Newfoundland/Labrador Day 30: Home Again (for now)
30 days. 7159 miles. Innumerable smiles. This ride is in the books (or will be when I get back to Florida where my book publishing program resides on my home computer). Like the Alaska ride of last year and the Colorado ride of two years past, this was a great experience, though clearly different because of its solo nature. On a rating scale of 1-5, this ride gets a 6.
Rather than recap the adventures along the way, which can be done by re-reading all the posts, I think this final blog will be about the benefits of this kind of ride. Why is it important, for me at least, to go off for a month or two, away from the routine and away from the routine scenery?
At the risk of sounding like a paperback philosopher, these adventures are a renewable resource. And I’m a subject that needs renewing. Even if you love your life, your job and your family, a little solitude is a healthy thing. Some choose Walden Pond and some choose the open road. For me, riding a motorcycle on a trip like this is solitude enhanced by an order of magnitude. As a long ride begins, I turn loose of quotidian worries, chores and apprehensions. It’s almost as if the wind rushing past the bike helps clear the air between my ears. When the old is gone, dissipated in the rush of the ride, there’s space for new things, new people, new thoughts. And I don’t have to work hard to seek them out. I’m constantly seeing new things (e.g. pink elephants and icebergs and blue lobsters and churches with missiles), making new friends and listening to the always-interesting stories of their lives, and trying to find my place in a constantly changing universe. I know I was supposed to do the latter when I was in college and in my 20s, but I never quite seemed to get around to it. I’m still on an incredible, exciting, meaningful journey of discovery and these trips are crucial to that journey.
When I chance upon prehistoric human sites almost 10,000 years old or consider the powerful, literally world-changing geologic upheavals that occurred hundreds of millions of years ago as the rock that is Newfoundland crashed inevitably into North America, I’m forced to try to put my own sense of “speckness” into some greater, clarifying perspective. The fact that I’m so small in a universal time-scale is humbling; the fact that I’m aware of that smallness is empowering. These trips help me sort through the nature of being human in a universe that mostly doesn’t care about humans.
Riding along on a motorcycle surrounded by beautiful scenery (and all scenery seems beautiful when I straddle the saddle), even when I seem to be pre-occupied dodging potholes and broken pavement, provides plenty of time for mostly uninterrupted thought where I can process what I’ve seen and learned. I’m not looking for an “answer” or a “solution.” I’m content at the end of a ride if I somehow feel that I’ve grown, that my mind-trunk is filled with memories I can call on later. I don’t want to or need to change the world; I’m happy when the world changes me.
And in those terms, this ride was a success. I came back refreshed, albeit a little tired after 30 days on the road and 30 nights in strange beds and the occasional reclining chair. Fortunately, this renewal process is not a one-time thing; I’ll need to go again. And again. And again. Sometimes solo. Sometimes with others. But I will go as long as I’m able.
Where to next year? I think maybe the Rockies. Anywhere from Pueblo, Colorado, to Jasper, Alberta, or maybe all of it. I love the soaring, snow-covered Rocky Mountains and the roads that wind through them. Maybe it’s because I was born in the Rockies. Or maybe it’s just because they are what they are.
I arrived to a joyful welcome from all my neighbors in Maggie Valley and it’s good to be back. A day or two to rest and clean some of Canada off my bike and I’ll be ready to ride again.
One final thought: A big “THANKS” to everyone who followed along, reading the blog and looking at my pictures. It meant a lot to know that friends and family cared where I was and what I was doing. If my feeble efforts encourage you to go off on your own adventures, the time spent sharing is time well spent.
Continue to seek adventure in your lives. I’ll do the same.
Newfoundland/Labrador Day 29: Coming to a Close
At the end of today’s ride I find I’m only 450 miles from Maggie Valley, several hundred miles closer than I thought I’d be on Day 29. Consequently, I’ve decided to make tomorrow my final ride, ending the 7,500-mile adventure that started almost exactly one month ago. Tonight I’ll post on today’s ride and then wrap-up tomorrow night with, perhaps, a hint at next year’s great adventure.
