Tag Archives: Plan every trip

Fall foliage in Labrador, Canada. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Labrador and Home

We were in Fermont, Quebec, only 14 kilometers from the Labrador border, in a wilderness hotel complex for iron ore miners and guests. That morning we looked out of the hotel window to see a snow storm. Now we were concerned about getting home safely. We had two choices: go back the way we came, or take the ferry to Newfoundland. We decided to drive to Labrador City and have breakfast, and then decide whether or not to go east to Goose Bay.

In the snow storm, we set out slowly for Labrador City and Wabush, and as we crossed the border, route 389 ended and the same road became route 500 in Labrador. There was not much to see in Labrador City. It was the first snow storm of the season, but the people were prepared for winter. The ponds had a thin coat of ice forming on them; fishing season had passed. However, it was hunting season, and we did see a hunter with a big bull moose. The forests are filled with moose, bear, and deer, and further north, caribou and polar bear. I was reminded by my husband that we started out to see the fall foliage, and the shortest distance back was the way we came, so we decided to turn the Jeep Commander around and head home. We stocked up with water and supplies and filled the gas tank in town. We did not want to be stranded or have the car break down. We headed back on the only road: Route 389.

It was slow traveling for the first hour or two, with slippery roads and the low visibility of the snow storm. As we worked our way onward and south, we left behind the slippery road, and snow turned to rain and fog; by late morning, there was an overcast sky and a clear road. We headed toward the ferry at Baie-Comeau, which would make our return trip significantly shorter than driving all the way back.

But taking the ferry would not be easy: the service was going on strike the next day, there was only one ferry that day at 5 pm, and we had no reservations! Catching the ferry, checking the gas gage, and staying safe on the wilderness highway were our priorities as we drove on, hour after hour. The scenery was beautiful. There were geese and several bald eagles in flight, and a partridge ran in front of our vehicle. More than once on this long drive I thought, as our earth is filled with people and everything to do with populations, being in a vast wilderness even for a short time is a memorable experience.

As we drove back, we passed the few places we recognized: the many places to cross the railroad tracks near Fermont, the sidewalk of the burned down town, the vast remains of the forest fire, the mining camps, and the two dams miles apart. When we reached the final dam and the road became pavement for the final time, we checked the time: if our luck prevailed, we might just make the ferry terminal at Baie-Comeau.

We pulled into the ferry terminal at 4:32pm, two minutes after the half-hour deadline for the ferry departure. The attendant gave us the last tickets, smiled, put the closed sign in the window, got up from her seat, locked the door, and left the booth. We were assigned line nine, and we were the last vehicle to get on the full-to-capacity ferry. It was a happy moment for us!

After the two-hour ferry crossing it was late, and we stayed at a motel in the small community of Matane, Quebec. In the morning, we drove by the ferry terminal: the strikers, carrying their signs, were in the empty lot. We headed south. It was a sunny fall day, and as we drove by, when the rays of sun hit the colored leaves and the water on the ponds, it made our trip very memorable. We stopped and crossed the three covered bridges we had seen earlier; in a field by one of the covered bridges was what looked like a horse. Suddenly I realized that was a moose! It looked up as if to say, “I came out just to please you and make your day.”

As we crossed into northern Maine, we drove through Aroostook County, which is known for growing potatoes. It was once recognized as the Potato Capital of the World—or at least the United States. We passed fields and fields, all empty, as the potatoes had recently been picked. Some schools still close for three weeks for picking season! We stopped at a farm and bought a large bag of new potatoes, on one of our last stops on our way home.

Seeking out the fall foliage in Labrador: what a great place for an adventure if you truly want to see a rare place on earth, still left mostly untouched by humans. No airplanes flying overhead, no pollution, no rows of houses—it is a getaway place where nature is in full command. It was a once in a lifetime adventure.

