Shrinking The Planet – One Ride At A Time

Posts tagged “Labrador

The Finish Line Is Just The Start – The Shakedown Cruise

Well Kim and I have finally reached what has been our goal for over 40 years. On the 4th of July 2015, we retired from the corporate world. No more suits, no more ties, no more deadlines. After spending decades doing what others wanted us to do, it’s finally our turn to go out and play. I’ve even started the beard that I’ve always wanted.

To mark our new found freedom, we’ve decided to try an around the world journey. For now, we’re just going to do a little shakedown run to ease into the retirement waters. We’re heading north from our home and will take a route that will take us from NH, through VT, Quebec via the Gaspe Peninsula, Labrador via the Trans Labrador Highway, Newfoundland via parts of the Trailway, Nova Scotia and ME.

Then we’ll take some time off to sell our home and many belongings so that we can make our way around the rest of the world.

I’ll be on a 2011 KTM 990 Adventure and Kim will be on a 2013 Suzuki DR650.

Although both have been somewhat farkelized I can’t leave good enough alone. Kim’s DR needs something more to make it worthy. So I’ve added some Barkbusters, a 5 gallon Acerbis tank, a swoopy high mount front fender and relocated her well used windshield lower.

 

For a detailed ride report with pictures, please click here:

The Finish Line Is Just The Start

We’ll also have a Spot satellite tracker so you can watch us as we make our way and you can find it here:

Ride2ADV Shakedown Cruise

We’ll update our ride report with pictures and text constantly, so remember to come back often.  Please note that there are multiple pages at this ride report, so click on the page number at the bottom or top of the page as the ride report gets longer (you’ll see a block at the top or bottom of the page that says Page X of Y).

 


Shrinking and Sharing The Planet Through Adventure Travel

A new private message arrived in my ADVRider email account and I opened it with unbridled anticipation.  You see, the message was in response to our listing on the “Tent Space” thread where we offer food and lodging in our home to adventure riding motorcycle travellers.   We’ve hosted travellers in our NH home from as far away as Australia and we’ve enjoyed every minute.  We’ve generated new friendships and been able to share a bit of our country with people from other parts of the world.

It turns out that this traveller was not from very far away, in fact he was from Brooklyn, NY.  He was finishing up a three week sortie of the Trans Labrador Highway, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.  Awesome!  The Trans Lab loop was one of our favorite rides which we had last ridden 2007.  We were anxious to meet the rider, hear about the Trans Lab and what he experienced during this trip.

We emailed our potential guest back and told him that we would be delighted to have him come and stay with us.  We had a few back and forth contact emails and around 10:00 PM as we sat around the fire pit of our little VT getaway home, we could hear the familiar sound of a single cylinder motorcycle coming up our gravel mountain road.

We left our little fire and greeted our guest Ben Recchi.  What a great person.  We fed him some dinner since he hadn’t eaten in quite a while and had been on the road since early in the day.  We stayed up and chatted until well past midnight talking about the Trans Lab, his and our travels, where we’d been, what we’d seen and where we’d like to go.

It turns out that Ben had been to many other places on a bike, including Central America more than once.  To do so, he learned Spanish and was capable of communicating with the people he met.  This made his journey more enjoyable and helped him share a little about himself with the communities he came in contact with.   He really enjoyed Central America and said he would be happy to return.

We told him about our experiences and where we had been and a little about what we had seen.  We briefly discussed our trips to Ushuia, Iceland and the Trans American Trail and we all agreed that riding to different parts of the world was an excellent way to learn and share.  We probably could have talked longer, but it was getting late and Ben had to get back to Brooklyn and we were pretty tired.  So we all adjourned for a good night’s rest.

The following morning, we chatted some more over breakfast and found that we were all also MotoGP and Formula 1 fans.  Wow, another thing in common.  Ben had planned to leave fairly early in the morning but when I told him that I had DVR’d the MotoGP race, I was able to convince him that he should stay a while longer and at least watch the race with us.  With the remote and the skip commercial button, we could get the race watched and done in less than 45 minutes.

So we sat in the living room and watched the race together, commenting on what was happening in the race and the championship, who was going where at the end of the season and all the fun things that fans discuss when they are enjoying their sports of choice.  It was like having a long term buddy in our living room, not just someone we’d met the evening earlier.

