My first Ride report – FIRE ON THE TRANSLAB!

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Bear Creek West, Aug 22, 2013.

  1. Bear Creek West

    Bear Creek West Been here awhile

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    Thanks squawk77. It's a great shot for sure - likely due to the fact that I didn't take it! This one is compliments of my riding partner Kman.

    #41
  2. Bear Creek West

    Bear Creek West Been here awhile

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    Thanks JJay51. I spent 3 weeks in the Uk last summer - one of which was in Wales just north of Tenby. You live in a beautiful corner, I would love, love, love to do some riding around there! The Scottish highlands are also on my hit list!
    Cheers.

    #42
  3. Bear Creek West

    Bear Creek West Been here awhile

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    Our first night back on the mainland was excellent! after Kman's swim we pointed the bikes north along the coast... It was a cold overcast start to the day - I think we were both a little apprehensive as we knew that today was the day that the real Translab starts...

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    Bergs in L'Anse-au-Claire

    The road up to Red bay is paved with some georgeous vista's across the barren landscape and some great ocean views over small harbours and bays.

    A few km prior to Red Bay we came across a guy walking in the ditch, several hundred yards up the road his pick-up truck was stopped in the road - he had lost a tie-rod end and narrowly missed crashing into the guardrail - there were 100 spots where he could have careened into a rock-cut or dropped into a deep ditch or ravine...lucky dude.

    Red Bay was cold and windy! Temps in the single digits and ice in the harbour.
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    We drove into town and passed the start of the gravel section towards Port hope Simpson - it looked a bit ominous with the gated entrance under the gloomy skies.

    We had been hearing small snippets about the road closure and forest fires for the past week, but had always assumed that since the road was the connecting only link, the required resources would be in place to get the fires under control and allow safe passage. The information was scarce - a Parks Canada employee in Red Bay was kind enough to call ahead for us - the news was that vehicles were being escorted through. The oncoming traffic was virtually zero at this point - I can't actually recall a single southbound car.

    Red Bay is a very small outpost with an amazing history of sheltering Basque Whaling ships from France and Spain in the period from 1520 - 1600. We took advantage of the awesome breakfast at the general store and hotel.
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    The offical start of the TransLab began late morning.
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    The idea that forest fires might be an issue seemed very distant in the cold rain near the coast. The road to this point was fairly loose but the lack of traffic and dust was allowing us to ease into the gravel...speeds gradually crept up to the point where 80 - 90km/h was comfortable.

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    Sign of things to come...

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    Time to fill the jerry can in Port Hope Simpson.

    Next stop Happy Valley Goose Bay 407km down the road! This would be the longest stretch without services.
    #43
  4. Bear Creek West

    Bear Creek West Been here awhile

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    Sorry to be sooo long completing my story! Work's getting in the way these days....

    So, we are on route to Happy Valley Goose Bay! This would be the longest un-serviced stretch of the TransLab at approximately 410km. Jerry can and Rotopax filled to the brim - we headed off into the dust!

    The riding proved challenging but manageable - our speeds were ususally in the 80 - 90km/h range and the gravel was fairly hard for the first stint.

    We came across this couple from Quebec - they were loaded down! and towing a trailer! I honestly can't imagine what it must have been like to handle that huge bike, 2 up with all of that stuff. They were in good spirits and have come through the Wabush fires in an escorted convoy.
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    Our day was progressing well - we stopped for a break a few hours outside of Happy Valley and Mike rolled in behind us.
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    Mike had started the day in Happy Valley and had ridden to Port Hope Simpson and was now doubling back to Happy Valley (just a small 800 plus km on gravel!). Mike turned out to be a great riding companion and would join us for the next few days.

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    Rare shot of Kman and me taken a few hours before arriving in Happy Valley.

    The rest of that afternoon would turn into a very challenging ride - we encountered the graders several times and the wind had kicked up to the point where that the gusts would push you all over the road when standing on the pegs. The gravel was now far more difficult and there were several full-on OH SHIT moments. With every km that passed I felt like I was earning my stripes and paying my dues on the Translab...

