This is going to be the second last blog entree from my East Coast/ Trans Labrador Highway trip. I decided this time around it is going to be a little different than my normal ride reports. I’m going to add a little more beef to the bones and get more into the stories emotions and experiences of this portion of the trip. I think that is truly want made this part of the ride a real adventure. It wasn’t only the roads, but rather the people, the experiences and the feelings that went along with it that makes this the cream De la cream of the ride. Just know it is a little long. BUT, don’t forget, the teaser is, at one point the full details of me going down at about 120 kmph in the middle of nowhere..
This last summer and fall has just sped by. Haven’t even had much of a chance to get anything up on my blog. In part due to spending so much time away from the computer and on two wheels. Clocking in just over 30,000 km’s over the last 7 months and still going strong. This time of year in Eastern Ontario, Canada I am normally digging my car out from under a foot or more of snow. However, El Nino has brought along some amazing weather with highs reaching into the mid teens on some days. ( Little update. Since I wrote this blog two weeks ago weather was great. However, winter hit and with a vengeance. In ten days the weather went form the high PLUS teens to the high MINUS teens with a good 15-20 cm of snow. This is one great, or not so great things, depending on your perspective, about being Canadian )
So with the cold and snow snows arrival I must embark on other other motorcycle endeavors like reading about bikes, writing more about my biking adventures, watching movies about bikes and of course, eating lots of bacon.
If you’ve been following my blogs back in July me and three friends started out on a three week, 8, 5000 km trip through the East Coast of Canada. We spent many hours on tarmac but our desire was to find as much off road trails and see the East coast off road and on back woods trails. Basically trying to stay off the beaten track whenever time and weather permitted. This worked out spectacularly. I won’t go into details as most of my previous blogs cover the first portion of the trip, but I will say of my 7 previous trips to the East Coast, this trip was by far the most exciting and I saw it like I had never seen it before. Ohh how I enjoy my Adventure bike and my adventure minded riding companions.
The pinnacle of the East coast trip was the Trans Labrador Highway. For those who are not familiar with the Trans Labrador Highway (TLH), I’ll give a brief description from my point of view. First and foremost it is anything but a highway. Really it is a 1,300 km of gravel road that cuts through the rugged emptiness or Labrador to join up with Newfoundland. It was not built for any real purpose other than to bridge a gap between Labrador and NFL which became one province in 2001. To date small portions of the road have been paved but is primarily a poorly maintained haul road for large trucks. Sort of the type of road you see on TV in the series Ice Road Truckers Though minus the ice and water crossings in few short summer months.. Gravel, bumpy, dusty muddy ( which at times had the consistency of snot) wet, cold, bug infested, barren, pot hole laden, bore jarring, teeth rattling and with constant changing road surfaces are just a few thoughts that come to mind when I think back on the ride. It’s a draw for many ADV riders and one many add to there bucket list. There really is nothing spectacular to see on this road. Though from time to time you do get some stunning views when crossing a few of the bridges, but the scenery is pretty much made up trees, trees and more trees and occasionally you might see a bear, moose and other four legged furry friends running along the side of the road. Just prior to our trip a polar bear had been spotted on the TLH. That’s a pretty rare sight as they normally do not wander that far down, but due to the melting ice sheets they are venturing further and further south looking for food. All of the above is the very nature of why this road is so exciting to ride. It’s not for everyone or just a fun weekend drive. Takes a lot of concentration to keep the bikes on two wheels and is mile after mile of trees. Big trees, small trees, green trees, burnt trees, stubby trees and thin trees, pointed trees and rounded trees….. you get the idea. Ohh ya, and they almost all spruce trees. Just you, your machine, and your thoughts, oh did I mention trees.
After just having spent a glorious week in Newfoundland we awoke early in the morning to jump on the ferry that left St Barb’s Newfoundland and landed in Blache Sablon Labrador. It was a chilly 6 degrees that morning. So once our bikes were lashed down below decks Jeff, Joe and I made our way up to the galley to grab some hot coffee. I spent about a minute or so on the deck taking in the ocean view but quickly decided it could as easily been seen from behind a pane of glass in a heated room. During the crossing we saw several pods of whales. Nothing really close enough to get any great pictures, but awe inspiring non-the-less. Seeing something as majestic as a pod of whales lets me know that I am not alone. There is a whole world of awesomeness out there, yet to be explored by me. It brings about a childhood thrill and a longing to want more. More of life. More of this!
