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Riding through the Wreckhouse

Joel Thomas Hynes outside his home in St. John’s – Courtesy of © Louisa Iannaci

By Jaymie White

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

PORT AUX BASQUES – Joel Thomas Hynes, originally from Calvert, NL, is an author, actor, screenwriter, producer, director, and musician who has done what many on the Southwest coast wouldn’t dare – cross the Wreckhouse, during a wind warning, on a motorcycle.

On Saturday, May 28, Hynes left Corner Brook around 4 p.m., knowing the boat was running that evening after being cancelled the night before, and he said the wind picked up as he passed Stephenville.

“The wind was just extraordinary. It was horrendous, and I was literally leaning on an angle, wrestling with the wind at times. Sometimes I’d have to pick up speed in order to do that, and other times I would have to drop down when the wind got really bad, because the gusts were so unpredictable. I was blown over to the shoulder of the road a couple of times. At one point I’m doing about 100 and I felt like somebody struck me from behind in another vehicle, and that’s the wind coming from behind while I’m already moving forward. It was harrowing.”

Once he reached a gas station at Doyles, about 30 minutes from Port aux Basques, he was warned not to continue until the wind died down.

“The girls in the gas station asked me where I was going, and I said I was going to Port Aux Basques. They all said I can’t go down there now on that bike, and I said ‘Well, I’m going”. And they said I really should wait because there are truckers pulled over on the side of the road waiting for the winds to pass. It was raining, so I decided to hunker down, got a coffee, and I waited out the rain.”

Hynes said he had driven through the Wreckhouse dozens of times in a truck, and he has done it before on a bike, but not in high winds.

“I always thought the Wreckhouse was a general area, a stretch of about 15 or 20 kilometers. I didn’t realize it was such a specific area, and so I waited out the rain and I just thought ‘the worst has to be behind me,’ because making it through what I just come through, I thought I made it through that, so I’ll make it through anything. And at some point, I just had to go.”

Hynes said it wasn’t long before a man named Robert pulled over ahead of him and tried to get him to pull over.

“I was just in the zone. I was razor-focused fighting with this wind. I guess I was just about to come in to what is technically the Wreckhouse. He pulled up ahead of me and flagged me down, and at first I waved him on because I just wanted to go and get through it. Then I pulled over.”

Hynes said Robert, who also rides a big bike, told him he would never go through the Wreckhouse in such weather.

“I just sat and thought about it for a second because I’m not that foolhardy and stupid that I’m not going to listen to another experienced rider who’s flagged me down on the side of the road,” said Hynes. “I thought well I’m not turning back. If I ducked back the other way, I’ve still got nasty wind, and there was a part of me that thought he must’ve had no idea what I just rode through, how far I’ve gotten without dying, and there was still a part of me that didn’t believe it could get any worse.”

Hynes said he told Robert he had to make the boat. He was a day behind schedule and had to make it back to Toronto for work, so Robert offered to drive alongside him to block the wind as he made his way through the Wreckhouse.

“Sometimes we were doing the speed limit. Sometimes we had to drop down to 50 (kph) or so and it was incredibly intense. Thanks to him, I didn’t really experience the full extent of what the Wreckhouse had to throw at me, but I was still tossed all around the road. With his car blocking me, I was still being shot over to the shoulder and then sometimes bounced over next to his car. There was other motorists, but it’s not like we were driving in an insane way to put other people in danger or anything. If there was another vehicle coming and there wasn’t room, he would pull up ahead of me and we’d slow right down. Then when it was safe again, I would pull up alongside of him. We did that for the duration of the Wreckhouse.”

Hynes recalled that they passed two tractor trailers, one of which was down in the ditch with lights flashing, and that’s when it hit home for him what he was driving through.

Once he arrived safely in Port Aux Basques and reached the ferry terminal, people asked if Hynes had just come through the Wreckhouse.

“They said, ‘On that bike?’. People were just blown away that I made it down there.”

Hynes said he later posted the tale on Facebook, mainly as a thank you to Robert for helping him.

“I posted it, kind of as a cautionary tale to other riders, and I had been aware all week that it was motorcycle awareness week, and I just felt like I was a bit bulletproof. I was on such a high by the time I got to the boat, full of adrenaline. It was crazy. I’ve been riding for 20-odd years, I’ve ridden through snow, biblical rain, thunder and lightning, sub-zero temperatures, extreme heat. I’ve done off-road, long haul, street biking. I’m part of a riding club out of Kingston. I’ve ridden in formation with one percenters. I’ve done a lot of riding over the years, and that had to be the most challenging stretch of road I’ve ever been on and I had no idea just how foolhardy it was for me to go down that road.”

Hynes said he has learned over the years that riding in this province, where one can experience all four seasons in the same day, that Newfoundlanders are a different breed of rider.

“You’ve got to be tough. If you want to get any riding in at all, you’re not going to be waiting for the sun to shine, so you’ve got to gear up and get out on the road. My father – he had a 1973 Kawasaki 350, and he rode that bike back and forth between St. John’s and Ferryland all one winter, because that’s what he had. That was his vehicle. He rode that in the gravel on the side of the road when it was too icy. This is in the days before heated jackets, and he just did that because that’s what he had, so I grew up with those stories.”

Hynes said going through the Wreckhouse in similar conditions is not something he would suggest novice riders to do.

“I’ve done lots of safety training. I’ve taught people to ride, given lots of lessons. I’m not someone who doesn’t know what he’s at out on the road, and with all of my training, all my experience, it took every bit of technique and skill I didn’t even know I had when I got out there. I would not recommend it for a new rider at all and I’d really think twice, being on the road for years.”

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