Thursday–August 9, 2001
Location–Trailside, Wreckhouse, Newfoundland
Well, dear friends, the journey continues, and the reason it continues–why I’m here–is a story that won’t take long to tell, but after that it may take awhile. And just where am I? Newfoundland, folks. I’m in Newfoundland, Canada.
You see, for the past two years, I’ve been going around telling folks how I’ve managed to hike the entire Appalachian Mountain range, from where the mountains begin near Flagg Mountain, Alabama, to where they plunge dramatically to the sea, to end (me-thunk) at the spectacular Cliffs of Forillon, Cap Gaspé, Quebec. During this grand exclaiming, and from time to time, friends would come to me and quite politely point out that, indeed, I had not hiked the entire Appalachian range, that there exist mountains in the Province of Newfoundland, Canada, that are considered part of the Appalachians, quite a long range of mountains. Yes, it is true. In fact, these mountains are so long that they have been named “The Long Range Mountains!”
So now you know why I’m here–to finish what I’d started, and what I thought I’d finished–to hike the entire range of the Appalachian Mountains, at least as we know them to exist on the North American continent. So that’s that story, and here now, day to day, follows the rest.
Last Sunday I bid farewell to family in Missouri. Two days and 1,700 miles later, I arrived in Portland, Maine, to board the ferry, Scotia Prince, for an eleven-hour crossing to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. From there I hitched half a day to Halifax. Then from there, a six-hour bus ride to North Sydney. From North Sydney commenced another ferry ride on the Caribou across Cabot Strait to Channel-Port aux Basques, Newfoundland. I arrived here yesterday around seven in the morning–four days and two and one-half time zones away from where I started.
The beginning of the Long Range Mountains can be seen across the bay here at Port aux Basques. They’re a remarkable upheaval of land, something to do with tectonic plates as I recall someone telling me. They’re not incredibly tall mountains as we might know, rising to a little over 2000 feet, but they have been uplifted to stand abruptly from the sea, quite a striking and imposing sight. And today I head into them.
First stop is at the Railway Heritage Centre to see the “Newfie Bullet,” one of the original trains that ran the rails across Newfoundland as early as 1898. Here on that old railbed, the Wreckhouse Trail begins. This trail is part of the Newfoundland TRailway, which runs for 548 miles across the province to St. John’s. It’s part of the most-grand scheme of trails, the Trans Canada Trail which runs from St. John’s, Newfoundland, to Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territory, more than 16,000 kilometers, the longest continuous recreational trail in the world.
In the next few days, I’ll be telling you more about this fascinating far-off north, about these magnificent mountains and about the kind and generous people of Newfoundland (say Nu-fun-laaand).
Oh what a day, toward evening, to be greeted and set to a grand supper by Wes and Carol Hann, who run 4×4 tours up Table Top Mountain from Ragged Ass Road, thence to end the day at Wreckhouse. And Wreckhouse? That’s another story, another interesting bit of history that weaves the heritage of this special part of North (far-north) America. I’ll tell you that story tomorrow. For this evening, I’ll just sit here on the bluff at Wreckhouse, taking in the final blaze of light cast o’er the mountains as the sun paints its crimson ribbon across the watery arc, the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
|The trails of the world be countless,
And most of the trails are tried;
You tread on the heels of the many,
Till you come where the ways divide…
[Robert W. Service]
Friday–August 10, 2001
Location–Trailside, School Bus, Old Joe Brake’s Farm, Newfoundland
Yesterday, a ways out of Port aux Basques, I got my not so casual introduction to the Long Range Mountains, Table Top Mountain it was, a climb of over 500 meters in less than four kilometers. The pamphlet “Gateway to Nature” rates this climb as “difficult.” And for my first day back on the trail after a three-month hiatus, the climb was indeed difficult. But from the summit I had command of the entire southern coastal peninsula of Newfoundland and a great extent of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, much as did the allied forces during WWII. From here also can be seen the “Horizontal Wave Forest,” where the forested hillsides show the effect of strong and baffling winds that have left barren streaks across the mountainside.
Along the trail yesterday were beautiful beaches stretching to the mist-spun horizon, at Grand Bay West and J. T. Cheeseman Provincial Park. Looking to the mountains, and all along could be seen the amazing effects of time as it has formed the scenic Codroy Valley. Here are glacier-carved cirques and hanging valleys, present for tens of thousands of years. And the rivers, the spectacular rivers, they’re world-renowned for Atlantic salmon, a fly fisherman’s paradise. And birds, you like bird watching! Well folks, right here’s some of the finest birdwatching found anywhere. Tucked away in this unspoiled corner of the world is the Grand Codroy River, designated as a “Wetlands of International Importance” under the Ramsar Agreement. Here are large flocks of Canadian Geese, Blue Heron, Black Duck, and smaller numbers of Pintail, Green-Winged Teal, American Widgeon and Greater Scaup. Along the beaches are found nesting places for the Piping Plover, an endangered species. Only 5,000 of these birds are known to remain worldwide.
Oh, and Wreckhouse, now here’s a truly fascinating story. Wreckhouse is a little spot that once existed along the old Canadian National Railway Line (now paved over into a parking lot). Here, a fellow’s house stood, lashed down to the bedrock with cables! The story as related to me is entitled, “The Human Windgauge–Lauchie McDougall, 1896-1965,” and it goes like this: “A trapper and farmer who lived at Wreckhouse, Newfoundland. He was contracted by the Railway to monitor the strong southeast winds in the area and to advise the Railway when it was safe to pass. He did so for over thirty years…[He] had a family of twelve children, all born at Wreckhouse.” And why was his house tied down? And why did the Railway hire him? And what does the name “Wreckhouse” mean, anyway? Well folks, the wind gusts past Lauchie’s house were so strong at times that train cars were literally blown completely off the tracks, to wreck at, oh yes, Wreckhouse!
The day is waning now, and as I look for a place to pitch for the evening, do I come upon this old school bus by the side of the trail, so down I go. On the rear emergency exit door is this little handwritten sign: “Everyone welcome!” So in I go, just as the rain comes in sheets. What a neat little place, complete with woodburning stove, kitchen, dining area and bunks. Folks you know the old Nomad is indeed a lucky (say blessed) feller!
The old bus is warm and dry, not a leak. I’ll sleep just fine tonight. Thanks, dear unknown friends, for the use of your cozy storybook “cabin”! More tomorrow…ZZZZ.
|Wind is air made tangible, air made destructive, air empowered as sculptor…
Saturday–August 11, 2001
Location–Trailside, Barachois Brook, Newfoundland
As the trail continues along today and as I leave the coastal Anguille Mountains behind, there are many streams to cross, some very wide, which lead from the Long Range Mountains to the St. Lawrence Sea. The old railroad bridges which span these rivers and brooks are most interesting, especially in the crossing of them. The rails were taken up and hauled away years ago, leaving only the huge crossties teetering there, some with very wide gaps between. With each crossing I must look down, to concentrate and to maintain sure foot placement. This is not such an easy task, and I need stop at times to fight off the vertigo that seems to present itself when I’m in high places. But as I hesitate, I can look away and take in the sights up and down these old rocky brooks and across these ancient mountains, and in this short moment comes the presence of calm mind, and I am again full with the joy and excitement of just being here, for there are no other sights like these that I can recall in my memory. So, as I journey on, I am managing the crossings with assured confidence and composure, no matter the breach, no matter the height.
This hike is shaping to be very different than any I’ve taken before, both in challenge and reward, and the weather has certainly been cooperating. I had packed and lugged along much winter gear, having not a clue what to expect, but upon arriving in Port aux Basques it became immediately evident that winter gear was not what I needed. So into a box it went–and bounce it went, addressed to meself, to Corner Brook, a week or so on up the trail. Hard to believe, but my face, my arms and the back of my legs have become sunburned, and I must take measures now to prevent further exposure. Sure not what I expected!
On into evening and into St. Fintan’s, I stop at a small grocery store for a few provisions before continuing on to Barachois Brook. Here I make camp, set a cooking and warming fire, then relax, completely content, by fireside, on the pebbled beach right next the peaceful, clear, rushing waters of the Barachois. Happiness is many things to many people–here is my happiness.
|He who needs only coarse food, water for drink,
and as pillow his folded arms will find happiness without further search.[Confucius]
Sunday–August 12, 2001
Location–St. George’s, Newfoundland, Henrieta’s Hospitality Home (B&B), Ann Vincent, proprietor
This day seems to be setting up for one of those grind-it-out days. Here I’m rolling through high open country, the old railbed lifting and rolling right along with it. At times I can see as far as two miles ahead, a sure test of patience and resolve.
Old railbeds are not my most favorite treadway, what with the inevitable loose goose-egg size rocks that sets one to more of a churning motion than a striding gait, surely not a desired hiking experience. But the scenery all along keeps my interest and the time passes quickly. Also keeping me alert and to the task are the passing ORVs, for I am sharing this old railroad grade with them. Actually, they’re sharing it with me, as they are many and I am but one. It’s blueberry time now, and the way to pick blueberries up here is to strap on your helmet, grab a bucket, jump on your quad-trac and haul. Some of the guys and gals are just out for the mosey though, and they stop to chat. Others hurry on their way, dragging clouds of dust.
It’s late evening as I reach St. George’s, and I am very tired. Here in this little village is a former Roman Catholic Convent that’s been converted to a B&B, so there I head. Up a short grassy path I go, then to the door to be greeted by Ann Vincent. And should I be surprised? Oh no, for from her brightly scrubbed, blushed and shining countenance, radiates that universal, ear to ear, grand Canadian smile! A refreshing shower and a gargantuan fish platter with fries (and gravy) down at Finny’s little fish place, and this day chalks up as a mighty fine one indeed. I have done well.
|Who does his best shall have as a guest the Master of life and light.
[Henry Van Dyke]
Monday–August 13, 2001
Location–Black Duck Siding, Newfoundland, Dhoon Lodge, George Pike, proprietor
From my bedroom window at Henrieta’s last did I have such a grand view out and across St. George’s Bay. And as the sun went down and the lights came up could I see the bright chain of white stretching all the way to the tip of Cape St. George, the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Newfoundland, which includes Labrador, is a remarkably vast expanse of land, larger than most all of New England. Yet the population here is just over half a million, smaller than most any large New England city. And what is more interesting is the fact that most Newfoundlanders live along and by the coast, around the bays and harbors, like here in St. George’s Bay. So once one ventures inland the least bit is the whole place pretty much nature’s own! And inland I go today, toward a little village tagged with not such a catchy name: Black Duck Siding.
As I return to the trail, I am immediately greeted by a grand, unobstructed view across the bay, to the city of Stephenville and the little town of Stephenville Crossing. At the head of the bay, where the old railbed crosses, stands this classic rusty old bridge, the kind that would have been shut down to any kind of use in the States years ago. But across goes the trail, the quad-tracs, and across goes me! Big gaps in the crossties again and the tide is coming in, the sea roaring between the piers in a flood. An old fellow sitting beside just fishing greets me, and we chat awhile. “Doin’ a little hikin’, hey,” says he. “Doin’ a little fishin’, hey,” says I as he reels in a wad of seaweed. He responds with a sad-sack frown. I answer his frown with, “Looks like I’m havin’ better luck,” as I bid him farewell and continue on my way.
I’ve been told about this place just past Black Duck Siding, an old lodge built by Bowater Pulp and Paper Co. of England way back in 1941 (I was just a pup then!). It was used as their V.I.P. hunting and fishing headquarters; what with being bounded on the south and east by Harry’s River, and there to be cradled by the Long Range Mountains. Sure sounded like my kind of place, so that’s where I’m headed this evening.
After hiking right by the turn I was told to take and should have taken, and after directions from some berry pickers, I’m soon at the old Bowater retreat, now Dhoon Lodge, owned and managed by the Pike family, George and Odelle (got a picture of a big fish on their card). Typical Canadian greetings by George, Odelle and their daughter Georgette. What a beautiful well-preserved old log lodge, the kind you read about, then are inclined to dream about. Broiled salmon dinner washed down with a couple longneck frosties. My oh my, is this ever roughing it! I am having a grand, exciting time in Newfoundland.
|When one is willing and eager, the gods join in.
Tuesday–August 14, 2001
Location–Spruce Brook, Newfoundland, Log Cabin Lodge, George Pike, proprietor
Up here in the great expanse of Newfoundland, and especially toward the interior of the province, there is no light and there is no sound at night, just pitch-black silence. Under these conditions, sleep can be quite different. I sleep well under these conditions. Ah yes, what a great night’s sleep last at Dhoon Lodge!
This morning it’s over to the main lodge great room for breakfast. Odelle is my waitress and she sets me a hiker’s spread. With breakfast down now and seconds on coffee up, I take to looking the place over. Settings like these can’t really be made, at least not that would appear authentic. They just kind of happen over the years. The old furniture ages and sags. Some of it gets broken and replaced. Pieces come and go, not with any grand scheme or plan. Pictures and stuff on the walls and things and objects standing around and in the corners just kind of end up there. The glow and the rich burnish, the patina if you will, the mark of time, just adds to the grandness. There always seems to be a centerpiece in these quaint old settings. Here, two are vying for that honor. One is a very well endowed full life, bronze-skinned wooden Indian maiden, standing proud and smiling that seductive, high-cheekboned smile. The other hangs on the fireplace, above the mantel. It’s a huge caribou trophy, looking out, trying to see past its wide-spaded antlers, eyes glazed in a blank stare as the TV weatherman below gives us the good news for the day, cool and partly cloudy, a perfect day for hiking. Here I go!
George shuttles me the mile or so back to the trail, and by mid-morning I’m heading north again. My destination today will be about fifteen miles north by trail, to a place called Spruce Brook. Here, George Pike also runs a lodge, the Log Cabin Lodge. It isn’t open now, and no one is there, but the power and water are on, and the water heater’s even cranking. George has offered the entire place to me for the evening. As you may recall me saying before, “My mommy didn’t raise no dummy!” I immediately accepted his kind offer.
As I hike along this morning, I’m thinking about the highest point on the island of Newfoundland. It’s a mountain called Lewis Hill, standing at 815 meters and lying a fair distance to the west of here in the Lewis Mountains. George had told me about it, for he is considering putting together a guide service to take people there.
Around noon, and by the time I reach the little village of Gallants, I’ve made up my mind that I want to climb Lewis Hill. So from the little general store in Gallants I give George a call. George informs me that getting to the top of Lewis Hill might not be such an easy proposition. “You see, most of the excursions there in the past have been made in the winter, up the ice and snow-covered tributaries leading to the mountain. Lewis Hill lies in a very remote, inaccessible region.” Says George. Nevertheless, plans are made for George to try and find a guide for me by Thursday, day-after-tomorrow. I’m to hike on to his lodge in Spruce Brook this evening, then continue on to Corner Brook tomorrow. There, if all goes well, I’ll get a bus back to Black Duck Siding, and with the aid of a guide, I’ll do the climb, hopefully, Thursday afternoon.
I arrive at Log Cabin Lodge in good order and find the key right where George had told me to look. Another neat place. A fire in the old lodge woodstove sure feels good tonight. Thanks, George, for your kindness and hospitality. I have faith that a guide will be found, and I have faith that a way will be found to climb that mountain–see you tomorrow evening, George!
|It isn’t the mountain ahead that wears you out;
It’s the grain of sand in your shoe.[Robert W. Service]
Wednesday–August 15, 2001
Location–Black Duck Siding, Newfoundland, Dhoon Lodge, George Pike, proprietor
A couple of days ago, and in response to an earlier email of mine telling about the Long Range Mountains of Newfoundland, I received a neat note back from Spur, a dear hiking friend. We met during “Trailfest 2000” in Hot Springs, North Carolina. There, as fate would have it, we ended up sharing a room at Elmer Hall’s Sunnybank Inn. That’s where Spur got a good dose of what’s since become known simply as “Nomad’s poison!” I was in town at Elmer’s invitation, to take part in the festivities, and Spur was passing through on his third AT thru-hike. While enjoying the time, it became quite apparent that Spur’s current ramblings warn’t doing much in the way of dousing the fire in his gut–that instinctive wanderlust-of-a-drive that so many of us simply cannot ignore. So over the course of the evening, and after many questions, Spur pretty much set his mind that he’d keep right on going after he got to Katahdin, on over the Knife Edge, across Pamola, down into Roaring Brook and on north out of Baxter into those far-off, adventure-filled lands of Canada. And you know what, that’s just what he did! And after reaching the Cliffs of Forillon at Cap Gaspé, Quebec, some 700+ miles north of Katahdin by trail, Spur returned to Flagg Mountain Alabama, the symbolic southern beginning of the Appalachians, from there to complete his hike back to Springer Mountain–to become at the time, only the fourth person known to have hiked the entire Appalachian Mountain range; so he thought! And so his neat email: “How many more miles have I gotta hike before I’ve finished this mountain range thing? And what new language do I have to learn now?” That’s Spur, all right. He’s just like me; he’ll keep at it till it’s over, till the hike is truly and finally done. There’s no doubt in my mind.
And so, to answer his questions in part–and I guess it’s time I tell you a little more about this remarkable island tucked away in the North Atlantic, this mystic, far-off place known as Newfoundland, where the Appalachian Mountains end, so far as we know them to exist on the North American continent, and where “The New World” as we know it, began.