Initially I had planned to go to Franklin Roosevelt’s Hyde Park home and the historic site there, but one look at the multi-colored weather radar map and I knew that wasn’t going to happen. If I went south from Albany as planned , I would have had at least a morning’s worth of heavy rain. To the north and west my chances of avoiding a drenching looked better, so with my rain gear on and a slight rain continuing to add to the overnight rainfall total, I backtracked about 20 miles north and then headed west on I-88. By the time I was on I-88 the rain was gone and I could see the clouds thinning with a hint of blue every now and then. I generally don’t ride much Interstate highways because of the monotony and the lack of small-town character that occurs at a constant 70+ mph. But I definitely make better time.
Since I couldn’t get to FDR’s old stomping ground (well, I guess not really stomping ground in his case), I decided to make sure I didn’t miss the opportunity to go to the Duane Zeleski Historic Site. For those who don’t know Duane (aka “Ski”), he’s one of my good riding buddies from Florida and at 79-years old and still going strong, a model of endurance and fortitude for us all. “Ski” spent summers as a young lad on the cusp of manhood tromping through the woods near the family’s cottage his father built just outside Hancock, NY, and fishing the waters of the East Branch of the Delware River. It was, he claims, the best place to grow up.
I made it a point to be in the vicinty of Hancock and took up Ski’s suggestion to ride down “Peas Eddy Road” as it follows the winding course of the East Branch of the Delware River. I’m sure I saw the place where he grew up, but there were several houses on the road and I’m not sure which one was his. As he told tales of his golden youth over cups of coffee back in Florida, Ski mentioned one of his childhood chums who lived year-round on the river where he spent his summers. “Go by Van Peter’s farm,” he said. I found it at the end of Peas Eddy Road where the road diverges at a right angle from the banks of the river, and dismounted from the bike, which was parked next to a barn with a sign that read: “The Peters Farm at Peas Eddy, Established March 9, 1909.”
As I stood there looking around, a silver pick-up truck drove up with “Peters Logging” on the side. “Can I help you,” said the driver. “Are you part of the Peters family that has the farm,” I said. “I’m Van Peters and this is my place,” he said with a 360 degree sweep of his arm. “Does the name Duane Zeleski mean anything to you?” I asked. “Sure. His family had a place just down the road. My sister owns it now.” I explained who I was and how I knew Ski. His 80-year old father, who is as active as his 79-old Florida friend, wasn’t at home, to my chagrin, but Van III and I had a nice 15-minute chat about what a great place the land around Peas Eddy Road is.
I took a few pictures, including one of Van III which I sent to Ski, and rode slowly back along Peas Eddy Road, imagining Ski as a boy crossing the East Branch to his various Huck Finn-like hideouts on the island in the middle of the river. He was right. It’s beautiful country and, no doubt, a good place to grow up.
On the ride to Hancock I went through some nice New York farm country, including some dairy farms. The only reason that has any significance to this blog is that our friends in North Carolina, who suggested I ride to Newfoundland because of their experience there 17 years ago, owned and operated a dairy farm in New York until they retired to travel and live the good life in the mountains surrounding Maggie Valley. So, Bob and Pat, this cow’s for you. And thanks for the tip.
When I left Hancock, I headed south again through eastern Pennsylvania’s wooded and gently rolling farm county for an hour or more until I found myself again on an Interstate. Some quick calculations told me that if I stayed on Interstate 81 the rest of the afternoon, I would end up close enough to North Carolina to make it back tomorrow. I love riding the side roads, but after 30 days on the road my dirty clothes are starting to smell and I want to fall asleep in my own recliner.
For those keeping track, today’s lunch consisted of Apple Pie with whipped cream at the Hancock House Hotel in beautiful downtown Hancock.
So, tomorrow will mark the final ride of this saga. And tomorrow night’s blog will be the end of my scribbling for a while. The ride home tomorrow should be uneventful, so tomorrow night’s blog will just go where it goes.
Stop and smell the flowers and the dairy farms and I’ll do the same.
Newfoundland/Labrador Day 28: Splashing Toward Home
After having nearly perfect weather for most of the trip, yesterday and especially today were a little wet. The decision yesterday to put on a new rear tire turned out to be a good one because I was on wet roads today more than dry. Light rain fell much of the morning, then cloudy but only sprinkles off and on, then finally rain again this afternoon as I tried to find a place to spend the night.
