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Old 07-09-2008, 09:19 PM   #16
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Great pics and story, keep it coming...
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Old 07-09-2008, 10:01 PM   #17
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I love your pictures of the landscape involving water and fog...that's so beautiful to me.

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Old 07-10-2008, 12:07 PM   #18
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Another Great Report on the Trans-Lab!! As I wrote to scarysharkface the Trans-Lab is one of my dream rides. This ride has been bumped up too one of my next big rides. Thanks for the Inspiration! Fantastic photos also.

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Old 07-10-2008, 12:57 PM   #19
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Enjoying your posts and anxiously awaiting the next installment. A friend and I are doing the Trans Labrador Highway in early August on our KLR's. Finding your posts most encouraging. Is it necessary to carry extra fuel, the KLR can easily do 400kms?
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Old 07-10-2008, 12:59 PM   #20
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Originally Posted by Willard
Enjoying your posts and anxiously awaiting the next installment. A friend and I are doing the Trans Labrador Highway in early August on our KLR's. Finding your posts most encouraging. Is it necessary to carry extra fuel, the KLR can easily do 400kms?
I carried extra fuel, but didn't need it. The longest stretch between pumps was less than 200 miles.

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Old 07-10-2008, 03:27 PM   #21
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Originally Posted by Willard
Is it necessary to carry extra fuel, the KLR can easily do 400kms?
As John said, no problem with fuel. I had a small tank with me for emergencies, but even with the limited range of the GS I had no need for it.

I was getting 40mpg; if your KLR's are going to be heavily loaded, count on 50mpg. The longest distance without fuel is Goose Bay to Churchill Falls, approximately 300km = 200 miles.

The report installment on actual Trans-Lab is coming here in a few hours. Stay tuned.
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Old 07-10-2008, 04:45 PM   #22
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Great report. I'm loving all these Labrador reports!
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Old 07-10-2008, 05:43 PM   #23
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Across interior of Labrador


Tuesday, June 17.

The annoying buzz of my alarm clock (never leave home without it; I do sleep very deep) finally got me up. I barely had any time to get ready when the intercom announced that breakfast was being served.

I joined the chow line for still more heavy-duty food.



The ferry was slowly approaching Goose Bay and I ran on the outside deck for some obligatory pictures. After all, we were nearing the pivot point of all Trans-Labrador runs, the town of Happy Valley - Goose Bay.

From here, it's downhill of sorts, no matter whether the ride is clockwise or counter-clockwise.



Yes, 'Happy Valley - Goose Bay' is the full name of the locality. Being self-employed, I always jokingly observe that the smaller the outfit, the longer the name. On one side of the spectrum, there is IBM or Agilent. On the other side, Joe Schmoe's Research and Development Laboratory for the Extraction of Gold from Oranges. I should add, my business name is long, too...

Apparently, the same rules apply to towns: just looking at the harbor, it was easy to see that Goose Bay is a rather small place.



I rode through town, looking for the reason why most of us ever heard about Goose Bay: the airbase. If you fly between the US and Europe and observe the scrolling map shown in the airplane, you will notice several points of interests that are always indicated on that display, but are almost never to be found on any other maps - like Goose Bay, Labrador or Gander, Newfoundland.

This is because the maps shown in airliners are based on aviation maps and these towns are important navigation points. They all house big airbases, dating from World War II, when they were serving as refueling stops for aircraft crossing the Atlantic. I remember reading, for example, that Gander still has one of the longest runways in the world.

Military aircraft of that era did not have the range to cross directly between lower-48 states and Europe and these intermediate landing points played a very important role.

The base at Goose Bay operates until this day. It belongs now to the Canadian Forces and is used by them and air forces of several other NATO member nations as a training facility for arctic-environment operations.



If you frequent the ADVrider forum, you surely know about Ozymandias - Clayton Schwartz. Two years ago, before entering law school, Clayton set out on an exciting journey, prepping his bike on a tight budget and laying out a route to take him from Seattle to Argentina.

It all started well; his early travel reports on ADV conveyed the wonder and exhilaration of adventure. Unfortunately, a freak collision with a donkey near Acapulco resulted in Clayton breaking his back and becoming paralyzed. Further sad news shook the ADV community when last February Ozymandias took his life.