So after the race was completed, the victor announced and the trophies handed out, Ben started to pack for his final leg of his three week journey.  We helped him load up his bike, took a few pictures of our new friend and wished him safe travels on his way home to Brooklyn.  It was with real regret that I watched him motor down my driveway and onto the gravel road down the mountain back towards his home in NY.

We had made a new friend and shared some mutual experiences.  We found much in common in the less than 24 hours that we shared together.  We broke bread together and learned about each other, all in the spirit of friendship and sharing that is brought about by adventure motorcycling.  What a great way to learn about other people and shrink the planet.  Although in this case Ben was not from a far away land, we did share and we did make a new friendship.  We were invited to come and visit him in his home when we came by his way.

So even though the distances between our respective homes was not great, I believe that the sharing that we did together did indeed…

Shrink The Planet, One Ride At A Time.

Get out there and shrink the planet a bit, please.


Transiting The Trans Labrador Highway & Canadian Atlantic Provinces (Part 7)

We awakened to falling rain and fog.  Our foggy heads cleared quickly, but the fog and rain outside refused to do the same.  We resigned ourselves to more riding in the rain and reduced visibility, but that is part of the adventure isn’t it.  We were more disappointed that we would be missing scenery along the way to the ferry at Port Aux Basques.    Unfortunately, we didn’t see much for most of the ride, but as we approached the ferry, the rain did stop and visibility did increase somewhat.

Although the weather obscured the traditional scenery, we were in for a treat when the ferry arrived in port.  Out of the fog, a giant ghostly shadow appeared.  Moving slowly, it glided silently towards us with a nearly imperceptible rocking motion.  We knew it was a ship, but we couldn’t clearly make out any detail.  As it approached, it blew its horn and there was no doubt it was a large vessel.  Then out of the gloom we made out the blue, white and gold of the MV Caribou.  Although it was a very large vessel more than 565 feet in length, her impressive form glided more like giant kayak across the calm harbor waters than a ferry capable of carrying 1,200 passengers, 370 cars and 77 trucks.

Just as we thought she would pull into the dock and tie up, she gave us a special treat.  What we hadn’t noticed was that the vehicles entered and disembarked from the rear of the ship.  The Caribou was headed straight into the dock, so how would she unload her cargo.  Ahhh….  A 270 degree turn would be necessary in the very narrow harbor.

So as easy as pie, the Captain of the Caribou turned his gigantic vessel around in the middle of the small harbor with very little clearance.  It was an awesome display of seamanship.  You want to see it?  Well, OK…..

After a successful docking, we were able to load the bikes onto the Caribou for the ride to Nova Scotia.  It was a smooth uneventful trip and before we knew it we were being discharged on the shores of Nova Scotia around midnight local time.  Of course it was raining again and finding our hotel was a bit of a chore, but find it we did and we dropped into the rack to sleep the sleep of the dead.

Viola!  We awoke to bright sunshine with only a few clouds dotting the sky.  What a wonderful change!  Having heard about the beauty of the Cabot Trail and the twisty roads that surrounded it, we made a beeline for the reportedly smooth pavement running along side the mountains and ocean.  We were not to be disappointed; not one iota.

On narrow, bumpy and mostly deserted roads, we passed many small towns which seemed to have one thing in common; wonderful people.  During our brief stops, or our overnight stays, it seemed that everywhere we went people greeted us and wanted to chat.  All the greetings were warm and welcoming, we often felt like lost relatives.  They wanted to know about us and they often told us much about their families and themselves.  This give and take is in our opinion what true adventure riding is all about.  We were really not all that far from home, but we were learning much from the folks we interacted with and I think we got a true feeling of what it was like to live in the Canadian Atlantic Provinces.

As welcome and comfortable as we were, we hightailed it towards Cape Breton and the Cabot Trail.  The blue skies, clear blue ocean and sinuous mountain roads beckoned to us.  As we rolled along the road that paralleled the bright blue ocean, we passed the tiny town of Wreck Cove and immediately the mountains which mark the beginning of the Cabot Trail became visible.