The history of The New World, at least as has to do with us folk that came late across the big pond, didn’t begin with Columbus, nor with Cabot, nor with Cook, nor with DeSoto, nor with Champlain, nor with any of the other early explorers that happened upon this place we know as North America. To learn of that history, we must return to a time long past, before the 15th century, to a time a thousand years ago, to the time of the Vikings, the Norse people. For it was the Norsemen that first set foot on North America, at a place called L’Anse aux Meadows, the northern tip of Newfoundland. It is to that historic place north of me now that I journey, the terminus of the Appalachian Mountains, and the point that marks the beginning of The New World. Ahh, there will this remarkable odyssey finally end! (More on Newfoundland tomorrow.)
Log Cabin Lodge is a neat old place, much as were the old cabins I spoke about in the book Ten Million Steps. A place most quiet and peaceful, old and rustic, leaning only the least bit, just as now lean so many of my kind old friends. Thanks, George and Odelle Pike, for your kindness!
I’m up and out to another long day of churning the rocks, 45 kilometers to the seaside village of Corner Brook. Along the trail I take many pictures of the Lewis Mountains, where stands the highest point on the island. Then further north do I take many pleasures, for on the horizon I can see the beginning of the Blow Me Down Range.
Many quad-tracs pass today. Two towing trailers stop, the fellows to chat some. “We saw you the other day when we were heading south to Port aux Basques; you’re really covering some ground; how your feet holdin’ up?” And so I meet Lew Stuckless and Harold Moore from Glenwood, over by Gander. They’re knocking out 100-125 mile days through the rocks and dirt and are now on their way back home. Happy (but just a little dusty) smiles, both. Both are kind and gentle, as are most all the people of Newfoundland. Lew invites me to stay the night as his guest should I pass by later toward St. John’s.
In Corner Brook now I make the call to George Pike. Good news, the hike/bushwhack to Lewis Hill is on for tomorrow! So now my task: get to the bus station before the last bus goes through for the day. I make it with ten minutes to spare. At eight, George arrives at Stephenville to fetch me, and we’re soon back at Dhoon Lodge.
I’m very tired. What a day. Before bed, George fills me in on tomorrow’s activities. At five in the morning, two hunters George keeps on call to guide his clients on moose will come for me. We’ll drive the hour-plus drive o’er the old logging roads to near the base of the mountain, there to get as close as possible. Then to begin the fourteen-mile, round-trip bushwhack, mostly through rock-filled gullies and ravines–over the tundra above treeline–to the summit of old “Louie.”
Oh, I hope and pray I can sleep tonight!
|I think over again my small adventures, my fears…
Thursday–August 16, 2001
Location–Black Duck Siding, Newfoundland, Dhoon Lodge, George Pike, proprietor
It’s still pitch black when the knock comes on my door. It’s five to five (Newfie time) and I’ve been up for twenty minutes trying to get my pack organized and ready to go. As I open the door, I’m greeted by that ever-present wide beaming Canadian smile. It’s Daniel MacDonald, one of the hunters George lined up to guide me up Lewis Hill. At the truck I meet Jackie Besaw, George’s other friend. George is up too, to send us off with much encouragement into the dark of night.
We’ve been bouncing and lurching along for over an hour, the dim light of dawn finally coming, and we’ve already seen eight moose. One, a big old fellow with a fine rack. We’ve gone as far as we can by vehicle now, the mountain still seven miles away. Jackie parks the truck; we shoulder our packs and head toward old Louie.
Jackie and Daniel are seasoned woodsmen, having guided for moose for many years. Both carry GPSs, in hand and at the ready. We won’t be able to track a beeline to the mountain, but the little satellite signal triangulations will keep us close. The first half-mile or so is over rutted quad-trac trails, past ponds and islands of low bush and grass, leading to remote hunting cabins hidden in the spruce and fir. Cresting a hill, we get our first glimpse of the sheer mass of rock and barren tundra that begins the fortification. Here again are boulders and imposing escarpments composed of that same strange and eerie camo brown color first seen in the Chic Chocs of Parc de la Gaspesié. I’ve never seen anything quite so strikingly rugged nor imposing, anywhere in the Appalachians, nowhere but here. Jackie and Daniel have both seen this many times. No matter. We all stand and gape in mystified awe. Dan finally breaks the silence; “I told you we would see beautiful sights today!” What an understatement, my kind new friend. And the weather could not be better; a haze-free, blue-perfect day is in the making. From Lewis Hill we’ll see past the sea to the edge of the world. This is going to be one incredible time.
This land is grand, expansive, wide open. Daniel and Jackie, binoculars in hand now, both pan the valleys and far ridges for moose. “De’re over dere in da trees, we just can’t see em,” says Jackie. Descending now through the bush and the rocks, we arrive at the wide, boulder-strewn streambed that is the main tributary to Fox Island River. During rainy weather, crossing here would be out of the question, but today it’s just a fun rock hop. I do manage to dunk one foot though. Across the river we begin our climb up one of the lunar landscaped ravines. The climb is steady, long and hard through the drifted rocks and ice-rowed gravel.
At the upper extent of the ravine now, yet with a waterfall tumbling down, we must attack the wall of the uplifted tableland. Once gained are there now miles of tarns, packs and pockets of snow and lava-like, bleached-gray rocky cliffs and lesser crags.
We stop to rest. The GPS certainly tells us where we are, but not how to get through this puzzle of water, ice and rock. So out come the good old topo maps, the contours to try and figure, that will lead us along the best route. A way is chosen around the larger lake and up and back across the leading ridge behind. This works well, and we’re soon through the maze to arrive at the final lift, the lower edge of the crown that is the broad and curving mound, Lewis Hill.
Beneath our feet is a meadow now, extending toward the summit where one could romp and tumble and play with abandon. Daniel exclaims with glee, “Sure wish I had this in my back yard!” I offer for his consideration, “Daniel, is this not your back yard?” Ahh yes, now from both Daniel and Jackie: that wide beaming Canadian smile, yet again!
The lovely, green meadow gives way to the rocks and boulders once more, they being the crown of it, and soon we three are proudly standing by the cairn that marks the top of Newfoundland. To our surprise, we have completed the climb well before noon. Now with much time to tarry, the warm sun being carried on the edge of a gentle breeze, we move off to the west a few paces to where the sea and all the shores and islands below come to view. Now can be seen the barren and splintered crags and peaks around, the tundra of The Blow Me Down Range, and the remarkable, uplifting lens of the sea, which curves and bends its way to the edge of the earth. There, the eye can’t help but follow, to gaze and to ponder that final dancing bit of warp on the horizon, that leads perhaps to the brink of eternity.
The return trip tomorrow. Now, a little more about this remarkable land and the beautiful people of Newfoundland, in Ode to Newfoundland, as I proudly stand on the very tip top of this breathtaking and remarkable island in the sea:
|When sunrays crown thy pine-clad hills,
And summer spreads her hand.
When silvern voices tune thy rills,
We love thee, smiling land.When spreads thy cloak of shimmering white,
At winter’s stern command.
Through shortened day and starlit night,
We love thee, frozen land.
When blinding storm gusts fret thy shore,
As loved our fathers, so we love,
God guard thee, God guard thee, God guard thee, Newfoundland.
[Sir Cavendish Boyle]
Friday–August 17, 2001
Location–Corner Brook, Newfoundland, Corner Brook Hotel
While relaxing and taking in the wonders yesterday atop Lewis Hill, and while Jackie and Daniel were busy spotting yet more moose grazing contentedly down below, I realized I no longer had my sunglasses. I’d taken them off to look at the topo maps way back in the rocks before the final approach to the mountain. As I fretted myself with this unpleasantness, Daniel casually remarked, “We’ll stop and pick them up on the way back.” “Daniel,” I exclaimed, “That place is miles back. There are hundreds of piles of rocks; they all look alike. We’ll never find that place again.” Looking at me confidently, he simply said, “We’ll find it.”
Well folks, I guess you can see where this is going. Oh yes, put a GPS in the hands of someone trained to use it, especially an experienced mountain guide, and he can take you to the least of a smudge–anywhere. He needs only the coordinates; it’s as simple as that.
Until yesterday, all I knew about GPSs was that they pretty much took the guesswork out of orienteering–if you knew how to use one. The way Daniel and Jackie guided me to Lewis Hill was simply by following a pointer on their respective GPS screens. The GPSs knew where the mountain was from coordinates they had entered. Signals traveling constantly back and forth from GPS to satellites triangulated our location, and from that information their screens constantly displayed the direction we needed to go, scrolling automatically as we went. Daniel’s GPS was off about 100 feet from the actual summit marker, but he hadn’t entered the entire detailed coordinates to the finest detail.
What is so cool about this whole scheme is that once we had reached Lewis Hill, every inch of our exact path to get there had been recorded in the GPSs memory. Now I understand Daniel’s smugness, his confidence about finding my sunglasses. We just followed the path on his GPS right back to them.
On the return trip, GPSs ever at the ready, and somewhere in the rocks, which looked like countless other places in the rocks–Dan said, “Here’s where we stopped to look at the topos. We walked over and sat down right there.” So over he went (that’s when I recognized the rock), he bent down and picked up my sunglasses! I stood there in total disbelief. It was incredible! Well, Dan had great pleasure in handing me my “lost and gone forever” sunglasses. That grand, wide-beaming Canadian smile just gave him away. Thanks, Daniel. Incredible, absolutely incredible!
We got back to Dhoon Lodge well before dark to be enthusiastically greeted and congratulated by all the Pike family: George, Odelle, Georgette, Sis, Kari Ann and Cory. It was truly an amazing day.
This morning I pack my pack and close the door to room #4 at Dhoon Lodge for the final time, and head over to the grand old great room for my final breakfast with these kind and gracious hosts. Odelle waits my table, and George cranks out the bacon and eggs for me. Daniel comes by, and in awhile we walk together out to the road. Here we linger, reminiscing about our memorable time together as I await the bus that will haul me back to Corner Brook. Great guides always have such keen senses, “The bus is coming,” says Daniel–five minutes before it ever arrives, screeching to a halt across the road.
A straight look in the eye and a good solid handshake, and I turn away. Dang, this is always the hard part. But we’ll have the memories of our adventure, won’t we Daniel? We’ll always have these beautiful memories, forever! Thanks, dear friends, the Pikes and Jackie and Daniel, thanks so much for all the joy you have brought my way. I’d really love to stay. Maybe some day I’ll stay, but I don’t know. The wanderlust has got me, and it keeps driving me on.
I arrive late morning to check into the Corner Brook Hotel. Here I’ll take a couple of days off and get rested up before tackling the next leg of this grand adventure, Gros Morne National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, just up the trail.
|The Wanderlust will claim me at the finish for its own.
I’ll turn my back on men and face the Pole.
Beyond the Arctic outposts I will venture all alone;
Some Never-never Land will be my goal.[Robert W. Service]
Saturday–August 18, 2001
Location–Corner Brook, Newfoundland, Corner Brook Hotel
The forecast has been for rain, and it’s here. Just as well; no problem burning another day. I need to take time for some writing anyway, so Corner Brook Hotel it is.
This is a neat town, much history, all the way back to Captain Cook. Cook surveyed the entire coast of Newfoundland for nearly five years around the mid 1700s. He named most every place hereabouts, including Corner Brook, the Humber River and of course, Cook’s Brook.
The west coast of Newfoundland was slow to settle because of the disputes between the French and English. From the time of its “official” discovery by John Cabot in 1497, the French and British fought over the ownership of the island. Old records unearthed in Spain show that the Basques had plied the lucrative fishing grounds of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland long before Columbus or Cabot made their voyages. In 1583, Newfoundland became Britain’s first colony, but it was not until 1949 that it became a province of Canada. The history of the province is one of continuous struggle. The French captured St. John’s three different times, but each time it was retaken, rebuilt and refortified by the British. Finally in 1904, the French agreed to relinquish their fishing rights along the western and northwestern shores of Newfoundland, and today less than three per cent of Newfoundland is French-speaking.
In the morning, I’ll move on to Deer Lake, named for the great herds of caribou (deer) that moved about during the early years of settlement. Today, however, though there are many caribou, there are still no deer as we would know them on the island of Newfoundland, nor are there any snakes, raccoon, skunks or opossum.
Besides fishing, the main industries in Newfoundland are timber and mining. Here are there wide and endless forests to the horizon, with many varieties of trees, including fir, spruce, birch, pine, maple, alder, juniper and aspen. On a placemat in one of the local restaurants I read about the importance of the various minerals and metals mined in Newfoundland, “Mining is a rich vein running through the lives of all Canadians…Imagine how different our lives would be without the cars, television sets, vitamins and medicines that come from minerals and metals extracted from the earth.” It is true; we lament the gaping holes in the earth as we drive by in our metal cars, and we shrug with dismay at the clearcut forests as we build our luxurious wooden homes. Who will be the first to do without these “necessities!”
Through all of this, the people of Newfoundland have endured, such a happy, proud and joyful people. From “Receiving the World” celebration come these words, “The lamplight dances on the wall, the fiddler sets a feverish pace and we step out, bucklin’ the floorboards, tryin’ to keep up. We’re arm-in-arm, swingin’ wildly ’round the room, our lungs screamin’ STOP!–but no one wants to. A time has broken out and she’ll probably keep goin’ till morning.”
|Q: How do you get a one-armed Newfie down from a tree? A: Why, just wave to him!
[Jokes from the Rock]
Sunday–August 19, 2001
Location–Deer Lake, Newfoundland, The Driftwood Inn
The rain continued throughout the night and this morning it remains steady, giving no sign of letting up. But no matter. “It’s time to get out of Dodge,” so around nine-ish, with pack up, I drop my room key off, then head down the steps and out the door for the thirty-two mile roadwalk to Deer Lake.
It’s gonna be a long day, all of it a roadwalk on the Trans Canada Highway (TCH). The old railbed I’ve been hiking for the past number of days used to go from Corner Brook to Deer Lake, guess it still does, but it’s now buried under the additional lanes that were built to widen the TCH, so it’s roadwalk I go.
On the way out of town, I get a look at one of the old steam locomotives that, during the late 1800s and early 1900s, helped bring prosperity to places like Corner Brook and Deer Lake. Folks also alerted me to look for two other things during my travels today. One, the naturally occurring image of “The Old Man in the Mountain,” and the other, “The Heritage Tree.”
I guess most every place where there are cliffs and rocky mountainsides, there’s also a resident caretaker in the form of some kind of image in stone. In the States, at Franconia Notch, resides the famous chisel-faced old man. When viewed at the right angle he appears quite remarkable. But this old guy I’m looking up at now is another matter. No particular angle is needed to view him, nor does it take the least imagination for his image to appear. The bust of this old Newfoundlander is so striking and real, most near the same as standing in awe at Mt. Rushmore. As I move along, his cold, piercing stare follows. Legend has it that he’s standing guard, watching over pirate treasure buried on Shellbird Island just below him in the middle of the Humber River.
The Heritage Tree is a man-made wonder, but a wonder nonetheless. It’s a 360-year-old cedar tree/totem, standing 52 feet tall, with carvings representing over 1,000 years of Newfoundland and Labrador history. Depicted are Cabot, Cook, the Vikings, the Maritime Archaic and Beothuck Indians, the Mamateek, the Shanadithit, the Dorset Eskimos, the whales, the lighthouses, the puffins, the icebergs, the moose, the railway, squid gigging, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Newfoundland coat of arms, plus much more. It nearly reaches the sky, making quite a commanding presence. Check it out at http://members.tripod.com/Heritage_Tree/home.html
The wind and rain keep pushing out of the north, and in awhile I tire of pushing into its constant assault. So near Prynn’s Brook, I pull off and head for a roadside pub. In awhile, a cold longneck down and rested up, I reach for my pack. That’s when this old fellow comes over, “Stick around awhile,” he says, “I’ll buy you a beer.” As we chat, I’m thinking I should know this guy, even with his face sagging and most all his hair gone. “Where ya from?” he asks. When I tell him, “from the States, near Atlanta, Georgia,” he comments, “Oh yeah, been there many times, used to do gigs all through there, into Alabama and Tennessee. I finally ask, “What’s your name mister, seems I should know you…” “Elvis,” he says, “Elvis Presley.” I can’t believe it! Stuttering, I manage, “Man I loved your stuff, it was really good.” With that he breaks into a full-volume, spine-tingling rendition of “Jailhouse Rock.” Folks, those of you who’ve read some of my ramblings know I’ve got quite an imagination. But there’s just no way I could have dreamed this one up! “So long Elvis, thanks for the beer…and the memories.”
By late evening, I finally pass the powerhouse where huge pipes funnel water to the turbines below. This is Deer Lake. Ahead I see the hotel lights dancing in and out of the swirling rain.
What a day. I’m soaked and tired. But a steak and baked potato, then a couple of longnecks, and everything comes around.
|You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.
Monday–August 20, 2001
Location–Wiltondale, Newfoundland, Old Lincoln Cabins
The rain continued again all night and this morning the cloud ceiling is shy of twenty feet. But I’m happy, as this hike is just shy of five thousand miles. I’ll break the 5,000-mile mark today!
