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Old 07-06-2010, 11:44 AM   #1
Squidmark OP
a.k.a. "The Colonel"
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Joined: Feb 2009
Location: The banks of the mighty Nissitissit River
Oddometer: 285
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.

Long version!

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:

FlaspborFlat, Straight, Paved and Boring
FlasmokFlat, Straight, Marbles, but OK
FlasgsuksFlat, Straight, Golf Balls, sucks
FlasdmsuksFlat, Straight, Deep Marbles, sucks
FlasdgbswFlat, Straight, Deep Golf Balls, sucks worse
FlasdssewFlat, Straight, Deep Sand, sucks even worse
FlasgrssbywywaeFlat, Straight, Giant Rocks, sucks so bad wish you were anywhere else
FlaspmfFlat, Straight, Pothole Mine Field

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.)
Back Roads. Period.
6/10 Labrador Trip Report:

Squidmark screwed with this post 07-06-2010 at 01:43 PM
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