I headed west from Lewiston, Maine, to New Hampshire because there was a road there I wanted to ride. Not far from Mt. Washington, the highest peak in the northeast U.S. at a little over 6,000 feet, is the Kancamagus Highway, built in 1959 and one of the better motorcycle rides in New England. I had climbed Mt. Washington on a bike several years ago when I was riding in this area, but failed to ride the Kancamagus and wanted to do that this time. Kancamagus, by the way, was an Indian chief or sagamon in the late 17th century who led a failed uprising against the growing stream of English settlers; he was the last to do so in this area.
The ride was not technically challenging, other than the wet pavement, but even with the low clouds and occasional rain, it was a pleasant ride and gave me a chance to stop and take in the mountains and some of the streams. No doubt the ride would have been more exciting on dry pavement when I could have hit the turns a little harder, but sometimes it’s nice just to sit back and take in the scenery.
The Kancamagus was in pretty good shape, but many miles of road in New Hampshire were as bad as any I encountered on this trip, including the potholes in Newfoundland. Gas is relatively cheap in New Hampshire, but I would have been more than willing to kick in a few more cents per gallon to have some new asphalt put down. Some of the roads were marked with a speed limit of 50, but I didn’t dare take them at faster than 30 for fear of shaking something loose on my bike (or me).
Vermont’s roads were a little better, especially when I was off the state roads and on a U.S. highway. Lots of touristy ski towns in Vermont (I went through the Killington area) that have a pretty good tourist season during the summer, too.
I crossed into New York about mid-afternoon and spent the rest of the afternoon heading south along the historic Hudson River (without stopping at historic sites because of the weather), dodging rain, getting off course on an ill-marked detour, and then looking longer for a place to stay than I wanted to. I ended up just south of Albany. Rain is forecast again for tomorrow and I’m going to take a good look at the radar tomorrow morning before I saddle up again so I can try to avoid the worst of it.
One final thing: When I’m on a ride like this one where I make navigational decisions based on whims, strange place names, and even wrong turns, I never know what’s going to turn up. The picture here is proof of that. I’m not sure what message the good folks of Warren, NH, are trying to convey by placing a Redstone rocket next to a church. It was definitely the strangest juxtaposition I encountered on this trip. Maybe on any trip.
I’ll think about a route for tomorrow’s ride tomorrow when I get up and look at the weather radar. I think I’m going to miss one of the stops I had hope to make at Hyde Park, but there will be other rides.
Don’t make any rash decisions regarding war and peace and I’ll do the same.
Newfoundland/Labrador Day 27: Back in the States
My last morning in Canada was filled with rain, fog and gray skies. I had thought about taking the coastal route along the Bay of Fundy to see if I could watch any of the tidal action, but the rain, and later the fog, convinced me that it would have been a waste of time because I couldn’t have seen anything anyway and would have added several hours to the ride.
Today’s rain was the hardest I’ve seen on this trip and it lasted for about the first hour of the southward journey. As soon as it stopped and I skirted the coast at St. John, NB, a heavy fog set in and visibility was reduced to less than 100 yards. Not good traveling conditions but I stayed dry and warm in my gear. As soon as I got to St. Stephens, NB, where one of the border crossings is located, the clouds parted, the sun came out and the temperature rose about 15 degrees. No kidding. I thought maybe it was a sign, but there was already a sign that said “United States, Ahead on left 500 Meters” and another one that said “International Border, “so I guess it wasn’t a sign because they don’t need three.
I cashed in the remaining Canadian $ I had at a currency exchange that was definitely not paying the bank rate, joined the line of cars to present my passport, told the border guard that my mud-coated license plate said “DR DZ HD” and not “DR OZ HD,” and was properly returned to my native land.
The slick roads on my final ride through Canada convinced me that I shouldn’t press my luck with my nearly worn out rear tire. I should note that my idea of a worn out tire differs markedly from my brother’s who must think the cords under the tread give a bike better traction and thus he ensures that he gets his money’s worth on tires as he runs them until there’s nothing left but the sides and the air inside. (See pictures)
I headed for Bangor, ME, where the nearest Harley store was located, but that turned out to be a “T-Shirt” store that neither sold bikes nor offered bike service. The tatooed lady at the t-shirt store was kind enough to make a call to another Harley store in Lewiston that actually had a service department and I talked to the service writer there. If I could make there by 3:30 or so, he said, they would work me in.