As I step out, the rain sets the puddles to dancing–sure looks like a repeat of yesterday. And it’s another roadwalk, up to the entrance to Gros Morne National Park. On the way, I pass the Newfoundland Insectarium, so in I go. Neat place. I learn lots of good stuff–like, there are over sixty species of butterflies in Newfoundland and Labrador, forty-seven of which are found here on the island. Also to be seen are hundreds of different moths. Looking at the specimens, I recognize many of the butterflies, such as the swallowtail, the monarch, the green comma, the painted lady, Peck’s skipper and the common blue. Of the moths, the little virgin tiger moth is probably one of the most beautiful, so too, the white underwing. And one, due to its striking resemblance, is called the hummingbird. It’s really hard to choose a favorite.
I’m off the busy TCH, heading north now on NF430. By mid-afternoon, the rain relents and the sun attempts an appearance but the wind moves in, driving more mush. There are many ups and down, many lakes and hunting cabins, and I pass the time enjoying each as I pass. I’m heading deeper and deeper into the Long Range Mountains now.
The extended and sharp downhills have pretty much made tenderloin of my soggy feet, and I’m very happy to see Old Lincoln Cabins down below. *I know the time will come when these long roadwalks will be gone and there will be a beautiful trail weaving its way through these Long Range Mountains.
*A trail of approximately 1,000 kilometers is presently being planned in the Long Range Mountains of Newfoundland. It would begin at Port aux Basques and pass through the Lewis Hills (the highest point in insular Newfoundland), Gros Morne National Park, and end at Belle Isle on the tip of the Great Northern Peninsula…the terminus of the Appalachian Mountain Chain in North America.
“Newfoundland Section of the Appalachian Trail” [Michael A. Roy, Ph.D.]
Tuesday–August 21, 2001
Location–Gros Morne National Park, Woody Point, Newfoundland, Woody Point Motel, Scott Sheppard and Nancy Crocker, proprietors
A chilly morning, but clear, and the rain appears to be gone for awhile. A stop at the entrance kiosk to Gros Morne National Park, and I’m able to establish my itinerary for the coming days. At the next intersection, I’ll turn west on NF431 and head for the Tablelands and Green Gardens Trails along the southern shore of Bonne Bay.
At the intersection now and next the Frontier Restaurant, I see a little homemade sign by the driveway to a small cottage. “Knitted wool socks and mittens for sale.” As my breakfast is being served, I inquire. “Oh, that’s Mrs. Payne. I’ll give her a call if you like,” says the waitress. So after breakfast, up to Mrs. Payne’s I go.
My mother made the last of my beautiful, hand-knitted socks before she passed away. They wore out over ten years ago, so here, ringing Mrs. Payne’s doorbell, I’m filled with anticipation. In a moment comes this little old lady, and to my face comes this great big smile. For before me stands the perfect image that I’d formed and imagined in my mind’s eye, the very looks of Mrs. Payne: short and petite, a rosy face and just the least of a widow’s hump. Eyes bright and glowing, a perfect countenance. I’m invited in, there to be seated before this enormous valise filled with beautifully hand-knitted socks and mittens, all shapes and sizes, unsorted by color, the likes from which to choose.
As I dig through the assortment, she tells me of her joy in making them. Even with her vision nearly gone now at age 82, her work shows exquisite detail, near perfection. It’s so remarkable. As I comment about her skill, she moves off to another room, soon to return with her darning needles in hand, a sock half-finished dangling there. Her knotty, arthritic fingers begin flashing in a blur as she continues the conversation. She does not even look as the needles fly.
What a remarkable woman, so gentle and kind and so blessed. As I watch, I am reminded of the virtuoso who can sit before the grand piano, eyes fixed to the heavens, as fingers glide over the ivory keys, guided by some unseen power, setting our senses to the joy of it. Ahh, and you too, Mrs. Payne; you indeed are a virtuoso!
I choose three pairs of knitted socks, each a different color. One gray for the days of rain, one blue for the blue of the skies today–and the last? The last, a soft blush, as is the rosy blush in the smiling face of this sweet old woman.
By late afternoon and nearing Woody Point, I get my first glimpse of the Tablelands, then of Gros Morne itself. These mountains do not stand at such great heights but they are spectacular. Now in view across Bonne Bay rises Gros Morne Mountain, the bay at sea level, Gros Morne at 806 meters. Oh yes, the scene is quite spectacular!
At Woody Point Motel I’m in luck; they’ve got a room. Here I meet Scott and Nancy who make me feel right at home. A warm soaking bath for my old, aching bones, a couple tall frosties for delight, accompanied by the finest supper of fresh pan-fried cod, and this racks up as one fine day.
|Wouldn’t life be lots more happy if we praised the good we see?
[Louis C. Shimon]
Wednesday–August 22, 2001
Location–Gros Morne National Park, Woody Point, Newfoundland, Woody Point Motel
I’m greeted to a morning of mist and low-hovering clouds. As I wait for Scott, who will deliver me to the far parking lot at Green Gardens, *Gros Morne, I look the bay over for whale, for last evening as I tarried the time with Scott, we saw a Minke whale breach as it made its way up Bonne Bay. Sure enough, this morning I see another…and yet another. There are two moving along, and with the quiet calm o’er the bay and in the soft rain now, I can hear their blowing most plainly, much the same sound as the noisy snort of a startled buck when catching human scent.
Scott soon comes and we’re off. The plan is for him to drive me the twelve kilometers to the far trailhead at Green Gardens Trail, thus saving me that roadwalk both ways. From there I’ll hike the Gardens, then walk the road to the Tablelands Trail and again from there, the roadwalk back to Woody Point and Scott’s fine motel, where I’ll again spend the evening.
Scott bids me good hiking, and I’m off across this wonderland called Green Gardens. I’m filled with excitement, as so many people have described in such enthusiastic and glowing terms this place called Green Gardens, and what a reward it is!
I no sooner get started than I’m introduced to “tuckamore.” This is a Newfoundlander term used to describe the stunted balsam fir and spruce that grow along the coast and in alpine areas. The trees never really get a chance to grow, as the frost and wind nips back their new buds and branches, producing an elfin-like forest similar to the krummholz found in the Alps. Here their wind-swept, stark, weathered profile and their stout trunks indicate true tenacity. It is a sight to behold.
As I crest a barren hill and get my first look along the mist-laden coast this morning, I am awe-struck by the jagged landscape before and below me. The last Ice Age carved much of this, and the wind, water and ice have been working it ever since. The trail passes along the seashore now, with towering stacks, volcanic cliffs, a grotto and a secluded cove just back that hides a sparkling waterfall. Along the beach, there are scattered meadows full with wildflowers, the trail proceeding there.
Coming back inland and along the watershed for Wallace Brook, the trail climbs and descends through the rocks and tuckamore, and the protected coves of spruce and fir. Nearing the highway again, the trail crosses Wallace Brook on a long suspension bridge that delivers me back to the road, and I’m once again set to another roadwalk, this one to the Tablelands.
The Tablelands, ahh, the Tablelands. Now here’s an incredible place with an equally incredible history. For are the Tablelands composed of the very bowels of the earth, ancient rock pushed up from the ocean floor, making for a stark, scary, forbidding place indeed. At the Tablelands, earthly elements have come together to create great drama suited only for the most-grand theatres of earth. Here rests ancient brown mantle rock disgorged by colossal collisions of drifting tectonic plates, creating landscapes so barren as to appear like the moon. Those were monumental forces, the result of the continents of North America and Euro-Africa slamming together. Gros Morne National Park was declared a World Heritage Site in part because of the weird rocks found here at Tablelands.
What a hike, what a day. I am in the Appalachians folks; these places I have described today are part of the long-reaching Long Range Appalachian Mountains! Another roadwalk, and by late afternoon I’m back at Woody Point, to spend another relaxing, fun-filled evening with Scott, Nancy and friends.
*Gros Morne is the largest and most spectacular national park in eastern Canada–one of the best known parks…for its unexpected landscapes: massive cliffs, fjords, alpine tundra, white sand beaches, and the golden Tablelands plateau. Some park scenes have become icons for Newfoundland itself. The geology, plants, and wildlife have drawn naturalists and researchers for decades, and the human story of the coast stretches back over 4,500 years. Gros Morne National Park, [Michael Burzynski]
Thursday–August 23, 2001
Location–Gros Morne National Park, Rocky Harbor, Newfoundland, Major’s Hospitality Home Hostel, Jack and Violet Major, proprietors
Today the old Nomad takes a ride, the second of two rides that cause interruption in the continuity of this journey, an odyssey that will span most-nearly the breadth of the entire eastern North American continent. The first break came in the crossing of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, from the Cliffs of Forillon at Cap Gaspé, Quebec, to Channel-Port aux Basques, Newfoundland. And the one today will also be a water crossing, a shuttle ride of twenty minutes across Bonne Bay from Woody Point to Norris Point.
After a fine breakfast and plenty of coffee prepared by Scott and Nancy–and another sad good-bye–I’m off to the dock and the shuttle boat, I’se Da B’ye. What timing; the captain is starting the engines, and the mate is casting the bowline even as I arrive.
It’s another cool, cloudy day but the views are splendid as we ply the bay. Many photo ops, first of Woody Point Lighthouse, then of Bonne Bay, one of the most picturesque of all the mountain-embraced harbors of Newfoundland.
I’m soon into the roadwalk again, this a short one to Rocky Harbor. There I’ll spend the day preparing for the ascent of Gros Morne tomorrow, weather permitting. Gros Morne is a formidable mountain rising abruptly from the sea to stand at 806 meters, only nine meters shy of Lewis Hill.
By early afternoon and as I near Rocky Harbor, a vehicle slows behind me. Down comes the window (it’s drizzling again) and the lady calls out, “Need a ride? I’m going to Rocky Harbor.” Declining the offer, I thank her just the same, telling her I’m a hiker and am bound for the hostel. With a smile she says, “I run the hostel. It’s right on the way. Look for my car with the smashed front fender and the two big flower pots out front.” So on I trudge, soon to arrive at the smashed front fender and the two big flowerpots–Major’s Hospitality Home Hostel. I enter to be greeted by Violet, the sweet lady that offered me the ride. She shows me around. The place is her home, hers and Jack’s. He’s out hanging clothes on the line. Neat place. This is fine, mighty fine. And there’s a local mom-n-pop café that serves fresh local seafood just across. Hiking can really be rough sometimes. Oh yes, Nessmuk, now ain’t this roughing it!
|Now shall I walk or shall I ride?
“Ride,” Pleasure said; “Walk,” Joy replied.[William Henry Davies]
Friday–August 24, 2001
Location–Gros Morne National Park, Rocky Harbor, Newfoundland, Major’s Hospitality Home Hostel
Summer days in Newfoundland can be unbelievably grand, the blue of the sky so blue as to provoke unusually attentive and hushed awareness. To this then add the pure white legions, domes, tufts and rolling billowing pillows of cumulus and cirrus clouds backed against the horizon, as far as the eye can see. From across the craggy barrens and forested mountainsides to the edge of the sea, is there such glorious presentation as to create a spell, causing pause, followed by baffling, awestruck amazement.
Then again there are days, other kinds of days, as many or more days like today, with rain-laden clouds hovering and pressing their dark, gray, dismal and dreary gloom, swirling and engulfing, not only physically all about but mentally within, creating a most unsettling presence of mind, a feeling such that days like this will never end.
So I will not climb Gros Morne today, a mountain so named by the Basques to means “big” (gros), “dismal and gloomy” (morne). I will, however, try to moderate the dismal, dreary gloom of this day by writing, studying at the library, and catching up on correspondence to family and friends.
|When it’s dismal and dreary, when you feel there’s no hope,
When your heart’s filled with naught but regret.
May your thoughts all be heady, your pack featherlight,
And the trail six lanes wide when it’s wet.[N. Nomad]
Saturday–August 25, 2001
Location–Gros Morne National Park, Rocky Harbor, Newfoundland, Major’s Hospitality Home Hostel
The forecast for today calls for cool and partly cloudy. What joy, awakening to the glow of the rising sun. This is the day to climb Gros Morne Mountain, a day of brightness, not of gloom. Ahh, patience is rewarded.
I have made many calls and have searched diligently over the last two days in hopes of finding a guide to lead me across the Long Range and North Rim traverses, from Gros Morne, across the tundra and around Western Brook Pond, but I have had no luck. This is a hike the likes of which must not to be taken lightly. Although the highest mountain here rises just above 800 meters, the terrain is indescribably rugged and complex, with massive cliffs composed of the most ancient rock in the world, rising (or falling) 600-700 meters. Remember, this is where continents slammed together, where one ocean died and another was born. According to Michael Burzynski in his book entitled Gros Morne National Park:
“This park has dangerous terrain, and weather conditions are changeable and sometimes extreme. Off-trail hiking in Gros Morne may be more difficult than anything you have ever experienced–a cross between the terrain of the Rockies and the Arctic with low clouds, high winds, sodden ground, impassable brush, large animals, false trails, biting flies and driving rain thrown in for fun.”
Hiking the traverses requires a permit, along with special instruction by a park ranger. All who attempt the traverse must wear a transmitting radio bracelet. The distance is only sixty-two kilometers, less than forty miles, but park personnel recommend carrying food enough for at least seven days. Since I have been unable to find a qualified guide, I will not tempt fate and try these traverses alone. I will content myself with the ascent of the mountain today. The traverses must wait for another time.
Violet shuttles me the five miles to Gros Morne trailhead, and I’m on my way and into the climb by 9:30. Many people are out hiking today, and I enjoy their company along. I meet Ted from Cleveland who just recently climbed Springer Mountain, and Gavin from Toronto, a birder who points out the three most abundant and oft-seen birds. As we hike along together do we discover the American pipit, the horned lark and the rock ptarmigan.
Out of the trees now and into the rocks, the climb becomes immediately precipitous and amazingly difficult. There are two routes to the mountain: one leading up, and one, around the other side, leading down. I see the reason now. One would certainly not want to go down the up route. Why? Because you would likely get where you wanted to go (down) much sooner than you wanted to get there! This mountain is no Katahdin, but the climb is every bit as difficult and challenging, perhaps even more so.
As I near the summit, the trail levels, the wind picks up and it turns very cold, but the sky remains clear, the day remarkably bright, totally haze-free. On top of the rock pile now, I get my first glimpse of the caribou that roam here, five animals, their images dancing on the horizon, a mirage on the vast rocky tundra. The views are breathtaking. I can see back across the Tablelands, the escarpment of their eerie brown brow most striking and prominent, commanding the heights of the distant heavens. To the east is Bonne Bay, where Woody Point can be clearly seen. To the northeast lies the sea and Rocky Harbor. And behind me? Behind me extends the great expanse of tundra, tarns and rifts and rolling mounds of boulders and rock, mountains and cliffs cloaked in tuckamore and bright green forests of spruce and fir. These are the Long Range Mountains, the Appalachians of Newfoundland, as far as the eye can see. Ahh yes, folks, the Appalachians do continue on beyond Katahdin. And here, lying before me are some of the most grand and glorious of them all!
|The Appalachian Mountains
Don’t end in northern Maine,
For as you tack a northeast course,
They reemerge again.[N. Nomad]
Sunday–August 26, 2001
Location–Gros Morne National Park, Rocky Harbor, Newfoundland, Major’s Hospitality Home Hostel
Off the crest, around the mountain and on my way down yesterday, were there many more caribou along the way, twenty-eight in all. One old stag had a rack so huge he could hardly lift his head. I was able to approach him as he lay basking. Finally standing, he presented a perfect profile against the sky.
Once back to the parking lot, I returned to Major’s Hostel via a five-mile roadwalk along NF340. Violet prepared a fine meal for me as we discussed how to work out another night’s stay. Plans are for me to hike the eighteen miles north to Western Brook Pond today, there to await her arrival to fetch me back to Rocky Harbor. Then Monday morning she’ll return me to Western Brook Pond, where I’ll take the first boat tour into the fjord. It’s a great plan. And yesterday on Gros Morne was a great day!
Finally by nine this morning, after a stoking breakfast prepared by Violet, I’m out and on my way. In downtown Rocky Harbor and short of funds, I make my way to the ATM. Here I meet Peter Mylechreest from New Zealand, a direct descendent of the first Vikings converted to Christianity. He’s very proud of “Old Blue,” his ’77 Dodge van named after the Chatham Island Black Robin, recently saved from extinction through a process called cross-fostering. From the immediate splatter of topics here, you might gather that Peter is a very interesting man. Indeed, this is true. We have a great chat. Cheerio, Peter!
I am out to a clear but very windy day. Fortunately, the wind is to my back, and I teeter along, propelled by its gusts. The road follows the sea, and there are many vantages. One especially picturesque view is across the incoming breakers at Lobster Cove Head Lighthouse.
By early afternoon, I reach Sally Cove, where beside is the great Chip Shack. Here I stop for a medium order of fries to complement the fine sandwich prepared for me by Violet. While we’re on the subject of fries, a word of caution. When anywhere in Canada, never, ever order a large serving of fries. “Medium” will be the very best even the most ravished hiker can handle, believe me.
By four, I’ve reached the parking lot at Western Brook Pond, just in time as Violet arrives to fetch me back to her lovely home in Rocky Harbor. In the evening, and at the local fish market, Violet suggests we get the cod tongues for her to prepare for our evening meal. What a great suggestion! Never had cod tongues? Oh, are they ever good. You must try them sometime.
