Saturday, 12 February 2011

On e-travel and related matters

As some of my readers may know, I have a certain dislike of cellphones. Indeed, I can get ratty (to use a Mark-ism) when people go on about their cellphones ad nauseum. Until a month ago, all the cellphones I owned (all two of them) were minimalist second-hand jobs acquired from relatives.

That changed about a month ago when I got an iPhone 3GS. I had initially thought of getting a notebook computer, but then realised that by getting an iPhone I could combine the computer function with the cellphone function and get a lite-GPS into the bargain at a lighter weight. (I would also get a camera, but that would be a secondary consideration as cellphones are lousy cameras.)

What you can do with an iPhone boggles the imagination. What you can't do, does the same. In essence, Apple, for some reason, doesn't want you to manage files on your iPhone, but instead want you to use iTunes on your computer to do so in a remarkably convoluted way. It is quite annoying, really, that such a user-friendly device is quite so user-unfriendly. I am tempted to dub her the "Divanita" for her prima donna like qualities in diminutive package.

However, my iPhone is addictive and quite useful all the same. A case in point is how I used her last week.

I had accumulated enough Air Miles (largely from shopping for groceries at IGA) to earn myself a low season ticket to
Gander. The trip had a number of purposes. The primary one was to see my sister Alice and her husband Mark. Another was to see Newfoundland in winter. In addition, I was hoping to make a few notes about biking logistics for my proposed AMUAM JuNITO part V project this summer. (Deer Lake to St-John's).

Anyway, I went the e-boarding pass route, using the Divanita. In addition to that, she proved useful in plane travel as not only could I inform
Alice of my progress, I could also play Angry Birds on the iPhone while waiting for my connection in Halifax.

Gander and it's inhabitants suffer from the fact that it was laid out with cars rather than people in mind. In fact the original site of Gander was abandoned in the fifties or so, because of the airport. This is not as bad as it sounds as the town was largely built because of the airport. There is no real downtown core and related atmosphere. In addition, it is, in my limited opinion, too large to be intimate and too small to be diverse.

Alice and Mark aren't wild about Gander either. Case in point, they very much miss the vibrant community of Norris Point. In fact, the day I arrived, Alice and I drove to Norris Point for not one but two parties.

Both parties combined elements of what you would and wouldn't expect in community parties in
Newfoundland. The first party was a celebration of the Chinese Lunar New Year. It seems that there is a certain number of children in Rocky Harbour were adopted from China. In their honour and as an excuse to have a shindig, their parents organized it. Much of the population was there, or so it seemed. There is a passage from the Great Big Sea song "Up" that goes "So, pile your boots up in the corner/Hang your jacket from the door/There's thirty people in the kitchen/And there's always room for more." The fact that I was a near total stranger, didn't seem to phase people.

The second party was a shed party (and in a real
Newfoundland shed at that) that featured beer-tasting of beers from around the world. The first was from Cameroon! Unfortunately, one of the beers I brought from here was off. A pity, as it has been good in the past.

The drive to Norris Point was fun as I saw a trio of caribou by the side of the Trans-Canada Highway near a water course called "Crooked Feeder". There is something very odd in the way they move their rumps as they jog away from you. Sort of like they were wearing diapers. It was the first time I had seen caribou in the wild. Alice was surprised to see them there as it didn't fit her mental picture about where they hang out in Newfoundland in winter. Later, someone who seemed very knowledgeable said there was a herd that tended to hang out about there in February. In addition,
we had to stop for a moose shortly after entering Gros Morne Park.

Alice and I stayed with Gary and Sheldon. On Sunday, we went skiing with them and Sue (of Bob and Sue's Gros Morne Adventures) on some immaculately groomed trails near the visitor's centre of Gros Morne National Park. Alas, it was a bit too tame for my liking, and as snow was falling, we didn't have much of a view. Much more fun was returning to Gary and Sheldon for a lunch of sandwiches made from the genuine Schwartz's smoked meat I had brought.

Alice's original plan had been to drive back to Gander on Sunday, but as the snow was falling heavily enough to make driving conditions marginal, she wisely opted to delay our return. I left the decision with her as it made little difference to me where I spent the night.

I made pizza that night, largely from memory, I might add. And darn good pizzas they were too!