I drove up to the Lewiston store about 3:45, in plenty of time to have the tire replaced, so I also asked them if they could change the oil and filter. Initially they said wouldn’t have time, but relented and replaced my 10,000-mile old AMSOil with fresh AMSOil. When they replaced the tire they noticed the rear brakes were almost completely worn out but were surprised when I told them that they were the original brake pads. I explained that I do a lot more going than stopping. Anyway, I left the dealer about 6 p.m. with fresh oil, a new tire and new rear brakes, ready for the final trek south to Maggie Valley
Because of the rain and the race to get service I didn’t do any sight seeing other than on the bike as I rolled through the forested hills of central Maine. It was a little more hilly than I expected it to be, but the hills and curves added to the ride and I’m glad they were there. Tomorrow should be different as I head west into New Hampshire and maybe Vermont. There’s a road through the White Mountains that I’ve heard about that should test the tread on my new tire.
Don’t take any worn-out tires and I’ll do the same.
Newfoundland/Labrador Day 26: Headed Home
This may be the shortest post of the Newfoundland/Labrador blog because there really wasn’t much to write about today. The ferry ride, which was supposed to take 14-16 hours took 17 hours. Other than the cold-turkey lack of wifi, it was a pretty nice trip. The 11-deck ship had a lounge with a singer, a couple of bars, a nice dining room (which I didn’t use), some snack bars (which I did), sleeping berths for those who wanted something resembling a bed (I slept in a chair) and open air decks for a change of pace. The weather was good and the crossing was smooth.
After we landed this morning, I unstrapped my bike from the tie-downs, fired up the motor and rolled down the ferry ramp. I searched for and found a spot with WiFi so I could post last night’s blog, but the connection was so slow it took 30 minutes to download the blog and five pictures. Then, back on the road across Nova Scotia, mostly through areas I’ve been in either six years ago on an earlier ride or on the way north this year. One of the things that caught my eye after two weeks on Newfoundland was the amount of farmland in Nova Scotia with lots of freshly mown hay and livestock grazing in the fields. I proabably wouldn’t have noticed it except for the derth of farming on Newfoundland where the soil and climate just aren’t conducive to that kind of agriculture. About the only animals I saw grazing in Newfoundland were sheep, though I did pass one dairy farm near St. John’s.
I went out of my way a little to see the Bay of Fundy, hoping to see the world-famous tital bore that reaches heights of almost 30 feet, but apparently the tide had come in a few hours earlier so I missed it. Would have been fun to watch for an hour or so as the water rushed in to fill up the nearly empty bay and the various coves and rivers that feed into it. Maybe another time.
The only other thing of significance to report today is that I have apparently lost my GPS for the rest of the trip. The GPS screen flashed a “low battery” message about mid-afternoon that didn’t make sense because the GPS, while it has an internal battery, operates off power from the motorcycle battery. Except that it wasn’t and had switched automatically to the internal battery. The GPS isn’t broken, I’ve just lost the power to it and don’t have any way to recharge the internal battery. (Well, there is a cable but it’s back in North Carolina or Florida because I knew that I wouldn’t need it on this trip. Duh.) There has to be a problem somewhere between the motorcyle battery and the unit. I checked the easy-to-check fuses. No luck. I think the cable has probably come apart somewhere under the fairing, but I’m not going to mess with it until I’m back in North Carolina. In the meantime, I’ll rely on google maps, paper maps and notes I write to myself and try not to get too lost. If I start posting again from Newfoundland, it’s because I got lost. Hmmmmm???
Tomorrow back into the states at one of the Maine border crossings and then drive through most of Maine. I’ve ridden the Maine coast a couple times before, so I’ll probably stick to the interior this trip and avoid the Interstate as much as I can.
Maybe I’ll stop and take some pictures tomorrow if I see anything picture worthy. A masive meandering Maine moose, perhaps.
Try not to take any wrong turns and I’ll do the same.
Newfoundland/Labrador: Day 25: Leaving Newfoundland
As I sit in the colorful lounge of the luxury ferry “Atlantic Vision” carrying me on a 16-hour, non-WiFi-equipped voyage from Argentia, Newfoundland, to North Sydney, Nova Scotia, and the mainland, I see the rocky shores of Newfoundland receding into the foggy distance like a vision slowly disintegrating. Soon we’ll be out of sight of land completely and the sun will set over the westward-pointed bow of the ship and into the ocean.
