I arrived in Baie-Comeau, Quebec, after four days of riding across the US and a stop in Saint Catharines, Ontario to visit Kevin, my riding buddy in Central America. Baie-Comeau is where my journey to ride the Trans Labrador Highway (TLH) starts. Another day and 580 km, and I would reach the province of Labrador and the start of the TLH.
In 1999, the first phase of the TLH was completed. 549 km of gravel road between Labrador City and Goose Bay. In early 2010, phase three of the project was completed between Goose Bay and Cartwright. This phase is 250 km of gravel road, and for the first time, enables you to travel form Labrador City to Read Bay – a total of 1200 km through the remote province of Labrador.
There is only one, maybe two, places for food and gas before reacting Labrador City, so I filled my 41 liter gas tank and grabbed a bite to eat before taking off on Hwy 389. The first 211 km is paved, and by the looks of this sign, was going to be fun.
It’s going to be a fun day!
Earlier that day, I’d had my first ferry crossing of the trip. This ferry is free and crosses the Saguenay river on Route 138 between Quebec City and Baie-Comeau.
I had a nice day riding the twisties with little traffic. Around 5PM, I started looking for a place to camp and found a great clearing just off the road. I was glad that I had not encountered the infamous black flies and hoped that maybe it was just too cold for them.
The next morning, I was up early and on my way to Labrador. As it turns out. the road was paved for a while longer. I started thinking that maybe the TKCs would not be needed. I had changed my street tires for the more dirt oriented TKCs in Saint Catharines, but I could have waited until Baie Comeau before having them mounted.
When I crossed into the Quebec Province a few days earlier, I was amazed to see that ALL the signs where only in French. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised having been warned, but it was strange seeing only French writing. What also surprised me was that I could read some of the words – must be the Spanish I learned while riding to Terra del Fuego.
Later that day, I passed the Manic-5 Dam and the start of gravel roads.
The Manic-5 Dam is what creates the Manicougan Reservoir. The reservoir is part of a crater from a 5 km diameter asteroid that smacked into the earth about 214 million years ago. It’s the 5th largest impact crater on earth.
From Manic-5 the road stops being twisty and turns into long straights.
It’s a good gravel road and the straight sections allow plenty of time to spot oncoming vehicles. However, I’m guessing I only saw about 5 vehicles between Baie-Comeau and Labrador City.
Occasionally, you pass a side road that takes off Hwy 389. No telling where this one goes, but it provided a nice place to stop for lunch.
This is the first view I had of the Mont-Wright mining complex. The whole mountain (on the right) is basically being strip mined for its iron ore. On the left are the gray mining tailings which are almost as impressive as the mountain they came from.
The ore is carried by train. For the next 50 km, the road snakes next to the tracks crossing numerous times. When the road crosses the tracks, there are no warrning gates or flashing lights, so you need to take a good look down the tracks.
From what I could tell, the mining operation is the only reason Labrador City exists. I guess if you need to have an open pit mine, this area of Labrador works because I can’t think of any reason to live here – it’s a pretty bleak place.
Strangely, all the signs I saw in Labrador were English only – no French. Other Provinces seem to support both English and French signs. Do the Labradorians and Québécois have some history?
I had dinner in Labrador City and then rode another 50km towards Churchill Falls before stopping to find a camping spot.
My luck with the black flies ran out at this camp. No sooner had I stopped then they started sharpening their teeth and warming up their engines. Within seconds, they were swarming all around me as I madly rushed to setup the tent. I had not taken off any riding gear, so once the tent was setup, I found myself inside wearing gloves, boots and helmet. 30 minutes later, I had killed all the flies in the tent and had removed my riding rear – it was only 6:30 PM. Man, it was going to be a long night.
It was a long night and cold too. I woke to a frosty camp with no flies!
The day was fantastic! First sunny, warm day in a long time.
It’s 540 km to Goose Bay, all on roads like this.
The gravel along this highway was smooth and well packed, nothing like the gravel in Patagonia. I wish I had stopped in Patagonia to take a closer look at the gravel, but I’m guessing it would have looked like a river bottom because it was like riding on marbles – nothing like this highway.
This is what’s left of the Churchill River
The river has been reduced to this trickle by the Churchill Falls generating station, which supplies electricity for Quebec City. Just imagine what this river was like before electricity.
It’s hard to tell the size of this river (it was big), but here is a close-up of the little falls that is in the middle of the last picture
Although it would be difficult to cross the Churchill River river by foot today, prior to the dam, I’ll bet this was a raging river – nearly impossible to cross.
The town of Churchill Falls has one gas station, a restaurant, and a bar. It serves the people that work at the generator station. After lunch, I was off for the push to Goose Bay.
The Highway scenery out of Churchill Falls didn’t change much.
