Before I go any further I should point out some facts about the trans-Labrador Highway (TransLab). Originally the communities in Labrador were either first-nation (native) indians and costal communities. The first-nations were happy doing their own thing and the costal communities were severed by a summer ferry service, which mean very lonely winters! Then vast natural resources in the interior were discovered, most notably iron ore. The TransLab was built with one aim in mind: a year round supply route for the mines and other industries. The last thing on anyone’s mind was whether it would be suitable for motorcycles.
The Americans that I’d met in St Barbe kindly let me ride with them on the TransLab. I was very grateful for this as the highway is they long and remote, looking at the weather forecast and the distances involved if thought that I’d have to do it in about for days, hopping from town to town as I didn’t think my tent would be suited to the conditions or terrain. In the end we rode about 450km and camped between Port Hope Simpson and Happy Valley-Goose Bay (HVGB). I’d been worried about when condition a trucking highway would be in but as it turns out it was pretty good. The surface was sandy gravel but was well packed down. Only one section of about 10km got slippery in the the rain. Unfortunately during this section Bryan dropped his bike but both man and bike survived unscathed.
We camped that night in a sand pit on the side of the road. The others put their tents up in a matter of minutes but I took longer, ensuring that every guy rope was out and all the pegs were as firmly in the sand as they could be. I was worried the wind would come up during the night but in the end it didn’t. Paul did a sterling job of collecting firewood, although it was mostly all wet, however pine wood full of sap and a little petrol many the fire lit first time, much to my surprise.
Next day we packed up camp and continued towards HVGB. The road was much the same as the day before although I think we were all a little on edge after the slippery section the day before. Still, we made good time and after filling up with petrol we found a restaurant for some lunch and a chance to take our wet gear off. On the way into HVGB we’d seen a camping and hunting shop, so on the way back out (there’s only one road in and out!) we stopped to see if the had waterproof gloves, socks, etc. They didn’t but I did get some stickers, including an “I survived the Trans-Labrador Highway” one which I kept until after we finished so as not to jinx myself.
With it only being just after lunch we pushed on towards Churchill Falls. We made good progress and ended up at Churchill Falls in late afternoon. The town is barely a town rather housing for the hydro-plant workers and has a petrol station shop and not much else for travelers. A very kind woman got talking to us and told us about a free camping spot between Churchill Falls and Labrador City. We headed out of town and found what we think was the spot but it didn’t look very appealing for tents, it might be more comfortable if you’re in an RV. It didn’t matter in the end as we found a campsite near to Labrador City that was only $35 for three pitches and a bundle of firewood. It was also dry that night so went a long way to dying out our gear.
Oh, if you’re wondering, the town Churchill Falls is named after a big waterfalls that the town is built next to. However, the falls is now a pile of rocks with a little trickle running over them as a dam has stopped the river and diverted it through the hydro power station, which in turn powers the mining and other industries in Labrador City.
Thursday morning and we were all set to get all the way to Baie Comeau on the Quebec coast. Like all great plans, you need to allow a little wiggle room for unforeseen event. One such event happened just over the Quebec boarder by the Fremont mine (Fremont meaning Iron Mountain) when Bryan got a puncture. Normally, when you get a puncture you either call motoring assistance or a friend with a trailer… Not on the TransLab! The hole was over half an inch long but Byran tried patching it with a couple of worm plugs before setting of back to Labrador City, the most likely place to be able to find a new tyre. He managed to get a couple of kilometres before the patch blow out. We had two more plugs and whilst he got to work on the tyre, Ryan made a dash for Lab City to find a better solution. We got another kilometre or so before we had to sit on the side of the road and wait for Ryan to return.
The best Ryan could source in Lab City was moe worm plugs and a bottle of Slime. These got us another kilometre, still 28 kilometres from Lab City. As a last resort we left Bryan’s bike down a track off the highway, took the wheel off and put it on the back of my bike, Bryan went pillion with Paul and we went in search of a new tyre.
We made it into town at about 5pm, which is exactly the time that everything closes in the middle of nowhere! Luckily an auto-parts store. Luckily one of the lovely ladies that worked there was a Harley rider and was being picked up by her husband, Vince, took pity on our misfortune. The other lovely lady that worked there was due to be going out for an anniversary dinner with her husband but volunteered the services of his truck – so long as he got back in time for dinner!
The plan was for Vince and his friend to go get the truck, we’d check in at the hotel, they’d come pick us up, we get the bike, take it to a quad shop that may have a tyre to fit the wheel. The plan went off without a hitch! I’d challenge you to find someone in the UK to go on a80 kilometre round trip just before they’re supposed to be going out for an anniversary dinner. That evening I resolved to do whatever I can to help people in need in the future.
That night the four of us shared a single room – motels in Lab City are anything but cheap! Next morning we were at the quad shop when it opened and thankfully they had a tyre that fitted! An hour later the new tyre was on and inflated. Whilst that was happening I asked the mechanic (I forget his name) if they had a tyre the same size as my rear – I had a few cuts in the rubber and figured I’d play it safe and carry a spare. He didn’t have one but called a friend with a KTM 990 Adventure, who turned up soon after with two tyres for me to choose from! $300 later a had a Heidenau tyre strapped to the back of my bike.
And so once more we set off for Baie Comeau! Various people had been telling us that the first 80km were the worst, being sands and constantly crossing the same railway tracks. I actually quite like it. Yes it was hard work but in some ways it reminded me of riding in Morocco, dusty sand and the back end of the bike squirming around. Soon enough the sand lead to graded gravel and finally to tarmac and on to Baie Comeau!
It wasn’t until we got to Baie Comeau that I realised that I’d missed a section of the TCAT. Should have turned left before we reached the Manic-5 dam… But then I would have missed seeing the Manic-5 dam! Either way, I’d reached Baie Comeau and the end of the Trans-Labrador Highway!