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Old 07-07-2008, 09:07 PM   #1
rdwalker OP
Beastly Adventurer
Joined: Jan 2005
Location: The Badlands (of NJ)
Oddometer: 2,545
Trans-Labrador Solo Blitz, June 2008

Hi, all:

It is just a bit over two weeks since I returned from my newest big adventure: the Trans-Labrador Highway loop. As it is the tradition of this forum, I am posting my trip report here. It is not only for the bragging rights (although, that too...), but to encourage all of you to take this run.

If considering such ride, know that it is neither extremely difficult, nor overly dangerous. You will not be battling vicious elements or hostile natives. The main requirement for this trip is having equipment that is able to run on gravel for extended time and that can handle the vibration of the road. You will have to be able to spend long times in the saddle, both on and off-pavement. And, if camping, you should be able to handle the flies.

Most importantly, you will need time, as the distances are quite considerable.

The seeds for this trip were planted in my mind a year or so ago. During one of my long-weekend rides to Gaspe Peninsula, I crossed the Saint Lawrence River on a ferry to Baie Comeau, Quebec, to have a look at the Manic 2 hydro-power dam. At the entrance to Quebec Route 389, I spotted an unassuming billboard, weathered and slightly obscured by weeds and other traffic signs. It said, in French: "Welcome and have a good trip on the Trans-Quebec-Labrador". Above it, a small placard indicated 1100 km to Goose Bay, Labrador.

Wow! That sent a chill down my spine. The famed Trans-Labrador Highway! Wow! Beginning right here, within riding distance from my home! I was fascinated. I was hooked...

This vague idea became more of a reality when last fall I bought a 2006 R1200GS. I realized that my Trans-Labrador ride would involve some serious distances, a lot of them on interstates, and the KLR650's I had at the time were neither sufficiently comfortable nor fast enough for the required pavement pounding. The GS would give me the needed comfort, speed and luggage capacity. Also, I thought, it would offer me better reliability than the KLR, which seemed to be held together mainly by Blue Locktite. That was not exactly the case, as I discovered on the last day of my trip...

In the meantime, however, I proceeded with planning and preparations. As those who know me can attest, I am somewhat obsessive (please, no snickering here...). I must have researched every detail to death. Still, that was not a bad thing; the ride clicked together very well.

First, the route. I decided to follow a counter-clockwise loop, heading into the Maritimes, taking the ferry to Goose Bay and then continuing southwest on the Trans-Labrador Highway.

Ferries had to be scheduled and I felt that I should take all reserved crossings in a more controlled manner, where I had a better estimate of time and distance. Going on pavement to the ferries before reaching gravel would give me that ability: I could calculate and schedule all reservations with a high level of confidence.

Then I would find myself on the Trans-Lab without the need to rush to a reservation. If I were to have any problems, I could be delayed without ruining my trip.

The distances that had to be covered amazed me. Initially, when I looked at the map and then saw some ride reports on the ADV forum, I figured that one could run the Trans-Lab one-way in 2 days. Add a couple of days for access and you could have a nice long-weekend trip... No such thing!

I probably came up with one of the more compact routes and it still amounted to well over three thousand miles. Also, in order to reach Goose Bay, at least three ferries are needed - some of them taking a day (or night).

My route, in a minimum-time format, came out to just over 10 days. And it would be a blitz ride - no time to smell the roses, just to cover the distance. I have a hard time getting away for long periods and thus I do schedule accordingly, but a more reasonable Trans-Lab loop should be allotted at least over 2 weeks - if not three.

I laid out the route for shortest travel time by taking the long ferries overnight. I also felt that a set of dual-sport tires might not last the distance; I made an appointment at the BMW dealer in Moncton, New Brunswick, to install a set of TKC's.

This resulted in a following outline:
  • New Jersey - Moncton, NB: 770 miles, 1-1/2 days.
  • New tires and oil change in the morning, then
    Moncton, NB - North Sydney 500km, 1/2 day
  • Overnight ferry from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland, 7hrs
  • Port aux Basques, Newfoundland to Rocky Harbor 350km, 1 day
  • Rocky Harbour to St. Barbe, Newfoundland - 230 km
    Ferry from Newfoundland to Quebec/Labrador - 3hrs
    Begin Trans-Lab: Blanc-Sablon, QC to Mary's Harbour, Labrador - 170km
    - all 1 day.
    (Pavement ends 90km before Mary's Harbour).
  • Mary's Harbour to Cartwright, Labrador, 260km - 1 day
  • Overnight ferry from Cartwright to Happy Valley / Goose Bay - 14 hrs.
  • Goose Bay to Wabush, Labrador - 550km - 1 day
  • Wabush to Baie Comeau, Quebec - 570km - 1day
    (Pavement reappears 200km before Baie Comeau).
    End of the Trans-Lab Highway.
  • Baie Comeau to New Jersey: open schedule (1200 miles via shortest route on I-87).
As the spring came, my preparations went into higher gear and my excitement grew. So did the excitement of Team CatTwo: here one of its members expresses her enthusiasm. Or maybe not...