Two weeks ago I drove off another ferry at Port aux Basques, Newfoundland, headed into a 16-day adventure I had anticipated for six months, not knowing exactly what to expect but expecting something out of the ordinary. Indeed, the last two weeks has been “out of the ordinary.” If I didn’t already have a second home in North Carolina, Newfoundland would be high on my list of potential summer retreats.
Those who follow my digital scribblings during the days since I rolled out of Maggie Valley on my way to the northern adventure have no doubt dectected my growing fondness for the land and the people of this rugged island and its neighbor separated by the chill waters of the Labrador Straits.
The island I see fading behind me doesn’t have the mountains of Colorado or British Columbia. It doesn’t have the glaciers of Montana or Alberta. It doesn’t have the vastness of Alaska or the wild rushing melt-water rivers of the Yukon. But it has a starkly unique shape, structure, and topography created hundreds of millions of years ago that ended up attached to North America in a twist of fractured-earth fate. It has a prehistory going back thousands of years when the first nomadic residents followed the fish and the seals and left behind tantilizing archaeological clues to their disappeared cultures. It has a history that reaches deep into Europe’s past when the Nordic Vikings first landed in the New World more than a thousand years ago. It has a modern history that begins with the earliest 16th century English, French, Portuguese and Dutch voyages of exploration and settlement. It has a rich ethnic history that lives today in its place names, its songs and its languages.
Looking out the window as I write, I can still see the fog-shrouded land, stretching its rocky beaches into the sea. But I can’t see what I will miss most: the people. The B&B mistress in Twillingate who started every day for me with “Good mornin’ m’ love. Fine day for a ride, eh?” The knowledgable interpreters at historic and geologic sites who graciously made time for my endless questions and led me to a better understanding of their island home and its residents. Mitch and Daniel, my young kayak guides whose paddlng commentary added to the aquatic adventure. Sisters Margaret and Anita and their friends who made me feel at home in Tors Cove at their rollicking “kitchen party” and whose stories of their childhood helped color the canvas of my experience here. The people of the villages of Fonteau and Red Bay in Labrador who made me part of their Canada Day celebrations and shared their traditions and their community with a stranger.
I will come back some day and ride the crater-pocked asphalt strips that pass for roads (I exagerate, but not by much). I will come back to see parts of the island I didn’t see and hike trails I didn’t hike. I will come back to find a real moose outside a fence. I will come back to watch the whales chase capelin in the deep blue bays and coves that define this island. I will come back to learn more of the history and the pre-history of this amazing land. But what will draw me back the most are the gracious, friendly, generous, hardy, rugged, honest people who proudly call themselves Newfoundlanders. They are a special breed.
Today’s ride to the ferry from my final B&B in Tors Cove meant suiting up from the beginning in rain gear and heated jacket. Not heavy rain and not real cold, but wet enough and cool enough to use the gear I’ve lugged around for three weeks. I rode another loop, this one the 125-mile “Cape Shore Loop” that took me ultimately to Argentia and the ferry. Several stops along the way appealed to me but I only had time for one stop if I wanted to make it to the ferry on time.
At the tip of Cape St. Mary (I think everything in Avalon is named for a Saint) is an ecological preserve that contains one of the largest collections of dozens of species of sea birds on the island, and the largest collection of one particular bird: The Gannet. The ranger at the visitor’s center assured me I would be able to see the birds through the grey fog that covered everything except the sound of the fog horn at the nearby lighthouse. So I hiked the mile-long, sheep-poop covered path along the 200 feet high cliffs (that had no fence or guardrail anywhere!) to Bird Rock. Oh yeah, I could see them. Thousands of them. Covering almost every inch of a large rock (small island?) next to the cliffs. The fog made taking pictures difficult but I managed to get a couple. I’m not a birder, but I have to admit seeing–and hearing–that many birds landing, sitting, taking off, soaring, chasing was pretty cool and the hour-and-a-half detour was worth the time.
When I booked the ferry, the website indicated WiFi was available, but they have sinced changed their policy. Because I don’t have wifi on the ferry, this will get posted sometime tomorrow as I travel through Nova Scotia.
Watch our for golden opportunities that enrich your lives and I’ll do the same.
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.
Newfoundland/Labrador Day 23: Day 23? Are you kidding me?
