Pop Level: Atop the Tablelands of Western Newfoundland

Alone on top of the Tablelands, I turned my radio down, took a deep breath, and gazed out to the ocean. In the week we had been in Newfoundland, the COVID-19 pandemic had gone from a side story to shutting nations down. It was only a matter of time before the US border with Canada would be closed. A massive storm was kicking up 60-foot seas in the Cabot Strait, canceling all ferries, stranding us on the island when we most needed to leave. But below me lay a gully of unridden powder, and the task at hand was distraction enough, for the moment. 

Newfoundland is a windswept rock of an island, sitting as far east as you can go in North America. It is roughly the size of Ohio with a population smaller than Vermont. Enormous ferries smash through the icy Cabot Strait between Newfoundland and Quebec daily to keep the island supplied with food, tourists, and Tim Horton’s coffee. I am not one to play favorites, but the MV Leif Ericson is definitely my favorite Newfoundland ferry. Watching the rocky coastline emerge from the deck, weary from 15 hours of driving and seven hours on the boat, is as close to a Viking explorer as I will ever come. Within minutes of driving off the ferry, you are immersed in a vast mountainous landscape, largely untouched in the thousand years since Leif arrived from Iceland. 

We were within an hour of our destination when the drive nearly broke me. Just outside of Deer Lake, on the Viking Trail, the snow started. It quickly escalated from a few innocent flakes fluttering above the road to a full-scale whiteout. Storms in Newfoundland can be notoriously horrendous with winds so fierce that trains get blown off their tracks and snow so thick a 10-minute drive takes three hours, requiring a spotter to walk alongside the car. I could picture the grizzled truckers on the ferry huddled around the coffee station trading stories: “Ya, gots me some serious moose pepper on the grill.” The last thing I needed was a bulldozer-sized moose to materialize from the veil of white… 

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