Another planning issue had to do with the ice packs in the Atlantic and Lake Melville (leading to Goose Bay). The official beginning of the sailing season for the ferry plying the route from Lewisporte to Cartwright to Goose Bay was set for June 6, 2008. However, it was dependent on the conditions of the ice packs and in previous year it became delayed by two weeks.

I wanted to ride as early in the season as possible, but did not want to risk being stuck. Just in case, I planned and reserved two identical schedules, one week apart, to allow me some leeway - even though it meant forfeiting one of the reservation deposits.

Fortunately, this year the first ferry sailed on time and my trip was on. Finally! It's a GO!

Wednesday, June 11.

Five days earlier, I confirmed that the Goose Bay ferry starts on time. The earlier one of my two schedules became a reality. The bike was packed over previous weekends; everything else was prepared the night before. I came home after work and changed into riding clothes. My wife waved me off - that smile was either the relief that she did not have to accompany me or that she did not have to listen to my incessant planning any more.

I am a bit superstitious and hate to talk about my planned trips for fear that it will screw them up. It was hard to hold down my excitement for such big adventure, however, and my wife had to bear the brunt of being the only one to be kept up on all details...

This evening's stage was simply to burn off some miles en route to New Brunswick.

I usually avoid riding at night - living in deer country, I do have a healthy appreciation of these and similar road hazards. An interstate is probably a better choice for night travel, presenting less of a risk and a better illumination than back roads.

A brisk pace got me to Seabrook, NH, where I checked into the Holiday Inn Express just before midnight.

Thursday, June 12.

The day started with a beautiful, peaceful morning. After an unrushed breakfast, the bike was loaded up for the 500-mile ride to Moncton.

I had plenty of time; all I had to do was to reach Moncton by the end of the day. The spirit of adventure was kicking in: I got off the Interstate in Bangor and followed Maine coast along Route 1.

It was still early in the season and the roads were quite empty. There was no need to dodge convoys of motor homes or sightseeing vacationers.

Just a few days before, a mid-90's heat wave lingered over my home area. Now, I enjoyed the sun and the lukewarm breeze - very refreshing. I still wore my mesh suit without liners - that would be the last time for quite a while.

I crossed the US/Canadian border in Calais and continued northeast on Route 1. In a little sleepy town called Sussex, I had a bit of personal excitement. The ATM in local bank decided to eat my debit card - not funny at all. Luckily, after initial shock, I remembered the PIN for a credit-card advance, but for a while I have been considering all possible difficulties caused by not having any cash on me (in particular, in the event of a breakdown on the Trans-Lab). Back home, I found out later that my ATM card was erroneously flagged as lost; this was yet another reminder to be prepared with multiple sources of money for any trip.

I arrived in Moncton by sunset - just missing one of the spectacles of the area. The river passing through town connects to Bay of Fundy and the tremendous tides there reverse its flow. This sign shows the time of tidal bores that day: in the park behind, one can observe eddies and whirls created when the water flow in the river changes direction.

I found Moncton to be a very pleasant town, with restaurants and pubs lining its main street. Patrons seemed to move from one establishment to another, enjoying the calm and warm evening. Unfortunately, my hotel was not in the area and I decided to skip the urban charm - I wanted a well-deserved glass of wine with my dinner, which precluded riding afterwards. Not all was lost: a very nice restaurant was within walking distance of the Holiday Inn Express. I parked the bike for the night, cleaned up and walked to enjoy the food and drink.

Friday, June 13.

Friday the 13th! But all in all, a very good day.

I have been concerned that dual sport tires would not last the whole length of the trip; some ADVrider members reported only 3k miles lifespan of their rear tires.

I wanted to install a set of Continental TKC80's to deal with the expected gravel - a good choice in retrospect. Also, I needed an oil change to last until arrival back home. All this required a service stop in the Maritimes.

The only remaining BMW dealer for all of Maritime Provinces is Atlantic Motoplex in Moncton, NB (actually, Dieppe, NB). There are independent mechanics throughout the region that could handle the tires and oil, but I wanted to stop at a BMW shop to assure proper service and parts in case I experienced any trouble on my way up. Did I mention that I tend to over-think my trips?

I scheduled a service appointment several weeks in advance, requesting a first slot in the morning. The hotel I reserved was just nearby; more research via on-line mapping services indicated that it should be just a short walk from the dealership.

Indeed, everything worked out very nicely. After a quick breakfast I rode the few blocks to the shop. They were just opening their service department and took the GS right away.

It was interesting to see that New Brunswick is truly bilingual. The service manager talked English to some technicians, French to others. Very impressive. Just as previous night, when I've been listening to the hostess in the restaurant: she started on the phone with "Eh, listen!", then went on in French, although peppering the conversation with English phrases.

While the bike was getting new shoes, I walked back to the hotel, with plenty of time to relax with another cup of coffee, catching up on emails and packing my luggage. When the time came to check out of the room, I left the side cases in reception area and hiked back to the shop.