Day 23? Already? I’m just getting started and it’s about time to head home. (Obligatory caveat: Of course I miss Marilyn.) Everyday here has been great and I only have two days left before I catch the ferry and begin the 2,500 mile journey back to the misty mountains of North Carolina.
Before I get to today’s business, I have to mention what happened last night. Two ladies staying at the bed and breakfast, Margaret and Anita, grew up in this area and still have friends here. Last night eight of their friends came to visit, bearing guitars and a small accordian. For two hours they sang, told jokes, danced, reminisced and made me and the other two guests feel as welcome as if we had been their classmates years ago. In Newfoundland, apparently, this kind of get together is a common occurance and is known as a “kitchen party.”
Traditional Newfie songs, some original (and very good) compositions, some lively jigs, and a little Nashville country thrown into the mix made for a very real Newfie experience and one I’ll not forget. I had my picture taken with the 10 ladies and sent it to Marilyn titled “Me and My Women.” She thought we made a good looking group. I’ve mentioned in previous posts how friendly the people here are. Last night convinced me, if I needed any convincing, that I had not misjudged or overstated the case. As the party broke up about 10:30, I kept thinking: “One more song. Just one more.
I had one specific item on my to do list today, but took another ride down the road for about three hours before getting to that item. It doesn’t seem to matter much which direction I go because I always seem to find places and people and sights and sounds that enrich my life on the road and add to an already overflowing mind-trunk of memories.
I rode along the coast on a road known as the Irish Loop, which, as the name suggests, goes through an area largely settled by Irish immigrants. Their influence was heard last night in some of the musical selections that echoed through the B&B. Their influence is also reflected in place names and structures along the road.
A beautiful mid-19th century stone church with monestary next door, a cove named for a nun who came to teach and stayed 50 years among her flock, and pubs along the way advertising “Irish Music” on Friday and Saturday nights, all attest to the Celtic heritage of this corner of Newfoundland. I didn’t ride the entire loop because I had afternoon plans, but I’m hopeful, weather permitting, to complete the ride tomorrow.
Kayaking around the icebergs in Twillingate was so much fun I decided to try the waters again, hoping to see some whales up close. Unfortunately there weren’t any in the cove where we went. This was a guided tour with seven two-person boats and and two guides who took us to waterfalls, caves, old fishing structures and a little nature lesson thrown in as they explained various seaweeds, urchins, starfish and capelin (the whales’ main dinner course).
We were out for about three hours, and because I was a single, I got paired up with one of the guides, a young Irishman by the name of Daniel who has been in Canada for four years. That worked out well, because I had a continuous conversation about the area and kayaking and dozens of other things with an experienced paddler while the others, mostly novices, were trying to paddle in a straight line in a stiff wind and blaming each other for splashing paddles and errant navigation.
I had my small camera again, just in case there might be an unexpected underwater adventure, so the pictures aren’t as good as I would have liked, but they give an idea of what my afternoon was like..
Daniel had a strong Irish brogue, talking about his brudder and his fadder, and his efforts to hone his sit down (as opposed to stand up) comedy gig added to the afternoon’s pleasures. He was a nice kid, who thought riding a Harley-Davidson around the United States and Canada was a pretty good idea. After the paddling was over I showed him the bike; he thought the Ultra’s saddle was more comfortable than the kayak’s seat.
I would have liked to see whales up close, very close, but that didn’t happen this time. Another reason to come back to Newfoundland, me thinks.
Weather looks wet off and on for the next two days, but I’ll probably be able to get out some tomorrow and I won’t have choice Saturday because I have a hundred-mile ride to catch the ferry. There are still unexplored roads to ride and nice people to meet, so I’m really hoping to log some miles tomorrow.
As this part of my ride begins to come to an end, I’m glad I hadn’t planned a detailed itinerary. The chance meetings and opportunities I’ve had are probably better than anything I could have planned.
More pictures on Flickr. Click here.
You watch out for rogue waves and I’ll do the same.
Newfoundland/Labrador Day 22: I’m not the only one who digs the past
Newfoundland has an abundance of beautiful scenery, friendly people and historic sites. Clearly, the “Rock” has more to offer than I can see in a mere two weeks, though I think I’ve tried hard to cram in as much as I can in the brief two weeks I’ll be here. I may have to come back, even if it means driving here on four wheels (bite my tongue) so Marilyn will join me next time. Every time I go somewhere (e.g. Alaska, western U.S., Newfoundland) I find that all I do is nibble at the opportunities that are spread out before me like an experiential banquet. I feel like I’m sampling the appetizer of a five-course meal then being told I have to leave the restaurant before even beginning to satiate my gnawing appetite.