Lots of gravel, trees and swamp
Yup, more gravel and black spruce
Closer to Goose Bay the scenery changes to rolling hills
Just before arriving at Goose Bay, you reach pavement again.
The Canadian government plans to pave the highway from Labrador City to Goose Bay in the coming years. Along this section, I passed many construction crews working to rebuild the gravel in preperation for pavement. I arrived at Goose Bay in the late afternoon. The weather was great the whole day – nice and clear and not that cold; the best day of the whole trip. What a great day of riding on the Trans Labrador Highway.
I ended up spending the night at Goose Bay, as the next leg of the hughway is 390 km without services. Anyway, it was afternoon and I wanted a place to dry out the tent. Tomorrow, I’d be starting off on the Labrador Coastal Drive.
The next section of highway, between Goose Bay and Cartwright, is the newest highway in Labrador.
The new section was opened at the beginning of the year. Before, you either had to take a ferry to St Barbe, Newfoundland or Blanc Sablon, Quebec, or turn around. Now, you can ride another 650+ km through the coastal region of Labrador as you head to Blanc Sablon and the ferry to Newfoundland.
Sleeping in a warm room has its rewards. You can get up in the middle of the night without freezing, as well as wake up in the morning and lay around thinking of the last few days and what you’ve seen. But, at some point, you need to start packing. I wasn’t sure how far I would ride. I knew I had 400 km of gravel and then I needed to get to Port Hope Simpson for fuel.
The northern end of the Labrador Coastal Drive
390 km without anyplace to fill a tank
The Beast has a 41 liter tank so, when full, I can make over 650 km. The problem is if I fill the tank, I’ve got about 70 lbs of fuel. I’m always trying to decide how much fuel I should carry for a given road. In this case, I put in enough to insure I could get to Port Hope Simpson, but I didn’t fill it up.
The new gravel highway wasn’t too bad – a little soft in places, and in other sections a road grader had been through, so the road was real soft, but for the most part, it was like this.
About 45 minutes into the ride, the clouds started dropping and then it started to drizzle.
It wasn’t too much longer until I had finished the first 400 km and was at the intersection of Hwy 510.
If you don’t have the fuel range, you can ride to Cartwright for gas. But, that’s heading north, and you need to head south to Port Hope Simpson, so a little out of the way. The Beast and I turned south and continued on our way to Port Hope Simpson.
It wasn’t too much longer before it started raining. It wasn’t a downpour, but it was constant rain and before I knew it, I was riding in about 3 inches of mud. I first realized how deep the mud was when I was about 25 km from Port Fort Simpson an applied some front brake, almost dropping the Beast. At Port Fort Simpson, I seriously thought about stopping for the day (it was around 1 PM) but decided to push on to the next town.
The road, while muddy in places, was much better, scenery wise, then the earlier part of the trip
It continued to rain and I continued to push to the “next town” down the road. About 6 PM, I decided I’d stop at Red Bay for the night.
At Red Bay, the road changed from gravel to pavement, so I continued to Blanc Sablon and the ferry which would take me to Newfoundland.
I arrived at the ferry terminal and found that I had a little over an hour before I needed to board, so I grabbed a bite to eat and start drying my riding gear. 650 km on a wet, muddy, gravel road wasn’t too bad for a day’s ride!
The weather turned from rain to wind, as I waited for the ferry to arrive. Watching the caption dock the ferry in high winds was amazing. He made it look like this was an everyday thing – and I would guess it probably is.
About halfway through the ferry crossing, my damp riding gear starting to feel dry. As my luck would have it, it also started raining, not just rain, but hard rain with strong winds. Oh yeah, I just love this stuff – it reminded me of the hour or two I waited for a ferry in Terra del Fuego, Argentina – same stuff, rain and wind.
Luckily, there was a hotel just a block or two from the terminal in St Barbe, Newfoundland. Pulling up to the hotel, my heart sank as I saw the line of people trying to book a room. I had heard that were other hotels in the area, but the last thing I wanted to do was look for a hotel room or put up a tent in that rain and wind. Luckily, I got the last room in the place! I felt a little sorry for the five people standing behind me, but they had cars, so I didn’t feel that bad.
The rain and wind stopped by morning and over breakfast, I decided to head north to L’Anse aux Meadows – Leif Ericson’s home away from home.
L’Anse aux Meadows
Original Workshop Site
This sight was discovered by Heldg and Anne Ingstad. These two had been exploring the area for years, looking for Viking settlements, and finally found this one in 1960. The settlement was occupied around 990-1030 AD. Today, the site is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Reconstructed Viking Encampment
It was early afternoon when I left L’Anse aux Meadows and started riding south. While riding, I kept seeing road signs that said moose are in the area. The park rangers at L’Anse aux Meadows told me this was day two of moose hunting season and that not only should I keep an eye out for moose, but the hunters would be out in force, too. If they are anything like the hunters in the US, I should be more worried about them than the moose!
The last 5 miles or so before I reached Rocky Harbour were the worst. It was getting dark, and every mile or so was a sign about how many accidents had occurred this year due to moose or deer. Lucky, I didn’t see a single moose or a deer the whole time I was in Newfoundland. It’s not that I don’t want to see these animals, I just prefer not to “run into them” while riding.
Rocky Harbour is a picturesque little town with a nice hotel by the bay. After changing into people clothes, I made my way to the restaurant for a few beers and some great fish and chips. Tomorrow was going to be an early day as I needed to get to the ferry before noon.
The ride from Rocky Harbour to Port aux Basque started off as one of the coldest rides I’ve taken in a long, long time. I had 330km to ride before noon, so I got one of those as-the-sun-breaks starts. Again, I was keeping an eye out for moose and deer, as these guys would be heading home after a night of food and festivities.
The first hour of the ride was cold, really COLD. I had my electric vest and heated grips turned all the way up, and I still couldn’t keep my fingers from freezing. Even sticking my hands on the Beast’s jugs didn’t thaw them out! But, it wasn’t raining or snowing, and I didn’t see any moose or deer, so life is good.
I arrived at the ferry terminal about 30 minutes ahead of schedule (yeah, it was a nice road) and was told the ferry had been delayed by 3 hours! I smiled at the attendant, paid my ferry fees and parked the Beast in the moto line for the ferry. Then, I stood next to the Beast for about 30 minutes soaking up the heat of the sun – man, it felt nice!
After a warm breakfast, I changed out of my riding gear in the terminal bathroom. This place even had a shower, but I figured taking a shower would be too much indulgence. After changing, I was more than content to wait outside, in the sun, for the ferry to arrive.
This doesn’t look like a ferry in the Pacific Northwest
The ferry dropped me off in North Sydney, Nova Scotia and I was able to find a hotel and get a tasty pizza before darkness. The following morning, I took off for the famous Cabot Trail.
Cape Breton Highlands National Park
The Cabot Trail runs along the north west part of Nova Scotia and through Cape Breton Highlands National Park
Near Aspy Bay, you can turn off the main road and take a small detour to Meat Cove, the most northerly settlement on Nova Scotia.
There’s not a lot at Meat Cove – I guess they go fishing and handle the tourists that want to see the end-of-the-road.
Twisties on the Cabot Trail
After leaving the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, I ran into Joe and his Scarecrows
This place had 20-30 scarecrows of all different types, some well known figures like Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, members of KISS, etc.
A few years back, there was a massacre at the village. Some of the crows still showed signs of the violence or asked for donations to help – strange place.
I had made arrangements to meet FastFreddy, so I pushed on down to St John, New Brunswick.
Passing Pitou, Nova Scotia
Waiting for the rain to stop near Moncton, New Brunswick.
That was the second time I had ever stopped, just to let the rain pass. I pulled off just before the downpour, parked under an overpass and waited about 10 minutes for the rain to end.
I stayed at FastFreddy’s for a few nights in St John. We took a ride in the local are.a
Stopped off at the Farmers’ Market
and then took off for the US via Dear Island.
Thanks for the great time, Fred!
I rode down the coast of Maine, stopping at a few attractions like Acadia National Park
Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park
before making it to Albany NY to visit my daughter. Years ago, the family and I spent the better part of a day visiting the Gettysburg battle field – something they will never let me forget. So, the next day, my daughter had a surprise for me – a visit to Saratoga National Historic Park. Turns out back in 1777, this was the site of a major victory for the US during the Revolution. And, true to form, the east coast folks don’t want to forget
gotta love those reenactments
I had another “tire” incident in New York. Some of you may remember my experience in California when I stopped at a BMW shop that refused to change my tires because I hadn’t purchased them from the shop. Well, it happened again, but this time at a Yamaha shop. What’s all this shit about not wanting to mount tires unless you buy the tires from the shop? The next day, I stopped off at Max BMW near Troy, New York and after a little sweet talking, they agreed to change my tires. Thank you Max, we need more shops like yours.
After a few days of RnR, I was off to the “family farm” in Indiana.
The actual house my dad grew up in had been torn down, but my cousin Mark had taken up residence and runs a thriving Lama business, as well as growing corn and soybeans on his 1,400 acre farm. If you’re ever near Crawfordsville and want a Llama, stop by and say “Hi.”
At this point, I was in a got-to-get-home mood and pretty much rode 800 mile days until I arrived back in Spokane. I did make one stop at the Badlands National Park just east of Rapid City, South Dakota. I’d been in the area several times, but never stopped. This time it just seemed like the right thing to do.
While I really enjoyed the month long trip to Labrador, I think I’ll stay on the west side of the country in 2011. (Feb.-Mar. moto trip to New Zealand doesn’t count!)