Newfoundland/Labrador Day 16: Forests, History & More Icebergs
The Newfoundland/Labrador adventure is half over. Today is day 16 of what I expect to be a 31 day ride and, so far, it’s been all I expected and more. The weather has been good: I’ve only needed rain gear 3 out of 16 days and the next two days are supposed to be sunny. Then Newfoundland will probably get hit with what’s left of hurricane Arthur, though I think it will just be two days of rain and some 35-40 mph winds. The second of those two days is a travel day for me to the next B&B south of St. John’s but I think I’ve ridden in worse rain than what’s in store Monday.
Today’s ride was uneventful on good roads (The TransCanada Highway (TCH)) most of the time and the scenery was nice but not spectacular like Gros Morne. Miles and miles of forests, which often blocked the view of the small mountains and numerous lakes and streams along the way. The highway doesn’t have a wide shoulder and there’s usually not a good place to stop and take pictures. I was frankly disappointed that I didn’t see a moose. But I still have more than a week left on the island to capture (digitally of course) of the ugly ungulates.
After riding for about two hours I saw a sign indicating a heritage center at the next exit, so I braked hard, made the exit and headed down a secondary road looking for whatever the sign referred to. About 10 miles down the road and one turn onto a dead end, I came upon Botwood, which turned out to be a small town on a good-sized cove of the Atlantic Ocean. As I pulled up to the Heritage Center, the first thing that caught my eye was a great big plane parked next to it. Maybe there’s something here, I thought.
I entered the Heritage Center and paid my $4.00 entry fee to a matron who seemed unsure if the fuzzy biker in front of her was lost or really wanted to see the museum. A young student interpreter, hired under the largess of a government grant, said he would show me around. Lead the way, says I. It was exactly the kind of local history museum I’m fond of: Hints of professionalism, evidence of thousands of hours of volunteer commitment and mostly collections of what ever local collectors wanted to donate. Nevertheless, these museums are a microcosm of the communities in which they exist and I love to go learn about the people who lived, worked and died in those communities.
Botwood, as it turns out, has the deepest natural port in Newfoundland, capable of handling some pretty good-sized ocean-going vessels. All those forests I had been riding through for the past two hours had been logged extensively in the last 100 years and most of those logs went by a newly constructed (in 1898) narrow-gauge railroad to Botwood to be shipped to ports around the world. The railway, the longest of its kind in North America, ceased operating in 1988 with the final completion of a modern highway system and extensive logging roads for trucks.
Botwood also played a key role in the defense of Canada and North America during WWII. The building that now houses the heritage center had been built by the army as a primary radio relay station and the harbor served as a runway for seaplanes that hunted German submarines. A small nearby island had been converted into an anti-aircraft gun emplacement and the island had been hollowed out to hold ammunition. The particular plane in front of the building had not been in Botwood, but PBYs just like it had been. But before Botwood was used as a Catalina and PBY base, it had been the starting point in 1939 for the first trans-atlantic passenger flight (12 years after Lindbergh piloted the Spirit of St. Louis to Paris).
Finally, the museum revealed that the community had also been an important ship building center during the 19th century and many of the artifacts were of the kind that would have been used to build those ships.
As it turns out, the 20-mile detour was a good one for me and added to my storehouse of never-to-be-used-again historical trivia. But I had fun.
After an hour and a half of discoursing over the history of Botwood and a short hike out to the anit-aircraft island, I was on my way again to Twillingate.
Laundry and bike needed to be washed but laundry came first. Maybe I’ll wait for Hurricane Arthur to wash the filthy Ultra Classic. It’s almost as dirty as it got last year on the Alaska highway. Almost.
After more seafood and no pie for dinner, I took a quick tour of the island (Twillingate is an island, by the way) and came on a whole herd of icebergs. A flock of icebergs? Covey? Pack? Don’t know what a bunch of them are called, but they were everywhere. Some big, some small. Some grounded, some floating. But all melting, meeting their doom in the waters of Newfoundland and the coves of Twillingate.
I also found the lighthouse I knew was here somewhere. Not particularly tall, but an interesting design. The interpretive center was closed by the time I got there, but I may go back sometime in the next three days while I’m here. Tomorrow I’m going to check into some kayak possibilities and maybe go whale watching and take in a Beothunk (extinct Indian tribe) exhibit. I missed one musical performance I hoped to see (they only played tonight and I was too late) but there are some other local musicians playing Saturday night so I may try to go to that event.
Hope everyone has a good Fourth of July tomorrow. Look out for errant pyrotechnics and I’ll do the same.