I’ve ridden about 4,500 miles so far this trip, but today I only rode about 100 miles (roundtrip) to an archaeological dig at what is believed to be the oldest permanently occupied English settlement in North America. The dig is being conducted by Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland, and has been ongoing since 1992. It’s a substantial undertaking on what will be at least a four-acre site and will last several more decades.
(I just took a brief break from writing to try to capture a picture of the fog rolling in on the islands in the cove where my B&B is. There’s always something to see and it’s almost always good. If the picture turns out well I’ll post it here or on Flickr.)
Back to the dig. Since 1992, they’ve uncovered more than 2,000,000 artifacts (which includes, for example, the tiniest shard of broken pottery or rusty nail) and they’ve cataloged, measured, described and stored each one. When I talked with the head conservator at the site after touring the site, she told me they uncover about 1,000 items per day when they’re digging at the original occupation level, which lies about 3-6 feet below the current surface. The head archaeologist on the site said this is the most complete and undisturbed 17th century site in North America.
Lord Baltimore (George Calvert), more famous for his family’s relationship to the founding of Maryland (where some of the best people come from), was given permission by King James in 1620 to establish a colony Calvert called Avalon. He decided he would establish, using his own money, a small, English-like village, complete with cobblestone streets, brick fireplaces, and slate walls and ceilings. Work began in 1621 but Calvert waited seven years while the village was being built before going to Newfoundland in 1628. He lasted one miserable complaint-filled winter, and left for good. But the village continued to operate (though not prosper) until another King granted another family title to the land in the 1630s. The village was sacked by the Dutch in the 1660s and burned by the French in the 1690s but the settlers and descendants of the settlers hung around the area even as the original village was reclaimed by the land.
So far the archeologists and their graduate student peons have uncovered five or six substantial buildings and a couple smaller ones, including the “mansion” built for Lord Baltimore and his family. Hardly a mansion by any standards today, it was bigger than most of the houses occupied by other settlers who crammed 8-10 people in a 10′ x 14′ one-and-a half story house. But uncovered artifacts indicate they did their best to lead an upper-class life in the wilds of the new world. Other artifacts, of course, tell the more dreary story of the lives of common people who built the houses, laid the cobbles, fished the sea, and baked the daily bread that sustained them all.
As I walked the site, watching the dirt-covered archeologists and future archeologists tediously digging, scraping, sifting, and picking out small, broken items identifiable only to their trained eyes, I thought about the lives of the people in this small outpost on the ragged and unfriendly edge of civilization. Describing their existence isn’t difficult: Cold, wet, smoky, hungry, dirty, smelly, sick, isolated, scared, laborious, deadly. And their lives were the lives of everyone who settled the new world in the 16th and 17th centuries and from which grew Canada and the United States. Hats off to these bold pioneers, these hardy settlers, these brave explorers whose difficult past made possible our comfortable present.
After I picked the brains of the staff, who were uncommonly friendly and helpful despite my stream of “whys?” and “hows?” and “whens,” I left them to return to their digging and cataloging, and I took a round about route back to my B&B. My ride took me through several little villages on the coast where incomes continued to be squeezed out of the sea. Although the life of today’s coastal villagers is much improved from the lives of those who lived here 400 years ago, their lives today no doubt have hardships I can’t fathom. They stay, I think, because the land and the sea are beautiful and because their neighbors are friendly and strong. Maybe it’s not such a bad trade-off.
It’s hard not to stop and turn around when I pass a particularly appealing photo op. Frequently, however, the turnaround is difficult because most turnarounds involve uneven ground and loose gravel. So far, so good; I’m hopeful I’ll make it off the rock without unceremoniously dropping my bike by the side of the road. But these little detours are always worth it because I almost always see more than I thought I was going back to see when I look more closely at the pond or the mountain or the brook that caught my eye as it flashed by.
There’s a whole blueberry pie waiting for me in the kitchen. I’ll probably share it with other guests unless it’s very good.
