Trans Labrador Highway, solo and without a plan

Discussion in 'Epic Rides' started by fastredbike, Aug 13, 2012.

  1. fastredbike

    fastredbike out riding

    Joined:
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    Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada
    I don't get enough vacation time. 3 weeks is all I have to work with - my wife gets one of them for a snowbird holiday somewhere warm in the winter, my kids get one of them for an annual camping trip and I get one of them to take an "extended" bike trip. I know a week hardly qualifies as extended, but there it is. I get lots riding in during the year, mostly on weekends and I stretch the season to the max usually involving some snow at both ends. But this one week in August has to count.

    My solution to this is to always have two or three trips in mind at any given time and I leave it quite late to make the call which way to head. In fact, if you'd asked me where I was going the day before I left I'd have said "through the States to Virginia and back". Newfoundland was "plan B" and the Trans Lab Highway would have been "plan C". This kind of thing is why I tend to do these trips solo, it's definitely not everybody that wants to leave this decision to the last minute.

    I loaded the bike on Saturday and began paying more attention to weather forcasts through the day. Things appeared to be getting hotter and wetter Stateside and drier and a bit cooler in Newfoundland - I paid very little attention to Labrador as it was still only "Plan B". Late Saturday I called Marine Atlantic and made a reservation on the 6:30 ferry to Port aux-Basques for the next day. As this ferry is scheduled to arrive anywhere from midnight to 2:00am I also made a reservation at the St. Christopher's Inn for Sunday night.

    With the bike all loaded I hit the road around 8:15 on July 29th, for the relatively short ride to North Sydney.
    This will be my second trip to Cape Breton this year and both times the skies looked exactly like this:

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    I arrived at North Sydney around 2:30 and I didn't need to be at the ferry terminal for a couple more hours so I had some time to kill.

    I had lunch at the local and notorious Lick-A-Chick takeout and just took the next side road I came to, which turned out to be a nice gravel treat - hmmm, left or right? looks like most people go right...:

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    so I go left,.. things got even better:

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    After an hour or so of this it was time to head down to the ferry and get in line:

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    Those who've been on this ferry know bikes are ushered to the front of the line so I joined a few bikes that had already arrived. I met most of the riders and they were from all over including Florida, Alberta, BC, New Brunswick and Newfoundland. We talked about riding, trips and other stuff until it was time to board.

    Squeezing them on:

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    and we pulled away from the terminal on time:

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    The ferry ride was uneventul unless you consider paying $9.50 for a hot dog and iced tea exciting. I didn't bother with a bunk but did pay the extra ($11.00 I think) for a reclining chair in the "quiet" section so I could get some sleep while crossing - I actually did catch a few winks.

    It was 2:00am when we docked and even though the bikes were nearly the first vehicles off it was still almost 3:00 before I was checked in at the hotel. It would be a fairly short night but at the front end of a week of riding that's no problem at all.
    #1
  2. Littlepeter

    Littlepeter Been here awhile

    Joined:
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    I just got back from a TLH trip on Saturday night. Hope you have as good a trip as we did.

    Peter
    #2
  3. sibyib

    sibyib Bumbles bounce

    Joined:
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    You've peeked my interest keep it coming. I do the same the day before then hit the road mine are TLH or James bay Montana is to far for one week. Sept 10-14.
    #3
  4. fastredbike

    fastredbike out riding

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    Thanks Peter:wave, actually I've been back a week but I'm just getting to the RR now.
    #4
  5. fastredbike

    fastredbike out riding

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    Location:
    Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada
    Day two, July 30th, 2012

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    So after a short night and a few more winks I load up and head out.

    This is my parting shot of the St. Christopher's Inn, not bad but costly when you aren't splitting the bill with anybody. But all the hotels I stayed in on this trip were like that:

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    I wanted to get going so I didn't have breakfast at the hotel. I'd passed a Tim Horton's between the ferry and the hotel last night so I figured I'd get coffee and breakfast there. I may as well admit I'm not a big fan of Tim's coffee but their breakfast sandwich is good and they were close by. Unfortunately everyone in Port aux Basques must be hopelessly addicted because the lineup to get in the parking lot stretched way down the road - I'll pass and get something further down the route.

