Texas to Labrador (7)

STATISTICAL SUMMARY:
  • Dates: April 30 – Oct. 1st
  • Total Elapsed time: 155 days (5 months and 2 days)(includes a break of 14 days)
  • Total time in Saddle: 101 days
  • Total Distance: 6,332 miles ( 10,131 km)
  • Average distance per day: 62.7 miles (100.3 km)
  • Southernmost Point: Sabal Palm Bird Sanctuary, Texas (Southernmost point in TX)
  • Northernmost Point: Red Bay, Labrador (Northmost blacktop road E. of Manitoba)
  • Easternmost Point: Cape Spear, Nfld (the easternmost point of N. America)
  • Westernmost Point: Kingsville, TX
  • Latitude Range: 25.90 – 51.82 N = 25.9 degrees
  • Longitude Range: 52.65 – 97.87 W = 45.2 degrees
  • Red Bay, the northernmost point, is at the latitude of Clacton or Frinton-on-Sea, Essex, England, seaside resorts 25 miles from where I grew up in Ipswich, and frequent destinations of cycle rides in my teen years.
  • Nights Camped out: 46 (33%)
  • Nights in Motel: 46 (33%)
  • B&B, Hostel, Ferry: 49 (34%)
  • Weight Loss: 45 lbs, from 230 lbs to 185 lbs.
NARRATIVE OF LAST SECTION OF RIDE:

My last report was from L’Anse-au-Clair, Labrador. On my last night at the Bed and Breakfast there the cod fishing season opened for a day, and the son of the owner brought back two huge crates of cod, which had to be gutted and packed away that night. The next morning the Moose season opened, and it seemed that everyone in southern Labrador was off to “Get their Moose”. This is not a matter of sport: the people of the area buy no protein – they live on the fish they catch and their one annual moose and caribou. This is true of a large part of Newfoundland and Labrador, and gives rise to some humorous songs by local musicians such as “Buddy, Wha’s ‘s Name, and the Other Fellow” . It also means that there is little need for supermarkets, and between that and the low population density, this means that there are no supermarkets over an area about 500 miles across.

From Blanc Sablon, which is just over the Labrador line in Quebec, I took the ferry to Rimouski, Quebec. This ferry, the Nordik Express, connects many of the little settlements on the North Shore of Quebec, including Harrington Harbor, the scene of the movie La Grande Seduction (The Seduction of Doctor ___? in English, I believe). Almost all of these settlements are Anglophone, and there is no road that connects any of them east of Natashquan. The ride takes 3 days and nights, and at each stop we spent an hour or two off-loading containers and on-loading others, since this is the only connection with the outside world.

The eastern part of the coast is beautiful, with high hills and bare rocky outcrops: the settlements are few and far between, their brightly-painted wooden houses perching on the bare rock or, in some cases, nestled in little lush coves. On the first morning we woke up at St.-Augustin, and then proceeded west through a straight, narrow channel like those in the Stockholm skargard. At La Tabatiere most of the passengers got off and walked into the village, or in the cases of three of us, rode our bikes in, and explored: we did this at each opportunity. This area is outside the area of really rich cod fisheries, and so is infamous as the locale of the baby seal hunts – sealing was a means of sustenance and provided the only cash income. On the ferry we were shown an old documentary (in French) about seal hunting – in this case hunting of adult seals, their transport across the ice by sled dog team, and their rendering.

At Tete-a-la-Baleine we hitch-hiked the few miles from the harbor to the village with the sister of one of the crew members. This lady had lived in Montreal and as a consequence was very bored with the village, and felt trapped in the summer because you can’t go anywhere without a boat. Winters are better, because then people can go all over the countryside on their snowmobiles, and across the ice to neighboring settlements as well.

We reached Harrington Harbor in the late evening – it was a large settlement and very beautiful indeed, but when we woke up the next morning the mountains had receded from the coast, and soon afterward we stopped at Natashquan, a small Francophone village, and most of the passengers got off to drive home to Quebec.