Tomorrow, I’m out and on my way again–a-traipsing o’er. Violet and Jack, it’s great to spend another evening with you. You have both become dear friends. Thanks for all you’ve done for me. Thanks for your kindness.
|From the red-rimmed star to the speck of sand,
From the vast to the greatly small;
For I know that the whole for good is planned,
And I want to see it all.[Robert W. Service]
Monday–August 27, 2001
Location–Gros Morne National Park, Cow Head, Newfoundland, Bayview B&B/Shallow Bay Motel and Cabins, Darel House, proprietor
After a fine breakfast and much-too-much coffee, Violet shuttles me the eighteen miles back to Western Brook Pond parking lot. Plans were to do the boat tour up Western Brook Pond this morning, then hike on to Cow Head for the day, but plans have changed. It’s blowing near a gale and raining steady, the boat tour cancelled. The magnificent Western Brook Pond fjord will have to wait for another time. With considerable reluctance now and much sadness I bid farewell to yet another very good friend, then to don my poncho and turn into it, up the road to Cow Head. Good-bye, Violet Major, good-bye.
The hike today is a roadwalk north on NF430, which leads beside the sea. There is little cover along, the wind and rain pushing relentlessly, thankfully from my port stern. The wind-driven onslaught continues the morning and into early afternoon as I gain the road to Cow Head. Thank goodness, I am soon at Shallow Bay Motel, where I’m finally able to seek shelter and relief from the frightful deluge. Here I’m greeted quizzically by Darel House, proprietor. After the usual Q&A period, he directs the tired, wet, and bedraggled old Nomad to his beautifully restored B&B right next the motel, very reasonable, right on the sea.
A shower, dry clothes and a warm meal–oh yes, that does it! There are no bad days on the trail. Aww, good grief, who am I trying to convince here?
|There’ll be days like this, son.
Tuesday–August 28, 2001
Location–Gros Morne National Park, Cow Head, Newfoundland, Bayview B&B
Darel has offered to drive me back to Western Brook Pond, should the day clear, then fetch me again after the boat tour and return me to his lovely place here on the sea. So I’ve decided to burn a day and sit this storm out. Great idea! The day starts coming around by late morning, and by noon I decide to avail myself of Darel’s hospitality.
So many folks hereabouts have spoken of the raw beauty that is Western Brook Pond fjord. I am convinced I must see this place. So here’s my chance, and here we go! Darel delivers me to the parking lot and I’m off on the short, three-kilometer hike over a gentle gravel path to the boat dock at Western Brook Pond. Here I must wait to see if I might board, as I’ve made no reservations. Folks file by, and I sit, and more folks file by, loading both boats. I estimate more than 100 people. Certainly there’ll be no room for me. But just as the boats appear fully loaded, and more people arrive to board, I am told that I can go!
The day is clearing still, the pond nearly flat, with only the slightest breeze. The captain welcomes us aboard and the taped presentation begins, a quite formal and impressive delivery by an old sea-salted Newfoundlander, his voice most reminiscent of a powerfully solemn and striking voice, a style I remember from childhood, that of Orson Wells. He begins, “Fellow Newfoundlanders and all here, greetings! If you have joined us for geological interests, you are in for a treat. Western Brook Pond offers many spectacular scenes of unique land forms, telling a story that had its beginning a billion years ago. The majesty of this geological epic awaits you. If you have joined us purely for a robust outing, to breathe our pure air, you too, will not be disappointed, for I will wager me fish-brewis supper that you’ll sleep soundly tonight.”
The tour, which lasts over two and one-half hours, is indeed a journey through time. The fjord is truly spectacular. You’ve heard the old adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Ahh, but there are no thousand words, or indeed a thousand thousand words to describe this timeless place. During the tour, I go through over a roll of film, but these snaps will be the least snippet, a view into this remarkable place. Hopefully, some of my pictures will turn out, and Greg, my Webmaster, can get them up so you might glimpse into what I’ve witnessed here today.
Late evening now, Darel comes to retrieve me, to whisk me back to Shallow Bay, the ending of a perfect day, so I believe. But as night descends am I treated to the most grand supper, fresh cod, brought to my table in the table-packed Shallow Bay dining room by, oh yes, Darel, now my chauffeur-turned–waiter. And this connoisseur’s delight? Compliments of Chip Bird, Superintendent, Gros Morne National Park.
As I rise to depart, comes Darel again, “Would you like to attend the theatre with me this evening?” he asks! I had been looking at the plays highlighted in the lobby nearby and had been considering attending this evening’s performance, “Ed & Ed, Trapped,” a spoof about Newfoundland fishermen and their times, playing at the Warehouse Theatre right next. I immediately accept!
The play is a remarkable accounting of the continued hard times here, of the fishermen out of work, their loss of self-esteem, the solemn awareness of a hopeless future that presents. It is, however, played out with much joy and comedic hilarity. I believe it was Steve Allen, one of the great comedians of my time that once said, to the effect, “For comedy to be truly funny, it must tell a story woven with an underlying thread of truth.” Jeff Pitcher, you are a remarkable playwright/director! I went away from your splendid presentation with a sad yet joyful feeling. I thought I had come to know the people of your beautiful island, Newfoundland, but I did not know them. Now I know them.
Back in my room, and with a feeling of melancholy, the thought of this remarkable day being past now, I deign recall broken dreams and other days of long ago. As I say my prayers and drift off to sleep, my spirit is lifted by the knowledge that the love of friends along the way will carry me. I constantly try looking toward tomorrow–not back–just like you told me to, Mama.
|Out of the hinterwhere into the yon–
The land that the Lord’s love rests upon,
Where one may rely on the friends he meets,
And the smiles that greet him along the streets,
Where the mother that left you years ago
Will lift the hands that were folded so,
And put them about you, with all the love
And tenderness you are dreaming of.[James Whitcomb Riley]
Wednesday–August 29, 2001
Location–NF340, Daniel’s Harbor, Newfoundland, Mountain View Motel, Gloria Payne, manager
Might I ruminate a few peculiarities (say “neat things”) I’ve noticed about Newfoundland and its people since trekking across this fascinating island province–but not necessarily in any particular order?
One, bathroom light switches up here are invariably located somewhere on a wall outside the bathrooms. So should you enter a dark bathroom, thence to close the door, you will certainly remain in a dark bathroom! In establishments most frequented by us folks from the good old USofA, it is amusing to note the patina caused by our frequent fumbling for the switch, the finger marks there to show, on the bathroom wall just inside the door where the switch is usually found. This is most often seen in restaurants and other public places. At such a lodging recently, I finally found the bathroom switch, located in the bank of switches by the front door!
Another interesting observation concerns litter and graffiti. Indeed, the people of Newfoundland take great pride in their homeland, in their modest dwellings and in their personal possessions–a deep, underlying respect if you will. Therefore, litter and graffiti are virtually nonexistent. There are few “adopt-a-highway” signs here, which I’ve always thought made for annoying visual clutter, for there is scant trash or garbage to be found along their roadways, only a fraction of what’s seen in the US. What little there is, I’ve sadly found–as bottles, cans and other trash continues being hurled–is generally coming from, and is directly proportional to the number of vehicles bearing US tags.
In the US, for the budget-minded individual, the most affordable lodging while traveling is usually the wayside motel, not the B&B. In Newfoundland, the opposite is true. Here a sojourn at one of the numerous local homes along is assurance of comfortable lodging, a fine meal and good company, all provided by the proud owner at the most reasonable cost.
I’m out this morning to another delightful hiking day in Newfoundland, cool and with just the least breeze. Folks around have told me about the old mailroute trail that leads from Cow Head along the shore north toward Parson’s Pond. So that’s the route I seek. The way is pleasant, soon to take me beside Shallow Bay, then back to NF340.
In Parson’s Pond now, and at the post office, I retrieve my bounce box and lift the rest of my meds to place them in my pack along with three more rolls of slide film. I clip my fingernails, drop the nail clippers back in the box, then seal and send them, along with all my winter gear on to Anchor Point, a week or two on up the Great Northern Peninsula.
Heading ever north again and as I continue passing by Portland Creek Pond for the better part of the afternoon, I chuckle while thinking about yet another fascinating Newfie idiosyncrasy–the way they identify landmarks. It is, however, understandable. For the land that is Newfoundland is so overwhelmingly vast, as to dwarf what man’s presence here might ever mean. Perhaps, and as a result, those who live, work, and love this place pay their respect in a most interesting and humbling way. Mountains, for example, which stand so majestically, with such power and might, are simply referred to as “hills.” Landlocked waters, so grand and expansive, miles across and tens of miles long, that we’d refer to as nothing less than “lakes,” are simply called “ponds.” An old Newfie recently opined to me that waters deserving the title “lake” must occupy no less than that space possibly filled through a hole in one’s boot!
By mid-afternoon, I’ve reached the Arches: interesting rock formations, the tidy work of eons of tides, now left to stand on eroded bowlegs by the restless sea. Here I relax, have lunch and watch as families come and go. Even in the mist-driven wind, the children set to scampering the jumble of rocks, having a great time about.
By late evening I have accomplished my hike into Daniel’s Harbor…in the rain, yet again. I declare, this weather seems no less than the devil’s work.
|It is the devil’s masterstroke to get us to accuse him.
Thursday–August 30, 2001
Location–Corner Brook, Newfoundland, Corner Brook Hotel
While in Rocky Harbor and while meeting with Chip Bird, Superintendent, and Jeff Anderson, Land Use Specialist, Gros Morne National Park, it was recommended I contact Mike Roy, Ph.D., Executive Director, Centre for Forest & Environmental Studies, and Chair, School of Natural Resources, College of the North Atlantic, Corner Brook, Newfoundland. Dr. Roy, I was told, and to my great pleasure did I find, is also the Founding Chair, Appalachian Trail Foundation of Newfoundland, an organization charged with the responsibility of completing “…the 1,000-kilometer length of the entire proposed Newfoundland section of the Appalachian Trail,” this quoted from a feature article in the October 3, 2000 issue of The Western Star. From yet another Western Star feature, this a front-page article, comes the quote, “Roy has a vision of extending the Appalachian Trail by 1,000 kilometers through the corridor of the Long Range Mountains of Newfoundland. The trail would begin at Port aux Basques and pass through the Lewis Hills, the highest point in insular Newfoundland, Gros Morne National Park, and end at Belle Isle at the tip of the Great Northern Peninsula. When extended to Belle Isle, the terminus of the Appalachian Mountain chain in North America, the trail will have the distinction of being the longest continuous footpath in the world. In comparison, the Great Wall of China is about 3,500 kilometers in length, while the completed trail would be about 5,400 kilometers long. The proposed trail in Newfoundland would extend the trail system to the northern terminus of what I sincerely believe is the most exciting and diverse portion of this North American mountain range,” said Dr. Roy.
Oh, is this yet another modern-day Benton MacKaye, and perhaps, just perhaps, would I want to meet a man who dreams such a dream: the dream of a trail so grand and glorious, through all of these grand and glorious Appalachian Mountains!
So, as you might suspect, this afternoon at two, I’ll interrupt this northbound hike to board a Viking Bus heading south, bound for Corner Brook, there to meet–Dr. Mike Roy.
On the bus now, and bouncing along over the frost-heaved highway, I am thinking about the howling and wailing, the chaotic cries of alarm this is going to raise yet again back in the United States. I can hear it all now, “Not another Appalachian Trail; this can’t possibly be! Who are these people, anyway; who do they think they are, calling a trail in Newfoundland, an extension of the Appalachian Trail? That would require an act of Congress. Do they have an act of Congress?” Most assuredly will there come once more the wringing of hands, the gnashing of teeth, and will the finger pointing and the name-calling go out. Remember when the International Appalachian Trail project was inaugurated, how those of so-called influence within the Appalachian Trail community sprang forth with their pathetic cries of “foul!” To follow were the maligning accusations and degrading insults directed at honorable men, men of great repute, one a direct descendent of Samuel de Champlain, Quebec’s most renowned and respected founder and countryman.
Late evening now and finally arriving at Corner Brook, no sooner to step from the bus, am I greeted by Mike Roy–oh yes, with that glad and happy, full-beaming Canadian smile!
|Neither evil tongues, rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men,
nor greetings where no kindness is…shall ever prevail against us.[William Wordsworth]
Friday–August 31, 2001
Location–Secret Valley, Newfoundland, Mike Roy’s mountain camp
Footpaths leading directly to the soul, trails we’ll all come to know as the Appalachian Mountains Trail (AMT) and the Eastern Continental Trail (ECT), trails not yet stifled or spoiled by the tracings or markings of man–where are the gaudy, splattered paint on every tree, where are the meticulously line-drawn maps, where are the painstakingly detailed data and directions for every dip and turn, where are the rutted and beaten-down paths, to be blindly tramped out and followed by the faint of heart, by those legions set out in their so-called quest for freedom, yet, where there, they pathetically remain bound down by the burdens of life’s–and the ridiculous burdens on their backs, as they follow, like lemming–just another well-beaten highway. No! No! NO! But rather, there exist now, right this moment, other ways to pass. Ways for those who yearn for true freedom, who seek escape from the narrow, hazy passageways of a blindfolded mind, who seek ways to journey forth o’er spirit-filled paths toward peace, beauty and truth.
Today, I continue my trek along that spirit-filled path, to continue forth on the AMT/ECT. I have been invited by Mike Roy to join him in discovering the secret of the ages, a secret known only to–“The Old Man in the Mountain.” Today we’ll hike his fifteen-kilometer preview, Mike’s pilot project, for the Newfoundland Appalachian Trail–right over the crown of that old mountain gent whose cold granite stare has panned the Humber River, and has scanned across the Bay of Islands–since time.
A short quote from a recent email from Mike, and you’ll understand my excitement about meeting this visionary and being invited to hike with him today. I’ll lead you in–These trails, the AMT and the ECT are evolving “…now and will continue to evolve into a true work of art: connecting two countries, sixteen states, three provinces, hundreds of communities, millions of individuals, and a mountain range of grand natural and cultural history.”
The forecast calls for rain today, but as Mike fetches me at seven-thirty, we’re out to a cool, clear morning, as we cross the Humber River just north of Corner Brook. We’re immediately set to warming up the old jitneys, a climb up and around the escarpment that forms the main craggy edifice squaring the bay. The crown of the old fellow once gained, are we now awarded the most remarkable view, a vantage across most-nearly all the eons, a brief glimpse into what Father Time has wrought and what Mother Nature has endured. Perhaps, and should you be one who loves the Appalachian Mountains as do I; from places visited such as this place now, you would depart, as will I, with a confused feeling of humility and awe, a feeling totally different from any other ever recalled, ever. For here before me are revealed the grand and glorious works of God. Indeed the Appalachians go on, they go on, and upon the island of Newfoundland do they rise again to present in all their majestic might and splendor. Here Mother Nature stands steadfast with Father Time, in such pure and innocent display, a profound show of silent dignity. These mountains, this instant, challenge me to muster a feeble attempt to see, as Benton MacKaye would say, “…to truly see that which we look upon,” and to comprehend. Before me now rests the harvest Mother Nature has yielded, Her inner being, being heaved, contorted and shoved about still, over a billion years, ground to so much fine dust by Father Time, His glaciers pressing and crushing Her shoulders. Yet has She prevailed; yet does Her mystery shine forth below and beyond–this very moment.
What a memorable day of hiking and fellowship. What joy to be with one of like mind and kindred spirit. The day is too-soon spent as we wend our way past sun-blushed, high-held ponds, thence families of white and yellow birch, spruce, fir and juniper (tamarack). O’er the backbone of these Newfoundland Appalachians we trek, embraced by their gentle demeanor and quiet dignity, to descend in the long shadows of the sun, down from the back of “The Old Man in the Mountain”–to the Humber River, and home.
Thanks, Mike, thanks for sharing this special place, this precious time with me on this, your “Cradle Trail.” From here will soon emerge your full-grown dream, a pathway through the cradles of Time and Nature’s space, a path leading forth into these mysterious wonders, the Long Range Appalachian Mountains of Newfoundland.
|He who understands Nature walks close with God.
Saturday–September 1, 2001
Location–Corner Brook, Newfoundland, Mike Roy’s Home
Today will be a day of learning about the Newfoundland Appalachian Trail initiative and about the many natural wonders that exist here in this special place, the northern reaches of the Appalachian Mountains. To my great joy and good fortune, I’ll again be spending the day with Mike Roy. We’ll be trekking some less-used local trails as we share the common dream, enjoy each others company and spend the day together.
Mike certainly knows these lands that are Newfoundland, from all that stands–the canopy shading our heads above, to all that’s at our feet below, even the tiniest of plants that eke out an existence in what seems such a nervous way, wrestling as they do with the harsh and unforgiving elements of their near-arctic environment.
Hiking along do I learn now of the many trees and how to identify them. Mike has made a career of such skill, having gained his doctorate in Integrated Land Use/Forest Policy. Round about stand the ubiquitous fir and spruce, but how to tell the difference? “Pluck a needle from that tree,” says Mike. “Roll it between your fingers. Oh, it won’t roll? Well that needle’s from a fir tree then. Now run your hand along one of the boughs, stroke it both ways. Feel its softness!” Now with exuberance, as if discovering these fascinating sensations for the first time himself, he exclaims, “‘F’ is for fir. Remember, the needle was (f)lat, it wouldn’t roll, the bough was soft, thus we’d say the tree was (f)riendly! Now go to that one over there. Pluck a needle again and try to roll it, and stroke one of the boughs just like before. Does the needle roll? How do the branches feel?” Following his instruction, I reply, “Hey Mike, this needle rolls, this tree feels prickly and sharp.” Smiling now, he replies, “Well, there you have it. ‘S’ is for spruce. The needles are (s)pindly or (s)quare-like, so they roll. And the feel of the bough as you stroke it is not friendly, but (s)harp.” I’m into this now. “Wow, this is neat, Mike. I like this kind of instruction, I can remember these lessons. I’ll always be able to tell the difference now between fir and spruce!”