    I've always heard how beautiful Gros Morne National Park is so I headed for there. It would be an easy day and as I'd get there quite early I'd have time to find a campsite, get set up and look around before dark.

    It's a really nice ride up the coast. At first things are very mountainous with long-long views. There were some showers along the way but I never bothered with my raingear and didn't get very wet. It's much more scenic and picturesque than I expected and I knew in the first half-hour that I wanted to come back again.

    It's always hard for me to stop for photos but I shot this from the saddle north of Corner Brook:

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    I passed Corner Brook just before noon and about half an hour later turned left at Deer Lake toward Gros Morne.

    There are some nice twisty highways and the inevitable 18 wheelers and RVs to slow you down on the hills. It's one of those rides where you want to ride fast but also want to enjoy the scenery, so I did a bit of both.

    I shot a bunch of GoPro video but was using various bike-mounted camera positions, in the end shaking and vibration left me with a bunch of unusable video from this trip, I did grab a few still captures though:

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    I made it to Gros Morne at about 1:30 and set up at a campground (Berry Hill) near Rocky Harbour.

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    I had lots of time left that day so I headed over to Woody Point and the Table Lands. What a beautiful spot:

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    then it was back to the campsite. I ate dinner there and as the bike was now parked opened my flask of 12 year old MacAllan and lit a cigar to celebrate my first full day in new surroundings. Either the scotch, the cigar or the euphoria of travelling on the bike got my fooling around with the camera and I came up with these:

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    of course it all looked way more awesome in person, that night and with a bunch of old scotch in me.:evil
    #5
  6. nick949eldo

    nick949eldo Long timer

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    Keep it coming! Its always interesting to see others pictures and read their opinions / observations.

    Nick
    #6
  7. NEKGSA

    NEKGSA Climb Ride Hunt

    Joined:
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    How are your Heidenaus handling? Great RR so far, keep the cool pics coming. :lurk
    #7
  8. fastredbike

    fastredbike out riding

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    I got a slower start to day three, partly because I hadn't decided where to go next. I had thought about staying at Gros Morne a couple of days but it seemed like I'd likely seen enough for now, my park pass was good for a week and I could easily stop here again on my way back. I'd still not decided to do the TLH and was thinking more along the lines of backtracking to Deer Lake, then heading eastward to the other side and down to St. John's with stops along the way.

    I didn't have any real interest in seeing L'anse aux Meadows either but I'd heard a lot about Red Bay Labrador. I hate to backtrack so just like that I decided to head up the western side of Newfoundland and check out the ferry to Quebec/Labrador. If I could get across I'd go at least as far as Red Bay, stay overnight then return to Newf... and so that much at least was decided.

    I got a couple of shots of Rocky Harbour and the area:

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    and I stopped at the Lobster Cove Head lighthouse for a picture:

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    where I saw this guy sitting on a fish he'd (or she'd) just pulled out of the water:

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    Then I was on my way north along the coast.

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    It seems like you drive along the shore for hours:

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    I stopped at the site of an old shipwreck - not much left to see any more:

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    I stopped for fuel and lunch at the gas bar/rest stop at the Gros Morne Resort. It's kind of eerie because you are in the middle of nowhere and suddenly it's all new BMW suv's and designer clothes. Then two kms later it's back to rural Newfoundland and old pickup trucks.

    I got to St. Barbe around 2:30 without a reservation. Sometimes travelling without a plan bites you back and this was almost one of those times. The next ferry was at 6:00pm and tickets would go on sale around 4:00 but there was going to be limited room for those without reservations and if I wanted to get on the boat I'd better get in line. There were already 3 ahead of me so I decided I'd better stay put. I did get on but I was the second last vehicle allowed on - right up to the last minute it looked like I might be left behind - so when it comes to ferries, make a reservation from now on.

    The Apollo ferry coming into St. Barbe.

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    pulling away from the dock and quite relieved about it.