We made land and the day was still young and cold. What struck me immediately was the snow in the ditches. Over the last week I was used to seeing snow, up in the tall mountains or Newfoundland. But that was UP there. Now, however, it was in the ditches where the plows had dumped it months ago while clearing the roads. I really did feel like stopping and having a snow ball fight but being at the back of the pack and the guys obviously did not have that same desire as me, I had to keep moving as not to lose them.
To my surprise the first 50 km’s or so was paved. We made our way along the coast and the scenery was just awe inspiring as we drove along with high mountains to our left and the open ocean to our right. Our first stop would be Point Amour (point of love) light house.It is the tallest lighthouse in Eastern Canada and second largest in all of Canada
The guys and I did the tourist thing for a bit and took in the shops and views. Joe opted to make his way to the top of the light house. I just wasn’t up to the walk myself. So went and grabbed a bench outside and just stared out across the expanse of the Ocean.Then like out of a movie or great You Tube video a whale broke the surface just off the coast, followed by another, then another. Within a few minutes a pod of 5 killer whales were slowly making their way along the coastline slowly going up and down in a rhythmic dance blowing air and water each time they surfaced. I watched them for about 20 minutes before they made their way out to the open ocean. It made me feel really alive, like a 5 year old kid that has unwrapped the perfect Christmas gift. I felt a breath of life was given to me, to be able to witness such a simple but majestic act of nature. Like an excited kid I ran and found Jeff and was able to share a few minutes of this with him. Sort of makes the moment “count” when you share it with a good friend.
Eventually we made out way back to the bikes. The goal for the day was to make it to Port Hope were we would set up camp for the night. Wasn’t a big chunk of road to ride but we had left ourselves a lot of time for bad and slow going roads which we were about to get.
The wind began to pick up a lot as we left Point Amour. I believe in part due to the topography. The mountains rose on both sides, and I believe this created a wind tunnel effect that increased the wind speeds. The wind was harsh and steady and at time some gust that where probably in excess of 60-70 kmph. It was a challenge keeping the bikes going straight However, for the moment the roads where paved that is until we reached the TLH.
Truth be told I was expecting some fan far when entering onto the Trans Labrador Highway, You know something like a band playing or large Neon lights flashing saying “ your about to enter the TLH”, or at least a colorful banner sign saying TRANS LABRADOR HIGHWAY. However, nothing, nada zero, zippo. In fact I didn’t even realize we were actually on it, other than the fact we went from paved to gravel road. There might have been a sign, but if there was I definitely missed it. All I know is that the pavement ended and gnarly started!
The winds were still at gail force. Trucks were either stopped or inching their way along as not to be blown over. On top of that the roads gravel was like marbles. Literally. They were rounded off and smooth. At least a good two inches of soft loose marbles. Our security was trying to choose a track where all the trucks had cleared and pushed down the marbles. But with that wind it was impossible. Just as you got into one track up would come a gust of wind and move you right over into the soft marbles and our tires would feel like they were rolling right out from under us.
My “butt pucker” mode was in full gear. I did not expect this at all. I’m not 100% sure what I was expecting, but it certainly was not winds that would topple semi’s on roads that I felt like someone had dropped a giant jar of playing marbles. I was having serious fears and doubts if I could do this and this was only the beginning of the road. The thoughts of having to drive this for three full days was really starting to make it worse. It is one thing to be on a bad road, it is totally another when you begin to doubt your driving abilities whether you could keep the bike on two wheels. I was afraid! I was seriously thinking of turning around. But to what? I did not want another day on a ferry or all those clicks going in the opposite direction or the fact that I ” gave up”. Two words that really are not part of my vocabulary. None of this scenario was looking good. On top of it, I rather thinking I was alone. Jeff and Joe where some distance ahead and my thoughts where this was ” old school” to these veteran ADV riders and I wanted to at least try and keep up to some degree with them.So I pressed on with great hesitation and fear. Everything I knew about fear on a motorcycle was coming to life. Winds, rain, cold, wet round gravel, and mud all mixed together equaled a mixture for potential disaster, at least this is what was playing out in my mind.
