Hello Everyone. Between August 17th and September 2, 2012 my fiancee and I completed a ride through Quebec, Labrador, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont.
Here is our trip route:
I suppose most people would be most interested in the road conditions for the gravel sections of the 389 in Quebec and the Trans Labrador Highway so I'll mostly comment on that. The 389's gravel section past Manicouagan 5 was not too bad to start off with and was good until close to Relais Gabriel, where they are doing lots of paving work. Unfortunately for us, what that means is a lot of grading and loose gravel up/down steep hills with curves and lots more dust along with all the construction traffic. For those running knobbies, this probably won't be the worst surface in the world but for those that aren't, it's pretty much terrible.
Once you get past Relais Gabriel, the road is newly paved for a little while and you eventually get back onto the more or less packed dirt until you hit the abandoned town of Gagnon and its lovely pavement. Once the pavement ends, the road condition was more or less fine with packed dirt and pretty good traction overall. You stay on this until you get to Fermont, Quebec. The road is paved all the way through Labrador city and past for approximately 1-1.5 hours. This is some of the most beautiful road I've ever seen. It's remote but brand new and immaculate. From my understanding, the entire section between Labrador City and Happy Valley-Goose Bay is scheduled to be paved and is probably about 20-25% complete as of August 2012. Unfortunately, the pavement does end and you're tossed back into the loose stuff. They are working heavily around Churchill Falls and the road conditions are extremely poor much of the time. It's probably more survival/get there type riding than enjoy the scenery for most. The loose stuff is definitely challenging. Immediately past Churchill Falls, you're on loose stuff until you get about an hour from Happy Valley-Goose Bay. The road becomes paved as soon as you reach a huge hill and valley diving down towards the coast. This pavement is also beautiful and is some of the nicest riding I've done.
The 510 from Happy Valley-Goose Bay is a brand new road. The metal grate bridge across the Churchill River is very grabby and will make your bike shimmy around pretty good. I'd recommend very low speed for this, pretty much idling along. Once past, your mileage may vary as to the road conditions. Some sections are totally bare and you can fly along at divided highway speeds without a sweat. When I was there, I would say about 85% of the road had been freshly graded with a mixture of a fine talcum powder type sand and loose pebble gravel on top. It's like marbles on top of sand - your bike skates around like crazy. Around many corners, the pebbles (marbles) were multiple inches deep. I wanted to stop and personally disable every grader I passed (dozens) on the side of the road if only so people could enjoy this beautiful landscape more than be fixated on not wobbling off the road or into oncoming traffic. The packed stuff is super easy, even when potholed and rough because you are assured traction. Unfortunately it seems the graders won this battle covering almost all the packed stuff and it took us 8 hours or so to do 400kms/240 miles to Port Hope-Simpson and we were exhausted both physically and mentally.
At this point, we ran into a couple of members of this site (sevenpointsixtwo and markbvt) and somehow managed to stalk them all the way through to Five Islands campground in Nova Scotia. We must have ran into them half a dozen times at different locations throughout the trip and it was great to chat with them each time.
The road from Port Hope-Simpson to Red Bay was challenging overall. The section to Mary's Harbour was pretty similar to the rest of the riding we'd just done with loose stuff being the dominant feature. From Mary's Harbour to Red bay was about the same for half of the distance but the last half of that leg threw all of the toughest aspects we'd encountered at us all at once. The coastal highlands of Labrador have no trees and thus allow the wind from the open North Atlantic ocean to sweep in and blow you around pretty good. The road through the coastal highlands is quite curvy with enough steep sections to command your complete attention. Combine this with comparatively busy traffic, the awful sand/pebble mixture, the resulting dust from all the traffic and fatigue from hard days of riding and you have a recipe for some hairy stuff. The scenery is unreal though and it ended up being one of my favourite legs of the entire trip. I just wish they'd pave the road. We got onto the paved stuff at Red Bay and it remained that way all the way to the ferry at Blanc-Sablon.
The rest of the ride was pretty much all paved and I'll let the pictures tell the story (with brief captions). If you're debating whether you're up to the trans Labrador highway, the biggest thing you have to consider is whether you're up for multiple days of mental and physical endurance challenge. I can't say enough for the beauty of Labrador, but it's a very tough place to ride through (until it's all paved, that is). I'm not in a rush to go back to the gravel, but I'm sure glad I saw that land. It is the true Canadian North, unspoiled and beautiful.