Wednesday, May 10, 2006

30 hours on the road

OK, so my original plan had been to give updates all the way along, posting from whatever computer was available. And it's not that those opportunities weren't there ... I just found, oddly, that after ten hours behind the wheel my preferred activity was motionlessness.

I write now in my parents' study, having pulled into TO yesterday afternoon, the end of the fourth of four days of driving. It was as if the world had suddenly turned green; the leaves and buds in St. John's hadn't yet emerged, and the landscapes alongside the highways I drove, especially as I got closer to Ontario, were generally blasted and dun-coloured. So turning off of Bayview Ave. and into my parents' neighbourhood -- an area very well-treed -- was to be dazzled by the depths of the greens and the sumptious spectrum of flowers and buds in the many gardens. It was like a very sudden shift from early spring to mid-summer.

It's good to be home.

And now for the much-delayed travel log.

Day 1 - Saturday, May 6
St. John's to Port-aux-Basques

In spite of reports of rainy and foggy weather for the weekend that had been looming, I couldn't have asked for better weather for the cross. The only nastiness came in the form of a brief but extremely thick bank of fog blanketing the isthmus connecting the Avalon Penninsula to the rest of the Rock, and then in the last hour or so driving into Port-aux-Basques. More on that in a moment.

I stopped for lunch in Grand Falls-Windsor at 1:00, and spent some time driving around in search of a lunch that would be something more substantial than merely fast food. I finally stopped at a sort of skanky-looking pub called Kelly's Inn, but then I've often found that, pub-wise, a skanky exterior sometimes disguises some halfway-decent local colour.

Walking in, we went abruptly from skanky to skeezy, and for a moment I feared for my life as the denizens -- a group of guys slumped around a table crowded with empties, all of whom made the Trailer Park Boys look like the cast of Seventh Heaven -- swivelled the heads to stare at me. No, there was no food to be had here (thank god). The one woman at the table, who I took to be the one actual employee of the place, helpfully made some eating suggestions, and I exited as nonchalantly as I could.

And found myself a mere block or so away at a lovely little bistro called the Bluefish, eating braised BBQ beef on a crusty bun with a garden salad. Talk about going to extremes.

As I mentioned in my previous entry, the drive was quite pleasant, and I made very good time ... it only started to drag a bit toward the end, in the last hour or two as I made my way to the south-western extremity of Newfoundland. It was at this point that the weather changed rather dramatically: where the temperature had oscillated between about eighteen and twenty degrees all day, it suddenly dropped to seven, and I found myself driving through a chill, acrid fog that got thicker as the sun went down. Driving at ten o'clock from the Hotel Port-aux-Basques to the ferry docks was a wee bit scary, as there were no streetlights, and the rain that was falling through the now-impenetrable fog did not wash off the dead bugs on my windshield so much as smear them in a translucent film that diffused what light there was into bewildering hazy shapes.

But I made it, and after a short wait was loaded onto the ferry. I very fortunately had a cabin, and so slept the way across.

One of the typical views to which you're treated through the eastern half of the island:

A tunnel of birches:

An initial view of the more mountainous west coast:

Departed St. John's: 8:20 am
Price of gas: $1.20/L
Arrived Grand Falls-Windsor: 1:00 pm
Departed: 1:45 pm
Arrived Corner Brook: 4:15
Departed: 4:45
Arrived Port-aux-Basques: 6:45

Total Driving Time: Eight hours, forty minutes
Total Mileage: 928 km

Arrived at ferry docks: 10:20 pm
Boarded ferry: 10:45

Day 2 - Sunday, May 7
North Sydney to Edmundston

I was woken up in my cabin at 6:30 by the announcement that we would be pulling into the docks in an hour; so I dozed for another twenty minutes, and was in the process of getting myself together when the half-hour warning came on. I dragged myself out of my cabin and down to the cafeteria to wake myself up with a coffee that tasted something like warmed-over battery acid while the gray water slid by outside. I was rainy and foggy still, and would be all the way through Cape Breton.

There's something very cool about driving on and off ferries. I'm not entirely sure what the novelty about it is, unless it's the odd feeling of "docking" your car with a larger vessel ... sort of like boarding the mother ship or something. Anyway, there was a sort of sense of satisfaction in watching the vehicles beside me driving off and down the ramp onto the highway, and then following them myself.

The fog and the wet lasted exactly as long as Cape Breton lasted -- emerging as I did finally into sunshine just before the Canso Causeway that takes you across to the mainland. It was a bit of a shame that the beautiful Cape Breton landscape was shrouded in fog, but there was something haunting about it, too ... making it rememble Scotland just that much more, perhaps.

The drive to Edmundston was pretty uneventful. I stopped for food and gas in Amherst, just short of the New Brunswick border, and for gas again in Fredericton. I had planned to play this leg of the journey by ear -- to see how tired I was before pushing on past Fredericton. I was feeling pretty energized still however, and so decided to go for it and make for Edmundston, almost right on the Quebec border.

It was a long drive, but it didn't feel long ... I spent much of it with the music turned off, just sort of being in my head and thinking. The Trans-Canada through New Brunswick parallels a series of long lakes connected by rivers, and I couldn't help thinking that the highway's architects wanted us to think of the original water routes that explorers had to take ... barrelling along at speeds unimaginable only a century ago, it's rather humbling to think of how much we take the ease of travel for granted. My most significant preparation for travel, besides packing, was to buy a cell phone in the event of a flat tire or similar breakdown ... an inconvenience of a few hours, as opposed to the catastrophes of weather and landscape and food stores that confronted our predecessors. (Though given the predominant food offerings along the way, scurvy could still be a very real factor).

I made it into Edmundston at 5:30, and holed up for the evening in a Comfort Inn that was perched on a promontory like a castle or fortress.

If I owned that particular franchise, I would consider dressing it up like a castle or a fortress ... it could become a tourist attraction in its own right.

Drove off ferry into North Sydney: 7:50 am (7:20 local)
Price of gas: $1.16
Arrived Amherst: 11:45 am
Departed: 12:30 pm
Arrived Fredericton: 2:30 pm
Price of gas: $1.14
Departed: 3:00
Arrived Edmundston: 5:30 pm

Total Driving Time: nine hours, fifty-five minutes
Total Distance: 955 km

More tomorrow!


Lesley said...

Wow! The photos are incredible. What a drive. I live vicariously through you. I've always wanted to make that drive, well, to the edge of mainland Canada that is. And now hearing your story, it makes me want to do it even more.

I agree on the Hotel as well, think of the Marketing opportunities!

Reba said...

Hi! We are 2 Manitobans living in NL (Gander) and I found your website by googling the Bluefish in GFW. Great restaurants are on the top of our list of things we miss about home. Did you enjoy the Bluefish? Is it worth the 1 hour drive from Gander? We have NOTHING in terms of eating out in Gander other than fast food and a Jungle Jims so I'm excited at the prospect of a bistro in our neighbouring town.