In addition to these trees, I make my re-acquaintance with white and yellow birch, pin cherry, choke cherry, mountain ash, red maple, larch (tamarack), white pine and tuckamore.
One interesting flowering plant, one we know simply as bottlebrush, here is called Canadian Burnett, and in France this same plant is known as herbe à piser (the herb that you piss on!). Other plants and shrubs along the way today are pearly everlasting, wild asparagus, cow parsnip, joe pieweed, goldenrod, crackerberry, white fringed orchid, pitcher plant, sundews, aster, cranberry, wild raisin, blueberry, dwarfbirch, mountain alder, bilberry, bearberry, rhodora, mountain heather, Labrador tea, laurel and countless fens and bogs filled with reeds, mosses, sedges and grass.
One section of trail today could well be know as “Fern Trail,” for along here we see eight different species of fern. Among them, interrupted fern, wood fern, Swiss fern, oak fern, Long Beach fern, cinnamon fern, brachen fern and the ostrich or fiddlehead fern. Oh my, I hope I don’t get tested on all of this!
Returning to camp, we have a swim in the sun-warmed water of the brook, then Mike prepares a grand supper before we head for his home in Corner Brook. Another great hike, another memorable day. Thanks, Mike! This has been a very enjoyable day, a day of learning.
|Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still.
Sunday–September 2, 2001
Location–Rocky Harbor, Newfoundland, Major’s Hospitality Home Hostel
It’s raining as Mike drives me back to Rocky Harbor. A somber day, but just as well I suppose. Soon I’ll be bidding another great new friend farewell, a friend with whom I have so much in common. When the trail-building gets going here, I’ve just got to return to Newfoundland again, to see my friend, Mike Roy, again and to support him in his vision.
I’ve decided to stop in Rocky Harbor again instead of returning to Daniel’s Harbor right away. Ever since I hiked out of here last Sunday I’ve been kicking myself for not making a more concerted effort toward finding a guide to lead me across the two traverses here at Gros Morne. So this time around I’m going to stick at Major’s Hospitality Home Hostel until I’ve found a guide, and until these two traverses are done.
Mike soon has me back where Violet greets me with surprise. In a few minutes I’m settled in. So long, Mike, it’s been great! The last two days of hiking have been a memorable time. The Newfoundland Appalachian Trail is going to be a very special pearl in the string of pearls that combine to make up these most remarkable of trails, the AMT/ECT.
In the evening now I call Frank Piercey again. Frank is a local guide. I reach him, but no luck. Frank’s also a fisherman and he’s going back out soon. It’s late now and I’m tired. I’ll pick this effort up again tomorrow.
|Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.
Monday–September 3, 2001
Location–Rocky Harbor, Newfoundland, Major’s Hospitality Home Hostel
I’m back at it again this morning, undaunted. I’m going to cross the Gros Morne tundra– one way or the other, I will do the traverses. First call (once more) is to Gros Morne Adventure Guides in Norris Point, just down the road. Sue Rendell, co-owner, answers and we have a long and enjoyable chat. Labor Day pretty much ends the season up here and things get a little unsettled, what with summer jobs winding down, so I strike out here again. Sue does recommend, however, that I stop by Base Camp here in Rocky Harbor and talk to Kevin Vincent and Andrea Spracklin, the young folks that run Base Camp. Their little shop is mainly a kayak rental service with a smattering of outdoor and hiking gear. I’d stopped by there last week to find the place closed. It’s time now though to follow every lead, so out the door I go for the ten-minute walk downtown.
I’m in luck, the shop is open, and as I enter I’m greeted with that grand Canadian welcome. Here I meet Kevin Vincent, a certified guide. As I tell my story and explain my desire to employ his services, the kid literally lifts straight up with excitement. His face lights up, the whole place seems to light up! Well now, looks like I’ve got myself a guide–for both the North Rim and the Long Range traverses! Plans are to get permits tomorrow and head out early Wednesday morning. Whoohee (That’s the Canadian hoot.)!
|Persistence is to the character of man as carbon is to steel.
Tuesday–September 4, 2001
Location–Rocky Harbor, Newfoundland, Major’s Hospitality Home Hostel
Lots to do today. A stop by the library for awhile, then to the post office. Have to get food too, for at least four days. Then it’s by Base Camp again for a meeting with Kevin to make final preparations for tomorrow. Plans are for Andrea to drop us off at the parking lot below Western Brook Pond around six-thirty tomorrow morning, where we’ll begin our hike by climbing the North Rim of the fjord, from there to hike the rim onto the tundra and back south across the Long Range traverse to Gros Morne, a distance of some sixty-two kilometers (thirty-seven miles) by trail. Park rangers recommend taking four to five days for the Long Range traverse alone, eight to ten for both. We hope to do them in three, perhaps four days at the most.
I’ve pretty much become family here at Major’s Hostel, having free run of the place. Violet’s been cooking for me, and I’ve helped Jack some with the dishes and sweeping around. Today Violet works all afternoon, cooking up a tank-stokin’ supper for me in preparation for tomorrow’s hike: fried wild rabbit, potatoes & salt pork/onion gravy, corned beef & fresh greens, bread pudding, peas pudding, turnips, beets, carrots, all from the garden, and oh yes, ice cream for dessert! My gear’s loaded; I’m loaded.
As I drift to sleep I’m thinking about what I’ve read in the Gros Morne literature concerning the North Rim traverse. “Particular care should be taken when walking near the edge of the Western Brook Pond gorge. In many places you can walk right up to the lip of a 610-meter [1900+ foot] vertical drop. Winds in this area can be unpredictably strong and visibility is very poor during fog or heavy precipitation. The route [unmarked] travels over varied terrain and past numerous lakes and brooks. Travel can be confusing as a result and should not be attempted on days with poor visibility. Anything less than two kilometers creates unsafe travel conditions.”
Folks, you just never tire of this whole wanderlust trekking thing…not never!
|Then here’s a hail to each flaring dawn!
And here’s a cheer to the night that’s gone!
And may I go a-roaming on
Until the day I die.[Robert W. Service]
Wednesday–September 5, 2001
Location–Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland, North Rim traverse, A fen in the tuckamore near Western Brook Pond fjord
The forecast calls for a 90% chance of rain, but the day dawns mostly blue. The weather hereabouts, however, can change in a blink. In the States, we’re used to seeing storms come in from the same direction most of the time. Here on the island of Newfoundland, storms slam in from every-which-a-way. Looking to the east this morning, and on the horizon, I see this ominous black wall, standing with dark mushroom domes and heads. Not a good sign.
Andrea drops us off at Western Brook Pond parking lot, and at six forty-five we’re headed toward Snug Harbor, by the northwest shore on Western Brook Pond. Arriving, we’re at the end of the groomed trail, to begin the unmarked traverse up and onto the North Rim of Western Brook Pond fjord, a climb from near sea level to over two thousand feet in less than two miles. By ten we’re finishing the pull up through the tuckamore (krummholz-like, near-impenetrable, stunted spruce/fir) to reach the tundra above Western Brook Pond fjord. The sun climbs most of the way with us, only to bail out near the top as the mush sets in and the cold winds come. By noon the tuck and rain have joined forces to really work us over.
Of all the hiking I’ve done along these grand old Appalachian Mountains have I yet to see such stunning wildness. We’re following the compass now (kicking the dial over 25 degrees for declination), eyes glued to the 1/50,000 topos bound in a Ziploc. Trails and tracks go everywhere, none made by man–up and down, through the rocks and the tuck, across the bogs, fens and brooks. Once on the tundra, the boulderfields, tarns, eskers, scree moraines, cliffs and escarpments all look the same. Where we’re going looks just like where we’ve been, and there we go! Am I ever glad to have a trained eye along that can read and understand this puzzling landscape.
Kevin refers to the compass only occasionally, usually from vantages offering a kilometer or two viewing distance, relying mostly on lesser topo features, such as ponds and minor contour changes. His ability is uncanny, especially in working the maze of moose and caribou trails that meander helter-skelter with no rhyme or reason through the ever-present tuckamore. Stopping at intervals, he’ll point to a spot on the topo, saying, “we’re here now, a little east (or west, or north, or south) of the route the rangers have plotted, but this is the better way.” Having not a clue where we are or where we’re going, I respond with something like, “Okay, Kevin, great. Lead on!” And on we go through the rain and the rocks and the tuck–Oh yes, and I had seriously considered trying these traverses by myself!
Our feet have been totally soaked since crossing a gravel bar down on the shores of Western Brook Pond. Now with the relentless rain and the tuck tugging at us, the soaking is slowly working its way up through us and our packs. By late evening, and after nearly twelve hours in the scramble of rocks and barbs of tuck, having covered no more than fourteen or fifteen miles, and hoping for a momentary break in the rain, we begin looking for a place in the lee to pitch for the evening.
Moving away now, back from the driving wind and rain, and over a little pop in the jumble of boulders do I see him–my first sighting in over five thousand miles–a magnificent, mammoth black bear! Catching our scent now, bounding away he goes, a perfect meld of graceful motion and muscular might, the raven-black glisten of his wintry coat rippling in waves like wind-bent meadowgrass. In seconds he’s gone. Kevin and I stand in silence and awe. After struggling and fighting all day to make our way, we’ve just witnessed a four-hundred pound ballerina dance straight across this stuff. Amazing!
The rain doesn’t give, but we finally do, on a grassy slope tucked back in the tuckamore, where we tuck in and call it a day.
|And then he stepped on virgin land
Not walked upon by any man
And witnessed what no man had seen
Silent, standing…still…serene.[Bobby Bridger]
Thursday–September 6, 2001
Location–Rocky Harbor, Newfoundland, Major’s Hospitality Home Hostel
It’s nearly impossible to pitch in the rain without getting soaked. Kevin and I both dropped our packs, ripped them open and quickly dug for our tents, then worked feverishly to get them set. I beat him in; guess I’ve had more practice. Problem was, though, and in such haste, I hadn’t checked the ground where I pitched. Had problems all night with a big lump (say, “rock”) slap in the middle of the floor. And when I tried curling around it, searching for a comfortable sleeping position, something kept poking me in the butt. What a night. The rain remained at it’s vigil, steady and hard, and the drumming of it finally “rocked” me away to the Land of Nod.
We’re faced with the same problem this morning, in reverse: breaking camp in the rain. We both hurry, but we both lose. Everything we have is soaked now, adding much additional pack weight. As I strike my tent, do I see what had been poking me in the butt all night–the pointed tines from a huge moose rack shed last year, concealed in the grass. Somehow in my haste to get out of the rain I missed seeing it.
First thing this morning we pass where we last saw the bear. Interesting, when I realize it’s taken us fifteen minutes to cover the same ground the bear flew across in only seconds!
In a short while, we come to the upper reaches of Western Brook Pond fjord. From here, the view down and directly into Western Brook Pond is something only pictures can try to tell. The sun makes a brief show, and Kevin takes a couple shots of me standing at the brink. The chill from inactivity doesn’t take long to set in though, so we’re quickly on our way again, in the cold wind and relentless rain.
To gain the far ridge across the gulch requires a cautious, slow, hand-over up, for a short distance across a sheer rock face, the only way to the upper reaches of this glacier-shaved crown. The metal peg and ladder climbs up Katahdin and elsewhere along the AT pale in comparison to the challenge here. This is certainly not technical climbing, but groping for hand-holds and toe-holds, 100 or so near-vertical feet above the sliding-board-like gulch floor–well, this is as close as I’ll ever want to come to rock climbing!
As we leave Western Brook Pond fjord, we have completed The North Rim traverse and are now beginning what is know as The Long Range traverse. Few who come to hike here attempt both, at least back-to-back. Rather, the choice is to come up the fjord by boat to the dock at the upper reaches of Western Brook Pond, and from there to ascend through the gulch to the point we’ve just passed, then from there to set out on one of the two traverses, either the North Rim or the Long Range. Three to four days are recommended for the North Rim hike, and officials at Gros Morne suggest taking four to five days to complete the Long Range traverse.
Back in the tundra and moving along quite well, we take a wrong tack, one of few, but we’re soon around and back on course again. As the rain continues, the caribou and moose ruts turn to bogs, the bogs to brooks, and the brooks to rivers. And the rivers? Well, the brooks-turned-rivers we must cross are negotiated with much hesitancy, caution and deliberate concentration.
The Long Range traverse has had much more human traffic, there is much less tuck, and the ups, downs and arounds through the gulches and moraines, ponds and bogs, are much less troublesome. Consequently, we’re making much better time today. Visibility remains good despite the continuous rain, and the mushed-up clouds and fog are tending to keep their distance, generally seeking higher ground about.
The ruggedness, the cold harshness of this Arctic-like tundra, is incomparable, like nowhere else along the entire range of the Appalachians. Only here in Newfoundland do these mountains present at times in such a wild and uncomfortably forbidding way. Only in two other places have I ever felt so unwelcome, so separate and apart. Mountains are places I’ve come to love, places where warmth and love have always been returned. But not in these places–not on the camo-brown, barren flanks of Mont Albert in the Chic Chocs of Parc de la Gaspesié, nor most-near anywhere in all the western Rockies, and certainly not here on this cold, sodden tundra today.
As we continue tramping the rocks and splashing the bogs, and as the rain continues soaking us down, I’m thinking, “Do I really want to spend another rain-hammered night up here, everything cold and soaked, including me?” As we continue trudging, begins now a little mental calculating: “Lets see, it’s one o’clock. In the past five hours we’ve managed around ten miles, the last of the sixteen-mile North Rim traverse, and some eight or nine of the twenty-one that make up the Long Range traverse. We’ve got seven hours of daylight left, with some thirteen or so miles remaining to reach the parking lot at Gros Morne.” Inquiring of Kevin, I find that except for a little bumpy ride around Ten Mile Pond, the going will continue pretty much as it’s been. So far today we’ve been slogging along at a two-plus mile per hour clip. So, all things considered, looks like we should be able to trudge this traverse on through and reach Gros Morne before dark.
In a few minutes, Kevin stops to take a bearing and check his topos. As I move away to take a whiz, I begin wondering how to bring the idea up, how to suggest to Kevin that we hoof it on in, in the process, not wanting to raise anxiety or otherwise cause interruption to the great hike we’re having.
As a conscientious guide would tend to do, and over the last two days, Kevin’s routinely inquired as to my condition, how I felt and how I was getting along. “Okay, that’s it,” I assure myself. “I’ll show my interest and concern by raising the same questions, and at the same time find out if he’s up to it.” So before we set off again I step up, turn to him and ask, “How you holding up kid, your knees, your back, your feet, you doing okay?” Smiling, he replies, “Sure, I feel great, can’t let this weather get ya!” “Okay,” I’m thinkin’, “That’s good, here goes.” Looking him square in the eye now, I begin. “Kevin, we can hike on for another three or four hours in this mush, pitch in the rain, change out of our wet clothes into our other wet clothes, climb into our wet tents with all our wet gear, have a cold trail food supper, then try staying warm in our wet sleeping bags. Orrrrr, we can bang this on out today, get a hot shower, change into some warm, dry, clothes, pick up a pizza and a six of frosties, see our friends, then get a good night’s sleep in a nice warm bed–Whaddayasay?” Startled, he stares back at me, totally blank. Recovering, and with his face all screwed up now, he exclaims, “We can’t get in there today. That’ll mean we do this whole thing in two days. It’s too far; we’ll never make it!” In the most reassuring voice I can muster now, I explain, “It isn’t too far, Kevin. We’ll make it just fine before dark.” With that I go over the time/rate/distance calculations with him, explaining the strategy. Satisfied now, he gives me a little smirky grin, turns, squares his shoulders, tugs his heavy, water-laden pack and he’s off like a shot. Oh yes, hang on; here we go. Pizza and beer, whoohee!
|You win some, you lose some, and some get rained out, but you gotta suit up for them all.
Friday–September 7, 2001
Location–Rocky Harbor, Newfoundland, Major’s Hospitality Home Hostel
The remainder of the hike last was uneventful, if you can call seeing more moose and more caribou in one day than most see in a lifetime uneventful. The rain continued for the duration, but no matter, nothing was going to stop us. A sponge can hold only so much, and the bogs and our backs had soaked up their limit. The clouds circled full around us, but stayed their distance. What a blessing, especially as to our joy in gaining the last few pops to gawk with disbelief down into Ten Mile Pond fjord. For the view there was as remarkable as the vantage from the rim of Western Brook Pond fjord. Before descending from the traverse and on the last high ground, Kevin fired up his cell phone, called Andrea to fetch us–then requested she serve as delivery girl for food and refreshments!
It was great when plan two came together (Plan one was for a casual stroll across the tundra–plan two was to get off the tundra!), and the plan to hike it on in yesterday certainly came together. Just as dusk settled to night, we emerged from the advancing shroud at Gros Morne parking lot, there to be greeted by Andrea. I’ve been on many a guided tour. This one was the first whirlwind, a certain test of will. Remaining happy and cheerful saved it for us. Kevin, it was a memorable time. Base Camp Outfitters in Rocky Harbor has a first rate guide.
