Monday, April 13, 2015

Wolf Quest: Part IX

Welcome to the Big Land. Wet, but notice the flags. this was a weather system that acted like it wasn't ever going to leave.

You might wonder why the top window is open in the turtle top. That's because the exhaust had broken in half at the muffler and fumes were pouring through the holes in the floor and up into the driving compartment. So I was ventilating the van to avoid passing out on my last bit of driving North through Quebec into Labrador on my quest to Ellesmere Island to raise awareness about Arctic Wolves.

The picture is proof I made it at least to Labrador with the dead battery and the broken exhaust. I thought I was doing pretty good but the wolf, the object of the whole trip, was far from my thoughts.  I passed a tailing pond that was bright red but research tells me it was rust being washed out of the rock. It's all on the video no one will ever see.

Labrador has a few Iron Ore mines but I didn't take a tour. And I was too early to take a tour of the Manicougan Hydroelectric dam. Those are basically the only tourist attractions that I can remember. Honestly, folks, the Labrador/Newfoundland highway route has not justifiable reason to be driven except if you've been every other place in North America, which would be true in my case. And as I reflect on this trip that if I had my last 22 years to plan over, I would still save this particular trip for last. I might've gotten it done in less than 3 years, but I still would've gone everywhere else before going to Labrador. It's certainly a worthy and majestic place with much cultural and scenic value, but the distances are so vast and the risk is so high of your vehicle breaking down, that only a seasoned traveler should attempt it because you will require all the skills you developed during your previous 22 years of gypsy living. If an amateur should attempt this journey they could easily experience a trip so complicated and dangerous that they will think all travel is the same and give up completely. This would be a shame because most travel involves patience and a deepening of ones own grasp of their own limitations. So, I stress that this particular journey as I like to say, "around the Northern horn" should be attempted by veterans. If you can make it to Alaska and back or down to Cabo San Lucas or spend too much time in Las Vegas then you will be ready for Labrador. Combined with Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador are bigger than Alaska and also separated by the St. Lawrence seaway.
I knew that driving a 1969 Econoline van to Econoline was simply part of my own self destructive nature. I had to make things even more difficult and customized so I was driving around in 1969 plaid bell bottom pants too...on a journey to raise awareness about wolves, pretending to be from the future.

Well, this last part had been hard to maintain because I hadn't seen anyone in a week or two, hadn't spoken to anyone, hadn't been asked any questions by anyone, had sort of begun to believe people didn't exist anymore and I had entered a Stephen King story where everyone suddenly vanishes and old Oggy is questioning his sanity in a wooded world. Maybe it was a Twilight Zone episode and I was going to get what I asked for and all of humanity would vanish and only wild animals like Arctic Wolves would  be my companions and they would, of course, immediately maul me to death for a light snack in the afternoon. Take that irony, you despicable hipster! the universe was telling me.

But finally, I saw signs of civilization and lights. Yes, I finally rumbled into Labrador. A quick look at the map told me I was still over 300 miles away from Goose Bay and that kind of scared me, but I didn't dwell on that because I also had consider that the distance to Ellesmere Island was still equal to the distance to Paraguay. I rolled into Labrador City, a place that reminded me of Alaskan towns: low, dark, sparsely populated, everyone drove pick-up trucks with company symbols on the doors. Nothing looked open. The Walmart was not even big enough to warrant its own building. It shared a big one story 'Mall' with a restaurant and a pizza joint, and an optometrist and dentist. There were no birthday related stores. There were no photo shops. There were no jewelers. Like all towns off the beaten track the residents had decided with their dollar what served a purpose and what was superfluous. There was a 24 hr. Tim Horton's and a truck was always buying coffee there. But there were no luxuries you might've come to appreciate in your daily life. This is frontier life, and they don't even have signs or theme parks exploiting their frontier life. No, this is un-self-conscious frontier life. There are no tourist to exploit. The locals don't expect strangers to appear one day in an old van and bell bottom pants talking about futuristic apocalypses and arctic wolves. The only romance you'll find in Labrador City is that which you brought with you. If your eyes are focused on the exotic appearance of a town devoid of marketing or luxury then you'll be spellbound in Labrador City.

I parked in a big parking lot near a damp soccer field. I felt relieved that the van had not broken down. I guess they say success is a product of intention. I don't know if the van had broken down, seized an engine or had an axle crack what I could've done with so little money. So the plague of mishaps had been relevant but not overwhelming. Hernan Cortez said "I love to travel, but I hate to arrive." I don't know if I agree with him but I do understand the general idea. I've always looked at life and travel like a 3 act movie and the idea is to stay in the 2nd act as long as possible because all movies end in the 3rd act. As soon as you reach the third act, the character has finally embraced his fate and must summit the mountain to return with the elixir and save the day. And then it's over. Apparently most people live their lives in an attempt to reach act 3 as early as possible, but my observations have led me to see most of those people later on trying to reset the plot because they spent almost no time in act 2. Well, it's pretty much impossible to reset a standard 3 act structure. Not even David Lynch could make that kind of movie. So the only hope is to stay out of the 3rd act for as long as possible. I'm trying to walk the fine line between the 2nd and 3rd act for as long as possible and with a little bit of luck I think I can make it to 50 before actually succumbing to cultural responsibilities. We'll see.

