Thanks to the kindness of strangers

Michael Johansen
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At first, I thought I'd run out of gas. The engine of my old Yamaha Bravo was rumbling over fine for an hour or so as I sped through the woods to my cabin on a clear, frigid day. But then, on the way back, it suddenly died with a guttural moan.

The fuel tank looked empty, so I refilled it from a spare can. I pulled the cord and the motor started with an easy roar. It drove the snowmobile for several more kilometres without trouble, but that didn't last. Fortunately, when it conked out a second time as night was falling, I happened to be near one of Happy Valley-Goose Bay's main streets.

A week later, it happened again, but I didn't get as far as my cabin. I was already in the woods when the engine sputtered out, but I was able to start it again and drive back towards town before it died for good beside a plowed road.

Bravos, like the smaller Ski-doo Elan, are much valued in Labrador. Their lightweight construction lets them travel over deep, soft snow and their simplicity of design allows for ease of repair on the rare occasion they actually break down. Since there is nothing on the market today that can match them for durability and versatility, even crotchety old machines like mine are hotly desired.

The Bravo's popularity has its drawbacks. They look easy to steal if someone has a basic knowledge of the snowmobile's workings. That's what almost happened to mine. Its problems did not stem from natural causes. Rather, it was sabotaged.

Prior to the first breakdown, I'd noticed that someone had been poking around the machine and had opened up the cowling, closing it improperly.

As I'd exercised some foresight (thanks to good advice from friends), I had already disabled the snowmobile in such a way as to make starting it laborious, time-consuming and noisy.

When I saw the signs of interference, I assumed the would-be thief had simply given up his attempted theft and gone away. I should have looked closer. Apparently, the man had not been happy with his failure and, to punish both me and my snowmobile, he decided to kick the motor.

As it turns out, I hadn't run out of gas; I'd run out of electricity. The failed thief had broken the spark plug cap, the spark plug and the ignition coil.

I replaced the damaged cap and plug after the first break-down, but I didn't discover the other malfunction until the second one happened.

Lucky for me, while there's obviously at least one bad-acting person in Labrador, there are many, many other good-acting ones.

Both times I was stranded, the engine barely had time to finish coughing out its final puffs of exhaust before a passing motorist stopped to render aid. Both times, they were complete strangers. Both times they made room for me and some of my gear in their vehicles and went out of their way to drive me where I needed to go. I never had to ask once.

That's Labrador.

This land can be incredibly dangerous, especially in winter when temperatures plunge below minus 40 C without the wind chill.

Even the well-prepared traveller can find himself or herself in deadly peril from one minute to the next.

Everyone knows this, and so everyone knows the need to stop and help if someone else, anyone else, shows any sign of needing aid. (Just try stopping on the side of the Trans-Labrador Highway for a bathroom break without being interrupted by someone offering to lend a hand, so to speak, if needed.)

That's what makes the sabotage of my Bravo such a sad thing. Whoever did it must have known the danger he was potentially putting me in. He must have known he could have left me stranded in peril for my life, far from help - and yet he did it anyway.

Fortunately, people like that are a very tiny minority here, and so I have no great fear of going back out.

Well, now the Bravo's got a new coil and I'm off to take it on a test run. Wish me luck!

Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador.


Organizations: Trans-Labrador Highway

Geographic location: Labrador, Happy Valley, Goose Bay

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