Light in the Darkness in Labrador

I was recently involved in a bad car crash in Labrador.  The experience was full of struggle and blessing, and I would like to share it.  It’s long, but worth the read.  So here goes.

My poor Jeep

I can’t think of how to start this, but the real event was sudden and jarring, so I might as well tell it that way. The morning of the crash, I had packed up camp after the best experience ever on blackhead hill, near Cartwright. After a couple hours driving, I was nearing Charlottetown. Coming into a narrower corner, there was a pickup truck coming the other way. I remember slowing a bit. Then as we approached, he started sliding. There was an instant where I realized he was coming right at me… People often say that time slows down in moments like these. That was not my experience. the still image is in my head, of the truck coming toward me…then I was hitting the airbag. In a moment, everything had changed.

I remember the view through the broken windshield, the dashboard dinging, a turn signal stuck on, and a bit of smoke rising from the airbag. Sitting there, dazed, thinking this had to be a dream…but the sinking feeling that it was all too real.

Very quickly I felt that I had to get out. I tried the door, but it was stuck. Someone came running, terror in their eyes, asking if I was ok. My vision was very bright and I felt dazed, but I wasn’t in pain. Considering, I felt fine. A couple more people came running, and the same interaction followed. I heard someone say that someone had a satellite phone and that EMS was on the way. It should be mentioned at this point, that while I wasn’t completely in the middle of nowhere, this is pretty close. No cell service, and the police and ems out here cover wide areas. The fact that there was someone there with a satellite phone so soon was a blessing from God.

At this point there were a number of people there. A few guys got to work forcing the doors open, with a large piece of steel, a hammer and hatchet. Then there was the wait for EMS. They had been told not to move us, so the doors were open, but I had to sit. It seemed like a long time. During this time, someone brought me water, and a few people chatted and asked questions, learning that I was from Ontario, on a trip.

As time passed I became more aware of my legs and the fact that my dashboard had been pushed into the cabin, trapping my one leg against the door. I still had no idea how bad it had been. It was hard to get a good idea from inside the Jeep. I was still very dazed and somewhat in shock. I’m sure I wasn’t quite myself to the people at the scene.

Ems showed up, and because I said I had a sore neck, I was put in a neck brace, then they slowly got me out, and straight onto my back, and into the ambulance. It should be mentioned that the other person was in similar shape to myself. Doing well, considering what had happened.

I was taken to the Charlottetown clinic where I was checked over. No real issues were found. At lot of questions were asked and answered. The police came at this point as well, and confirmed my story, as told by witnesses.

Now comes the part where the realization sinks in just how remote I was. I was simply in a clinic, being cared for by nurses. To get the neck brace removed, protocol said I had to have scans and be cleared by a doctor. That meant getting air lifted to the hospital at St. Anthony, Newfoundland. The accident had occurred early afternoon. The plane was supposed to come at 4pm. But it was diverted several times for more important emergencies…so it didn’t come until midnight.

Lying on a stretcher, with a neck brace on is very uncomfortable. Before long I had a very sore back. The nurses were very kind and tried to be as helpful as they could. As it got later, they arranged to sit us up a little bit so we could eat. Some family members of the other person brought some food as well. Some of the nurses stayed much later than normal to care for us before the plane arrived. I was given some phone numbers and told to call if I needed any help. This was the beginning of my experiences of Labrador/Newfoundland hospitality, and although it was hard to really show appreciation at the time, it meant a lot to me. It’s too bad I wasn’t able to return to Charlottetown. I only experienced that town on my back…I really didn’t see anything aside from door frames and light bulbs. But I will remember the people forever…even if I remember their voices more than their faces.

Flight to St Anthony

It is probably a good thing that the plane was delayed several times. If I had been told initially that I would be in the neck brace until after 2am, I don’t know if I would have handled the wait well. It was a strange time. All control had been completely taken away from me. I remember breathing regular prayers to be given patience…this whole experience was really one of being unable to fix anything, and learning to rely completely on God.

The plane was finally on it’s way. The transfer was actually harder than lying in the clinic. I was moved to a different stretcher, which was harder than the one that had already given me a terribly sore back. Then, they tied me down, so I would be secure for the flight. I can’t tell you much about the plane, as I was still on my back. It’s a very different experience to be lying there, completely immoblized, while a bunch of guys try to figure out the best way to lift the stretcher into a plane.