We could see the steep and twisting road immediately in front of us.  A sharp hairpin turn led to the steepest part of the road that clung to the side of the mountain as the ocean lay calmly hundreds of feet below.  There was only one thing left to do and it was to ride that road.  And ride it we did.  The road was steep enough at the beginning that we used first gear for the a significant portion of the climb.  It was a bit interesting to be riding this twisting road only a couple of feet from the guard rail that was the only barrier a several hundred foot drop to the ocean below.  But nonetheless, the view was spectacular.

As we crested the first ridge of the mountain, we lost sight of the ocean, but the pavement became very smooth and we were able to enjoy some twisties on a smooth surface.  We both hooted and hollered into our communicators and told each other how spectacular the riding was and  how much we were enjoying Nova Scotia.  Although we were enjoying the twisties, we did take the time to stop and enjoy some of the spectacular mountain views along the top of the mountain pass.

Later as we began our descent from the top of the mountain, we were treated to another set of twisties, this time even more exciting than at the beginning of the day.  Hairpins and decreasing radius turns awaited our eager throttle hands and wide open eyes.  But this wonderful steeply descending road presented us with a significant dilemma.  The problem was that the twisties were so technical that we dare not take our eyes off the road while navigating each corner.  So you say, why would that be a problem?  The problem was that just beyond that guard rail were the most amazing views of the north Atlantic you can imagine.  The bright blue sea met an equally dazzling ocean and where they met at the horizon, it was as if the two were merged into one.  The decision as to which to look at was mind rending.

But as we laughed to each other over our communicators, “someone has to do it,” we started down quickly scanning from road to sea, road to sea.  If you know anything about instrument flying, it was an exercise in scanning.  Don’t stare at anything, keep moving your eyes, soak it all in to your brain and make the correct control inputs.  It was a test, but a wonderful one at that.

As the road straightened out a bit, it still provided awesome views of the ocean and of itself as it undulated up an over little ridge crests alongside the sea.  To your left, green trees sprouted from the sheer mountain walls while to your right, the ocean vied for your attention.  It was an amazing test of willpower just to stay on the road.

The mesmerizing ride took away all realization of time for us and before we knew it, we had completed the Cabot Trail and were headed back inland across the peninsula towards Lunenburg.  A very lovely town with an artists flair, we were treated to more local sights and flavor.  We’ll take you there in Part 8.


Transiting The Trans Labrador Highway & Canadian Atlantic Provinces (Part 5)

The ferry Sir Robert Bond effortlessly cruised up the bay so as to deliver us on time and early in the morning in Cartwright.  The short overnight cruise had been uneventful and we slept heavily until the morning arrival announcement awakened us.  Offloading was a cinch and we found ourselves deposited in Cartwright hungry and in need of fuel.  First things first,  we immediately made…  breakfast the priority.

Not being a very large town, not too far from the ferry dock we found a small diner where the locals were busy getting ready for the day.  We joined them, munched down some good local fare and inquired about obtaining fuel.  They told us the only gas station in town would open around 8:30 and it was now 7:30.  Kim and I looked at each other and decided that with the extra fuel I was carrying we would head on towards Port Hope Simpson where fuel was available and where we planned to stay for the night.

By the way, if you don’t know, click on any one of the pictures in the gallery below and it will open that picture into a full size picture and then you can click your way through the remainder of the pictures in either direction in full size.

We meandered along the TLH enjoying ourselves and the scenery, just soaking everything in.  It was decent weather, we were in no particular rush and in fuel saving mode.  We’d been traveling a couple of hours.  Cruising along, I looked into my rearview mirror and saw a dust cloud and two headlights coming our way at a high rate of speed.  They weren’t spaced evenly so it wasn’t a car or truck.  As I stopped to see what was coming, my guess was confirmed.  It was our friends Roy and Jeff from the ferry.  They had waited for the gas station to open and were high tailing it to try to make the ferry at Blanc Sablon.  They had covered in one hour what we had in two.  They were moving!

We chatted briefly and they decided to get going so they didn’t miss the ferry at Blanc Sablon.  We wished them well and their bikes and their dust cloud soon vanished in the distance.  Their bikes having disappeared over the horizon, it was time for us to make our own headway towards Port Hope Simpson to get the fuel we needed and obtain respite from the black flies which had recently made themselves known in full force.  In fact, for one photo stop, Kim refused to open her faceshield lest she immediately be swarmed by the nasty little critters.  She was right, it was better to keep moving.

