Labrador and More
Short version: Two old New Englanders on street bikes do the Trans-Labrador
Highway west to east in early-mid June, including the newly opened (12/09) but
still very much under construction section between Happy Valley / Goose Bay and
Cartwright Junction, and enjoy New Brunswick, Quebec, hiking, and a freighter
ride along the way, to boot.
Much as the Innuit supposedly have 100 words for "snow," Labradorians
could use 100 different words to describe the surfaces of the Trans-Labrador
highway, especially now that the new section between Happy Valley / Goose Bay to
Cartwright Junction is open. They might include:
<table width="100%"><tbody><tr><td>Flaspbor</td><td>Flat, Straight, Paved and Boring</td></tr><tr><td>Flasmok</td><td>Flat, Straight, Marbles, but OK</td></tr><tr><td>Flasgsuks</td><td>Flat, Straight, Golf Balls, sucks</td></tr><tr><td>Flasdmsuks</td><td>Flat, Straight, Deep Marbles, sucks</td></tr><tr><td>Flasdgbsw</td><td>Flat, Straight, Deep Golf Balls, sucks worse</td></tr><tr><td>Flasdssew</td><td>Flat, Straight, Deep Sand, sucks even worse</td></tr><tr><td>Flasgrssbywywae</td><td>Flat, Straight, Giant Rocks, sucks so bad wish you were anywhere else</td></tr><tr><td>Flaspmf</td><td>Flat, Straight, Pothole Mine Field</td></tr></tbody></table>
and so forth, with some rare "roller-coaster" and "curvy" variants, but no
"roller-coaster and curvy" variants, since those are non-existent. Then,
of course, you need all these with a "W" prefix for "wet." Wet variants are
similar to their dry counterparts, except that the suffixes that describe
treachery levels are all notched up by at least one degree. There would be three
"S-" words, one each for "unplowed," "plowed and packed," and "melting into deep
treacherous ruts, but they are of no importance to motorcyclists. Well, except
for a couple of nut cases I heard about that did the Trans-Lab in January, with
studs or spikes, just so they could claim to be the first motorcyclists over the
new part. Not shown in all these words is the diacritical mark on the final
character which denotes "constant 50 mph wind from the northwest." And of course
there is no one word (other than obscenities strung together) for "Unknown road
surface - I can't see a damn thing 'cause I'm in the middle of a dust
storm created by that giant truck that hurtled by a minute ago."
I'd had Labrador on my "To Do" list since a ride across the Gaspe and as
far as Manic Cinq in 2001 and a ride to James Bay in 2003. Late spring seemed
like the right time to do it. Friends let me to believe that there might be fewer
Canadian National Birds (black flies) out that time of year, which turned out to
be at least partially true. (I got eaten alive on the James Bay trip, which I
did in late July, so I was particularly sensitive to that aspect of the trip.)
The new section between Happy Valley / Goose Bay and Cartwright Junction was opened
in December, 2009, so one could ride all the way up from Baie-Comeau, Quebec to
and through Labrador and back down to Blanc Sablon in one ferry-less trip. And
this year seemed to be the right year because the provincial government is
apparently determined to pave the whole damn thing, which will fill Labrador
with motor homes and tourons and make the trip a much less interesting
The original plan was to go north from my home in mid-New England through New
Hampshire and Maine and western New Brunswick, follow the coast around the Gaspe
Peninsula, cross the Saint Lawrence from Matane to Godbout, ride east along the
north shore to the end of the road at Natashquan, take the freighter (the Relais
Nordik) that services all the little coastal villages out to Blanc Sablon, ride
north into Labrador, then go west on the Trans-Labrador Highway to the western
border with Quebec, south on 389 to Manic Cinq and on to Baie-Comeau, then
follow the north shore west and south to Quebec City for a day or two visit
before shooting for home. I deliberately left Newfoundland out of the plan. I
had New Brunswick and the Gaspe in my sights for this trip and wanted to have
plenty of time to see them. When I do a Newfoundland trip, I will give it
the time and attention that lovely island deserves.
