It’s a funny thing about people from St. John’s. Not only do a lot of them think that Gander is miles closer to St. John’s than
St. John’s is to Gander (as, for example, when relatives wonder why you can’t drive in on short notice, like half an hour maybe, as opposed to them making the supreme sacrifice and venturing out into unexplored territory), they are under the mistaken impression that just because we live here in what they seem to regard as the untamed wilderness of central Newfoundland, we subsist solely on a diet of wild game and spend most of our spare time running around in the woods like Grizzly Adams or the Mad Trapper of Rat River.
So it was that when my brother-in-law (for the sake of this article, we’ll call him … Jim) came to visit recently, the first thing he wanted to do was to go catch some fish.
So, naturally, the pressure was on me to escort him and his extensive collection of fish-related paraphernalia to the nearest body of water guaranteed to produce trophy-sized trout with a minimum of pain and suffering — for us, of course, not the fish.
After arranging the requisite second mortgage, we filled up his Ford Explorer at the pumps and picked up a tub of worms, but only because we were too lazy to dig our own.
A few minutes later we were speeding up a nearby woods road, leaving a rooster tail of dust suspended in our wake.
Surely, I thought, in this vast expanse of gravel pits, torched pickups (?!!) and cutovers, we were bound to run across a pond or brook of some sort which would justify the cost of the trip (living off the land isn’t as cheap as it used to be back in Davy Crockett’s day) and produce sufficient numbers of at least pan-sized trout to dispel any lingering doubts regarding my abilities as a woodsman.
But first we needed to find somewhere, anywhere, to wet our lines.
Water, water everywhere?
Anyone flying across the island of Newfoundland is immediately struck by the incalculable quantity of water with which virtually every depression worthy of the name is filled to overflowing.
Inexplicably, however, it’s a different matter altogether at ground level. Suddenly, all those promising looking valleys off in the distance turn out to be as dry and barren as the Gobi Desert, with not enough water to drown even one small red wriggler (“the Cadillac of worms”), let alone that humongous nightcrawler who appeared to be the sole survivor out of the dozen or so we had purchased for $4.50 not 45 minutes earlier.
I remember hearing once that wherever the lay of the land permits, forest access roads such as the one we were bumping and banging along are built on eskers, long ridges of gravel left behind by the retreating glaciers which provide a ready-made foundation for cost-conscious engineers.
Consequently, they usually bypass the sort of low-lying areas where water tends to accumulate, which meant that unless we made it back to the supermarket before closing time our chances of having fresh trout for breakfast were growing more remote with every passing kilometre. Apparently we had left all the ponds behind on the Trans Canada, which, in hindsight, is where we should have stayed.
It was somewhere around the
18-kilometre mark that we finally discovered a small stream (perhaps “rivulet” would have been a more accurate description) which looked marginally promising, insofar as there were several pools of water large enough to accommodate our communal worm.
We might even have hooked a few brook trout (stranger things have happened) if it hadn’t been for the hovering clouds of overjoyed black flies that quickly sent us scrambling back to the truck, with arms and rubbers and fishing rods flying and flapping in all directions.
Which was when we noticed the flat tire. Which was when I could tell from the look on Jim’s face that this wasn’t the only bit of bad news he had to impart. Which was soon confirmed when I inquired as to the location and condition of the spare tire.
Now, we are all familiar with the archetypical Newfoundlander of legend and lore who can handle almost any kind of calamity with a degree of ingenuity and equanimity which even MacGyver himself would be hard pressed to match.
Unfortunately, Jim isn’t one of them. Neither am I.
Consequently, there was no rummaging through toolboxes for a few everyday items which, along with a Swiss Army knife, three toothpicks, a package of gum and a roll of duct tape we could utilize to plug both tires, build a simple compressor, improvise a static balancing machine, set up a small retort to melt some sinkers for the tire weights and ultimately get us all back to civilization in one piece without even working up a sweat.
In reality, we didn’t even know how to get the spare tire out from under the chassis, which seems like a strange place to stick a spare tire if you ask me. I mean, who designs these things in the first place. No wonder Detroit is in such big trouble these days.
But I digress. The general consensus was that we were doomed — screwed, basically — and that unless someone came along and rescued us, we were going to perish on the side of the trail, like the Donner Party trapped in the Sierra Nevada.
After further considering our options, however, we agreed that sitting there waiting to die was counterproductive. We would go down fighting, like men — and woman.
So off we headed, back towards the Gander Bay Road, some 18 kilometres distant.
Whump, whump, whump.
Actually, this isn’t so bad, one of us said, after half a kilometre of relatively smooth progress.
Whump, whump, clang.
Oops! Spoke too soon.
Two kilometres down, only 16 more to go.
Whump, whump, clang, clatter, clonk. Whump, whump, clang, clatter, clonk.
This is not sounding good.
Whump, whump, clang, clatter, clonk. Whump, whump, clang, clatter, clonk, squeal, thump, bang, whap, crack.
Uh oh! She’s getting worse.
We ain’t gonna make it!
And so it went, on and on for another 15 gruelling, grinding kilometres as the shredded tire slammed and slapped against the wheel well and the alloy rim dug deeper and deeper into the dirt road.
It looked like it was going to be a long haul out to the pavement. Which is exactly what it turned out to be. In spades. But eventually, as I’m sure you’ve probably gathered by now, we did make it out, bloodied but unbowed.
As for any lessons to be learned from this fishy fiasco, there are two which stand out in my mind.
Lesson No. 1: Never go anywhere without a spare tire.
Lesson No. 2: Never go anywhere with my brother-in-law. (Unless he first recites Lesson No. 1 by heart.)
Tony Collins lives and writes in Gander.
He can be reached by email
His column returns Aug. 3.