June 01 - Gander to St. John's, Newfoundland & Labrador

I breakfasted on complimentary cereal and toast from the bed and breakfast before heading out into the warm morning sun. The end of the road from where I was staying lead onto the Trans Canada Highway that I travelled on to Gander the previous afternoon. I backtracked about half a kilometre or so to the North Atlantic Aviation Museum.

Gander’s history is dominated by aviation events and to this day is still home to an International Airport. Arriving at the small museum building resembling an aircraft hanger big enough to fit a small airliner I could see a collection of aircraft surrounding the building. The rear end of an aircraft fuselage of an aircraft protruded from the front of the building. Walking around the back of the building my curiosity was satisfied by seeing the front of the aircraft sticking out the windowless rear wall. I peeked through a window back around at the front of the building to see the cluttered interior and no signs of the rest of the aircraft that clearly had been sliced up for exterior décor only.

To the right of the building sitting in uncut grass and dandelions was a bright orange and green Newfoundland and Labrador Forestry Service fire spotting plane. Although a museum piece today, this model of aircraft, which I am not sure of the type, remains in service for the province.

Climbing up on one of the tyres I opened the side door of the aircraft just enough to look inside. Bits and pieces of the partially stripped aircraft interior lay around the deck and cockpit. This must have been an incredible aircraft to fly over the province. Flying low over the treetops landing in calm lakes to drop off loggers and researchers. Today the 2 propeller plane sits next to a Canadian Armed Forces Voo Doo jet fighter, a paratrooper transport aircraft painted with a camouflage design and a small 1950s Canadian Navy transport plane.

No one else was about and I decided to head down towards a memorial site on the edge of Gander Lake. The 5km walk along the highway was beginning to get busy with transport trucks and people crossing the province. This held little appeal. At the first turning I headed off the highway and down a forest firebreak that headed towards the edge of the lake.

Dense forest lined the grassy walk where new pine trees and bushes were dotted around lasted for about 1km until it became slightly overgrown. Another firebreak running at an angle to the one I was on lead off to the east and provided a more direct and easier route running parallel to the lake shore.

The route went up over hills and down into small river valleys that I had to jump across on the stepping-stones. The only evidence of wildlife was the constant grouping of deer droppings along the deer trail I was following. Apart from this and the butterflies, the long clearing was void of wildlife. The only other wildlife was the flies. Not mosquitoes of the night before but some other larger fly that was equally as annoying.

Over a small hill I came to a gravel road leading down to the water’s edge. This was a welcome change to the increasingly boggy terrain. Shade from the fierce sun that was now high in the sky was possibly the most welcome.

On the edge of Gander Lake I followed the small beach around the winding coastline for a few more kilometres. Every now and again an outcrop of rock would require me to clamber up and over between the cool, calm lake water and the impassable, dense forest.

Over 8km from the museum I was beginning to wonder if I had some how passed the memorial site or if it would ever be around the next corner. As I reached another outcrop of rocks I decided to climb up the embankment to what looked like a clearing above the rocks. From here I hoped to get a better view or better walking surface from the now pebble beach.

The clearing turned out to be little more than just a group of birch trees which had more space around the base than that of the thick pine forest the curtained where I was now standing. As I headed to the other side of the clearing to climb back down the rocks onto the shore I heard a loud, bark from behind me. Knowing the nearest road was kilometres away and that was no bark from a dog I swung around to be confronted by my second close encounter with a bear.

This time the bear was not happy. He stood on the other side of a patch of closely grown pine trees that he was leaning against on his front paws clawing and pushing at the trees as he barked and growled at me.

Realising the bear couldn’t get past, at least in the next minute, I turned back towards the steep, rocky side of the forest leading down to the water and pushed my way through the tree branches whipping at my face and legs as I virtually dived head first onto the beach below.

Landing on my stomach I got to my feet, forgetting my exhaustion from the heat and took of down the beach to the next group of rocks. Looking back as I stopped there was only the sound of the water lapping at the pebbles by my feet and a small airplane flying overhead. The bear had not made it out of the forest.

What had upset this bear is something I don’t know. I didn’t see any bear cubs nearby. Perhaps it was just the unexpected encounter with me that shocked the bear and provoked a defensive reaction. What ever it was, I was sticking to the open shoreline.

Reaching an especially large group of rocks I noticed the remains of a campfire tucked into the hillside on the edge of the beach. Knowing that some sort of access route was nearby I climbed up onto the rocks to see a Sports Utility Vehicle parked further up the next beach. This was a joyful sight.

