On Monday morning we awoke to cold but clear conditions. The promise of warming temperatures in the forecast had me paying particular attention to layering; however, in truth that really only amounted to choosing whether or not I was going to wear my waterproof windbreaker over my Scorpion riding jacket. The UnderArmour base layers were definitely being worn, as was a fleece beneath my riding jacket.
In the end, I chose to wear the windbreaker, removing it along the way if conditions warranted.
I’m usually a good judge of situations, so I think I’ve made the right decision regarding my windbreaker. On the topic of this type of clothing, I’ve recently pointed my friend in the direction of a place called Imprint, (view more information here) that allows you to customize your own jackets, which is particularly beneficial to him at the minute as he’s recently started his own athletics event, and he wants everyone to fit in. It’s a good idea, and as windbreakers seem to be efficient in almost any weather condition, he can’t go wrong. And neither can I on this trip.
We spent the morning riding along highway 500, a nicely paved relief from all of the dusty, slippery gravel, for the next 288 kilometres until we pulled into a huge parking lot of the Donald Gordon Centre to have lunch in Churchill Falls.
Now, you have to understand that the community of Churchill Falls exists primarily because of the immense underground hydro-electric plant that was constructed over 5 years from 1967 to 1971. According to Wikipedia, at the time, it was the largest civil engineering project ever undertaken in North America.
And in true work-camp like fashion, the community is centred around a main community building, in this case the Donald Gordon Centre.
This immense building houses a motel with more than 20 rooms as well as the Midway Restaurant, where we ate lunch, and a skating rink, a fitness centre, a large grocery store, a post office, a curling rink. Oh, and the community school offering classes from kindergarten through grade 12.
Did I mention that it was a big building?
You can read much more about Churchill Falls on Wikipedia, and there is a really good Churchill Falls blog page. These are some pictures shot along the way to, and just past, Churchill Falls.
After finishing our lunch, we hopped back aboard our bikes and continued westward to Labrador City. The weather once again took a turn for the wet, and by the time that we rolled up to the Carol Inn in Lab City we were once again quite content to give our credit cards a workout and sleep in nice warm, comfortable beds.
I did not grab any photos in Lab City. As a matter of fact, I don’t think any of us took any pictures at all between Churchill Falls and the Manic 5 generating station, which we started riding towards on Tuesday morning. It was just too damn cold and wet.
We slept-in a little that morning, and it was around 0800 by the time that we had finished a hearty breakfast and climbed back on our machines.
As we had come to expect, the weather was cold and grey, threatening to rain with a bit of fog thrown in for good measure.
We fuelled up, knowing that our next fuel stop would be some 270 kilometres to the south in Relais Gabriel.
From Labrador City, we rode along highway 500 towards the Quebec border and the mining town of Fermont, Quebec.
Much like Churchill Falls, this town is entirely industry dependent, in this case, iron ore. And, like Churchill Falls, it also has an incredible large community centre that contains everything from a grocery store to apartments to a skating rink, swimming pool, restaurant and gymnasium.
Unlike Churchill Falls, there is a booming adult-entertainment industry in Fermont as well, largely due to the disproportionate number of high-wage earning mine workers to single women.
No, we did not stop at a strip club. I got that little piece of information from Wikipedia too!
However, the most important little fact about Fermont for adventure travellers is this: Fermont is where the pavement ends. (if you are heading south and west, that is)
As soon as we made the right hand turn off of the asphalt and onto the gravel as we paralleled the railroad tracks the rain once again began to fall. Just a mist, really – but that is all it takes to turn the dust to a layer of muck on your visor. And to turn an otherwise reasonable road into a nightmare.
So here’s the thing. Highway 389 is heavily travelled by trucks. I mean, really big, really fast moving trucks. And they are all laden with freight of one sort or another.
The operators likely travel the route between Baie Comeau and Fermont on a twice-weekly basis, and I am certain they know every bump and every curve like the back of their dust-marked hands.
We three merry travellers . . . did not.