There is no way to convey the stark isolation and beauty of this rocky shore: the bare grey granite scantily clad in patches of moss and low shrubs, the isolated brightly painted houses (used mostly in summer) scattered far from any settlement, and the tight little coves running between rocky cliffs. The light (when the sun is shining) is bright and clean, and in the valleys the low shrubby vegetation is luxuriant with a dozen kinds of berries.

After Natashquan we stayed further out in the estuary, and by evening could see the north coast of Anticosti Island, a place I had very much wanted to visit. However, we stopped at Port-Menier on Anticosti after midnight, and the dock was so far from the village that I didn’t manage to walk all the way in. It is

impossible to visit Anticosti for less than 4 days, or a full week if you want to continue in the same direction, since this ferry is the only connection. The whole island, which is about as big as Connecticut, was owned in the late nineteenth century by Henri Menier, a Swiss chocolate magnate who used it as a private hunting preserve. He introduced White-tailed Deer and a variety of other animals, and the unique flora of the island is now under extreme stress, primarily from the huge populaion of deer. The island is now a national park, and people pay dearly to hunt. The scenery, according to another of the ship’s documentaries, is apparently spectacular. The island has a relatively mild climate, and I still can’t figure out why it was never settled and farmed.

On our last morning we awoke on the approach to Sept-Iles, where we had a long stop, since it is the largest town on the north shore. I rode my bike into town and found a bike shop where my spoke was quickly repaired. The port for the Labrador Iron Mines was quiet because of a long-lasting miners’ strike. We spent the rest of the day steaming obliquely across the estuary towards Rimouski, watching the coast of the Gaspe Peninsula grow higher and closer. I was sort of glad that I had not attempted the ride around the peninsula, although cyclists that I met later all gave it rave reviews: this was the ONLY thing on my original loose agenda that I did not do – it would have taken eight days, and I knew already on the 27th June when I had to make the decision that I was running out of time.

We arrived late in Rimouski and I spent the night there, and then set off south-westward along the south shore of the St. Lawrence. At Trois Pistoles (lovely name!) I had lunch and did a load of laundry in a Buanderie (Laundromat) that, like most of those in small towns in Quebec, was hard to find. Everyone knew where it was, underneath the Cinema, but neither that nor the Buanderie had any signs indicating their presence. From Trois Pistoles I crossed the St. Lawrence again by ferry to Les Escoumins, an Innu village. I never did get clear the difference between Innuit (Eskimo) and Innu (Montagnais in French). The latter are apparently considered Indians, in spite of the similarity of their name to that of the Eskimos, and the fact that this coast used to be called the Cote des Esquimaux. This village appeared well-cared for and prosperous.

I had crossed to the North Shore again with some trepidation, but to continue along the south shore would have meant retracing my steps from Riviere-du-Loup to Quebec City. Also, Tadoussac, which I reached the first night out from Rimouski, is the whale-watching capital of the area. But I was forewarned that the riding on the North Shore wa rough in terms both of topography and heavy traffic.

Tadoussac is at the mouth of the Saguenay fjord, in a truly spectacular setting. One day I would like to take a boat up the fjord. At Tadoussac I went on a whale-watching cruise, and saw plenty of Beluga and one large fin whale, and then proceeded to St. Simeon, a distance of only 30 miles but a ride that tested my stamina with huge long hills and lots of logging trucks, with no shoulders to ride on.

The next day was more of the same – gorgeous country, but huge hills, but I got as far as St. Tite, which is just before the descent into the lowlands around Quebec City.

From St. Tite I rode down a long hill to the Canyon St. Anne, which is a tourist trap but well worth a visit. The St. Anne river has eroded a steep gorge, with many waterfalls, along the fault separating the Canadian shield from Paleozoic limestones. In St. Anne-de-Beaupre, about 25 miles from Quebec, I was stopped by a musician as I left a drugstore and offered a lift through the city. I accepted, with some misgivings, as it would save me at least half a day and a lot of riding in heavy traffic: St. Anne is already virtually in the suburbs. This musician, Jean, was small and round and bald and quite weird. He had been born in the Romanian part of the Banat of Temesvar. He was driving a very beat up van in which he clearly slept most of the time. He pressured me to buy a CD by his wife, and whgen I did so immediately stopped to buy gas. I think he offered me the lift because he needed the money to get home. The CD turned out to be quite good: mostly sung in Yiddish, with a little French and English. Oy vay!