After some beautiful riding and some very abbreviated photo stops, we arrived in Port Hope Simpson and found the General Store that also sold fuel.  To our surprise, we found some familiar faces.  Yes indeed, it was our friends Roy and Jeff from the ferry once again.  It seemed that the power was out in town and therefore, the fuel pumps were not working.  We chatted and walked into the General Store to find out if they knew when the power might come back on.

The clerk there told us not to worry, that the power should come back on in an hour or so.  She told us that this always happened when the guys down at the saw mill turned up the power without calling first and it trips off the breaker.  That puts that part of the town out of power until the circuit could be reset.  So we waited around for about an hour and sure as the sun rises the power came back on and we were able to fill all our bikes.

Unfortunately for Roy and Jeff, they were now truly under a time deadline and they REALLY had to make a beeline for Blanc Sablon if they wanted to make the ferry before it left the dock.  (We found out later that they did make it but only by a matter of minutes.)

Fully fueled, we headed to the only accommodations in town and settled in.  We were sitting in our room relaxing when the phone rang.  Kim and I simultaneously looked at each other with bewildered looks.  Who would be calling us in a little tiny hotel in Port Hope Simpson in northern Labrador?  I walked over to the phone and picked it up wondering who might be on the other end.

A unfamilar voice said “Mike”?  Yes, I replied warily.  The voice on the other end said, “Hi, it’s Dave Noel.  We’ve been corresponding on the Ride The Rock forum and I thought I’d come over and say hi.”  I was shocked but really pleased.  Dave and I had been chatting on the excellent Ride The Rock forum (you can find the link on our links page) when I was planning the TLH ride and Dave had been following my postings on ADVRider.com (you can also find their link on our links page)  He took it upon himself to ride over 25 miles on gravel from his home town Mary’s Harbor, just to say hello to someone he had never met.  In what other community would that kind of hospitality be shown?  I was amazed and pleased to no end.  I met Dave in the “lobby” and we went back to our room for a chat and we decided that the three of us would ride together tomorrow for a while.  We would meet at Dave’s house and ride from there.

The following morning we easily found Dave’s house and met his family, his wife and two sons.  Soon we were on the TLH headed towards Red Bay.  The trip had been cool, and along the way we found how cool it had been.  It was mid June and we found large patches of… SNOW!  More than enough to make snowballs and enough for Dave to try to sneak in a couple of sneaky snowball attacks!  However, I am pleased to report that he was unable to connect any either of these New Hampshire natives.

As we approached Red Bay we stopped for a couple of pictures.  We were on an elevated portion of the TLH with a partial view of Red Bay.  In the distance we could see the bay and I could see white specs in the water.  I was somewhat speechless.  I told Kim to look closely behind her and look in the bay.  Did she see what I saw?  Were there really icebergs in the bay?  Now we were really excited because neither of us had ever seen icebergs in person.  Dave humored us and we descended into Red Bay.

As we approached, it became clear that the specs were indeed icebergs and they were majestic.  Sparkling white and huge, they floated silently in the bay.  We did not sense any motion, but they floated there like barren white islands of various shapes and sizes, daring you to describe them.  Some were gigantic, towering monoliths of ice, jutting out of the water.  It amazed us to think that fully two thirds of the berg lay under water.  Others were smaller and flatter, still white almost silver in color, again defying description.

We stopped at a small restaurant in town and had lunch with Dave.  He needed to get home so we wished him the best and thanked him for taking the time to come and meet us and share this journey with us.  We remain friends to this day.

After we said our goodbyes, we rode closer to the bay to gain the best view of the icebergs and yet another magical thing happened.  As I was sitting on my KTM staring, I noticed a spray of water in front of the iceberg.  Then another, and still another.  My mouth dropped agape.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  There from the side of the road, right in front of me, were several icebergs and in front and around the icebergs were several pods of Humpback whales feeding!  They were breeching and if I listened carefully, I could even hear them blowing.  It was a spectacular sight.  One that I will probably never experience again.  There must have been more than 100 whales feeding.