I cannot possibly describe to you the feeling of trying to maneuver a 530 lb. motorcycle that is stuttering across a pot-hole laden gravel road with a surface that is as slippery as a used-car salesman in Jersey, all while some 70,000 lbs. of tractor trailer comes flying towards you from around a bend – in your lane.
Suffice to say that the three of us got really good at riding the roads edge – or, more truthfully, within a meter of the edge. If you rode on the outer edge you were going down for sure, as the outside edges remain very soft and very deep and are generally all that stands between you and a 5 meter drop-off, or a dense forest – or both.
The light rain added a layer of slime to the gravel surface that was very much like what you might get if you crammed a couple of handfuls of sand into a jar of Vaseline and mixed well.
There is just no good use for that concoction and nothing at all fun about riding on it.
And such was the order of the day for the next 250 kilometres. Aside from the brain-shorting number of railway crossings – the road switches back and forth across the tracks 9 times – the almost sheer drudgery was only punctuated by heavier rain and more of those white-knuckled, ass-puckering moments where you find yourself questioning:
“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, no matter how treacherous or difficult any one moment may seem, the awesomeness of the adventure always comes back to roost and you once again become aware of just how alive you are, and how incredible it is to be on an adventure . . .
As we pulled into the fuel stop at Relais Gabriel we were just about blue from the cold. I could not feel my sodden feet and my joints were cold and stiff. We took advantage of a little restaurant to have a bowl of soup, and I used about ½ a roll of paper towel drying out my boots.
Considering we just paid $1.77/litre for regular 87 octane fuel, I figured the paper towel had been covered.
While in the restaurant we met three BMW riders from the Ottawa area who were out on a Trans-Lab adventure of their own. They were having a great time as well but had the same basic question as we did – does the road get any better?
It turns out that it did not, and we rode the next 101 kilometres to Manic 5 in a virtual déjà-vu of the previous 250 kilometres.
At the end of that 101 kilometres, though, we were greeted by the Manic 5 power dam.
This thing is huge.
We took a few minutes to stand and stare in awe at the marvel of engineering before us, and then met up with yet another adventure rider – this one an older gent on a bright red BMW who was trying to decide whether he was going to continue on or set up a camp somewhere for the evening.
We chatted with him for a while, and asked him about some of his travels. This guy has been everywhere – even the Road of Bones!
We already had our plan – and you guessed it, there was no camping involved. It was 7 or 8 degrees, with a steady drizzle in the air, and we are all once again ready for a nice hot shower.
We were cold and wet, and determined to ride to Baie Comeau – another 215 kilometres away, but we had just been given some very good news by the older gentleman on the BMW: the rest of highway 389, all the way to Baie Comeau, was asphalt. And a large portion of it was brand-new asphalt – it did not even have lines painted on it yet!
And what a road it is. I am here to tell you that even if a rather large adventure like riding the Trans-Lab, or touring the east coast is not viable for you next season, if you live within a day-or-two ride of Baie Comeau, make a plan to ride the 389.
It is 214 kilometres long, from Baie Comeau to the Manic 5 dam, and I dare say that the longest straight stretch is less than a kilometre long.
The entire length of this highway is one never-ending series of twists, sweepers, and adrenaline-serving hills, crests and curves that will have you smiling from ear to ear for so long your cheek muscles will hurt.
I am already planning a 4 day tour out to the region for next June. This is a road that is well worth the trip to get there, believe me.
And as good fortune would have it, we even got a little break in the weather with the sun actually poking its face through the clouds from time to time, as if the adventure riding gods were smiling down on us, saying “here you go boys, you deserve a bit of this.”
We all forgot about being cold for the duration of the roller coaster that is highway 389, and by the time that we pulled up to a set of gas pumps in Baie Comeau fatigue had begun to set in.
You just can’t keep up that kind pace without refuelling the tanks – both the bikes, and our own.
It turned out that we picked the right place to stop for fuel. There was a motel and a restaurant attached to a gas station and dépanneur.
We went through the usual routine of hanging our wet clothes, stuffing our boots with newspaper, showering and having supper in the restaurant where we discussed our plans for the next day.
