TLH2010: Return to the Trans-Lab and Newfoundland
Ever since I finished my first trip to Labrador last year (see the RR linked in my sig below), I've been plotting a return to experience it again, and of course to ride the newly-completed Phase III section. As MZcountryboy said in my ride report last year, Labrador has a draw, and I couldn't get it out of my mind for months after I got home. I was eager for more.
So I started planning my return -- but this time, since my buddy James wouldn't be able to come along again, there'd be no support vehicle, and I opted for my V-Strom instead of the XR650L for its superior ability to carry supplies and operate at highway speeds on the paved portions of the trip.
Originally the plan was to ride the Trans-Lab to Blanc-Sablon, then take the Relais Nordik coastal ferry along the St Lawrence to where Rt 138 begins in Natashquan. But this ferry turned out to cost nearly $500 once factoring in bike, rider, cabin, and food -- too expensive. So the route went back to the standard one through Newfoundland and Cape Breton.
I also started talking to several other friends about the trip. It quickly caught the attention of my friend Roman, who had been wanting to do a long trip up into Canada. My buddy Jason, with whom I'm planning to ride to Alaska next year, was interested as well. And eventually the group was joined by Martin, an ADV inmate from New Jersey who found out we'd be doing the trip at the same time as him and asked if he could join up with us as far as Newfoundland.
So over the summer, bikes got prepped, supplies were ordered, and plans were finalized. The evening before departure, I packed the bike and tried to go to sleep early.
Day 1: Saturday, 28 August 2010
We set off bright and early, meeting in Essex, VT, at 7am. Jason, Roman, and I headed up to Derby, VT, to meet up with Martin, who'd started his trip the previous day and ridden as far as southern Vermont.
We stopped off for gas...
Then rode over to the arranged meeting spot to pick up Martin.
From there we crossed the border into Quebec and took back roads past Sherbrooke.
Approaching Thetford Mines, we got into some heavy rain, but it cleared up eventually. By the time we'd passed Quebec City and were on Rt 138 heading northeast, it was beautiful out again.
We reached the Saguenay fjord and boarded the free ferry. Here's Jason and Martin; in the background are some unrelated riders we'd end up following through the twisties later on.
The Saguenay area is beautiful.
On the other side of the fjord, we followed those other guys for a little while...
...then turned off at Camping Paradis Marin and set up camp.
And Martin and I grilled steaks for dinner. :dg
Stats for the day:
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Day 2: Sunday, 29 August 2010
We got up early Sunday morning, cooked a tasty breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon, and hit the road. Heading east, Rt 138 passes through numerous small towns and various kinds of countryside.
We made it to Baie Comeau and turned onto Rt 389. Of course we had to stop for the mandatory pics at the sign announcing the start of the Trans-Quebec-Labrador road.
We headed north on the paved road to Manic 5, enjoying the twisties along the way, and eventually stopped for lunch. Through no planning on my part, it ended up being the same spot I stopped last year -- just a convenient spot, I suppose.
We continued north to Manic 5 and stopped for gas and a snack.
Then continued on to the Manic 5 dam itself.
If that dam ever breaks, those buildings down there might have some problems.
The road climbs up to the top of the hill, and the fun begins!
On the gravel.
It had rained heavily earlier in the day. We kept coming across mud holes in the road. For the most part these were no real problem... or so we thought until one of them claimed Roman. His front end augured in (Martin and I suspected that the F800GS's undersprung forks contributed to the problem), and he went over the handlebars. Headlight/instrument cluster broke off.
We duct-taped it back on.
Roman's luggage was banged up too, but serviceable, and the bike started up fine. Roman himself was a bit bruised and his shoulder a little tweaked, but otherwise okay. The bigger issue was that Roman's confidence was badly shaken by crashing only 35 miles into the gravel. But once the bike was cobbled back together, he agreed it made more sense to continue on to Relais Gabriel, since it was closer than backtracking to Manic 5, and by the time we got there he felt a good deal better.
We ended up camping at a primitive site about a kilometer past Relais Gabriel.
The night was clear and beautiful.
