We had covered just over half of what we had to do in total that day.

We really didn’t want to go back out and face the elements but the restaurant had no wi-fi and we needed to post. (Be grateful as you peruse our writings from the warm comfort of your favourite armchair.) Besides, we had a couchsurf set up for that evening and needed to make the distance. This time we used our rain pants — an improvement, although not total relief. “Waterproof breathable” is an oxymoron.

Wi-fi was available just 15 km further, in Corner Brook. We drank gallons of warm beverages at Brewed Awakening, the coffee shop beside a bike shop. By the time our blog was posted, it was really time to get moving. Just then, the clouds parted and the rain stopped.

How glad were we about couchsurfing that evening? Words can hardly express it. We were staying with Bridget, although we had originally contacted her daughter through Couchsurfing. Bridget’s daughter was out camping, so Bridget offered to take us in.

After eating a hearty dinner, Maria had the audacity to mention that she’s on a mission not only to see a moose but also to taste one. In Ontario, we were told that it tastes really good. Bridget happened to have some at her house! So that’s what we ended up eating for breakfast. It tastes very similar to beef.

The moose that we tried at Bridget’s had been given to her daughter by a friend who hunted the moose. Hunting moose is neither easy nor cheap. First, you have to win the license lottery and purchase a license. Then, you need to shoot a moose and transport it out of your area. And finally, you need to have the moose butchered, which usually costs money. Last year, Bridget says, moose hunting was allowed in the parks as well, but nobody wanted that license because you were not allowed to use a truck to pick up your dead moose: just muscle power!

Bridget said that her daughter only eats organic meat or non-farmed fish. Thanks to her daughter, Bridget has switched to a pescetarian diet herself, and avoids eating farmed fish because of the health risks of eating a fish brought up on an unnatural diet. But you won’t find Atlantic wild salmon in the supermarket: commercial fishing for salmon is not allowed here anymore because the stocks have been depleted. A personal fishing license only allows the holder to catch 6 salmon a year. With that kind of limitation, people tend to ration out their salmon for special occasions like holidays or birthdays, instead of mindlessly munching on it daily.

Salmon are not the only over-fished species: trout and cod stocks are also low. Bridget said that the cod stocks were depleted because of insufficient regulations as well as too much foreign fishing in the nearby waters. For many people here, cod fishing was their livelihood. But before you rush to ship parcels of food to your Atlantic friends, don’t worry! There are new iconic Newfoundland foods: moose and unique local berries.

Mmmm. Bakeapple cheesecake — delicious and unique local flavour.

Coasting Along the Cabot Trail

1 Sep

The day we hit our 8,000km mark we also arrived on Cape Breton Island. The highway loop around the northern part of the island is called the Cabot Trail. Like Anya’s bike, it is named after the explorer John Cabot, who set sail from England over 500 years ago. After risking his life and enduring great difficulties, Cabot (probably) found this beautiful place. Today, getting here still poses a challenge for the cyclist: the loop is famous for its steep hills as well as its breathtaking views. In the clockwise direction, the most intense climb is North Mountain, with a 13% grade for 3km and a total elevation gain of 445 metres over 4km. Although it was possible to avoid this loop en route to Newfoundland, we accepted the challenge on our quest for rugged coastlines.

We started out on the scenic Trans Canada Trail along the coast. In Judique, we camped on the beach without setting up a tent. It gets quite windy around here. When we tried cooking on the beach, the lighter wouldn’t light, so we had to take it to the sheltered picnic table, where it worked just fine. We made a mental note to buy some matches at the first opportunity, just in case the lighter was running low on fuel.

Luckily, the next day our Warm Showers host, Kevin, cooked us a warm dinner with freshly caught mackerel. Kevin goes fishing for mackerel in his kayak practically every day. He says it’s a very cost-effective vessel. Though it lacks some of the comfort and reassurance of a sailboat or motor boat, and the locals think he’s crazy, Kevin loves fishing out of the kayak. He strives to enjoy life without excess, so that he doesn’t need to work a job that causes a lot of stress and takes away all his time. A lot of people, he says, work and save until they are old and unable to enjoy their savings, or they buy useless things just to be like the neighbours. The mackerel feeds Kevin both directly and as a bartering item: he trades his homemade smoked mackerel for fresh organic vegetables with a local farmer. To reduce cost on other things, he hunts thrift stores and garage sales for quality and unique household items.

