Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Rock, Talk and one smoking exhaust pipe.

I arrived on the "Rock" after a ferry through calm seas around 1am.  I was fairly bleary eyed when I finally disembarked, but had no real plan.  So I drove. I followed a snake of red tail lights onto the TCH 1 and kept driving watching the chain of cars slowly break apart.  I tried to stay part of a pack, but wasn't up to burning the gas, so I hummed along at 100 km/hr, until I could barely keep my eyes open, and began to search for a secluded chunk of asphalt where I could bed down for the night. 

I found such a place behind a closed Irving gas station, and saw that there were several transport trucks and Winnebagos  parked behind as well.  I was so tired I did not care.  This was my first night not sleeping indoors, so to speak. When I woke up I was disoriented and cold.  I went to the gas station and grabbed a coffee and kept on ploughing through Newfoundland. 

The scenery on the nine hundred kilometer stretch to St. John's was spectacular.  The view changed so many times I had a hard time keeping up.  Rugged expanses opened up to arctic buttes and windswept sub arctic mountains.  I fell in love with the land, would I with its people?

I arrived in St. John's in customary late evening fashion and met up with Crystal, an east coast transplant from the Toronto area.  I met "Sands", Crystal's roommate and fellow Ontarian who wasn't feeling so good, she had come down with plague.  Crystal decided to take me down to the bar she worked at, and we had a great time watching some people get "screeched in" as they say.  The ceremony involves some traditional Newfie song, followed by the kissing of a cod and the downing of a shot of "screech", a form of homegrown bathtub rum.  The bar was alive and I found it easy to make conversation with my fellow patrons, it was a really fun night.  The Newfoundlanders were indeed the friendliest of people.

The next day I decided would be my sight seeing day.  I decided to visit "Signal Hill", a rocky peak protectively overlooking St. John's harbour.  The point was aptly named due to its function in the 1700's as a communication's lookout.  Flags were used to communicate messages to the harbour down below.  It was then later adapted as a fortification to protect the harbourfront from attack, however Signal Hill's most significant utilization was due to famous inventor Guillermo Marconi who from this location recieved the first wireless message from overseas ushering in a new phase of world communications. 

The city of St. John's

I hiked around the hill and found a nice spot to try some meditation.  On a rocky outcropping facing the harbor I took up temporary residence and began to go inward.  When I came to St. John I noticed a perceptible increase in what I can just label simply, energy, and was looking to tap into some of it by having a nice meditation session.  It turned out to be a great, twenty, inward-focused minutes, and when I opened my eyes I felt rejuvenated and energized. 

Being the cheap bastard that I have been on this trip I decided to take advantage of some free museum time and went to "The Rooms" a modern structure which in effect was a giant multi-layered terrace connecting several large exhibit rooms.  I had a good time, it was a museum, what more can I say.  It was free and interesting.

I was picked up from the museum by a car full of females, Crystal had picked up her two cousins Lyndsey and Sam along with their dog.  Our next point of interest was cape Spear, the most eastern point in all of Canada and North and South America as well.  Atop the rocky cliffs was perched a lighthouse, and as we all joked around and explored the bluffs, we heard a blast of air and water.  We turned our heads in the direction of the noise and saw the dorsal fin of a large whale, about 30 feet in length.  We watched 2 of these great beasts for about 10 minutes and found we fast becoming good friends.  Sam and Lyndsey enjoyed my humour and I theirs, there was much German-ness being thrown around.

Cape Spear, any further east and you'd be in Iceland

We headed downtown once more to Christinans and because Crystal had to work the next day she left me with her 2 cousins.  I watched them get drunk-ish and we had a barrel of laughs.  In the midst of the conversations, I had somehow agreed to make cabbage rolls for the next day, and visit a giant perogie some where in Canada.  I just googled it, said perogie is outside of Edmonton, in Glendon Alberta.

So the next day was spent largely in a kitchen, plucking cabbage leaves from boiling water and constructing a batch of fifty, mini cabbage rolls.  It's funny, but I never imagined I'd be making cabbage rolls on the One Grand Adventure.  That evening I went to visit the girls at their new apartment/house, and we had a floor feast of cabbage rolls, perogies and fresh dinner rolls.  Crystal showed up and even though not a big fan of cabbage rolls, enjoyed the mini versions I had created earlier that day.

Later on I went back to the girl's place and was introduced to their tall Haligonian friend Brian.  It was like Brian and I were brothers from different mothers, we just got along great and were joking like old friends in a matter of minutes.  We headed out to the bars on George Street once more and opted to go to a place where you could get three bottles of beer for 5 bucks.  the girls and I watched Brian put on a clinic of hilarity.  There was a I don't give a eff attitude to Brian that makes him an exceptional human being in my book.  I haven't laughed so hard in a long, long time.  I tip my hat to you good sir, thank you for the antics. 

The next morning I was to make my way back west, to get to the Port aux Basques ferry.  I wanted to explore the terrain and take a shot at fly fishing as well.  I had lunch with Brian, Lyndsey and Sam in downtown St' John's and said my goodbyes to my new friends and hit the road.