I was impressed with Clayton and very much respected the choices he made. His life showed courage and thoughtfulness at all stages: when heading out on a big trip across two continents, when fighting powerlessness and indignity of his impairment, when making that final last decision.

Ozymandias reminded me of our fragility and of the importance of trade-offs we always make between risks and rewards. Adventure travel enriches our lives - and yet we should not take these experiences lightly. This appreciation may not change the choices I am making, but I am thinking about them much harder.

Clayton's family and friends arranged for a memorial T-shirt to be printed, with proceeds benefiting the Dana and Christopher Reeve Foundation for Stem Cell Research. I thought that it would be a fitting tribute to carry the T-shirt in my travels, where Clayton would have liked to go.

So here it is: the bike sporting Ozymandias' T-Shirt at the beginning of main section of Trans-Labrador Highway, at the entrance to Canadian Forces Base at Goose Bay.



The provincial government of Newfoundland and Labrador provides a very unusual service. Travelers venturing on the Trans-Labrador Highway between Goose Bay and Labrador West (i.e., Wabush and Lab City) can sign out a free satellite phone, courtesy of the Department of Transportation. These phones dial only '911' emergency number and can be lifesaving in case of a mishap.

I stopped by the Aurora Hotel and picked up my phone, freshly charged and housed in a Pelican case. This box is somewhat bulky; I knew about it in advance and therefore had the duffel bag strapped to pillion seat, with enough spare carrying space for the phone, drinking water bottles and other incidentals.

I also carried there a 5-liter fuel tank that would extend my range by about 50 miles if needed: the 200-mile fuel range of the R1200GS was stretched to the limits by distances between gas stations on the Trans-Lab.



I checked out the bike, made sure that everything was packed in, put on the rain gear and drove out of town.

This was it. The main section, the real Trans-Labrador Highway. Next town, next gas station 300km down the road.

On the Highway, there are no roadside services, nothing - not even a parking spot - outside of the towns: Goose Bay at one end, Churchill Falls in the middle and Labrador West (Wabush and Labrador City) at the other end.



The GPS directions were even more impressive than those on Brenda's B&B billboard the day before: left turn in 276km.

By then, it was after 10am. I was hoping to reach Wabush / Labrador City by the evening and it meant that, again, I had to put in a good pace.



This section of the Highway was also very well maintained, with only occasional loose sand or gravel patches. By now I have gotten used to riding on such surface and felt more comfortable maintaining higher speeds - although occasionally I'd be surprised be the conditions, feeling my heart rise into my throat.



The construction and maintenance season in the area is only some 3 months long. There is feverish work going on along the whole route; construction crews seemed to suddenly appear in the middle of nowhere.



The terrain immediately west of Goose Bay was fairly flat, accentuated by marshes and rivers. I stopped occasionally to enjoy the landscape, but did not linger: the flies!!

According to the official Labrador travel brochure, this was not the main black fly season. However, any time I stopped, within a few seconds the annoying buzz would surround me. There were so many of them right away that it looked as if they were laying in wait on the road, knowingly expecting me to stop. I'd like to know what these pesky critters did when there was no one around!

I made thus only very brief stops - good for average speed - and did not even have to try out the mesh hat and bug jacket that I took to protect myself from the insects.

Still, I was full of appreciation for those who were camping on their trip through the area: the application of DEET-laden repellant did not seem to do much for me.





On this section of the Highway, very appropriately, my bike 'lost its virginity'. I rolled the mileage over 36000: end of warranty!

I have been quite concerned about this while planning the tour and therefore, before departing, I bit the bullet and bought an extended-service plan. It was not cheap, but I decided that in light of final-drive issues plaguing the R1200GS line and - not as common, but still possible - high-cost ABS system repairs, it was a worthwhile investment. When the final drive on my previous K1200LT seized up while crossing Maine two years ago, I did spend a good chunk of change to have it replaced.



At one of the work sites, I came across a scene of an accident. It was a construction mishap: section of a truck collapsed, apparently striking the cab and injuring the driver. The traffic was stopped and there was a lot of activity going on; it was quite worrisome to see the driver being gently pulled out on a stretcher and loaded into the waiting ambulance. Later, I asked one of the firemen and found that the injuries were mostly bruises: a relief.

