May 17

May 17th, 2007

The weather predictions were finally inaccurate! We were supposed to have freezing rain over night and snow in the morning. But when I opened my eyes, the roads were dry! I knew it was cold, but I was ready for that. And to make the morning even more promising, the owner of the gas bar we were camped at had made a donation. What a great start to the day. Maybe this was an omen that my last day on Newfoundland would be filled with enjoyable memories.


So we drove back to where I left off the night before. I bundled up with my toque, gloves, scarf and jacket before doing up the laces on my skates. As I began my strides down the road, the wind was slightly across and slightly behind me. It was cold, but still very good conditions. I was done the first kilometer, then the second, and the third. I was flying through the final 65 kilometers like a bat out of hell. It was around kilometer 11 that I saw it. It actually brought a little grin to my face. A single snow flake had landed on my cheek. “Well,” I thought. “This will make for a good journal entry…skating in the snow”.


A few more flakes fell but the roads remained dry. But within minutes the skies opened up above me once again. I thought it would be best to put my ‘rain skates’ on at this point. As it turned out, this was a good idea. I suppose I should change the name from ‘rain skates’ to ‘snow skates’. It was almost like someone had flipped a switch. The snow started pelting me from all directions. This was not your average spring snow. This was a full out winter blizzard! I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. But my spirit was still too high to be battered down by a little precipitation. The wind was still mostly in my favour, so I trucked on.


Now that I was so close to Port Aux Basque, the landscape around me was magnificent. I was blading through valleys that were surrounded by snow-covered mountains and had crystal clear rivers weaving through them like serpants. As I came up a small incline, the terrain began to plateau. Staring at me as I started down the long straight-away was a big yellow sign: ‘Caution. Extreme High Winds Next 20 km’. Well this should be interesting.


Shortly after seeing the warning, another sign caught my attention: ‘Caution. Winds in this area have been recorded in excess of 200 km/h’. Yes, interesting indeed.


I was still feeling good. Regardless of the warnings, I felt comfortable. Besides, I’d be through this section in an hour or so. Then a thought crossed my mind. When we were marooned in Corner Brook, the mechanic had mentioned to me about a section of highway with severe wind. He kept referring to this as ‘The Wreckhouse’. But he also reassured me that the majority of the time the wind would be at my back. I was quite looking forward to entering The Wreckhouse and getting some gusts behind me to push me along!


The next thing I knew, I was skating over a ridge and around a bend directly towards the ocean. That was it. The end of the Wreckhouse. I made excellent time coming through considering the winter wonderland I was battling. But the severe winds I was expecting weren’t nearly as impressive as I had anticipated.


I was now only 20 km from the Port Aux Basque ferry to Nova Scotia! The end was almost in sight. After a quick bite for lunch, I headed down the highway for what I thought would be my last in Newfoundland. Everything was working out perfect. I was ahead of schedule (the ferry reservation wasn’t until midnight and it was only 2pm), the snow had turned to a drizzly rain (which made me feel like I was back in Vancouver), there were towering mountains on my left and the turbid ocean to my right, and best of all, I was almost at the end. Then I noticed something interesting. Another sign at the side of the road. It wasn’t a warning sign. Just a simple little board with a single word: ‘Wreckhouse’. But hadn’t I made my way through the Wreckhouse? Oh well, I was under 20 km to the ferry now. How bad could it really get?


A word to the wise… never ask a loaded question.


The road took sharp turn to the left and split between two mountains. As I rounded the bend the realization that 20 km is still a long way set in. It was as if I had been skating with a bungee chord strapped to my back and I had reached the end. The wind came funneling through the mountains with a force that felt like it had been building for decades. I went from a decent speed of 20+ km/hr to barely being able to stand against this force. “So this is the Wreckhouse?”, I thought. “Well, let’s see what you got”. I could see that the road was only about 500 meters or so before exiting the valley and bending off to the right again. So even though I was only inching forward, it was somewhat entertaining for such a short distance. Imagine the story I could tell. I was now face to face with 90 km/h winds!


It must have taken me about 20 minutes to get through the 500 meter stretch. And when I finally made it to the bend, the humour in the situation vanished as quickly as it came. What was going on? I was out of the Wreckhouse, but the wind had not subsided! And why should it? Nothing else has come easy to me on this journey. The wind continued to sustain unimaginable speeds which pulled me in the opposite direction my legs were trying to take me. And all along, the rain/snow sliced away at my face. By this time I had my toque almost completely covering my eyes and a scarf over my face. The only skin exposed was my eyelids…and I was shielding them with my frozen fingers.


My ferry reservation was booked for midnight, and it was only 2:30. So I had lots of time to struggle through the last 15 kilometers. But I would be damned if this island was going to get the best of me! I had been making incredible time today and was on pace to catch the earlier ferry. Until the Wreckhouse. I was cursing the wind, I was cursing the rain, I was cursing the road, I was even cursing transports as they blew past me throwing an added mist over top of me. This was one of those times that I had to use every ounce of mental strength to step back and regain my composure. None of this really mattered. So what if I was wet. So what if I was cold. So what if the wind was so strong I could barely stand. So what. I was here, and alive, and healthy. I was going to make it to that ferry and nothing was about to stop me.


