Riding the Roads Less Taken

  • Downhome Magazine
  • Posted: Sep 19, 2016 11:43 AM
Robert's adventure bike, perched overlooking Bay de Verde, NL (All photos courtesy Robert Miller)

For Robert Miller of St. John's, there's no better way to see Newfoundland and Labrador than on a motorcycle. But he's not just roaring along the TCH and city streets; his bike takes him down gravel roads and over ancient footpaths to places cars just can’t access - and over terrain your typical motorcyclist wouldn’t dream of taking their sweet ride.

Robert is part of the growing worldwide community of adventure riders - bikers who journey off the beaten path to unique and scenic destinations. 

“Adventure riding is about seeking out new places by following the roads and trails unknown,” says Robert. “[Adventure riders] want to travel to get to see something special.” 

Since he took up the hobby in earnest four years ago, Robert’s explored most of the island and has journeyed through Labrador, Quebec and the Maritimes on his adventure bike - a class of motorcycle specially designed for long-haul trips and light off-roading. 

“They’re somewhere between a dual-purpose dirt bike - an off-road machine with lights and gears and all that - and a heavier highway bike,” explains Robert. They’re equipped with bigger engines than typical motorcycles, are able to carry more luggage and have a larger front wheel that can handle bumpy terrain. 

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Cable John Cove, near Dungeon Provincial Park, is one of the most scenic places Robert says he's been on his adventure bike.

It’s taken Robert to some of his favourite places in the province, like Cable John Cove near Bonavista. 

“It’s a little bit east of Dungeon Provincial Park; it’s absolutely stunning,” gushes Robert. “The park is centred on the Dungeon, a hole in the ground, but the view over there is a hundred times better.”
This summer Robert and his adventure bike headed down the Burin Peninsula on a solo journey.

“I went to Jean de Baie [northeast of Marystown] and I found some trails there which end up in the next community,” says Robert. “Oftentimes they’re unmarked trails - you’ll find two communities always had a trail because they were next to each other for 200 years. It’s not on a map, but it’s there.” 

Oftentimes, Robert says, it’s just a matter of tracking down a local to ask about little known trails and paths in their area - and in many cases, the locals come to him.

“I find people give you a queer look and then they come on down in their truck and they talk to you. They always do, they have lots of questions - where are you going to? Have you seen this? Have you tried that? They’ll strike up a big chat with you. And that’s great because that’s part of the trip then. I met a guy in St. Lawrence and he was just great, telling me all about the history of the town, the mining roads and everything that were around.”

At Bay L’Argent, a crane hoisted Robert’s bike onto the Northern Seal (the ferry has the capacity to carry six such bikes - but no cars or trucks), and he headed off to the remote south coast community of Rencontre East. Accessible only by sea or air, there are no vehicles in the tiny outport, where gravel roads are well worn by foot traffic and ATVs - and now Robert’s adventure bike.

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Robert's bike is hoisted onto the ferry Northern Seal.

“It’s a little bit of a step back in time and you kind of get to see the heritage of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians,” says Robert. 

And it’s just this sort of destination that Robert believes would appeal to adventure riders not just from this province - but those from away as well.

“Adventure riders are interested in going out of the way. Adventure riders do not ride to Florida, they just don’t,” says Robert. “And Newfoundland is exactly that - it’s a destination off the beaten path to a lot of people. We’re less well known, more country, more undeveloped.”

Robert believes the global adventure riding community is rife with untapped tourism potential for this province. With minimal effort, Robert suggests, Newfoundland and Labrador could become a hotspot for such travellers.

“Abandoned roads and tracks are cost-effective resources that can be easily expanded to provide continuous adventures,” he says. “They only need to be identified on maps, lightly improved in the worst sections and loosely linked together.”

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Off the beaten path near Tickle Cove, NL

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Drinking in a sunset near Frenchman's Cove, NL

For his part, last year Robert established a group called NL Adventure Rider on the social networking website www.meetup.com, in an effort to make it easier for adventure riders to meet like-minded individuals and arrange travel in groups. The group has more than 100 members so far, who mainly hail from the Avalon Peninsula - but it’s open to adventure riders anywhere who have an interest in riding in Newfoundland and Labrador. While Robert organizes rides and social gatherings from time to time, the group basically runs itself, with users taking it upon themselves to arrange trips - which could last anywhere from a few hours to several days. 

“It’s a facilitator,” says Robert. “People can create their own rides, do their own things.” 
In addition to providing a platform for meeting other adventurers, the group also helps foster rider safety. Although Robert has become accustomed to riding on his own, he says it’s not something he would encourage - especially in remote areas.

“Riding solo can be dangerous,” he warns. “I’ve went very remote by myself, I’ve also crashed by myself - I’m still limping, and if I had broken a bone, honestly, I’d have to wait for somebody to come find me. You can’t drive a motorcycle if you’ve broken any limb - you can drive a car out pretty broken up, but you can’t drive a motorcycle.”

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Adventure riding has landed Robert in a few sticky situations. (Photo taken near Gaskiers, NL)

And considering the sometimes tricky terrain, adventure riding can lead to sticky situations where an extra set of hands can come in handy - like the time Robert’s bike became stuck in a bog between Gaskiers and St. Vincent’s, or when he broke down halfway between Happy Valley-Goose Bay and Port Hope Simpson.

While Robert may be a city dweller and always has been, he says the province’s rural places have found a special place in his heart. There was a time when Robert says he didn’t know Newfoundland and Labrador past the highway. It took an outsider’s perspective to shed light on all that he was missing. 

“I kind of learned a lesson from some tenants of mine from Colorado, who were just touring all over Newfoundland seeing all these wonderful things that I never knew about. It was a bit of an eye opener,” says Robert. 

And while an adventure bike is his vehicle of choice, Robert says he feels it’s important for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to get out and explore, no matter their mode of transportation. 

“You don’t need a motorcycle,” says Robert. “Go see the province in whatever you got, get out there. Stop waiting.” By Ashley Miller 

Click here for Robert's top 10 adventure riding routes, plus tips on finding your own trails.