What made a big impression on me was that we were in the middle of nowhere, about a hundred kilometers east of Churchill Falls, and yet there were two fire trucks and one ambulance on the scene. That was a good feeling - the emergency services were well organized and readily available.



By early afternoon, I reached Churchill Falls. I stopped for a moment at the town limit sign and carefully parked the bike on the very soft sandy edge, to take a picture of Ozymandias' T-shirt. It took me a few attempts before the bike was securely positioned and not threatening to fall - the sand offered very little support.



The main claim to fame of this place is the Churchill Falls Generating Station. It is one of the bigger installations in the area; abundant rivers and lakes make it fairly economical to build hydropower plants. High-voltage transmission lines crisscross arctic landscapes along the Highway, delivering electricity as far down as northeastern US.





The town itself did not have much to offer: a true company town. Aside from standardized worker housing, it seemed to have only a gas station and convenience store. Just perfect for me: I had some bottled water and an ice cream cone for lunch.

The bike was getting a quite decent mileage in these conditions: about 40mpg, and I did not have to resort to using the spare tank. I gassed up and left.



Just outside of town, the road crosses what remains from Churchill Falls, after the river was diverted for the power plant. Still, the riverbed is very impressive.



The weather was very changeable, switching between rain and sun seemingly every half an hour. Just as on the other sections, the surface would dry instantly and I would raise my own dust cloud behind me.



The road continued to be covered in spots with very loose gravel. Since I don't have much off-road experience, living in an area where almost all of the roadways are completely (albeit poorly) paved, it took me quite a while to get used to the wobbly feeling of the front wheel floating over shifting surface.

Most of the gravel was collected in turns and dips of the road, pushed there by truck wheels. In general, I tried to follow tire ruts; very often there were three strips of fairly clean surface where, on occasions, I could bring the speed to quite a decent pace, if I say so myself...



There was another treacherous area: proximity to shoulders. The underlying sand was getting softer within a few feet of road's edge, ready to swallow the tire. I even saw a gigantic crane-truck platform that came too close to the side, got bogged down and was helplessly mired, stuck with right-side wheels hanging over a ditch. I have been wondering how they finally got it out: it looked like a job for several large bulldozers.

I have been trying to watch for all these obstacles; still, I had quite a few heart-stopping, sphincter-tightening moments when my front tire was beginning to do a tank slapper on the 'marbles' or when it was digging into the sand trap. I did know to gas it and power through the obstacle, but sometimes - I have to admit - I have been too shocked to do that. In particular, if that happened just after a smooth stretch, when my self-confidence was up and I stopped paying close attention to the surface. These were rude awakenings!

I did get lucky and had no mishaps on the whole stretch. It is good to remember, though, that the road is very unforgiving. When I came back home, I saw a note on ADVrider that one member, Josh ('Dusty'), who was in the area only 3 days behind me, did crash just outside of Churchill Falls.
http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=354943

His front tire got caught up in the sand; Dusty did an endo and rocketed down the embankment, breaking his collarbone and destroying the bike - effectively ending his adventure. Luckily, there were no serious injuries otherwise. While getting treated in Churchill Falls, Josh made acquaintance with another ADV member passing through, John 'scarysharkface', who assisted him in getting organized and in retrieving his machine. This image is linked from John's thread:



I have contacted Josh since; by then he was home, in good spirits and ready to try again next season. Trooper!

The sandy nature Trans-Labrador Highway is a challenge in itself. When wet, the hard-packed surface melts and is ready to grab tires. When the rain stops, all water immediately drains off and an immense amount of dust builds up.

All vehicles are easily noticeable from far away. It is a bit like in the Mad Max movies: a cloud of dust is moving up the road and then, only at the very last instance, a car appears over a crest.



One thing that I see and appreciate all over Canada is that they are very diligent about clearing a wide swath along roadway shoulders. This provides good visibility and an extra margin of safety in case a moose or similar animal decides to cross the roadway.

I noticed, still in Newfoundland, that the trees are not really cut, but rather ground down. It looked as if some space aliens ran a gigantic weed-whacker to clear the right of way. It was fascinating; I could not figure what method was used to accomplish that.