We built the mandatory campfire, and Roman opened the bottle of tequila he'd brought.
Eventually I turned in and slept soundly... until I awoke in the middle of the night thinking a bear was walking around our campsite. But then I heard a tent zipper and realized it was just someone getting up to pee. :rofl
Stats for the day:
Track for the day:
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Nice job on the Strom Mark! It looks rugged! :thumb
I look forward to another excellent report.
Day 3: Monday, 30 August 2010
I awoke just before dawn, as the clouds above were being painted in deep reds.
We broke camp as it began to drizzle lightly and headed over to Relais Gabriel for breakfast and expensive showers. While we ate, it began raining more. Great.
As we sat around waiting for each other to shower, a fascinating bike rolled up to the gas pumps -- a stripped-down Ninja 650 with Versys forks, a V-Strom front wheel, and knobby tires. Astride this custom ADV beast was David, aka jdrocks, who would become a recurring character in this story. We chatted for a while, then he set off down the road as we waited for the last of our group to get showered.
Finally we got going. We kept the pace pretty slow as it was still drizzling and the road surface was variable. Eventually we made it to Gagnon.
From there the road was paved to Fire Lake, and thankfully the weather improved. At Fire Lake, the road turns back to gravel, and the section known to locals as the Mini Trail begins. We took a short snack break.
We headed up the Mini Trail, which is a twisty road of loose gravel and lots of railroad crossings. It was slow, sketchy going, made more difficult by the trucks that would blow past and stir up so much dust that we were momentarily blind. Naturally this happened most often on blind, uphill, tight left corners. But we all stayed upright and stopped occasionally to catch up to one another.
Most of the way along this section, I rounded a bend and found David (jdrocks) snapping a photo of me from the side of the road. So I stopped and chatted with him while waiting for the others to catch up.
Here comes Jason.
Beautiful land up there.
David geared up and went on his way.
We took a short break, then followed. Soon made it to the big mine shortly before Fermont.
Here comes Martin.
Soon after the pavement began, and then, of course, we made it to the Labrador border. Time for another mandatory pic.
We grabbed a quick lunch in Lab City, then thoroughly enjoyed the 50 freshly-paved miles of Rt 500 before once again hitting gravel. I have to admit -- once the Trans-Lab has been paved, I'll go back just to enjoy the sweeping turns and the awesome scenery that I'll actually be able to look at when I don't have to keep my eyes glued strictly to the road in front of me.
But soon the pavement ended, and we were given loose, marbly, mostly trackless gravel to enjoy. It made for stressful riding as our bikes squirmed around beneath us. We stopped to take a short break at one of the easier spots along the road.
When there were tracks like that in the gravel, it was easy to ride. Trouble was that those tracks kept quickly running out.
We stopped to camp at the same place I did last year -- happened to be a convenient clearing a little more than halfway between Lab City and Churchill Falls.
Stats for the day:
Track for the day:
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Great story so far.........
I missed out on Labrador this summer - glad you got to enjoy it.
eagerly awaiting more....
Day 4: Tuesday, 31 August 2010
Sometime during the night it began raining, and was still at it when I awoke shortly before dawn. But as I lay in my tent needing to pee, the tapping of raindrops on my tent slowed, then stopped. I crawled out of my tent and said, "Oh, wow!" The rain that had just moved past was catching the dawn light and put on quite a display as the sun came up.
We packed up and headed east. The road continued to be sketchy until about 30 miles before Churchill Falls, at which point it changed to hard-packed dirt, nearly as good as pavement. We enjoyed the easier ride, then stopped in Churchill Falls for breakfast.
Here we wound up running into Marty (aka lakota) and his buddy Jack. They ate faster than we did and were soon on their way again.
Eventually we gassed up and got going too.
The road from Churchill Falls to Goose Bay was more loose gravel. The graders have been busy this summer. The whole road was much easier when I rode it last year.
The scenery along the way is desolate and beautiful.
Tires were wearing okay.
Eventually we reached a freshly-laid-down ribbon of pavement. It was still soft.