I pressed on through this for a good 50 km’s. I can’t describe the fortitude it took me to make it even that far. Long gone was that killer whale moment where I was in a happy place. I was now in full survival mode, putting into action everything I knew about ADV riding, which is very little.
Finally Joe pulled off to the side of the road. We had a short chat and was I relieved to hear I was not the only one having “issues” with the riding conditions. However, it had not even crossed my mind at this point, but Joe, bless his soul, decided it was time to air down his tires. Mine normally sit at 40 PSI on the rear and 35PSI on the front. I aired down to 20 PSI on both front and rear. WOW. I tell you that made a world of difference. Being new to Adventure biking I am still in the learning curve. I’ve read about airing down and how it can help but never tried it. The difference in riding was black and white. What airing down does is allows the tire to widen out and sit somewhat flatter on the road. Something like a car tire. It also allows the now softer tire to let the pebbles to sink into the softer tire instead of just skidding over top of them as well as allowing the sharper knobbies on the sides of the Mitas Dakar E07’s to make more road contact. It was remarkable. We still dealt with the crazy winds and the marbled roads for the next few hours but we felt like we were much more in control. In fact, after a while when we found our “groove” it became a fun affair. An affair of love and hate, but still a fun one. Something you can look back on and with a little beating of the chest go ” I did that”!
By the time we had made it to Port Hope we had found our groove, the winds had almost entirely died off and even the marbles where more of a normal rugged rock and we making great time. It was still cold and wet so but after taking a short snack break, and getting in some great stories about our bravery and laughs of our ” pussiness” ( or at least mine) we decided to push on to Cartwright in hopes that we might get a dry and warm place to stay for the night.
Cartwright is a small coastal town of about 550 people that up until 2009 the only way in and out was by boat along the Atlantic ocean. The main industry was and always has been fishing. Though in recent years, as is the case in most of Canada fishing industry, it has taken a nasty economic hit. There are really no attractions or anything in Cartwright to warrant the 350 km detour off the main TLH, other than it sounded like a good idea and us boys wanted to get as much play time on on dirt roads as we could.
The rain was still coming down on and off. The temps hovered between 5 and 7 degrees during the day. As miserable as this might sound it was part of the adventure. It never fazed me at all. Being the “cup half full” type of person I can say that it kept the dust down on the roads and all those black flies. We were warned by some riders to make sure to hang onto our handle bars when stopped or the mass shear mass of black flies would carry us away. They were there no doubt but never posed much of a nuisance other than the fact that at least one or two would sneak into our helmets and we’d have to fight to try and get them out without letting others in.
The day progressed on and we were tearing up the TLH. There is a certain thrill being on road that can chew you up and spit you out in an instant and it happens A LOT. Reading peoples rides reports of doing this road you often come across those who lost control and didn’t finish the trip. Not only on motorcycles but any vehicle. To add to the “thrill” of the TLH is if you go down a few things can happen. First. The road is built mostly over swamp and muddy areas so in most places the road is built up a good 10-15 feet off the ground with very steep banks. It also has very soft shoulders so when you need to pull over you have to be aware that you will be pulling into something that is not conducive to two wheels. You don’t want to fall down that embankment either. You also need to be aware of the abundance of wildlife. Perhaps it was the weather but we saw very little of this ” wildlife” we kept hearing about. Lots of rabbits but no moose and only one bear.
We arrived in Cartwright around 5:00 that evening. Wet and cold we immediately started looking for somewhere warm.Little did we know that Cartwright was going to offer up a very interesting and entertaining evening.