Finally, I have come across the clearing machine. It was already parked for the day and I still am not sure how it exactly works, but it appears that the power attachment simply chips down the still-live vegetation. What will they think of next?



As I was nearing Wabush, I encountered more and more railroad crossings. It was quite strange to be suddenly stopped behind other vehicles, waiting for a train to pass - after riding for an hour through an empty land, not seeing anyone else.

Rails are big in that area; they service the industry of the region: power generation and mining. As a matter of fact, the Trans-Labrador Highway between Labrador West and Goose Bay was completed only in 1992. It is called 'Freedom Road' by some, as it for the first time allowed interior communities road access to civilization. Before that, many areas in Labrador interior were are only accessible by rail, as they still are further north.



As the day ended, I reached Wabush. By then, I have been riding 10-1/2 hours since departing Goose Bay. A long day, but very satisfying.

Here is to Clayton, who wrote in September 2007: 'Even though my trip turned out badly, I don't regret the kind of life I chose to live. Adventure!'



I checked into the Wabush Hotel. It was after 9pm and the sun was still quite high up in the sky, lighting up the place. Great White North, eh?

Wabush Hotel was also one of the pickup/drop-off locations for the emergency satellite phones. How convenient – I did not have to run all over town to give it back.

I have been forewarned and made reservations well in advance of the trip. As soon as the roads are passable, construction season begins and accommodations are very hard to find. The hotel was filled with road crews and signs asking to remove work boots before entering completed the picture.

No complaints, though: the room was clean, water hot and plentiful, restaurant opened until late, Wi-Fi worked. A good place to sleep well, recovering from the long day, in advance of another one.




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Old 07-10-2008, 06:21 PM   #24
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Great RR

Thanks for sharing your story!

Myself and a friend did the trans lab in the other direction during the first week of July last year. It was the trip of a lifetime for me.

When I got back from vacation, I was talking to my boss and a guy overheard that I was in Labrador.

He shared the story that he grew up in Wabush (his father worked in the mines). When the family would come to New-Brunswick every summer to visit family, they had to put their car on a train and ship it to Baie Comeau and pick it up there to finish their journey.

And to think that part of this journey will be erased/bypassed next year when the new road opens, kind of makes me sad. The Goose Bay - Cartwright ferry is the focal point of the route. You miss it... you're stuck there for a few days. hehehe.

I surely remember the marble sized rock laden road between Fire Lake and Fermont! Pucker factor galore!

Thanks for sharing!

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Old 07-10-2008, 10:01 PM   #25
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I love your pictures!
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Old 07-11-2008, 06:07 AM   #26
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I'm really enjoying these posts. I grew up in Lab West before leaving for University/work in the late 80's, but i'm planning a trip "home" next spring to break in my soon-to-arrive(i.e. late Spetember) F800GS.

Each picture makes me a little homesick and more determined to do the Lab Loop sooner rather than later.

Great Post, great Pics.

PS. Do you if the gas stations in Churchill and Cartwright had Supreme gas or just regular?
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Old 07-11-2008, 07:58 AM   #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tipler
... Do you if the gas stations in Churchill and Cartwright had Supreme gas or just regular?
I am glad you like my post. More coming soon.

I did not see any super gas anywhere along the Trans-Lab, only regular. Same story in northeastern Newfoundland.

I believe that last time I took super was around Corner Brook, Nfld - the next time I got it was in Baie Comeau, QC.
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Old 07-11-2008, 08:28 AM   #28
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That's what I figured. I suspect they have it in Goose and Lab west but not along the coast. I ask cuz I have an 800GS on order and she requires the good stuff and I have to have the dealer change the mapping if I want to run on reg.

looking forward to the next post where I can say "hey there's my old house" :)
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Old 07-11-2008, 09:16 AM   #29
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I'll have the post out this afternoon: Wabush to Baie Comeau.

If I were you, preparing for a ride like the Trans-Lab, I would definitely remap the bike to be able to run on regular. As I said, there was no super in Labrador and in Relais Gabriel (there might have been some in Fermont, I cannot recall right now).

And, occasionally I came across small stations in New England that were out of high-test as well. Requiring only the good stuff is very limiting for an adventure bike.
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Old 07-11-2008, 02:02 PM   #30
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Wabush to Baie Comeau



Wednesday, June 18.