    We finally rolled into Goose bay totally knackered! Yours truly feeling wiped!!
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    Kman rolls in on the perfect tank! The KLR was just sputtering as it rolled into the pumps - no extra fuel required. I'm 100% sold that these bikes are the best bang for you buck by a long shot.
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    Now where to stay in Goose Bay??
    #44
  5. benwr

    benwr Been here awhile

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    hahaha - "kenora dinner jacket blowing open in wind"
    #45
  6. Bear Creek West

    Bear Creek West Been here awhile

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    Love that you have chimed in from Kenora! Of course I mean't no disrespect to any (Kenorians, Kenoraneese, Kenorinonians?) folks from Kenora!
    #46
  7. Bear Creek West

    Bear Creek West Been here awhile

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    After a long dusty ride we were keen to find the perfect campsite, i.e. secluded, next to babbling brooke, bug free, dry firewood, cold beer...you get the idea. We followed a sign for a RV holding tank pumpout location thinking it may be located at a compground...no luck. So, after riding around for a spell we caved and hit the big blue hotel with the Jungle Jim's restaurant and bar.
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    #47
  8. Bear Creek West

    Bear Creek West Been here awhile

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    The forest fires were now part of our reality - on the drive in to Happy Valley the weather had changed from 10 degrees at the coast to hot and humid with acrid smoke in air and a bizarre orange tinge to the lighting. The road towards Churchill falls had been blocked the previous night, with vehicles reportely being escorted through, so we were cautiously optimistic that the road would be open for us the next day.

    The hotel was comfortable - add three riders plus gear and the smell was not! We load tested the hangar rack with all of our crap.
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    A few riders from Quebec rolled in later in the evening giving us more hope that the road would be passable to Wabush / Labrador City in the morning. A local firefighter suggested we stop in at the firehall in Churchill falls in the morning (a few hours down the road to Lab city) to inquire about the status of the road.

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    Mike and Kman getting organized in the am. I wish we could have spent some more time exploring the HVGB area - I have since read a few reports Novaboy etc... that highlight some great spots along the route we took. Oh well - next time!

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    My rear tire getting worked - now at around 5,000km. Kman's were looking much worse...in hindsight I should have bought a new rear in St.Johns as well as the front.
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    End of the pavement (again!) on route to Churchill Falls.

    The gravel was loose, which combined with the stong southerly headwind, made the going tough. Crashes along the gravel portions of the Translab are apparently quite common....
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lfpZp1x7eiE

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    Rest stop before Churchill Falls - the bridges were the best places to pull off - no soft shoulder and a bit of a breeze to keep the flies off. The smoke was getting pretty thick at this point...

    We made it to Churchill Falls late morning and searched out the firehall, which was part of the hydro company property (I think the whole town is essentially owned by the Hydro folks). The vibe was quite ominous, with security gates and perimeter fencing around the entrance to the Dam. I reminded me of the evil corporation in the movie strange brew...
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    I loved seeing this sign at the firehall, as I get razzed endlessly for being "mr. safety" and always backing in to my driveway! I managed to speak to one of the firefighters at the station - he couldn't give me any info on the road and stated that it may or may not be open to Lab City and that passage was at our own risk, with no guarantee that we wouldn't be turned back.

    The fireman also was sure to let us know that Chruchill Falls is experiencing a significant bear problem and that we should be very careful if we ended up camping anywhere nearby. Apparently the bears had been following kids home from school, lured by their lunch bags and have also broken into houses.

    So, armed with really no additional information - we fuelled up and pressed on towards Lab City - 221km down the road...

    Traffic headed towards us had been essentially zero all morning. Once we passed Churchill falls the road was essentially deserted, just a few work trucks from the paving crews. The road was only about 20km of gravel and then apparently paved the rest of the way to Lab city. We made a small detour on a little side route after an hour or so outside of Churchill Falls.

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    Side road off of the TransLab...

    And then we hit this....
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    Road block at the Ashuqanipi river approx 25km from Lab City. There were about 30 vehicles waiting for the traffic to be escorted through the fire zone. The wind was still strong out of the south and the smoke was heavy.

    The police officer at the roadblock had no information - the plan was hurry up and wait.....

