At the Labrador Sea, bound for Newfoundland

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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.

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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

 

 

 

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About Tony

The occasional scribblings of Tony DePaul, 62, father, grandfather, husband, freelance writer in many forms, ex-journalist, long-distance motorcycle rider, motorcycle wrecker, motorcycle rebuilder, collector of surgical hardware, blue routes wanderer, outdoorsman, topo map bushwhacker, handy with a wrench, hammer, chainsaw, rifle, former photographer, printer, logger, truck driver, truck mechanic, jet fueler… blah blah...
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16 Responses to At the Labrador Sea, bound for Newfoundland

  1. William Stenger says:

    Nice write-up as usual, Tony. I dig the cool pics of you and the bike by the sea. I know I’m not as tough as you when you tell me you won’t use Deet, damned flies are the scourge of man-kind.
    Will

    • Tony says:

      Ahoy, Will. Yeah, the scourge, indeed. I do resort to DEET but only when the bugs are beyond intolerable without it. And then I’m sorry I did. It’s on your hands, gets on everything you eat with your hands, you sweat and it burns your eyes, ugh, nasty stuff. I think I only used it once or twice on this whole trip, though.

  2. I cannot write a reply. I am toooo itchy thinking about those bugs. 🙂 U R brave brave brave. Pics are great, awesome

    • Tony says:

      Thanks for the good word, Brenda. I keep thinking the pics are kinda blah since I couldn’t see what I was shooting. Will definitely have a camera with a viewfinder next time. And I should finally learn how to edit pics on the computer. My color vision isn’t normal so that’ll be interesting!

  3. brad says:

    Love these nuggets of good wordsmithing you share Tony.

    Gotta tell you, every time I was in Canada running my track car at Mont Tremblant or Mosport the black flies’ bites would swell up like a balloon on my Southern self. I started itching as soon as I saw the speckled tent picture.

    Stay well amigo.

  4. Jon Brush says:

    Thanks for the yarns as always, T.

    I have been reading the book you loaned me: One Man Caravan, by Robert E. Fulton. Guy who rides a Douglas (?) motor around the world starting from Great Britain in 1932.
    Best motorcycle story: He lost all the oil out of the crankcase, and filled it with mustard oil as it was the only thing that they had in remotest Syria. Worked OK apparently. Except for the mustard gas that came out of the exhaust.

    Best historical note: All this took place while India was still an English colony, and the Dutch East Indies was, well, you know…Dutch. Fulton’s attitudes are pretty benighted from current perspective. Natives need to be organized and we (civilized) people are the ones to do it. Stuff like that which was probably pretty standard at the time. But he generally likes them.

    Best human interest story: Fulton gets taken in for the night by pretty much everyone he comes across, nomadic Bedouins, Iraqi warriors, British soldiers when he wanders into the forbidden zone between India and Afghanistan, etc. As you and I were sayin’, being alone, on a motorcycle seems to make people want to reach out to you.

    The Douglas was a flat twin chain drive machine but not like a beemer, more like a flattened out V twin with one cylinder facing forward and one at 180 degrees facing backwards. Wonder how the cooling worked on that aft jug?

    • Tony says:

      Great book. What an adventure! I haven’t read it in quite a few years. It’s definitely time for a fresh read. I’ll always regret not visiting Fulton when he was a very old man living not too far from here, somewhere down on the coast of eastern Connecticut.

  5. Jeff Taylor says:

    Hi Tony, You have an interesting life! I’m the guy from Cape Cod who sold you your 650 Suzuki. It looks like you’ve made a lot of changes to it. I just wanted to say hi and good luck with the rest of your trip. Thanks for including me in your journey. Very interesting!
    Jeff

    • Tony says:

      Hi, Jeff. Thanks for following the blog. Yeah, at some point I’ll post something on the changes I made to the bike to get it ready for South America. Next up I’ll be adding a tougher spring to the rear shock so I can carry more weight. In Canada I had about 53 pounds of gear with me; not overly heavy, I think, but it was the most the suspension wanted to handle. The OEM springs in these bikes fore & aft are pretty mushy. It’s a tough little scooter, though.

  6. Jim Marlett says:

    You are a tougher man than I. I do have a hint about DEET. Apply it to the backs of your hands and rub your exposed areas with only the backs of your hands. That tends to keep it off your camera and other dissolvable items. It only took me about 15 years of visiting the tropics to figure that out. Down there, DEET is a better alternative than insect-borne diseases.

  7. John Coady says:

    Hi Tony, great to hear about your adventures. I was one of the guys you met as we boarded ferry for Nova Scotia from NFLD.
    As a fellow biker, I am always drawn to stories of the “road” from a biker. I know lots of folks get a bike for the “Sunday drive”, but my hats off to you for your travels and experiences!
    It was great getting to know you and look forward to the many stories you share!!

    Cheers, John

    • Tony says:

      Hey, John. Thanks for being in touch. Be sure to sign up on the home page so you get all the new posts via email. The last time I checked I think I saw that Scott and your brother Tony had subscribed. I’ll write a bit about you guys when I scribble the Newfoundland report. I’ve got a few days of carpentry ahead before I can sort through my notes and pics on that. All the best, John, and ride safe out there on the big Wing.

  8. Deanna says:

    Beautiful write up, enjoyed looking at the pictures from all over. Hope to see more.

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