I decided to have a late breakfast this morning, by 9am, to avoid the rush of road crews leaving Wabush Hotel for work. The planned ride for the day was longer than the previous one - about 600km, but the last third of the distance was to be on pavement. I thought, mistakenly, that it would be an easy route.

The three towns on Labrador-Quebec border are connected by a short stretch of tarmac. It was a nice change of pace to be rolling so easily.

Just to say that I was there, I got off the Highway and rode the short connector to Labrador City, to take the now-obligatory picture. The welcoming sign dispelled any doubts one could have about the industrial background of the area.



Just as in Wabush, the Labrador City skyline was dominated by tremendous strip mines.



Continuing west, I crossed the provincial border into Quebec. I left Route 500 - Trans-Labrador Highway proper and entered Quebec Route 389. From that point on, the road is called Trans-Quebec-Labrador.

I pulled into Fermont, QC, to top off the fuel tank. Needless to say, its existence is also due to the iron-mining industry (Fer-Mont, get it?) and various symbols and displays confirmed that.

I could not resist posing the bike in front of a quarry truck. Who said that the GS was a big motorcycle? Compared just to truck wheels, it looked positively svelte.



Continuing west, I re-entered the gravel road and rode past Mount Wright Mine. A whole mountain range was being cut open and strip-mined for iron ore.

There was an imposing lake on the right. I suddenly realized that it was pink in color. A big pink lake! Actually, it probably was a leaching reservoir.



In Quebec, the road became much narrower and winding. It made for much more interesting riding after the long straights of Labrador, but the risk of collision in a blind turn increased. I had at least one close call, when suddenly I faced a big rig negotiating a tight turn - and both of us were in the middle of the roadway.

The tight turns caused more loose gravel to be shifted and pushed onto long ruts. My traveling speed dropped a lot, as I had to deal with less stable surface and with the frequent railroad grade crossings.



A couple of hours after entering Quebec, I passed the Fire Lake Mine and found myself riding again on pavement for another 90km.

It was a now-abandoned commuting connection for the employees of the mine. They all lived at the other end, in the town of Gagnon; once the mine was closed, the town was picked up and removed.

Now everyone calls it 'Gagnon Ghost Town': there is a divide highway going trough its center, with curbs and openings for driveways, but nothing else is left. Quite interesting!



Below Gagnon, the landscape changed again. There were no more rolling hills and sharp curves; the road widened and straightened out, but instead started climbing through a high mountain range, where snow patches still peeked through the dense forests.

This is the first time I met another rider on the Trans-Lab. Riding his V-Strom from Pennsylvania, he was doing a much more reasonably-paced tour, often stopping to smell the roses - and to take photographs of them. We spent a while talking about conditions and places to see.

He camped along the way and was able to experience the picturesque areas north or Goose Bay and north of Cartwright. I'd like to do that myself, too - I guess, there is another trip in the cards. In particular, I was intrigued by the official Labrador travel brochure, describing endless stretches of sandy beaches along the northeastern coast, described by ancient Vikings as Wonderstrands _ wonder-beaches. Sounds beautiful. Next time, then...

Shortly thereafter, three riders went the other way, heading north. Interestingly, I met no more motorcyclists on the Highway: obviously, early season.



There were no services, no communities since leaving Fermont. Suddenly, a tiny waystation appeared between the trees: Relais Gabriel. Its only purpose is to support the Trans-Lab travelers; there is a fuel pump, a small café and a motel. I refueled and had a cup of coffee while listening to some truck drivers tying to summon help for their broken-down rig. The public phone was simply a cordless handset that the woman behind the counter was 'renting' out, checking usage time on her wristwatch.



The weather pattern of my trip did not change - I have been crossing alternating periods of sun and of rain. Actually, that was quite interesting: a long ride of that sort gave me a new perspective on how localized weather is. Since I was covering several hundreds of miles daily, I could expect that any nasty conditions would clear up in a few hours. And, of course, the opposite would hold true as well...

And so, I could enjoy the ominously looking skies. No problem, there was a rainbow somewhere on the other side!