That night I got as far as St. Georges, where I had my second puncture of the day outside a campground. Very convenient! The rear tire that I had put on new at Whitbourne, Newfoundland, had worn out in only a thousand miles (what do you expect for$8?), so the next morning I went to a bike shop and bought and installed a new one. The road (Quebec 173) follows Fleuve Chaudiere and one does not realise that one is climbing steadily all the way. From St. Georges to the border was only about 25 miles, and an easy ride, but once in Maine is was downhill for a long way. I stopped for lunch and to get on the internet in Jackman, Maine, and then had a tremendous climb for about 6 miles to recover all the altitude lost since crossing the border. At these altitudes the Fall colors were already quite advanced – they had begun to appear on the North Shore of Quebec a couple of days earlier.

I stopped at The Forks, Maine, for my first night back in the USA, and was made quite a fuss of by the people in the hotel bar/restaurant. This is a center for whitewater rafting on the Dead and Kennebec Rivers, and I was persuaded to spend the next day rafting on the Kennebec. This was a load of fun, more especially so because four of the people on the raft were visitors from the Sudbury, Suffolk, area of England, about 20 miles from where I had grown up. They were on a two week holiday in new England, and were having a great time, which was catching.

From The Forks I rode down to Augusta, Maine, through gradually more and more farmland and lots of picturesque villages and a few rather decayed old mill towns. And then on into Freeport, Maine, where I stopped at LL Bean to buy a cycling jersey before cycling the last few miles to Yarmouth, Maine, and the offices of DeLorme Mapping, where my old remote sensing friend Jonathan Pershouse works. Jonathan gave me a great welcome, and I spent two nights with him before taking the train from Portland to Boston, MA, where I stayed with an old college friend, Julius Levin, for three days, and boxed the bike up for shipping to Texas.

I had intended to take the bus from Boston to Brownsville, TX, but when I got to the bus station with Julius we found that all buses down the East Coast were canceled from Fayetteville, NC, because of Hurricane Jeanne. The alternative was to go through Albany, NY, and this would take a day longer. By this time I had committed myself to be in Church in Houston, and the added transit time would not allow for that. I also realized at the bus station that I suffer some degree of agoraphobia: the noise and crowds really upset me.

Julius helped me find cheap tickets on SW Airlines from Hartford, Conn., to Harlingen, Texas, and the following morning drove me out to the airport. Good old Julius!

On arrival at Harlingen I found that the ride to the Motel I had reserved in Brownsville would be expensive and involve quite a wait, so I booked myself into the Motel 6 in Harlingen and took a taxi. That evening I put the bike back together again and re-packed.

The following morning I rode down to Brownsville, got some immigration officers to photograph me at the International Bridge – it is forbidden to do it yourself, and then rode on Southmost Road to the Sabal Audubon Bird Sanctuary at the southernmost point of Texas. From there I rode another 25 miles to Boca Chica, where Texas Highway $ runs into the Gulf of Mexico, the southwesternmost access to the sea in the eastern USA.

On the way back to Harlingen I got very dehydrated – the warmth of south Texas caught me without enough water on the bicycle. I left Harlingen early the next morning and made the easy run up to Houston in 3 days, averaging 110 miles a day, and taking care to carry enough water, especially for the empty 62-mile crossing of the King Ranch. The wind was with me, the sun was pleasant, there was a nice shoulder, although it got a bit rough around Victoria. There were no incidents, except for a puncture near Rosenberg, and two occasions, both on Dairy Ashford Road in Houston, when drivers rolled down their windows and yelled at me to get off the road and ride on the sidewalk.

