Humanity :: Kindness of Strangers

Clouds of dust drift away as I sit up and take off my helmet. My bike stretches out across the Trans-Labrador Highway on its left side; its wheels still spin, but the engine has stopped. Something is wrong. But I don’t know what.

trans labrador highway

My heart races as my brain takes inventory. I’m breathing. I’m in one piece. Maybe it’s just the adrenaline. Something feels really wrong. I reach down, bracing myself against the gravel road, and try to gather my legs beneath me and stand up. That’s when I know.

My right leg did what it was told, bending at the knee and tucking my foot near my rear, readying to lift me. But my left splays out on the gravel, limp and awkward. I’m over 100 miles from help, and I think my leg is broken. I tell myself not to panic.

The satellite phone is strapped to the back of my bike, but the 10 feet I would have to crawl to reach it looks like a mile. A woman at the campground in Happy Valley-Goose Bay (HVGB) warned me there is very little traffic out here. If I had problems, I’d have to wait a long time for help. I’d had a flat tire on this same section yesterday and went back to town for the night before trying it again this morning. I didn’t want to camp out here after seeing a bear.

satellite phone michelle lamphere

“Ma’am, are you ok?” a voice calls out behind me. I’ve been down for barely a minute and hadn’t heard a sound. Where did he come from?

This RCMP Officer, who was headed to Cartwright, must be my guardian angel. I tell him about my leg. He runs back to his car to call for an ambulance and returns with a blanket. Even in my heavy black motorcycle gear baking under the July sun, I’m shivering.

It will take two hours for the ambulance to get here, and the officer suggests requesting a helicopter. I tell him I’ll wait the two hours instead. I’m embarrassed to be in this position. I want to get up and walk it off, for everything to be ok. But as I try to move my leg, I can feel the broken ends of bone in my lower leg grinding against each other.

As the officer goes to call dispatch, a dust plume rises in the distance. A white cargo van arrives. The driver is an EMT headed for town. After checking on me, he lifts my bike and parks it at the side of the road. He has an empty van and room in his garage to store my bike if needed.

Minutes later, a pickup arrives with two Fisheries and Oceans officers. One is married to an ER nurse at the HVGB hospital and calls her for advice. My four heroes construct a windbreak from spare tires and a tarp and cover me with jackets until the ambulance arrives. While we wait, they load my bike into the van. So much for waiting hours for help. Within 15 minutes, I’m surrounded by trained emergency responders.

 michelle lamphere broken leg

 michelle lamphere air ambulance

The ambulance transports me to HVGB for the night, and I’m flown to St. John’s, Newfoundland, for surgery the following afternoon. The van driver stores my bike until someone else volunteers to trailer it to St. John’s for me, a journey of 1,000 miles, in exchange for a beer.

After hearing about my wreck on their motorcycle forum, local riders offer to help however they can. Transportation. A place to stay. Food. One rider connects me with a woman whose daughter has just left for school on the mainland. She generously offers me her daughter’s empty bedroom rent-free while I recover. No questions asked. It’s apparently what you do when you live in Newfoundland and Labrador and have a big heart.

broken leg X-ray

A kind man lends me a cabin near the sea for a week. Another preps my bike to get back on the road. Yet another fixes my panniers and stores my bike in St. John’s. He and his girlfriend bring meals and take me on tours of the area when I am more mobile. I’ve never seen anything like it. Each act of kindness leaves me in tears of gratitude. After three months in Newfoundland, I hate to leave. These friends are like family now.

In late September, I ride onto the ferry and wave goodbye. I will be forever grateful.

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Michelle Lamphere is a world traveler, writer, and supporter of women motorcyclists and the motorcycle community. In 2013 she quit her 20-year executive job. What started out as an extended vacation and break between careers turned into a two-year journey by motorcycle across 20 countries and 45,000 miles. In 2015 she published Tips for Traveling Overland in Latin America and in 2017 she published The Butterfly Route, a memoir of her two-year journey. Michelle returned to the Black Hills and now owns and operates a small vintage motel in Custer, South Dakota. She currently serves as the National President of Women's International Motorcycle Association's USA Division.