A prominent geographical feature of the area is Manicouagan Reservoir, created by damming of the river crossing a meteor crater. The lake is immense and its characteristic shape is easily recognizable on photographs taken from space or on any maps.

This is a Google Earth view of the area north of Gulf of St. Lawrence in Quebec. The circle of Manicouagan, referred to as 'Manic' by everyone, cannot be missed.



Again, being a sucker for moody, soft perspectives, I really enjoyed the cloudy skies over the reservoir. The islands in the lake seemed to just rise up from the fog - so beautiful.



Suddenly, I came upon a stopped truck. A small bridge was being repaired and the crew put out a handwritten sign to the effect that the road was closed for 15 minutes. Sure enough, after about that time someone walked up to the closure and let us in.

The truck was very typical of the rigs on the Trans-Lab: double trailer, fully loaded, flying full speed over the gravel.

The driver waved me around him - very nice. I have to say that, as a rule, I've received the best treatment from truck drivers. Dust and gravel spray is a problem for any Trans-Labrador traveler, but a particular problem on a bike. I have to say that, among the many hundreds of trucks I encountered, there was maybe just one that did not slow down and pull to the side when passing me in either direction. Everyone else did. Royal treatment!

On the other hand, pickups and SUV's were more unpredictable. And the few passenger cars that I encountered were the worst; I swear that most of these bastards actually speed up when zipping by!



And here it was: the end of gravel road - but not of the adventure! The fun would continue for a few more days.

It was relieving, but also sad to see the yellow paint stripe on the next crest.



The transition between gravel and pavement happens next to the northernmost dam and generating station on the Manicouagan River, called Manic 5. There is a whole sequence of these power plants, starting with Manic 1 right near where the river empties into St. Lawrence in Baie Comeau. As a matter of fact, the trip up Route 389 to view Manic 2 during one of my previous rides got me hooked on the idea of doing the Trans-Lab ride.

Manic 5 is one of the largest installations of that type in the world. And indeed, the concrete dam is very much awe-inspiring.



Parking the bike next to the dam really brought in perspective the size of the immense structure. Ozymandias' T-shirt, spread out for the last shot, is just barely visible.



The little community around Manic 5 provides also the only services in the area: fuel and a small motel. I hoped to use their phone to make hotel reservation at the end of the road, in Baie Comeau. I stood in line, waiting for the few people ahead of me to tell their friend and families all the gossip they could come up with (it appeared that the motel mainly housed construction crews maintaining the power station). When it finally was my turn, it came out that the phone did not accept any of my toll-free calling cards, even the AT&T one. Bummer!

It was time to leave Manic 5 and race south: the drizzle was intensifying, it was getting darker and I was still over 200km from Baie Comeau. Pulling out of the motel lot I got distracted and hit the front brake while the wheel was turned. Damn! This time, the bike fell onto pavement, breaking a piece of the windscreen and popping the turn signal apart. I already knew the routine: removed rear top box and the accessible side case, made sure the bike was in gear and picked it up. Then, I realized that the side stand was up and I could not reach it easily. It took a bit of a contortionist exercise to get it down while leaning over the bike. I guess I have been getting tired.

It was, fitting, in a sense: I dropped the GS at the beginning and at end of the gravel stretch of the Trans-Quebec-Labrador Highway. Very appropriate.

I was really rushing now, trying to reach the southern terminus of the Highway before dark. The rain was only intermittent and the very grippy pavement allowed me to maintain a really good pace. The fact that there were no vehicles on the road helped; I could concentrate on the surface, on selecting the line and speed.

Within a couple of hours I arrived in Baie Comeau. Here I was, at the very sign that prompted the whole trip. The southern end of the Trans-Lab!

This was exciting. I've done it! The whole stretch!

This called for a special ADV salute! And big thanks to all you FF's, who helped me so much during the preparation and planning time.



I called a few places in town from a gas station (my cell phone still had no service) and found a room at the 'Grand Hôtel' in town. The owner, manning the reception desk at this late hour, guided me to the back of the building to park the GS right next to his Fat Boy.

I was completely beat by then, after riding non-stop for 11 hours, standing up on the pegs on most loose gravel sections. I did not even bother finding anything for dinner, just took a shower and crashed into the bed.


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