I’VE BEEN HACKING AWAY on a carpentry job ever since I got home from Canada. Now for a welcome break at the scribbling desk.
That marker in the upper-right corner of the map is Port Hope Simpson, Labrador. It’s about as far north and east as the piglet and I would get. We had logged close to 2,000 miles from Little Rhody. My original plan was to turn around at the Labrador Sea and ride back down the gravel; ride west to the headwaters of the Manicouagan then south to the Seaway.
As it happened, I was quickly running out of tires. The rubber would last longer on decent asphalt, which would mean making a circle out of the ride instead of one road out, same road back. I had known for days I’d be crossing over into Newfoundland instead of pulling a U-turn.
On the road into Port Hope Simpson, moose tracks and rocks and fading light.
When I got into town I stocked up. Bought one tank of gas, two packs of Fig Newtons, and three apples. Couldn’t think of anything I needed four of, so I asked the clerk where I might camp for the night. She told me of a campground that had been closed for years. It was growing back up into alders but the old man still lets people camp there.
And she said it was free, which is well within my budget.
White-haired and a full head of it, he came to the door when he heard the motorcycle. He was a working man of older years, old but far from feeble. I was sure I saw a First Nations genome in him.
The campground venture had never worked out. It took in $300 in its best year. Nobody comes through Port Hope Simpson, he said. There’s too much gravel. What he meant was the 85 miles of gravel coming up from Red Bay, not the 400 miles of it coming north and east from the Manicouagan.
There’s no water or electricity anymore, he said, but you’re welcome to camp, no charge. I asked what he used to charge and he said $10. I had no Canadian cash but opened my wallet and gave him $10 USD, just to make the deal with a friendly gesture. There’s no corner bank where he could exchange it. The nearest bank in Labrador is probably in Goose Bay, a 6-hour drive.
He looked at the bill as if it were Mongolian Tugriks with the Great Khan on it. He laughed and said he’d keep my Alexander Hamilton banknote as a souvenir of the ambition of his younger years, owning a campground.
The shuttered store I slept behind that night. The old man used to sell building supplies out of it.
Out back, someone had made a fireplace out of truck wheels, used an axle housing for a smokestack. Ideal bug control, a fire. I didn’t see any driftwood in the cove nearby, or I would have had a fire that night.
In Labrador, if you open your tent flap for 15 seconds and only this many black flies get in, you win.
They don’t bite much. They mostly annoy you by swarming around your head, up your nose, in the eyes, in the ears… When you’re cooking, they fly through the steam and konk out, kamikaze right into the grub, bulls eye. If you bother to fish them out you’re not really hungry enough to cook in bug country, Moe. Stir it up! They blend in with the pepper.
You’re gonna give blood, get used to the idea. I rarely resort to DEET, the chemical repellent developed for the Army in the 1940s; the Army, famous for taking the very, you know, very best care of its people. Fat-soluble, absorbs through the skin, gets into your liver, melts plastic, here’s your DEET, soldier.
Bugs with brains smaller than sand know to avoid DEET. You need to evolve this big prefrontal cortex before you think to slather it all over yourself.
So anyway, I sit out in the weeds, make rice and red lentils, stir in the bugs, get in the tent, kill the bugs in the tent, another day, Zzzzzzz….
On the road south in the morning I bought breakfast in Mary’s Harbour, an omelette, got some much-needed chicken protein into my diet. I was the only diner in a little restaurant there. My waitress asked if I minded whether she mopped the floor while I ate. No, I don’t mind, I said, since it was probably me that got it dirty walking in here.
Then it was on to Red Bay, a starkly scenic town populated by Europeans in the first half of the 16th century.
Red Bay was a working port for Basque whalers. They came in ships like this to hunt any kind of whale that floats when you kill it. They rendered blubber into lamp oil and soap, loaded barrels onto ships headed east over the Atlantic. The remains of several of these galleons lie in shallow waters off Red Bay.
Here’s the jaunty pantaloons. They dug up a guy to show us what the whale hunters wore. Died of embarrassment.
I rode south out of Labrador, and, in Blanc-Sablon, Quebec, bought a ticket on the next day’s ferry across the Strait of Belle Isle. Then I scouted a place to camp in the sea grass west of the town. I was sure I could pass the night there and not be noticed. The beach was empty as far as I could see. That was a good mile in one direction and maybe three miles in the other.
I set up camp, sat on the rocks, scribbled a bit, watched the sun go down. Then I put my journal away, lit the stove and made pasta and red lentils for dinner.
Table for one, garçon. Bring me a Dos Equis and a brace of fashionable mademoiselles, s’il vous plaît. I’d like them medium-complicated with an air of worldliness as they draw on their cigarettes. Charge the entire evening to the older gentleman in the Sea Grass Suite. The unkempt older gentleman smelling of gasoline and red lentils…
I slept soundly to a crashing tide and was up before the sun. We were soon on the gray sea, matey, steaming south out of Blanc-Sablon.
Tony DePaul, September 13, 2015, Cranston, Rhode Island, USA