The TLH often referred to as the loneliest road in the world can at best offer agreeable driving conditions or at the drop of a coin turn into your worst nightmare, all dependent on factors such as weather, grading , or even types of gravel used to surface the road. On this particular day the TLH was going to show us both it’s best and it’s worst..
The hellishly fun evening we had in Cartwright was over and a new day was starting.
When I awoke in the morning I could see my breath in the air and hear the rain still coming down outside the trailer. I’d had the most wonderful sleep.Now the grueling part of the day. Taking that first step out of a nice warm soft sleeping bag into the frigid cold air of Labrador. At least I was dry after having scored the trailer to sleep in and didn’t have to bother packing up in the rain.
Once the grueling first step outside of the sleeping bag was over and my morning packing routine was underway I heard the guys in the distance chatting and knew coffee and breakfast was surely going to be waiting for us in Pete’s Cabin. I dropped packing and headed over to her cabin.
This morning it was a cool 4 degrees and with a little rain coming down. All part of the fun of traveling in these remote areas. Though, we were constantly told by the locals that this summer was unusually cold. Non the less, didn’t really bother me that much. It just seemed to be part of the package that we had all signed up for. I also helped that I had packed all the right riding gear.
I made it to Pete’s cabin and sure enough there was hot coffee and breakfast being cooked up on here tiny little stove.
Breakfast was wonderful. As odd as Pete came across to us “outsiders” she was the most wonderful hostess. Treating us as good as family. I would highly recommend looking her up if you ever plan on doing the TLH. Pete’s Place
After breakfast I headed back to my trailer to finish packing. Jeff and Joe were already ahead of me on that one. Though only took me a short time to get everything back in its rightful place in the dry bags and panniers and strapped down on the bike. We said our goodbyes to Pete. The couple that Jeff and Joe had stayed with the evening before wanted to get an early start on the day so had already left.
There was still a bit of rain coming down by the time we but pulled out but it had warmed up a couple of degrees, or at least that is how it felt now that I was fully decked out in many layers of wool and fleece. If you read part one of this blog and my experience of Cartwright you will understand that leaving this little remote town did not in anyway feel like i was leaving part of me behind. I think when I drove past the town limits I may well have let out a sign of relief. We were gone with all body parts intact.
The roads seemed much easier to navigate today. Though the fact was, the roads where the same, but I had a little more confidence knowing that even though my bike felt like it was sliding out from under me, it wasn’t going down. I often spoke to my bike like I would a horse, telling it ” well it’s all in your hands now. You know what your doing much more than I do”. I may have even given it a pat or two. One thing I learned early on while on the TLH and with the different types of gravel is to just let the bike drift without a lot of intervention. My hands lightly rested on the handlebars and most of the steering was done just by shifting my weight from side to side.
We were making great time this morning. Today’s goal was to make it to Happy Valley Goose Bay.
We were a few two hours out when we came over a crest in the road to see just what the TLH can dish out. Laying on its roof in the ditch was the couple’s van that Joe and Jeff had stayed with the evening before. There was another truck that had already pulled over to help. Braking on this soft gravel road wasn’t that easy so took us awhile to come to a safe stop. It was a few seconds for it to register that it was in fact the couples van. We had stopped a several hundred feet past the accident so nothing was clearly evident at the moment as to the extent of the accident. I can just remember uttering ” no, no, no,no” under my breath thinking the worst.. It didn’t look good from were I stood. My stomach was in knots.
We quickly made it to the van. THANKFULLY, everyone was OK. It was truly a miracle. All of us did the once, twice, three times over on Paul his wife and their little dog to make sure everything was OK. Other than being shaken up and a few bumps and bruises there were no injuries.
We followed the tracks back up the road. About 250- 300 feet from where the van lay you could see where it had caught some loose gravel and literally took the van and pulled it off the road. The van continued into the ditch, which was about 15 lower than the road level. It drove up unto the other side of the ditch and continued for approximately 200 more feet tumbling as it went. It ended up on its roof in about a foot of water. You cannot deny the wonders of air bags and seat belts BUT I honestly believe there was more at work for them on this day to let them walk away from this totally unscathed.