No problem staying busy today, drying gear and getting my pack and its contents back in usable condition. In the evening, I’m the guest at Kevin and Andrea’s home, where I meet Andrea’s folks, Glenn and Susan Spracklin. Great food, fine fellowship. Thanks, dear new friends, for your kindness and generosity!
|It is easy enough to be pleasant,
When life flows by like a song.
But the man worthwhile is the one who can smile,
When everything goes dead wrong.[Ella Wheeler Wilcox]
Saturday–September 8, 2001
Location–Rocky Harbor, Newfoundland, Major’s Hospitality Home Hostel
Bus service along the Great Northern Peninsula is a little sketchy to say the least. If you’re not in the right place at the right time, then going where the bus is going, you’re liable to be sitting and waiting awhile, quite awhile. And so, there I sat at Major’s Hospitality Home Hostel in Rocky Harbor, waiting for the bus to Daniel’s Harbor.
Not a bad place to burn a few days though. Jack and Violet are my very good friends now, and I’ve become theirs. They’d opened up their entire place to me. Their home was my home. Violet is an accomplished seamstress and a great cook. While I waited, she made numerous repairs to my sagging pack, my clothing and other gear. She also prepared numerous grand meals for me, including moose, rabbit and many delectable confections. It was a joy to rest there a few more days.
But as the days wore on, Violet could tell that I was getting restless and fidgety, anxious to get going again. When Tuesday the 11th rolled around, and after watching me pace the last long day, she off-handedly offered to drive me up to Daniel’s Harbor. “Got family up there,” she began, “haven’t seem them in a long time.” Continuing, nonchalantly: “Think I just might run up there today.” She turned then, trying to make it appear that her decision had nothing to do with me. Quite casually then, she dropped the afterthought– “You wanna go along? Oh my, thanks, Violet–We loaded up, I took the ride with her and was back hammering the trail north by late morning.
Nearing dusk that fateful September 11th, I arrived at House’s Cabins in River of Ponds, Newfoundland. After I signed the register, Susan, the cabin manager, turned the clipboard around, read my entry, then moved back abruptly, dropping her head. She turned as pale as a ghost. I’ll never forget the expression on her face. Looking down and away, she tried concealing her distraught reaction. After the longest moment, finally forcing a look back, and in the most urgent stutter, she managed, “You, you, your from the United States?” Her voice was full with distress, completely broken. She was in tears. I thought, “What is going on here.” Puzzled and confused, I responded, “Yes, I’m from the United States; I live in the south, in Georgia.” Composing herself somewhat, and managing to look straight at me with a hollow, blank stare, and in a hushed monotone, nearly a whisper, she said, “You haven’t heard, have you?” “I haven’t heard what!” I exclaimed. I’ve never seen anyone act like this before, and I’ve been greeted in every conceivable way over the years, from the bum’s rush, right on down. In a blurt it finally came, “The Towers, all the people in the Towers–the planes, the planes hit the Towers, all the people in the Towers, they’re all dead!” I tried to calm her, “What towers, what planes, what are you talking about; tell me what has happened?”
A small black and white TV on the refrigerator in the little cabin where I sought rest played it out. From there I watched in shock and disbelief as the horror of the day unfolded. Telecasters reported the unbelievable, the unimaginably, the gruesome story that revealed the bitter reality of mans inhumanity to man. I sank into helpless, forlorn despair, a desperate feeling of loss and sadness.
As the days followed, and as I trekked on north, I stumbled more than hiked. I couldn’t comprehend what had happened; I couldn’t deal with it. It was such a nightmare. In the quiet, and along the little-traveled roads of the Great Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland, my sticks clicking their mind-numbing, hypnotizing cadence, I couldn’t lift my mind above it. Finally, in resignation, I accepted the fact that there would be little elation, little celebration at the closing of what should be a grand and glorious odyssey.
Yet was there a thankful and blessed soothing, for both my anguish and woe, as the Lord would bless. Came to me, and from time to time as I continued on, the full-flowing love of the Canadian people. With their love came sincere and deeply shared human sadness. It poured forth to me constantly–the heartfelt grief and sorrow of the Canadian people.
Hiking along, as is life from day-to-day for the wandering vagabond, the physical activity, the rhythmic, narcotic-like spell that accompanies, tends to work it’s healing magic. It’s possible to clear away the mental static and clutter, the anguish and sadness that can be so consuming. So, the defeat and loss I felt in my troubled heart and mind finally began to dim and fade. Once again I was able to experience the grand thoughts otherwise unattainable, thoughts that are free to those of us not otherwise bound and tethered. But as those thoughts came, and as I tried as best I could, I found it impossible to totally blot the horror of these past days. So, for the entries to follow, and for the remainder of this journey, and should these writings appear boringly mechanical, I beg your forgiveness.
As I journeyed north, and as I met new folks along the way, I met the Maynards. Ahh, were the Maynards so very kind to me! I made new friends at Torrent River Inn in Hawkes Bay. Thanks, folks, thanks for your caring, for your outpouring of love and kindness–to me and to my fellow countrymen.
Hiking north, I was told of a fisherman living in Eddies Cove West who might be able to guide me on a hike into Doctors Hills. So, at the road to Eddies I turned to inquire at the home of Bob McLean. There I meet his wife Alma. Bob was on the sea for the day, but plans were made for him to come for me later at Castors River, Tucker’s Cottages, where I’d be staying.
It was a very long day pounding the road, over thirty miles. I was tired, cold and hungry. But a warm shower, a good meal at Viking 430 Restaurant right next, and I was set for the night.
I was filled with excitement and anticipation next morning as I readied my pack for the climb into Doctors Hills. I tried ignoring the mist, the homogenized mush and the low-rolling clouds as I waited for Bob to arrive. He came, only to greet me with the bad news; the Doctors were totally socked in, we would not be able to climb. Dang, all the planning and preparation by Tom and Wallace Maynard and it’s turned out a no-go. The day came around though, a great day for hiking, so I pointed her north and keep on truckin’. By late evening I’d logged another thirty, so I pulled off and pitched a short distance down and just next a grassy woods road, right in plain view from NF432. Moose hunters were everywhere, not a good time to be stealthing in the woods! I was no sooner in than the rain began. A few tat-a-tats and I was gone.
|Life lost, right bent,
Sorrow tossed, purpose sent,
Truth drives, love gives,
Joy thrives, glory lives.[N. Nomad]
Saturday–September 15, 2001
Location–NF432, Main Brook, Newfoundland, Tuckamore Lodge and Outfitters, Barb Genge, proprietor
The logging and chip trucks start rolling around six and I’m awake for good at seven. The steady cold rain persisted all night and shows no sign of backing off this morning, even as I lie patiently until near eight. It’s another thirty miles to Main Brook and Tuckamore Lodge. If I’m going to reach there before dark I’ve got to roll out, take my soaking, strike camp and get moving.
As I plod, I remain dumbstruck, the trauma of September 11th, heavy on my mind–as my pack with its sodden gear weighs heavy on my back. The old jitney isn’t firing on all eight this morning, and as I stumble into the wind and over my trekking poles it takes forever to get cranking. I’m determined to make Tuckamore by nightfall though, and with this singular purpose I finally manage to straighten up and get moving.
I’m in the middle reaches of the Great Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland now. There’s nothing out here but wilderness, moose, more moose, and moose hunters. I manage to content myself with the bits of joy and happiness that seem to be resounding from the little full-rushing brooks as I pass them by, the rain still pounding. But they’re probably just complaining. “Remember Nomad, there are no bad days on the trail…some just a little better than others.” Okay, okay!
Barb Genge, Tuckamore Lodge owner and outfitter, and Mary, the lodge cook, both greet me with excitement and uplifting, cheerful Canadian smiles. They’ve been expecting me. “You weren’t out in this last night, were you?” exclaims Barb. I reply, “Oh yes, last night, last week and all day today; sure glad to be here Barb, sure glad to be here!”
Mary settles me into a beautiful suite right next the great room in the main lodge, then shows me their drying room for hanging my wet gear. She then hastens toward the kitchen to prepare the evening meal. I join Pete and Jack for supper, two moose hunters from Michigan. Enjoying the evening with Barb and the moose hunters brings the day around.
I like the woods and the wilds probably about as much as anyone, and I can tell you about the loneliness, the rain and the cold.
|For weeks the clouds had raked the hills
And vexed the vales with raining,
And all the woods were sad with mist,
And all the brooks complaining.[John Greenleaf Whittier]
Sunday–September 16, 2001
Location—Main Brook, Newfoundland, Tuckamore Lodge and Outfitters
The rain continues today. What a blessing being out of it, to be with a wonderful new friend, Barb Genge, at Tuckamore Lodge and Outfitters. I first learned about Barb from Mike Roy. We had been talking over my itinerary and the route I’d be following to complete my trek across the Great Northern Peninsula. “How you getting to L’Anse aux Meadows?” I remember Mike asking. “I’ll probably follow the coast up and around,” I replied. “Oh no!” he said. “You’ll miss Barb Genge and Tuckamore Lodge if you go that way. And you really need to meet Earl Pilgrim, too. Cut across to Main Brook–go that way.”
And so I did, and what great advice! It’s Sunday now, with no more than three days remaining to reach L’Anse aux Meadows. I’d asked Mike Roy to hike the last few kilometers with me and to travel along to Belle Isle, but he can’t get away until next Friday late. Barb has invited me to stay here at Tuckamore as long as I like, and she’s already called Earl Pilgrim, who’ll be coming up from Roddickton to visit with me tomorrow. It’s quite rewarding to slow down and enjoy the last few days of an odyssey like this, to relax and reminisce the grand and memorable times. Ahh yes, Tuckamore is certainly the place to be right now! So please permit me to tell you just a little about this special place.
Over the past fourteen years, Barb Genge has gained an international reputation as a leader in outfitting and eco/adventure tourism. Tuckamore Lodge has been recognized by Outside Magazine as one of the six best lodges for encountering and experiencing the outdoors in all of Canada! Indeed, from here, and with the capable assistance of trained professionals (many who’ve attended courses created by Mike Roy), it is possible to hunt and fish, and to hike and explore these remarkable wilds. I quote from one of the beautiful Tuckamore brochures: “The Tuckamore Experience–The island of Newfoundland is geographically the meeting place of two huge ocean currents, the cold Labrador Current and the warm waters of the Gulf Stream. This convergence has created an extremely rich and unique marine environment. Package trips include boating excursions to spot twenty-two species of whales and an annual parade of over 2000 towering icebergs. There are also bird-watching trips to view Atlantic Puffins and Common Eiders at the nearby ecological reserve. For sea-kayaking enthusiast, there are miles of uncrowded bays and inlets waiting to be paddled. Camping trips to off-shore islands populated with hundreds of caribou are also available. Along the coast, there are trails through the tundra and forest, where hikers can spot moose, beaver and snowshoe hare. Newfoundland’s lakes are a canoeing paradise, teeming with trout and Atlantic salmon where bald eagles nest, loons call and the northern lights play to an audience 240 nights a year.” Oh my, can you see why I like it here!
Oops, gotta run, time for dinner. “Be right there, Barb!”
|If your time is worth anything, travel by air. If not, you might just as well walk.
Monday–September 17, 2001
Location–Main Brook, Newfoundland, Tuckamore Lodge and Outfitters
Four gentlemen from Indiana came in late last evening, all in the quest for black bear; Kevin, a schoolteacher; Rob, a veterinarian; John, a medical doctor; and Mike, a park’s department supervisor. They drove straight through, and including the ferry shuttle, had been on the go for forty-four hours straight. Also here are Fred and Una from Massachusetts. Fred is back again this year for another moose.
I’m sure not used to three squares a day. It’s hard to believe that a group of folks might exist anywhere that could possibly out-eat us hiker trash, but hunters returning from a day in the wilds can come in packing a pretty healthy appetite. I hung with them yesterday, breakfast, dinner and supper, but took a bye at breakfast this morning.
Late morning now, and while I’m relaxing in the lodge great room working a new ditty, in comes Earl Pilgrim. Mike had told me about this very interesting gentleman and that he probably knew more about the Long Range Mountains of Newfoundland than any other person. And quite well he should, having spent a good deal of his life and career in the backcountry. Earl’s retired now after a distinguished career of service to the people of Canada, most recently, the Province of Newfoundland as wildlife protection officer. Earl has turned to writing now, and is the successful author of four Canadian best sellers. I have the pleasure today of being one of the first to see and receive a copy of his fifth published work, The Captain and the Girl, to be released this weekend.
Earl is indeed an interesting man, to say the least. From his latest book, and from a small section in the back entitled “About the Author,” I quote: “Earl Baxter Pilgrim was born in St. Anthony, Newfoundland in 1939…He began his adult career in 1960 as an infantryman in the Canadian Army, serving with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. While there, he became involved in the sport of boxing, eventually becoming the Canadian Light Heavyweight Boxing Champion. Following a stint in the Forces, Pilgrim took a job as a forest ranger with the Newfoundland and Labrador Forestry Department. During this time, he came to recognize the plight of the big game population on Newfoundland’s Great Northern Peninsula. After nine years as a forest warden, he became a wildlife protection officer with the Newfoundland Wildlife Service. For seventeen years, he has devoted his efforts to the growth and conservation of the big game population on the Great Northern Peninsula. Under his surveillance, the moose and caribou populations have grown and prospered at an astonishing rate. As a game warden and a local storyteller, he has gained the respect of conservationists and poachers alike…Among his many achievements are contributions as a conservationist for waterfowl. He has made a hobby of raising eider ducks, and it has been estimated that eighty percent of all nesting eiders in Newfoundland developed from his original twelve ducks.”
Barb just beams as we share and enjoy the morning chatting. She and Earl have been the best of friends for many years. Earl acknowledged as much, having listed Barb as a contributor to his first book, Will Anyone Search for Danny, published in 1986. It was an honor meeting you, Earl. Thanks, Barb, for asking your good friend to stop by!
Near dark now, supper is being held, awaiting the hunters’ return. And just as dusk is descending, Kevin comes in. “How’d it go?” I enquire. “No luck,” he replies, “but I heard a shot. I think Rob got a bear.” Sure enough, in just a short while, Rob, Mike and John return. Rob shot a two-hundred pounder!
Just before bedtime I answer my email for today. Just received an order for another shipment of my book, Ten Million Steps, from the Appalachian Trail Conference Bookstore. This has been a great day!
|Fair is the earth behind me,
Vast is the sea before;
Afar in the misty mirage
Glistens another shore.
Is it a realm enchanted?
It cannot be more fair
Than this nook of Nature’s kingdom,
With its spell of space and air.[Mary Clemmer Ames]
Tuesday–September 18, 2001
Location–Main Brook, Newfoundland, Tuckamore Lodge and Outfitters
Barb has invited me to spend another day relaxing here at her beautiful Tuckamore. This is a no- brainer; I accept! And relax I do, spending time writing and enjoying the company of guests and employees here. Later in the day, I watch as guides skin and dress Rob’s bear, then the 1,000-pound bull moose that Fred shot. These are very large animals, and the process requires the help of boat winches and scalpel-sharp knives. An electric chainsaw is brought into play to split the moose into “sides.” I estimate there’s enough meat from the moose alone to feed a good-sized family for the better part of a year.
Barb is a great host, and she and her professional staff spare nothing in assuring their guests are both comfortable and well fed. I’ve made another great new friend in Barb Genge. Trekking on tomorrow will not be an easy task.
|I never suspected that I would have to learn how to live…
Wednesday–September 19, 2001
Location–NF432, trailside near NF430, north of Main Brook, Newfoundland
Another tank-stokin’ breakfast at the “banquet table” next the great room here at Tuckamore, then it’s time for sad good-byes as I return to the road. I’m hiking the eastern extreme of the Great Northern Peninsula now, heading ever north along Seal Bay and beside the Northern Arm of Hare Bay. The day begins iffy, quickly turning to misty mush, but thankfully, the wind remains at my back, and the traffic is light.
Upon entering the Great Northern Peninsula, and all along, especially since passing Daniel’s Harbor, I’ve been passing by fenced vegetable gardens, strung in profusion, helter-skelter, all along the road right-of-away. These meager plots have been hacked, mostly out of the rocks, by folks living in the remote little villages. They’ve planted potato, carrot, beet, turnip and other root crops, with some cabbage and lettuce mixed in. Inquiring of these “farmers” as I pass, I’ve found there’s nothing the least formal about selecting these sites. Locals simply drive along, pick a suitable spot (that’s using the term loosely), stop, get out, and start grubbing in the rocks! The fences, made from every conceivable material, but mostly of waste slabwood, site-cut spruce, rope and trashed fishnet, are intended to keep the moose out. Most attempts, however, have met with little success, the stunted greenery well foraged, the crop rows pretty much stomped down. The growing season up here is pitifully short, and it drops off quickly just the least bit north, finally amounting to less than thirty days around Cook’s Harbor and L’Anse aux Meadows. The garden plots have also diminished, to few-and-far-between, and the natural vegetation along is becoming very sparse and stunted. Here the tundra zone is quickly and steadily dropping, seeking the sea, as I, too, seek the sea, the end of these long and magnificent Long Range Appalachian Mountains, and the end of this unbelievable odyssey.