Driving back to
Gander, I observed that significant portions of the road would have been very demanding the previous night. I pointed this out to Alice along with the observation that she had made the right decision about driving. Of course, about an hour later, I made a very wrong decision.

I was driving out of Badger when
Alice observed that I was driving a little too fast and then watch out for the huge chunk of frozen slush that had fallen off a truck. I had been driving for a little too long, I was going a little too fast and I was a bit distracted by negotiating the bridge. I hit the chunk with Alice's car. It broke the right hand end of the front bumper and cracked the windshield wiper fluid tank contained therein. In addition, as the front right wheel surround was attached to the bumper, that came adrift. As far as I could tell, there wasn't any damage to the actual wheel. Alice wasn't so sure and we tried unsuccessfully to find a mechanic in Badger who could tell us definitively. Eventually, we decided the car would make it to Gander. However, I had to cut off the wheel surround with my jackknife and unscrew a piece of the bumper as they were rubbing against the wheel. I tried to patch the windshield wiper fluid tank with duct tape but was unsuccessful as the plastic was too wet for the tape to hold.

Fortunately, I had previously arranged to rent a car for the rest of the trip, starting that day. Consequently, Mark,
Alice and I had some transportation. Alice arranged for her car to be repaired at a garage in Gander. As luck would have it, there was no significant damage beyond that which I described. This meant that Alice's car would be ready by Thursday when she and Mark were to set off on a journey will take them to Saskatoon and back, via surface transport, mostly Via Rail.

(Yep, you read that right: Via Rail. Their plan (currently in progress) is to drive to Port-Aux-Basques, take the ferry to
North Sydney, drive to Truro, where they get on the train. They will get off in Drummondville tomorrow morning where my Father will meet them and drive them to North Hatley. On Tuesday, they catch a train to Toronto where they will get on the Canadian, which will get them to Saskatoon, by about Thursday. I am not sure how long they will be in Saskatoon, but they will go back the same way they came, excluding only North Hatley.

I am not sure if I admire or pity them. I believe in train travel, but in moderation. ;-) )

I felt that the accident was my fault and that I should pay for the damage. Alice was more of the opinion that "Shit happens" and that she and Mark should pay. We eventually compromised on splitting the bill 50/50.

On Tuesday, I drove to Terra Nova National Park via Eastport. In Terra Nova I did some more skiing on overly groomed and extremely tame trails.

On Wednesday, I went skiing on trails of Gander's Airport Nordic Ski Club. There, I finally found a ski trail that really made bringing the skis along worthwhile. Ironically, the other skier there warned me against going on that particular trail. It was not that the trail was dangerous, long or scenic. Rather, it has been snowing nearly every day in Gander for the last month or so and for various reasons, that trail (Red extension) hadn't been groomed. Consequently, I was breaking trail through very deep snow. The other skier was right to warn me. However, I was right to take it as I wanted the challenge and relative workout it represented. I was sweating heavily and stripped off my fleece jacket to ski in a lightweight merino hoodie and a gore-text jacket. Hardly extreme skiing, but a darn good workout all the same.

That night, we drove to Grand Falls-Windsor to catch a comedy revue of notable Newfoundland events of 2010. It was mostly dominated by references to Danny Williams which got on Mark's nerves and he opted not to watch the second half. The revue started with a personification of Hurricane Igor (as in a mad scientists lab assistant). Later they stole some blatantly borrowed from the Rocky Horror Picture Show. A less blatant theft was an exchange from Monty Python's Life of Brian.

Flying out of Gander, I made the relative mistake of opting for a window seat in a Bombardier
Regional Jet. It felt claustrophobic, more so by the constant commentary from a kid in the seat in front of me that very quickly grated on my nerves. He was just a little too loud. I think also he reminded me of the kid I once was. I was also feeling a little hot. It may have been the fleece jacket was was wearing, but when I was getting off the plane in Halifax, I noticed that a girl in the seat behind me had a cat with her. As I am slightly allergic to cats, I may have been having a reaction to it. (Note to self: in future, when traveling by plane, check for cats.)

Anyway, getting to biking and e-travel, in my travels in Newfoundland I made a number of observations on possible places to stay and eat and jotted them down on my iPhone. I also had some practice in using the GPS functions for urban navigation.

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