Every RVers Worst Nightmare
We departed Port Aux Choix on July 4th. We were on our way fairly early as we had a long drive ahead of us. I thought the engine had been running a little rough and had some intermittent oil pressure warnings. I had called a GM dealer in St. Anthony, near our next stop to take the truck to them and have it checked out. I had checked locally but couldn’t find any place to have it checked in Port au Choix. We were part of the way there when the engine made a grinding noise. I lost all power and coasted to a stop on the shoulder of the road. I couldn’t restart it. We put out our warning triangles, tried to call, but found we had no cell service. It was every RVers worst nightmare!
It was in this situation that I found out how friendly and helpful Newfoundlanders are. A local guy pulled over and asked if we needed any help. When I told him we didn’t have any cellular service he offered to drive me “up the road a bit” to see if that would help. About one and a half miles later I got service. I called the GMC dealer in St. Anthony and asked if they had a towing service. They did and they said they could have one on the way in fifteen minutes, but it would take over two hours for them to get to me. When I offered to pay the guy that gave me the ride for his trouble, he waved me off and went on his way. Meanwhile, members of our caravan were stopping or calling us on the radio to see if we needed help. One of our fellow travelers was also pulling a fifth wheel and he agreed to take Pat with him to the campground, drop off his trailer and then return to take our trailer to the campground. They went on their way and I waited for the tow truck. While I was waiting everyone in our caravan checked in with me to make sure we were okay. Tom and Lisa, our “Tail Gunner” team pulled in and waited with me until the tow truck had loaded my truck. During this time there had to be at least a dozen Newfoundlanders that stopped to see if we needed help.
Exploring the Viking Trail at L’Anse au Meadows
By the end of the day, we had our truck at the dealer being diagnosed; our trailer was in the Viking RV Park. Now we drove into St. Anthony for the Great Viking Feast Celebration.
The feast or “Leifsburdir,” was held at Fishing Point in St. Anthony. The venue was a sod building, large enough to serve as a banquet hall. All of the staff dressed in Norse attire. The feast was a buffet of Jiggs Dinner (a boiled dinner of salt beef, turnip, cabbage, and carrots.), roast beef, and rolls. Coffee, tea, and water came with the meal, but a cash bar was available. We were served a blueberry crumble for desert. Personally, I thought the food was very good. The challenging part of the meal was there were no forks. The Norse people did not use them, only a knife and large spoon. Our host, a Viking chieftain, instructed us on traditional Norse customs and various crimes and punishments that would be adjudicated that evening. Though advertised as a dinner theater, it was more audience participation. Participants of the feast would come forward and accuse others of wrongdoing. The chieftain would hear from witnesses and poll the group as to the appropriate punishment. It was a fun evening, especially after such a stressful day.
The next day, we car pooled to the Norstead Village. This is a non-profit museum about the first Norse settlement in North America. You may have noticed that I have used the terms Norse and Viking. They are not the same. Norse people are people who live in or come from Scandinavia (Norway, Sweden, and Denmark). Viking is actually a verb meaning to explore, trade, or raid/pillage. The Vikings were seafarers. Norse people were generally tradesmen, farmers and herders. For example, if you were the oldest son of a blacksmith, you would train to be a blacksmith and inherit your father’s estate. If you weren’t the oldest, you would not inherit and probably go to sea to Viking as a member of a crew.
Leif Eriksson was the son of Erik the Red. He traveled from Greenland to discover North America some 500 years before Christopher Columbus. He established a settlement called Straumfiord – also known as Leif’s Camp – on a grassy terrace near present L’Anse aux Meadows. He used this as a base for exploration and trade in Newfoundland. This history was exciting for me because my great grandfather emigrated from Norway in the 1800s and the Wangen men have always been interested in our Norse heritage. Norstead has recreated that Viking base. It is both a village and port of trade. Norstead consists of a chieftain’s hall, church, and workshop with costumed staff who describe and demonstrate the daily life of this village. The main part of the village is a boat shed that holds the Snorri, a replica of a 54-foot Viking Knarr. In 1998 with a nine-man crew, the Snorri replicated Leif Ericksson’s journey from Greenland to Newfoundland. In addition to learning about life in the village and seeing the living conditions and trades being demonstrated, we were able to try our hand at throwing a hand axe. I had never done this before, but sunk the axe into the target five out of six throws. I must have some Viking blood in me after all!
From Norstead, we made the short walk to the Norseman Gallery Café for lunch. A statue of Leif Erikson was nearby.
