Sunday, July 31, 2011

Churchill Falls

Had a bit of trouble leaving Goose Bay. The bike started surging oddly, and my first thought was to check the chain to see if I'd broken yet another one, but it was fine. The second time I stopped to check the bike, I noticed that one of the engine mounts had rattled loose, so I doubled back to town to get a replacement bolt. After some shoddy mechanical work in the parking lot of an Ace Hardware store (which, it should be noted, had neither metric fasteners nor a 9/16" wrench) I was back on the road. I needed to see Muskrat Falls, and by the time I was done there, I decided to just camp nearby at a nice spot overlooking a lake.

Yesterday I stopped again at Gull Island, which was accessible only via a long dirt road, where I dropped the bike in a series of deep ruts, then more gravel road to Churchill Falls.

Churchill Falls is a weird place-- suburbia recreated in the wilderness. I'm sitting in the town's only restaurant, which shares a building with the town's hotel, supermarket, library, post office and school. They tell me there is also a curling rink and a theater in here.

Every building in the town, with the exception of the pub, convenience store, and gas station, are owned by Nalcor, the company that runs the electrical generating station here, powered by what used to be the town's namesake waterfall. The river has been diverted into a huge series of tubes that run 91 stories down into a granite mountain, where the water turns 11 turbines that work like the alternator in a car to generate electricity for Quebec, Nova Scotia, and the Eastern United States.

I spent yesterday evening at the pub,which was filled with workers from the road crews. They're a rough bunch, coming from other parts of the province to spend four months on, two months off blasting rock and resurfacing the highway, and they live in a camp outside of town.

Craig, a quiet fellow with a glass eye, who sat in the corner nursing a Jack and Coke, told me starting pay on the road was $85,000. With nothing to spend their money on, they come into town to get plastered. Christa, one of the bartenders, was fending off the advances of a particularly persistent young road worker, which I gathered was a nightly occurrence. Craig shared my view that Churchill Falls gave off a weird vibe, but Jessica, the other bartender, grew up here and loves it. Her graduating high school class had 17 people in it, in a school of 130 students total. She said she'll be sad to leave in a few years, when her father retires. Once you stop working for Nalcor, you have to go.

I spent the night down at the beach, which was nice, but I didn't zip the tent all the way closed, and there were so many mosquitoes inside when I woke up that it was like a horror movie.

The Innu guys I was talking to in Sheshatsiu were talking about a shortcut you could take to James Bay in Northern Quebec from here. I was intrigued, until I found out what they meant. Just west of Churchill, there's a dirt road leading to a train station in Esker, which is how they brought the huge transformers to the power station before the highway went through to Lab City. The shortcut is taking the Esker Road, then riding the active railway tracks north. It's still a little tempting, but I'm going to stick to the road.

Okay, looks like the weather is clearing up nicely. Time to hit the road for Lab City and parts unknown.

Ever forward.

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