Rain driven by fierce winds at nearly a 45-degree angle stung my face and whipped my clothing. I sidestepped to the railing to get a better view of this world at the 54th northern parallel, somewhere off the coast of Labrador. The weather precluded any chance to see stars or the northern lights, and I prayed it wasn't preventing the ship's captain and first mate from iceberg-spotting in the surrounding sea.
Out of the salty darkness came a voice. "Sue, over here," yelled Bruce Elfstrom over the wind and crashing waves. It was no surprise that our trip leader was on deck in the middle of the night and was actually enjoying the weather, apparent from his broad smile. Of Nordic heritage, Elfstrom is a four-wheel-drive expert who owns and operates a company called Overland Experts; he makes a living leading off-road expeditions around the globe. Something of a modern-day Viking, some of his favorite annual trips are to Iceland and Mongolia as well as to Mexico's Copper Canyon. In addition, he has a 90-acre 4WD track for training and evaluation, set up practically outside his backdoor in southern Connecticut.
"We're in a bit of a storm, and the ship's engine is having some problems," Elfstrom explained. "It's beautiful out here, isn't it?" he added. I had to agree. While I wasn't exactly enjoying the choppy seas, I was in the midst of yet another great adventure that used 4WD vehicles as a way to see and learn more about the world. The 14-day-long trip, dubbed OEXBYOVEXPNA (Overland EXpert's Bring Your Own Vehicle EXPeditions--North America), had begun in Quebec and traversed the land of the Inuit through Labrador, tracing Viking history in Newfoundland. Along the way, there was plenty of great four-wheeling.
Neither a poseur nor a Sunday-afternoon enthusiast, Elfstrom holds instructor-level certifications for Land Rovers and all other 4WD vehicles in England and the U.S. He trains newbies and driving experts, but what he really loves are trips just like this one, where the venue includes the opportunity to drive unique and out-of-the-way 4WD trails, learn and perform vehicle trail fixes, study history, and participate in a community-service project.
Earlier that evening, we'd driven our vehicles onto the ferry. While a few drivers had some last-minute trail fixes to attend to in the belly of the boat, the rest of us stood on the ship's deck, waving goodbye to our local guide in Goose Bay, Labrador.
Our random collective of four-wheel-drive enthusiasts had bonded after a week of traveling together and shared more than a few adventures, on the trail and off, which always becomes the cement that turns a motley group of people and 4WD rigs into an expedition. Vehicle parts had already been flown into Goose Bay and repairs performed in a local garage before we could embark on our southerly journey toward the coast of Newfoundland.
While in Goose Bay, the group met with a local expert on the Inuit culture, hearing about the native peoples of Labrador. We also visited a gallery and museum with Inuit artifacts and artwork and, of course, spent an afternoon four-wheeling along a technical trail. The evening was topped off with caribou stew and moose burgers. A second day was spent doing a community-service project for the local Community Youth Summer Camp.
After a rough night's journey on our ship, the M/V Sir Robert Bond, we arrived in the picturesque fishing village of Blanc Sablon, Newfoundland, and, after a day of rest and exploration, we boarded the M/V Apollo for St. Barbe. On calmer seas, we watched icebergs turn opalescent blue and whales fish and frolic. And, as we pulled into the first Viking settlement in North America, we rested our tired bodies in the replica of a Viking long house, sleeping on sheep skins laid atop wooden planks. Our guides tended a fire through the night, cooking venison and bannock bread in traditional fashion.
We were up at dawn, and another day's drive put us in the majestic Gros Morne Park. Here, local guides took us on a challenging four-wheel-drive trail, deep into the mountains of western Newfoundland. We were given ample time for more technical four-wheeling, fly fishing, or simply taking in the breathtaking views from our private lodge. The OEXBYOVEXPNA trip came to a close three days later, ferrying us from Nova Scotia to Bar Harbor, Maine. What a wonderful adventure.
What is OEX?
Overland Experts' driving schools (for all levels from beginner to expert) are based at its Hadlyme, Connecticut, course. Hadlyme is near the town of East Haddam, with the Goodspeed Opera House as well as Essex and Old Lyme. The towns are situated near the mouth of the Connecticut River, listed by the Nature Conservancy as one of the "Last Great Places," for its natural beauty and open spaces. The region offers quality accommodations, can be reached by road via Route 95 and is served by the new high-speed Acela train. The area is rich in history and 25 minutes from Mystic Seaport.