NEWFIE OR BUST by Bernie Howgate

( Chapter 6 )



Under Canada's hard northern shield lies an underbelly of amazing warmth and hospitality. The inner city may have cornered the market in shelters for the homeless, but its rural setting-churches with doors left unlocked, ruled only by the honor-system - have been since Christendom, the custodians of shelter for the tired and weary traveller. Don't ask me how I can spot them. They have always been there when I have needed them. Sometimes a short courtesy call to a neighborhood house is in order, but usually all I've had to do is pull up, open its doors, sign the guest book, then relax. Sometimes you can find a collapsible bed in the rectory. Sometimes even a note (telephone number) which invariably leads to a night between clean sheets at the parsonage, but normally sleeping arrangements are optional. I have slept in Catholic churches, Baptist, Lutheran, Protestant with Evangelical orders and even a Sikh Temple. Nine times out of ten you will be spotted on entry and with the payment of exchanged stories, food invariably follows.

I found this church by accident. Three years before, I was on the final leg of a round the world bicycle trip en route to Toronto. It was getting dark. I carried no tent and, like today, it had rained all day. I had just passed the church and was speeding towards Dryden's lights when I had a puncture. Now, I am back.


Who said life is a carousel? I had just spent a peaceful night camped by the side of the church altar, woken to a beautiful sunset, eaten breakfast served by a lady whose voice gave new meaning to the phrase 'have a nice day' then proceeded to cycle into a minefield of road construction.



The Trans Canada Highway is always under repair, but so far I'd been lucky. Construction in the north isn't the localized patchwork job where the traveller can take alternative routes. In these parts they're mega projects and go on for ever. Roads slip and slide in the rain and choke with dust in the heat. Pot holes are craters and detours turn into expeditions. I even heard rumors of people starving to death waiting for the 'green light' to go, but these were rumors. Overnight industries feed on its casualties and in one season, garage owners in the right location can make a fortune. On some of the more prestigious road constructions, government ministers have penned their names, but on others, wiser heads have prevailed.

I had no sooner left the smoke-stack-stained sky of Dryden's work horse pulp mill behind me when I ran afoul of this road construction. The bike's wash and blow-dry from yesterday's rain was soon lost to an inch thick coating of dust and dirt and peddling now sounded more like a grinder's wheel than a well-oiled machine. I found myself cycling more distance rounding craters in the road than going forward. My water bottle was empty and what drinkable water I did see, lay tantalizingly on the wrong side of bogs or down rocky clefts. When trucks passed, the sun eclipsed and cars showered me with pebbles. It was like a bad dream, and if that wasn't enough, my hopes would soar when I hit pavement only to shatter like the road back into construction one kilometer later.

At last, somewhere between Borups Corner and Ignace, the construction ended. The blanket of dust that had obstructed the road now gave way to bursts of color and, with it, another headache.

Nature's answer to the sperm bank was in flight. Bees, millions of them. They bounced off my head, crawled up my legs, got lost down my T-shirt and one stung me. Placid by nature, they fly from A to B in straight lines, but why their hives always seem to be on the wrong side of the road, God only knows. And if it wasn't them, it was the dreaded hornet. My calendar of information told me that the black fly season should have been nearly over, but they didn't seem to know it and last night's rain had hatched another batch of thirsty mosquitoes. All in all, it was just one of those days better forgotten than remembered, but then it only takes one incident to make a day, and when I sat down for a coffee break, dislodged what I thought to be fungi, only to be attacked by a swarm of pesky yellow-stripes, the day was duly logged, itemized and filed away.




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