As I sat beside the road, a local came out of his house and said, “Pretty good show huh?”  They were here all day yesterday and today.”  I was dumbfounded.  All I could mumble was, “Yes, it’s a great show, I am so happy to be here to enjoy it.”  So everyone, I was lucky enough to have my little point and shoot camera with me which had a video mode.  Because it’s a little point and shoot the video isn’t excellent, but I think it’s worthwhile.  Therefore, I am indeed pleased to share with you the best whale watch I’ve ever been on, (including those on boats hehe) that was taken from the side of the road on my KTM motorcycle.  You can find it here:

We sat there for an hour watching and listening to the whales.  It was an amazing experience.  Words just can’t describe it, it’s one of things that you just have to experience for yourself.  We could have watched for hours, but we too had an appointment with the ferry at Blanc Sablon and it was time for us to make our way there.  So with significant regret, we mounted up again and made our way towards our next stop at Blanc Sablon and the ferry to Newfoundland where we’ll take you in Part 6


Transiting The Trans Labrador Highway & Canadian Atlantic Provinces (Part 4)

We awoke to light drizzle but with an increasing outlook for sun.  We were headed for Goose Bay, but we’d have an intermediate stop in Red Bay and it was to be an exciting experience, one that we’d not soon forget.  We left our combination hotel, restaurant, supermarket, high school building and packed the bikes.  Soon we were off the paved roads of the town of Churchill Falls and back out on the gravel of the Trans Labrador Highway.

As the sun climbed higher in the sky, so did our spirits as the clouds parted and the temperatures rose.  Today was going to be a truly nice ride and we were about to reach one of our milestone places, Goose Bay.  From Goose Bay, we were going to take the ferry to Cartwright and the final run through Labrador to Blanc Sablon where we’d take another ferry to Newfoundland.  Goose Bay was to be , the beginning of another adventure in our adventure.  We were psyched!

By the way, if you don’t know, click on any one of the pictures in the gallery below and it will open that picture into a full size picture and then you can click your way through the remainder of the pictures in either direction in full size.

During the day’s trip, the gravel was to transform many times.  We were had been impressed with the overall condition of the TLH, the stories we’d heard of how dangerous it was for bikes hadn’t seemed to be true.   Caution was indeed necessary as was demonstrated by Kim’s get off outside of Labrador City.  But overall, the gravel had been fairly uniform and other than the hazards presented by the road graders, the road condition had been pretty good.

Today however, was a day of road and sky transformations.  It seemed that the road condition changed with the sky.  The clearer the sky became, the deeper and looser the gravel became.  Later in the day as it began to cloud up again, the road firmed up and became almost like pavement.  It was truly strange.  But enough about the road conditions.  We were headed for Goose Bay!

We traveled over and between verdant forests.  Many shades of green contrasting on the same hill or mountainside.  It was an irregular patchwork of greens, a pattern chosen by nature into a decoration of magical proportions.  All the while, we swooped and dived between the mountains on a path of stone and sand.  It was a symphony of nature and music for my ears was unnecessary because the music of nature before my eyes played in my head as I rode.

Time passed very quickly even though by this time we were in and out of rain showers.  Before we knew it we made it to the greeting sign for Goose Bay and Happy Valley.  It had stopped raining for the moment and it gave us the opportunity to take some pictures in front of the sign as evidence that we had made it.  Someone had left a marker of their achievement as well and built a rock man figure to the left of the sign letting all others know that people they had been there previously. and now so had we.

Shortly thereafter, it started to rain again and we headed to our hotel for a day and a half layover since the ferry would not be leaving until then.  We parked the bikes and unpacked the gear we needed in the rain.  Once in our room we dried off and warmed up.  It had become quite chilly by this point and the warmth of the hotel was greatly appreciated.  Now all we needed was a hot dinner.  Luckily for us, there was a small restaurant right next to the hotel and we headed on over.

They were serving a buffet and we passed a gentleman in the line.  I guess we look like “bikers” because he asked are you the two on the bikes?  We told him that indeed we were.  He said that he noticed our New Hampshire license plates and remarked that we had ridden a long way from home.  We told him we enjoyed the ride, especially over the TLH and that we were now headed to the end at Blanc Sablon and the ferry to Newfoundland, then on to Nova Scotia.  He said he was very interested in our trip and asked if he could join us for dinner to chat about it.  Of course we said yes and we had a terrific dinner discussing where we had been and were going on this trip and about adventure riding in general.  In return, he told us about himself and his family.  He was the local pastor in Goose Bay and had travelled there from Quebec a few years earlier.  His flock was growing and he was enjoying being in Labrador where he said could be a part of a community where people were like family.   After dinner, we wished him well and we returned to our hotel room feeling like we had become a bit part of the Goose Bay community, we learned about them and they about us.  It was a nice feeling.