Cartwright did not have that quaint fishing village feel to it. Most of the houses seemed to be old bungalows with cheap vinyl siding on it, everything was a little on the “worn” side. Also, there was no signs of life anywhere. Non the less we were on a quest to find the local Motel YUP, it did have a motel. After a little bit of driving around and having a great navigator we arrived at the 6 room motel. . We finally saw the first signs of life as a younger lady, probably in here mid 20’s came out of one of the rooms. Jeff asked her were the office was and in a smug sort of way she pointed around the corner of the building ,but also added in that she was pretty sure there were no rooms.
Normally throughout this trip I was not hesitant to leave my bike loaded when I went inside somewhere for a few minutes, but there was just this aura of “different” around this place. The type of feeling I imagine I would get when walking into and old abandoned mine or an old derelict house. You’re just not quite sure what to expect. I just did not feel safe or “ right”.
We made our way around back and downstairs to the office which was also the town, restaurant and bar. The place looked well used. It didn’t have the appearance of a place someone took much pride in keep up. It had an old western salon look with wooden walls and big floor boards with a couple of old logs supporting the center of the building. However, it was furnished with small square tables straight out of the sixties with chrome legs and cheap veneer top finish, plastic covered chairs you’d find in a doctors office and a bar that looked like it was quickly thrown together with some 2 by 4’s and a couple of sheets of plywood. The cheap plastic triangular beer advertisements hanging hanging from the ceiling either added to the cheap looking sixties decor or took away from the old wooded salon decor. Still not quite sure what they had in mind.
So in walk, three bikers, gear dripping wet, muddy, and looking pretty beat up from the days ride into this restaurant/office/bar. We got a quick once over gazes from the locals, two at the bar and few sitting around one of the tables. It certainly was not the normal smiling happy faces we had become accustomed to getting on our travels so far. I suspect many locals preferred the town much more before the road opened it up to tourist folks like us.
We made our way up to the bar counter and were greeted by a short scowl from a short stocky woman standing behind the counter who gave us the once over from head to toe. It was a short glance of dismay as she was probably thinking ” your dripping on my floor”. Without a word her focus shifted back to the lady across the bar and they resumed a seemingly in depth conversation over the debit machine not working.
We just stood there feeling a little awkward as to what out next step would be to get some service. Though we were not complaining. At least we were out of the rain, enjoying the heat and were in no real rush to go back outside at the moment.
It must have been a good ten minutes before the woman behind the counter finally turned to us and asked “and what can I help you with”. We asked if there were any available rooms. At this point I think any of us would have gladly accepted a warm broom closet to sleep in that night instead of heading back out to start looking for a place to set our tents in the cold rain.
In front of here was a map layout of the motel taped to the bar top. She intently stared at this sheet of paper, where it was clear that all SIX rooms were laid out. She spent a good two minutes studying, pointing at the sheet, making little noises and I think at one point I may have heard a little growl. We were somewhat hopeful that the long study session was her figuring out how to swing fitting us in. However, to our dismay her voice cackled out the words “sorry nothing available” and then she was back to her conversation with the other patron. Jeff piped up a little at his point asking if there was any other place, almost begging the two ladies to think of something. At one point they did remember there was a B&B in town (not sure how you could forget something like that in a town so small) so they gave them a call but they were not taking anyone in. Once we relented to the fact that we were in going to be sleeping outdoors tonight we were met by hems and haws over where we could set up our tents, before the patron said we could try the old abandoned gas station up the road. At this point I think we just gave up trying to get anything more out of anyone at this point and turned to more important things like food.
We did eventually find out the reason the motel was booked was that this weekend was the local school reunion. It wasn’t you typical 10th or 25th anniversary reunion. Rather it was a reunion for everyone that ever attended the school since in founding sometime in the late 1700’s. Off all weekends. Though it did provide us with a little chuckle.
Well at least for the moment we were dry and warming up. We decided to grab a table and get some grub into us before heading back out. By this point we were joking about the idea of them poisoning us and perhaps having us from dinner. Even though we were saying this in jest I am sure somewhere at the back of our minds, at least mine, thoughts of the movie Deliverance were playing out.