A road led up into the forest to the memorial, which I could see almost as soon as I reached the SUV. Looking down onto a clearing in the forest where I stood was the statue of a US airman with 2 children by his side. This was the site of the 1985 US military plane crash carrying 248 soldiers and 8 crew returning home from the middle east for Christmas. The plane came down on the edge of the lake in dense forest killing all on board.

It was quite a moving sight to see in the beautiful outback of Newfoundland. Such a horrendous event that affected lives of people across the continent. Now in the peaceful surroundings of the forested hillside a single soldier stands with a young boy and girl in silent witness to the tragedy. Crosses marked out in the grass by pebbles from the beach were scattered across the site.

As I headed up the gravel road leading to the highway I knew the walk to Gander was about 5km. The highway was easy to walk along. Stepping off onto the side of the road as vehicles went past it was easier on the feet than the pebble beach.

Having finished my water hours earlier I was beginning to feel dehydrated. The road off the highway to Gander was finally in sight and as I headed up over the last hill into the town I was never happier in my life to see in the distance the unmistakable golden arches of a McDonalds restaurant. Water!

The high school aged guy behind the counter finally got around to serving me from chatting with a girl sorting out the fries and I hurriedly ordered a large drink and milkshake. Downing them both quickly as I sat in the restaurant I rested.

Walking back to the bed and breakfast I slumped onto my bed. A knock at my room door followed. It was the teenage granddaughter of the owner. She asked me to join in a card game with her and her boyfriend, which I accepted.

After an hour or so I decided I should head back to the airport to catch the bus to St. John’s. I had arranged a lift back from the owner who was nowhere to be found. His daughter said she would phone around and ask someone else in her family to give me a drive over.

Once again, the hospitality and friendliness of the people of Newfoundland shone through. I couldn’t think of anywhere else where people were so kind going out of their way to help a relative stranger.

Arriving at the airport just in time to for the bus I handed the driver my luggage to be stowed below. Just as I was about to board the bus, to my amazement, the drunk guy from the day before was getting on the bus going to St. John’s. How did he get here again? He must have taken the bus to St. John’s then taken the only bus heading back this way 10 hours later, early the next morning to meet the bus we were both now going to board. This made no sense to me and was more than a little odd. I let him find his seat first and I sat half way up the bus in the only available seat.

The bus, through similar terrain to the day before, lead east into the Avalon Peninsula. This is the most populated area of the province and home to the provincial capital. The sun set in a unique array of colours and cloud shapes. The thick fog was lifting an added to the effect. A sunset I will never forget and will be tough to beat.

Realising I had not gotten off at the stop nearest to downtown St. John’s I left the bus at the International Airport to the north of the city. It was nearly 10pm and only one taxi was about. The driverless vehicle was parked in front of the revolving doors to the terminal. I entered the almost empty building. Just as I set my bags down a middle-aged, balding man host to a large beer belly appeared from the washrooms. Asking if I needed a cab I followed him to the taxi at the front door.

I agreed to the $18 flat fee to the bed and breakfast I had booked for the next few nights. The taxi driver became increasingly talkative as we approached the downtown area. Learning this was my first visit to the city he said he would drive me around the city and show me what is where. “All included in the fare” he kept reminding me. I was in no position to refuse, not that I would want to.

We drove around for about 20 minutes longer than the direct route before arriving at the ‘Oh What a View’ bed and breakfast. This tacky named place was definitely not tacky when I walked in to a greeting by the owners, Patsy and Harold and 3 other guests who were sitting chatting loudly in the living room. From the window I could see the lights of the St. John’s harbour and all across the city. The residence couldn’t be more appropriately named.

Heading out quickly to find something to eat I walked down George Street. Home to over 100 bars and clubs, the street was closed off on this Saturday night to vehicles and was beginning to fill with hundreds of people out for a good time.

In the city where restaurants become pubs and pubs become clubs, finding a drink this time of night was far easier than finding a bite to eat. Resorting to Tim Hortons, even this was closed by the time I reached it. Heading back to the bed and breakfast I found a small Italian restaurant with a nice selection on the fairly priced menu.

I had a great meal and quickly headed back up the hill to my bed.

--- End of diary ---

Related Pages

Travel Guide - Newfoundland and Labrador
Travel Guide - St. Johns
Photographs of St. Johns

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