I drove and drove and drove, trying to find spots that were easy to access for fly fishing.  After several dirt roads and dead ends, the light was beginning to wane and I had to find a place to camp.  I was a bit frustrated that I couldn't find a spot to fish, but was determined on setting up a fire and roughing it in the bush.  After a couple hours of frantic searching I finally found a suitable spot off the trans Canada highway.  There was a lake and several home made campsites along a nice lake, I chose a spot next to an abandoned bus and started to hunt for firewood.  I found some pre cut wood, score, and my makeshift site already had a ring of stones for a firepit.  I grabbed some kindling and went to work, the light fading very fast.  After struggling to get the flames bright for about half an hour, a brisk wind helped the fire finally take form.  I decided setting up a tent in the dark was too much hassle and decided my tent would be of the Honda variety instead. 

This night was the first time on this trip that I felt fear.  Now I have camped many times before, but not alone.  Having people around is a definite psychological advantage when you are at the mercy of the dark and elements of a forest at night.  I just kept focussed on the making the fire big and bright to ward off any bears or coyotes. 

My sleep was uncomfortable, cramped, and down right shitty.  I woke up many times and at about 6 am deiced to just keep going west since it was fully bright at that point.  I felt like a hobo, smelly, disheveled and unkempt.  I found a gas station, grabbed a coffee and headed for Cornerbrook, my plan being to find a river and fish it for a few hours.  I grabbed some breakfast at McD's in Cronerbrook, and pulled out my laptop and using google maps honed in on a river I thought would be easy to access by road and large enough to contain good sized fish.  I located such a site just outside a small town called Hughes Brook, about 30 minutes from Cornerbrook.

I arrived at the river and it was ideal.  There was a trail along the river which I followed until I found a spot I could get my hip waders on, and set up my rod.  It was a beautiful sunny day, and I fished the river for a couple of hours, catching nothing, but enjoying the rhythmic practice of fly fishing nonetheless.

My plan was to head then into Gros Morne National Park and climb the Gros Morne Trail.  I drove for about 90 minutes and reached the Gros Morne park.  The scenery was stunning, and just when I though Newfoundland couldn't get any more beautiful, it captivated and surprised me once again.  After being in the sun the entire morning, and not sleeping well the night before I decided I'd need a power nap before challenging the trail up Gros Morn Mountain, whose peak summits at 860 meters.  I found a secluded parking lot and dozed off into a dreamless sleep.

I woke up around 6pm, and decided to head up the trail.  The info board at the bottom of the mountain said to get to the summit would take 4-6 hours and the decent would take another 2-4 hours.  So, no summit attempt for me was going to take place.  There was an observation platform about half way up that was an achievable target.  So I headed up the trail.  There were bridges over fast moving rivers, beautiful foiliage and lots of sweaty hikers descending the trail.  It is customary to exchange so0me small chat when you are on trails, so I did my best, realizing that I hadn't conversed with a human being for almost 2 days.  There was a russian woman who said that she and her 2 friends had been "followed" by a moose further up the trail, she said to be nice to this moose, because he was young.  I said, I would.

I never saw the moose as I made my way to the observation platform, but when I got there after 4 kilometers of grueling uphill hiking, the view made up for the lack of moose.  There was a mountaintop lake and rivers and it was so gorgeous.  I didn't feel I had climbed high enough, and decided to climb another kilometer up to the rockier more treacherous part of Gros Morne.  I got up to a nice high vantage point over looking the valley at the base of this small mountain, and sat atop a boulder to suck it all in.  I wanted to take a picture, but my camera was dead, so it was a mental snapshot.  I scoured the valley below and saw a large dark shape moving among the shortbrush below.  There was Bullwinkle, plodding along easily visible from my lofty perch.  I watched him for a few minutes until a swarm of mosquitoes tore apart my peaceful reverie with their incessant need to feed on me.  I began my decent.

It was getting late, and again I started to feel fear creep up inside of me as the darkness choked the mountain.  I didn't want to rush and bust an ankle by fleeing in panic, but I was in the grip of some intense fear.  I had to stop to talk myself down, which I was able to sucessfully do.  On my way down, as if attracted to my fear, birds started swooping around my head, and I swore I could hear bears crashing through the underbrush just out of my visual range.  The mind plays funny tricks when it is scared...  I did get a grip though, but when I saw the parking lot at the base of the trail a wave of relief overwhelmed me.

My plan was to get as close to the Port at the southwestern part of Newfoundland and so I drove on knowing that my ferry was leaving at 10am the next day.  I had about 350 kms of ground to cover, but was soon slammed by a heavy storm, accompanied with high winds, downpours of rain and viscious lightening that made the usually beautiful province seem dark and ominous.  I drove for a couple hundred kilometers in this harsh weather before pulling over at a post office and taking refuge for the night. 

The next day I drove the remaining 130 kms or so, in cloudy wet weather, thankfully free of storms.  I got too the ferry, said goodbye to the rock and its peoples, and was sad.  Now the western leg begins.

So we need to talk about the budget here.  I filled up the tank four times in Newfoundland and I am now below my target.  I left the province with about 500 dollars in my pocket.  There are at least 3 tanks of gas just to get the 1500kms back to Ontario.  So the situation isn't critical, but I will have to come up with something if I am going to keep this mission alive.

I should add, I loved the Maritimes, and all those I met.  The memories I have from this leg of my adventure will be etched in my mind till my dying days.  Thank you.

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