Fortunately the truck driver had a CB and was able to contact the RCMP as there was no cell reception on this lonely stretch of road.. It was very evident there would be no saving the van.The front end was split open and the roof was partially caved in on itself. The truck driver was going to take them all into Happy Valley Goose Bay. In the end they bought a new van and continued on with their trip. Talk about troopers. We helped dig out from inside the van what was left of their personal belongings that had not been thrown around or drenched in the water. Most important was the registration, dog food and dog dishes. The rest, as they said could be replaced. Joe ripped their license plate off the van so they could keep it for their next vehicle. Who know’s just how long a car would stay in that condition before a tow truck would get to it on these lonely roads.
After all had been settled and we were sure everything was looked after we began the rest of the journey. Now much more keenly aware of how the TLH can in and instant chew ya’ up and spit you out. I think we were all a little more aware of our speed for a least a little while.
At the junction where to TLH took us off the main highway to the 200 km detour to Cartwright was the last fuel stop for 410 km’s. It was a fairly large facility with everything you could want to buy for the outdoors, along with hot coffee roasting hot dogs and fresh baked muffins. Just what the stomach and mind needed after the mornings ride.
We were all in good moods. The adventure was alive and we were living it. We were joking around inside with each other and the attendants behind the counter. Today was a good day! We were in the middle of no where, doing the thing we loved the most. No cares in the world. Living a small part of a dream.
I must note the gas pump. There was no posted price and unlike a normal pump when you see the litres going bye while you get the dollar amount. This one only had the litres. I suppose they don’t get a lot of people asking how much. We had no choice. Well, I suppose the choice was pay what they asked or push the bikes. We topped up our tanks, as well as our spare tanks. When we went inside the attendant gave us the price and worked out the final cost. $1.76 a litre. Pretty good price considering where it lay and much better than pushing. I think at this time of the year the average price in populated areas was about $1.20 a litre. .
There was a lot of construction happening on the TLH. It was not confined to any one area. Just seemed to be sporadic repairs from washouts or the sides falling out. Large dump trucks hauling gravel, boulders and such would dump there loads then large front end loaders would come in and start to do their work. I wondered on the trip what the daily commute must be like for these workers but then found out they had camps along the road where the workers would spend the week The construction added a bit of spice to the trip. I just love seeing big trucks at work. I could have spent hours sitting there watching these mammoth machine at work. Guess the little kid that enjoyed his Tonka toys as a kid is still alive and well.
We were making really good time. The weather had improved a little . Rain was sparse just just enough to keep the dust at bay when the large haul truck came ripping by. Sadly it didn’t stop the pieces of gravel from flying up and chipping at our bikes.
An hour or so outside of our intended destination for the day we met a grader on the road. When the driver saw us coming he jumped out of the grader and started holding his hands together indicating to us that there was ” something” up ahead.. I acknowledged it with a wave BUT truth be told I had no idea at all what he was indicating or why it seemed so important.. Though we did slow down. We went through a few areas where the gravel was loose and the rocks were larger than normal. It was obvious that they had just laid new gravel and it was still uncompressed so your tires would sink in slightly giving you that ” washy” feeling that your bike didn’t really want to do what you wanted it to. We went through a few areas like this and after a while we figured it was over so we all began to pick up our speed again.
The TLH was once again going to rear it’s ugly head again. I can’t describe how the next instant happened. There was absolutely no indicators or road signs and since it had all just been freshly graded it all had a consistent look to it.I had no indication anything was about to change. In an instant this day was about to go bad for me.
I was travelling a little north of 80 KMPH give or take and with no warning I found myself in grade B gravel that was freshly laid and loose and DEEP. The stone was so loosely laid it was almost like sinking into sand . My front tire immediately sunk into the gravel and began flapping from the left to right and digging in from my braking. My heavy back end of my bike started to move out to try and pass the front end with all that inertia carrying it forward. My bike had started the beginnings of a 360 degree out-of-control slide. I had no idea what to do. I was along for a ride that I was not enjoying.
