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Truck Camping in Eastern Canada

Lucien Langlois explores Labrador, Newfoundland, and Nova Scotia in his Lance truck camper.  It all started with a 1979 copy of Mechanics Illustrated, a DIY camper plan, and a shop class.

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Truck Camping in Eastern Canada
by Lucien Langlois

Some people enjoy parking themselves for their entire vacation in one spot, whether at the beach, mountains, or backyard.  That is their choice and fine with me.  I, on the other hand, always want to see what’s on the other side of the hill.  Even back in high school, my buddy and I would skip school once in a while on Fridays and take off exploring some part of New England.

In the mid-eighties, I was a vocational shop teacher.  I taught several trades to kids that had a hard time in the regular vocational programs.  I taught everything from carpentry, electrical, welding, automotive maintenance, and even food service.  In this time frame, I also joined the Army National Guard and also had the opportunity to travel to Alaska with the Air Guard ten years in a row.  Back then, my travels in Alaska were always in a rental car.  The one thing that I noticed was how truck campers (the bulk of them were homemade contraptions) were abundant in this remote expansive land.

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In May of 1979, Mechanics Illustrated had a cover story on how to build a slide-in truck camper and a light bulb came on.  This would be a great project to do with my shop students!

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It wasn’t long before I was ordering the aluminum exterior skin, factory windows, skylights, and dining table support post and hardware.  The camper came out very nicely and the students loved the experience of building something completely different.  The camper didn’t look homemade but, by today’s standards, it was primitive.

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My wife, two young daughters, and I took that camper on several trips in the New England area.  The truck camper was definitely better than tenting.  Maneuvering and parking the truck camper was also easier than our tag along trailer had been.  Parking the tag along at campgrounds was often like docking the Queen Mary.

Life moves on and we raised our family and sent our daughters off to college.  I had changed careers and was a General Contractor for the next twenty five years.  Our travel adventures now consisted of tour trips to Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.  One day my wife, Helen, said, “You know we traveled all over the world and haven’t even really checked out this great country of ours”.  That’s when the light bulb came on again!

Truck camping would be a marvelous way to see this land from sea to shining sea.  I was of retirement age, in good health, and specially gifted with a wife who likes to travel and put up with my adventurist desires.  It was time to upgrade my truck, which I did, and then find a truck camper.

After some research, we found a second hand unit that was in good condition.  Being a DIY type of guy, I went through that camper from head to toe checking and learning about every component.  The truck and camper rig needed an identity, hence I came up with, “Boomers on the Move”.  After all, we are of the “Baby Boomer” generation.

We are in a perfect time in life to travel.  We’re retired, so time is no problem.  The children have left the nest.  Well, nearly.  The grandchildren are still a very important part of our lives.  Every major thing has been paid for.  If health stays with us, the open road is also with us.

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Above: Meeting the Milepost Editor while in Alaska

Our first trip was to Alaska.  It was everything we expected and more.  We were most surprised by everything we discovered between New Hampshire and Alaska.  The Lewis and Clark Trail, which we followed for some distance, made us think of how the explorers must have felt seeing the same landscapes that were rolling by our eyes.  Crossing the Columbia River, the giant trees of the Northwest, and finally reaching the Pacific Ocean are just some of our favorite experiences during our cross-country travel.

We logged in 15,000 miles on the trip to Alaska, our first real truck camper adventure.  It was a very enjoyable shakedown cruise.  We spent part of that winter in Key West, Florida, again with the truck camper.  In the beginning of this article, I mentioned that I was retired from National Guard and with my regular Army time I was able to get full retirement benefits.  Hence we were able to stay in Key West at a Coast Guard RV campground (Trumbo Point) at a considerable savings.

Labrador, Newfoundland, and Nova Scotia

Our next trip, and the main subject of this article, was for a circle tour of Labrador, Newfoundland, and Nova Scotia, Canada.  The jaunt would bring us on a stretch of gravel road from Labrador City, Church Hill Falls, and Happy Valley/Goose Bay to Port Hope Simpson.

Eleven hundred miles of newly constructed roads would be pretty isolated.  It is so isolated that the Canadian government will loan you a satellite phone.  The phone is setup to call the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) for help.

Gas is available along the route.  The farthest distance between gas stations is 250 miles.  This trip was definitely a two spare tire trip.  I added, to my existing front receiver hitch, a mount for that extra spare tire.  I had studied this route for quite some time and was itching to get started.  We were packed, loaded, and on the road by July 6th.

A few local fishermen here in New Hampshire had told me stories of how remote this trek could be.  Of course, they had only traveled north as far as the Hydro Quebec Dams indicated on the map by a circle of water around an island.  We would go 2,400 miles further on a giant circular arc with multiple ferry crossings.

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Above: Sainte Anne de Beaupre campground is in the distance

We left July 6, 2013 and made our way into Canada’s Quebec Province for our first night stay in the small town of Sainte Anne de Beaupre.  We stayed in a community campground right across the street from a large cathedral, actually a shrine.  The campground was on the shore of the Saint Lawrence Seaway and had limited amenities.  That was alright with us.  The following night we were in a town off the Bay Comeau.

In the morning we headed north and away from the Saint Lawrence Seaway and towards the great Hydro Quebec Dams.  They were named Manic I, Manic II, and Manic III.  Manic IV was never built and finally Manic V the largest.

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Above: The Manic 5 Hydro Quebec Dam

Manic is short for, “Manicouagan” a reservoir formed by a meteorite crater.  This dam is the world largest buttress dam being a mile across and 702 feet high.  Fortunately for us, the Hydro Quebec people offer a free tour of the hydro facility.  Besides a visit to the generator building, we were given a tour into the dam structure itself.

It was a little creepy to think of all of the water being held back with us inside this concrete coffin.  And yes, there is water that seeps and creates a small pond just below the largest buttress as seen in the picture.

This multiple-arch-and-buttress dam is truly unique.  Its construction, spread over a ten-year period, required 2.2 million cubic meters of concrete, the equivalent of a regular sidewalk linking the North and South Poles.

At 12:30pm, the tour was over and we asked how the road conditions were going up to Labrador City.  The tour guide said, “Just a minute and I’ll call the Trans-Canadian Highway Department and check”.  The highway department said the highway was open and good with very little construction.

We headed north above the dam and the road soon turned to gravel.  The radio stations were now gone and so was the cell phone reception.  At approximately 2:30pm, we arrived at a general store (Relais Gabriel) with the main road gated shut.  A girl in a pickup truck said, “The road is closed because of a forest fire”.

“How long will it be closed?” I asked.

“Don’t know”, she answered.

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We parked the truck camper next to the general store and then the excitement started.  First thing was the arrival of a Huey helicopter with one of those large water buckets sling loaded below.  This was followed by a water bomber and an “Otter” float plane with “smoke jumpers” (firefighters) inside.

Did I say I wanted adventure?  I could hardly control myself.

The wind had shifted and we could see the haze and smell the fire.  Apparently, fire had jumped and paralleled Trans-Canadian highway 389, our only northerly route access.

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A foot note here; the fire wasn’t really that close.  They said that it was about fifteen miles from the general store.  This little general store started to load up with tractor trailers who also didn’t get the word about the road closure.  Soon there were more than fifty of these tractor trailers parked at the store and on highway.

Now some people might panic with all of the activity going on; the staging area for the firefighters, the tractor trailer drivers, and some locals mine workers headed up to Fermont (French for Iron Mountain).  I, on the other hand, figured it was a good time to strike up conversation with all of these people.

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The first group I saw were the smoke jumpers who had just gotten off the fire line and float plane.  They were from Ontario and they were tired, dirty, and ready for a break from the fire.  Another float plane was to take them back to Manic 5 to a motel.  I didn’t want to bother them as they were exhausted.  The truck drivers were next.

How often can one get to talk to fifty or so truck drivers in this remote part of the world?  This could have been a major language problem.  They all spoke French!  Well, my wife and I speak enough French to converse with them adequately.  We both got a good insight into their daily life up here in the bush.  It is not an easy life, but they all seem to enjoy working these boondocking road trips.

One of the refrigerated trucks was carrying a full load of meat.  He had enough fuel on board to keep the refrigerator going a couple of days.  Some trucks were carrying steel for the iron ore mine up in Fermont.  It wasn’t long before all of those drivers had depleted the general store restaurant of its supplies of food and beer.  We, on the other hand, had our cozy truck camper loaded with food and even cold beer.

Twenty-four hours later, we finally were able to get on the store’s WiFi and discovered that there were two more forest fires on our remote journey.  A decision was made to reverse direction and head two hundred miles back to the Saint Lawrence Seaway.  We would reverse direction and do most of our planned trip.

A ferry carried us across the Saint Lawrence to a port town of Matana on the Gaspe Peninsula.  The Gaspe Peninsula was not on our original plan, but the truck camper had a mind of its own.  Don’t fight it, just go with the flow!

We followed the coast line and were pleasantly surprised by small charming coastal towns.  We stopped, took pictures and checked out the artisan shops.

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A small shop along the roadway had several wooden model sailing ships in front which caught my eye.  The shop was nothing more than a little old shack with a tin roof.  I stopped a little further down the road to park and we walked back up.  Entering the shop, to the right, was a multitude of sailing ships at different stages of completion.  A man, his wife, and mother were in the shop next to a wood stove.  I asked questions about how he crafted the wooden sails.  He said that it takes a couple of seasons to finish a vessel.  The wood has to dry into the shape of the sails after a good soaking and steam bending.  We talked a considerable length of time; again it was just a cherished moment on our trail of seeing, “What’s on the other side of the hill”.

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Above: Cabot Trail in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia

Our trip went as planned traveling through Nova Scotia, especially the scenic Cabot Trail in the Cape Breton Highlands.  This is a coastal drive along the ocean with the road winding up and around high mountains.

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Above: A bridge near Meat Cove, Nova Scotia

We stayed a night at Macintosh Campground.  The community room had a wood stove, free WiFi, tables, and even electricity.  What more could travelers want?  We enjoyed our fellow campers’ company and had another restful night in our cozy truck camper.  The next morning, a little exercise up a half-mile trail to a waterfall was a good way start the days’ adventure.

A mention must be made for a little out of the way place called Meat Cove.   Meat Cove featured a few houses, campground, rocky beach, and spectacular cliffs!  We didn’t stay at the campground because it was too early in the day and we wanted to make it to North Sydney to catch the ferry to Newfoundland.

The Island hop was next.  We arrived at North Sydney late in the afternoon and were unable to catch the last ferry to Port aux Basque, Newfoundland.  Again, the truck camper provided us with comfortable shelter and sleeping quarters while waiting in line for the next departure.  Boarding started at 3:00am.  I kept thinking how comfortable we were next to all those people sleeping in cars.

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Above: Cape St George, Newfoundland

After a foggy ferry ride, Port aux Basque came into view.  It proved to be an exceptional place to visit.  The island coast line is rugged with cliff views far exceeding anything that we have seen so far on this trip.

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Above: Cape St Mary’s Ecological Reserve, Newfoundland

The birds migrate and nest here in the summer by the thousands.  Cape St Mary’s Ecological Reserve is off the beaten path and has a large parking lot, but the park attendant said no overnight camping.  He also said, “I leave at 5:00pm and return at 7:00am.  Don’t let me catch you here at 7:00am”.  We didn’t gamble and headed for a turnoff close to the main road and parked for a quiet night.

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Above: The north shore of Newfoundland

After spending a couple of weeks in Newfoundland, we realized that a whole other trip could be planned for future discovery.  We didn’t see the Northwest part of the Island up towards Saint Anthony’s, the area that the Vikings inhabited.

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Above: Their return trip – Argentia, Newfoundland was the start point of a 16 hour ferry ride to North Sydney, Nova Scotia

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Above: The route that Lucien and Helen took throughout eastern Canada

2 Boomers On the Move

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Above: Lucien and Helen in St. John’s, Newfoundland

I write a daily blog, http://2boomersonthemove.blogspot.com adding a few pictures and telling of our close encounters or our newly found friends on the road.  I don’t always have the capability of publishing online, but sooner or later we find internet access.  I surely love to blog and relive our trips and people that have crossed our paths.

Many an evening in the camper is spent sitting at the dinette table talking to each other or reading a good book with a cup of coffee.  Laptops also play an important part of our adventures.  We often spend time in the evenings tapping on the keyboard recalling the day’s happenings.

Baby Boomers are not quite ready for that recliner yet.  We have the spirit and will to travel and explore.  The truck camper is the ideal tool to bring us to that adventure.  The other thing that we’ve noticed is that the truck camper has brought us closer together.

Have you traveled in Canada with your truck camper?  Please share your story about your Canadian truck camping travels.

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