September 12, 2007 GMT
Natasha, the $1 town and The Vikings

Having spent the night in a ditch at the Newfoundland Visitors Centre listening to a seabird with bronchitis coughing all night, I figured that an early start and an early finish today will give me a chance to catch up on some of the sleep I missed, although I do not feel at all tired. The mist has cleared, the cold wind dropped and the day has dawned bright and clear. I have just put on my helmet when I notice a young woman gingerly crossing the top of the car park. She is dressed in a short black skirt, white blouse and sky blue silk bomber jacket. I assume that she is from one of the two RVs parked at the other end of the car ark, perhaps there is a toilet open, and I need not have pee’d over the cliff edge after all. She shouts something to me that I do not catch, having the helmet on and all, so I walk towards her shaking my head and so that I can pick up what she is saying. She in turn walks towards me.
‘I don’t usually walk down the highway at 5 o’clock in the morning without shoes on my feet.’ she says.
‘I hadn’t noticed.’ I replied looking down at her bare feet.
‘Oh you’re Scottish!’ she exclaims looking somewhat elated.
‘Close,’ I reply, ‘I’m English actually.’
‘Oh I love your accent, I don’t suppose you have a cigarette?’
‘No, I only smoke cigars, but you are welcome to have one.; I say, fishing in my jacket pocket.
‘Let’s share one,’ she says, ‘I don’t think I could manage a whole one by myself.’
‘Oh right.’ I nod.
Her face lights up.
‘Say that again, it sounds so English.’
‘Oh right.’ I reply, and to my surprise she flings her arms around me and gives me a hug.
‘I just love the way you say that.’ She enthuses.
I disentangle myself and light up the cigar which I puff and pass over to her.
As we smoke she explains to me why she is walking down the highway at 5 o’clock in the morning. She had been invited to a party the night before and it had begun to get a bit wild, so she decided to bale out and go home.
‘Anyway the guy whose party it was hid my shoes and said ‘Now you can’t get home.’ Huh, that’s what he thought. So that is why I’m walking down the highway with no shoes on.
‘Oh right.’ I say without thinking and get wrapped in her arms for another hug.
‘Ha ha ha, the way you say that just gets me, I’m Natasha by the way.’
I just manage to stop myself saying ‘Oh right’, and introduce myself. We smoke the rest of the cigar as I tell her of my plans. As with most people so far, I cannot get past the trans-Canada bit without oohs and aahs and the rest of the world stuff gets ignored by her until I mention Russia.
‘Natasha is a Russian name.’ says Natasha.
I now have to make an important decision. There is no way I can get Natasha on the bike without stashing the camping gear somewhere, it’s still early, hardly a soul about and she only lives about 10km up the highway in ‘The Valleys’. Alternatively I could offer her the lightweight shoes I use when not wearing my motorcycle boots, and pick them up later, but that’s not in my route plan. While I’m mentally debating how I can help this damsel in distress, a car pulls up to the Visitor Centre and a man begins to open up the place. I expect he is either the cleaner or one of the staff wanting to get an early start.
‘Perhaps he will let you call out someone from there Natasha.’ I say pointing over her shoulder to the man who has paused at the door to unlock it.’
‘Good idea, you take my phone number in case you need a friend.’ She says, and I give her my diary to write it in, then she poses for a few photos, gives me another hug, says ‘Good luck Derek’ and jogs up the hill to speak to the man opening up. I climb on my bike and with a wave, ride north, er, east in a westerly type direction to get to Gross Mourn National Park.

The road runs between the mountains on my right and the sea on my left, and I pass by signs that signify that there are coastal villages less than a mile away, but the main road does not go through any of them. Feeling hungry and needing petrol I head off the main road for Stephenville. Pulling in the Co-op for petrol, (they are big on Co-ops in Canada) The petrol pump attendant asks why I am wearing my ‘snow suit’ in such hot weather. I explain that it is not a snow suit but a motorcycle suit. Just then a very nice man at the next pump comes over and asks the inevitable, but by no means unwelcome question, where am I from? He then goes on to ask if I knew anything about the town, I confess I do not. ‘You know a Cessna needs about 600ft of runway to take off, we got a runway several thousand feet long. You can land any ‘plane in the world on it! Used to be USAF bomber and interceptor base back in the days of the cold war, now just private planes and helicopters. The USAF built a whole town here for their people, including Hospital, Churches, shopping mall and water treatment plant. When they left, they sold it to the Province for $1, said they couldn’t give it away because of the rules.’
I said goodbye to the man at the pumps and headed for the big ‘M’ down the street, got something to eat and drink and took the quilting out of my ‘snow suit’.
The road got better and the miles whisked away under my wheels. At Deer Lake the bridge was being repaired and a long line of traffic waited each change of the lights. The roadwork lights had a really good idea built in to them. The traditional red, amber and green of course, but then a 4th light that counted down the number of seconds until the red light changed to green. I was 2 cars back when the lights went red against us, so knew that I could switch off the engine and get a swig of drink in the 3mins we had to wait. Then with 20secs to go I started up the engine and was ready for the off when it came.

