Day Six: Churchill Falls

Today was a lovely relaxed day. We picked up our satellite phone (available free to residents and visitors driving the Trans-Labrador Highway – there is no cell service and the communities are 300 km apart or more with nothing in between).  Then we hiked up to see Crystal Falls near Labrador City.

 

The start of the hike was hard to find – just a clearing in the woods and a steep path of boulders. We climbed and climbed until we realized we had somehow missed the (also unmarked) turn to the falls. After backtracking, we did find the path into the woods and it was worth the trek.

 

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The highway to Churchill Falls is well paved and we did see some vehicles from time but mostly it was just our car for as far as the eye could see in any direction.

We climbed hills, crossed bridges over immense lakes, passed bogs of tamarack, black spruce and low shrubs, and watched for caribou.

 

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We saw two otters playing in a lake and stopped for a photo. The wind was so strong, I couldn’t hold the camera still and I was nearly blown off my feet.

Just before arriving in Churchill Falls, we pulled over to take a photo of a large split rock.

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Then we noticed a road leading down further. We followed it and discovered a hiking trail that took us through the woods, clambering over fallen trees to a series of lookout points over the Churchill Falls.

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The community itself reminds me of Fermont, Quebec. It’s also a company town and includes a large building that houses the hotel, library, post office, swimming pool, school, and sportsplex. The houses are clustered not far from this central building. And for a good reason – it gets really cold here in the winter.  The school is only closed when the temperature reaches -50 C (-58 F). So if it’s -49C, kids still have to go to school!

When we checked in at the hotel, we were asked if we wanted to do “the tour” (the tour of the Churchill Falls generating station). As soon as I heard it involves going 90+ stories below ground, I was out.

Instead, the desk clerk told us of a steep gravel side road we could take down to a section of the Churchill River where the diverted water rejoins the river. The company has created a lovely recreational area with benches, a boat ramp and dock. That is where we watched the sun set tonight.

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And on the drive back up to town, an Arctic hare bounded across the road in front of us!

 

 

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Day Five: Labrador City

This afternoon we arrived in Labrador.

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But let me back up bit.

It’s September 27th, and we had our first taste of…snow! It is cold and we were pretty high up but I thought it was rain blowing in sheets across the mountains. Wishful thinking!

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The next surprise was a spot where the road split into a divided highway with a grass-filled median, a sidewalk along one side, and openings for driveways…but no houses. In fact, no buildings at all.

This was the site of the former town of Gagnon. It was a bustling mining town of 4000 between 1959 and 1985. It had a school, churches, a hospital, stores, a mall, an arena, a curling rink, an airport and much more. And then the mine closed, all the jobs were lost, people moved away, and the entire town – all of the buildings – was demolished. All that is left now is a flag and three memorial plaques beside the river.

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It was a stark reminder that nothing is permanent.

When we reached Fire Lake, another mining area, the road changed from paved to the same slippery muddy clay we had experienced a few days earlier. This time I was whiteknuckling it as we curved up and down, across railway tracks (11 crossings on the same road!) and came way too close to washed-out ditches for my nerves.

I’m sure many of the truck drivers who saw us today were shaking their heads at the sight of a Mini navigating these roads!

I wasn’t prepared for the magnitude of the mines here. Photos do not capture the size, or the layer upon layer of tailings.

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We eventually made it to Fermont, another  community built around mining.

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The town of Fermont is known for The Wall. The Wall integrates shopping centres, apartments, schools, a library, cinema, daycare and a sportsplex so that people never have to go outside in the winter.

You have to look closely in this photo, but you can see the long line of red, brown and white building joined together to create a solid “wall”.

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And tonight we’re in Labrador City. We entered a new time zone when we crossed into this province (one hour ahead), and the language changed from French to English.

We headed out for a lovely walk around Tanya Lake, savouring the sunshine, although the wind was strong and cold.

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Tomorrow, Churchill Falls as we continue the journey north and east.

 

 

Day Four: Relais Gabriel

Today has been…interesting.