Late evening now, and as the wind continues driving the cold rain, my legs and back begin complaining about the thirty-nine mile day, so I pull off. It’s moose-hunting season now, and the hunters are out in great numbers. A warden stopped to chat earlier today and warned that I be cautious. He especially urged that I keep a high profile. “Don’t camp in the bushes,” he said. So, finding a wide spot by the highway, I call it a day. Here I quickly pitch and roll in, as the incessant, cold, relentless rain begins yet another pounding. Oh Lord, I pray, and you know and have heard the grateful thanks within my heart for the beautiful, sun-drenched days past–and for this day, too
|.…don’t pray when it rains if you don’t pray when the sun shines.
[Leroy Satchel Paige
Thursday–September 20, 2001
Location–NF430, Pistolet Bay, Newfoundland, The North Atlantic Adventure Centre & Wildberry Country Lodge, Lyndon Hodge, proprietors
The rain kept me company all night, and it has yet to tire of me this morning. Comes a break however: time to strike my tent and get going. Moving along now, I take what little joy there is in finding the wind less troublesome. The hunters and me, we’re both out and at it again today; we’re both on the road. I’m in the mush though, and they’re out of it, creeping along in their warm vehicles, peering intently, wipers flapping, through smeared, steamy windshields. The moose are the smart ones. They’re nowhere to be found, probably holed up way back in the scattered and stunted stands of spruce, fir and juniper.
I’m pleasantly surprised when, in a short while, I come by Wildberry Country Lodge and Restaurant; there’s been no mention of it anywhere in the guides I’ve been reading. Hey, the place is open, so in I go! Behind the reception counter and looking up now, presents another of those glad and happy, broad-beaming Canadian smiles, as Lyndon Hodge, proprietor and chief cook and bottle washer, greets me. His welcome: “I got hot coffee and fresh muffins, you like some!” I reply, “Oh yes, sure beats the crumbed-up pack of nature bars I’m planning on rationing myself later this morning.” Lyndon invites me into the dining room, where right by is a comfy sitting area, complete with a warm, glowing fire. Here I peel off my wet poncho and drop my sodden pack.
The entire front wall of the expansive restaurant is filled with glass, making a large picture window, and as the shroud lifts and the sun tries making a play, the picture to be seen out and across the way is a range of hills known as the Whites. As I look, Lyn tells, with a far away glint, of the remote, high-held ponds there–that are teeming with trout and salmon. “It’s too far, though,” he says, “to hike in, get in a good day’s fishing and hike back out, so I’m building a cabin up there, already took most of the materials up by snowmobile last winter.” He then follows with, “You wanna go see?” Well now, that’s all the coaxing I need. I’m still a day ahead of schedule to meet Mike Roy tomorrow evening. That’s when we’ll hike the remaining distance together from Gunner’s Cove to L’Anse aux Meadows. Anyway, Mike had suggested I try hiking the White Hills some if I got the chance, and here’s my chance! “Great, Lyn, let’s go,” I reply. Comes that glad, wide-beaming smile again as he lifts straight up. “Been looking for a good excuse to make a run up there. Let me get my daypack and some goodies. Be right back!”
The sun has pushed the mush out, turning the day-dial to bright and warm, and with the Whites luring us from the distance, we’re on our way. Crossing fens and bogs, and now on fresh-cut trail that Lyn’s been working, we talk of our mutual love and great respect for Nature’s fine work, and for his good trailbuilding. Soon we’re into the climb–and out of trail, as we work our way through the spongy, moss-covered forest floor. There are many blowdowns and rocks, and the going seems slow, but Lyn is a strong hiker, and I find much joy in having company for a change.
Up by a resounding, happy-glad brook we go, soon to emerge beside a wide, sparkling lake. Near the shore is a little tumbledown cabin where we stop for a rest. Lyn is a carpenter by trade. The beautiful Wildberry Country Lodge stands as a testimony to his skill and handiwork. In his eye now, I see that gleam of childlike excitement again as he tells of his dream to build a snug little cabin by the lakes high above.
Soon we’re climbing again, and the going is becoming increasingly more difficult. We’re nearing the tundra now, the spruce and fir gnarled and stunted, this, the ever-present tuckamore. “Just a little further,” Lyn says, as we continue groping and lunging through the near-impenetrable maze of tuck. “This guy’s gotta be lost,” I’m thinking, “He doesn’t have a clue.” But just past what seems a no-way solid wall of tuck we break out of it, and in just moments we’re standing among the barren rock. Here, by this happy little brook that’s making its way, opens one of the most delightful high-held ponds–just like Lyn’s been describing. “The fish are here?” I ask. “Oh yes!” Lyn beams, “They’re here! Follow me; we’ll take the brook down just a ways to where it tumbles through the boulders and rocks. There we’ll be in the spruce again. Come, I’ll show you where the cabin’s going!”
Down we stumble, down through the ledges and rock-jammed dropoffs. Here, we’re in moss-slick riffles and rapids, groping down and past cascading falls. “Hey Lyn, STOP,” I shout, above the ever increasing crescendo of crashing water. “You’re kidding me about the salmon, aren’t you? There’s no way they can climb up through this stuff!” I’m hollering at him now as we plunge down through the veritable wall of tuck. Stopping for a moment, he waits for me. Comes that gleam again as he looks me square on, “They’re up there,” he whispers, “oh yes, they’re up there!”
We’re back in the woods now, and just beside the frolicking brook do I stare in amazement, for here before me, where I’ve had the most devilish time even moving about, is this huge pile of lumber! Beside the lumber there’s a bathtub, a sink, a roll of black plastic pipe, boxes of nails and a water tank! “Holy cripe,” I exclaim, “How in God’s name did you get this stuff up here!” “Snowmobiles and komatics–they’re neat contraptions,” he says, calmly. Oh yes, and what is a komatic? Well, that’s another story, for another time.
Just as the sun is setting, we slog the last bog, wend the last fen, and we’re once again back at Lyndon Hodge’s Wildberry Country Lodge. In the evening, Lyn runs to fetch a few cold frosties, then to prepare the finest steaks for our evening meal. Oh my, folks, what joy, another great new friend, another remarkable day on the trail!
“Hey Lyn, know what? I’m coming back some day. Oh yeah, I’m coming back. When you get that cabin built, I’m coming back–and you and me–we’re a-goin’ fishin’!”
|Thank God! There is always a Land of Beyond
For us who are true to the trail;
A vision to seek, a beckoning peak,
A farness that never will fail;
A pride in our soul that mocks at a goal,
A manhood that irks at a bond,
And try how we will, unattainable still,
Beyond it, our Land of Beyond![Robert W. Service]
Friday–September 21, 2001
Location–NF430, Gunners Cove, Newfoundland, Valhalla Lodge B&B, Bella Hodge, proprietor
What a memorable evening last at Wildberry Country Lodge. Other guests came in, and we all relaxed by the fire, each recounting and sharing the joys of the day. A few cold ones, the warmth of a glowing hearth, the warmth of glowing hearts–radiating. What more could one ask!
The day dawns with mush all about–again, but the whole scene brightens, thanks to a warm fire and a tank-stokin’ breakfast, set and prepared by Lyn. I’m finally out and on my way ever north by nine-thirty. Thanks, Lyn, for your generous hospitality. But especially, thanks for your friendship! Your kindness will remain in my memory.
As I trek along today, and as the wind and mush keep driving, descends upon me once more those bittersweet melancholy emotions that can only come when nearing the end of such an odyssey, a sort of funky jetsam that drifts, creating a clashing backwash of feelings, feelings of doubt and forlorn despair, and yet, at the same time, feelings of joy and elated fulfillment. “Lighten up, Nomad,” I whisper. Like my old AT hiking buddy Kevin would surely say, “Been there, done that, got that T-shirt.” Oh yeah, that’s better.
Lyn Hodge is one of those guys with limitless energy, a hundred projects going at once. Awhile back he renovated an old house overlooking Gunner’s Cove near L’Anse aux Meadows. His mother, Bella Hodge, operates it now as Valhalla, a most impressive B&B, I’m told. That’s where I’ll stay tonight. I’ve made reservations there for both Mike and me. I’ll meet Mike somewhere along the road today, hopefully near Valhalla, and from there we’ll hoof it on in to L’Anse aux Meadows.
Another plan comes together; what perfection! Mike drives up, stops to chat, then continues on, no more than half a mile south of Valhalla! I arrive there momentarily and check in. Then in just awhile, we’re off toward the northern tip of Newfoundland, where the Vikings landed over 1,000 years ago, where they established the first settlement on the North American continent, and where began what we now know as “The New World.”
The hike goes quickly, as Mike and I talk about these glorious Appalachian Mountains, and too, to his plans for a remarkably grand Newfoundland Appalachian Trail, a trail to pass along and across these breathtaking Long Range Appalachian Mountains of Newfoundland. We reach L’Anse aux Meadows in the fading light, as the rain comes yet again. At the sea now, I linger, to slowly walk the very same paths the Norsemen once walked, where brave Vikings looked back toward their home far away. I’ve dreamed of this moment for months. What inspiration, to stand here now, after nearly a year of wandering over 5,000 miles of this great continent of ours, North America. It is time to reflect upon this odyssey, upon this grandeur before me. Here are scenes from time, scenes that are unchanging, everlasting. I sense the presence of those brave adventurers, travelers from long ago. As I stand in silence, they approach, then fade away, to return to the mystic sea. But they are with me, just as sure as I am here with them. We are kindred; adventurers all–displaced and separated only by time.
Ahh, but where does time go; indeed, where has it gone; why must it be so fleeting? Mike’s car is nearby. Too soon, do we hasten and turn from the Meadows, from the sea, as the gloom of this day gives to the storm-swirled shroud of night. We load, buckle our seatbelts, and like the Vikings that linger beyond that mystic veil, we too, fade into the mist of time–and are gone.
Back in the haunts where the shadows, long cast,
Brave Norsemen in long boats set out on the sea,
Sailed forth those great warriors on uncharted wind,
Pitched up o’er the depths in the frightening grips,
True venturers they to the ends of the earth,
Yet from fleeting shadows, did images form!
Time-shrouded in mystery…Vinland of old,
Oh hearken that time to have lived, to have sailed,
Came they to new-found-land? Not likely, we’re told,
This place? L’Anse aux Meadows, here puzzled about,
So, come forth ye doubters to Vinland’s glad days,
Ahh, yet comes another, his story to tell,
So stand ye true helmsmen, set wind to your sail,
Saturday–September 22, 2001
Location–Quirpon, Newfoundland, home of Boyce and Joanne Roberts
Mike and I had been invited by the Roberts of Quirpon (rhymes with harpoon), to come directly to their home last evening, to stay as their guests until the weather cleared and Boyce could shuttle us by boat to Belle Isle, Newfoundland, the northernmost of the Appalachian Mountains to rise above the sea. Not wanting to impose, however, as they already had a house full of guests, (twenty-eight, in fact, twenty-three international exchange students, along with five counselors), we chose instead to stay at the Valhalla B&B in Gunner’s Cove.
We’re headed their way this morning though, as Boyce has insisted we come by for breakfast. And what a grand gathering and affair it is. Boyce and Joanne have obviously had prior experience with this sort of chaos, as heaping plates of eggs, toast, pancakes, bacon, sausage, ham and fried bologna (a local favorite) come, as if conveyor-driven, from their little kitchen. It’s a sight to behold, watching these kids from Germany, France, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Japan, Thailand, Argentina, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, and Australia wolf down the grub, unable to keep pace with Boyce and Joanne as the platters of food keep rolling out!
On the Roberts’ porch, and before departing for a tour of L’Anse aux Meadows, all gather for a group shot, me included. I am then asked to say a few words. What becomes immediately apparent is the fact that these students have been well-versed in proper decorum. All listen attentively, none shuffling the least, as I recite a few of my ditties and depart what some believe to be a degree of wisdom. I am humbled as many come down to have their picture taken with me!
The rain has set in for the day, and the marine forecast, monitored at regular intervals by Boyce, is not good. He reports, “The rain and wind, with low visibility, will continue through tonight, and tomorrow doesn’t look any better. Bring your things in, looks like you’ll be here for awhile.”
The students have headed for L’Anse aux Meadows. Mike and I decide to follow, as the interpretation center and the sod huts were closed when we arrived in the evening gloom last.
We’re soon at the center, where there is much to see and learn about the Vikings who came here, establishing the first settlement in “The New World,” over 1,000 years ago. From a brochure, “Welcome to L’Anse aux Meadows,” prepared by Parks Canada, I quote: “As a boy in Greenland, Leif Eiriksson grew up hearing stories about a mysterious land of bountiful forests that lay to the southwest. In about 1000 A.D., he and his crew of 35 sailed forth in a knarr, a freighter that could carry about 25 tonnes of cargo. By way of the northern coastlines, the expedition arrived at L’Anse aux Meadows on the tip of Newfoundland’s Great Northern Peninsula…Upon their arrival, the Vikings established a base camp from where Leif and his companions proceeded to explore to the southern reaches of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. They found vast hardwood forests, grassy meadows, rivers and coastal waters teeming with fish, and wild grapes–thus the name given to this region, ‘Vinland.’ Life and work at L’Anse aux Meadows is evident from the eight buildings the Vikings constructed…with sod laid over a wooden framework. Each hall could house 20 to 30 people and contained rooms, which served as living quarters…The halls were steep-roofed and high, allowing smoke to gather in the upper reaches before gradually seeping out through a hole in the roof. While the Vikings had the technology to build a working community, that was not their purpose…They spent their time repairing boats that had been damaged on the long trip from Greenland, and, to facilitate exploration, but the exploration stopped after only a few expeditions and the base was abandoned.”
“Little was [is yet] known about the Viking voyages to Vinland. When the Viking (Icelandic) Sagas were translated in the 19th century, archaeologists became enthused about a possible link between North America and Viking culture…L’Anse aux Meadows is, to date, the only authenticated Viking site in North America.”
Later in the day, Mike and I visit the historic Grenfell House in St. Anthony. Grenfell is revered throughout all of Newfoundland, a national hero. He was the first physician to minister to the needs of the people along the Labrador (the coast and the lands of Labrador are simply referred to as “the Labrador”). Grenfell was born in England in 1865 and received his medical degree in 1886 at the age of 21. In 1892 he came to see for himself the deplorable conditions suffered by the fishermen along the Labrador, spending most-near his remaining life administering to the medical needs of the people there, setting up missions and establishing hospitals that remain to this day. Of interest, Percival Proctor Baxter–a man, about whom all even remotely familiar with the Appalachian National Scenic Trail will know–was a great friend of Grenfell. Being a very wealthy man, a philanthropist, Baxter aided and supported the Grenfell Missions until his death in 1969. Also of interest, it was about Grenfell, the fisherman and the Labrador, that Earl Pilgrim (whom I’ve met and spoken of previously in journal entries) has written his latest book, The Captain and the Girl, destined to be yet another of Pilgrim’s Canadian best-sellers, a powerful historic novel I highly recommend. You can order the book at www.flankerpress.com.
In the evening now, back to the warm home and the equally warm hospitality of the Roberts do we go. The forecast remains the same, “More rain, wind and fog,” Boyce informs us, “So it looks like you’re here for at least another day.” Oh, am I so fortunate to have met these dear new friends, Boyce and Joanne Roberts. Thanks, Wallace Maynard and Barb Genge, for introducing me to these kind and generous people!
After a wonderful supper prepared by the Roberts, Mike, Boyce and Joanne head out to a little partying. I stay in to do some writing. For once, I made the right decision!
|For to me as I walked the land,
Sprang for a boundless love,
From unclenched fist, the open hand
Revealed the turtledove.[N. Nomad]
Sunday-September 23, 2001
Location-Quirpon, Newfoundland, home of Boyce and Joanne Roberts
The day dawns. As I lift my head to squint one-eyed from the bedroom window, I gaze into the drifting shroud, a ghostly cloak of fog, laden with mist and wind-driven rain. Trailing this gloom, and as I arise, descends upon me again that unreppressible funk which at times seems to cause such difficulty. No one is yet stirring, just me. I try fixing my mind. Where am I? Why am I here? As I stumble down the stairs, I’m greeted by the jaundice eye of the living room TV, and from there, in low-pitched monotone, the voice of a still-stunned newscaster announcing the latest victim count from the September 11th atrocity.
In the kitchen now, and standing before the coffeemaker I try to think. I know better than to look in the cupboard directly above for the coffee and the filters. For some reason no one ever seems to put them there. Still half asleep, I rummage around, through all the other cupboards and drawers, to no avail. Finally I return to the cupboard just above, there to find the filters, but no coffee. I know there’s coffee here somewhere; Joanne had made pots of it for supper last night. I search the cupboards again, then the refrigerator. No coffee. Dang. “Where’s the coffee!” I mutter, as if Joanne were here listening. Finally, almost awake and in near desperation now (I need my coffee fix this morning), I fling open the freezer door. Ahh, you almost tricked me, Joanne–but I’ve found it!
The coffee does little to chase the funk as I venture out to hunch around the dock, to get a better take on the approaching day. This weather’s been around awhile, and it shows no signs of leaving soon. “Dear Lord,” I whisper in prayer, “Why this, why now? I’m so close to the end of these mountains, so near the completion of this journey. Please, Lord, don’t withhold your grace from me. Might I need more patience and understanding? Please teach me.”
What has happened to that calm reassurance I’ve carried deep within, that faith-filled confidence, knowing that I’ve been venturing ever forth with God’s blessing? What is happening? What are these pangs of doubt now, these trembling emotions of forlorn sadness and despair? I must control myself. I must suppress these feelings. I must regain my composure, my faith–faith I thought was unshakable.
