A Sunday drive to nowhere

Michael Johansen
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A four-wheeling joyrider and his erstwhile saviour say they’ve both learned their lessons and they’ll stay off the mudflats outside of North West River — especially when the tide’s about to come in.

It happens almost every year. Somebody sees the mudflats at low tide and decides his truck doesn’t need a road to drive on.

As long as he can keep his vehicle moving forward through the cloying mud, he’s all right, but the further he goes down the shore, the slower he’ll move. There, clay turns the mud into deep brown glue. As soon as he stops to turn around or because he just can’t go any further he finds he can’t go anywhere, forward or back.

And then the tide comes in.

The Bight between North West River and Sheshatshiu has wide shallow shores. Lake Melville doesn’t get big tides, but enough water floods in from the North Atlantic to drown the engine block of a pickup truck that’s stuck up to its axles in mud.

Usually when it happens it’s a one-off event. One truck gets mired and a local contractor trundles down the grassy shore on a front-end loader to pull the hapless driver loose. This summer, however, has been a time of records. A local man, with some friends riding along, raced out over the mudflats in a large Ford and managed to make it almost all the way to the firebreak — a distance of amost a kilometre — before finding that his four wheels were doing more spinning than gripping, shooting out high rooster-tails of muck instead of pushing the truck forward.

Once the tires could do nothing except spin fruitlessly, the driver and his passengers were left to slowly pick their way to town across the flats.

Act 2 began when the young driver called a friend for help without actually telling him where and how he got stuck. The friend found out soon enough, of course, but he gamefully did his best to help. He got his truck to the scene without too much trouble, but he had no real hope in pulling his friend out.

Almost immediately after leaving the relative firmness of the shore to venture out over an as-yet unsubmerged sandbar, he sunk to his own truck’s axles and lost all power to move himself, let alone his friend. They all then wandered back to town once again.

The two eventually managed to get both their pickups pulled out before the tide came all the way in. They managed to convince a heavy-equipment operator to risk a rescue attempt, but even then for a while the mud proved stronger than any towrope they had, breaking several before finally releasing the first captured vehicle back to dry land.

The second truck, which was closer to the shore, came out easily. All three vehicles drove back to the community on the grassy shoreline.

The impulse that sends people — young men, mostly — out over a place like the Lake Melville mudflats for no other reason than to see if they can do it is a curious one. All the possible drawbacks of doing it, the oil and gasoline that leaks into the water, the destruction that’s caused to delicate shoreline habitat, and even the expensive damage caused to the vehicles (some seawater must have gotten up the first truck’s tailpipe because by the time it got to town the engine was wheezing and thumping like a drunken asthmatic), mean little to them when compared to the fun they anticipate.

As misguided as such joyrides are, it’s difficult to condemn them outright since this impulse does spring from noble ground, from the spirit of adventure and exploration, from the need to try new things and go new places. Perhaps what’s needed is a better channel for that impulse — one that doesn’t involve pollution, destruction and auto repair.

If that’s too much to realize, maybe it’s better to hope that future joyriders will finally take a lesson from all those who failed before them and stay out of the Lake Melville mud.

Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador.

Geographic location: Lake Melville, North West River, North Atlantic Labrador

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