… is not for everyone, that’s for sure. We mentioned yesterday, strangely enough and by pure coincidence, the subject of road accidents along the highway and the subject of lorries driven carelessly cropped up in the conversation.
Now of course I have no evidence and make no suggestion that this lorry was being driven carelessly but this is what can happen when it all goes horribly wrong. You’ll notice the route sinueuse sign of course – the road is like this for about 15 kilometres – and this is suggestive
We’ve seen some pretty good stretches of the highway of course, but there are also some sections that are thoroughly dreadful. This section is about 40 miles of mud. When the weather is really dry, like today, it’s a pile of dust after dust after dust.
But I’ve been here in the wet winter weather too, and it’s nothing but a sea of mud up to the axles. You mustn’t stop moving forward because if you were to stop, you wouldn’t be able to set off again.
This is what you need to contend with up here.
But let’s go back to last night.
And it was bound to happen. After several nights of really good sleep I had a nuit blanche last night. Mind you, I must have gone to sleep at some time because I was off on my travels again. I was driving a bus with passengers and I needed to leave the bus urgently at a certain moment. However, one of the passengers, who bore a very strong resemblance to Didier from FC Pionsat St Hilaire was having an attack of catalepsy right at the top of the stairs and I couldn’t go past him.
But what with a howling wolf that started up at about midnight, followed by a searing attack of cramp in my leg that went on for hours, and then some other species of sub-arctic mammal trying to claw its way into the back of Strider to, presumably, cuddle up next to me in bed, all of that put paid to any idea that I had of having a decent comfortable sleep.
And it was cold too. All of Strider was iced up outside and inside (although not on the roof – there’s no condensation on there again so this insulation idea is working in spades).
I wasn’t uncomfortably cold like this but what was uncomfortable was that the little butane gas cylinders had frozen up. I had to roll one round and round in my hands for 20 minutes before it was warm enough to light up and I could have a very welcome coffee
The weather wasn’t very good at first though. Just to prove that hanging clouds are not a phenomenon unique to the Auvergne, here’s a fine example in Northern Quebec.
You can’t see anything very much and vehicles here don’t have rear fog lights and so you can’t tell that they are there until they come looming up out of the gloom like this one. But luckily it didn’t last too long and we could put our feet down.
I stopped for a really long while in Gagnon.
We’ve been here a few times before and so most of you will know that it’s a ghost town. There’s a huge iron ore mine up here and the purpose of the town was to house the workers. The mine was exhausted and so the people moved away and the houses dismantled.
There’s almost nothing (read on, MacDuff!) here now to remind you that at one time it was a thriving metropolis but it’s interesting to drive around some of the old abandoned streets even though the forest has reclaimed it all.
And this is one of the reasons why I bought Strider – so that we could go for a wander off around roads like this without any worries about what hire companies might have to say about it.
There’s only one thing more sad than an abandoned and deserted ghost town, and that’s an abandoned and deserted cemetery in an abandoned and deserted ghost town.
If you read anything that has ever been written about the town, you’ll note that every single author writes that the only remains in the town are the drops on the kerbs of the pavements in the main street, where the houses used to be, and the airstrip that we have all seen before.
But that’s because one person drove through here without stopping and without going for a good prowl around, and wrote down what he observed in a brief moment, and everyone else (many of whom haven’t even been to the place) who have written about the place have repeated his comments parrot-fashion.
There is not (to date) a single mention of the cemetery. It’s being totally ignored and as far as I can tell, I’m the first person ever to photograph it and write about it.
The cemetery is in two parts. There’s the actual cemetery proper, and then these graves, on the northern side of the cemetery.
Not one of these wooden crosses (there are one or two proper headstones in here) bears a name but interestingly, the angels on them seem to have at one time been coloured either blue or pink – perhaps to indicate male or female graves
There’s a panel with a series of grave plaques showing who is in here and when they died. It seems that the cemetery (and probably the town) was in operation between 1961 and 1982
Many of the people interred here have their given names listed as anonyme. This implies to me at least that these people are young children who have died before being christened – hence the unidentified crosses in what might be unconsecrated ground and also the blue and pink angels.
An exhausted and abandoned iron ore mine, I said. I’d had brief look at it before but with Strider, I could boldly go where no man has gone before for probably 30 years – good old Strider.
To give you an idea of scale, that little track right down there is wide enough for two vehicles to pass and we’ve driven all the way along from there, past the gigantic mine holes and the mile after mile of mine tailings to perch upon this rocky crag
Right down there in the distance (zoom lenses are good) is an abandoned Chevrolet pickup and a pile of industrial wheels and tyres, but there aren’t very many physical relics of the mine left.