So, I called the folks at Relais Nordik back in April to book a ride for me and
my bike from Natashquan to Blanc-Sablon, figuring that in early June there
wouldn't be much traffic yet, but got told they were booked solid on their
downstream runs until late August. Hmmm! Now what? Actually, altering the
plan wasn't too difficult. I just changed the direction of the Labrador part
from counter-clockwise to clockwise and booked an upstream ride on the
Relais Nordik instead. No sweat, although it meant that the very firm
requirement of catching the boat (it only runs once a week!) would be at the end
of the Trans-Lab rather than near the beginning of the trip, which made meeting
it a bit riskier, but I built what I thought was plenty of slop into the plan to
make sure. It also meant starting the trip a couple of days earlier than
originally planned, but that was do-able. A minor benefit was that the
prevailing winds would be generally from behind us on the Trans-Lab part.
I chose to take my good old (read: sacrificial) but reliable 1992
Kawasaki ZX6 with 65,000 miles on it. Not the best tool for the Trans-Lab, you
may think, but although a thousand miles of this trip would be on dirt roads,
two thousand miles would be on pavement. I had no reason to think the
Trans-Lab was going to be any worse than any of the thousands of miles of other
dirt/gravel roads I've been on with this bike. I know its limits, I know how to
pack it and I know how to fix it. Here it is, clean and ready to go with
brand-new tires, complete with an extra cooler on a custom rack sitting over one
passenger footpeg and a 6-liter spare gas can on the other:
And yes, that's a plastic milk carton - my preferred bulk water
carrier. Lightweight, can be operated with one hand, cheap. And there's also a
long roasting fork tucked under the stack for cooking steaks, sausages, hot
dogs, whatever, over open fires. Didn't use it once.
I invited a friend to accompany me. Safety in numbers, shared expenses, someone
to shoot the breeze with at camp, and all that. I'll call him Dennis, because
that's his name, except when it wasn't, which caused some confusion at the
border. Dennis rides a 2005 R1200RT, which was definitely was not the best tool
for the job, since it's a big bike, he can only tip-toe it, and he made it even
bigger by all the stuff he brought along. But he has eons of riding experience
and is comfortable on it, deliberately chose not to buy a DP bike just for this
trip, and had the same expectations regarding the quality of the dirt roads we
would encounter that I did. So R1200RT for him it was.
More to come.
(And BTW, if for some strange reason you'd like to see higher-resolution
versions of any of the photos, send me a PM or email.)
I gotta hear more about this trip. Keep the story coming.
Well that was a nice teaser! More please! :ear
This should be interesting. Road bikes with street tires would definitely make the Trans-Lab a challenge. :D
Going to Labrador is an adventure in itself... and more so on your bikes! :thumb
Monday, June 7th.
Dennis showed up at 10:00 a.m. for our planned 8:30 start. Standing by my loaded
ready-to-go bike in the dooryard, I watched him sail right past my house and
then back again a few minutes later without seeing me or it. He had just been
there a month earlier. Turns out that not only had he missed my house, but had
forgotten his cell phone, and he'd had to ride all the way back to his house to
get it. This is a man with a PhD in operations research.
I violated my "Back Roads. Period." creed and rode up the highway to somewhere
north of Concord, New Hampshire to make up some time. Then it was all back
roads, primarily 113, over to Conway, a stop at Cathedral Ledge off West Side
Road for the view:
and lunch at the Glen Junction Restaurant in Glen. (No food photos - I wasn't
in the swing of it yet - but it's a good breakfast / lunch spot.)
It was a gorgeous day and in fact, the weather was great for most of the
trip. If you look at weather almanacs for Quebec and Labrador, you will see that
June generally has the lowest rainfall of the most travelable months. That was a
welcome surprise to me. After lunch, we rode the always entertaining Hurricane
Mountain Road and Maine route 113 up through Carter Notch, went east on US 2,
north on 17 (with the great view of Mooselookmeguntic Lake) to Rangeley, and 16
all the way over to Peaks-Kenny State Park near Dover-Foxcroft, a place I had
been wanting to check out for a while.
Along the way: Coos Canyon, a nice little park and canyon on the Swift River,
Mooselookmegutic Lake from the height-of-land a few miles south of Rangeley:
Not surprisingly, Peaks-Kenny turned out to be quite empty this early in the
season. The campsite we chose was lovely and the bugs were mostly just mosquitos
and therefore easy to manage.
383 miles for the day, the longest one-day mileage of the trip.