Kevin told us about the limited work opportunities here. Tourism and fishing are the big ones and they’re seasonal. During the winter, an overwhelming number of people rely on unemployment insurance. Many people leave to work elsewhere, especially in the tar sands, where they earn big money. But Kevin wonders whether they are able to control their materialistic urges when they are suddenly given so much freedom.

The next day we summited two mountains, including North Mountain. We arrived in Cabot’s Landing and got ready to cook dinner on the beach. Again, the lighter was not cooperating. Of course we hadn’t bought any matches. Anya, who is not a big fan of pasta, suggested that perhaps a salad for dinner would do just fine. But Maria was outraged, and managed to light the stove just by using the sparks from the flint in the lighter. That’s what happens when you desperately want a warm dinner!

In the morning we woke up to see the sunrise and walked along the big spit closing off Aspy Bay from the Gulf of St Lawrence. We found some birds. We swam naked. It was pretty.

After cycling a long 15km, we stopped to feast on the deservedly famous fresh oysters on the half shell at Hideaway Campground. Continuing our seafood mission we took an ‘alternate scenic route’ (aka, hilly detour) off the Cabot Trail. We suffered on the uphills, but were generously rewarded. Stopping at the Chowder House was a particularly sound decision: we ate crab, clams, scallops, prawns, haddock, and mussels.

We were rather late getting to our next Warm Showers host, Rosie. Her friend, Mary-Beth, was visiting from Newfoundland. Mary-Beth told us about the ferry trouble that had been happening since the previous weekend: one of the two ferries was out of commission, causing overbooking and delays. We checked on the internet, and sure enough, the following morning was booked solid, even for cyclists. The next available space was not until two days later. So we were forced to take a rest day the following day. After all those steep hills, it wasn’t such a bad thing.

Rosie’s house has a composting toilet. Yep, inside her house. There are haiku instructions for how to use it and following them, we were able to set its wondrous mechanisms in motion ourselves. What an experience.

Rosie also keeps pigs and chickens, and grows vegetables. Her pigs will reluctantly eat store-bought animal feed, and they will not eat Rosie’s vegetable scraps which go in the compost. But they love the fatty or doughey food scraps, like the ones Rosie gets from the nearby cafe. It’s her first year of pigkeeping and she’s been pretty successful so far. But the big challenge lies ahead: she’s going to ask for help in killing and butchering the pigs in exchange for gifts of knitted things and bacon.

On our unexpected rest day, we visited a bookstore, conveniently located next door to Rosie’s. The store owner played his fiddle for us. He said the young people aren’t learning to dance, although fiddle music is meant for dancing. Later, we went to hear some local fiddlers in the nearby church. Sure enough, everyone was stomping their feet but both the audience and the performers were an older crowd, and nobody was dancing.

In an effort to keep their Celtic heritage alive, Cape Bretoners added the Gaelic town names to the English ones on all their highway signs. Oh, Canada, land of many cultures and heritages. Most people are confused enough by place names derived from French and various First Nations languages — and now this? Here’s a pronunciation guide.

In the end, taking a later ferry worked in our favour: we waited out two days of mediocre weather, and a reporter contacted us for an interview. We made a brief appearance on the Cape Breton Information Morning show on CBC Radio. It’s on one or several of the the Aug 30 shows, but only our most dedicated viewers would listen to hours upon hours of radio just to find it…

Spoking Wet

22 May

We have been so incredibly lucky with our hosts, but not with the weather. We have been cycling in torrential, nonstop rain for the past two days, yet we’ve been welcomed with open doors, tasty meals and comfy sleeping arrangements.

Our Warm Showers hosts for the first night cooked us dinner, which we ate by candle-light (for mood enhancement and energy conservation). They were very interested to talk about our project. We ended up talking for hours.

Daniel (far left) is studying geography and economics, and renting a room in Gary’s house. Gary (far right) is a carpenter, an engaging storyteller, and an amazing cook. Don’t be fooled by the enormous axe, he’s a really nice guy.

One of the first things that came up in our conversation is the issue of salmon habitat conservation. Both Gary and Daniel advocate for preservation of salmon habitat.  Gary’s philosophy is that if there are regulations that you believe aren’t right, it’s important to stir up the sh*t, even if the results are not immediately visible.

No late-night conversation is complete without musings on happiness. We discussed how consumerism promises happiness but does not deliver, and how the abudance of stuff takes the humanity away from human interactions. Gary told a story about meeting Annie Leonard at a conference; he said she was a really inpirational person. In case you haven’t seen her video, The Story of Stuff, here it is:

%d bloggers like this: