Heading Up the Road
June 20, 2012

Polly and my wagon trip into Newfoundland has begun. From here on the northern tip, we proceed slowly south along the coast. Unlike previous trips, where I carried along a solar panel and battery to charge my laptop, my current wagon is rigged more sparsely. More in tune with what’s needed in this foggy, damp climate.

This is cold country. Even with summer around the corner, the air is damp. Moisture permeates my bedding, clothes and food. For heating, boiling tea and clothes drying, instead of my usual Optimus Ranger 8R gasoline stove, I’m using the wood stove I designed and built.

The view from the wagon ceiling. Here, you’re looking down at my stove from above. I’m cooking steel cut oats for breakfast. Visible in the twelve o’clock position is the kerosene lamp I use for lighting. From stone cold, it takes 30 minutes to light the stove and boil a potful of water for tea. Makes you think twice scarfing down your food…
A closer view of the wood stove. Only 12 inches long, the wood I burn in it has to be cut no longer than 10 inches so I can close the door. A load will heat the wagon 2 to 3 hours. Here, I’m cooking moose with rice and soup.

The simplicity extends to record keeping and lighting as well. In lieu of laptop and LED lighting, I’m making do with a paper journal and kerosene lamp.

And I must say, I’m enjoying the forced un-connectedness. With no email to check, I can spend time making audio recordings of some pretty amazing Newfie stories. Folks up here are grand story tellers. Past generations have live a hard life. The stories have been passed on.

Like the 96-year old grandfather of one of the folks I stayed with. He froze to death one bitter cold winter day smoking his pipe. He was in his favorite spot on a remote hill. Rigor mortis set in by the time the rescue party found him. He was all hunched over, frozen solid. Had some pipe tobacco still clenched in his hand. They had to break his arms, legs and back so they could straighten him up and fit him in the coffin. True story.

But you can’t collect those stories if you’re constantly checking your email or posting to the website.

Now get off the internet and get living!

See you up the road a spell.

Posted Wednesday June 20, 2012 by Bernie
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Ice Bergs and Blankets
June 17, 2012

Polly lies down in the tall grass of L’Ans aux Meadows, Newfoundland. It’s as much for rest as it is for warmth On a clear day such as this, the coast of Labrador -and the occasional iceberg – can be spotted on the horizon. The upturned boats are relics of a major downturn in the Newfoundland fishery.

Four days before the official start of summer and there are icebergs floating by my wagon’s front door. No, they’re not going to crash into my rolling abode. Chances are they’ll stay far out to sea, running aground long before they enter the bay I’m visiting in L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland. Or maybe they’ll just melt. Still, to open your front door and see a hunk of ice floating by does add a certain chill – real and imagined – to your day.

It was a different scene two weeks ago. When mule Polly left North Carolina the first week of June, she was sporting her summer coat. Temperatures had crossed the 90 degree mark. The plan was to head north and duck the fetid southern summer heat.

Fast forward to L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland. I have carried Polly over 2000 miles north and east from her regular home. From where Polly and I stand now, you can see snow covered peaks in Labrador, Canada. The leaves on the alder trees are just starting to unfold. The daffodils are poking out there yellow heads. Two nights ago, one week before the official start of summer, it frosted.

For mule Polly, this change in temperature comes as a shock. It’s like the tourist that steps on the plane in Miami dressed in a t-shirt and flies to Anchorage. Steps off the flight and gasps at the brisk air.

In Polly’s case, the rapid shift from warm to cold climate is compounded by the shortage of browse. To keep warm, she needs to eat a lot. Staying warm burns lots of calories. To keep warm and pull a half ton wagon, she needs to eat a whole lot. Trouble is, there’s just not much grass to eat yet. Yes, the grass blades are stretching daily higher cloudward. Yes, she finds the dandy lions – which are also known as bumble bee weeds in these parts – tasty. So do I.

But grass browse is relatively low in caloric energy.

So what about carrying grain? Not much wiggle room there. We’re pretty much maxed out on weight. The most feed I can haul on the wagon is about 100 pounds. Remember, Polly has to haul every pound we carry. Even if I walk beside the wagon, that only cuts the load by 170 or so pounds.

So yes, it was a pretty sorry sight when I unloaded Polly on Newfoundland’s northern-most tip – and she shivered.

Ice on the brain. An iceberg floats past mule Polly in L’Anse aux Meadows.

Enter the blanket.

On the advice of buddy and wagon sage Ronald Hudson, before leaving North Carolina, I tucked a light horse blanket into my trailer. For Polly. In case it got cold. Shortly after Polly’s shivering incident, I grubbed the sun bleached blanket out of my trailer and slung it across Polly’s back. I swear she smiled. Snuggled into that sucker and hunkered down for the night behind a stack of wood. I retired to wood stove, merlot and moose meat aboard my wagon.

Polly resting in the lee of a wood pile. The wind blows almost without cease in this northern part of Newfoundland.

The next morning, I slid my hand under the blanket. There was frost on the grass but under that old rug Polly was snug as.

Those ice bergs floating past my front door don’t seem as cold any more.

Polly investigates a dead seal washed up on a L’Anse aux Meadows beach. No, she’s not trying to eat it.
All is not woe and starvation for mule Polly. Lest you think she’s wasting away in the Great White North, she’s not. To augment her caloric shortfall, she’s added some non-standard items to her diet. She scored a bucket of carrot peels from a nearby restaurant. And apples beyond count. Her emotional needs are being catered too as well.. Here, a Norstead admirer lavishes Polly with some loving of the human kind.
Posted Sunday June 17, 2012 by Bernie
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Walter King Ponders the Mule Wagon
June 13, 2012

“What the hell is that thing?” You get that a lot traveling with a mule and wagon. Leave the rig for an errand, and often as not you’ve drawn a crowd of guys, hands jammed in their pockets, speculating with each other on what it is they’ve found.

“The hell….?” Our traveling contraption. (Sydney, Nova Scotia)

Which is what happened recently in Sydney, Nova Scotia.

Polly and her wagon were loaded on my trailer. We were waiting to get on the ferry. The one that was to carry us from Sydney, Nova Scotia to Newfoundland. Turned out the ferry I was booked on had a tight spot where the trailer might get hung up on. So in the flurry of getting things right, I tucked in to the ferry terminal office. When I got back out, there was Walter King looking over my rig.

Walter’s a trucker. Big man. Sports mirrored shades and a shaved head just as reflective. Gold tooth and neck chain and voice that could start a diesel engine without a battery. Drives a red semi.

Walter King: Nova Scotian trucker

Walter’s seen a lot. But never a mule wagon headed for Newfoundland. He thought it had something to do with a circus. Here’s what he had to say about the notion. I especially like the way he pronounces the word “three”. Tree. To listen in, click on the player.

(Rough and ready field recording note: As he was speaking, Walter was standing among a bunch of idling tractor trailers waiting to catch the ferry to Newfoundland. The rumbling you hear in the background of this recording is the sound of all those diesel engines.)

Safe journeying, Walter. Also, a tip ‘o the hat to everyone at the Marine Atlantic ferry for shuffling things around so I could get my rig on the ferry – and to Newfoundland. Thanks Theresa and Frank for the carrots and meal vouchers to see us through!

Posted Wednesday June 13, 2012 by Bernie
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"Too Proud to Ride a Cow" in Digital Form
June 12, 2012

The book “Too Proud to Ride a Cow” the way is used to be. You could buy a copy at a store or online. Or even off my wagon. Now there’s a new way. “Too Proud” is available in digital form.

Used to be, if you wanted a copy of “Too Proud to Ride a Cow”, my account of traveling across America by mule, you bought a copy at the bookstore or ordered it from the RiverEarth General Store. If I was traveling through your neck of the county, you could even buy one straight off the mule wagon. You’d give me fifteen bucks, I’d scribble something into your new book and Bob’s your uncle.

But what if you’re into digital books? Or live outside the US and Canada?

No worries. Joining “Too Proud” on the book shelf – even if it’s a virtual one – is a digital version.

“Too Proud to Ride a Cow” for Kindle.

“Too Proud” is the account of my 13-month mule voyage across America. Rat ranchers, lady poachers and everyday people. The characters and places are just as vivid in the digital book as they were in the paper version. The file is in .mobi format for Kindle. No, I can’t sign it for you. Yes, I’ll sign your Kindle if you track me down. And it’ll run you a lot less than fifteen dollars. Cost is $2.99. Get your digital copy here.

If you’re still a page turner, printed copies of “Too Proud” are shipping from the RiverEarth General Store.

Posted Tuesday June 12, 2012 by Bernie
Where this story happened:

Newfoundland Bound
June 12, 2012

Small wonder Polly takes a nap when I pull her off the trailer at the end of the day. In the past week and a half, we’ve traveled close to 2000 miles – from Asheboro, North Carolina to Syndey, Nova Scotia. Here, Polly catches a nap around mile 1562. That would be Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. Meanwhile, Yari Msika and a jumping pal go airborne. His parents Theirry and Maran Msika put us up a few days in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.

Greetings from Sydney, Nova Scotia. This post will be brief as Polly and I have a ferry to catch – to Newfoundland.

Yep, Newfoundland. As in the Rock. As in the place where getting “screeched in” has nothing to do with locking up your wagon brakes and everything to do with head-achy spirits consumed in oceanic quantities. Or so I’m told.

In the meantime, for everyone suffering through the late spring heat, a few cooling photos from Nova Scotia. Since entering Canada, I have built a fire in my wood stove every night. Polly’s doing her best to stay warm. Looking closely, I have noticed she’s showing sounds of sprouting a longer coat. Man, I have Do it Yourself Coat Envy! Maybe I’ll grow a beard. Just like Polly.

Polly decimates a stand on of clover in front of Thierry and Maran Msika’s “Io”. The family has sailed the engineless gaff cutter across the Atlantic Ocean. Here, she’s stored at the Msika’s home in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.
Launching the Teal: Thierry Msika launches his double-ended tender. It’s a “Teal” design. The roller he’s carrying – a short log – is used to roll the vessel to the water’s edge. Lunenburg’s waterfront is visible in the background.
Rough going. Not all of our recent travels have been smooth. Here, the truck and trailer take Polly on a bit of gravel-roading. We camped nearby for the night (Chance Bay, New Brunswick).
Easy going: Heading to the New Found Land: Polly and her rig wait to board the ferry in Sydney, Nova Scotia, on the tip of Cape Breton Island. The trailer wouldn’t fit so she was booked on a later ferry.
“See youse later!” In addition to a longer coat, I detect a Canadian Maritime accent creeping into Polly’s lingo. Here, she’s about to be loaded onto the ferry to Newfoundland. Due to loading difficulties (low clearance on my trailer), she wasn’t put on the ferry in the background. She is booked on another ferry due to leave later in the day.

From here on out, posts will be fewer and farther between. Once in Newfoundland, internet access will be harder to find.

(Map Note: the map shows our general location. Polly and I have come so far north, evenings, we hear loons instead of whip-poor-wills.)

Posted Tuesday June 12, 2012 by Bernie
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The First 800 Miles
June 5, 2012

Mile 802: a gaff rigged sloop hauled out on a traditional marine railway. In the foreground, the stern of a beached chebacco boat. Both vessels are working boat types that plied the water around Essex and Gloucester, MA in the days of working sail. (Essex, MA)

Wow. The start of my latest mule journey was uglier than the paint job on my ’92 Dodge. Eighteen hours cooped up in the crusty cab. With no radio. Or cruise control. Not even an “Abba’s Greatest Hits” CD. Thank goodness for the canned kippers (you know, those stinky fish in their tin coffins), jalapeno peppers and Ole Brit pipe tobacco to keep the eyes wide open. Nothing like burning embers falling into your lap while you’re slurping down an embalmed fish to keep you perky behind the wheel.

I did manage to get 800 miles closer to my goal.

Sure is a queer way to start a mule wagon voyage across the Canadian Maritimes.

Here’s the thing.

