Seven-hundred and forty kilometers ago, the sun graced the sky over Port-aux Basques, NL. The poetry of a crisp, clear and cold morning summed up in raw statistics, “8C feels like 4C”. To salvage any hint of the schedule, I aim the Ducati Multistrada towards St. John’s.
By the exit to Stephenville Crossing, 150kms later, I’m well aware of what Accuweather has left out, “strong winds will toss you about like a turnip in a tumble dryer.” Why do forecasts never provided truly accurate descriptions?
The saying goes that “we’re all just dust in the wind”, but I never thought that was literal. The Multistrada with hard cases and a bodged-on top bag is being batted all over the road, at 110kph it’s all I can do to hold in the lane. I will not be “making time” today.
Occasionally the road turns, the frontal attack becoming the rearwards push of a tailwind; easier to cope with by a thousand-fold. The gusts are fickle though, prone to surprise attacks. There is no pattern, just prevailing assaults of varying degrees. It adds an edge to the heart of Newfoundland.
You don’t cross Newfoundland to visit. You do it because you know yourself or want to get to know yourself. Crossing the province your thoughts are all that echoes around your helmet. Weedy exhausted trees bowed by the wind, long straight roads, and always signs warning of moose.
A bull moose can weight up to 720 kg and stand 233 cm at the shoulder. This is not something a motorcycle will withstand. At least evening up the odds are scores of hunters parked roadside. The moose, judging from the trailers going by with antlers hanging from under blue nylon tarpaulin funeral shrouds, are not faring well this season.
“The trick is to get it close to the road,” says one hunter to me at the gas station, “hauling it out is a bitch.” No doubt, that would explain all the ATVs.
Every time I stop for gas or a rest, I’m struck by the friendliness, pragmatism and poverty here – let me correct myself, not poverty, the lack of material wealth. There are small towns where kids still play in the street. Strangers still say hello. Shopkeepers laugh and joke with me, not out of a bid for customer service, but because it’s a genuine act. There is no cold in Newfoundland beyond the weather.
The evening’s purples give way to night. A sign reads “Moose 5kms”, another six kilometers later says, “Moose 2kms.” Every darker blot of shadow has me second guessing, worse the Multistrada’s low-beam has burnt out. It’s the high-beam or nothing, I’d apologize to the oncoming traffic if I could.
Then I look up. Unpolluted the sky is shot through with stars. It’s a clear night.
I guide the Multistrada down the next exit, idle up the road a short ways, and kill the engine, the lights and GPS. I take off my helmet, and lay down on the ground.
The Milky Way banners across the night sky. I suddenly wish I’d brought camping gear.
I promised myself I wouldn’t ride at night; sometimes it’s good to break your promises. St. John’s will wait another 10 minutes.