As we headed north from Baie Comeau to the Daniel-Johnson hydroelectric dam, the road was well paved with wide shoulders. We saw a number of logging trucks heading south (and they do move fast) but none came up behind us. In fact, there were very few vehicles on the road for most of our 4.5 hour drive.

We did watch for moose (none seen) and gas station signs, but what no one mentioned was the importance of stopping at the two or three port-a-potties randomly located at the side of the road. We didn’t stop…

The scenery was spectacular in spite of the heavy rain.

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When we arrived at the dam, we hoped for a tour but the season ends August 31. It’s the highest multiple arch and buttress dam in the world. It’s hard to convey the size in this photo which was taken from the road near the top of the dam. It is overwhelming.

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After that, the road deteriorated. No more pavement. Just sand, gravel and mud.

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For over 20 km the mud was about 4 inches thick, grabbing the wheels as we continually turned up and down steep hills. But our trusty Mini (and my trusty driver) handled it all like a pro.

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It was an isolated drive. There are signs for SOS phones periodically (and Bell telephone booths with a satellite phone when you get to the spot). There is no cell coverage at all.

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We did pass a rental van and trailer (carrying a car) in the ditch along the way. We stopped but no one was around so they must have been picked up. It was a sobering moment.

And now we’re at Relais Gabriel, a truck stop with rooms for the night, a small restaurant and a gas bar. And we’re watching American football in French, on the only tv channel.

We have another 4 hours to go to Labrador City tomorrow. Curious to see what that drive will be like 😁

Oh and did I mention we crossed the 51st parallel today?

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Day Two: Tadoussac

We arrived in Tadoussac late afternoon by ferry. It’s a free 10-minute ride across the Saguenay River. Apparently, you can sometimes see whales in the fjord near the ferry.

We didn’t but the scenery was picturesque.

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Before dinner, we followed a short hiking path that took us out to large rocks overlooking the St. Lawrence.

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And then wandered back through the town to find a restaurant for supper.

It’s a quaint community with a long history: a hotel that was originally built in the 1800’s, a chapel with a cemetery dating back to the same era, and a Protestant church built by pioneers. So many of the buildings are white clapboard with red trim.

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Near our B and B I saw several barns that were evidently very old. Oh, the stories they could tell!

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As we walked back to our B and B after supper, the full moon rose over the hills, casting an orange glow on the town below. The colour reminded me of the changing leaves we have been seeing along the way.

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I wonder what surprises tomorrow will bring.

Day One: Quebec City

Our next adventure has begun. We are on a road trip to Labrador and Newfoundland for the next month.

Day One found us in Quebec City. We’ve been here before, and have a few favourite haunts. We revisited part of the Old City, wandering along the cobblestone streets, and browsing the shops.

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Old Quebec is always a treat for the senses: colour, fragrance, tastes, sounds… Here are a few more photos to illustrate what I mean.

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Then we drove to the breathtaking Montmorency waterfalls.

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Spectacular, even if you don’t climb the many stairs to the various viewing platforms opposite the falls. The cliff face into which the stairs are anchored is sheer slate.

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It does make me wonder how stable it is! But hundreds of tourists climb up and down the stairs every day. If you’re really adventurous, you can even take a zipline across the falls!

 

Day Three: Baie Comeau

Oh what a day! We turned a two-hour drive into an all-day adventure by taking a few detours, planned and unplanned. And we’re glad we did!

As we left Tadoussac this morning, we chose a drive through the town that we thought would eventually link back to the highway. And we discovered…sand dunes. As far as the eye could see.

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We even found moose tracks as we explored the area. It turned out that the road was closed beyond a certain point (it became a bike path) so we had to backtrack a bit but the dunes were worth it.

Next stop was the Cap-de-Bon-Desir Interpretation and Observation Centre near Les Bergeronnes.

They have created an area among enormous flat rocks where you can sit for hours and watch whales surfacing and diving.

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And, yes, we saw whales! So close that you didn’t even need binoculars.

Awe-inspiring.

