We discovered a beautiful place when we went to Newfoundland, Canada and explored Corner Brook and the West Coast of this island on the edge of North America.
For many of us, our world has become increasingly busy, crowded and consumed with tasks and efforts focused on enabling us to get ahead and to acquire the ‘stuff’ we seem to think we need. Mountain biking offers a beautiful escape to ‘reality’ in an increasingly wired and complicated world.
Many of us seek simplicity, new people, beautiful natural landscapes and periods of calm. As mountain bikers we can find this every time we ride. Our bikes offer an escape to a realm that only the natural world can offer. A way to find time away from the busyness that we find in cities full of commerce, productivity, touch screens, smart phones, commuting and consuming. The never-ending race to get ahead and find happiness with a new kitchen, phone, car or pair of expensive pre-worn and torn jeans. For those of us that ride bikes we have the luxury of escaping to the natural world and gaining a fresh perspective every time we have the good fortune of riding.
Sit back, slow down and savour Newfoundland. This Island/Province is perched on the far Eastern shores of Canada, on the opposite coast to the famous trails of British Columbia, nearly 6000km away. Newfoundland is uniquely undeveloped compared to many other places in Canada. A place to unwind and enjoy the beauty and simplicity of the natural world, to find solitude and get in touch with the things in life that might just be more important than the pressures we face in the cities.
Newfoundland on Trailforks.com
Newfoundland has two major centers, St. Johns (population approximately 100,000) in the East and Corner Brook (population 25,000) in the West. We chose to explore the rugged west coast of the Island, which has a less developed mountain bike scene, but is home to the world famous Gros Morne National Park as well as a rugged coastline that begged us to explore it. We found that Western Newfoundland is a land in flux between the old and the new as it has not yet quite let go of the old or been enveloped by the new. How will time and development play out in Newfoundland? How will it recreate itself in the years to come? Will it remain distinct and beautifully removed from the stress, hustle and competitiveness found in so many places today?
Perched on a hillside, the views while visiting Corner Brook are dominated by old and new together. The mill, which is still one of the town’s major employers’ can be seen from every vantage point as it sits right at the harbour. Also visible from most spots in town is the University, a place which focuses on the arts, creativity and expression… the ‘new’. This is a place of hardy, beautiful people. On one of our nights out on the town after a full day of riding we found ourselves in one of the quintessential Newfoundland bars which was full of University students on a Saturday night. There was much drinking and laughing and people were dressed down and very casual. The dance floors were nearly empty when the normal top 40 music was playing and we were about to give up on the bar and head home when out of the shadows emerged musicians equipped with fiddles. They proceeded to rock the house and the freshly packed dance floor with classic ‘newfie’ jigs and songs…. There it was: the ‘kids’ were dancing to the ‘old’ music, the fun, beautiful music of Newfoundland.
We also noticed that there were fewer box stores and chain restaurants than have cropped up everywhere else in Canada. There were more local greasy spoon diners, smaller ‘mom and pop’ stores and shops. Everywhere we looked we saw signs of the collapsed and slowing fishing and lobster industries. Old weathered boats and rotting wooden traps… we felt sad. Peoples dreams, families and lives were staked on these industries and they have wasted away with foreign overfishing and demand what has proven to be too much for a delicate resource. We could see that the sea had sustained many people for many years and those days were coming to an end… another tragedy of our rapidly developed world and its massive demand on our resources and stress that it places on nature and the people that call these special places home.
Our travels took us to the most northern tip of the Isle of Newfoundland, to a place that the Vikings first landed upon. It was fascinating to discover these ancient ruins, older than the cities of Europe. To find history like this in Canada is amazing as most cities in Canada are no much older than one or two hundred years old. These Viking settlements are some of the oldest in North America. We also discovered some of the most beautiful coastline and scenic single track of the whole trip, the trails were short in this area, but absolutely concentrated with views, history and true serenity. We were again immersed in the tail of old and new… here we were in this ancient land, with stories of loss – Lost civilizations, lost industries and lonely old fishing villages dotting the landscape…. And stories of discovery, a brilliant gem of a place so close to all of North America and even Europe, that seems to have escaped some of the confining pressures of Box Stores and fast food restaurants. Here we found a perfect place to unwind and immerse yourself in the vastness of nature and simplicity. What a treat.
Andreas Hestler searching for Viking ruins.
While we distinctly noticed a sense of the old while in Newfoundland we also were also overwhelmed with a sense of ‘new’ and of ‘potential’ this is a place in transition and a place that seems like it is developing in it’s own special way, away from the traditional pressures of western society. We discovered that we were able to ride within the borders National Parks on sanctioned mountain bike friendly trails a move that we considered to be superbly progressive. The trails were beautiful and lead us through forested, sunbathed groves that were licked by the shores of wild lakes. We also rode spectacular rocky coastlines that had been shaped and hammered by centuries of stormy seas and we rode red rock moonscapes surrounded by barren peaks and rocky outcroppings. All this within a few square kilometers. The riding is still a bit undeveloped, but this is to be expected in a place that has a population that equates to roughly 1 person per square kilometer.
Mike chases the evening light.
This article is dedicated to Shannon Howlett. Our knowledgeable guide and friend who put up with us and passionately shared his beautiful home province with us. Shannon passed away peacefully and suddenly shortly after we completed our adventure with him. He is in our hearts.
If you go:
Know that a mountain bike vacation to Newfoundland is a cultural adventure as much as it is a mountain bike trip. The trails here are somewhat underdeveloped compared to the more “famous” mountain bike destinations. The smaller population means that even amazing trails can become overgrown so you will be embarking on a trip that is as much about exploration and discovery as it is about mountain biking. The more established mountain biking trails are probably in St. John’s. If you are going solely for a mountain bike adventure you can check in with the good folks at Freeride Mountain Sports and they will sort you out if you find yourself in St. John’s rather than where we went in Corner Brook.
www.cyclesolutions.ca – tour provider in Corner Brook that can set you up with everything you need ranging from rental bikes and advice to fully serviced and catered guiding and transportation. They took care of us and showed us the best of the regions riding, nightlife and scenic locations.
Event Calendar – for Corner Brook, Nfld
www.newfoundlandlabrador.com – a fascinating and very well organized website for anyone looking to visit the area. Videos, links and all the information you could ever ask for.
www.gowesternnewfoundland.com – website dedicated to the areas that we explored.
www.deerlakeairport.com – Fly into Deer Lake which is the airport for Western Newfoundland. It is an international airport so you can fly directly from Europe or the USA.
This is an older edit, yet it shows the beauty of Newfoundland. This edit features a rider who ended up winning the Canadian National downhill championships in 2015 beating none other than an on-form Stevie Smith… we like this short edit as Matt Beer has the best last name ever and he is also a joy to watch… even when he was younger and slower!
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