Days 90 & 91 – Years ago we used to live close to Alexandra Palace in North London, and often visited the palace when there was a show on, or just to get a drink at the pub that lives in a far corner of the building.
At the end of an antiques fair in the gigantic hall one Sunday there was a very serious announcement over the PA system:
“ATTENTION. Please be aware, BREAKDOWN has begun. BREAKDOWN. Please be aware, BREAKDOWN is a dangerous time”
As often happens in families, this phrase sort of stuck and got recycled on many occasions. Nothing better describes my last two days on Newfoundland than BREAKDOWN. Of my bike, of my trip, of my luggage. Luckily, not of me. I just about held it all together through the many tasks that needed to be sorted out, when all I wanted to do was to jump on the next plane home and see my family.
So I woke up on Saturday morning, remembered that I had FINISHED, and went out for a blow-out celebratory breakfast at The Omlette Wizard. I felt I should post one last plate-full-of-food photo to make everyone feel hungry:
Then I cycled across town (I was staying in Mount Pearl, which turned out to be a long way out. St John’s is a surprisingly spread-out town, an amalgam of many smaller villages) to the Avalon Mall to buy a new backpack for the journey home. I had a comical exchange with the guy at the till in Sears. I asked, on the off-chance, if the $64.99 was reduced in the sale (I was pretty sure it wasn’t). He rang it up, and told me that it was actually $179.99 and had been wrongly labelled. When I asked why on earth it was so much, he said “This is a very high end product”. I then made a short improvised speech about Canadian trading laws, which I claimed to be very familiar with, which clearly state that you must sell an item at its advertised price. This is true in the UK and I guessed it was the same in Canada. He looked very anxious and hesitant, and asked for a few minutes to talk to his manager. After phoning he came back, looking relieved. “That’s all fine. That will be $38”. I laughed and said that although I’d cost them a few bucks, in fact it would save them in the long run, because all of the backpacks had been wrongly labelled, and he told me he was going to take them all down as soon as I left.
Next was the bike shop, Earle Industries, where my bike was stripped down and forced into a big cardboard box, all done without charge as a donation to my charity (as mentioned before in the blog). You know you’re a bike-fancier if you look at the following picture and think “Oooo, nice tool wall”. It went on for the entire wall in all directions, and I found myself fiddling with several unfamiliar items.
This shop had been recommmended to me by Jocinda & Sam, the cyclists I met on the ferry over to Newfoundland. As Lucas and I demolished my bike, they both turned up to sort out their own bike arrangements. I had thought of them the night before, since their plan had been to camp in St John’s. I was very glad to hear that they had checked in to a hotel, and were about to hire a car to explore the island properly. I remembered my meeting with Justin French and his family, all the way back in Lake Louise in early June, and his kind invitation to stay with him on the west coast as a base to explore the famous Gros Morne National Park, where he was a senior guide. The down side of this arrangement was the very long and arduous ride it would mean making across the whole of Newfoundland. Even Justin didn’t recommend it.His suggestion was to do what Sam & Jocinda were doing, and drive. I think that it would be a great cycling challenge for another time, but you would need to feel fresher and more up for endless miles than I’ve felt lately. If I could bottle the feeling I had riding out to Cape Spear, I’d go!
A cab took me back to the hotel, with my deconstructed bike shoved in the back like a box of spare parts. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that after all this time on my bike I felt like I’d betrayed it by doing this to it. It had formed a bit of an identity of its own, always the first thing I saw as I emerged from my tent in the morning, waiting patiently for another pounding on the highway. Never putting a foot wrong, happy to grind slowly uphill for hour after hour, with the promise of an exhilarating high-speed descent as a reward. I silently thanked it for hanging in there, right to the ignominious end. My Saturday night supper was at a local diner, but I was starting to suffer from a feeling of over-consumption of diner-food, however good. I suppose that three months is my personal limit.
On Sunday morning I walked for a couple of kilometres towards town then jumped on a bus which took me to Water Street, the oldest street in St John’s, where I hopped off again right outside the scene of my celebrations on Friday night:
Many of the buildings are very historic, but the town was rebuilt after a fire in the late 1800s:
I spent a very happy hour or so in the town’s most famous music shop, O’Brien’s Music, “The oldest store, on the oldest street, in the oldest city”. I chatted for ages with the young owner – he may be young, but he’s also the fourth generation of his family to run the store, a truly incredible stat. We swapped musician jokes and talked ukes, mandolins, local bands and, of course, Newfoundland itself.
My aim today was to walk through town sightseeing and doing some gift shopping, and to then head right up to Signal Hill, where I would have a great view of the Cape, my finishing point on Friday. The weather was looking ok, so I said goodbye and got going. St John’s is a very hilly town, with brightly-coloured terraced houses and shops that are the distinctive feature:
At the end of the high street the hills kick in seriously, leading away to the longish walk east and up to Signal Hill. St John’s is an impressive deep natural bay, with the priceless protection of a narrow inlet, easily defended from the high surrounding hills:
(These canon are pointing straight at Cape Spear in the distance)
(I wondered if the local fishermen coming through ever cast a nervous glance up at the assorted batteries bearing down on them. The very first battery was built by locals in the early 1600s, and was mounted on the little bay opposite)
Looks easy from here.
The last few hours of my last day in Canada were spent waiting for a bus in the rain, waiting for a cab to turn up at my hotel, then waiting for the WestJet desk to open up. When they finally did I got the most incredible help from Luke concerning my bike, and the whole flight back. I’ve been waiting and waiting (again!) to hear from Air Transat about their proposed sponsorship, but have almost given up hope. Meanwhile, WestJet came into the picture and were amazing. First Luke apologised for the delay by saying “Hmmm. I think we’ll wave those charges…”, meaning the large extra charge I was supposed to pay for my bike and all the panniers. Then he carried on talking quietly as he typed, saying, “…and let’s put you somewhere a bit nicer shall we?….somewhere with a bit of food an drink?….” He upgraded me without me even asking, although I confess that my luggage label does say “PLEASE UPGRADE ME” in large green letters. He also didn’t realise at this point that I had been on a charitable adventure, so I thanked him profusely and promised to do so again on the blog, so here it is Luke! You made the final leg of my trek a total pleasure.
Susie was waiting for me when I arrived, and there was a beautiful bit of homemade bunting (thanks Jacob and Ella!) hanging up at home to welcome me back.
All that’s left for now is to share with you a couple of last things that made me laugh over this last weekend. Firstly, this strategically positioned sign:
One last Song Stuck In Head Whilst Cycling – I’ve neglected these over the last weeks, due to issues of mental health caused by songs getting really stuck. Here’s one I never minded, as it always felt as though it was taking me towards home. It’s the theme tune to a great series I watched on my iPad when battery power allowed: the haunting ‘Train Song’, from ‘Patriot’:
One the subject of wildlife, I am delighted to tell you that I’ve finally, after many failed attempts, managed to get my short recording of Prairie Birdsong onto YouTube. It’s the sound you hear if you stop cycling for moment and just listen, wind permitting. My parting offering is the link to it here, better late than never. Nothing gets me back to that incredible part of Canada more instantly than to close my eyes and listen to this (you might want to use headphones or turn your sound up to maximum):
Goodbye for now everyone, and I promise to keep you all posted on the progress of the eBook project. Thanks for being there.