My bike was almost completely sideways when we I down, fast and hard, on the left side. I was pinned under my bike. The rock being loose helped the bike lose momentum quickly by digging deeper into the stones and probably kept the bike from flipping over and sending me flying into the air, otherwise known as high siding. Instead it kept me pinned under the bike as it came to a complete stop.
I’ve gone down many times on this bike. Hey, I love the mud, and I like to challenge myself. I am just learning too. I’m sure most of us have been there at some point. Hit some mud or something , go down, get up with a good laugh, get some great pictures to post to Facebook and off you go again. This was different. I was really shaken. My left leg was pinned under the bike and in considerable pain. The same leg that had been crushed in a previous motorcycle accident. I was under the bike pretty good. I used my other leg to push against my seat to myself out from under the bike. I laid there for a second or two as my brain did the WTF just happened and the once over on body parts to make sure everything was still relatively intact. I could here Joe yelling at me to stay down but my I was already in the ” get up and walk it off” mode. I made it up and started to hobble. My left leg was in considerable pain especially around the ankle area. Ever since my previous accident that leg has always been tender to begin with. Joe made it to me and he did a little first aid routine check to make sure everything was still attached and no blood was pumping from any body parts. I can remember thinking ” Now that was some pretty scary shit” and ” what did just happen”. It all happened so fast you sort of want to do this internal physiological check to make sure you are still in this reality and haven’t entered the twilight zone
Within minutes a pickup showed up. He was a travelling medic that looked after the construction workers. In hindsight I think we was positioned there just due to the gravel.
Everyone one spent their time making sure I was fine. At that point I think I said. ” I am as good as I need to be to keep going”. There wasn’t any turning back of being taken out of there on a stretcher. My ankle was super sore, and the medic wanted to have a look. However, I felt it was good enough to make it to our next stop and if there was anything wrong I didn’t want to know. It was functioning and that is all I needed it to do. I left it at that.
Next thing was to check the bike. We got it up and it was in seemed to be in pretty good shape at first looks. The left foot peg had broken clean off. That was going to be a problem. Then we noticed the rear sub frame carriage bolt was nearly pulled right out. That could be a game changer for this trip. Also the panniers had split clean down the weld. Poor welding job.
As I checked out my bike Joe was on the way to his bike to pull out his tool kit and just like Santa Clause he came back with a special gift for me. He had a factory left hand foot peg. Wow, who’d have thought to bring an extra foot peg. Joe had a similar incident where he had lost a peg so now carried a spare.That was a real blessing. Hard to ride a bike with one foot peg. Possible but not the best scenario.
Semi’s were still blasting by at breakneck speeds and I was taking up a lot of the road.So we thought it prudent to get my bike off this loose stuff and closer to the side of the road. It started fine and I drove it a few hundred feet down the road to a safe location. Once there Joe jumped into action and replaced the peg, and thankfully was able to tighten up the rear bolt. I would just need to keep a close eye on it for the remainder of the trip as the threads were likely partially stripped.
Ohh yes, at this point I must mention. Our friends we had stopped to help in the morning, came along while I was on the side of the road. Once again we had a little reunion, a few laughs and thankful for road mercies. Then we were all off. All of us hoping that this form of adventure was over with for the remained of the day.
By the time we found a motel in Happy Valley Goose Bay I was feeling pretty good. The adrenaline had worn off but my ankle was no longer throbbing. So now first things first. BEER! I’d given up having beer on the later part of this trip BUT this night was going to be a beer night for me. Sit back relax have a beer or three and laugh about the day.