(posted November 17, 2015)

Enjoying the picturesque fall foliage in Labrador, Canada. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Highway to Labrador

Fall is a great time to take a short trip to see the fall foliage. Sometimes I go to areas I have been and sometimes to a different nearby region. This year took me further than I had anticipated. It was an adventure. My husband accompanied me and we headed north through Maine. On the way we took time to view the Maine Solar System Model along Route 1 from Houlton to Presque Isle, Maine. At 40 miles long, it is the largest three dimensional solar model in the United States. We also took a driving break to climb Quaggy Jo Mountain in Aroostook State Park. Then we continued to the very northern tip of Maine and crossed the border at Van Buren into New Brunswick, Canada.

The scenery was grand and the foliage was at its peak. We passed three old covered bridges and followed rivers on a scenic route north. I was motivated to see a moose, but no luck that day. We drove until dark and found a motel on the New Brunswick/Quebec border. That evening, we made reservations for the next morning’s ferry crossing at Matane to Baie- Comeau on the St. Lawrence.

The next morning, we started before daylight to reach the ferry terminal at Matane. We arrived in plenty of time, then had to wait, but I was excited to head in a new area where the scenery is grand. Only after the two-hour ferry crossing did we decide that it would be great fun to drive to Labrador. The weather was good and the timing seemed perfect ,so we headed to highway # 389, the only road to Labrador and the only road through Labrador.

It was 12:30 pm when we started out on this road with a full tank of gas, having just left the ferry crossing at Baie-Comeau, Quebec. The sign read 568 kilometers to Fermont, Quebec, which is only a few miles from the border of Labrador. On the map, there were only three tiny specks for gas stops on this remote wilderness road. It reminded me of being in Siberia.

We started out on a paved road, marked every two kilometers with a signage post, which was very comforting to see in this isolated area. At a huge dam, one of the world’s largest when it was built, the road abruptly turned into dirt, winding around the side of the dam: up, up, and up it went, and then turned away into the wilderness again. Except for oncoming trucks on the road, the next sign of mankind was a massive electric power station. I never could have imagined the number of lines, flowing with hissing sounds, that came out of this place. After another hour or so, we came upon the second massive dam, and the road went across the top and down around the side; then off we went again, and the dirt road continued until we came to the big working mines. Here the road became paved again.

From the very beginning, the infamous route 389 twisted with sharp turns and steep hills, going straight down the other side with no visual warning. We went slower on the dirt, as we tried not to slide around turns, and braked on top of hills. All of the opposite sides of the hills were hidden until the car reached the very crest: you could never see what lay ahead until you were directly upon it. You wondered if it went straight down or a sharp right or left, not knowing until it was almost too late. We would creep along, then speed up, then brake again.

The landscape was mixed deciduous forests with evergreen for the first few hundred kilometers. Then it became mostly evergreen forest for the next several hundred kilometers, then stubbier growth as we entered into the northern tundra. There were rivers, streams, and picturesque ponds, but not one single house.

We attended to our gas gage, eager to get gas, watching carefully for a sign that could easily be missed. We were happy to come upon that little place on the side of the road, just a tiny one-pump gas station with a small diner and a few rooms to stay. We filled up the car, so glad to have reached the gas station safely. Now we were concerned about making it to the end of the road before dark. No time to waste.

We went for another hour or so, and abruptly the road changed to dirt and we both let out a groan. We kept on going, stopping every so often to switch drivers.

We passed an area where a large forest fire taken place in 2002. It burned down a complete town and only the sidewalk remained—the rest had been bulldozed. The forests are growing so slowly, and still-darkened soil remains beneath the small trees. I was startled to see an arret-stop sign. Ahead was a single lane plank bridge, and slowly we passed over it; in all, there were three in this vast forest fire area. It was on the news in the United States, that summer of 2002, when clouds of smoke traveled as far down as Maine.

Darkness set in and on we traveled. There was no chance of hurrying and next came the railroad crossings, every quarter of a mile, one after another. Truly the road was not straight, and we kept weaving back and forth over the railroad tracks. The final stretch was paved road again, and we watched for signs of Labrador, but Fermont came first. We turned onto an off-shoot road and came upon a set of several large buildings, apartments for the mine workers, and the only hotel was attached to the apartment buildings. The miners were standing in front of the entrance, waiting for the bus to transfer them to the mines, and others were dropped off from the bus as it arrived. We asked the miners what kind of mines, and they responded, “Iron ore.”