And just like that it stops? We demand more............:clap
You rode were on what? :)
Great thread in the works folks!!!!!!!!!!!!
Keeping tuned in!:clap
tell us the rest
i live in Goose Bay and travel the tlh regularly
Tuesday, June 8th.
It was cold (somewhat less than 40 degrees F) overnight and Dennis suffered in
the thin, narrow sleeping bag he had brought. And it was a rather cold ride up
the fairly boring Maine route 11 into the north country. We crossed the border
at Fort Fairfield into Canada ... and it sucked. In all the times I've
been into and out of our fair northern neighbor country, I have never
experienced anywhere near the grief we got that day. Normally, it has been,
"[Standard questions about guns, alchohol, etc.]" and "Enjoy your visit!," but
this one time it was, "Pull over there!" and a whole lot of questions and
examining of saddle-bag contents, etc. plus a mandatory visit to the folks
inside the office for an "interview." Said interview began with the immigration
officer shouting "William!" (or something sounding roughly like it - nothing I
had ever heard before) down the hallway to the area where I was standing and
beckoning me to join her. So I followed her down the hall and into the
interrogation, er, interview room and preceeded to answer a zillion questions
("How much money do you have?" "About $60 Canadian." "No no no, how much money
do you have access to?" "Oh, well, maybe $10,000 in cash via ATM, maybe $50,000
on limits on my credit cards" - (sotto voice: "Yes, witch, I'm not some random
lowlife American trying to steal a good job from some righteous Canadian!"),
which seemed to confuse her (along with the denial of any criminal record in the
US of A.) Well, it turned out that Dennis's real name is William Dennis
E****, so they confused me with him and on top of that, somehow managed to find
an arrest report on him from 1961 (yes! 1961!) for setting off a fire
cracker in the lobby of his dormitory in college (Note that! No charges! No
conviction! And from 49 freakin' years ago! - You think there is such a thing as
privacy in this world?). Anyway, we were stuck there for more than an hour while
they satisfied themselves that we were worthy of entering Canada. And of course,
with the time change from Eastern (in Maine, etc. USA) to Atlantic (in New
Brunswick, Canada), we lost an additional hour and that made lunch in the
nearest town, Perth-Andover, really late.
Perth is on one side and Andover on the other of the Saint John's River:
Floods from ice jams have clobbered the area in the past:
Large dark clouds moved in and rain poured down ... while we were eating lunch,
warm and toasty, in here:
Finally remembering to follow Advrider trip report requirement #2 ("Photograph
your food" - #1 must be "Salute the cameraman.") I herewith show you ...
... a Donair sandwich, something unique to the maritime provinces although
sometimes also found in the far northern midwest US. Donair meat is beef or lamb
finely ground with garlic and spices, turned into a paste, and then rolled out
into thin flat layers and cooked. They're served with Donair Sauce, which is
basically runny mayonnaise with sugar added. A real treat, if you can get over
the sweetness of the sauce. Dennis had a respectable Chicken Caesar Salad.
After lunch and with the rain ending, it was on to Plaster Rock for groceries:
at which point I lost Dennis for the first time. One moment I was shopping for
dinner and the next not only didn't I see Dennis anywhere in the store, his bike
was gone! WTF? Turned out he needed to use the bathroom but he hadn't seen one
in the store and hadn't just asked the folks who worked there where one
was. Instead, he jumped on his bike and rode down to a gas station somewhere
else in town. So our quick stop turned out to be 45 minutes. Back on the road
again, we hit a provincial liquor store for essentials (wine, lottery tickets,
canoe - you know, the usual stuff you take with you on a motorcycle camping
and continued up 385 to Mount Carleton Provincial Park. All along the way, in
New Brunswick and in Maine earlier and Quebec later, lupins were in full bloom:
The road was paved all the way to the park entrance. That completely baffled me,
because I had visited this park twice before, the latest time just last August,
and I was sure 385 from Plaster Rock to the park was gravel. It certainly was
when I was there in 2001 and I deliberately did not take it in 2009 because it
was a muddy mess as I left the park in a pouring rainstorm, so I bailed and went
around on the paved route 17 to the north. But, it was paved now!