The GS was just getting finished. I still had some time and explored the dealership. It is a sizeable establishment, much larger than those near my home. Besides BMW, Atlantic Motoplex handles Ducati and Yamaha brands, all neatly divided into separate 'stores'. The floor was packed with machines - bikes and ATV's, as befits the region.

I paid the bill, rode back to the hotel to pick up my luggage and finally headed out of town. It was almost noon and I had plenty of time to catch the late-night ferry in North Sydney, NS, 500km away.

I was excited; until then the ride was more or less a 'commute', but now the adventure was beginning for real. With good weather, I was reeling-in the miles quite fast, entering Nova Scotia and getting off the highway only to get gas.

Looking for fuel was to become one of the themes of the trip. With the long distances and a safe range of below 200 miles, I had to fill up a few times daily. For the Trans-Labrador Highway itself, where the distances between fuel stations are about 200 miles, I stored a small 1.25-gallon tank in the duffel. This would give me an emergency range extension of about 50 miles, hopefully enough to get myself out of trouble.

While refueling in a small Nova Scotia town, my eye caught some movement on an unattended bike standing at next pump. A dog!

Soon I saw that there were two bikes like that: cruisers, fitted with pieces of carpet mounted on their tanks, each carrying a small poodle hanging on with its claws.

I talked to the owners for a while - one of the pleasures of motorcycling is discovery of new and strange things, while sharing the community spirit of riders.

In the same town, I experienced my first mechanical scare. It was the first gas stop since service in Moncton, the first time since I slowed down from highway speeds. As the bike rolled to stop at a red traffic light, it shook violently, as if the boxer engine was lugging or misfiring.

This happened a few times through the town and I was getting convinced that either a spark plug was failing or I was having trouble with the electric brake assist pump. The GS is a rather complex machine and the possibility of breakdown is continuously on my mind - this strange vibration made me suspect the worst.

I was getting quite worried and already started planning to swap the plugs in the evening, when I finally figured out what happened: this was the first time since I was slowing down on the new TKC tires. At very slow rolling speeds the bike was actually falling down the widely spaced knobbies, causing this most unusual sensation. What a relief...

As the evening arrived, clouds covered the sky and the temperature dropped. It has been getting colder and colder, but - captivated by picturesque shorescapes - I did not notice it. Only when it started drizzling, I pulled into a gas station to dress into raingear and realized that I have been battling an onset of hypothermia.

I put on a few layers of warm underwear and the electric vest, set at maximum heat - and it still took a good hour of riding before I felt warm again. Heated vest and heated handgrips must count as some of the greatest inventions in motorcycle gear!

The weather continued to worsen. Heavy rain came and went and a violent crosswind pushed the bike all over the road. The side wind was often as powerful as any I ever encountered on my trips. But all was well: I arrived in North Sydney still at daylight, ready to check in for M/V 'Joseph and Clara Smallwood' the ferry to Newfoundland.

This is a serious-size offshore vessel, not your typical river-crossing ferry. As it is ice-capable, it operates the route year-round and can carry up to 1200 passengers and 1800 lane-meters of vehicles. That is a pretty neat terminology, meaning that all vehicles stacked end-to-end can take over one statute mile of length.

The ferry was scheduled to depart at 11pm. That gave me plenty of time to reach it after completing the service appointment in Moncton, but I have been really pleased to get there early. Riding at night in the Maritimes, with all kinds of critters ready to jump into the roadway, did not sound like a good idea.

Once checked in, all vehicles lined up in the loading area, awaiting clearance to enter the ferry. That was when we found out that due to some mechanical trouble the loading would be delayed by 4 hours. Most car passengers went to sleep in their vehicles.

There were only a few other riders. Roy and Dee (sp?), a couple from Saint John's, were returning home to Newfoundland from a long vacation on their Kawasaki Concours and Triumph Tiger. Their several-weeks long ride included a stop at Americade in Lake George. Ed, also from Saint John's, was bringing home his cruiser, bought earlier in the season elsewhere in Canada.

The wait was not too bad: we talked bikes, weather and computers, watched an episode of 'Top Gear' on Roy's video player and had grand old time. There was actually a silver lining to the delay: if on schedule, we would have arrived by 5am in Newfoundland, a bit too early to venture on the road.

Waiting with us to load, there was a group of ATV riders. They were planning to follow an abandoned-railbed trail to Saint John's. Also in high spirits, even rain could not put a damper on their good mood.

Finally, we were called up to ride up the ramp into the ship. Our little group was a bit tired and disheveled, but once the bikes were parked and the strapping tightened and checked, the party continued for a while in the lounge. We were making sure to be nice and sleepy for the seven- or eight-hour cruise on rough seas, while the ferry struggled against the strong wind.

- more to come as I am collecting my notes

Robert in Northern NJ __ '09 R12GS, '03 R1150RT, '01 F650GS

-->> James Bay & North Road Solo Blitz -->> Patagonia / Tierra del Fuego Cappuccino Tour
-->> Trans-Labrador Highway Solo Blitz --->> South African Cappuccino Tour

rdwalker screwed with this post 07-09-2008 at 11:13 PM
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