We went right to our room, thankful to have a place to spend the night.

(posted November 10, 2015)

Madelyn Given snapped this photo in Larrasoana on her Camino pilgrimage.

The el Camino: Beautiful Scenery

It was only the second morning on the el Camino, but I was up and out of the albergue at 6 am on August 28, 2014. Although during my trip planning I hadn’t expected to be walking in the dark, I had packed a headlamp and extra batteries in case of emergency—and now I was glad to have them as I walked for an hour in the dark, watching carefully to avoid missing the el Camino signs or stumbling on the uneven terrain.

The stars and constellations were magnificent as I looked above the dark unobstructed fields of the countryside. Soon a beautiful dawn greeted me, but since I was heading west I had to turn around to get the spectacular view.

I walked by fields planted with crops of corn and wheat, as well as cows and sheep grazing in pastures. I passed through the main streets of several ancient villages, made it to Zubiri by noon, and decided to keep going to Lorrasoaña.

It was a steep climb out of Zubiri and the path passed between two houses. I crossed a stream by stepping carefully on wobbly stones, then went on through farm lands and more villages—everything was so scenically beautiful! I also made a point of stopping to peek inside the Romanesque churches in the villages.

It was a very hot hour and half walk before I reached Lorrasoaña, where I took the photo at the top of this blog post. I signed in at the albergue, went about my routine of cleaning up after a long hike, then sat at an outside café for a diet coke and a snack to eat. I was welcomed into a group of walkers sitting at a table and soon friendships began to form. Later I would meet them for dinner at a restaurant and then go back to the albergue to sleep.

The albergues are strictly run: at 10 pm, the lights are switched off and all activity ceases. In the darkness of the morning, there are half a dozen early risers who quietly dress and leave before 6 am, when the lights go on at the albergue. I am one of these early risers, eager to start my day. Like a fireman prepared for a fire, I often lay awake waiting to get started, with my pack all set and my clothes laid out, ready to go.

It was on the third morning, after I had departed in the dark and gone about a kilometer along a road, when I realized that I had missed the last el Camino sign (it should have been by the side of a barn, leading to the path). I wasted what seemed like so much time hunting for the path. It was very frustrating. I like every day to go well and this was not a good start!

Each day a goal is set: how many kilometers to walk and how long it will take to get to a destination. In hiking there are the highs and lows of every day; soon something special happens and you forget the moments of aggravation. The hikers are so positive, helpful, and pleasant. They make my day! They appear out of nowhere, often during your most lonely moments, and your attitude changes.

After regaining the trail, I hiked a few more hours to Pamplona. As I approached, I took a long time to walk through the suburbs, past the casa de los conches (a house with scallop shells embedded all over the concrete walls) and across the Puente de Magdalena, and there, sitting at a long table, were some city officials greeting the pilgrims as we walked into their city. I was pleased at such pleasant hospitality.

I thanked the Pamplona officials for their kindness and walked on towards the city walls, where I saw the remains of a leper hospital just outside the massive walled city. I crossed the drawbridge, passed through the first town gate, headed through the ancient inner walls, and entered the second town gate leading to the heart of the old city. I went down the narrow streets famous for “the running of the bulls.” There is so much history everywhere: the city was founded by the Roman General Pompeius, destroyed by Charlemagne, and ruled by kings of Navarra. Near the Gothic cathedral is the Museo de Navarra, a magnificent historic former hospice filled with a wealth of information about Pamplona.

I walked from the old walled city through the streets and modern boulevards bustling with business. I stopped at an ATM for a transaction and walked three blocks before realizing that I had left my trekking poles leaning against the wall there. I ran, yes, ran with my pack all the way back. To my surprise and happiness the poles were still there!

At the time I was hiking with a senior woman from South Africa, who waited for me, and we walked on together. I hiked alone and with others each day. The Camino trail, with its unique albergue system, was unlike anything I had done before. I am a slow, steady hiker; I take few or no breaks, so I was assured of a bed when I arrived at my destination.

The best part of the el Camino was the unexpected surprises that happened on a daily basis. I was blessed with great weather and kind people.

(posted December 9, 2014)