JOURNEY THROUGH LABRADOR by Bernie Howgate

( Chapter7 )

 

 

MARCH 20th

There are certain people who either through their unique characters, or chance meeting, stand out from the rest and Mikey Pottle is one of them. A cast back to the old traditional days where working men wore 'dickies' and sealskin 'mukluks'. He's a man of wiry features toned and hardened through years on the traplines and the open seas and is a living example of coastal hospitality. Now in the autumn of his years, he has chosen to return to his birthplace at the bottom of 'Back Bay' to spend the winter months. Due to his cabin's location just off the coastal snowmobile trail, it has become, over the years, quite literally the drop-in centre for both the tired weary travellers and for those lost souls who get occasionally trapped out in storms like myself, which brings me to our meeting.

The first I heard of Mikey Pottle was in Port Hope Simpson, again his named cropped up in Black Tickle and by the time I reached Cartwright his name had grown into a living legend, if not holder of every kind of gossip and dark secret on the coast. So you can imagine my naive excitement in wanting to meet the guy.

To put some frame work to our meeting and the reason it sticks out in my memory, I have to take the reader back to the morning I left Cartwright.

As usual, before leaving, I left specific dates and promises to call people on reaching my next stop, Rigolet. That done, I set off bright and early across Sandwich Bay. That morning the sky was crystal clear, the temperature was -28 degree Celsius and a light breeze was coming out from the west, ideal walking conditions.

My first day took me to the toe of the Strand and by the evening of day two I was camped just inland from West Harbor ready for the next days portage overland to Back Bay. That night I lit a fire and was snug inside my sleeping bag watching it when the fist signs of weather changes began to cloud. The night air turned sticky and suddenly my radio's short wave CBC radio station overlapped 'Radio Kenya's' and the weather forecast i was listening to changed into African calypso music. Two incidents don't a storm make, but when I woke to a hallowed sunrise, the writing was on the wall.

Just after noon, I experience one of Labrador's notorious weather changes. In ten minutes a wind shift swung 180 degrees from southwest to northeast. I was now walking into biting cold winds. Next, hill tops, disappeared to mist. A lone wolf, totally oblivious of me, crossed my path and was soon lost to the woods and within seconds so were its trees.. Snow was falling, giant flakes of it, then came the wind; total whiteout. By late afternoon, I was blindly pressing on with only a compass reading and the occasional snowmobile trail to help me. And by the time I reached the mouth of Flat Water Brook, only my instincts and nerve took me across Morning found me ankle deep in slob and, had I not put down a carpet of boughs under my tent, everything would have been soaked. I broke camp and immediately found another on higher ground, lit a fire and dried out. Now it's at times like these that one takes stock of the situation and common sense prevails, but Bernie was made from a different mould.

After almost eight weeks of breaking trail up the coast, I had this almost unshakable belief that nothing bad could have happened to me. So going all the signs telling me to stay, I broke camp only to be swallowed up instantly by the storm. For the next six hours I ploughed through powder-dust snow, sometimes walking backwards, sometimes crawling on all fours up to a point where the wind force flattened me. I was at the crest of a hill. Here I assumed correctly that I must be overlooking Back Bay. My compass readings showed it and a sudden drop in the wind made it a reality.

There's an old saying that 'God looks after his chosen people', or as my mother put it, 'his chosen fools'. The "Hill', that large pyramid of rock that for generations of travellers had acted as a beacon of portage across Back Bay, was in plain view and as the wind dropped further, the lazy curve that outlined the bay's throat underlined my position further.

 

Forty five minutes later I was staring down a CB antenna. "So you're the walking man. My name's Mikey Pottle, come inside and warm up me boy."

 


Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14