As we sat there talking and joking amongst ourselves in walks an older couple, somewhere in their sixties. We made eye contact with then and they loudly announced “YUP we are not from around these parts can you tell”. We quickly chimed in saying neither are we. This started up a good and long conversation.
These folks were from British Columbia and had traveled across the country for holidays and to visit some family on the East Coast. How they ended up in Cartwright I never did ask. Joe had an accident the previous year and broken both his ankles so had to spend several months in a nursing home as he was unable to care for himself at home. Well, seems that this couple’s sister worked at this nursing home, thousands of km’s from where we were and from where this couple lived. What are the odds? It was going to prove to be one of those minutes in life where you will forever look back on and think just how small the world really is. So off course Joe knowing ladies sister starts having a great conversation with them. They then let us know that they had found this lady in town who had let them stay in her travel trailer that was in her front yard. There were two extra beds in it and if it was OK with the lady they we were more than happy to let us stay in the trailer with them. Though two beds and three people. I like my space so I was willing to tent it while the guys took the beds. Take one for the team. 🙂
We finished our meals and then followed the couple back to where they were staying. It turns out this place actually ran summer time tours out to the local shoals for whale watching in Canoes and Kayaks, called Experience Labrador. Pete was the name of the lady, yup, her name was Pete who with her husband ran this operation. Her husband was out of town for the time being.
Pete was a spectacular hostess. Sweet as sugar but something “not quite right”. Could have been the big hairy mole on her front chin and a thick accent and a somewhat peculiar demeanor about her, which to this day I can’t really put my finger on. However, the story of Hansel and Gretel ran through my mind. Was she fattening us up for the dinner. Where the smiles and and cackle laughter just a front for something a little more sinister. Admitting as I sit here writing this I do feel bad thinking this about Pete in hindsight as she did turned out to be a super person, but it really was running though my mind. Would we make it out of Cartwright?
We went int Pete’s house. Literally this house looked like a trapper’s cabin from the 1700’s. It had the wood stove a ladder to climb up into a small loft above the main bedroom which was was just the size of the bed and the doorway covered by a hanging blanket. The sweet smell of old wood with all big log beams. The three of us barely fit around the table nook. There was no living room. Just a small kitchen, maybe 10′ by 10′. It was a very delightful little place. I could see living there.
In thirty minutes everything seemed to have changed. We had met the older couple, and stuck up some great conversation, We were introduced to Pete and a possible place to stay.They tour company even offered pre-set up tents on wood platforms that they often would let tourist stay in that went on their kayak tours. At least I didn’t have to set up my tent in the rain. Then she asked if I would be OK sleeping in the old wood shed. Hey, at this point I would jump at anything out of the rain. Then she changed her mind again and at the back of the camp there was an old tent trailer that her granddaughter would use as a hangout when she was in town. OMG. I was in heaven all of a sudden. Not only was I going to be out of the rain, I was going to have a bed. HEAVEN!!!!!.
Well after all the hospitality, driving all day and the cold and were we were exhausted. Even though Pete wanted to “pamper” us more we all just wanted to go to sleep. So Joe
and Jeff went off to sleep in the camper trailer with the other couple and I made my way out back to the trailer. I have never slept so well in my life. It was still cold out. But once I took off my wet gear, and crawled into my warm sleeping bag it was blissful. I remember laying there for a few minutes hearing the waves of the ocean the gentle sound of rain on the roof and thinking “how much better can life get”. Then I dozed off into never ever land.
Day one of the Trans Labrador Highway done.
The next two days would prove to be a little less eventful but still non-the-less exciting. Not to mention me eating a dirt road at 120 KMPH.
I have to add a note to the bottom of this about Cartwright. I don’t want to give it a bad name. It certainly was a ” different” type of town. But perhaps it was a bad day and the fact that it was very cold and wet outside could have added to the run down feel of the town. Hey, who knows on a nice warm sunny day there could be kids running up and down the streets and smiles on everyone’s faces. I don’t know. However, this was just not ” good face” day for Cartwright. If anyone else has been there or head of reviews please let me know. In the end, meeting Pete was a blessing and it is always these moments I will cherish. reading more about their operation it sounds like a fun little adventure.