In Houston I stopped briefly at the Arendts’ for water and photographs, and at Shell Woodcreek, where I had really begun the trip 4 months and 2 days earlier, to say hello to Allen Scardina and Mike Cooper. I arrived at the Dolds’ house, the official point of beginning, almost exactly 4 months, 2 days and 2 hours after I had left it.

SUMMARY

All in all, it was a wonderful trip, and along the way I met some wonderful people. The scenery in Eastern Canada, especially in Newfoundland, was spectacular, but there was also great scenery in Maine and in the Midwest.

I found much to admire in the Canadian way of life, which seems to be deliberately less stressful than our own. I was able to watch the final run-up to their elections, and also a Federal-Province Conference of Premiers (Prime Ministers) on the subject of how to pay for the health care system, and was struck by the collegial, non-adversarial approach taken in their politics. Canadians seem, to a person, to value their health care system highly, and to want to see it continue to succeed.

I was struck by the loyalty of Canadians in general to the “way things were”, an innate conservatism. You still see the Union Jack everywhere, and even sometimes the old Newfoundland flag (a tricolor) from the days when it was an independent dominion, before it went bankrupt in 1925 and reverted to being a colony. Everywhere there are deliberate attempts to preserve heritage buildings and heritage skills. The preservation and repeated updating of old buildings means that in many houses and hotels there are doors and floors out-of-kilter due to poor foundation work in the original construction. There is less hurry to adopt new forms ways of doing things just because they seem better at the moment. However, there is an emphasis on efficiency, and groups of towns are gathered into new, larger municipalities in a way that is inconceivable in the US: Miramichi in Nova Scotia, for example, was created by amalgamation of the old towns of Napan, Chatham, and Newcastle, where Max Aitken (Lord Beaverbrook) was born. Interestingly, a Prime Minister of the UK, Bonar Law (Conservative, 1922-23), was also a New Brunswicker, from Rexton, near Richibucto.

There is acceptance of different groups within society, so that there is much less emphasis on the idea of a “melting pot”. Unfortunately, though, there is little attempt on the part of the vast majority of either Francophones or Anglophones to be fluent in each others’ languages. Since Anglophones are the majority, this still results in the main burden of learning the other language being placed on the Francophone population, especially if they work in the tourism industry. Francophones were continually amazed that I speak French as well as I do, which is not perfectly by any means. I kept having to explain that I grew up in England and learned it there. Unfortunately, it was quite a way into the trip before I was able to understand Quebecois as well as I spoke French. The breakthrough came when someone explained to me that the “t” and “d” sounds of French are disappearing, and being replaced by German- sounding “ts” and “dz”. The “oi” sound of French approximates English “oy”, and the “ere” (carriere, derriere) sound is replaced universally with “are”, as in the Swedish a-umlaut-r. This is analogous to the English sound shift from Derby and clerk to “Darby” and “clark”. Eventually I was able to recognize various dialects: in the Maritimes a dollar is generally a “piece” and a penny is a “sou”, which in old France was ten cents.

In the USA, in Ohio in particular, I was amazed to see the prosperity and pride shown in the centers of small towns that were not on the freeway system – Norman Rockwell’s America still survives there. Also, in Ohio, Indiana, and Ontario, the neatness and cleanliness of the Amish/Mennonite farms stood in strong contrast to those surrounding them: an observation that has often been made.

I also found out that I have no problem being alone with myself for several days at a time, but that I do enjoy the encouragement of others in my efforts. In addition, on the way back I found that large buildings full of people and noise disturb me greatly, whereas crowds in the open air do not. I found that no hill is so steep it cannot be climbed, and no rain and wind are so cold and wet that they cannot be endured. That bicycles are generally more robust than the horror stories of other cyclists would have us believe – after all, a story would not be a good one were it not for the bad things it relates! Again, that once a Geologist always a geologist – somehow I always seemed to end up stopping to look at, even sketch, interesting rocks, or making a diversion to see some famous locality.

The End