Newfoundland/Labrador Day 24: Riding the Irish Loop
On my last full day in Newfoundland, I knew I wanted to ride. I’ve ridden on many of the roads in Newfoundland, but there are several loop rides that the province has designated according to general area, history, and commonalities of the communities along the loop. Each loop has interpretive road signs along the way and recommended sites to stop and visit. I saved most of the loop rides for a return visit, but today I decided to conquer the 180 mile Irish Loop on the southern tip of the Avalon Peninsula, largely because my B&B is on the loop so I had a good place to start.
I had already ridden about 45 miles of the loop going to various locations so I rode pretty quickly for the first hour. The Irish loop is mostly along the coastline because the Irish largely came as fishermen. The coastal fishing villages each have a similar background, it seems, and the Catholic Church played a large role in each village, providing spiritual guidance and most of the education the children got.
This part of Newfoundland would be the first part of North America that sailing ships from Europe would have seen and many of them stopped at Newfoundland ports to resupply (fresh water and fresh food, especially) on their way to somewhere else. A little ship called the “Mayflower,” made a port call at the bay that now houses the village of “Renews” in 1621 on its way to founding Massachusetts and giving us Thanksgiving so we can watch football with in-laws.
Further down the coast, three radiomen at the Cape Race lighthouse in 1912 were the first to receive this radio message: “This is the SS Titanic. We have hit an iceberg.” But the Titanic wasn’t the only ship that went down in the frigid Atlantic waters. Hundreds of ships over the years have been confused in the fog (easily done I think) and rounded what they thought was the end of the peninsula only to discover to their chagrin that they turned too early and crashed into shoals or the rocky shore. One of the points of land, in fact, is named “Mistaken Point” because so many ship captains and navigators made the deadly mistake of changing course there only to run aground and lose their ships along with thousands of lives.
I appreciate their difficulties in the fog, because about two hours into my ride, I ran into dense fog, a little rain, and a 20 degree drop in temperature in a matter of a few miles.
Needing to pull over and add my chaps to my riding attire, I pulled into an interpretive center near Cape Race and Mistaken Point. “Might as well look at the exhibits inside (where it’s warm),” I thought. So I went in. They turned out to have an exhibit about a one-of-a-kind paleontology find on the rocks of Mistaken Point. Hundreds of square feet of exposed rock contain more than 6000 fossils from the Ediacaran Era, 560 million years ago, making them among the oldest available to scientists anywhere in the world. All the fossils are from simple, plant-like animals that are now extinct, leaving no living relatives. I wanted to take the tour of the site, but it would have added two to three hours to my day and involved going down a dirt (muddy) road for about 10-12 miles, a trek I didn’t relish. So I left the fossils for a return trip. They lasted 560 million years; they’ll last a couple more.
The loop changed direction around Cape Race and I started riding north again. In about an hour or so I was out of the worst of the fog and in another hour it was gone completely.
I’ve talked about the condition of the roads here–some good, some (in a decided understatement) not-so-good. Sometimes, but not always, a road sign announces there may be potholes ahead. Believe them when they warn you. I’ve fished in ponds that weren’t as deep as some of the potholes I weaved around, taking full advantage of the parking lot cone weave practice I’ve had. Hit some of these at 60 mph and you’re going to have some serious problems and almost certain a bent wheel and a blown tire.
Near the end of my ride I finally saw a moose. Two of them in fact. Unfortunately there were behind a fence at a nature center that specializes in rehabbing wild animals. I didn’t know alcoholism and drug addition were a problem for moose, caribou, foxes, lynx, owls, otters, etc.
Actually, the center takes in injured and ill animals, nurses them back to health and returns them to their original habitat when they can. When they can’t be returned, they keep them in fairly natural enclosures and allow tourists to have a look. Turned out to be a nice place to get pictures. (See Flickr for more.)
Finished the loop and got back to my B&B in time to pour a Jack, sit on the deck and watch the whales swim by and the fog wrap around the islands. All-in-all, a pretty damn good day.
I’m going to try to ride another loop tomorrow if time permits before I have to show up at Argentia at 3 p.m. to check in for my 5 p.m., 16-hour ferry ride back to the mainland and the beginning of the ride home. Weather may have something to say about my plans.
This is not something I thought I’d say, but I could wait to get back on the road again for a couple more weeks. I’d like to see more of this amazing island and meet more of its friendly people.
Watch out for potholes and I’ll do the same.