As native New England adventure riders, we were looking for a ride that would be a bit more off the beaten track but doable within the 2 weeks we had off. Something that was not your garden style ride, but something more. We wondered where we could ride that would take us off the pavement and into the wilderness a bit, but still put us in touch with some different local flavors. Something that we were not used to and would be new, interesting and exciting. After thinking about it for a while, we thought we had come up with the only conclusion possible for us. The Trans Labrador Highway (aka the TLH)! At the time, a little traveled gravel road known for its changing conditions, pea sized gravel, significant distances between towns and nice people in them. Then we thought, while we were at it, we may as well visit Newfoundland and Nova Scotia!
Done! The deal had been struck, we would leave in the middle of June and head generally northeast up through Quebec, into Labrador, to Goose Bay, where the TLH ended, hop a ferry to Cartwright, get back on the TLH and ride to Blanc Sablon (actually in Quebec) hop another ferry to Newfoundland, ride south down the west coast of Newfoundland and once again jump on another ferry to Nova Scotia, ride the length of Nova Scotia and then board one last ferry to Maine and ride back to New Hampshire. What a great trip!
The machines for this trip were a KTM 950 Adventure for me and a BMW F650GS for Kim. Although we planned to stay in hotels or B&Bs each night, we loaded them up with some extra supplies and gear in case of breakdown along the TLH. We had emergency food, water and shelter and fuel just in case, and we were still loaded within reason.
So off we went on a bright and sunny afternoon headed towards Magog, Quebec. Once reaching the Canadian border, signs in both English and French reminded us that we were indeed in the French speaking province of Quebec. Ahh… a different culture flavor to enjoy. As the day wore on, the skies turned a bit more ominous, but luckily for us, we made it to our first stop completely dry and were able to enjoy a nice French Canadian dinner. Yum! We hit the rack fairly early in hopes of getting an early start the following morning. We hoped that the good weather we had encountered all day would continue into the next. However, we were not so lucky this time and the skies decided to open, shedding their grey and misty burden upon the surrounding green landscape. On went our rain gear and we made our way north. All morning we encountered rain and wind, but by the time we had made it to La Malbaie, the rain had stopped and the sun occasionally peeked out between thick layers of heavy grey clouds.
We continued on in increasing sun and drying roads. By the time we had made it to Baie Comeau it was downright sunny. A few miles later and we were ready to board our first ferry of the trip, a very short jaunt across a river but the only way across it. There was a short backup of cars and trucks and everyone was patiently waiting their turn. While waiting, we chatted with several people who wanted to know about the bikes and where we were headed. When we told them we were about to traverse the Trans Labrador Highway, many were impressed, some wished they were coming along and all were very friendly.
In the increasing sun, we passed our first of several large dams that would mark our progress along the TLH. All of these dams are named with the precursor name “Manic” short for the Manicouagan reservoir that feeds the dams managed by Quebec Hydro. These dams are very important powering large portions of eastern Canada as well as the Eastern United States. We did a bit of the tourist thing and stopped for a few pictures at Manic 2 and Manic 5. All of the Manic dams are impressive structures, the most impressive being Manic 5 where the gravel of the TLH begins. We had hoped to take a tour of the inner workings of the Manic 5 (more formally known as the Daniel – Johnson dam), but we were two days early for the start of the tour season, so we missed out.
By the time we reached Manic 5 and the Energy Hotel where we would stay for the night, we were pretty tired so we unloaded our gear and piled it into our converted mobile home room. We walked past several other converted mobile home units and into the small cafeteria for some dinner. We noted that all of this was created not for the tourist trade, but to put up traveling workers who service Manic 5. As we sat and ate our cafeteria food, we looked around and noticed that we were the aliens, the outsiders. The real inhabitants of this place were the workers who kept the beast which was Manic 5 alive, fed and healthy. We were merely outsiders, observers, not doers involved in keeping this mammoth beast alive which in turn made so many other people’s lives easier and literally, full of light. It made me feel small. However, in little over an hour, we had finished our meal and we walked back to our room in gathering darkness and mounting drizzle.
As morning came, it was raining and raining hard. But the TLH called and we were anxious to be under way and start the beginning fo the gravel portion of our adventure. We loaded up our bikes and made our way over the last short portion of pavement. Prior to arriving on the gravel, you weave your way past several corners as Manic 5 looms in front of you. Several giant arches equally spaced with a single giant arch in the middle face you looking like tressels to a giant bridge. As you get closer, the immensity of the structure strikes you, this beast is large and it is powerful. Its size and power become more evident as you ride the road that climbs beside its concrete face.
Suddenly the road turns to gravel and it is steep. You make your way up the road and as you make it to the top on this new to you gravel surface, you can look down and see that you have climbed over 700 feet from whence you started. This dam is indeed spectacular. We stopped for a few pictures and began our TLH adventure in earnest. We’ll tell you more about our journey in Part 2.