SO THIS is about where we left off, I guess. The piglet and I have crossed the Strait of Belle Isle out of Labrador and goofed around for a few days on the west coast of Newfoundland.
On my last night there I stayed in a campground in the Codroy Valley, fell asleep to the sound of a young woman singing sweetly and picking at a ukulele. Next morning we’re scooting south to Channel-Port aux Basques when I see three motorcycles coming up fast in the mirrors.
I give them half my lane in case they need it and there they go, ZIP, ZIP, ZIP, booking it, two big Wing cruisers and an ST1300. I see these bikes again in the motorcycle queue at the ferry terminal. The riders are from Fredericton, New Brunswick: John, his brother Tony, and their friend, Scott. Tony just retired from the Fredericton Police Force. Scott’s a sergeant there. So this is my tribe for the crossing.
We tie our bikes down for the 6-hour sail to Nova Scotia, then wander around topside, get coffee, blab the blab, yah de yah.
Scott could easily stand out at Stand-Up. He had hilarious stories to tell, like the time Tony wrecked a motorcycle somewhere out in western Canada, British Colombia I think it was. He’s recuperating out there, all banged up. Scott calls him on the phone from police HQ, impersonating a clerk from the insurance company.
The motorcycle’s a total loss, no question, but Scott assures Tony they can fix it up, make it look and run, oh, 90 percent. Scott has the conversation on speaker at HQ, for its entertainment value.
Tony asks questions politely. Scott says, sir, please don’t take that angry tone with me, I’m just doing my job.
No, no, no, I’m not angry, I just want to be sure I understand what—
Sir, I didn’t call to upset you, please try to calm down…
Tony’s a big man, a tough man, a bruiser, but holy moley, the energy you have to absorb in a bad get-off. The ground doesn’t give at all; you do all the yielding. He’s so worked over from the wreck he can barely move, but Scott has him retrieving certain papers so they can go over them together. Eight or ten cops are listening in on the call, dying to laugh out loud, cracking up at every Ooh, Ahh, Oww as Tony struggles to fetch this document, then that one.
Scott strings him along, leads him right down the garden path. Then he asks Tony to take down his phone number so he can call if he has any questions.
Do you have a pen, sir?
I can… Argg… g-get one… Oww…
When Tony realizes he’s writing down the number to the police station, and hears roars of laughter let go on the other end, he loses it and gives Scott something akin to Chris Farley’s bouncer routine from “Black Sheep.”
Young fella, I’m gonna TWIST off your head and SPIKE IT onto the floors of a nightmare you can’t even IMAGINE!
So there you have it. Your women friends are tender with you when you wreck. Your pals, on the other hand, will torment you. If they didn’t, how would you know they cared?
Fair seas, fine company, the sail goes by in no time. Soon we can see the Cape Breton Highlands to starboard. An hour later the boat’s tied up in North Sydney, Nova Scotia.
Time to go below and collect our bikes. Here’s Scott wiping down the lights on the ST1300, getting ready for the night run home to Fredericton.
There’s Tony, in the cap. Not that you can really see him. There’s no viewfinder on the GoPro, I never know what I’m photographing with it.
The Iron Piggy and I rode all around Nova Scotia a few years ago, so I’m planning to spend just one night here and get over to Prince Edward Island asap. The iron piggy and I had to skip PEI the last time around, we were racing a hurricane home to Little Rhody.
Just a small boat now. Piglet’s the only scooter aboard.
I stay below on the vehicle deck, crossing in a tribe of one.
A sturdy little tub. We chugga-chug across the Northumberland Strait. Pretty soon the island comes into view, seals start popping their heads up out of the water for a look at the boat.
There goes our sister ship, headed back the other way.
Dusk finds me wandering around the back roads looking for a beach where I can pass the night. The dirt roads keep taking me to a dead end in someone’s dooryard.
I see a tractor pulling a wagon loaded with barley, now there’s a man who knows the local layout. I hail him, he stops, gives me directions to a clay road that leads to a stretch of coast where I won’t be noticed. Then he says the mosquitoes will be bad on the water, why not come up to the farm and camp there?
That’s how I came to meet four generations of the Beaton family, of Alexandra, Prince Edward Island. They adopted me for two days.
I could see a big rain coming so I camped under a mighty linden tree that offered plenty of shelter. Got my tent set up just in time for a terrific electrical storm that brought in high winds all that night and most of the next day.
Quite a lot of water’s coming down, but I’m dry. The tent’s rocking & rolling as I climb into my sleeping bag and drift off.
The man on the tractor was Roy Beaton. He works the place with his brothers Allen and Bob. Their parents, in their 80s, live on the parcel where I’m camped. The brothers’ houses are nearby; down the road in Roy’s case, across the road in Allen’s and Bob’s.
Counting the land they own and what they rent, the family farms 1,300 acres of corn, barley, carrots, soy, hay and beef. Where I was, they farm almost right down to the water’s edge. There are a few meters of weeds beyond the corn, then the sea grasses, then the sea.
Man, do these guys work! From dark to dark they work. Here they are levering a $5,000 tire onto a harvester that plucks carrots out of the ground.
Unless you’re a giant corporate farm, feeding people doesn’t quite pay the bills. Many family farmers do other jobs on the side. Roy and Allen plow snow. Bob drives a 10-axle log truck out of Slave Lake, Alberta for half the year. Goes up there in September, comes home for two weeks around Christmas, then back to Alberta until April.
Pay attention on the farm, Moe. Don’t get twisted into a licorice stick.
More bullwork. Allen and Roy swap out skinny wheels for fat wheels. The Beaton men are their own engineers, mechanics, welders, carpenters, electricians, weather forecasters, veterinarians, doctors…
Allen feeds the cattle in the morning. His route takes him by my linden tree, so he stops to say good morning and I ride up to the pasture with him.
He feeds the beeves a bucket of bunker silage the first morning, chopped grass and cabbage leaves. Second morning, a roll of hay harvested last year.
Saying our goodbyes on Day 3. This snapshot of Roy’s daughter and granddaughter makes me smile. What a happy, bubbly baby! Until the camera came out of my pocket. Then with a pout she proves Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. I smile at this because I have the real picture in my head, the happy little girl.
The same for kind Mrs. Beaton, a retired school teacher. I can see her, too. She wanted to feed me another meal at her table but I had to get rolling. I wanted to try to find my friends Greg and Julie Miller from the river house, in Stillwater, Maine. They have a camp in New Brunswick, Canada, somewhere just across the border from Aroostook County. I didn’t know exactly where, so I knew I’d burn the whole day hunting for it.
Mr. Beaton shook my hand. “Now you know where we are. If you ever come around again, you know where the tree is. If it’s cold, we’ll put you in the house.” I’d like to have this picture for you to see. I’d have it if someone invisible had snapped it.
Very often the camera stays in my pocket because the moment is so true I don’t want to change it. And you do change it when you try to capture it. All of a sudden you’re not there anymore, you’re doing a job. Usually all you get out of it is a lesson in how temporary the true thing was.
I enjoy spinning these yarns for you, but mainly I’m on the road for the pure thing itself; the pleasure of sharing an authentic, fully human moment with all these other kindred specks of dust blowing around out here.
Okay, next up, New Brunswick and Maine, and we’ll call this yarn told.
Tony DePaul, October 4, 2015, Cranston, Rhode Island, USA