NEWFIE OR BUST by Bernie Howgate
( Chapter 11 )
The sun was already setting when I pulled into Gushue's Pond. The provincial park was closed, but that made it better: I would have it all to myself. I followed the gravel road down to the water's edge. Pulled two picnic tables together, waterproofed the tops with plastic bags, then set about collecting wood. The night air was damp and cold. Winter was just around the corner and my blazing fire was a welcome relief. I laid out all my remaining food,two potatoes, half a cabbage, one carrot one onion and what remained of my jar of pickled rabbit. I diced up the vegetables, filled the pan with water, added my last thimble full of salt, then cooked the whole shooting match.
On a scale of 1 to 10, the smell of food cooking, mixed with smoke over an open fire after a day in the saddle, ranks a 9. Barring accidents, this would be my last night and I wanted to make the most of it. After tonight there would be no more nights under the stars. No more fires to focus my thoughts, and no more nights drugged by the adrenaline drain of a hard day of cycling. The axe was about to fall, so I savored these last moments of freedom down to the last morsel of food.
After supper, I went for a walk. To the east, a rising moon was being eclipsed by clouds and to the west over Gushue's Pond the cloudless sky was blanketed in stars. All through my supper the end kept creeping up. With little to no planning, I had started this trip halfway through, then played catch-up ever since. Episodes had overlapped, individual experiences blurred, but friendships were still fresh. In Vancouver, a friend of a friend put me up for a week. In Calgary, a family opened their doors, sight unseen, on four hours notice and, in Flin Flon I became a surrogate father of five children on one hours notice. In both Ottawa and Montreal it had been a delight to hook up with old friends and in Fredericton, Charlottetown and Halifax, I had relaxed surrounded by fellow travellers in the cosy atmosphere of their youth hostels. Between cities, I had placed myself at the doorstep of hospitality and not been disappointed, and tomorrow it would all end in St. John's. Was I such a nice guy? People had told me that my rickshaw trip was unique, disarming and because I was pedaling. I now had no money left and no contacts to depend on for a night's stay. Typically, I was going to finish my trip as it had started, on a wing and a prayer.
My last day and I was nervous. Would I have an accident? Would my bike hold up? The last lap is always the hardest. It's easy to fall into a new experience but hard to climb out of it. I had started this trip in Victoria on Sunday, 29th of April and today it was Friday, 12th October. I had spent 167 days in the saddle and, including side trips, I had covered over 5,000 miles. The rickshaw was shaky but not broken. The handlebar wobbled like a drunken man and two days ago one of my pedals broke, but I didn't care. I was in a world of my own. Today, I would accomplish a dream few people have the time or motivation to complete: Cycle Coast to Coast across Canada. The Trans Canada Highway had dominated my life from the word go. In Calgary, a rather animated truckee had told me that the Trans Canada Highway was also dubbed the world's largest parking lot. 'A wonderful road', he said '. The lots in St. John's are full of cars from B.C. It's like they drove there and figured it wasn't worth the effort to drive back'. The truth is, I only cycled over one sixth of the TCH, but still dominated my trip. Sure it felt as bumpy as a wash board in places and as dangerous as a mine field in others, but all in all, I found its surface to be smooth, its shoulders hard and its sometimes neck-twisting bends and back-breaking, hunchback hills just enough to keep me honest. It's a wonder it exists at all, and as I dropped down into St. John's, I was glad it had been built.