I hearken back to that fateful time in the Chic Chocs, at the base of Mount Xalibu where I cowered stormbound for two days, full of doubt and despair. I was near the end of yet another journey, “Odyssey ’98.” I vividly recall the next day, when I finally made the climb successfully, to rest atop Mont Jacques Cartier. There, in the warm rays of the sun, and in the warmth of God’s hand as he comforted me, I wept, full with shame for having doubted–much as the doubt consumes me now.
|It seems God always finds a way,
To find a way for me.
His guidance comes through steadfast love,
‘tis there for all to see.[N. Nomad]
Monday–September 24, 2001
Location–Corner Brook, Newfoundland, home of Mike Roy, Michelle, Heather and Jessica
In a recent email from Dick Anderson, Founding Chair, SIA/IAT, I learned that Will Richard, board member and official photographer, SIA/IAT, was in Newfoundland making a presentation at Plum Point, only a short drive away. So arrangements were made yesterday to meet Will and shuttle him back here to Quirpon, to await fair weather along with Mike and me, and Boyce and Joanne and friends, in hopes of making the crossing together to Belle Isle.
As Mike and I prepared to depart, to fetch Will, Boyce came with the latest marine forecast. “Conditions are improving,” he said with guarded optimism, “tomorrow might be the day!”
As we journeyed to Plum Point, however, the rain continued, coming hard at times. On the way back, Will and friend Bill, who had come along, began wondering why they’d let me talk them into this whole ordeal. By late evening though, and as the Roberts welcomed yet two more guests to their lovely home on the bay, the forecast for good weather seemed to be holding.
Early morning now, and looking out, the wind is still driving the mist and clouds, but Boyce says the forecast is calling for improved conditions throughout the day. So the decision is go. We’ll journey to Belle Isle today!
I find it interesting that some folks who’ve lived in one particular locale nearly all their lives have never ventured to places nearby, places that have attracted others from far and wide. I found this true while living in Florida, near Kennedy Space Center and the beaches, and while living at the base of Springer Mountain, the beginning/terminus of the famous Appalachian National Scenic Trail. Many locals had never ventured to these nearby places of interest. And so, do I find this situation again today. I have urged Joanne to come along to historic Belle Isle, for she has never been there. As I plead and as she looks at Boyce tentatively, and at his urging also, we all board, including Joanne, and we’re off to Belle Isle.
As we clear the harbor now, the sea begins chopping, heaving and rolling our little vessels, pitching us up and into the haze where we remain momentarily suspended before being slammed back again to the rolling sea. Boyce, and his friends, Alec, Shawn and John, are all filled with excitement. These men are fishermen, the salty blood of fishermen from centuries past flowing through their veins. But these men fish no more. The cod are gone, and as the cod have gone, so have their livelihoods gone, a way of life their forefathers knew, that they knew, and they are left to wrestle with the reality of unfulfilled dreams. So, it is good for them to be back on the sea today, to have a purpose to go, to challenge the rolling waves again, though it be for another reason and for such a short excursion.
And so we head into the wall of gloom, Boyce following Alec’s prompts, GPS ever at the ready. To our stern the other little boat jumps and dives, and as the waves that are crashing against Quirpon Island become faint in the ever-engulfing mush, to our starboard I watch as an enormous spout of whitewater erupts from the sea. “Did you see that!” I point, shouting to Boyce above the hammering sound of the sea. “That’s just the waves hitting the rocks off Quirpon Island,” he shouts back. “No, no, over there, look over there.” I shout again and point more emphatically. “There it is again,” I exclaim. Everyone sees it now, an enormous humpback whale, breaching, leaping completely free. It’s must be over a half-mile away, yet it appears so close. The whale dives, only to breach abruptly again and again, there to remain momentarily suspended before crashing to the surface once more, causing spectacular eruptions, as if from so many cascading cannonballs. As the whale moves away and as we continue on to Belle Isle, Boyce smiles and sighs, “I’m sure glad he’s over there and we’re over here!”
The land is gone, and we see nothing but the rolling and pitching sea for a full 360. We proceed slowly into the mist to lessen our leaping and slamming as we search the gray wall for approaching hulks, large ships that ply these waters. We remain at this task for what seems such a very long time. Finally, as the shroud lifts for a moment, the sharp eyes of the fishermen spot a far-off ghostly image, the towering gray cliffs of Belle Isle. But just as quickly they disappear again under the blanket of fog that rushes to conceal them.
Late morning now, and as the island comes steadily into view, the day really starts coming around. Ol’ Sol is trying to make a show; there’s blue sky above and the wind and sea are abating. The forecast was dead on! Our planned landfall is an inlet part way up the lee side of the island. Here in a small rocky cove, and with a little luck, Mike and I hope to leap ashore.
As we near Lark Island, where is created the small harbor, the day has turned perfect. The fog finally lifts and is gone, the angry sea with it. The task now is to negotiate the “tickle,” a narrow run between the rocky backbone of Lark Island and the stark walls of Belle Isle. Here the current is tricky, and as Boyce wheels about to brings us through, a large swell, raised by the funnel-like shallows of the tickle, lifts us to its face, to swiftly accelerate and propel us down and forward.
In the relative calm of the harbor now, we turn to watch the other boat as it too is lifted and pitched along in the same manner. Momentarily our attention is drawn to the rocks that jut along Lark Island. Here are many gray seal, perhaps ten or more. I lose count as they plunge to the water. I’ve never seen these pinnipeds in their natural environment; this is so exciting! I grope for my camera, but they are way too fast.
Adding to the excitement today has been the abundance of life on and above the sea. Hardly a moment passed without Boyce pointing something out to us. We saw many gull, hundreds of them, including herring, kittiwake and noddy. Also on wing were many shearwater, gannet, razor-billed auk, dovekie, murre (turre), jaeger and eider ducks. But the most fascinating of all the sea birds were the countless puffin. What amazing little creatures these, with their plump little bodies, short, stubby legs, webbed feet, and the strikingly bright rainbow-splashed colors of their unproportionately large bills and hilarious eyes. We saw them mostly on the water as they moved away, amazing little acrobats, raising up from the sea, then to run up and down and along the waves, web-feet churning like little propellers, thence to come to rest again a safe distance away.
Boyce turns the boat to the rocks now as he motions to a point just ahead. “I’ll get as close as I can; you’ll have to jump,” he says. Oh my, I don’t like this! Even here in the protection of this little bay, the swells are still passing, lifting the boat not-so-gently two to three feet. They’re breaking around the little point right where Boyce is trying to maneuver. And the rocks? The rocks are covered with green, ice-slick algae. As I look, I am confounded. Where the face of rock rises I look to the depths, there to see it just as quickly disappear.
Boyce is a master at the helm. He inches closer. My pack is shouldered, my trekking poles dangling. I’m standing in the bow, one foot on the gunwale. As another swell comes rolling through Boyce shouts, “Now!” But I am paralyzed with fear and cannot move. He backs away, not the least put out with my hesitancy. As he waits for me to regain some composure, I am thinking of the old Indian Proverb, “Call on God, but row away from the rocks.” “We’ll try again,” he says calmly as he inches back toward the rocks once more. This time I steel myself to the task. Just as the boat lifts, Boyce shouts, and I lunge! Thank God, I am able to grasp dry rock just above the green sliding board and I clamber up as Mike jumps and climbs right behind me. Heaving sighs of relief we turn to see everyone waving and cheering! We’ve made it; we’re safely on Belle Isle, here to begin the last leg of this remarkable odyssey, the conclusion of a journey o’er the entire Appalachian Mountain range, at least as I’ve been told it exists on the North American continent.
Climbing along and by a cut in the cliff wall, the steep ravine of which forms Lark Harbor, we stop to watch the boats below as they move away to the north. From here we will also move ever north, across the sea-encircled tundra of this sheer-walled summit formed by the last remaining mountain that stands to hold its head above the Labrador Sea–to the lighthouse at the northern tip of Belle Isle.
The sky is completely blue, not the least wisp of haze. To the west, the lenticular sea bends to the horizon, and to the north stand the rocks and rolling tundra of Belle Isle. Mike and I pause to take in the moment and to shed a layer as the day continues warming, the sun working its soothing magic.
I am learning now that there exist many forms of tundra. Here is like no other in Newfoundland, at least that I have seen. For here, the growing days are a scant twenty or less, the amazing diversity of plants there are, struggling in the most anxious way as they stunt out their meager existence. At our feet, and growing no more than two to three inches in height are crowberry, blueberry, bunchberry (crackerberry), squashberry, dwarf birch, Labrador tea, Caribou moss (reindeer lichen), ground juniper and bog rosemary. There’s even aged miniature spruce and fir less than four inches tall. And in the bogs and fens are there a variety of both grasses and sedges. Walking along, the experience is as if touching one’s toes to lush carpet. For hundreds of yards, between the jumble of lichen-covered rock and boulders to our right and along the sheer precipices dropping 500 feet to the sea to our left does there weave back and again near- acres of such tightly knit mat, clustered and interwoven in such a delicate manner, displaying the most appealing shades of pale green, burgundy and crimson. Ahh, dear followers, I am standing a scant six miles from the end of this journey, after many thousands of miles of journey through these timeless mountains. Yet even here, even now, these ancient and mystic Appalachians continue to reveal their remarkable diversity, their indescribable beauty, and their precious secrets–to me.
Nearing Wreck Cove and off in the distance by the cliffs, our attention is drawn to what appears the silhouette of a man. However, as we stop to look closer, there is no movement. After descending and then climbing back from the deeply cut ravine that forms Wreck Cove, we are able to see the object clearly, a large cross set directly at the brink. On a plaque near the base of the cross/headstone is this inscription:
|“PLACED IN LOVING MEMORY
OF A DEAR BROTHER, AND SON FRANK,
WHO WAS KILLED IN A SNOWMOBILE
ACCIDENT ON JANUARY 9, 1964 AT
THE AGE OF 20 YEARS & 10 MONTHS
SADLY MISSED & NEVER FORGOTTEN
ERECTED BY FAMILY
MOTHER ETTA, SISTERS MAXINE & PATRICIA,
BROTHERS CLYDE & ROLAND”
Here in these mountains and by this sea, as kin are, Boyce and Frank Roberts were family. Boyce had told the story as to how Frank, while traveling in the snow, and during low visibility, missed a turn in the trail leading to the south lighthouse, drove his snowmobile over the cliff, and plunged to his death in the rocks below.
What a rugged, beautiful place, Wreck Cove, yet what a sad place. I find it hard to get a good picture without the cross. But ahh, isn’t the cross now part of it, the young man whose life came to such an abrupt end here, part of it? On the gentle breeze does there seem to drift, and can I hear now the faintest melodic whisper, notes of a heavenly requiem. I take the picture, with the cross.
We turn from the cliffs now to journey more inland, away from the sea. Here we find the more familiar bogs and fens, but there are no caribou or moose trails anywhere about. It is as if we are the first to have ever passed this way. Soon we hear a familiar sound, the honk of Canadian geese, and we are at Three Island Pond. Clouds are building to the southwest, but the day remains very mild. The geese glide and land, and we linger to enjoy the beauty and serenity of this watery sanctuary held high above the sea.
The time has passed so quickly, as does this trek today. Cresting a gentle rise are we presented with the finality of it, for here we’re standing at the northern cliffs that face the Sea of Labrador and the North Atlantic, and just below us now is the lighthouse.
Reluctantly I turn to descend beside the cliffs, moving ever so slowly with labored, hesitant steps. I am thinking of the millions of steps over the thousands of miles and hundreds of days, for these now are the final steps. My friend, Will Richard, is waiting to get a few shots of this old man as he comes to grips with the reality of yet another miracle in his life. Mike pauses to let me hike on alone, sensing the moment and the shudder of emotions that are now engulfing me. I stop many times, to look, to try and comprehend. These mountains are timeless, near as everlasting as anything man might ever touch or ever hope to know. In terms of time, they may prove eternal; indeed, they may have no end. But in terms of space, there is an end. The lighthouse, the rocks below and the waves breaking o’er a reef in the distant sea: here stand the last vestiges of these glorious cathedrals, the Appalachian Mountains of North America.
Near the lighthouse now, Mike congratulates me. I am greeted with much happiness and excitement by Will, Bill, Boyce and Joanne, and their friends John, Alec, Adian, Shawn and Trevor.
The wind has come up, and clouds are moving in. As we linger, I can sense Boyce’s uneasiness. “We need to get going,” he says. Ahh yes, we need to get going, for I am out of mountains, and we are out of time. So ends this remarkable odyssey.
|For afterwards a man finds pleasure in his pains,
when he has suffered long and has wandered long.[Homer, The Odyssey]
Sunday—September 30, 2001
Epilog, “Odyssey 2000-01”
On our return trip to Quirpon, and as we passed the southern tip of Belle Isle, the wind began pushing the waves and we again had to slow to reduce the incessant pitching and pounding. Along the way, two separate schools of dolphin stopped by, racing and cavorting along with us for the longest time. They came right up, breaching and diving, a choreographed weaving of water and air in perfect harmony and cadence. Their first performance was to our starboard. Then they disappeared only to emerge on our port for a repeat performance there. Before departing and leaving us to our way, each school finished their show by diving directly beneath us, thence to scoot forward as if so many launched torpedoes.
We again saw many more eider duck, gull and happy little puffin. This occupied us, keeping the return trip short and interesting. Back at the Roberts’ dock, their daughter, Jaime and two reporters, Chris and Angela Hodder, a husband-and-wife team from Northern Pen newspaper and NTV News, greeted us. Then, in the warmth of their lovely home once more, we were treated to another fine meal prepared by Joanne. After the interviews and the joy of recounting the day, it was time to bid farewell, but oh so sadly, to all the dear friends in Quirpon.
Late in the evening, Mike and I returned Will and Bill to Plum Point. Then we continued on to arrive at Mike’s home in Corner Brook just shortly before dawn. What an action-packed day, that last day on the trail in Newfoundland, the last of “Odyssey 2000-01.” It was one incredible time, filled with excitement and emotion, leaving lasting memories to cherish forever.
In Corner Brook and for three wonderful days, Mike and Michelle took me in. They wined, dined and entertained me. There, I had the pleasure of meeting Michael’s daughters, Jessica and Heather, and we shared and enjoyed much good time together. There was also another interview, this one with the newspaper, Western Star.
On that last evening with Mike and Michelle did there occur such a grand fuss, a sendoff for the old Nomad—of the highest order! I was ushered away to the home of Glenn and Susan Spracklin, where a “Screeching in Ceremony” took place, an affair the revelry and hilarity of which epitomizes the happy and joyful nature of the Newfoundland people. And the two happy and joyful Newfies who arranged these goings on and this grand celebration? Why none other than Kevin Vincent and Andrea Spracklin, of course! Kevin’s the young guide who led me across the tundra of Gros Morne, and Andrea is his partner who watched the shop, then served as delivery girl, bringing us food and refreshments as we descended the mountain by Rocky Harbor.
Waiting to greet me at the Spracklin home, along with Andrea’s parents, were Kevin’s folks, Calvin and Betty Vincent, and more soon-to-be friends: Tony and Mary Buckle; Vicki Basha, Andrea’s aunt; Heather Wilcox; Debbie O’Brien and Janice Kendall. I was no sooner introduced to these folks than came the official “Screechin’ in Delegation,” Frank and Jamie Hepditch, a husband-and-wife team otherwise known around—and especially after the sun goes down—as Uncle Garge and Nanny Hines. They were carrying all kinds of paraphernalia, and they headed straight for me making the damndest racket. Garge was decked out in typical fisherman’s garb: yellow rubber slicker and slouch, and rubber boots. Nanny came on as the old hag; an act she’d polished to perfection, all painted up in gaudy red lipstick and rouge. She limped pitifully, hunched over an old cane complete with bulbous horn. This she honked, in between leaning over the cane and shifting hands on hips, thence to stick her butt out–and her tongue out, as she looked over at me following each unsteady shuffle. A most delightfully disgusting performance! This, while Garge shouted a garble of demands and instructions in Newfie rat-a-tat.
Out came a washtub, in went five gallons of saltwater from the bay, then in went me, decked out in rubber slicker, rubber boots and all, there to repeat the words to some solemn pledge. The initiation continued with the downing of a jigger of cot liver oil chased with a jigger of Newfoundland’s golden elixir—rum—imported from Jamaica and bottled in St. John’s, thereafter to be called…you guessed it, Newfoundland Screech! All this to prepare the poor old boob–me–for the final and most indignant of all the initiation formalities, the kissing of the cod; this being a huge smelly dead fish with its mouth gaping open and with whatever it is that makes fish fishy dripping from it. Still standing in the saltwater, another jigger of Screech down to get my courage up, I managed the dreadful deed, and the old Nomad was officially declared a “Newfie!” All then cheered and hailed another proud member of “The Royal Order of Screechers.” What a blast!
Newfies indeed know how to have a good time, and they certainly know how to make folks feel welcome! Ahh, and therein lies the crux of it all.
Above all, it’s the people. For all along the way, it was the people that made this amazing odyssey such a memorable experience—from Quebec to Florida, and back again—all the way to Newfoundland. Thanks, dear friends, one and all. Thanks so much!
It’s the people, the places,
It’s a calling gone out