Hopefully the first two parts were interesting enough that I don’t need a catchy intro here. (In the interest of full disclosure, I might actually be struggling to think of a catchy intro.) Anyways……
Sunday, September 10th
Ahhhhh…..what a day. This was my first “zero mile” day of the loop. I was really needing it too. I logged quite a few tough miles in the preceding 10 days.
Though I’d known them less than 24 hours, Bev and Gord just seemed like old friends. They were so interesting, easy to talk to and they kept filling me with good food.
I got quite a bit of digital work done early in the day.
While I worked, an important sporting event came on. You know which one right? No? You mean to tell me that you missed the final of Grand Slam of Curling Tour Challenge Final?
I’ve actually curled before. Proof:
It is ridiculously enjoyable.
The people Newfoundland and Labrador were very interested in this match. The four members of the team all have ties to the province.
The skip (like a captain, throws the final stone) Brad Gushue, is from St. John’s which is the largest city on the island of Newfoundland.
The third/vice-skip, Mark Nichols, is from Labrador City. These two were part of Canada’s Olympic Gold Medal team in 2006. Mark Nichols has a highway, a recreation area and probably some other things named after him in the Labrador West area.
Gord curled for 20 years with the same team. It was fun to hear his insight as we watched.
Bev took me on a tour of Wabush and Labrador while Gord umpired a softball game. It was then that I realized that I was riding with a celebrity:
Bev has been instrumental in organizing the women’s softball league, which involves an impressive number of women in the community. She felt honored: “Especially since you usually have to die before you get something named after you.” 🙂
The bag for my tent had developed a bit of a tear. These can easily spread if not addressed.
I asked Bev if she had any needle and thread for me to use. That was not going to happen….
I can’t say it was as good as new, that would be untrue, because she also reinforced some of the other seams. It was better than new!
I met a good number of Labradorians on this day and told them my plans. Almost unanimously, they had a less than favorable opinion of Schefferville. Though I think I only met one who had actually been there.
With one guy I joked, “You mean you don’t get many visitors from Nebraska who are heading to Schefferville through here?”
He responded jokingly, “Oh yeah, lots. They just never come back.”
I heard a number of comments like this, mostly said in jest. But these sorts of statements usually have some connection to reality, or at least a perceived reality.
I believe some of this is due to the disconnect between White Culture and Native Culture. (I know those are maybe not the perfect terms to use, but bear with me.) I am terribly equipped to offer any kind of insight or opinions on these sorts of things, but I don’t think I can accurately report on Schefferville without acknowledging that a rift exists between these world views.
Schefferville is now mostly a First Nations (Canada’s word for their indigenous peoples) inhabited community. I think that is the main reason why white people in the area would feel some trepidation about visiting there. I wouldn’t call it racism (surely we can all agree that this word gets thrown around too casually these days), but rather a cultural divergence.
Ok….how did I do? Those paragraphs took a lot of time. I hope I was able to be both honest and sensitive.
Monday, September 11th
Schefferville day! Let’s do this!
I awoke with a sense of nervous excitement. Also with a somber spirit, remembering the events that had transpired 16 years earlier.
I had overlooked an important detail in my planning: The train does not come through Labrador City. I’m not sure how I missed this, as it is clearly listed on the website. I would need to catch it at a place called Emeril Junction, about 45 minutes east of town. As if Bev and Gord hadn’t done enough already, they gladly agreed to take me there and pick me up.
Additionally, they had a friend named Ross who works for the railroad. Normally, it is kind of a guessing game as to when the train will arrive. Though it leaves Sept-Iles at 8am, it’s stops are highly irregular. Ross was able to pull up the exact location and speed of the train, as well as forsee any delays. The train was running well this day, scheduled to be in Emeril Junction around 5pm (I’ll be speaking in Quebec time throughout this post).
Gord and Bev’s daughter, Kim, joined us for a great lunch. In a funny way it almost felt like a “last supper” before I was to head off to a most unfamiliar place.
Gord let me borrow this wonderful, huge backpack for my trek.
