West Coast Trip Part V: Deer Lake to Stephenville
Our travels up to this point had been in near perfect conditions. Temperatures in the mid-20’s, mostly clear skies with a slight shower here and there. But this is Newfoundland after all, and the weather changes quickly and unpredictably.
The morning of August 7 was grey and cool. Our plan for the day was only to ride the 130km from Deer Lake to Stephenville, so we had plenty of time to pass away. We spent the morning at the Newfoundland Insectarium in Deer Lake. It was amazing. They have the largest butterfly garden in Eastern North America; a greenhouse-like building kept at a tropical temperature where butterflies from Costa Rica and the Philippines flutter around and even land on you. It was pure magic.
The rest of the building houses a multitude of insects, arthropods and spiders, and even a glass beehive where you can learn about the intricacies of bee social hierarchy, which is actually incredibly fascinating (sort of like an invertebrate version of Downton Abbey). Kudos to the young staff members who really know their stuff, and love to educate visitors.
As we were leaving the Insectarium, we noticed a group of bikers in the lobby. Motorcyclists are always drawn to each other, and after exchanging pleasantries Mark was asked if he had a 7/16″ wrench. One of the women was on a Sportster that was broken down in the parking lot. Of course we were eager to help, especially since these folks were a long way from home (Nova Scotia, if memory serves) with no Harley dealership in the area. Between the jigs and the reels the bike started up, and though we’re still not quite sure of the problem (insert Harley joke here) it seemed to be some sort of electrical gremlin. They went on their merry way, and so did we.
We hit the TCH bound for Stephenville, and the closer we got to our destination the blacker the sky became. And I mean BLACK. I knew it was just a matter of time until we started hearing thunder. Now, we’re not used to electrical storms in St. John’s. We might get a scattered lightning bolt and clap of distant thunder, but it’s nowhere near the storms experienced in the rest of the country. I had never, ever been in the situation where I found myself on a motorcycle during thunder and lightning. When the thunder started rolling and the lightning lit up the sky to the right of the highway I was at first petrified, but then I convinced myself that as long as I was on the bike I was insulated by the tires. I actually began to enjoy the thrill of the boom and the flash! Of course I’ve since learned that riding through an electrical storm is incredibly stupid as motorcycle tires do NOT insulate you at all. “He who knows nothing fears nothing”. Then the rain started.
As we exited the highway for Stephenville we felt the first few big drops of rain, so we pulled off the road and hurriedly threw on our rain gear. Shortly after we got moving again those big drops had turned to sheets, and we were forced to slow our pace dramatically. The rain was coming down so fast that it was building up on the road and hydroplaning was a real possibility. I was so relieved when we finally saw the signs that we were approaching Stephenville and we could get off the road.
Normally on approaching a larger town such as Stephenville, the first thing you see is a gas station. I looked forward to parking the bike under a shelter, and enjoying a cup of coffee while waiting for the rain to let up. Stephenville however, is a little different. As we entered the town there was no gas station in sight, but through our rain-clouded visors we saw a large building with an awning. There was a van parked under the awning but we managed to squeeze the bikes between it and the steps. Happy to be out of the rain, we sized up where we were and saw a sign reading “Acadian Village Retirement Home”. Though we probably would have been offered a cup of tea and a Jam Jam* if any of the residents had discovered us outside, we decided to scoot over to the hospital across the street where the massive awning over the Emergency entrance offered great shelter from the torrential rain.
We ventured inside the hospital, thinking that there would be a cafe like at the Health Sciences. No such luck. We asked the switchboard operator for directions to Tim Hortons, as the rain was letting up and we were getting chilly. She admitted that she was unable to give directions unless she was outside and could point to where she was talking about (?) and so the three of us went back outside where she commenced to educate us on the lay-out of Stephenville. She was so animated that I wasn’t sure if she was telling us how to get to Tim Horton’s or directing traffic at Prescott and Duckworth**. As luck would have it, shortly after that performance an older gentleman was leaving the hospital and said that he was going that way if we wanted to follow him.
Stephenville was settled in the mid-1800’s and remained a faming/fishing village until the American military arrived in the early 1940’s. With the establishment of an Air Force base, the town boomed economically and was completely modernized. This is why Stephenville doesn’t have the typical small-town Newfoundland feel, and parts of it closely resemble Pleasantville (another American base) in St. John’s.
The rain stopped just as we pulled into Zenzville campground in Kippens. We hung our wet riding gear all over the camper, hoping that it would be dry for our ride around the Port Au Port Peninsula the next day. I promise that I will have many more pictures from that ride!
*Jam Jam: A soft, jam-filled biscuit made by Purity Factories in St. John’s.
**Prescott and Duckworth: A busy intersection in downtown St. John’s. Due to the steepness of Prescott Street, a police officer (sometimes the author’s father) directed traffic so that trucks and buses would not have to stop on the hill. The traffic cop was a famous fixture of the downtown until the 1990’s.
Posted on December 29, 2014, in Roads of Newfoundland and tagged adv, bad weather riding, deer lake, insectarium, motorcyle touring, newfoundland travel, stephenville, thunder and lightning, tropical butterflies. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.