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    I'd met a very nice couple on a Concours from St. John's who were headed to Red Bay for the night. They had a reservation at a B&B and had just found out two busloads of tourists had just gone there and filled every available room. I assure them it wasn't a problem for me as I was camping and my map indicated a Parks Canada site and camping at Red Bay.

    We arrived in Blanc Sablon, Quebec at around 8:00 Newfoundland time and a lot of the traffic got off ahead of me. It was going to be an hour or so to Red Bay and I try to avoid riding in the dark so I hustled off the boat and hit the road. After a dozen or so KM I'd passed pretty much everything slower than me and wanted to keep ahead so there's no pics. Which is a shame.

    The ride from Blanc Sablon to Red Bay in the evening has to be one of the most scenic rides I've been on anywhere. It was absolutely worth any trouble I'd had getting there. I'll definitely be going back and spending some time there in morning and evening light with a camera - breathtaking views around every corner. But with regrets, none of them will appear in this report.

    Arriving at Red Bay I discovered the Parks Canada site was an interpretive centre covering the long history of the village - and it was closed. As the dark closed in it became clear there was no campground anywhere near here. As I sat idling in the twilight next to closed up building I spotted a farkled and loaded KLR parked next to the church. and there was a tent in the field behind the church. hmmm, just then this guy pops out of the tent and introduces himself (with apologies, there was too much going on and I don't recall his name), he and his wife are here from Montreal, just finished the TLH and when asking around for camping were sent to the churchyard. I had a million questions about the road, but for every question I had there were 2 million blackflies swarming us. I got a bit of information on the route ahead and he was pretty grim when he talked about the transit from Happy Valley-Goose Bay to Port Hope Simpson.

    Flies were crawling in our noses, ears and basically everywhere else so I decided to camp there too and urged him back to his tent. As I ran back and forth with minimal gear for the night I could hear he and his wife slap-slap-slapping the cloud of flies he'd no doubt let in to come talk to me. Thank you brother, I appreciate your sacrifice.

    My campsite that night, likely the most picturesque spot I've ever put that tent:

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    The Adventurers from Montreal leaving the next morning. Whoever you are Mrs. Montreal adventurer you'll get my vote for cool wife of the year, riding the back of that loaded KLR over the TLH, camping in all those blackflies and still look at the smile in your eyes:clap:clap:clap:

    [​IMG]
    #8
  9. fastredbike

    fastredbike out riding

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    Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada
    Thanks Nick,

    I wondered about doing this RR, lots of people ride the TLH and there have been a few really comprehensive RRs already so you kind of feel it's all been done. That said, every day out there is different and that road does change it's character on a daily basis depending on weather, construction crews and where the graders are.
    #9
  10. fastredbike

    fastredbike out riding

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    Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada
    thanks for the feedback!

    I really like the Heidi rear, the front is coming off this week for a TKC80. As has been widely reported already the Heidenaus are a very long-wearing tire and for the rear I'm completely happy. The front tire leaks air faster than anything I've ever had before and isn't terrific in loose conditions. The front is also very noisy at highway speeds with a pronounced harmonic wail right around 110kph on tar or hard dirt.
    #10
  11. fastredbike

    fastredbike out riding

    Joined:
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    Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada
    thanks sibjib, James Bay is on my list for next year, I saw a bit of Montana a couple of years ago when I left my bike out west over a winter. The challenge is of course, is that with only a week you need to cover so much familiar territory going and coming.
    #11
  12. nick949eldo

    nick949eldo Long timer

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    Absolutely - and even more interesting (to me at least), is what people find attractive, stimulating or challenging, how they feel about the landscape, what equipment and supplies they feel are essential, what their past experience is, how wide or narrow is their comfort zone etc. etc. Of course, if they write well and take great pictures that's an added bonus.

    For some (like you - and to a lesser extent me) the Trans Lab is almost at their back door and the environment isn't entirely new. For others, its as different to what they are used to as the moon and everything about it is hostile and potentially dangerous.

    I can read any number of them.

    Nick
    #12
  13. fastredbike

    fastredbike out riding

    Joined:
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    Oddometer:
    542
    Location:
    Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada
    I woke up to this view:

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    Now how can you have a bad day when it starts off like that?