The road to Gross Mourn Park heads NW leaving the main road to finally turn east towards St Johns. I and one or two others follow a low loader with a large earthmover into the mountains. I stop at a view point and let the cavalcade get out of sight before resuming my ride. About 3miles down the road there are a series of skid marks indicating that the load has kangarooed on this steep down slope and I pity the driver having to wrestle his large load down this mountain road. Sure enough at he next pull-off the low loader and his outriders are stopped having a break, the driver looks exhausted, but I expect he does it every day, and it’s just the hot weather making him red in the face.

After inspecting a couple of campsites I choose Green point. It is in my opinion, almost a perfect campsite, at least the spot I chose was. With hedges 75% around you, a picnic table, fire basket and waste water dump on each individual site, toilets and fresh water a 100 meters away, what more can you want? Oh yes, firewood, well just walk down to the beach, about 150 meters, and there is loads of driftwood just waiting to be picked up.
My campsite had the traditional chipmunk, sitting 6 inches from my hands waiting for crumbs to fall off my food, it is illegal to actually feed wildlife in Canada, but the site also had a private path through the trees to a small terrace overlooking the beach! It was a wonderful place to have my supper and look up as the stars came out.

But nothing lasts for ever, and although I paid for some extra nights here, on the 3rd day it started raining, grew colder and the rain got heavier. I packed and headed north looking for a B&B. I found one near Flowers Cove and the landlady, finding that I had not eaten, gave me a big wedge of home made bread and jam, followed by home made cookies and washed down with hot chocolate.
The breakfast was likewise homemade bread with scrambled eggs and ham, this more than set me up for the day. The only negative thing was that during the night the rain had softened the driveway, and the bike lay on its side when I peered out of my window. Still it wouldn’t go any further and at that time I still had my breakfast to look forward to.

Warren was the cheery warden who greeted me at Raleigh Provincial Park, and I pitched my tent and headed off to see the Viking Settlement at L’ainse aux Medows. This is the only physical evidence that the Nordic sagas about Vineland are true, and that the Vikings discovered North America 500 years before Christopher Columbus. The walk among the remains of structures and the reconstruction of the long house and workshops is very interesting, and well worth the effort of reaching this most northerly tip of NFLD.

On the return journey to the campsite I hit a patch of gravel on the last bend before the campsite. The road has a reverse camber and with all the rain a little patch of gravel has built up. The bike fishtails wildly, I recover and feel pleased for a second, but the maneuver has taken me onto the gravel shoulder. As I try and turn the front wheel back onto the road, it digs in and tries to high-side me. I wrench the handlebars back but have only milliseconds to feel satisfaction as the front wheel hits another soft patch and I am high-sided over the bike, through the windshield, across the 12foot deep ravine and into the boulders. I remember my left arm going one side of a boulder and my faceplate hitting the other. I don’t know how long I was out, not long, but when I came to a car had stopped and a young lady was calling to me. I clambered up the ravine desperate that my bike did not follow me, it didn’t but was laying on the verge. Funny that my left arm seems to have stopped working, I feel it, fearing it may be broken, my young Florence Nightingale ties a sling for it, and Wavey, one of the park wardens, arrives to take me to hospital. Warren is also there and when he says he will look after the bike, I know I can trust him and leave things in his capable hands.

The doctors at St Anthony’s Hospital are concerned that I may have broken my neck, then worry that the nerves have been irreparably damaged in my left arm. I m left to ponder my options.

The ward that I am in has two other patients, Dan and Jason. Dan, a man in his early 60s is from the mainland, just over into Quebec, and has stomach problems. Jason, in his early 30s, has a compressed disc which I surmise is due to lifting too many heavy loads, despite his muscular physique. We are joined now and again by ‘Buddy’, a carpenter who stuck a 4 inch nail in his thigh, while fixing wooden shingles to a roof with a nail gun.

The Doctor tells me that I will most probably never gain the full use of my arm again, and he wants me to fly home for an MRI scan. I ask him if this will lead to the doctors being able to repair the nerve damage, he says ‘No’. I tell him that in that case there is no point in me going home then. He replies with the chilling words, ‘You will never ride a motorcycle again.’

Posted by Derek Fairless at September 12, 2007 02:20 AM GMT
 


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