You reach Newfoundland and you cross over; there’s no doubt anymore; this is one of the edges of the world.
There are alot of people who live here, regular people with regular lives, who’d laugh if they read that, but it’s the only perspective I’ve got.
Yesterday we rode up and around the northern peninsula of Cape Breton Island, a full day’s ride. We passed Farley Mowat’s old boat, the Happy Adventure, on display by the side of the road. That’s the boat the saga of which he wrote about in the very funny book The Boat Who Wouldn’t Float, which I read years ago. It was a funny little surprise- I had no idea that boat even still existed. It had to be an auspicious omen, Farley Mowat being the patron saint of the north.
The Cape Breton Highlands are beautiful, massive shoulders of land jostling along the coast, tumbling to deep gorges between them. We rode up along the plateau, then wound down to the ocean, then back up and over another part of the plateau. The land’s lushly clothed in evergreens, except in patches where the reddish rock shows through like exposed flesh.
We rode down five miles of dirt road so Sean could visit a place called Meat Cove.
In the evening we rode on to North Sydney to catch the midnight ferry to Newfoundland. During the six hour boat ride we slept on the floor between the seats.
When we get off the boat at Port aux Basques there’s nothing taller than grass covering the ropey land, running up the gorges, as though the weather blasts anything else right out of the earth. As we ride inland, the trees return: at first half-sized, then gradually getting taller over the course of a couple hundred miles.
I was right about the sky; there are stretches of road here where you can reach up and run your hand through the clouds. We’ve seen some huge clouds, too, humoungous clouds, clouds against which, if it ever came down to a fight, the land would stand no chance.
At Deer Lake we bang a left and head back down toward the coast through Gros Morne national park. Gros Morne is tear-out-your-heart beautiful, great grey sheets of rock cascading from sky to earth, shot through with ribbons of green and high thin lakes. It’s one of those places not built on a human scale but instead to some colossal prehuman standard, a reminder that “land” is not synonymous with “floor” (a floor being a kind of innocuous domesticated land); that land can have a will and agenda of its own, that it can be the mighty limbs and mysterious appendages of the earth.
We stop briefly so Sean can deal with a spectacular nosebleed. He’s stooped over for so long that there’s a hardened stalactite of blood almost half an inch long hanging from the end of his nose. He says he would’ve just kept riding but he didn’t want any of the blood to spray back and hit me; a good thing, too, because if I’d seen drops of blood splattering on my visor I’d probably have assumed they fell from the sky. Then I’d have pointed my bike off the cliff just to get it all over with quickly.
We make a full day of it and push on up the northern peninsula. The sun comes and goes, but it’s a cold, hard, windy ride either way. There’s a ribbon of low flat land along the coast, boggy with only short shrubby trees and those that have been bansai-bent and pounded low by the wind. There are flowers everywhere along the road, especially the blue wild irises. All afternoon we ride with the ocean on our left and the mountains on our right. The map calls them mountains, anyway, but they’re flat right across the top and all connected- what they look like is a wall 1000 feet high. That’s got to be the high country into which I’m told the caribou go for the summer; a great wall blocking off another world up there, a caribou world. I can see snow on the top. The map shows no roads except the one we’re on.
We stop in Hawke’s Bay for the night. There’s a beach that runs all along the shore, a wide, beautiful, gently sloping beach. We walk down to it and discover that it’s actually solid stone- one giant slab of rock, not a grain of sand anywhere.
The woman who drove the car that Sean didn’t hit used to live in Newfoundland. When we talked to her we asked her about the island, and about Labrador. She said the last time she’d been to Labrador, for the bakeapple festival, someone got so many fly bites that a helicopter had to be sent in to airlift them to the hospital.
Nonetheless, what had been only a vague notion has become clear to us. We can’t come this far and not go on to Labrador.