    The Montreal travellers were packing up - in full gear, helmets, shields closed and everything because the flies were still thirsty. So I got up to say goodbye and wish them well.

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    I fired off a couple of shots of the area:

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    and packed up as well. Because of the bugs I didn't make breakfast, coffee or anything. I choked down an energy bar (and likely a blackfly or two with it) and stowed my gear in record time.

    Now I had a decision to make, take the TransLab route or head back to Blanc Sablon, take my time, shoot some photos and return to Newfoundland. Both were tempting so I decided to at least look at the dirt road that begins the TLH since I was right there and everything.

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    Now I can't be the only one that looked at that view, saw the road leading off over the horizon (around 10:00 in the photo) and wondered what was over that hill...

    It turned out to be this:

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    and I couldn't help wondering if the view over the next horizon line could be even better.... and so another decision was made and I committed to riding the TLH.

    I rode along and eventually came to Port Hope Simpson, where I filled the tank as full as I could. I was confident I'd make it on the 33 litres the GSA carries, but in the real world, I find myself filling the tank at about 480 kms. I needed to travel at least 410 to the next fuel which shouldn't be a problem but I don't usually burn regular, it was getting hot, the conditions were rough, etc. Anyway, I needn't have worried, despite all that I still had a third of a tank when I got to HVGB.

    The steel bridge you see in every TLH RR. And you can see the gravel building up on the road.

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    Coffee in the morning is mandatory for me and I hadn't had any yet so I decided this was as good a time as any to break out the jetboil, coffee press and make myself a cup.

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    then I was off again into this spectacular, wild country.

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    This is what I call fast gravel and of the four road surfaces you find in Labrador it's my favorite, though it improves when it's just a bit damp. The other three are tarmac, marbles and "under construction". You can go pretty much as fast on this as you want as long as you keep to the bare strip. It was like this for about the next 150kms and I made good time.

    Eventually I got to a section of "marbles" that lasted about 180km. it was anywhere from 2 to 6 inches deep and felt like just-poured gravel. Lots of plowing and a couple of near tank-slappers. A nasty crosswind had come up and it was now mid-day and 33 degrees. For the next 3 hours full attention was required and the bike was giving me a real workout. I have a perfectly good KLR, all set up for this kind of thing at home that I might have been riding if I'd known for sure I was going to ride the TLH. But it would definitely have been suboptimal for the other 98% of the trip.

    I wasn't having a lot of fun on this section but it wasn't really the road, the heat or the heavy bike. The danger on that road is the other traffic. Although the high wind was pushing me around a lot on the marbles it was at least clearing the dust from oncoming traffic. But people up there on four or more wheels drive like they are in a rally! I met one guy in an F150 pulling a holiday trailer in an 8 wheel drift in the centre of a curve. I had room to get around him but was very glad to be moving slowly. There were three cars upside down in the ditch at various points along the route and they had been completely abandoned and partly stripped. The 18 wheelers weren't as bad as the two guys in the suv stopping every 10 km or so to smoke another joint, then pass me in a shower of gravel and repeat. There's not much traffic on that road, but what there is can be pretty scary. I had my hands full of full-of-gas, topheavy, overweight BMW on a Heidenau front tire I was growing to hate. I was getting as cranky and sullen as my 13 year-old daughter so there's no pics of the really hard stuff.

    No cell coverage, Garmin is no help:

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    but I have my Spot so I know I can summon help if needed, though I have no idea how long it would take to get to me.

    Eventually the road turned back to fast gravel again and the last 150 or so km into Goose was a breeze.

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    me making time, pardon the low res - it's clipped from a vid.:

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    Getting close to Goose:

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    looking back up the dirt from the tar outside Goose:

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    that 544km of gravel was a real workout but I'm here:

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    I checked into Hotel North 2, around 6:00pm had a great dinner and some beer at Jungle Jim's off the lobby and retired to my room for the evening... pooped!
    #13
  14. fastredbike

    fastredbike out riding

    Joined:
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    Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada
    It had rained pretty hard through the night but by the time I got up and around it was partly cloudy in Happy Valley - Goose Bay. I fueled up and left town around 8:00. At first it was a nice, sporting ride on smooth blacktop but it soon turned to gravel:

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    I stopped a few times along the way.