The flight was 30 minutes. The vibrations helped my back a little. We landed at the St. Anthony airport, only to discover they had only sent one ambulance. The airport is actually 50km from town, and they couldn’t drive as fast because of chance of moose at night. The other guy went in the first ambulance…which meant I had to wait for almost an hour…still tied down, on the stretcher. That was the hardest hour. It’s one thing when you’re stuck on your sore back, but can shift positions. It’s another thing when you can’t move. And this back pain had nothing to do with the accident…it was just from being on my back for so long.

I felt close to breakdown while lying there. I prayed a lot…they were very simple prayers, but I needed help. I felt I couldn’t handle it on my own. After a long wait, the ambulance came, and I made it to the hospital.

After a bunch more questions and some x-rays, I was cleared at around 4am. I got up too fast and then tried standing and almost fell over…it had been so long since I had been on my feet. The nurses let me sleep until shift change at 8am. And almost as quickly as it began, the ordeal was over. Now to pick up the pieces.

So far from my Jeep

I walked out of the St. Anthony hospital, with the clothes on my back, my backpack with my laptop, my phone, and my camera bag. Actually, hobbled might be a better word. My leg was really sore. They hadn’t found anything wrong with it, although it turns out I possibly had a cracked bone. I made my way to a nearby picnic table, not feeling like I could go farther. I talked with my Dad on the phone, then decided that I simply had to get somewhere more suitable. Unlike in Labrador, St. Anthony had excellent cell service, and a Tim Hortons. It was over a kilometer away, but as I limped along my leg felt a bit better and I got a bit more used to it.

I setup shop in Tim Hortons and started researching and making calls. As you can see in the photo, I was a long way from where the accident happened. I had been told that rental companies don’t let you drive in Labrador, so I left that problem, not knowing how to solve it.

I called the rental company in St Anthony, only to find out that if I rented there, I had to bring the car back, which didn’t help. Insurance had said that they deal with Enterprise, so I found out the closest one was in Deer Lake, which was over 400km away. At least I could take a rental from there and drop it in Ontario.

As evening came, I walked across the road to the hotel and got a room for the night.

That was about as far as I made it the first day. I had more problems than solutions, but for some reason I felt at peace praying and leaving it with God. I think I was still somewhat in shock as well…

Ride to the Labrador Ferry

The next morning, I left the hotel and went right back to Tim Hortons. I don’t remember what the plan was. I recall looking into a bus service that would go to Deer Lake.

My phone rang.

The guy on the other end knew who I was and said he knew someone I didn’t recognize. It turns out, my brother had told his boss of my predicament, who had told a friend who was from Labrador, who knew someone else that could help me. I was told I would be able to borrow a pickup truck to get my stuff from my wrecked Jeep. What a completely unexpected answer to prayer!

I was given some phone numbers and told all I needed to do was get to the Labrador ferry at St Barbe. After an unsuccessful attempt to find a ride at the gas station, I started the walk out of town, to hitch hike my way there. At this point I was becoming more sure of the friendly Newfoundlanders, and I wasn’t worried. Of course after half an hour of standing there, I was less sure. After about 45 min, the first transport truck out of town stopped and was going to exactly where I was headed. He was a nice guy, from the Island. We chatted about various places and things to see in Newfoundland.

We pulled into St Barbe with 20 minutes to spare. I got a ticket for the ferry then walked another kilometer to the dock. I walked onto the ferry, tired but amazed. I still had no clue what was in store, but God was providing MIGHTILY.

Arrival in L’anse-au-Loup

As the ferry headed out, I called the number I had been given and I was told they would be waiting for me on the other end. I walked off the ferry and found them easily. They were a very friendly couple, and I stayed for 3 nights with them in L’anse-au-Loup, Labrador.

As we drove away from the ferry, it was decided we should get icecream, as there was a place nearby that they liked to stop at. Not the introduction I was expecting! But it helped set me at ease.

This was a huge turning point. Everything just changed and worked better than I could have imagined or arranged. I’m not one to rely on anyone, but without these people’s kindness, things would not have worked out so well. It was beyond chance. God was caring for me greatly through them.