The ground around here was covered with this whitish stuff. I'm not sure what it is. I'm also not sure what gorse is, but it sounds like what this looks like, so I'm going to go out on a limb and call this stuff gorse.
Jason was ready to get going again.
The pavement ended after 10 miles or so, we rode another section of gravel, then the paved road into Happy Valley-Goose Bay began. We stopped at the sign for the mandatory photo.
Then we rode into town, went grocery shopping, and rode up to Gosling Lake Park and camped on the beach.
Martin expressed his disappointment at not having seen any moose yet, although we had seen some wolves on the side of the road earlier in the day. A construction crew had started feeding them, so they didn't bother to run away in the presence of humans. One of them apparently looked like it was about to lunge at Roman as he rode by. So it was with thoughts of wildlife that we drifted off to sleep that night.
Stats for the day:
Track for the day:
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Day 5: Wednesday, 1 September 2010
September decided to start out cold. I had to crawl into additional clothes overnight because my 35-degree sleeping bag wasn't keeping me warm enough. When I got up in the morning, there was frost on my bike.
The cold air made for a very picturesque dawn.
We got ourselves moving, stopped by Tim Horton's for breakfast (where we ran into a pair of ADV inmates from Maine), gassed up and filled our auxiliary containers, then rode off to tackle Phase III.
The first 60 miles were hard-packed and mostly free of loose gravel. As good as pavement. We stopped so Martin and Roman could empty the first of their spare gas cans.
After this the road turned to more loose and mostly trackless gravel. We stopped after another 60 miles to empty more fuel containers.
After a truck passed, we had to wait a while for crosswinds to blow away the dust.
All the construction on Phase III was finished, but there was an awful lot of loose gravel. But we reached the end without any incidents (I spotted a large black bear running off as I approached, but it didn't attack any of us so doesn't count as an incident).
From there it was much of the same to Port Hope Simpson. Jason was having a much easier time of it -- he'd found a speed at which his Tiger smoothed out and cruised easily over the gravel, as I had on my XR650L last year. But I hadn't found a speed that worked well on the V-Strom, so there were plenty of pucker moments, though thankfully no crises.
We made it to Port Hope Simpson and gassed up, and everyone was appropriately smitten with Cindy, the daughter of the gas station's owner, who rides a KLR and has become something of an ADV celebrity thanks to past Trans-Lab ride reports.
Roman and Martin decided they wanted to sleep in real beds, and Jason and I didn't want to pay for them, so they got a room at the local B&B while we went off in search of the campground, which turned out to be the RV park just down the street from the B&B. We pulled in and got off the bikes.
While I went off to look for whoever was in charge of the RV park, an early-'90s F650 Funduro pulled in. The owner of the RV park came out, told us it would cost $15 each including a shower, and the F650 rider, Don, a 63-year-old retired schoolteacher from Cape Breton whose favorite word was clearly "fuck" as he employed it liberally, talked the guy into letting us sleep on the floor of the washroom trailer instead of outside in tents. Mission accomplished, Don rode off in search of beer while Jason and I began moving sleeping bags inside.
Dirty Jason. I thought it was funny that the vents on his helmet had allowed little dirt horns to form on his head.
Dirty Triumph. The Trans-Lab dust (I call it labradirt) has a way of getting everywhere.
It especially likes to cake onto rear wheels.
Tires were still wearing okay.
This is the RV park. We took over the white building to the left.
This is Don. He likes beer. In fact, when we (well, actually, he, with minor assistance from Jason and me) finished the first eight-pack, he sent me out for more. Also, Don complimented the mop behind him on her beautiful head of hair.
We sat around and chatted with Don for a while till he decided it was time to go to bed, whereupon he retired into the adjoining room, in which he'd commandeered a disused and suspiciously-stained mattress. Terrific guy. He graciously invited us to stop by Sydney on our way through Cape Breton and sleep in the cabin cruiser in his barn, but we wouldn't end up having the time. If you're reading this, Don, thanks for the invitation, and it was truly a pleasure to have met you!