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    and got to Churchill Falls right around noon.



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    I fueled up here and had a gas station hot dog for lunch, just as I was filling the bike a few raindrops hit and a fellow on the other side of the pump filling his truck asked which way I was headed because he'd just come from Labrador City and it was "flat out pouring the whole way".

    I can take a hint so after I paid for the gas I put on my rain gear for the first time on the trip. Sure enough, I didn't get 5 km before I hit the rain and yes, it was really coming down.

    An hour or so later the rain fizzled out and the sun was out. I hate wearing rain gear, I've never found any I like no matter the price and never had any that didn't eventually let water in if it was raining hard enough. Even though there were still plenty of dark skies up ahead I peeled off the gear and rode in without more than a sprinkle the rest of the way to Lab City:

    Putting the Adventure in the GS:

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    I was very lucky with the rain this day. For the last 75km I rode under some of the biggest, blackest, wetest looking clouds I've ever seen. There seemed to be a clear channel through the clouds, though and the road snaked along directly under it. I knew I should put on my gear again but couldn't really find a safe place to pull over and do it. Also, as I said, I hate wearing rain gear. I was on pavement by now and was hurrying along at a pretty good clip trying to beat the inevitable cloudburst - I knew once it let go I'd be soaked in 5 minutes. Amazingly I made it to the Carol Inn about 3:45:

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    and completely unloaded without feeling a drop even though you could see it was raining all around Lab City.
    I was actually across the street ordering dinner at Mary Brown's about 30 minutes later when it started raining:

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    and it rained so hard so quickly the parking lot flooded and water was starting to run in the back door of the place. By the time I finished eating, though, the rain had miraculously stopped and things were drying quickly. Back at the hotel my bike had been joined in the parking lot by another:

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    that turned out to be THop from Ridetherock.com who was a bit behind me all day. Poor guy rode through that rainstorm and I later found out he was inside trying to dry his completely soaked gear - we never met up but we communicated through the other site... he's got his own RR up over there- if you're interested you should check it out.
    #14
  15. Happy BMW

    Happy BMW Litter Box

    Joined:
    Mar 15, 2009
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    Whitefish MT
    :lurk
    #15
  16. Parcero

    Parcero Mundial

    Joined:
    Aug 7, 2008
    Oddometer:
    555
    Location:
    Chicago physically, Colombia en mi mente.
    Great report, thanks for posting it, and the pictures are beautiful. This ride is on my bucket list.

    Only a week, huh? I know the feeling. I am usually in the same boat, but a week was about all I needed to make it from Chicago to Panama. It's not the amount of time, it's how you use it! :clap
    #16
  17. fastredbike

    fastredbike out riding

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    Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada
    I agree completely... but when you have to get there and back again in a week it doesn't leave much time to smell the roses.

    thanks for the feedback Parcero, going to read your RR next.
    #17
  18. fastredbike

    fastredbike out riding

    Joined:
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    this is a bit of commentary from the middle of the deep gravel between Port Hope Simpson and Goose Bay, you'll get an idea of the wind and blowing dust:

    <iframe frameborder="0" scrolling="no" width="425" height="240" src="http://api.smugmug.com/services/embed/2026096361_HG8XGGw?width=425&height=240"></iframe>

    and here's a clip of the same road right after the grader has gone through. Watch near the end of the clip for how that ridge of gravel up the centre gets splashed around when a vehicle crosses it. Imagine having to get across that at speed... I'm going slow because I'm filming and driving one-handed, you can actually go pretty fast on this stuff, you just have to watch for deep holes that are leveled off with loose gravel - I encountered none of those, though.