In another small community, we took a short hike through dunes and marshes to a long sand spit and saw…seals playing in the water! (I don’t have a photo of the seals but this is the bay).

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In addition, while we were there, a large flock of snow geese flew right over our heads.

Does it get any better than that? And this is only Day Three!

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Next we leave the St. Lawrence and turn north, on our way to Labrador City. We’ve been cautioned to watch for empty lumber trucks speeding along and moose crossing the road. And so we will.

The adventure continues!

Reconnecting

Today I unpacked some beloved friends – from childhood and from adulthood. Well worn and well loved.

Treasured books.

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They have been buried in boxes for several months while we navigated a move. I have felt bereft and lonely without them. Today I freed them from the confines of the closet and introduced them to their new surroundings.

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Simultaneously I am reading Marie Kondo’s book, “The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up”. So, as she suggests, I spread all my books out in front of me and picked up one at a time. I asked myself her simple question, “Does this book spark joy?”

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I kept the ones that ignited a feeling of joy. The others I set aside to give away so that they will bring joy to someone else.

My bookshelves are emptier now yet filled with books that make me smile.

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And there are five fewer boxes in the closet! Bonus! 😊

 

What a Beautiful Morning!

IMG_20180805_084205.jpgOh what a beautiful morning! I woke up to the best possible news…a child has been born. My child’s child. My grandson.

The birth of any child is a miracle. When it is within your own family, your heart expands even wider with love to welcome this newest member into the fold.

Such joy! And heartfelt thanks for the safe and healthy delivery of this precious being into the world.

And so today, I offer this blessing to my new grandchild, and all other children in the world.

“May joy and peace surround you,

Contentment latch your door,

And happiness be with you now,

And bless you ever more.”

(Irish blessing)

 

The Pipes, The Pipes Are Calling

Have you ever been to a Tattoo? It’s a performance of marching military pipe and drum bands and features talented musicians as well as skillful marching choreography.

Lasy night we went to the Limestone Tattoo at Fort Henry.

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Just walking into the Fort, past the thick walls and down the steep slope across the wooden bridge was an experience of stepping back in time.

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A town crier dressed in ornate red and gold robes welcomed the audience. A cannon was fired to mark the start of the evening. And then the first two bands marched solemnly in through the narrow arch.

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Oh the music! The haunting notes of a single bagpipe in the night air can send shivers down my spine. When there are dozens being skillfully played along with the resounding boom of the drums, I am transported to the Scottish highlands of long ago.

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The finale brought all the bands – pipes, drums, flutes, bugles, brass – out onto the parade grounds together. As the sound of Amazing Grace echoed across the stone walls, I looked up to see the first stars in the sky above.

What a magical evening!

 

Post Navigandum

After any big event, there’s the letdown. So much energy has gone into planning and anticipating, the experience flies by in moments, and then…?

I don’t think we realized how many major life transitions we were going through in the months prior to the sailing trip. We sold our apartment and almost all the furniture, gave away books, paintings, clothing, and dishes, we both retired, and in the midst of it all, we were planning our grand sailing expedition.

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The weekend before the sale of the apartment closed, we made one more trip to the new place (about 400 km or 250 miles one way), the car jammed with boxes. Then there was one more trip to drop the car at the new marina so it would be waiting for us at the end of the trip, and a train/bus ride back to the marina where we would start our travels.

So lots to organize. Lots on our minds.

Now, the sail is history, part of our personal lore. We’ve had a few days to settle in to our home. And the question that keeps coming up is “Now what?”

The reality of being retired is starting to hit. There are no deadlines, schedules or routines  (even on the boat we had routines). We can do what we want, when we want, and while that’s a novel experience, it is going to take some getting used to.

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Friends who have already retired warned me that it’s an adjustment. I now recognize that, in spite of all the other changes we’ve gone through in the past month, retirement may be the biggest transition yet.

So far, we’ve been doing a lot of puttering, watching waves and clouds from different vantage points, and snapping photos of birds and butterflies.

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Hey, maybe it won’t be so hard after all!