After Don went to bed, Jason headed out to his bike to gather a few things while I unrolled my sleeping bag. I soon heard voices outside, and fearing an incident, went out to investigate. I found Jason talking with three local teens who'd been wandering by in the dark and yelled over to him. We ended up chatting with them (three brothers -- twins, about 18 or 19, and their younger brother, 16ish I'd guess) about what it's like living in Port Hope Simpson. The older two were clearly a bit bored by the place, but the younger one spoke at length (in that fascinating Scots-Irish accent native to Labrador and Newfoundland) about how much he loves going out in the boat and just sitting out there on the water, and his run-ins with fishery officers (his family's boat is the slowest in town, and the fishery guys like to pick on them because their boat's too slow to get away), and how ridiculous the fishing limits are (particularly six salmon a year for an entire family -- I agreed enthusiastically that that's an insane limit).
It was one of those unexpected encounters that reshapes your view of humanity, however slightly. Jason and I both had our guard up at first, assuming we were about to get fucked with, because that's the most likely outcome in this sort of scenario in the world we come from. But these kids weren't up to anything, they just felt like chatting with a couple of strangers on bikes. After fifteen or twenty minutes of pleasant conversation and laughter all around, they went on their way and wished us a safe journey.
Jason and I agreed afterwards that we were glad we'd chosen not to stay at the B&B with Roman and Martin, because if we had we never would have met these various people. I said it then, and I'll say it again now: the people in Labrador and Newfoundland are, generally speaking, among the nicest you will ever meet.
Stats for the day:
Track for the day:
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Great report so far, Mark! Looks like you guys had great weather for the most part.
Labrador was crawling with motorcycles this year!
I was planning on heading up on September 21, but haven't been able to find any riding partners. Anyone planning to head up there next week?
Gorgeous report Mark
Can't wait for more. Beyond jealous. I've spent about three weeks in Alaska. Toured it mostly by foot, canoe, and air. Touring it via Motorcycle would be spectacular, but bring a gun. The locals thought I was nuts for hiking without one and they were right. My brother and I got stuck between a cub and its mother. Nothing happened, but we were very lucky. I would consider flying out and renting a dual sport, I just don't have the time for the trek to Washington State, which is where you'll probably pick up your ferry. Amazing report. Keep it coming :lurk
How did the Tiger 1050 do?
I see the semi dual sport rubber, but they still look more street than off road. Was he okay with the 17inch front wheel and was the suspension stock?
Also, Jason's a small guy, so wasn't working the suspension and tires as hard as if I were riding the bike, for example.
Lovin' the pics!
Still good... :thumb
Day 6: Thursday, 2 September 2010
Jason and I roused ourselves and headed over to the B&B to meet Roman and Martin for breakfast, then we all set off down the remaining stretch of gravel to Red Bay.
There was a lot more of the loose, sketchy gravel to contend with; I spent a lot of time riding tracks on the wrong side of the road, or packed areas left by graders on the side of the road. But we soon made it to the end of the gravel.
Martin kissed his bike...
...while Roman was very happy to see the pavement.
I made Jason take a picture of me to prove I'm not imaginary.
The labradirt is going to take a while to clean off my jacket...
...and my bags.
From Red Bay it was an easy pavement ride to Blanc-Sablon, where we got in line for the ferry. The guys from Maine whom we'd met at Tim Horton's in Happy Valley got there shortly before us.
Did I mention labradirt gets everywhere?
Soon Marty (lakota) and Jack pulled up as well.
Martin on board.
As we neared Newfoundland, we spotted a whale breaching repeatedly off the port bow. Martin, who was pissed at still not having seen a moose, excitedly yelled out, "Fuck you, moose!"
Upon disembarking in St Barbe, Newfoundland, we gassed up, then said our goodbyes to Martin, who was going to ride up to L'Anse aux Meadows that evening because he needed to make the haul down to the ferry in Port-aux-Basques the following day so he could meet his wife in Sydney. Jason, Roman, and I, meanwhile, had more time, and preferred to set up camp while the sun was still up, so we rode a short distance north and ventured out a gravel road heading towards the beach. We found a nice spot to camp in what was apparently a quarry.
Stats for the day:
Track for the day:
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