More pictures on Flickr. Click here.
Watch out for marauding Frenchmen and I’ll do the same.
Newfoundland/Labrador Day 21: An Interesting Rock
The more I learn about Newfoundland, the more interesting it becomes. I had a full first day in the St. John’s area and apparently experienced pretty typical St. John’s weather: Cloudy, windy, foggy, rainy, 10 degree temperature drops. But it was a good day and the weather never got bad enough that I rummaged through the saddlebags to find rain gear or heated gear.
I guess I can return home now that I’ve got what I came for. Went to the Harley Davidson store and got a t-shirt. Small store and not much selection, but the back of the shirt says “Mile 1 Harley Davidson, St. John’s, Newfoundland.” Mile 1 because it’s at the beginning of the TransCanada Highway. I also noticed that the 2014 Ultra Limited here was priced at $30,500. Ouch. Tri-Glide was $43K.
Once I packed away my prized shirt in the tour pack, I had the rest of the day to explore the St. John’s area and headed first for one of the iconic sights in the capital city: Signal Hill. Signal Hill sits high above the city center and the city’s amazing harbor and has been an important site since the French and English began fighting over it in the 17th century. It traded hands a couple of times, but at the end of the Seven Years War (1755-1762) the British finally gained control of it and it never changed hands again. So why was it important? From the top of that hill, a watchman could see far out to sea and signal the town via flags and cannon fire whether approaching ships were friendly or unfriendly and a small garrison on the side of the hill could defend the entire harbor against intruders.
In 1897, to mark the 400th anniversary of John Cabot’s initial “discovery” of Newfoundland and the 60th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s reign, they erected the Cabot Tower on top of the hill and it can be seen from just about anywhere in St. John’s. The tower was used as a signaling center as late as the 1950s and they still fire a cannon every day at noon, a tradition in place for hundreds of years. I happened to be there for it today as the red-coated re-enactors touched off the powder to let the town know it was noon.
The entire site is run by Parks Canada, and, naturally, they do an outstanding job, making it available and preserving its integrity. Lots of hiking trails on the site, but I only took advantage of the one going up to the Cabot Tower.
Next stop, just down the hill from the Visitor’s Center, was the “Geo Centre.” I wasn’t sure what it was, but thought it was worth taking a quick look at. Turned out to be long look. It’s a mostly privately funded geology and science center that explains about as well as possible the unique geology of Newfoundland, which was at the heart of helping scientists first understand plate techtonics and continental drift. The mountains I was in several days ago on the west coast of Newfoundland are the northern end of the Appalachians, while much of the island’s geological properties more closely resemble North Africa than North America. Newfoundland, it seems, was not part of North America when it separated from Europe as the mega-contintent Pangea split up and the continents began drifting about 540 million years ago. It was a separate land mass that migrated north until it bumped into North America. All very fascinating and extremely helpful in explaining why the scenery in Newfoundland is so special. Two hours there and then off to the next stop: The eastern most point in North America at Cape Spear, about 20 miles south and east of St. John’s.
If you stood on the final rocks that jut into the ocean at Cape Spear, picked up one of those rocks and threw it very, very hard, you would hit Ireland, about 1,800 miles distant. There was a small display there but mostly signs warning visitors not to get close to the cliffs in order to get a few feet further east because it was about a 100 foot fall to the rocky shore.
They also had two lighthouses; a current one, automatically warns ships today of the coastal danger and an historic one is open for tourists (but the tower has weakened since it was built in 1847 and they wouldn’t let anyone go to the top). Fog and rain came in while I was there. When I first got there I could see the Cabot Tower, about 7 miles away in a straight line. After the fog settled in and the temperature dropped 10 degrees in 15 minutes, I could just barely see from one lighthouse to the other, a distance of about 200 yards.
Final stop: George Street in St. John’s for supper and some Irish/Newfie music. George is a three-block long street that has nothing but clubs, bars and restaurants and almost all of them feature live music nearly every night. I couldn’t stay long or partake of adult beverages since I had a 25 mile ride in the foggy dusk back to my B&B, but George Street looks like the kind of scene many towns–including Jacksonville–would love to duplicate.
Back at the B&B, I’m having trouble with the wifi connection. Hope I get this posted tonight.
More pictures on Flickr. Click here.
Watch out for drifting continents and I’ll do the same.