My experiences of Labrador are now so rich because of the people I was brought in contact with. I had several local dinners, was shown ideal places to camp, and roads to explore. I also went to church with them on Sunday, and was warmly greeted by many more. I was to hear that the person with the Satellite phone was from there, and I re-met the man who had brought me water at the scene. the people I stayed with also helped with the next steps that ultimately completed my journey.

My time in L’anse-au-Loup was a bright light in an otherwise trying time. I know that when I return someday, I will have visiting built into the trip schedule…and that is something I have never taken time for on a road trip.

Return to the Jeep

So I had a wonderful time during my stay in L’anse-au-Loup, but remember, I had to go pickup my camping gear from the Jeep. So the day after arriving on the ferry, I set out in the borrowed pickup truck to Port Hope Simpson, where the Jeep was resting.

It was an interesting experience. Here I was, back on the very gravel roads that the crash happened on. I was a little nervous and did drive slower than I normally would. It didn’t help that the pickup truck had some “character”. The check engine light was on, it didn’t like climbing hills, the suspension rattled, and its tires had seen better days.

Either way, I made the journey without incident. The Jeep was in rough shape. I salvaged what I could from it. Of course things were a bit more complicated. I had recalled the police saying they would take my stuff out and take it to the station…but I had no clue where the station was, and at this point I was back in the land of no cell service.

One of the nurses from Charlottetown had given me her number, and mentioned that she lived in the “yellow trailer” in Port Hope Simpson if I needed anything. So with that description I drove circles through the tiny town, finally finding a yellow trailer house. It was the correct place! I was invited in for lunch and coffee. We called the police and made sure my stuff would be available for pickup, at Mary’s Harbour. I was invited for dinner, but unfortunately had to be moving on. I made it back to L’anse-au-Loup without any issue.

Almost there

Only one more problem to be solved, and at this point I wasn’t worried. God would come through. I knew he would.

So I needed to get from Labrador to Deer Lake, Newfoundland to get my rental. The people I was staying with knew some truckers that made the run regularly, so they made some calls and arranged for me to get a ride with one. We went to the grocery store, got some boxes and packed up all my gear, and put it in the back of the empty transport trailer. I walked onto the ferry the following morning, and rolled back onto the Island in a transport truck.

The trucker was a nice guy and we talked for most of the drive. It was interesting to learn a bit of his life story and that he was trucking so that he could live in his homeland of Labrador. He also pointed out some possible backroads for me to drive if I return.

As we approached Deer Lake, I mentioned that the rental place was at the airport. He said the airport wasn’t well setup for transports, and he wouldn’t be able to get back out if he drove me in there. So I had one final problem to solve. He had to get gas anyway, so he could take me at least that far.

Thinking on my feet at this point, I unloaded my stuff and put it in the grass by the gas station, and asked if he could at least drop my by the road to the airport, which was just out of town. He did, and I walked the remaining 2 km to the airport, got my rental, then picked up my stuff….which of course was still there.(this is Newfoundland, not Ontario)

I sat in my rental, almost not knowing what to do. I was “in control” again. It was a weird feeling. I drove to Port aux Basques that afternoon, then took a day off by the beach before setting out on the ferry for Nova Scotia, then the drive for home.

It’s a strange thing. I pretty much had all of the material things I really care about taken away from me. I lost my dream Jeep, my camera gear was heavily damaged, and worst of all, a budding road trip was taken before the best could even happen. YET, the light of God’s care and love shone so brightly. I do have moments of disappointment, and it is tough looking at the road ahead of insurance, new jeeps, fixing cameras, and rentals…..but I just feel so full of blessing. God revealed himself to me in a way that was above and beyond anything. And tailored specifically to me. He is so loving. The path ahead will have its bumps, but I KNOW He will be with me, and it will work out.

This is actually the last picture I took of the Jeep before the accident.

4 Replies to “Light in the Darkness in Labrador”

  1. Very interesting story Tim, we were very glad to be able to help you at this time. Our God is an amazing God, he can provide in ways we cannot understand. Our God is great. Come visit us when you come this way again.

  2. AHOY! I’m one o’ those Labrador nurses…Kim…actually the one that came along and was the second car behind this bad accident. It looked terrible, but Tim came through it quite well despite the “rough road” back. I’m sorry your favourite shirt from the Yukon was cut off…but now you’ve got another one from your adventures here. Your GPS was working well despite everything…”God’s Protection & Strength” was still with you despite the lack of cellphone services. All the best and Keep on Travelling Tim!

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