Unlike other voyages, where I can take off for 6 months to 5 years at a time, this one has time restraints on it. There are family issues to be dealt with. Things that require me to be a little more accessible than previous journeys.

So, instead of hitching mule Polly to the wagon in North Carolina and driving her to Nova Scotia, I’m trailering her to the land of Sleet and Fog. Once there, I’ll hitch her to the wagon for our Maritime ramble. When the snow falls – or family calls – I’ll load her up and head back to the Tar Heel State.

Hence the mad dash north of recent days.

Luckily, the ugliness and trace of indigestion of the first stage is wearing off. After a restful three-day stay with friends in Essex, MA, it’s time to hit the road again. From here, mule Polly and I roll North toward northern Maine where we plan to enter the Great White North around Calais.

We’ll keep you posted of progress. In the meantime, don’t let an ugly, stinky shortcut keep you from a worthy quest.

(Map note: the map shows where the photo above was taken. The boats are located close to the Essex Shipbuilding Museum. Zoom in close enough and you can see the marine railway on which the sloop is sitting.)

Posted Tuesday June 5, 2012 by Bernie
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Holy Hornets Nest It's Journey Time
June 1, 2012

I love to haul stuff. Preferably on a rig of my own clobbering together. Take this week’s challenge. Haul mule Polly and her wagon 2200 miles from North Carolina to Nova Scotia and beyond.

The answer to this week’s hauling challenge

Enter the sawed off, we-ain’t-got-the-new-toys-but-we-do-have-a-1961-horse trailer ethic.

The tricky thing about hauling Polly and my wagon is that my mule wagon’s too tall to fit into a standard horse trailer. Sure, for money, lots of it, I could buy an extra tall trailer. Which means I’d need a more powerful truck. To hell with that. Not when there’s an old trailer sitting around.

Which is how my 1961 horse trailer, acquired in California a few years back, was repurposed into my 2012 Newfie Wagon Transporter Deluxe.

First I unbolted the axles off my old trailer. Cut off the fenders and took a Sawzall to the wood floor and stringers. This left the shell of the old trailer which I bolted onto the front of a 21-foot flat bed trailer. Into the side of the trailer, for loading Polly, I cut a large door. Mounted it on barn hinges and doused everything with primer and white paint.

Voila, a rig that’ll tow mule and a wagon as I high as you care to build.

The back end: a closer view of the rig
The front end: a closer view of the rattle can paint job. My 1992 Dodge D250 is powered by a beast of a diesel engine. It also sports one of the worst factory paint jobs in automotive history. As in ever. We’re talking worse than Trabant, Lada and Yugo combined. I got sick of my peeling hood and roof. Here’s what you can do with 2 days, 12 cans of Rustoleum Metallic Gray and a box of Swiss cigars. From this distance, you can’t even see the ash marks.

Now comes the grind bit. It’s over two thousand miles to my ultimate stop in the Canadian Maritimes. This doesn’t sound bad if you’re driving that flash new 2012 Dodge with the Cummins diesel and and the $35,000 aluminum trailer. Alas, I don’t have the highway comfort a $80,000 rig affords. Nope, drive that distance in a 1992 Dodge and you’ll stop kidding yourself the spray can paint job makes it ride smoother. So Polly and I are breaking the trip into stages. First comes 800 miles to Massachusetts to visit friends. Then there’s another stretch of about the same distance to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. After that, I hear there’s an 8 hour ferry ride involved and then I start looking for icebergs. I’ll let you know where we finally end up.

There’s just one thing now that needs tending. A few papery orbs have come to my attention. They’re located under the roof of my home modified trailer. Those would be the hornets who built a multi-residential development in the air space normally occupied by Polly’s ears. Hmm…. Better get those out before I load up Polly at 3a and find a revolt on my hands. Before I ever get out of the driveway…

Polly is thinking, “Bernie, clear the hornets out of my trailer. Remember, your head is at hoof height when you open the trailer door. Think teed up golf ball and Big Bertha Driver…”

Hang on tight travel mates. We’re hittin’ the road!

(Map note: shown is our starting point of Asheboro, NC)

Posted Friday June 1, 2012 by Bernie
Where this story happened: