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Bikebits 08-28-2009 06:48 PM

Triumph Over Labrador

This is going to be a thread about our recently completed trip up the Trans-Labrador Highway. From my house in southern Ontario it worked out to just about 6500 km exactly, completed in 14 days.

I would be on a 2006 Triumph Scrambler, bought new in 2008. My riding buddy Bruce was on a two year old KLR. We've known each other since high school and took our first bike tour together about 30 years ago, when we were in University.

The route would take us east to Baie Comeau Quebec, north, then east to Labrador City and Goose Bay. Then the coastal ferry south to Cartwright, by road to the ferry to Newfoundland and south along the west coast. Ferry again to Nova Scotia and then back to Ontario through ME, NH & VT.

Bikebits 08-28-2009 07:04 PM

Days 1 & 2
We set out on Thursday, August 13. The reason for that date was to get to the ferry running from Goose Bay to Cartwright for the following Tuesday. It was critical that we made the ferry; it only runs once a week. If we missed it we would be turning around and be riding back to Quebec.

I left home about 8 am reaching Toronto to pick up Bruce about four hours later. We got as far as Cornwall ON the first night, staying at a new Super 8 motel. Distance for me on the day was 820 km.

Day two saw us navigate Montreal traffic at morning rush hour and later Quebec City, with huge traffic jams due to construction. We were roasting in 30+ C. temps, but would be glad of our gear when the temps dropped in Labrador.

We got to Ste Anne de Beaupre by late afternoon. Its claim to fame is a huge church built in 1875. This must have been quite the sight in rural Quebec when first built, it's impressive enough today.

Distance for the day was 411 km.

tri boy 08-28-2009 07:22 PM


Rhodie 08-28-2009 07:24 PM

This should be good, :clap
looking forward to reading & following along..
BTW can you make the pix bigger?

trustme 08-28-2009 07:46 PM

All the usual suspects have gathered to watch, keep it coming.:thumb :thumb :thumb

Bikebits 08-29-2009 04:56 AM

Day 3
Thanks for the hint on the pictures Rhodie; I was reducing the size so as not to be so large people had to scroll across to see them. When I was posting them they appeared full size, now that I've logged back on I can see how much they were reduced.

Day three had us continue up the north shore of the St.Lawrence to Baie Comeau, the jumping-off point for the actual Trans-Labrador Highway.

We got as far as Tadoussac by 11 am. This presented the first of four ferries that would be necessary to complete the trip. As it is officially an extension of provincial highway 138 there is no charge. To process the volume of traffic it was a model of efficiency. There were three ferries working a continuous loop; as one was loading another was approaching to immediately disembark the moment the dock was clear.

At St. Simeon the vistas along the St.Lawrence became quite beautiful. Unfortunately it was so hazy the pictures didn't turn out. Along this stretch we saw a bald eagle lazily circling low above, the way the turkey vultures do at home. There were lots of cycling and kayaking tourist operations along the road.

We got to Baie Comeau in mid-afternoon and relaxed for the day. A bit of light rain after supper was a hint of the weather that was following us. 428 km for the day; my total so far is 1659 and we haven't started the Trans-Lab yet.

GB 08-29-2009 04:59 AM

Ya, it's nice to ride that ferry and not have to pay for it out of pocket, and it's quite scenic there too :thumb


Bikebits 08-29-2009 06:10 AM

Day Four

Today the actual point of the whole exercise begins. We set the GPS units for Labrador City, the day's destination. They led us through Baie Comeau to a small side street that had this sign. It really doesn't seem to do justice to the task ahead.

This stretch of the Trans-Lab has several distinct parts. The first was a stretch of winding asphalt that would be a treat on a sportbike if not for the lousy condition of the asphalt.

At this point it bears mentioning the range of the two bikes. Ridden sedately, my Scrambler gets about 240 km to reserve. More usual is something like 215. Bruce's KLR is good for about 400km, so every opportunity to get gas would be a must for me. The gas can on my left passenger peg was not just for decoration as there was a 290 km stretch ahead with no services.
As we approached Manic 5, one of the largest hydro-electric projects in the world, the first gas stop appeared. 220 km to this point. A gas station, motel and restaurant, all from pre-fab buildings. Gas cost $1.30 a litre, as opposed to ninety-odd cents at home, with only regular and diesel available. This would be standard until until we got to Newfoundland itself.

As we rounded a corner, this presented itself:

A damned impressive structure, by any account. (couldn't resist)

Now the gravel began. The first stretch away from Manic 5 was so poor quality as to actually say "do you really want to do this?" A road of deep, loose and hilly over-sized stone marbles.
Conditions rapidly improved and we made it to the gas stop at Relais Gabriel, 96 km later. I topped off, and we had a snack. The first black flies showed themselves, and although they swarmed, they weren't doing much biting.
The dust for the next couple of days would be fierce. We rode up to a kilometer apart to allow the dust to settle a bit, otherwise it was like riding in fog.
Then, out of nowhere, a stretch of asphalt began. It shows on the map as "Gagnon", but all that remains are some town streets with curbs and sidewalks. Apparently there was a mine here that went bust, so when things closed down they packed up all the pre-fab buildings and removed the town. Very weird, really.

The poorest condition road of the trip followed the end of the pavement. Loose gravel, lots of turns and washouts marked only by road cones. We heard later on that a car had gone through a guard rail, down an embankment and the driver was airlifted to St. John's.
This train was at least a kilometer long, so a bit of an enforced break. Here the road was punctuated by multiple level crossings for the railway that carries out iron ore from the mines at Labrador City.
Eventually we came to the mine itself a huge, sprawling open pit on one side of the road, with what must be hundreds of acres of tailings on the other.
With this sign in sight we knew the end of the day's ride was near. 260 km from the gas stop at Relais Gabriel and we were nearing Labrador City. A total of 600 km for the day in 9.25 hours.

L Rider 08-29-2009 06:40 AM

Great stuff!!!

gatling 08-29-2009 06:59 AM

This is a good one.

Rhodie 08-29-2009 07:57 AM

Cracking ride over some truly impressive country.
Bet you are pleased with your sensible farkling and preparation.
BTW did you notice any left leaning bias, due to useful fuel cell?
Thank you for taking your time to share your adventures with us.

Bikebits 08-29-2009 11:54 AM

Day 5
No effect on handling from the gas can, Rhodie. It probably just balances out the weight of those Scrambler pipes on the other side. It was low as well, so worked out just fine.

We had been watching the weather channel each night, what had been unseasonably warm now turned downright cold. We woke up to 8 degrees and light rain. I had on a t-shirt, long sleeved shirt, fleece sweater, BMW jacket with thermal liner and nylon rainsuit over top. That was just enough for comfort.
We picked up a complimentary satellite phone at the Wabush hotel (Labrador City's twin). These are provided free for 24 hrs, with a refundable credit card deposit by the Newfoundland and Labrador dept. of transport. Nice peace of mind, even if it's not needed.
We arrived at Churchill Falls, 248 km later for a snack and gas. The rain had let up shortly after Lab city, and we were into choking dust again. The road varied from washboard to smooth and straight with speeds in the 65-90 km/h range. There were lots of maintenance parties out with graders so the soft spots required extra care.
The next section was the one I was most concerned about in terms of fuel. Heading east out of Churchill Falls it's about 290km of gravel, spruce trees and black flies, with nothing else until Goose Bay. My gas can fabrication was designed with this stretch in mind.
Part way along a sign said "rough road ahead". It turned out to be a 20 km stretch of pure washboard. The longer travel suspension on Bruce's KLR handled it OK, but it gave grief to the Ikons on the Scrambler. The relentless hammering had emulsified the oil in the shocks, so they had zero damping. I reduced speed to about 45 km/h and rode standing up. It got so bad I stopped the bike to see if the seals had blown.

A long, smooth section followed and the shocks recovered damping in about an hour. As we approached Goose Bay, with 37 km to go showing on the GPS, a lovely ribbon of fresh asphalt appeared. They hadn't even painted the pavement markings yet.
A few minutes along when this sign appeared it occurred that we had reached the farthest point the road would take us from home. And, we had officially survived the Trans-Lab with no mishaps.

Distance was 544 km for the day, now a total of 2803 for me.
As the picture shows, the dust had been fierce. The nice folks at the hotel got a hose out to rinse the worst of it off. Due to the low speeds I got the best mileage of the entire trip with 252 km to reserve. I rode into town without touching the supply in the can.

It was Monday afternoon at 4:30 pm and the ferry was Tuesday at 5 pm, so we had a bit of R&R.
A ride around town and we located the dock for tomorrow's departure and had a look around the air base. It was a huge base before the end of the cold war, with several of the European NATO countries maintaining a presence to practice low flying over the expansive wilderness of Labrador.
Looking back from whence we came.

shepp 08-29-2009 01:35 PM

Nice to see someone using a "different" bike to do a trip. What do you think of the scrambler? Is it up to this sort of trip? Comfort ok? Did you have to make any mods to the bike, or are there mods you wish you had done?. Nice trip!

Bikebits 08-29-2009 04:46 PM

Day(& night) 6 & 7

The mods are pretty much what you can see in the pictures. Handguards, windshield, Honda CRF shift lever, Suzuki RM footpegs, ATV gas can mount, Triumph gel seat, Ikon shocks and luggage. I detailed the mods some time ago on the Scrambler thread in 'Beasts'.

The only shortcomings were the small tank that necessitated stopping for gas every 225 km and the stock length shocks don't have enough travel for the rough stuff. The bike purred like a kitten for the whole trip, 0 oil used. Can't ask much more than that.

Day 6 was to be pretty laid back, waiting for the coastal ferry, Sir Robert Bond. Cold and rainy again, so after a bit of souvenir hunting we got to the ferry terminal early and cracked out a couple of books to pass the time. Check in started at 2 PM, vehicles lined up at 3, boarding at 4 and departure at 5.

We had made reservations for important stages of the trip in advance, with the rest left to chance. The ferry was reserved with a two berth cabin, as it was an overnight trip leaving Goose Bay at 5 pm and getting to Cartwright at 6 am the next day.

As we were waiting for the ferry, a pair of KTM adventures with Georgia plates showed up. We had seen them around town earlier in the day. We chatted to the riders who turned out to be Jim and Aussie Darren from the 'Labrador or Bust' thread.

They had 990 and 950 Adventures looking like they were kitted out for the Dakar. Jim had done a solo ride to Terra del Fuego and Darren had done Alaska so there was some serious adventure riding cred here. They had done the Baie Comeau-Lab City & Lab City-Goose Bay legs in two days each. When we told them we had done them in a day apiece I think we got a bit of cred for ourselves.

Another interesting rider we met was Bill from Grand Rapids MI. He did the Trans-Lab solo on an Aprilia sportbike. Kudos Bill, that's all I can say.
The Sir Robert Bond is not a drive-on, drive-off ferry, so all vehicles had to enter, do a u-turn, and then back into place. This lengthened the loading process considerably, however having a watertight bow would be a worthwhile consolation with some of the weather they see.

The Bond does a coastal circuit to the remote Labrador communities that have no road access, as well as bridging the gap in the highway between Goose Bay and Cartwright.
Our cabin was small, but at least we had one. Our American compatriots hadn't reserved one and went on the standby list, waiting for a cancellation. As we swapped stories in the bar that evening Bill got word he scored a quad berth, which he shared with his fellow travellers.
At 0430 the PA announced the kitchen was open for breakfast and fifteen minutes later we were told docking would take place in a half hour. Dawn was breaking as we got onto the road in Cartwright at 0600, separating from our fellow riders.
There was a light rain as we set out and the temperature was something less than 10 C. There was a steady flow of vehicles that were making their way south from the ferry.
We stopped for pictures at the point where the final stage of the Trans-Lab is slated to open. This will create a road link from Goose Bay to the south shore of Labrador, bypassing Cartwright. The locals confirmed that next year when the road is opened, the ferry will cease the Goose Bay-Cartwright run.
After 225 km we arrived at Port Hope Simpson for gas, a snack and to warm up. The Labrador flag flies everywhere here. Its colours represent the blue of the sea, the green of the forests and the white of the snow. A spruce twig is for the tree that is found in every part of Labrador.
By noon, due to our early start, we were as far as Red Bay. In the 1980's when I was working for Parks Canada I had heard a lot about this discovery of a Basque whaling settlement from the 1500s.
We went through the site, marvelling at how men in a small boat could think it was a smart idea to harpoon a whale that outweighed their vessel by a factor of 100. It made our Trans-Labrador ride look like child's play by comparison.

By mid afternoon we were settled in our seaside cabin in Forteau, conveniently located across the street from a gas station, restaurant, and general store. 479 km today, with pavement beginning at Red Bay. We'd reached the end of the gravel roads
We went for a short ride (17 km) to scout out the location for the next morning's ferry across the Strait of Belle Isle to Newfoundland.
Having determined tomorrow's plan, what should we see but Jim and Darren on their KTMs. We figured out we would all be on the 1030 ferry to the island the following day.

We returned to Forteau and Bruce had the idea of picking up something from the store for tomorrow's breakfast. When we got there, it was five after six and the store closed at six. We inquired in the attached restaurant at supper, and the lady said she could have the owner open the store for us, if only we could wait a bit as he was also the chef and the dinner rush was on. The hospitality of the residents is from a time gone by.

Tomorrow: south to the Rock and warnings of Hurricane Bill.

steveO-Ray 08-30-2009 03:32 PM

Great RR, not nearly enough with Scrams in em.

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