From Costa Rica and beyond

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Newfoundland and Labrador

Labrador at last! I was one of the last to roll off the ferry boat into...Quebec. Yes, the ferry to Labrador actually docks in St. Sabon, Quebec. Less than 10k to the north, a sign welcomes you to Labrador. A number of small communities are spaced along the paved road heading north. I was not sure where I would overnight, but Red Bay was definitely on my itinerary. Perhaps a bit more than an hour of driving up and over some long inclines and descents and past numerous lakes and small harbors (including one with an iceberg lodged in it) got me to this newly crowned UNESCO site. In the early 1500s, it was the Basque who pioneered the whaling industry to satiate Europe's demand for lighting oil. They found Labradorian waters abounding in North Atlantic Right Whales among others. History forgot their presence here until the late 70s when a researcher in Spain came across wills and receipts pertaining to a shipwreck said to have transpired in what is today Red Bay. The wreck of a modern ship in a November storm made some think that ship might be near the old wreck whose fate was also sealed in November. And underwater search soon found the San Juan and now the Basque presence here is chronicled and celebrated. A small but new and very nice museum houses a whaling boat and many other artifacts as well as context. After visiting the museum, I strolled along a beachside trail littered with whale bones dating back to the 16th century (or so I was assured at the museum).

Red Bay is also noteworthy for being the endpoint of this paved portion of the road. I stopped where the gravel begins to take a photo and to lower the tire pressure on my bike. A man on a BMW 1200GS pulled up having just completed the ride from the north. He assured me finding a camping spot would be really tough in the next section of the ride. With that news and with a mutual wish to chat with someone from New England, we set up our tents next to the church in Red Bay. We were assured the bugs would be not be so bad there.

Perhaps, but that did little to help us combat the swarms of black flies that greeted us, especially as the wind died down. I donned my head netting and quickly learned that blackflies will creep their way into anything. Soon there were hundreds outside my netting and probably a half dozen inside it. They also crept their way down my back and into my pants (the broken fly -- aptly named? -- probably facilitated that attack). A dinner of Ramen Noodles along with some chunk turkey I had bought was tasty, but testy. How to maximize my meal while minimizing that of the black flies? The best solution I found was just to hurry the meal and go to bed. I took a little run to lose the flies before bounding into my tent. That seemed to have worked until I saw more and more of the buggers emanate from the corner where I threw the head-netting. Fortunately, they seemed disoriented in the tent. Now they were the hunted. I'll have to give my tent a very thorough scrubbing when this trip is over.

Despite the persistent buzz of mosquitos trying to break their way through the tent screen, I slept fairly well. At 5am, the rain started and my slumber ceased. My tent is getting wet, my bladder is full, the bugs are waiting...what to do? The answer was to pack up as quickly as possible and hit the road. No bugs can fly that fast. A roof at the entrance to the museum was near, so I emptied my tent of heavy items and then carried it, still intact, to dryness where I toweled it off and packed it, trying to remain composed as the flies renewed their onslaught (do they never sleep??). A quick farewell to Will and I was off.

So far, the gravel road has been easy going. I can comfortably ride between 40 and 55 mph. There are rocks and a few rough patches, but compared to Ruta 40 in Patagonia, this is a relatively easy ride for a motorcyclist. What frightens me a bit is that I am alone and that it is so far between communities. Other than the road itself and an occasional motorist, the only sign of human existence are sleds that have been left just off the road as well as an occasional makeshift log bridge that allows ATVs to cross the gap between the road and the woods (they remind me of a very humble modern corollary to the medieval drawbridge). After a little more than an hour of driving past this rough, rocky land with its tall, very narrow spruces and firs, the rain faded and after another hour I was in Port Hope Simpson. Right now, I am writing in my room at a B and B. I feel a bit wimpy and indulgent stopping after such a short day, but I have my reasons. It continues to rain and I do not want to spend a second consecutive night in bugs and in the wet. Most importantly, the next town, Happy Valley Goose Bay, is over 400 km away (and there are no gas stations in all that way!). I am expecting a new chain and sprockets there, but one part of that trio has not arrived there yet, so there is no need to hurry there. Plus, tomorrow is supposed to be a nice day.

Having my own room, I am able to recharge my keyboard - such a bonus!! That is the primary reason I have not posted in a while. So what else have I been up to? The short answer is: "Newfoundland, That's what!" That is too short, though, so here is a bit more.

Newfoundland (pronounce it like 'understand') is fantastic! I took the ferry to Argentia and was in St John's two hours after disembarking. What a fun town! Row houses in the city center are painted in all shades of red and blue and green and yellow etc. There are fun, locally owned shops and stores to check out. George Street and environs throbs until 4 in the morning (yes, I know this first-hand) with music ranging from techno to amplified Newfie folk. Meet some nice people at your hostel (as I did - Ben, Lynn, Garech, Cynthia, Guillaume) or adjust your chain in a parking lot and meet a random German phd student who just bought a KLR (Regina), and you're guaranteed to have a great time. Several of us visited Cape Spear, the easternmost tip of land in North America, and watched whales from our perches atop high bluffs. We turned westward and then watched the sun set from Signal Hill where ships would receive guidance before entering the narrow harbor. Ben and Regina and I daytripped south on the Avalon Peninsula. The hot temps prompted even me to take a swim in very chilly waters. We ate mussels and moose burgers at a little diner and then visited Lord Baltimore's first attempt to find a new home for dissenting English Catholics (He had better success in Maryland). We also fought tough crosswinds before returning to Saint John's.

After three nights in St John's, I headed northwest to Bonavista where John Cabot was the first European (huge asterisk - stay tuned) to step on these shores. If you're in this vicinity, be sure to check out Trinity; it's what you get when you put Peacham, Vermont on the oceanfront. The next day took me farther northwest to Twillingate Island where I free-camped atop a cliff a couple hundred feet above the crashing sea. The next day was rainy, but I motored to Badger nevertheless and hopped on the T'railway, an old railroad bed converted to an ATV trail. This lent my ride a bit more adventure and even saved on mileage, although the bumps certainly beat up my bike. A deep section of gravel caused me to lose control and crash land just off the path. Two elderly couples on four-wheelers were right behind me. By hand, they pulled a rope and helped me back up on the path. This trail through the heart of Newfoundland was stunning. Much of it was flat and green, at times forested, at times treeless. The Gaff Topsail, as the area is called, is marked by four Topsails that are, as best I can figure, monadnocks or solitary mountains whose resistant stone allowed them to survive the glacial age and later erosion, leaving them to tower close to 200 feet above the surrounding tundra. With now sunny skies, I rolled into Gros Morne National Park where I spent three nights and enjoyed amazing scenery from the summit of Gros Morne mountain and took a cruise on Western Brook Pond, which is like a magnified Lake Willoughby with mountains towering 2700 feet above the 600 feet deep lake. Something remarkable about this lake: It has very few nutrients and thus very few ions, so its water reportedly will not conduct electricity. Something else remarkable: After hearing me pine about the faulty seam on my brand new, super comfortable Big Agnes sleeping pad, a man from Quebec City loaned me his. I'll return it soon (Big Agnes, to their credit, is replacing it and shipping the new one to that man's address).

My last stop before the ferry to Labrador was L'Anse aux Meadows, where Leif Erickson and a small band of Vikings built a very modest settlement 1000 years ago.

Whew, it is very good to be caught up on my blog. I'm still looking for a computer so I can upload all my pics. Stay tuned.

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