We couldn't recognize much of what the attendant was saying as English, nor did we understand him when he smiled and rattled off a rapid-fire warning, "Yobettagedyoassoutofhere!" But we quickly got the message as the big truck approached. The man's dialect, we later learned, unmistakably identifies him to the rest of Canada as a resident of Newfoundland. And the roaring truck just kept bearing down on us in the parking lane as we finished tying down our trusty bikes in the dark belly of a ferry called the Joseph Smallwood.
Within seven hours we had crossed from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland, the island province that's worlds apart from anything else in North America. Our arrival at seven in the morning was accompanied by a glorious sunrise watched in warm shelter behind the ferry window. Outside, the temperature is just above freezing when we drive out of the ferry's mouth. The middle of May is still a little bit early in the season for touring. Patches of snow cover the rocky slopes around the harbor, and our heated clothing would come in very handy. The few houses of Port Aux Basques, in the midst of treeless tundra, are quickly left behind as we begin to get our bearings in another foreign land. If this is spring, how would it feel to live here in winter?
We turn right onto Route 470, entering a barren yet beautiful landscape encompassing hundreds of lakes and coves, several grand views over the ocean to the south, a waterfall beside the road, and a lighthouse of the finest stone masonry in Rose Blanche, a fishing village where the road ends. Returning on the same route is just as pleasurable.
Back in Port Aux Basques we ride onto the Trans-Canada Highway, a wide two-lane road that crosses the island. Soon the sights along the rugged coastline lure us into exploring some side roads. Low houses in the tiny fishing villages almost seem to cower from the icy wind, and our little detour ends at the storm-beleaguered lighthouse of Cape Ray.
Ninety miles north, the teeth-chattering portion of the morning trip is a fading memory by the time we stop for lunch at Barachois Pond Provincial Park. In the warm sunshine, away from the Arctic waters of the Atlantic, the temperature has climbed into the eighties, which prompts us to take a dip in the park's beautiful mountain lake.
Near Corner Brook and time to scout for a camping site, our map indicates a likely locale named Blow Me Down Provincial Park. When you see a name like that you just have to go there, don't you? So we went. Obviously, despite their harsh environment, Newfoundlanders have retained the sharp sense of humor of their Irish ancestors - hence the names of towns like Dildo, Come By Chance, and Little Heart's Ease. We had arrived too early in the season and Blow Me Down Park is closed; but easily bypassing the little barrier at the entrance (another of the distinct advantages of motorcycle travel), we pitch our tent there anyway. Not long after, however, as we're settling down to enjoy a beautiful spot we thought ours alone, company arrives.