The Chevrolet is more modern than that but I have included it in here to give you an idea of the scale of everything, because the site of the mine is immense. It covers quite a few square miles of ground.
You can’t see it clearly in this photo but there is a reason why the rock in the centre of this photo is important.
Before I came here, I wouldn’t have known a piece of iron ore from any other piece of rock but there is no mistaking this one. In the bright sunlight it was glistening and sparkling and was visible from quite a distance away.
In fact, the whole area was glistening and sparkling where the crushed stone had released grains of iron. It didn’t occur to me at the time to pass over here with a magnet and to see what might happen.
While you admire (if that is the right word to use) the only real vestige that remains of the giant mine workings that were here, let me just conclude my story of the iron ore mine by saying that it’s just nothing but a huge environmental disaster.
The rape of the countryside here has been encouraged by the Canadian Government due to it being “out of sight, out of mind”. No-one (except intrepid, adventurous … "and self-effacing" – ed … explorers and so most people are totally unaware of what is happening in the darkest depths of their country.
There’s been no attempt been made to clean up the site and restore it to its previous condition. It’s been left as a huge open wound – a symbol of man’s greed. I shudder to think what might happen up in the high Arctic, which is even more inaccessible to people like me.
If the Canadian Government can’t make the big companies clean up their act here, then there is no hope at all for the High Arctic, is there? It’s shameful.
And it’s not just that either.
Look at those graves. These are, presumably, children. But they have no names, no plaques, no nothing. But they do have parents. Why don’t the parents look after their babies, long-dead though they might be? The cemetery is abandoned too and so are its inmates.
People are even prepared to forget their “loved” ones and leave them lying cold and stiff in this inhospitable environment as they move on elsewhere in the search for material wealth.
This just sums up modern Canada if you ask me. They should all be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.
Leaving behind yet another really good rant, we head off to Lake Manicouagan and our lunch stop.
This is a beautiful place to stop and the view is really astonishing, but I didn’t have much time to enjoy it. I was eating my lunch and reading a good book and the next thing that I remember, it was 14:41.
Yes, crashed out again, and it’s hardly surprising seeing what a night that I had had last night.
I went on down the road to the Refuge des Prospecteurs after my little doze.
This is the nearest thing that you will find out here to a holiday camp. There are chalets (this is a photo of just part of it) and activities going on here. Walking trails, sailing, fishing and all that kind of thing. I reckon that it must be a great place to come and spend a relaxing week and I shall be looking to check it out some time or other.
I’m more interested in the lake, though. Lake Manicouagan is an artificial lake formed by the barrage of the hydro-electric dam at Manic 5. It’s a circular lake with several big islands in the centre, some of which are nature reserves and strictly out of bounds to visitors.
What is really interesting is that the depression that is now the lake is said to be a crater formed by the impact many thousands of years ago of a meteorite, and that must have been something really impressive. It makes me wonder about all of the iron ore around here – is this part of the fall-out from the meteorite?
Back on the road again in the beautiful weather and the lovely autumn colours, and the roadworks are still continuing.
They are currently demolishing an overhanging rock using a hydraulic breaker, and as I drove past, a huge lump fell off it and bounced across the road right in front of me. I almost ended up with a new vehicle out of this.
I stopped at Vallant for another coffee. This was formerly a ghost town but has dramatically sprung back to life just recently. Two years ago in fact, according to the woman who served me. Everything was abandoned but the fuel station is back up and working, so is the cafe and shop, and there are these residential trailers everywhere.
There are a few major construction projects going on in the vicinity and even though it’s not exactly central, Vallant seemed to be the best place to create a workers’ village seeing as all of the infrastructure was already in place
As the evening wore on, I arrived in Baie Comeau and my journey around the wilderness is finished. As is customary, I found a motel here (but not the one I always used to use – we had a disagreement) and while it’s basic, so is the price. But I need a good wash, a shower, a change of clothes and to sort out everything – and for all of that I need the space.
In 2 weeks time I’ll be going home. I’m amazed how quickly time has gone, and I’m rather sad about that. But apart from my night at North-West River (and that was for special circumstances), I’ve fulfilled my ambition of spending every night on the Trans-Labrador Highway sleeping out in the wilderness. It wasn’t too difficult either, although insulation and a ply lining on the truck cap would have helped and a small electric heater of some kind would have been luxury – I’m sure that I could invent something out of s100 watts of halogen light bulbs.
In fact, I’ll do it again too, but I do need to sort out the truck cap.