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    So I cracked out my camp chair....
    And then the speakers (thanks Tom!) to to listen to some Jay Harris (must have driving music!!) http://music.cbc.ca/#/artists/Jay-Harris
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    So as you can see the mood was fairly light at this point. The question was how long would we be here???
    #48
  9. FMFDOC

    FMFDOC Long timer

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    :lurk:lurk
    #49
  10. Starbucks101

    Starbucks101 1 dark roast 2 cream

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    Excellent ride report. That water bomber hitting that rig and grader....did the windows blow out of it (grader)?
    KLR is the most bang for buck I had one like Kmans, 2004 black and red, great bikes.
    #50
  11. benwr

    benwr Been here awhile

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    Hahaha none taken, not originally from here. I just didnt think people outside NW Ont and MB knew that term. Looks like a great trip, look forward to more.
    #51
  12. Bear Creek West

    Bear Creek West Been here awhile

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    So at this point it's mid afternoon, the smoke is rolling across the highway and we have no info.. Some of the folks waiting informed us that a convoy had been escorted through earlier in the day, but at this point it's a standstill. The RNC (Royal Newfoundland Constabulary) officer had no information and was at the mercy of the MNR at this point. So we wait....

    Shot down the highway from the bridge over the Ashuanupi.
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    There's a rail bridge up there in the smoke.
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    Alex was the first guy we met in the line-up. He's a heavy equipment mechanic for one of the mines outside of Fermont. Guy is a crazy climber, has been all over the globe scaling rock - he was just returning from a few days of climbing near Churchill Falls.
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    More waiting...
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    Dinner on the TransLab - literally!
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    Mike from Maine was having a bit of an issue at this point. His KTM had run out of gas just before Churchill Falls - we went ahead to get him some fuel and in the meantime a generous soul (I think all folks from this area are deserving of this description), stopped and gave him some fuel. Unfortunately, The 990 was chugging from that point on...bad gas was the best guess at this point. The bike had stalled and Mike was leary of riding through the fire zone in the convoy as stalling out would be bad on a windy day in the middle of a forest fire....

    Luckily there was a fine NFLD'r delivering an empty U-haul who agreed to trailer the 990 to Labrador City. Mike was clearly not used to strapping his bike into a trailer. Enter Michael Blocklet....German fellow travelling with his wife.
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    Michael is the blurry guy on the left - who was driving this...
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    Michael's company build these awesome rigs. http://www.bocklet.eu/en/

    They had just shipped this beauty from Germany and were headed across North America, through central and eventually to the Dakar in South America in 2014. He was kind enough to give us a tour of the truck. $495,000 of total awesomeness. Michael's company designs and builds these rigs, many as support vehicles for the Dakar - which explains why he was so proficient at securing the KTM in the trailer! Needless to say they were not too stressed by the delay.
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    Full size 4 wheeler in the back! Even the fuse panel was impressive!
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    It's now getting pretty late in the day - official word from the RNC officer (Everett - we were getting to know most of the folks by this point), is that the road will not be opening today. Advice is to turn back to Churchill Falls - backtrack 200km.... Apparently the MNR will be doing a flyover in the morning and reassessing the fire's progress and possibility of opening the road.

    So, as all of you TransLab veterans will know, the longest stretch, without fuel, is Port Hope Simpson to Happy Valley Goose Bay - unless of course you're us. Backtracking was not an option due to limited fuel in the bikes - I had given my 5 litre jerry can to a fellow I had met at Jungle Jims in Goose, (nice guy, combs the dump for reusable stuff to sell - and is a political speech writer, you just can't make this shit up! The irony was certainly not lost on me!). We were not alone in the lack of fuel department, several of the transports didn't have enough fuel to turn back, as well as a few families in the line-up. So most folks decided to just wait it out and sleep in their vehicles.

    Being hardy adventurers, we were pretty well equipped - Kman had a water pump / purifier, which was invaluable, and between us we had a few days of food including a coveted jar of moose-meat I had bought in Rocky Harbour. We agreed the moose would be delicious and should be saved if at all possible.
    So we started looking for suitable spot to camp... The river had quite a few cottages lining the bank and a very sandy access road - we did some exploring and I suggested a nice clearing away from the cottages and hunt camps. I'll admit that I was a bit worried of the bears and wolves - normally I wouldn't give it a second thought, but the fire-ban meant no campfire. One of the guys in the line was a local guide and had seen a bear just a few km before the road-block. We had also met the local mailman in the line - he chuckled and suggested we watch out for the large "dogs"....