I got my bike unpacked and did some emergency first aid on the left pannier so that no water would be able to enter the. Duct tape is such an amazing tool. I really also want to make a call out to Forma Adventure riding boots. I will sing their praises. I honestly believe without those boots my leg and ankle would have suffered much more.However, I was perfectly fine. These are the moments when you realize that All the Gear All the Time ATGATT is really the only way to go. Some days you sweat it out thinking, ooh how much fun to be wearing shorts and a t-shirt with running shoes. But it is moment like this that , at least I do, know why I chose to ATGATT. Not to mention having the proper type of gear too.
The guys and I had some great laughs after the fact, and at the same time we all realized just how fortunate I had been that day. So much could have gone wrong. Someone was watching over the TLH that day. The really sad part about this accident is there are NO photos. I guess because of shock , fear, and making sure everything was OK none of us though of taking a photo.
I must mention too. That upon entering Happy Valley Goose Bay. We saw paved road for the first time in close to 1,000 km’s . As soon as we pulled onto the paved part I believe Joe stopped and kissed it, or maybe I was just dreaming. LOL.
We all had a great nights sleep and headed off nice and early. This time however, there would be no dirt roads. This was a paved section of the TLH.
The morning was rather uneventful. Again miles upon miles of trees, though there had been some major forest fires in the previous years so a lot of it was just scorched earth. Tree trunks jutting from the ground, blackened by the fire, yet thick heavy underbrush was coming back everywhere. Full and lush green.
By noon we made it to Churchill Falls. Interesting town. It was there for only one reason and that was to service the giant hydro electric dam. Every building and house was a pretty
much identical. Just off the main road there was one massive building that served the large towns every need. Restaurant. motel, gym, skating rink, post office, grocery store, etc etc all under one big roof.
With all that we had all gone through on this trip. So many off road adventures, We had all taken out turns at going down on out bikes and had many incidents that could have left us injured nothing happened. Until that day. We had all agreed on pizza. So out comes the piping hot pizza. I dug in quickly. That first bite left me in agony. The super hot sauce under the cheese had burnt right into my upper pallet of my mouth. Left me with a nice big blister then sore spot for some days. huhh, who’d have thought. On an adventure like this, the ting to take me down was a pizza.
Rest of the day was relatively easy going. Miles after miles of trees. We did have one stop on the side of the road for a snack where a couple of odd looking birds would fly right up to us. Sit on us and try to rob us of our snacks. At first it was entertaining till they literally would try to grab the food right out of our hands even though at that point we wanted to eat it ourselves.It was rather comical. Not to mention having birds that had absolutely no fear of humans.
By that evening the rain had hit again and it was cold so we opted for a motel again in Labrador City.
The landscape was changing. We were now in more populated areas between cities so traffic was picking up. However, mostly by heavy semi trucks that would be running these routes on a regular bases for all the hydro electric dams.
Leaving Labrador city we were now going to hit the last of the gravel road. The morning was again cold and wet with a light mist in the air. We had become accustomed to this by
now. Today the big event was going to be Manic five dam. It is the largest Dam of its kind in the world. It consist of 5 separate dams that progressively get smaller. I’m not sure the word smaller is appropriate for this dam though. It is massive. You feel dwarfed standing by just one of the dozens of buttresses that are used to hold back the water.
Just before Manic 5 we turned onto the last stretch of gravel. This route is heavily traveled by trucks. The drivers probably know every bend and turn and bump in this road as they more likely than not run this 250 km section on a regular bases. Also, unlike most of the rest of the TLH that was relatively straight and flat this section of road was up and down and was full of curves, not to mention the 9 train track crossings.
This was going to prove to be the most butt clenching part of the ride yet. I would do the first 50 km’s of the TLH a 100 times before I would want to ride this portion even one more time.
By the time we made it to the gravel section the rain had started to come down pretty hard. The temp was still in around 5 degrees. During the last section of paved road we had aired our tires back up to the normal 40 psi on the rear a 33 psi on the front.
I had already told the guys before leaving as soon as we hit the gravel I am going to air down again. So we all pulled over to air back down.