My first days in Labrador City were a process of recovery and regaining my trust in myself. I had made it, I told myself, I was alive, the battery could be replaced, although at a largely inflated price, I could purchase and install an extension flex piece for the muffler. I would continue my journey. I parked far away from everything and lit the wood stove on the damp night to dry out my mattress which was getting wet from a leak in the windows. The wood stove is particularly cozy on a damp wet evening in Labrador. Dry wood from wood I'd chopped in Quebec filled the van with a cabin-like atmosphere and I lay on my bed under my blankets and allowed the tension of the grinding drive north dissipate like the smoke out the chimney over my spare fuel tank. As it turned out the parking lot area was heavily used by all the commercial trucks hauling material north and south. This was the only 'truck stop' within 800 miles so I was soon surrounded by trucks and I ended up letting the fire go out because most of the trucks had huge signs "HIGHLY FLAMMABLE" like two feet from my red hot wood stove.

Leaving Labrador City was not a high priority. I decided that since it had taken 3 years to reach Labrador I was going to linger as long as possible. I first replaced the battery and fixed the exhaust in the Car Quest parking lot. I was eating ramen noodles in the parking lot and reading a book about the habits of Arctic Wolves on Ellesmere Island. But I had not spoken to anyone and no one was asking me questions. I passed the time doing what I normally did in Walmart parking lots. I picked up litter. 

Maybe 15 years ago I had delusions about picking up litter as 'setting a good example' or 'improving quality of life' but now it is a simple habit. Some people have dogs and they walk the dog and the dog shits and they pick up the shit and carry it around and then throw it away. I don't have a dog so I take a bag and my litter picker and walk around and pick up trash. I see it as a habit in the same philosophic realm as someone walking their dog. I don't see it as noble or required or improving anything. I do it because I've done it for years as a meditation on life. If recycling is available then I try to recycle the recyclables. Usually, this is not an option so I send it all to the landfill.

And that is why I was not prepared to be picking trash in Labrador City, calmly in my common mind frame, looking for trash, and I hear someone suddenly asking me questions and taking my picture in the rain. It really made no sense and I was surprised and taken off guard and it had been so long since I'd even talked about the wolf and how I'd been sent back in time to learn about the wolf so I could impress upon the people of the world their importance in saving mankind, that I accidentally introduced myself as myself and didn't mention the future part. Basically, I had blown my character right from the beginning with this female new journalist from the local paper. It was raining and I was so baffled that she was there with no umbrella and we were talking about the trash that I neglected to tell her I was from the future. I mentioned the wolf, but I didn't mention the time travel. I wonder sometimes what would've happened if she had published a story about a man who claimed to be from the future. I was hoping the exposure would not only raise awareness for the wolf, but raise awareness for my trip to Ellesmere Island, since I would need some kind of sponsor if I was going to sail or fly there. 

While waiting for the paper to be published (it was published once a week in this slow news town) I went south back into Quebec for a night hike over an ore mine near Fermont. It was a bit odd, starting at around 9PM and hiking through the night with headlamps..I think it was around the Summer Solstice, but there was no sun because it was raining the whole time I was in Labrador, and the other hikers were locals and I don't even know how I managed to learn about that hike but there must've been an activity board on the visitor's center. So we hike all night through this active ore mine and get bused back to town. Night hikes, I might add, are a different experience.

On the way back to Labrador City from Fermont the van did die in the rain and even through I got it started again it was acting all wrong. I felt it was stumbling from first to second gear. The transmission only has 3 gears. Low, Medium, High. Well, it was stumbling erratically between 1st and 2nd as the speed reached around 20 mph. At 10 MPH it was fine, and at 35 MPH it was fine. But between those to speeds there was always a moment when some kind of hesitation and stumbling and erratic idle was happening that had never happened before. Boy I was far far from any place that could help me with a transmission problem. Because every vehicle in the whole town was a company truck there actually were no garages. There was a Ford dealership and the dealership did all the maintenance on the company trucks. It was like a self-supporting system of supply and demand. The dealership simply was an associate of the Iron Ore company and the Ore Company was the dealership's best customer. I went to the dealership and they told me they could fit me in to fix the transmission in two months and labor charges were $90 an hour. So, that made my decision easy. I was on my own.

The van drove ok still, but the hesitation bothered me. A problem like that is transmission related and if it was staggering like that all the time then it could mean a vacuum leak as it is a combination of engine speed and engine vacuum and fluid pressure that makes the gears automatically shift. Well, I couldn't find any vacuum leak so I was thinking maybe the transmission modulator, a little vacuum activated gadget that fits on the back of the tranny, was broken. That might cause the symptoms I was having. But I couldn't get one in Labrador City.

It was another grave decision to leave Labrador City to travel across the wide marshy lands to the east. The only inhabited area is Churchill Falls hydro electric plan about half-way to Goose Bay. The van was running, and after a few days it seemed to be getting neither worse nor better. I checked all the spark plugs, the carburetor, the fuel filter, the air filter, the plug wires, the fuses, the fluid, the coolant, the tires, the drive shaft, the brakes...everything and I could not figure out what was going wrong. But I was driving predictably so I plunged on as soon as my "MAN SEARCHES FOR WOLF" newspaper article was published.

I had about 6000 miles between me and Ellesmere Island, but I was making progress. 

Here are links to the installments of the Wolf Quest

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Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.