At 4:00pm, I came around the hairpin turn at the terminal and arrived at the ticket booth. I had done it. I was now approaching 1000 km of rollerblading, and I felt amazing. My legs were tired, my feet were aching, my fingers were numb, my face was burning, and my back was screaming. And I never felt better in my life. I know I still had a long way to go, but this was a huge milestone for this journey and for my life. My emotions were too much to handle and a few tears actually ran down my cheek. I had done it.


This is where I had intended to leave off and begin my next entry tomorrow from Sydney. But the ferry ride to the mainland took another unexpected twist.


My dad, being the silver-tongued devil that he is, started chatting with some of the crew on the ferry. Before I knew what was happening, an announcement came across the P.A. “Would Brian Ralph please report to the service desk on deck 5”. He had obviously talked to the right people, because I was now being handed a voucher for complimentary food from the cafeteria. It wasn’t a gourmet meal, but it was nice to have a paid meal that I didn’t have to plan for. Just pick from the menu and go.


While I was waiting for my food to be prepared, a sweet little woman came up behind me and spoke softly: “Are you that boy who is rollerblading?”


“Yup! That’s me.” I answered enthusiastically. She just wanted to let me know what a wonderful thing I was doing and that she wished to make a donation. I was flattered, but I couldn’t figure out how she knew who I was. My picture had not appeared in any newspaper in several days. It turns out, she had heard about me on the radio and knew that I was coming into Port Aux Basque today. She had just taken a wild guess that I was the one. Well, I’m glad she took that chance and approached me.


As we stood there chatting, she mentioned something about going through Kingston. “That’s my hometown!” I exclaimed. Her eyes instantly lit up as though she had just won the lottery. We walked over to the table where my parents were sitting and began talking some more. Her name is Judy Osborne and I came to discover that she has many mutual friends of my parents. The conversation went on for well over an hour. Judy had told me about how she had lost her 23-year-old daughter and had since created an annual event in Kingston in her memory. She thought it would be wonderful if I could participate in the event this year. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to make it to Kingston by June 9th, but I strongly encourage everyone to take part in this event in Tristan Osborne’s memory.


Our conversation carried on. We talked about everything from my adventure, to my parents old dog and her arthritic condition, to Judy’s 5 years living in the Arctic Circle. She is a truly astounding woman. A captivating speaker and an all-round riot. I’ll be posting a picture of myself with Judy soon. The picture may look funny since were pointing at a sign about swine, but that’s another novel in itself. Let’s just say Judy is the one and only Kingston Area Pig Lady.


We exchanged details and will be working together to help promote each others causes. And that’s where I am now. The ferry is a little over half way to Nova Scotia. Today I skated 65 km in snow, rain and wind. I got us to the ferry in time to catch the early crossing. And we’re right on schedule. Newfoundland has provided me with an unforgettable experience. I have seen the ultimate highs and lows. At one point, I was almost 4 days behind schedule due to mechanical issues, but I’ve managed to push myself and my family to get us back on track. Now it’s time grab a quick shower and a nap before landing in a new province and starting a new chapter.

Posted in Daily Journal | 5 Comments »


5 Responses to “May 17”

  1. Steven Di Domizio Says:

    Rich, you’re my hero, literally

  2. Rosemary Howse Says:

    Rich congratulations on conquering the rock. NL. weather makes for good conversation but validates what a strong,dedicated person you are to rollerblade from St.Johns to Port aux Basque in your skate for hope in such great time despite some setbacks. It was a honor for Calvin and myself to have met you and your dedicated parents.I will promote your skate every chance I can through my relatives and friends across Canada. Best wishes as you continue your skate for such a great cause and may god watch over you and keep you safe.
    Rosemary Howse.
    Hi Rich, its Calvin. I think we can make you an honourary Newfie, as anyone who can do what you did so far in this part of the world deserves the title which we hold to be something given out only to very special people. We will always remember you and your parents. Best of luck crossing the rest of the country. We know you will do fine in your quest. Be safe and do well. We will be keeping track of your progress as the days pass. Take care Newfie !!!!!!!

  3. Jewels Says:

    Rich, I laughed out loud, I cringed and I myself had a tear in my eye while reading your post. What an awesome journey so far! I can’t tell you enough how much of an inspiration you are and if you can rollerblade NFLD, I think the rest of your journey will be okay. And while I maybe roughing it here in the middle of nowhere Yukon Territory for the summer, I can take solice in the fact that I at least have a diesel heater in my tent, a hot shower every three/four days and my fuzzy tiger feet slippers.

    Keep on blading Rich!!!!


  4. Robert Werner Says:

    Hey Rich,

    I had a computer meltdown of sorts a few days ago and it shut down all blogging and much of my work. Plus, I couldn’t update your progress as readily. But I’m BACK now and, in fact, have improved every entry by adding a “Read Entire Day’s Entry” link to the specific journal entry it originated from.

    I must say that this, your May 17th entry, was the very best one yet. It was a David vs. Goliath epic, with you as the former and Mother Nature as your foe. You won amigo, you won!

    Once province down and 9 more to go. We’re all hoping for the very best for you!!!

    Rob W.

  5. wayne osmond Says:

    interesting journal. it was only today i discovered it. i live in cape ray and that’s dab smack in the wreckhouse area. if the wreckhouse winds blew you would not of made your journey to port aux basques that day. they blow from the south east picking up speed as they come down from the mountain valleys. trains,tractor trailers have been blown over by the force. im happy you made it through without incident.

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