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Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Hemmingford to Newfoundland, and back (almost!)

After years of dreaming, planning and saving, this entry marks the official beginning of the trip of a lifetime.

Isabella with all the gear

I left Hemmingford, QC on Saturday afternoon for Montréal to spend the night with Eric & Co. At less than 60km, this segment is comparatively just around the block, and I got there with a minimum of fuss, only deteriorating bridges and impatient proved obstacles, albeit minor ones. I was looking for another night out in Montréal, and everyone was keen to make it a big Saturday night. After saying goodbye to everyone, I headed East on Sunday morning, excited with the prospect of riding through some of the most beautiful and remote countryside Canada had to offer.

So excited, that I didn't pay too much attention to where I was headed. I wouldn't say I got lost, as that's hard with a GPS telling you where you are to the metre, and pointing the way you should have gone, but I definitely missed a turnoff or two. I was initially angry with myself, but quickly got over that as I found a road that ran parallel to the intended road, but was far superior. I am trying to avoid taking the interstate road system wherever feasible. The alternative country roads cut a far more interesting path, running from small town to small town and following the lie of the land with bends, twists and dips - just the right combination for a great motorcycle trip.

That been said, sometimes the interstate is unavoidable, and I eventually had to leave the Route de Richeleu (following the Richeleu river), and the throngs of fellow motorcyclists for the interstate to make up for time lost spent sleeping off a hangover, and poor navigating skills. Unfortunately, I had to blast past Québec city, but made a mental note to stop by on the trip back.

It is around here that I had to make an intentional detour from what I had initially planned. I hadn't established how the bike would cope with the rigours of the new section of gravel in northeast Labrador, and an area like that isn't the kind of place to find out. So I decided to attempt the loop in the opposite direction, from Québec through New Brunswick and Nova Scotia to Newfoundland and beyond. Talk of wildfires in the Happy Valley - Goose Bay area may have influenced my decision slightly.

Anyway, I kept heading East, eventually pulling over just before Rivére du Loup. I should mention my GPS has a number of useful features, besides just giving me my location. It also keeps a record of my distances, speed (helpful as the bike's speedo is in mph) and time spent stopped. Another feature I've been using is the countdown till sunset. And so, about 30 minutes before sunset, I pulled over to the side of the road near an exit, and set up my Hammock/Tent. My sister Lisa and I created this useful bit of equipment, resembling a hammock with attached mosquito net. However, when no trees of adequate size  can be found (like that night), it can be pegged down like a tent, and the mosquito net suspended by tying to the trees (or in this case, Isabella). I quickly made camp, got in the sleeping bag, and with earplugs in to block out the traffic, I promptly went to sleep. I should mention that sunset is around 9pm, and sunrise is around 5am, so if I'm to have any real sleep I need to be asleep as soon as it gets dark.

My camping situation - more comfortable than it looks

The next day I passed through New Brunswick, the only truly bilungual province of Canada (Québec being officially French only). Hartland, NB has an unusual tourist site - the largest covered bridge in the world. Bridges were often built with surrounding walls and roofs to protect the functional part of the bridge, thereby extending its usable life. At 391m long, the Hartland bridge isn't massive by today's standards, but in 1901, it would have been really something.

Hartland Bridge

New Brunswick and Nova Scotia passed by pretty quickly in the race to the port of North Sydney, for the ferry to Newfoundland (and away from the impending rain). The only thing I really noticed on the way there was that road signs were now in English first, and Gaelic. It turns out that Nova Scotia is REALLY Scottish, in appearance, language and culture.

After an overnight ferry, I arrived in Port-aux-Basques, Newfoundland. The first thing I noticed - the local accent. Before loading onto the ferry, I overheard some truckers talking, and tried to place their accent. Arkansas? Louisiana? Then something they said sounded like they'd come directly from Edinburgh. I was confused. Then I noticed some of the staff on the ferry had the same accent. I finally put two and two together when on the island. For those of you playing at home, it sounds a little bit like Boomhauer from King of the Hill mixed with Billy Connolly. It's difficult to understand. They are truly wonderful and friendly people, but not the most effective communicators.

The second thing I noticed was the scenery. Newfoundland is SPECTACULAR. Vista after vista, azure lakes surrounded by tree covered hills in a kaleidoscope of different greens making every turn on the highway into a potential postcard.

Just some of the beautiful roads and views in Newfoundland

I also ticked off something on my list for Canada - a proper Moose sighting. about 90km from Port-Aux-Basques I rode over the top of a small crest and saw a large brown shape on the side of the road, about 50m ahead. As soon as I recognised what it was I pulled over and got my camera out. It seemed to be confused as to whether or not to cross the road, but then suddenly decided to go for it, clumsily dashing across into the bush opposite, before I could get the photo. Moose are not native to Newfoundland, but 4 introduced animals eventually became the approximately 150,000 that currently inhabit the island. This are no ordinary feral creature though - they can stand over 1.9m at the shoulder, and a car crash usually ends with the death of the driver & passengers, as well as the animal. Huge fences line most large highways to prevent interaction between Moose and machine (tunnels allow for access across the highway). Therefore, I chose early on not to ride at dusk or dawn, and especially not at night (when even trucks pull over).