I was packing a lot, considering I would be in Schefferville for less than 12 hours. I needed my tripod for pictures, of course. In lieu of Annie being able to make the trek, I unmounted her windshield/nametag and also brought Sonic along for the ride. For “lodging”, I brought my camping hammock. This has been one of the most superfluous items I have lugged across the continent so far, but I thought it may have a chance to shine in Schefferville. My tent was just too big to take. My hosts also packed a nice luch/supper for me to take along.
See you later Annie!
I began to get more nervous as we made our way towards Emeril Junction. What the heck was I doing? The sight of the “train station” at Emeril made me laugh. I actually neglected to get a picture of it, but I found this one online.
Also waiting for the train were a Native couple (I’m going to be using this word in the post, just for brevity) and a trio of Newfoundlanders. They were heading to do some work at the Menihek dam, one of the last stops on the line before reaching Schefferville. I’ll post the map of the train route below. Emeril, where I was boarding, is just north of Ross Bay Junction.
All three of them had been to Schefferville before and they offered some valuable advice, both while waiting for the train and during the ride. It was fitting for me to receive their help, as I was reminded of the events that had taken place 16 years earlier.
Many Atlantic flights were rerouted to Newfoundland after the 9/11 attacks. The people of this province demonstrated immense hospitality in caring for the passengers who were, in a sense, stranded on their island. HERE is a good article about the events of that day. I guess we Americans are just a needy bunch. 🙂
Around 4:15pm, the train came into sight. This was earlier than normal. It sometimes arrives up to three hours later. It would take approximately four hours to get to Schefferville. I would not be there in daylight, but at least it wouldn’t be the middle of the night when I arrived. Once again, things seemed to be lining up well for me.
Here was my last chance to turn back. Maybe I should just go to Schaefferville, Illinois and call that close enough? One vowel shouldn’t make that much of a difference, right? No….this was happening!
The train was short, having 2 locomotives, 4 freight cars and 4 passenger cars (the lead passenger car was a diner car). Emeril Junction marks a transition for this rail line. At that this point it changes from being owned and operated by QNS&L (Qubec North Shore and Labrador) to being owned and operated by Tshiuetin Rail Transportation (TRT). The TRT is the only rail line in Canada owned and operated by First Nations peoples. At Emeril, the crew all of whom make the full journey, also changes. It truly is an odd arrangment.
I had hoped that the Native workers on board would be good English speakers, but that was not the case. One of them (I’m going to call him “My Buddy” since I have no clue what his name was) spoke a little more English and was friendly and helpful.
As the train started moving, I was given my ticket and instructed to go pay my fare ($42 CAD) in the diner car. The ticket also lists all of the potential stops along the way. None of them are towns, per se, but just areas. It is not uncommon for the train to be flagged down in the middle of nowhere to have additional passengers board. According to my GPS, the cruising speed was usually 72 km/hr. (around 45 mph).
I enjoyed the scenery. It is really marshy/forested country, which explains why there is no road that leads to Schefferville. Taking pictures out of a train is always a crap shoot, but a few turned out alright.
Most of the passengers appeared to be of Native origin, but not all of them. It was an eclectic mix of people. I got quite a bit of writing done as we rolled along. It was nice to be able to travel and document at the same time!
The only annoying part is that Sonic did not want to stay in his seat. He kept trying to feel the wind in his quills. I probably should have left him at home.
Gradually, the sun set to our left.
My Newfoundland friends disembarked at Menihek and wished me well. Soon I could see the lights of Schefferville and we slowly chugged into town. I spoke with My Buddy before I got off, verifying the time I needed to be back in the morning (7:15am). If I missed this train it would be four days before my next opportunity to leave. I also checked my phone against his watch to verify I had the correct time zone.
I stepped out into the unknown:
So I have been to Schefferville, man! But I still need to survive the night and get some good pictures. There’s a lot left to this story. 🙂 Tune in next time to witness what is surely the oddest accommodations of my trip.
Part 4 is up HERE
Realtime update: I pulled a picnic table over close to one of the windows of the Hank Snow museum in Liverpool, Nova Scotia. From here I have a good wifi signal. They gave me the password yesterday and are letting me camp on their grounds. More wonderful hospitality!