I want more life, fucker.
A few weeks before taking off, Elisabeth and I watched Blade Runner. Had forgotten how powerful the tears in rain scene is, but I want more life, fucker is the line that stuck in my head.
And that’s how I thought about this trip. More life. Québec, Baie Comeau, Labrador City, Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Port Hope Simpson, L’Anse-Aux-Clair, Lomond/Gros Morne, King’s Point, Terra Nova, St. John’s, then Meat Cove, St. John, Portland, and home. That was our plan.
* * *
In Québec Dennis and I enjoyed the Unibroue beers. Blanche de Chambly, Éphémère, Fin du Monde—to the Fin du Monde! we said, several times.
Oddly we couldn’t find the Maudite. But, a few days later, it found us.
After a hundred miles of dirt, gravel, and mud, we arrived happily in Labrador, The Big Land.
Two Seasons Motel, Labrador City. The woman at the desk gave me the papers, keys, a couple of notes, and asked about our motos. I answered like one who has rehearsed his lines. My husband rides a BMW, she said, R1200R. KTM 990 Adventure for me, she said.
So, summer and fall? Or summer and spring? I asked the woman at the desk. What? she said. When you’re open—the “Two Seasons”—I get that it’s for summer and what’s the other season? Fall and winter, she said without hesitating. There is no spring. And today is our day of summer.
The road from Labrador City to Goose Bay is paved. And the amenities stop there.
Biting rain, visibility a quarter-sized vignette at one upper corner of my face shield, temperatures dropping to as low as 3 degrees (3 degrees centigrade, that is; I was trying to think only in terms of kilometers and centigrade since we crossed the New York-Quebec border), and a vaguely discernible but clearly endless and scrubby wasteland were about all the day had to offer. At around the halfway point, the restaurant in Churchill Falls was a place to get warm, and let’s leave it at that.
I’d long understood meters, and liters, and kilograms, having no trouble photographing something and imagining it to be 3 meters away, or carrying 2 liters of water in my camel back, or accepting my weight for example as 97 kilograms, but this trip was the first time that I ever got a grasp of what temperature was in metric, what it felt like, what 20 degrees means to me. I fixed 10, 20, and 30 degrees in my mind, forming a kind of index, and then could interpolate the numbers in between. I prefer riding in 10 to 15 degree weather, I could say to myself confidently, 20 degrees approaching the upper limit for me. And then the difference between 10 degrees and 8, then 7, then 6 degrees, begins to ignite (in the way that a frozen finger tip feels like it’s burning?) thoughts of how many more minutes I can continue to ride without making a critical mistake.
Many times over the years Dennis and I had gotten to a diner, sat at the counter and held a cup of coffee in our hands and, after a good while, still shaking and smiling, said, Fuck. Fuck that was cold.
We rode 405 kilometers like that to Goose Bay. Kilometers, I kept trying to say to myself. Kilometers. Like milligrams and kilograms and nanograms and milliliters, but two out of three times I would come back to kilometers.
For a while I tried klicks, but I think Denn thought that was stupid.
A few days into extraordinary trip that took us up from NYC into Québec, along the St. Lawrence, then up into Labrador and across, Dennis and I hit the trifecta of bad things 10km out of Port Hope Simpson, our destination for the day, day 5 of our adventure. Whiteout from a pickup truck turned in in front of us going slower than was stable for us on motorcycles in gravel (1), now thick washes of gravel (2) which we couldn’t make out well enough because of the whiteout, and (3) our reduction of speed with the idea of coming to a stop to allow for more room between us and the truck, which had the effect of radically decreasing our stability in gravel. We both went into a severe wobble, also known as a tank slapper. I’m not going down, I was saying to myself, I’m not going down, when over the Bluetooth intercom I heard Dennis say, I’m going down.
Incredible people almost magically appeared to help, including a retired EMT, two recent med school grads, and a man with a satellite phone who called an ambulance. We were taken to the clinic in Port Hope Simpson. They don’t have any facilities there, but judged that he needed an X-ray and so we were flown to the nearest hospital, in St. Anthony Newfoundland. We just got the results back and indeed D has a broken right clavicle. They are going to keep him overnight, and reassess tomorrow. I’ll update tomorrow when I have something more. Probably what will happen is we’ll fly him home in a couple of days, I’ll fly back to Port Hope Simpson to arrange shipping his moto back, then I’ll ride back home. I can’t tell you how great everyone’s been. Hope you are well, and talk soon.
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I was standing at the bar in a short, narrow room, barely wide enough for a bar and stools, with the woman bartender standing very low behind the bar, in the way perhaps that the conductor stands low before the audience of the opera, in a kind of pit. I asked for two more Iceberg Beers (why not?), and when she handed them to me I pointed to the doorway into the (frankly) cold, ugly, and uninviting room where a few men were playing cards. The large, glaringly lit room had two folding tables (though it had room for a dozen or more), a few odd chairs, an exit at one end with a startlingly bright round red exit light above it; opposite from where I was standing at the bar, on long side of the room, in the center, was an oddly small wood burning stove. I recorded the dialog in the room that night, a conversation principally of four men, one of whom I could often understand, the others speaking in Newfoundland dialects of increasing obscurity. It was beautiful. Beautiful English, their intonations, musical cadences, cheerful exclamations, colorful turns of phrases (as much as I could pick up). Sadly the recording was lost on my phone (in it?) a week or so later in Bonavista, having finally succumbed to the rain. Now holding two cold blue bottles of Iceberg Beer in my hands (really a rather insipid brew from the Quidi Vidi Brewery in St. John’s, made however with water from icebergs), I was talking to the bartender of this place, The Lounge, in the Haven Inn, in St. Anthony, Newfoundland, pointing through the open doorway into the large, sheet-rocked room where the men were playing cards: Is it OK to go in there? I asked. You mean, she said, into the lounge? Later we saw the woman again and agreed that in fact, she was quite short.
Mr. Watson, I presume? I'd taken to saying, to Mr. Watson Hillier, after half a dozen or so encounters, trying to get the only flight, a medical transport serving the coastal communities, out of St. Anthony and back to Port Hope Simpson, where my moto and gear was.
There was no flight that day, due to weather.
After getting Dennis to the airport in Deer Lake for a flight back home, I bided my time in St. Anthony for a few days while the only way back to my moto—by way of the Innu Mikun medical transport—was repeatedly grounded due to weather.
On the day of my flight we landed in Port Hope Simpson at 4 PM, two hours later than expected. I had to get my gear together, suit up, and get on the road—I had to finish the Trans Labrador Highway by myself and get to Blanc Sablon before nightfall.
When the road came down into Red Bay—what a site, the salt box houses dotting the cove with the sun low in the sky—I saw the end of gravel and the beginning of pavement. I had made it. And like others before me, wanted to dismount and kiss the asphalt, but the sun was going down and I still had to make it to Blanc Sablon.
A couple of hours later I was greeted by Cody, one of the EMTs who helped us out a week earlier, at the Port Hope Simpson Airport, and taken back to the ambulance garage where my moto was (and where Cody lived). After a couple of hugs, repacking, gearing up, refueling, and replenishing water, now about 4 o’clock in the afternoon, I was traveling south down this road. Gravel and sugar sand. And the occasional SUV or tractor trailer, barreling along, roiling up slow moving clouds of blinding white dust.
I could hardly notice the beauty that I’d just seen from the medical transport plane earlier that day, focusing all my attention on finding the line—the one thread through the gravel that was least likely to cause me to feel that the loss of control was overtaking me and I had to give up, which would be to crash. A few hours after that I began the descent into The Basin of Red Bay, sparsely sprinkled with salt-box houses, and reached pavement, the sun beginning to dip behind the hills just west of the southern Labrador coast. I had made it. As the sun set I entered Blanc Sablon. Myself and my moto white from the dust, I was exhausted, exhilarated, and especially sad that Dennis wasn’t there to share the experience with me. I went for a walk and sat at The Anchor for dinner, watching the last light, and scribbled in my notebook: I FUCKING MADE IT.
I woke up at 4 AM in order to catch the ferry to Newfoundland; my phone flashed the message: “Snipers Kill 5 Dallas Officers at Protest Against Police Shootings.”
July 17. Just returned from a three week, 5000 mile trip through Labrador and Newfoundland. Dennis and I had a mishap, but we met so many good people, so many people who took care of us, gave us support, gave us their phone numbers, helped with little things. All the people who seemed to magically show up at just the right time—the EMT who just happened to be there, the two recent med school grads, the man with the satellite phone, the man who leant us us Montreal Canadiens blanket and then gave Dennis the NY Yankees cap so he would feel more at home. And Chrystal, her hugs. And Shawna, Glen, Cody, Claudine, and Tom. Chris, Watson, and Jeanette, who would have taken me to Port Hope Simpson herself is she didn’t have to work. The girls at the cottages in Trout River. The filmmaker at Fleur de Lys, and the man who drove up the hill just to offer to take me out in his boat to see the icebergs. The accident prone waitress in King’s Point, the couple from Ontario. At Birchy Head in Susie’s Cafe, the proprietress, who told me I could come on in anytime even if I just wanted to get warm (high of about 50 that day and biting rain), and the two couples from Ontario, and the woman and her folks from Alberta. In St. John’s the young woman Tilly from northern BC who had such amazing insight into race and her country. The man in St. John’s, an immigrant, who tried to bring my iPhone back to life then didn’t want to charge me because he hadn’t been successful. And Jeff and Keith at Toy Box. So many people giving generously, helping, bringing kindness and good cheer to everything, every moment.
America, what did you do while I was away?