Friday, 13 June 2014

Next Stop: Gaff Topsail ...

...which is the title of the first book in Mont's railway series, and also my next destination on Sunday June 1st. Gaff Topsail is at the highest point on the railway line, and in a bleak and isolated area away from permanent human habitation. In the past the trains were often held up for days by snow at this point, and I knew it was likely I might not see anyone for a couple of days.  The Highway parallels the railway for much of the way across the island, but at Badger it swings north and does not come back to the railroad until Deer Lake.  From Badger to the next permanently inhabited settlement at Howley is a distance of over 100 kms.  I had also been warned about the possibility of encountering bears and coyotes on this stretch.
So it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I plodded out of Millertown Junction early on Wednesday June 4th.
Stopping for a morning rest at a convenient spot near a spring, signposted by Mont..
Crossing Mary March bridge, an unhappy reminder of an unfortunate Beothuck woman Demasduit, who was captured at Indian Lake in the area....

 She was one of the last of the Beothucks at a time when officials in St John's were trying to establish friendly relations.  In the process of defending her, her husband was shot dead, and her newborn baby subsequently died of starvation.  She lived for a while in St John's but died of TB before she could be returned to her people.
Caribou like to graze on lichens in open country, so I saw quite a few along the way..
A stop at Quarry to graze the horses on the few patches of grass en route, and to pick up a feed drop.
Quarry was so called because of the nearby granite quarry.  Granite from this quarry was used for many purposes including building the railway station at St John's, and paving Water St.
I was able to shelter in the end of the old railway carriage during a heavy downpour, and then packed up again for the last leg to Gaff Topsail. 
Only a few hundred yards further on, the horses spooked at something and went separate ways, leaving me on the ground in the middle.  No broken bones but a nasty puncture wound in my arm which kept bleeding...
  Having caught the horses I decided to continue on foot, as not only was I a bit shook up with an aching arm, but I had also just discovered that my cell phone had run out of battery!  Discretion definitely proved the better part of valour.  I let Lady follow loose behind over the snow covered summit.
  It was a long nine mile trudge to Gaff Topsail and no-one at home in the bleak cabins en route ...
 Gaff Topsail at last...
...but the station site is on the other side of the hill..
 Mont had lent me the keys to the family cabin there, and to say I was relieved to arrive is an understatement!..
After tethering the horses and drinking a couple of hot cups of tea in the dry I felt a lot more cheerful.
The following morning my arm was still aching and I still did not want to risk riding while out of cell contact, so I plodded on the 20kms to Kitty Brook..
Empty cabins there as well and it started to rain when we took a rest break, so by now I was feeling decidedly disconsolate.  But things started to look up when a couple from Howley out for a drive turned up in their truck. They not only knew somewhere to leave the ponies in Howley, but were able to take the pack saddle and bags so I could ride the steadier Lady and lead Albert.  And not much further down the track another truck appeared - Ruth Storey and Kevin Stacey from Cache Rapids Stables in Deer Lake where I was due to stay.  Once the horses were happily settled in a grassy paddock in Howley, Ruth scooped me up and took me back home - so instead of a miserable night feeling battered and bruised in a wet tent I had a welcome hot shower, supper and blissful sleep in a cosy bedroom.

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