At this stage, the fires up North were contained, but not out. Considering that leg of the journey involves ¬300km of gravel road in complete isolation in that area, I wasn't keen on risking everything so early. So I decided to go as far north as Gros Morne National Park, and then head back to Montréal approximately along the same route.

I reached Gros Morne National Park in the early afternoon, and was quickly stupefied. The park is full of fjords and mountains, bisected with one of the most exciting roads I have ever had the pleasure of riding. Sublime.

The ride back was less than pleasant however, as the rain that had been chasing me the whole time finally caught up with me. Riding through the drizzle, to beat the sunset countdown is not an experience I want to repeat very often. But I made it back, and beat three BMW riders in the process (I hadn't got a ferry ticket yet, and didn't want to miss out).

Leaving North Sydney in the morning, I headed to the Alexander Graham Bell Museum. Well known as the inventor of the telephone, Bell made significant contributions to the fields of powered flight, hydrofoils and deaf communication (ironically the primary rationale for his most successful work in telecommunications). A great man who significantly improved the world of his time.

I also stopped by the grave of Angus MacAskill, possibly the largest man to ever live without a growth abnormality. At 7ft 9in, he was easily the largest man in the area, and legends of his strength are incredible. As a true giant with an 80" chest measurements, feats beyond mere mortals were daily chores for Angus.

The rain started to come down hard near Moncton, New Brunswick and so I decided against camping that night, and instead decided to stay at a local motel. While basic, it seemed like heaven, and I took full advantage of the free breakfast and 11am checkout.

After checking out, I headed to the Bay of Fundy, and Hopewell Rocks. The shore experiences an incredible change of tide of up to 14m. The 'flowerpot' rocks perfectly demonstrate this. From this, I took the 915 coastal drive through the Fundy National Park, a road that ties with Gros Morne for the most scenic drive of the trip so far.

Hopewell Rocks - the tide can sometimes cover that rock behind my right shoulder

However, all these detours meant that I had some serious distance to catch up on. So I headed back onto the Transcanada highway, and sped off towards Edmunsdton. As sunset got closer, I settled on the town of Perth as my eventual destination. A couple of kilometres out, disaster struck. A sudden loss of power, and a rapid overheating of the engine were my only clues. As it was almost dark, I made some bush mechanic repairs and limped into Perth, looking for the campground. To rub salt into the wound, the campground had been flooded in March and so was closed. But a helpful gas station attendant suggested I could sleep on the lawn outside the medical clinic, and so that's what I did, albeit with a foreboding feeling.

The morning was tough for both myself and Isabella. We limped across to the next large town Grand Falls, where I stopped at the local hardware store to buy the necessary tools to take her apart and do (what I then thought was necessary) a valve clearance check and alteration. Unfortunately, as I opened the cylinder head cover, I was faced with carnage. The rocker arm clamps had come loose, and partly melted. There was a lack of oil, something that wasn't a problem back on Newfoundland. Basically, it was beyond my capabilities. After a quick curse of the gods, I went to the neighbouring auto parts store, CarQuest, for help.

The damage

I have found that times like this often make the best stories. While you may not enjoy them as they happen, you often meet the best people when you really need them, and things will eventually turn around for the better. The people in CarQuest couldn't have been more helpful - although they didn't do repairs themselves, they called everyone in the neighbourhood that possibly could. As it was Saturday, there weren't many candidates. We also quickly established that a new cylinder head would be required. However, the owner Michel agreed to store the bike in his garage for me so that I could catch the bus up to Montréal and locate the parts. Eventually, I agreed, and packed my stuff up, and headed off to watch a movie (MIB 3)and forget my troubles. After a beautiful dinner prepared by Michel's wife, it was time to catch the bus to the big smoke and make the necessary preparations.

This delay has had several repercussions - mainly, I had to streamline my journey through the US, and miss several destinations and friends. While this is disappointing, this won't be my last trip to North America by any means and I will have a chance later to catch up and see these people and places.

Once in Montréal, I moved in with Bonnie, another friend in Montréal, and set about sourcing parts and making other preparations. So far I have organised the part, and have contracted a mechanic for Monday to help me do the install. Wish me luck.

1 comment:

  1. Post pics of the carnage!

    Hope there is no bottom end damage.

    I noticed before there is some info on PSB for removing the rocker cover caps as apparently they can be quite tricky.