Trans Labrador Highway, Part I

Labrador. The Big Land. North America’s Last Frontier. The idea of traversing the Trans Labrador Highway had loomed in the back of my mind since I bought my VStrom 650 four years ago. When Mark joined the league of “Stromtroopers” this spring we decided that we would finally take a trip off the Rock via two wheels –a first for both of us. It seemed like the right time to embark on a Labrador Adventure. Plus, at only $18 each for the ferry crossing from St. Barbe to Blanc Sablon, it made good economic sense!

On the morning of August 12, four months of planning and preparation came to a head as we packed up the last minute items and hit the highway. The aluminum panniers that Mark designed and fabricated were filled to the brim with everything we could possibly need for the next three weeks. Strapped to our seats were drybags containing our camping gear; including our second-hand Kelty Cyclone three-season tent that we bought last fall at a bargain. As we pulled away from the curb, I was immediately struck by how the added 120 pounds or so of gear dramatically changed how the bike handled.  As we took the corner from Lemarchant Road onto Barter’s Hill en route to the highway westbound, I questioned my sanity and judgement for just a moment, but tried to put all negative thoughts out of my brain. We were headed to the North American continent!

It was the perfect day to cross the island – warm and calm, even on the Avalon. Our Canadian Tire gel seats worked their magic, allowing us to ride the 640km (400 miles) from St. John’s to Deer Lake with just three stops.

We arrived at Deer Lake RV Park & Campground around 5pm, set up the tent and got a bite to eat. A little while later we heard the rumble of Japanese v-twins of a different variety coming through the park, and met Dan and Margo, from Ontario on their Yamaha Vstar 1700’s. It’s always fun to talk to other motorcycle travellers, share stories of where you’ve been, talk about where you’re heading, give and receive advice and tips on road conditions and must-see destinations. They had hoped to come to Newfoundland via the TLH, but after researching the road conditions and realizing that about 600km of the trip wasn’t paved yet, practicality prevailed and they chose a different route. We chatted until the rain started, then retreated into our tent.

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Tent sent up, bikes cuddled in. Just lovely! Until the rain started. 

There’s something so relaxing about listening to the rain while inside of a tent. Until the tent starts to leak. Even though I had painstakingly sealed all seams, Jig-A-Loo’d the entire tent and even tested the waterproofness with a garden hose in the yard, the tent still leaked after the first half hour of heavy rain. It was time for action. From inside the tent we tried to place Gorilla Tape on the leaky seams, but it was no use. I hauled on my rain gear and Mark grabbed an umbrella, we went out into the deluge and grabbed the tarp that we had originally set up to keep rain off the bikes. We managed to somehow secure it over the majority of the tent. All was well for a couple of minutes, until the rain found the pinholes in the tarp and again made its way inside of the tent. Once more I donned rain gear and went back outside, fumbling in the dark with Gorilla Tape while Mark shone the flashlight, hoping that I could see the holes in the tarp. No such luck. This situation would have been disheartening and frustrating if it happened at any point in our trip, but hitting torrential rain (You know it’s torrential when a frog seeks shelter in your tent vestibule) the very first night and realizing that our equipment is inadequate? It’s hard to describe the feeling. But hey, lesson learned. *If you’re going to cheap out on a tent, at least make sure your tarp is in good shape.

It was close to midnight, and with a lot of miles to cover the next day we really needed to get a bit of sleep.  The logical conclusion: try to sleep, try not to worry about the fact that everything in the tent will be wet (we’ll get a motel tomorrow night and let everything dry out), and if the water drips in your face, move your face. Miraculously, we slept reasonably well and the rain had tapered off to drizzle and fog by the time we woke in the early morning. A quick survey of the damage: completely waterlogged tent, and the bottom of the air mattress was wet. Not too bad after all.

After our go-to breakfast of coffee and “proatmeal” (oatmeal and protein powder) we packed up and headed north on the Viking Trail, a 300km (188 mile) journey through one of the most scenic parts of Newfoundland, bound for the ferry terminal in St. Barbe.

Even in the drizzle and fog, riding through Gros Morne National Park was as spectacular as I remembered from several years ago. I hope to return to the park for at least a week, hopefully next summer.

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It always seems to be drizzly when we’re riding through Gros Morne. Still breath-taking though. 

We stopped for lunch at the Arches Provincial Park, a little road side day park where travellers can explore dramatic sea arches. One of my goals on this trip was to be “self-sufficient” for the most part when it comes to meals, in an attempt to stay away from fast food and save a few bucks. I may have been a little overzealous…probably no need to devote an entire pannier to food. We were travelling through Atlantic Canada after all, not Mongolia.  Our lunch of tortillas (they travel extremely well!), avocado and tuna hit the spot, and again we got chatting to other motorcycle travellers, including two older gentlemen on a Suzuki DR650 and CRF250L who were planning to hit Labrador a couple of days after us. We met a few older motorcyclists on this trip, and I always feel inspired by them.

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Am I the first person to transport avocados via motorcycle through Labrador and Quebec? Possibly.

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I have a thing for natural sea arches, it’s true. 

When riding through an area as sparesly populated as the Northern Peninsula, it’s easy to lose track of time and distanced travelled. As we rounded each turn, I expected to see a sign for St. Barbe, or some indication that we were indeed getting close our destination. I was also watching the time. The ferry was scheduled to depart at 3:30pm, and we would lose our reservation if we checked in later than 2:30. I thought we had left Deer Lake with ooldles of time to spare, but I guess we lingered a little long at the Arches! We finally reached St. Barbe at 2:30 on the dot, and headed to the ferry line-up where we met two chaps from Boston on BMW GS 1200’s, and Bruce – a New Yorker – heading for Labrador on a BMW F800GT. On street tires. My assumption that he had no idea that the TLH is largely unpaved was dashed after having a conversation with him. He had done his homework, and still felt that his bike could get him to Baie Comeau. Fair enough man. Good luck with that.

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Waiting to board the MV Apollo

The crossing from St. Barbe to Blanc Sablon aboard the MV Apollo was calm and comfortable and took about two hours. We had a scarily overpriced coffee in the cafeteria and wandered around for a bit, stopping by the gift shop to pick up a coveted “I Survived the TLH” sticker. Now I know what you’re thinking. It’s bad luck…tempting fate…jinxing yourself…BUT…I was afraid that I wouldn’t have the opportunity to grab one of these stickers anywhere else, and hey, if I just keep it safely tucked away until we reach Quebec, what harm could it do?

Actually it was fortunate for us that we went to the gift shop and got chatting with the lady who worked there. She informed us that most of the places to stay in the Blanc Sablon area were already booked up for the night. The thoughts of spending a cold, wet night in a tent that was already sogged from the night before flashed through my mind and I went into survival mode. I grabbed an NL tourism guide and wandered around the boat until I got a reasonable cell signal and managed to secure us a room at the Northern Lights Inn in L’Anse Au Clair.

The strange thing about taking the ferry to Labrador is that the ferry docks in Blanc Sablon, which is actually in Quebec. Once you get off the boat, you ride back into Newfoundland & Labrador. It didn’t really hit me that we had begun our Labrador Adventure until I saw the sign: “Welcome to the Big Land”. It was a little surreal!

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We arrived in L’Anse Au Clair completely exhausted, cold, wet and hungry, but still so excited to finally be on the North American continent!

 

Next post: Getting accustomed to gravel in Red Bay.

 

 

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Posted on September 14, 2017, in Moto Travels and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Great story and what an adventure so far! That sucks about the tent/water issues, but it sure makes for an interesting story! MV

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