Labrador Caravan

June 21, 2007
The North Shore

Phil and I continued up the north shore of the St. Lawrence for a few days. Our second stop in Baie Comeau was much nicer than our first one, though. With no errands left to run, and no time schedle, we cruised into a city park by the water, where a festival of some sort was happening, complete with an area set aside for RVs that were clearly staying for a while. Maybe we could find our way in and camp there as well? We parked in the street and walked into the festival to see what it was all about.

Not, it turned out, where we were going to stay. It was the Canadian Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, a “celebration of survival and a tribute to the lives of loved ones who have been touched by cancer.” A worthy activity, but clearly not a place for us to seek free camping. Though since the title, “relay for life,” suggested an anti-abortion rally, we were relieved to find out what it really was. We meandered through the festival grounds, stopping to watch a mass aerobics class, led by a group of survivors up on the stage and joined by hundreds of people spread across the lawn. Throughout the park the paths were lined by luminaria – candles in small paper bags that would be lit at night to create a magical glow that would lead participants among the tents and the displays and the groups of people congregating in small groups to share their experiences.

The next morning we headed to a well-hidden park, the Boisé St. Gilles, that promised woods, ponds, and a lovely walk along the shore. And except for the bugs, it lived up to its promise. We dawdled on the paths, watching baby ducks on the ponds. We examined flowers and trees and spider webs. And we spent hours idling up the shore, picking up pebbles and examining

lichens. We sat on the rocks and stared out to sea. We didn’t see the seals that the brochure said liked to congregate on the coast, but that didn’t matter. It was a nice change from purposefully preparing our vans for 900 kilometers of gravel road and then racing up the road towards Labrador. We did nothing for hours, and it was good.

We spent so long in the park that we hardly had time to go anywhere that evening. So after a really nice dinner in a proper restaurant, we shifted our vans up the road a few miles to the little town of Godbout, where the easternmost ferry heads across the St. Lawrence to Gaspé, before the river widens out into the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Where Baie Comeau had been a modest service community, with a collection of big box stores, a few restaurants, and a couple of nice parks, Godbout had nothing but the ferry to put it on the map. That and a small river flowing into the St. Lawrence, that attracted anglers who stood up to their hips in icy water for hours on end attempting to catch salmon and trout. The town stretched along the shore for a mile or two. The restaurant was opposite the ferry terminal, and filled with customers an hour or two before each sailing. The museum had a big sign saying it was open, but in fact it was boarded up and

gated shut. The store – there only was one, a dépanneur as they call them in Quebec – sold goceries, toiletries, gasoline, bad coffee and greasy poutine, hardware, clothing, school supplies.

Oh, but I guess I’d better explain about poutine. I think it’s the Quebec national dish – well, it would be if Quebec seceded from Canada. It’s French fries with melted cheese and gravy. Comfort food, I guess. We looked at it throughout our travels in Quebec, and considered trying it every time we saw it. But we couldn’t bring ourselves to do it. I’m sure it’s delicious, especially if it’s prepared just so, with the right cheese and the perfect sauce. But I’m sorry, it just sounds too awful. I never did taste it.

Godbout was delightful. We drove down to the end of the road, and parked in a sandy lot by the shore which we shared with couple of RVs belonging to the anglers trying their luck with the fish. It was quiet. Nothing happens in Godbout. We stayed there two days, doing nothing in particular. One morning I decided I had to brave the water, so I put on my wetsuit and waded into the river, hoping I wouldn’t disturb the fish the anglers were trying to catch. It was cold. But it was nice, too. The current was strong, so I braced myself to walk upstream, then let it carry me back down the river. I guess I like cold water, though by the time I got out my feet were frozen into small lumps. Ah well, feet are overrated anyway.

From Godbout we continued, eventually, to Sept Îles. That was a practical stop. We camped at a parking lot by the beach, spent a full day handling logistics. I sat in a coffee house all day working on this website and answering emails. Phil ran errands, went to Canadian Tire, the supermarket, all the things that are only possible in a big town like Sept Îles. And I checked out the options for ferries to Newfoundland.

I wanted to continue up the north shore with Phil, but I also wanted to get to Newfoundland somehow. There is a boat that

runs from Natashquan, where the road ends on the north shore of the St. Lawrence, up to Blanc Sablon near the Labrador border. I’d heard it was expensive, and it didn’t run often, but it was worth a try. So I gave them a call, to see if perhaps I could go by water to Blanc Sablon, and then by another ferry across the Straits of Belle Isle to Newfoundland.

For me, no problem. But for Matilda, nothing doing. It was as I’d heard – if you want to take a car on that boat you have to reserve a year in advance. Otherwise, not a chance.

So the next morning, in a downpour that seemed somehow fitting, I said good bye to Phil again. This time there was no turning back, though. I headed down the road to Godbout and to the ferry to Matane on the Gaspé Peninsula.

So much for sharing the road with other vanagons.

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