Trans Labrador Highway, Part II
L’Anse au Clair’s Northern Lights Inn is conveniently located across the road from a Robin’s coffee shop; the perfect place to grab breakfast and hang out while we waited for the drizzle to clear off. Upon leaving the Inn, we noticed four more motorcycles in the parking lot, and judging from their state of relative cleanliness we deduced that they didn’t come from the northerly direction – they must’ve taken the last ferry from St. Barbe the previous evening. With Michigan plates was some breed of BMW GS and a Honda ST1300, and from West Virginia an older Honda Shadow plastered with stickers from all over North America…and a Harley Sportster 1200 with tires about two-thirds worn out. As we trotted over to Robin’s, I was picturing guy riding the Sportster. Some young American hipster no doubt…not much of a clue about bikes…bought this Sportster and thinks he can conquer the TLH on it. Boy was I wrong. On our return to the Inn we met the owners of these bikes.
The “young American hipster” turned out to be a gentleman in his mid-late 60’s, who’s been riding all his life. He rode the TLH on his BMW GS back when it wasn’t much more than a path through the woods, but because of a mechanical problem shortly before this trip, he left the GS at home and bought the Sportster from his cash-strapped neighbour at a bargain. We learned that he crashed on the Northern Peninsula the day before, and he described it to us as nonchalantly as he would describe what he had for breakfast. As he explained it in his West Virginian twang, they pulled out to pass a line of cars (I don’t recall one stretch on the Northern Peninsula where a group of bikes would be able to safely pass a line of cars!) when the lead rider saw that one of those cars had their left signal light on. Thinking that the car was going to turn across the road, he got on the brakes. Skipper on the Sportster was next in line, and he slammed on the brakes, locked her up and went down “doing about 80 miles an hour. I slid for awhile, then I started to roll”. The damage: ripped jacket, a little road rash, scuffed saddlebag and a cracked off front brake lever. I was wide-eyed.
We asked if he intended on continuing on across Labrador. “Well, my brother in law dropped his bike on his foot and he’s hurting pretty bad, so maybe we’ll just go back across to Newfoundland and get the Port Aux Basques ferry.” At this point his brother-in-law appeared, limping to his bike. If my memory serves, he said something along the lines of “I had to pull over because my luggage fell off the middle of the road, and that’s when I dropped my bike on my foot”. I watched as he secured his luggage…with rope. Another one of their crew exited the hotel then, dragging a massive dufflebag on wheels and proceeded to strap it haphazardly to the passenger seat of his ST1300. Now, the ST1300 has more than enough storage capacity, I have no idea why this guy was toting a massive piece of luggage across the continent with him, and I didn’t feel like asking. I really wasn’t saying much at this point actually, just trying to take this all in, imagining what twists of fate and good fortune had ensured that these gentlemen were still on this side of the sod. These guys needed to be followed by a film crew…or at least a support vehicle…with a medic on board. I’m not sure what direction they decided to head in, but we didn’t see or hear tell of them afterwards. Hopefully they all made it home ok!
When the drizzle finally cleared around 10:30, we packed up the bikes and headed towards Port Hope Simpson, a distance of 75km (47 miles) of asphalt and 137km (86 miles) gravel. We thoroughly enjoyed the wind in our backs as we headed east, taking in the scenery of the Southern Labrador Coast. On the way we stopped at Point Amour Lighthouse. At a height of 33m (108 feet), it’s the tallest lighthouse in Atlantic Canada, and the second tallest in the country.
Our next stop was the Red Bay National Historic Site. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where archaeologists have uncovered the remains of a 16th Century Basque whaling industry. We had a breezy picnic lunch before darting into the interpretation centre. I was absolutely floored by the place! If you’re travelling through Red Bay, allow yourself at least an hour here, the quality of the exhibits rivals anything at The Rooms. Such an interesting spot!
The pavement ends in Red Bay.* As my wheels hit the gravel, I looked ahead and saw two eighteen-wheelers kicking up a cloud of dust, just like in the pictures I had seen online while doing my research. I thought, “so it begins”. We’d been told that the section of gravel road between Red Bay and Port Hope Simpson was the the worst of the entire TLH, due to washboard-ish-ness and loose gravel. And yes, it was washboard-ish and very loose in sections. Within the first fifteen minutes I was struggling, and I’m certain if it wasn’t for my offroad experience on my TW200 and my fat bike winter excursions I would’ve went down. On a particularly loose section I saw Mark pull over and stop, and I pulled over behind him. I could’ve kicked myself when I saw him walking towards me with a tire gauge in his hand. We’d forgotten to let down our tire pressures. A drop of only 7 or 8 PSI made a huge difference in the handling, and we continued on our way.
The worst aspect of the riding that day was the wind. The TLH turns north at Red Bay, so the lovely tail wind we had earlier was now hitting us directly on our left side. Side winds are bad enough when riding on asphalt. The side winds on the TLH made it downright treacherous. I was trying my best to keep the bike in the “track”; the strip of road that was a little barer of marble-y rocks. Then a 70+ km/hr (44+ mph) would hit my side and I would be pushed into the marbles, and had to frantically try to keep in control. We were sandblasted with dust whenever we met a vehicle or were overtaken, and every so often we were pelted with rain showers…but unfortunately not heavy enough to keep the dust down. My spirits were given a boost though, when we rode through an area of road construction and I got whistled at. Extremely loudly. This guy must spend his free time practising. I bust out laughing in my helmet and would’ve blew a kiss if I had the nerve to take a hand off the bar.
I’m not sure exactly how long it took us to get to Port Hope Simpson, but it sure felt like a long time. As we were riding through the town trying to find a place to stay, we saw that Bruce, the New Yorker on his BMW F800GT had beaten us to it. Props, dude.
The Alexis Hotel was booked solid for the night, but the guy working the desk was nice enough to call the owner of the gas station, who had a cabin for rent. She warned us that there was no tv, cell service or internet, but we didn’t really care as long as there was a shower and a decent bed. We had to start in on 320km of gravel road in the morning, so a good nights sleep was imperative.
That evening in Port Hope Simpson I really felt a huge sense of accomplishment. We’d ridden a tough section of road under awful weather conditions. It could only get easier from here. Right?
*At the time of writing this, the pavement has been extended 80km, from Red Bay to Lodge Bay.
Posted on October 4, 2017, in Moto Travels and tagged adv, adventure, adventure touring, basque whaling, gravel roads, labrador, labrador tourism, motorcycle, motorcycle touring, motorcycle travel, Newfoundland and Labrador, overland travel, Point Amour Lighthouse, Port Hope Simpson, red bay, suzuki vstrom 650, TLH, trans labrador highway. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.