After an unusual argument with the park's administrative staff (they wouldn't
let us put two (backpacker-sized) tents on one site - who ever heard of
that restriction?), they finally relented and we entered the park (that's
Mount Sagamook, 777 meters, in the background). (They also apologized for the
all the rain. Dennis and I looked at each other like, "What rain?" We had
successfully missed a week's worth that had passed through ahead of us. The dirt
roads were a little gooey but otherwise we had a dry time.)
We chose the Williams campground (one of the tent-only ones) and in fact stayed
at exactly the same site where I had stayed last August. Dennis had made an
adapter to connect his bike's BMW-type accessory connector to a regular
cigarette lighter socket so he could charge up his cell phone, but he hadn't
tried it out before he left, and it didn't work. Here, he's discovering that he
had hooked it up backwards, and that in turn apparently fried his charger.
Which was not really a terrible thing, since there was no cell service in most
of the places we were and his wife was mad at him for taking the trip anyway and
had told him not to call her while he was away. I taught him how to play
cribbage that night. He pick up the rules and vocabulary pretty quickly and,
being a pretty sharp guy, got a handle on strategy too, which made him a more
interesting opponent than most beginners.
Our campsite the next morning. I had won the coin toss and got the platform. He
camped in a flat spot on the ground.
Anti-bear measures in bear country (we did this everywhere, garbage and
groceries up in the air):
Mount Sagamook from our campsite, looking across Lake Nictau:
275 miles for the day.
More to come.
Wednesday, June 9th.
It was pretty cold overnight. Dennis had another uncomfortable time of it.
Having been there twice before, but with no time to do anything, today was my
big chance to actually hike Mount Carleton. It's not real tall at 820 meters,
but its the tallest mountain in New Brunswick and I think the Maritimes in
general. This is what I was here for.
There are two trails to the top, the longer harder West trail and the shorter,
easier East trail. The park ranger had suggested West up, East down, which made
sense, so that's what we tried:
The lower part of the West trail was all rocks, roots, and mud:
After about a kilometer of this, Dennis decided to bail. He hadn't been hiking
in a while and felt like he was holding me up, so he wandered around for a bit
longer, went back to the start, and spent his day wandering around the rest of
the park on his bike and hanging out at the campsite.
He made a wise choice. The trail continued to be rocky, rooty, and muddy until
you got to this point, where you had to make a choice:
Naturally I chose the Massive, Hairy, Pendulous route over the Tiny Peckered
Nancy Boy route.
Well, like all good hikes, they made you work for it:
and when you got to this, you're really glad to be almost through the boulder
fields, with the summit in sight:
But they fool you. You get up to the top in the previous picture and discover
it's not the summit. You still have to get up here:
which entails hiking down into a saddle and then up this:
but you finally get to the top, where there's a fire tower that hasn't been in
use since 1968:
The view all around is spectacular:
that last one being from the grafittied upper windows of the fire tower, looking
back at the false summit.
I had caught up with the tail end of a school group from St. Leonard, NB, but
they had all left by the time I had lunch:
And of course there was no one there to take my picture by then, so I had to do
What was funny about that was that I had set up the camera on a little
Gorilla-Pod tripod and set the shutter delay for 10 seconds. Well, I damn near
killed myself trying to hop down the rocks to get into the picture in time and
get composed. Later I discovered I could set the delay for as much as 30
seconds, which would have been a lot safer!
As I started down, I ran into a young couple from Montreal who had been hiking
one of the spur trails. They said they had come up the "Fire Road," and I
thought "What? Road??" to myself. Turns out the shorter, East Trail that I was
on for the trip down was actually the old road that brought supplies to the
little cabin about 1/2 a kilometer down from the summit where the fire wardens
used to stay. It was incredibly gentle, especially compared to the West Trail:
It was also pretty boring, but it would have been a way for Dennis to get to the
top if we had known how easy it was ahead of time.
I was pretty tired and hot by the time I got down (I was still wearing my long
underwear from the chilly morning), so I walked fully clothed into Lake Nictau
and splashed around to cool off and "wash" my clothes. My reading glasses (which
were in my shirt pocket) are at the bottom of Lake Nictau as a result. It was
really cold, but really refreshing.
Dinner, some wine, some cribbage, and an early bedtime. I slept like a
rock. Dennis froze, again.
That was a great day and a great hike. (Only 22 miles of riding, just to the
trail head and back to camp.)
More to come.
Looking forward to more :D
Thanks for sharing
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