My very dear friend Susie, who is battling stage-four colon cancer, had an appointment at the hospital on Thursday morning. I have been there with her for virtually every step of her battle, and she asked me to be there for this appointment via a text message a short while prior, so I knew what I was doing – it was going to be 900 kilometre marathon ride for me on Wednesday.
I expressed as much to Jeff and to Mike, and also let them know that there was no need for them to rush home with me – they should take their time and enjoy this region of Quebec – it has so much to offer in the way of majestic scenery, great camping and incredible motorcycle roads.
Jeff opted to do just that – take his time and maybe camp somewhere around La Tuque or Lac Saint-Jean before making his way home on Thursday or Friday.
Mike, on the other hand, was ready to get back home to Cornwall and opted to ride with me, at least until we split up somewhere outside of Montreal.
So, we arose early Wednesday morning, packed our bikes, ate breakfast and then posed for the end-of-trip group shot.
Mike and I said our farewells to Jeff, and hit the road. We did not make very good time, however. The first 300 kilometres took us a full 6 hours to travel. Now yes, that included the ferry crossing at Tadoussac, but it is really only about a 20 minute affair, boarding to disembarking.
The main problem was construction. It seemed that every 15 or 20 kilometres there was highway construction that had the road down to one lane – for about 100 meters!
We would be stopped, waiting beside a flagman, for 5 to 15 minutes at a time, to travel through a 100 meter construction zone! And this happened at least 7 or 8 times.
I tell you it was getting quite frustrating.
By the time that we got to Baie-Saint-Paul the make-work projects seemed to have ended, and the sun once again began to shine. I have travelled this area by motorcycle in the past, and it is one of my favourites. The options for twisty, hilly mountain roads are almost endless. Rue Principale, off of the 138 just outside of Clermont is particularly entertaining.
However, I was on a mission, and sight-seeing and mountain road riding would have to wait for a return visit.
As we approached Quebec City our speeds increased, and we began making good time. Mike and I stopped for fuel just outside of Trois-Rivières, and it was at that point that we said our own goodbyes, knowing that no further fuel stops were necessary before we had to split up near Montreal.
We got back on the highway, settled into a groove, and a short while later I turned it up a notch and put my head down, the focus on getting home.
The next 600 kilometres took me a mere 5 hours to cover.
It was a long haul, and I was road weary – almost hypnotized by the sound of my engine; the vibration in the pegs; the whirring of my no-longer-quite-so-knobby tires.
In its entirety, the Epic East Coast and Trans-Lab Adventure was 8,422 kilometres and 18 days in length.
I used up one rear tire, and completed one oil change during the trip – another followed a couple of days after returning home.
Big Ethel wears a bunch of new stickers now, telling the tale of where she has been. I am most fond of this one.
I have memories that will last me until, well, until my memory fades, I guess. And friendships that I hope will last my lifetime.
I met some incredible people. People who have impacted and changed my life in no small measure. People like daMurph in St. John’s and Pete Barrett of Cartwright.
I travelled roads that caused me to catch my breath, and saw sights that brought wonderment, and not a few tears, to my eyes.
I traced some of my family heritage, and in a sense went home for the very first time.
And I think I fell in love. With a lady named Newfoundland.
As a way of closing this blog, and highlighting just what an adventure it was for us, and can be for you, I have included some helpful links as well as a set of photo’s that did not make it into previous posts.
If you have any questions, or would like to pick my brain about the adventure, please do not hesitate. You can comment here on the blog, or reach out to me on the contact page.
Here is a link to the Official Tourism Page – Newfoundland and Labrador
Here is a guide to the Trans-Lab Highway
Here is a link to riding the Cabot Trail
Here is a link to the Cornerstone Motel on the Cabot Trail
If you find yourself in Cartwright looking for some down East hospitality and a kayak or hiking adventure, be sure to look up Pete at Experience Labrador.
And finally, here are some photo’s from the trip that I wanted to share, but didn’t fit into the previous posts.
Below is a video Mike took on the Trans-Lab (also see this post) and HERE is a link to his blog.
Thank you for having followed along with me on this journey. I hope you enjoyed it. If you’ve arrived late and want to start at the beginning click here. Thanks once again for taking the time to follow along 🙂