The following day, I did a little preventative maintenance on the bikes and we did a little looking around Goose Bay.  But late in the afternoon, it was time to head to the ferry terminal to pick up the ferry to Cartwright where we continue our journey to the end of the TLH in Blanc Sablon, Quebec.  Little did we know that this part of the trip was to become very, very special.

We arrived at the terminal fairly early and found ourselves one of the few vehicles in the lot.  Parked at the pier was our ride to Cartwright, the Sir Robert Bond, our ferry.  She was a sturdy looking vessel and we were somewhat impatient to get on board, tie down the bikes and get underway for Cartwright.  It was to be an overnight trip and we had rented a berth so we could arrive fresh and rested to start the beginning of the end of our TLH ride.

Loading time came and was orchestrated very well.  It was an easy process and we were supplied with tie downs for the bikes.  Faster than we thought possible, we were on board and ready to depart. We walked around the Bond looking for some dinner and they did have a cafeteria.  Well, it was a cafeteria, and the food quality merited the name cafeteria food, but it was food and we were hungry.  Fed, we were ready to hit the sack and we adjourned to our berth for a good night’s rest.  Along the way, we met a couple of other riders, from all places, Massachusetts, the state right next to New Hampshire.  They too had been riding the TLH albeit at a much higher rate of speed.  They were really zooming and had covered much more ground in much less time than we had.  We had a good time joking around and having fun with them.  In fact, so much fun that I guess we drew a complaint from someone and a member of the crew staff asked us to keep the noise down.  Ooops!

Our partying done, now it was time to hit the rack.  The last of the TLH lay in front of us in the morning and well tell you about this and the very special happenings (the pictures will knock your socks off!) in Part 5.


Transiting The Trans Labrador Highway & Canadian Atlantic Provinces (Part 3)

In a misty drizzle just outside of Fermont, we rounded one of the corners beyond a railroad crossing.  A road grader had recently passed and left a rather high gravel and dirt berm near the middle of the road.  It has also apparently stopped there and made a slight turn because it had left a small pile of gravel and dirt a couple of feet to the right of the high berm.  It wasn’t that big but that was part of the problem.  It was difficult to see and it was also solid since it was filled with gravel.  Soft enough to dig into but not soft enough to plow through. 

I was about 100 yards ahead of Kim on my bigger KTM 950 and saw it in time to take evasive action.  I don’t know why I didn’t signal her or tell her about the berm on the communicator.  I guess I just figured she would see it.  Dummy!  Well she was on her smaller BMW F650 single and she hit it fairly dead center causing her to fall off and pile drive the big toe of her right foot into the gravel of the roadway.  It also knocked off one of her panniers and tweaked the pannier frame and lock.

By the way, if you don’t know, click on any one of the pictures in the gallery below and it will open that picture into a full size picture and then you can click your way through the remainder of the pictures in either direction in full size. 

 

I turned around and Kim was more concerned about the bike than herself.  She said her foot was a bit sore but was more concerned about how we would get her pannier closed, locked and back on her bike.  (It turns out that Kim had actually broken her toe and rode the remainder of the trip with the second bone in her big toe split in two, almost down the center.  I told you she’s pretty intrepid!) I had good tools and with a few tie wraps, a couple of temporary bolts, a bit of bending with pliers and smacking with rocks, we were ready to go again.   Of course, the rain had to pick up and we pressed on in the rain and gathering darkness towards Labrador City for a rest and to get some appropriate bolts to fix Kim’s panniers.

When we arrived in Labrador City, it was fairly late; almost 9:00 PM.  We hadn’t had any dinner and we were wet, cold, tired and hungry.  The restaurant was already closed and we asked about nearby places to eat.  It turned out there weren’t any open within walking distance, but the hotel folks graciously opened the bar area to us and got us some hot soup and a sandwich which we gratefully accepted.  What nice people!