    <iframe frameborder="0" scrolling="no" width="425" height="240" src="http://api.smugmug.com/services/embed/2026105679_nskprZJ?width=425&height=240"></iframe>
    #18
  19. fastredbike

    fastredbike out riding

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada
    So after a great sleep at the Carol Inn I packed up the bike and checked out. There's a McDonalds right around the corner so I stopped there for a quick breakfast and coffee. Labrador City is pretty much exclusively a mining town and McD's was filled with people ending or starting their shift. It's a really busy little town. I looked around a bit and since I've never spent much time in mining towns, most everything looked foreign. The mining company owns this rail line and I was told these belong to employees headed out on vacation. There were several rail cars set up this way - apparently the company ships their rigs down to civilization for them... but if somebody was just pulling my leg you can correct me.

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    I had fueled up the night before so I hit the road around 7:30 for my last day of the TLH and northern gravel. As rain was in the forecast I'd put my rain gear on at the hotel before leaving.:(:

    The road to Fermont goes right through part of the mining operation and it's really interesting. There are lots of gates and turns and it really doesn't feel like you are on a highway so I didn't take any pics, but it was fascinating. There's quite a bit of road construction here too and eventually the road narrows to a single lane with alternating stop signals.

    Everything up here really is huge. As I'm sitting there I can see massive equipment way out on the horizon working on the tailings pile that goes as far as you can see in both directions. Truely awsome in scale and I doubt any picture could do justice... so here's the best you're getting from me:

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    Although the signals alternate pretty quickly you have to sit there as long as three minutes. That's plenty of time for a blackfly to work it's way inside your helmet so that just as the light turns green he can crawl into your ear. I'm sure you can guess how I know. Luckily there was nobody behind me so I had plenty of time to get my helmet off and try to get that little bugger out of there, which I was sure I did. That sensation haunted me for at least an hour though, and several times I was sure I could still feel it crawling around, though I'm sure it was my imagination... ugh.

    Once I got clear of the construction it really started raining. because of the way the road is built you have to cross the rail line something like 13 times in the next 12 km or so, they are all level crossings that require a stop and due to the rain the visibility was low so I took it easy.

    a quick stop along the rail line:

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    Eventually you cross into Quebec leaving Labrador behind at another mining town called Fermont. I just kept going right on by as it was still raining.

    A little later on, though, the rain let up and I travelled on perfect surfaces for most of the rest of the day. Fast gravel that was slightly damp from a recent rain. No dust and just soft enough to get a really good grip. I made really good time for the next couple of hours in weather that was sometimes wet and sometimes dry.

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    Making tracks, as they say...

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    and passed amazing scenery:

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    I saw a bear scramble off the beach and into the woods but naturally by the time I got the camera turned on he'd become invisible... though if you look really hard maybe you can find him in there, I can't.

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    and there was even a rainbow (hard to make out, I know)

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    As I got closer to the Manicougan area and the end of the TLH I hit a lot of fresh paving.

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    I'm sure they were paving there today and will be again tomorrow. The gravel is getting covered up quickly, especially at the Quebec end and although it's still going to be a spectacular ride, it's obviously not going to be at all the same once it's finished. That said, there's still a lot of gravel on the TLH so those who have this ride on their bucket list have some time.

    And just because it's paved doesn't mean it's not dangerous:

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    The obligatory stop for gas at Relais Gabriel, at $1.69.9 per litre for regular they set a new record for gas prices for me.

    [​IMG]

    I rolled through the ghost town, Gagnon and the new tar runs up to both ends of it now. It's not quite so surreal any more with it's curbs and boulevards but no houses.

    Then the end of the gravel at the Manic 5 dam, with a motorhome strategically placed for scale, yup, it's a big 'un.

    [​IMG]

    Then it was time to air the tires back up:

    [​IMG]

    for a lengthy section of really choice curvey riding down to Baie Comeau, where I arrived just before noon. All I needed now was lunch and a ferry across the St. Lawrence... too bad I'd already forgotten my new rule about ferry reservations....
    #19
  20. WhicheverAnyWayCan

    WhicheverAnyWayCan Deaf Biker

    Joined:
    Dec 25, 2011
    Oddometer:
    1,055
    Location:
    Seven Springs NC
    :lurk
    #20