JOURNEY THROUGH LABRADOR by Bernie Howgate
( Chapter 1 )
JANUARY 5th, 1992
For the last six weeks, I've been suffering from lack of sleep. In my dreams I've just made camp. Suddenly a snow drift moves. It's a polar bear and it's coming in my direction. My brain says run, my legs say no. I don't know what happens next, because at that point I always woke up.
For someone who is planning to leave on an eight-month, 4,000 kilometer solo trip of the Labrador coastline and has little experience of snow camping, let alone sea kayaking, dreams like this is understandable.
I can trace my present state back to 1980 and my first visit to Labrador. Since then I have criss-crossed North America, Pacific Island hopped, worked and travelled in Australia and New Zealand, and spent years off the beaten track in Asia and Africa, but nothing has come close to the hospitality I experienced on Canada's east coast.
The seed of my coming trip took root a year ago with a chance meeting - two travellers exploring new challenges over beers. During the evening, the question of travel between Labrador's remote coastal communities surfaced. "There isn't any coastal roads," I told my friend. I knew there was a coastal ferry service in summer , but as for winter, I just don't know. "That's sounds like your kind of place, Bernie." He was right, and by the end of the evening I was making plans to go.
It was easy enough to obtain maps of the coastline, but quite a different story putting together a route. I spent weeks of research in libraries looking for travel books on the subject, but getting nowhere. Then I got my first breakthrough. I dropped the idea of book research and turned to the source for advice. One phone call to the RCMP detachment in Forteau, Labrador and soon the doors of information opened. I was told it was feasible to travel from Red Bay to Goose Bay by foot in winter and in summer the waters from Goose Bay to Nain were definitely navigable.
At first I addressed the winter portion of my travel from Red Bay. It would be impossible for me to live off the land and to pull four months of provisions on a sled over 1000 kilometers of frozen trails. This time Canada Post came to the rescue. Soon I had five parcels of freeze dried food parked and marked 'Hold for pick-up'. Then I notified the post masters in Port Hope Simpson, Charlottetown, Black Tickle, Cartwright and Rigolet of my travel plans and by mid-October my food parcels had arrived.
Next I turned my attention to clothes. I had been out in sub zero conditions before, but cross-country skiing on marked trails, surrounded by fellow enthusiasts, was a far cry from solo travel on barren windswept ice fields. All through October I watched my budget drop as I put together a new wardrobe of heavy down, pile and gortex lined clothes. In November a cold snap found me camping in my back garden for three nights trying out new equipment much to the amusement of my neighbors. In December, I flew to Vancouver to try out my new sea kayak. The first day out I capsized. My escape underwater was flawless. My re-entry, no problem. It was the frigid cold sea water that frightened me and this precipitated yet another burst of spending, and before I left the west coast I had purchased a wet suit, dry suit and every floatation devise known to man.
Back home in Toronto another problem surfaced. I had originally planned to travel the traditional way in winter with a solid wooded sled and to camp in a high wall canvas tent, heated by a light weight tin stove, fueled by wood. All through Christmas, their combined weights played on my mind. I began asking everyone for advice. Speed was essential between settlements, but to cut back weight would leave me at the mercy of the elements. In the end, I threw up my arms and went with my gut feelings and by January I had traded the heavier, but warmer traditional equipment for a high-tech fiberglass sled, all season tent and arctic rated sleeping bag.
Now, I'm ready. Everything is packed away in my basement. I have at least two of everything with more socks and gloves than I care to admit. No one can say I'm not prepared. All I have to do now is start and that can't come too soon. Next stop Red Bay.
FOR CHAPTER 2, PLEASE PRESS THE LINK BELOW.