The following morning, it was still raining and raining with abandon.  We went in search of hardware for Kim’s panniers and were given directions to a small store in town.   They unfortunately did not have what we were looking for and we were standing in the parking lot trying to figure out our next move when a somewhat familiar voice said, “Hi you two, what are you doing here?  We looked over and there was the woman who we had met while we were in a small hotel in Baie Comeau.  We had chatted a bit and she had said she and her family lived in Labrador City and they were returning in the process of there when we met them at the hotel.  Now here she was at this chance meeting!  We told her of our predicament and she said she could help us out and led us to a hardware store that did indeed have the parts we needed to fix Kim’s bike.  We thanked her and before we could get her full name and address, she was off.  The kindness of people is amazing.

With Kim’s bike repaired, it was only a short ride on pavement until we got back onto the gravel of the TLH.  “Civilization” quickly faded as the gravel grew deeper and the trees grew thicker, taller and greener.  We were headed to Churchill Falls and we were really into some isolated country.  It was gorgeous, but it was indeed immense.  Mountains surrounded us in many shades of green.  Light green and dark greens literally covering the mountains like a patchwork quilt of  trees randomly distributed over and around the mountain sides.  Once off the mountains, large plains could often be seen, sometimes populated with thriving green trees or sometimes with the dead trees that had expired in forest fires or been killed by flooding.  And as we traveled on, not a glimpse of man made civilization was to be found.  Not a sign, telephone pole, street light or manhole cover.  It was wilderness and it was amazing. 

After traveling for a few hours we decided to stop for a snack of a powerbar, some nuts and water.  By stopping, the presence of the wide open wilderness became even more omnipresent.  It was overcast and no breeze blew.  It was very quiet.  The road and surrounding terrain was flat and we cold see it disappear around a wooded corner in the distance.  Nearby, a large sand berm approximately 10 feet tall offered a better vantage point to view the surroundings so I climbed it to look around.  With the view from that berm, I could see even farther into the open and vast space around me, bracketed by verdant mountains.  It was beautiful and scary at the same time.  I looked down from the berm to see Kim standing 20 yards away and she looked miniscule framed by the surroundings.  It was a surreal moment, one where you feel like you are only a very, very small part of the earth.

Wake up! I told myself there’s a lot more of Labrador to travel so I disengaged my mind from the scene and climbed down from the berm.  We needed to get to Churchill Falls before dark and we still had plenty of miles to go.  After what seemed like many hours in the wilderness, we arrived in Churchill Falls and the beginning of paved road again.  Churchill Falls was built exclusively as a town to service the nearby hydroelectric dam.  It is a small self sufficient town complete with hotel, high school, supermarket, and restaurant but all are in the same building.  When you have to be self sufficient this far out, there’s little credit given to waste.  So if you are going to build a large public complex, you may as well build them all together at the same time and that’s exactly what the folks in Churchill Falls did.  Bravo.

We did get to experience a bit of what the locals must have to do all the time.  When we went looking for food in town, the restaurant was closed because they didn’t have a chef.  But we were told that the local bar had food.  So we went there but they were a bit low on supplies as well.  Kim ended up having fried cod chunks and water, and since I don’t like seafood, I ended up with mozzarella sticks and beer as a 100% nutritionally complete dinner.

The following morning we got up early for our ride to Goose Bay and the first major ferry ride of the trip.  We’ll tell you more about that in Part 4.


Transiting The Trans Labrador Highway & Canadian Atlantic Provinces (Part 2)

Having snaked our way up the side of Manic 5 we were underway for real on our TLH adventure.  It had been a beautiful ride so far, but it had been an all pavement ride up to this point and we were really looking forward to a bit more challenging terrain to ride.  We were about to experience some and find out what the TLH had in store for us.

As we made our way northward, the rain decreased in intensity and the low clouds began to lift a bit.  We were able to see a bit more of our surroundings and enjoy the very green forests that encroached from all directions.  The rain could do little to dampen our spirits as we soldiered on deeper into the forests of Labrador.  Yes, we were really heading into the wilderness and we were loving it.  The gravel road undulated and swooped up and down, sometimes with fairly steep grades.  The gravel varied from hard packed to loose and piled, so we had to stay alert, but it was not hugely difficult riding.  In fact, the rain was doing us somewhat of a favor and keeping the dust to zero.