There seemed to be just the right mixture of rain and mist in the air to create a slime on the top of this gravel. It was similar to riding on hard packed snow. Any slight movement you would slide. Hard to really describe other than it was like snot. I think most of the corners we took our rear wheels slid in behind us. This was treacherous. However, now add to the mix the truckers that would come barreling around the corners at high speeds. On quit a few occasions these trucks would come around the corners so quickly there trailer would be sliding out into our lane. I have no doubt these drivers had complete control of there rigs and probably had no idea there would be three tiny bikes coming around the corner, but when you see a semi’s rig sliding into your lane towards you while you are barely able to steer the bike to begin with, it can really make your stomach turn. It was ” Ice Road Truckers” on snot roads.
There were moments where I believed the trailers where going to take me out. Normally on gravel roads you want to avoid the sides of the road. That is the softest part that see barely any traffic and has a lot of build of loose gravel. However, today that was the safest place for us to be. It was always a fine line. Get too far off to the side and you are going to go down in the really soft lose pack shoulder of the road and the road had a ditch about 10-15 feet deep. The other alternative was to stay too closer to the center and have one of those trailers take you out. Most of the corners were tight, so you didn’t really even have any advantage of seeing the semi’s coming your way until they were right on you.
I must admit that section of road had me thinking and I quote as Joe wrote in his blog;
“Why am I doing this?”
“Why didn’t I write my will?”
“When does this shit end?”
“Will my riding buddies just roll my body into the ditch, scavenging what they can from my gear?”
“When am I coming back?”
“Which route will we take?”
“I hope they don’t pave this anytime soon?”
“I can’t wait to do this again . . .”
Yes, as much and as “horrible” as things can get, the adventure of the ride always bring you around to loving the fact that you are “there”. There is no other place on the planet that you would rather be. That thrill of it all makes you want more. There is also the thought that ” I can be here or behind a desk”. I guess you can just call it the adrenaline junkie that keeps you going back.
At the same time, once we hit the Manic 5 dam the road was paved and this offered some reprieve and I was thankful for it.
We had originally planned on taking the tour of a portion of the Manic 5 Dam but the weather was just not co-operating with us. Cold and wet. We did stop for some photo ops. We met another biker up there that had ridden the Road of Bones in Russia. We spent a little time talking with him.
The Manic 5 dam marked the end of the loneliest part of the TLH. Traffic would pick up, there would be no more gravel road and it seemed the entire scenery changed as well. The next 214 kms to Baie Comeau was freshly paved. Most of it did not even have lines painted on it yet. The road cut through mountains and had some of the best twisties we had scene since the Cabot Trail. Sadly the rain had really picked up and the cold was getting right into our bones. On any other day if the weather was co operative this 214 km portion of road would have been an amazing run. However, at this point we just wanted to get into a warm dry place.
We found a great little place with everything withing walking distance and the price was right. This would be our last night together. The next day we were all heading home
We had a great meal together. Shared some great laughs. I think the tiredness showed though. None of us was up to just staying up and hanging out. I think all our bodies and minds wanted to do was hit the bed.
The next morning we said our good byes as Jeff’s route would lead him in a different direction. Joe and I would ride together until Montreal, then go our separate ways. After an hour or so of riding I think we finally saw the temp go above 1o degrees for the first time in close to a week. The skies also cleared up. By the time I made it home I believe it was close to 25 degrees.
This had been three weeks, 8, 400 km’s of one adventure after another. Every inch of the ride was amazing. I’d do it all over again, Except perhaps that last section of gravel outside of Manic 5 , I would wait for a dry day to do that section again.
The Trans Lab Highway is supposed to be in the process of being paved. Though Wikipedia and a few other sites I have visited says otherwise. However, the workers we met along the road said they were there to start paving. Why they would pave it is beyond me. It serves little purpose other than a corridor that connects Newfoundland to Labrador. It us not used much. Perhaps the thinking is if it is paved then more people will come. However, for those who have it on their bucket list of roads to ride. Do it! Every moment of the ride was memorable. It is a beautiful part of Canada that not a lot of people get to see.