St Lawrence River - aboard the Bella Desgagnés

As I begin this post it is about 930pm and at 10pm the Bella Desgagnés will depart Rimouski Quebec, beginning her approximately 700 mile weekly outbound journey along the northern coast of the St Lawrence River (though at this point one can hardly see even the mountains across to the other shore so “River” is only correct in some technical sense).

This ship’s mission is primarily to serve the cargo needs for many little remote villages that have no roads and so have no access to supplies other than by water. Each week when she arrives is when they get their fresh vegetables, lumber, electronics, and everything one might imagine at a Home Depot and grocery’s store wrapped up into one. They also take passengers to and from these small towns so there are cabins and airplane style seats available. (Those seats actually look pretty comfortable. Larger than a first class seat on a plane and walking distance between rows. I booked a cabin since at this time of year I won’t have to share it, they don’t waste beds when they get full.)

Stock photo, not mine. Will take some before I am done

It is Monday night. I booked this passage last Friday afternoon after I convinced myself that the weather forecasts for clear skies would last a few days into this week. This is the only reservation I’ve made for what should be about 4 weeks traveling up into Labrador, then Newfoundland, then Nova Scotia and eventually back south to Maine. This time of year, late April to early May, one doesn’t really need reservations for any of the ferries required for that trip.

Somewhere on deck inside a container is my car, which I will need to get around Labrador and Newfoundland. It was hoisted onto the ship via a massive ship borne crane. However, I missed the operation of driving my car into a container and lifting it up into the ship. We were getting our safety presentation then. In French. But it’s no longer at the side of the ship on the pier so I trust it’s on board. The whole boarding operation was a study in how things are done elsewhere than in the litigation prone US. We walked under and through the areas where the containers were being lifted on board.

Forget about those orange cones, to board the ship we walked right under where that container is hovering, albeit the container wasnt there at the time.

The drive up to Rimouski was also about 700 miles, making my outbound trip half driving and half ship. I was in no hurry and so managed to worm an invitation for dinner Saturday night out of my generous cousins in Plymouth NH, thanks Paul, Gigi and Chris. After staying overnight there I drove North through the White Mountains and crossed over into Canada at the Vermont/Quebec border. 

When I left home my flowering bushes and trees were in bloom, dogwoods were coming out, trees had leaves and some of my perennial garden was in Spring flower such as the creeping flox and wild strawberries. Lupine were starting to emerge. By the time I got to Vermont the trees were in only their first blush of iridescent lime green. After I passed through the White Mountains’ Franconia Notch I was back in late winter. When I arrived in Rimouski, well north of Quebec City, this was real winter still. Last night gale force winds blew from the west. They aren’t supposed to let up for a few days. However that west northwest wind comes with clear skies. I am looking for blue skies, if maybe just a little lumpy seas. Maybe a lot lumpy. When I arrive in Blanc-Sablon at the Labrador border on Friday I will be above the 51st Parallel and expect to see harbors still filled with ice (though this 40 knot West wind may have cleared them by then).


I have the car tricked out with a mattress in back so I can sleep there. I suspect that most places to stay and even to camp will be closed for the season still. So I want to be able to just stop and sleep if need be. I can’t count on anything being open. 

Now sleeping in the back of a Jeep isn’t actually something I have done much of. In fact, with my knees and hip and so on, this is not an easy thing for me to navigate. Frankly just getting in and out is an action for which I needed to develop a strategy. And add a few props. So of course, I’ve been practicing.  

For the past few weeks I have been sleeping off and on in the back of my car while parked in my driveway at home. At this point I think I have it down and have worked out a comfortable system. I didn’t want the first time I did this to be at the end of some remote road in Labrador overlooking an ice choked beach.  

And one big advantage of sleeping in your car is that you cannot bring that much stuff. The back area is for sleeping, not gear.  

That basket contains the sum total of my camping gear. This is not meant to offer a traditional campground experience. But I can boil water and cook basic stuff.

Crossing into Canada meant explaining to the border guard exactly what this trip was about. She finally asked, so you’re not going anywhere in particular, you have no destination? Correct. That seemed be be okay because she then moved on. Her final question then was whether I had any weapons. I picked up and proudly showed her the machete next to my front seat. She waved me on through.

As to why I have a machete, it’s an emotional support weapon. It’s a parang style machete designed for the dense forests of Malaysia. But where I am going just two weeks ago there were polar bear sightings. While they probably have moved north by now it seemed like maybe I should have something to wave about just in case. Now of course a machete is sort of a joke in terms of polar bear defense. But maybe the bear will just think it’s funny enough to simply pass me by.