After lunch, we drove to the L’Anse au Meadows Historic Site – Land of the Vikings. This is a National Park (Parks Canada). Here we viewed a movie that made the case that humans had migrated from Africa to Asia and Europe. From there further migration took place to the Western Hemisphere. When the Viking, led by Leif Erikson landed in Newfoundland and met the Mi’kmaq tribe, that completed the circle of civilization. We had never heard that theory before and, while I’m not sure we embrace it, it was thought provoking.
While we had seen a re-creation of the Viking base at Norstead, here we observed the actual site of the base and learned how it was discovered by a Norwegian team of Helge Ingstad and Anne Stine Ingstad. Parks Canada has built their own replica of the base and we learned more about the Vikings and their exploration of maritime Canada.
When we got back to the RV park, I had a call from the GMC dealer and was told they had ruled out some things, but were continuing to diagnose the problem and they should have more news the next day.
On Wednesday, July 6th, Two friends, Kevin and Cathy drove us into St. Anthony. We stopped at the dealer and I was told that they found the crankshaft was either cracked or completely broken and I needed a new engine. They told me they had found a 2015 engine with 111,000 miles on it and it could be there in 7 to 10 days. We discussed this and I asked them to get it ordered and get it done as soon as possible. I offered to pay for any expedited shipping. The four of us checked out a short trail and the lighthouse at Fishing Point. The dealer had a rental car for us and Pat and I picked up some groceries while Kevin and Cathy drove our bikes back to the RV park.
That night we had a nice campfire and I entertained the group. The next day we said good-bye to everyone and watched as the caravan departed the park. We definitely felt a bit lonely at that point.
The next several days were cold and rainy, so we didn’t do much except hibernate in our trailer. One day the weather cleared and we drove to the Parks Canada L’Anse au Meadows Historic Site and hiked the 2.2 km Birchy Nuddick Trail that circled the area and along the coast line. At one point in the trail, we entered an area called “Harry Youden’s Cove,” where we found a number of tiny gnome-like homes. We thought they were interesting and I wondered how hard it would be to build something like this myself.
The trail is very scenic and we stopped to eat lunch in some Adirondack chairs along the trail. It was a nice relaxing spot with great views.
On the way back to the campground we saw our first (and only) moose in Newfoundland.
The woman that owns the campground, Grace, was very nice and allowed us to stay in one spot while regular campers and RV caravans came and went. Another Fantasy RV caravan arrived in the park a week after ours departed. Apparently, they had already heard about our troubles and were sympathetic. The night before they left, I was able to play my guitar for a number of them who were sitting outside together. At least that was a nice break in the routine. Eventually we would wave goodbye to four different Fantasy RV caravans.
Our dealer, Woodward Motors, was expecting the new engine to arrive on Thursday or Friday. On Wednesday, July 13th, they put our truck on a ramp, lifted the cab off the chassis and removed the damaged engine. I contacted them on Friday and they didn’t have the engine yet. The service manager suggested that it might be the end of the following week before they could expect it. Not exactly the best news that I could have received.
On Saturday, Grace’s son, Cory, who was visiting from Alberta, invited me to go cod fishing with him and a couple of his uncles. I quickly agreed. They fixed me up with some boots and a heavy coat and we headed out into the bay. Cod fishing is definitely different. Because cod are bottom feeders they use a triple hook jigger. The hook is dropped over the side until it hits bottom, then raised about a foot off the bottom and you “jigger” the line, pulling it for a couple of feet and then releasing. When you feel a tug on the line you haul it, hand over hand, into the boat. That sounds easy until you factor in that the boat is rolling in four-foot waves and maintaining good footing is a significant challenge. We stayed out about an hour and our two boats caught about a dozen codfish. I offered to help clean the fish, but Cory’s uncles had their system and they cleaned those fish like an assembly line. I went home with enough cod for four servings and a smile on my face. Thanks Cory!
On July 12th, Pat and I drove into St Anthony to visit the Grenfell Museums. Dr. Wilfred Grenfell was sent by the Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen to improve the plight of coastal inhabitants and fishermen in Newfoundland in 1892. This was the beginning of a life-long mission for him. He began by recruiting two nurses and two doctors with a hospital ship and ultimately expanded it into a medical enterprise that included multiple “cottage hospitals” along the coastline of Newfoundland and Labrador, a small fleet of ships, an orphanage and boarding school, and scholarships for medical training. This evolved into the Labrador-Grenfell Regional Health Authority. The Curtis Memorial Hospital in St. Anthony is an example of his work. He was knighted by the King George V in 1927. The Corner Brook Campus of the Memorial University of Newfoundland was named after him in 1979.
I am just in awe of men and women like Dr. Grenfell, Milton Hershey, Clara Barton, and others who started with little and developed so much in service to others. People like them should be role models for all of us.
What a long, strange and lively trip that gave a great story.