    Here's our campsite for the night - next to the rail-line... Which made camp in record time as the bugs were attemping to pick our carcasses clean. The location seemed like an ok plan until the train went by in the darkness, and blew the horn at the level crossing 65' from my head. Twice. Holy shite that was loud and startling! Bad choice of campsite - my fault entirely...
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    We hoped the morning would bring us some positive news...
    #52
  13. Bear Creek West

    Bear Creek West Been here awhile

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    Love your sig line "...shout at them in German..." good one! Thanks for tagging along.
    #53
  14. Bear Creek West

    Bear Creek West Been here awhile

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    Not sure how well the windows survived - crazy piece of footage though! Thanks for following from one of my favorite places - I've spent many lovely hours riding my bicycle along Dallas rd...
    #54
  15. Bear Creek West

    Bear Creek West Been here awhile

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    After a less than restful camp we awoke to a calm, smoky haze. I had survived the night without being mauled!

    It was very early and we hoped to soon hear the MNR chopper doing their flyover. A noticeable layer of soot was covering the tent...

    After packing up we headed back down the sandy cottage road to the highway to see if there was any news. The RNC officer was tired and had no news. At this point the natives were starting to get restless - there were a few families waiting in the line-up with young children, plus a few folks who had medical issues and needed prescriptions etc. Unfortunately nothing to do but wait at this point. Turns out that the first few vehicles had missed the last convoy by minutes the day before. There was also some significant animosity towards the MRN - one fellow who worked as a firefighter in Goose, stated that the MNR had basically been ignoring this fire for weeks and that now it was simply too big to control. A waterbomber had crashed the day before and was now at the bottom of one of the lakes.

    A couple with a cottage next to the highway walked up and offered me a coffee and were very gracious in seeing if we needed anything - They were busy doing some renovations on their place - it was obviously very unusual for them to have 50 some odd vehicles parked in such close proximity.

    The weather was calm, and in my mind if they were going to escort us through it made sense to me that earlier would have been better as the strong southerly winds were non-existent. But no news. It was readily apparent that the local resources were slim - only 2 officers work from the Churchill Falls RNC detachment - we had now met both of them...who were charged with manning the roadblock.

    Kman decided to crack out the fishing gear to help pass the time...
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    Kman get some advice from a few Nfldr's. The big guy in green is the Uhaul guy who had Mikes 990 in the trailer - I forget his name but he works in the St. John's Uhaul office and deserves a beer if I'm ever back there...

    Armed and ready....
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    Comparing their catch! This is Jason Ryan - a true outdoors-man! He works as a local guide and also decided to gear-up - he wandered into the river with his dog, who he would carry from rock to rock while he worked the small eddies. Jason was totally self-sufficient, as were many of the others in the line-up who had food and supplies in their vehicles. I still regret not accepting some of the fish he fried-up on his tailgate. I also enjoyed hearing some tales about Jason's exploits in the local snowmobile race (3000km long - unsupported!) http://cainsquest.com/

    The day is dragging on at this point - it's now late morning and we have no news... The sky is dark and my optimism is waning...
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    May as well go for a dip in the river...
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    The RNC had arranged for some fuel to be trucked in from Churchill Falls, things were not looking positive...
    #55
  16. Reddane

    Reddane Circling pi

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    I love the RR. :clap

    I read your report and as I sit.. I think.. WTF am I doing here?

    I need to be out exploring.

    That's the sign of a good RR.. it inspires! Safe travels in the future, guys.
    #56
  17. nick949eldo

    nick949eldo Long timer

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    West,
    I just read your report from start to here again - great stuff! I particularly like that you chose to include pictures of the whole trip - family included - not just the standard bike shots and scenery shots most of us think others will find interesting.

    I'm sure sitting on the TLH highway bored stiff, bug bitten and perhaps a little anxious about the fire, wasn't what you had in mind when you were doing the trip planning. Nevertheless, its all part of the adventure. Its always the unexpected that makes venturing out of one's comfort zone worthwhile.

    Most enjoyable! More?

    Nick
    #57
  18. Bear Creek West

    Bear Creek West Been here awhile

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    Thanks Nick. I grappled with what to include in the report - glad you're enjoying it! The waiting and uncertainly was stressful, but in the end the positives outweighted the negatives by a large margin. Stay tuned...
    #58
  19. Bear Creek West

    Bear Creek West Been here awhile

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    Thanks Reddane! I can't wait to do some more exploring as well!
    #59
  20. nick949eldo

    nick949eldo Long timer

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    You can't leave us hanging like this..............................:deal

    Nick
    #60