After about two hours on the road and not a single car coming from the other direction, we were really in riding nirvana.  All this to ourselves, lush green surrounded us, the grey misty skies embraced us and softened all the features to a gauzy dreamlike condition.  If you could ride a motorcycle and enter a trance at the same time, now would be the time to do it, it was just that peaceful.   Just when we thought that we were the last two people on earth (or at least in Labrador) as we crested a hill, we were reminded that we were still surrounded by “civilization” no matter how isolated we thought we were.

To the right side of the road atop an orange pole stood tall, thin, blazing red beacon with unlit yellow and green lights.  It stood there silently with another square little box counting down the minutes and seconds as if it were waiting for something big to happen.  Could this really be?  A traffic signal in the middle of nowhere on the TLH?  Indeed it was and it was the first of its kind seen by this city boy.  It was a time controlled traffic signal and it was waiting for us and telling us to wait until it counted down to zero.  But it was quite strange.  Ahead we could only see sodden gravel road and varying shades of green trees, for what appeared to be a half mile.  We still didn’t know what it was doing there but we waited somewhat impatiently for the countdown to end and the light to turn green.

In fact, it took so long that a car pulled up beside us and turned off its engine to wait as well.  It’s occupants rolled down their windows and offered us some of the nuts they were munching on and we chatted a few minutes about our trip and where were from and where we were headed.  They told us that up ahead, we would find some construction where the road would narrow to a single lane and that’s why we were being held, so that traffic coming the other way would have time to pass the construction and pass us.  After the allotted time had passed we would be free to go and the folks on the other end would have to wait until we had passed by the timing of the traffic signal.  When the light finally turned green, we wished our new friends well and let them go first since we were in no rush to get anywhere and they were headed for Labrador City, quite a distance away.

One of the “highlights” of the trip was to pass through the vanished town of Gagnon, Quebec.   Gagnon provided us with one of the most eerie feelings we’ve ever had.  Gagnon was founded by the Québec Cartier Mining Company to mine iron ore at Jeannine Lake. Construction of the pilot plant began in the winter of 1957.  By August of that year, the plant had processed a thousand tons of ore. On January 28, 1960, the town was incorporated as Ville de Gagnon and named after Onésime Gagnon, the first Minister of Mining in Quebec. Thereafter it grew rapidly to 1300 inhabitants and by the end of that year, Gagnon had more than 4000 residents. It had an airport, churches, schools, a town hall, an arena, a hospital, and a large commercial centre, despite being isolated and only accessible by aircraft

In 1974, mining began at Fire Lake, some 80 kilometres (50 mi) north-east.  By the mid-1980s however, the mine was no longer turning a profit and the mines were closed.  More startlingly, the town fully was fully dismantled in 1985. All buildings and nearly all of the streets were demolished.  The town’s main street is all that remains and it became part of Route 389 two years after the town’s closure.  Eerily, that section of road retains a boulevard configuration, complete with a median, sidewalks, and sewers, despite being deep in the wilderness, hundreds of kilometres from the nearest active community,  It was  a very strange and unsettling feeling having traveled many miles on damp gravel to arrive at a paved section of road, complete with dividers and sidewalks, and see nothing around you but brush and trees.  You could only stare and wonder, “What happened to all the people who used to live here and where are they now?”

We stopped for a brief time but needed to move on since we had planned a fairly long day and had planned to bed down in were bedding down in Labrador City.  As we headed further north, towards Fermont, the mining town that led to the closure of Gagnon, the road began a set of twists and turns and multiple rail crossings.  Despite the fact that you are many miles from any large city, there are plenty of trains traversing these tracks and you must be very careful at the crossings to ensure that there is not a train coming.  While we completed this section in a single day, three separate trains passed by us.

Another hazard of the TLH is the “dreaded” road grader.  Traveling at low speeds, the transit the TLH for hundreds of miles evening out potholes and adding a slight crown to the road to assist in drainage.  While this is excellent for the four wheeled variety of vehicles, it can lead to more difficult riding for the two wheel variety.  The graders often leave an in or two of soft mixed soil in their wake as well as very significant mixed gravel berms that can make negotiating the road quite difficult.  The graders have gained a significant notoriety among the two wheeled adventure riding community and although their wake is not generally deadly, it can bite the unsuspecting if you turn your back on them as we’ll find out in Part 3.