SO THE SUN slips into the sea west of Blanc-Sablon and a coal-black night slides up and around behind it. I climb into my sleeping bag to disappear for the duration. Leaving on that dreamless journey takes just a minute or two if you rode far enough.
In the featureless dark, my sense of where I am in three dimensions, land here, sea there, is assembled out of the sound of a distant naval bombardment, a sporadic boom, boom, buh-boom. It’s the tide popping air pockets under the sea ledges. Every boom makes a blip of radar light mapping a shoreline in my head. Then the miles pull me in and it’s off to oblivion.
In the morning, the piglet & I are at sea, crossing the Strait of Belle Isle to St. Barbe, Newfoundland.
We disembark and ride northeast, almost as far north as we were at Red Bay, the old Basque whaling port on the Labrador side.
On this side of the strait, the first documented foreign visitors were Norsemen. They made it to North America about 550 years before the Basque, and, scusami, paisano mio, nearly 500 years before Columbus.
On the way to L’Anse aux Meadows, I’m mistaken for a hardcore hobo, when what I really am is an I’ll-get-home-eventually hobo.
In St. Lunaire-Griquet, I ride by a little restaurant called The Daily Catch. Riding by it means riding through an invisible wall across the road, the smell of someone deep frying fish & chips. It’s my first real meal in a week calling.
I’m on the brakes as if the little piglet has a tail hook and we’ve snagged the cable.
The restaurant is about the size of a double living room, so if you talk to anybody you’re talking to everybody. All heads turn when I tell the woman behind the counter I couldn’t resist the smell of real food, though I know I’m way too dirty to sit at a table. If she’ll put an order of fish & chips in a take-out box I’ll happily eat in the parking lot.
She says I’m not too dirty and insists that I pull up a chair and at least wait for the food indoors. I don’t want to be rude as well as grimy, so I take a chair from the nearest table, put it by the front door and sit.
Two older couples dining on my right ask where I’m from, where I’ve been, where I’m headed, so I tell them, well, you know, yah de yah, sleeping in the weeds, blah de blah, eating out of the saddlebags, little gray piglet, South America, test ride to Labrador, home to Rhode Island.
A middle-aged man and woman finish their meal. When they pass my chair to get to the door, they make eye contact, smile warmly, and the man says to me, Thank you.
I think, well, okay, whatever that means.
Five minutes later, fish & chips are up. When I open my wallet, the woman behind the counter says it’s paid for.
The couple that just left, Wayne and Joy Baker, pastors at the Pentecostal church in town, they paid for your meal.
You’ve got to be shitting me.
I don’t say that exactly, but the Bakers must be under the impression I’m broke instead of just single-minded about making miles. Well, I’m leaving the woman a tip, at least.
She says no and shows me $5 Canadian. They tipped her, too, uh… dammit?
Aha, so—Thank you?—Thank you makes sense now: I’m the sermon on Sunday! I’m standing in for an archetype of moral tales told since the dawn of time. A stranger comes in out of the wilderness. What would you do, brother? Sister?
Real-life Exhibit-A jumping-off point for a sermon, or, I dunno, maybe I just gave them an opportunity to practice something they believe. Either way, I never saw it coming.
I could find the church and give them their money back. Then I’d be rude as well as grimy, not to mention a complete ass. So I tell the woman, well, this is humbling, which it is. Please thank the Revs for me when you see them. She says she will.
I sit on a timber in the parking lot and eat.
No, that’s not right, I don’t eat. I wolf it down.
With a full belly it’s back on the road to L’Anse aux Meadows, where the Canadians built this sod longhouse to show how the Norse lived when they were here.
Some call the Norse Vikings, which isn’t wrong, but I side with those who say Viking is a term that describes behavior, not a tribal identity. Vikings are Norsemen out on a raid. There wasn’t anything worth raiding in North America. They were just having a look around.
They mined peat and smelted bog ore to get the iron out of it. The iron wasn’t pure enough or hard enough to make weapons that hold an edge, but it made nails and gear for the longboats.
The order of the day at L’Anse aux Meadows a thousand years ago: Don’t let the Indians kill your blacksmith! You can’t get home without him. That’s my impression. I run it by a guide and he says, yes, and don’t let them kill your women, either, unless you want to sew sails.
Okay, that’s… one reason.
Headed south again now, through a punishing wind off St. John Bay. My right arm is cramped from hours of applying a heavy countersteering input just to go straight. All the trees are bent over sideways like ballerinas at the barre. The piglet’s way too light to ride in winds like this. I’m missing my iron piggy, the old Harley hog, heavy as a tank.
We push on south between the sea and the Long Range Mountains, easternmost line of the Appalachians. Our camp for the night is at the mouth of the Torrent River, at Hawke’s Bay. I build a fire there and eat my last Port Hope Simpson apple.
Torrent River salmon swimming upstream through the fish ladder. You can walk down a stairway and watch through a glass wall.
Ride south again, then ride some more. Then ride, and then get around to riding. It’s raining heavy in the west, out at sea.
The piglet & I go poking around Gros Morne National Park. I buy a hot dog and sit on a rock and eat it.
The hot dog.
Late afternoon’s long light on the East Arm of Bonne Baie fjord.
Around the other side I ride through the tablelands and see where the Earth’s mantle is poked up through the crust. Geologists say the force behind it was the same Precambrian collision of supercontinents that lifted up the Long Range Mountains.
It’s a striking place to be. One side of the valley looks like Mars, barren, nothing but orange rock pushed up from down deep in the Earth. The other side is alive and green with trees.
The light was 180 degrees off when I was there, but here’s a link to a nice shot of the tablelands on Wikimedia Commons. The mantle side, anyway. Click on the photo to enlarge it when you get there.
By day’s end we were back on gravel, riding up to the Gros Morne campground at Trout River.
By the end of the next day, I’m poking around the docks in Lark Harbour, looking for a place to sleep on one, under one, off in the weeds somewhere… Nothing looks right.
I end up sleeping on a beach in Bottle Cove. It’s an easy ride to Channel-Port aux Basques from here.
I won’t make the morning ferry to Nova Scotia, but will get there in plenty of time to buy a ticket for the following day.
Tony DePaul, September 20, 2015, Cranston, Rhode Island, USA