Thursday, May 3, 2012


Well, this is as fitting a capstone as any to this trip, as well as my reason for not really revising here.

Those fellows I met a while back on the ferry, who worked for the Canadian Motorcycle Guide have posted my article about this trip, so if you prefer your travel narrative in a more linear and coherent form, IT IS AVAILABLE.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Sad news from Labrador

On Tuesday morning, as I was leaving the Motel de L'Energie in Manic-5, a rider came in on a BMW and we chatted for a while. He was headed up to Labrador, to run the length of the TLH and back, because he had ten days free with nothing to do. He mentioned he owned a shop in Quebec.

I never got his name, but from the picture, I believe he was Duc Dufour, the president of Harley-Davidson Montreal, who died the following day near Churchill Falls when he struck a bicyclist in the low-visibility dust cloud of a passing truck. The bicyclist was treated and released, Dufour was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident. It's quite sad, and I can understand entirely how something like this could happen.

Here's more, from Rob's website:

CMG-Online--Tragedy in Labrador

Welcome to America

Woke up late this morning outside Montreal, the result of wandering the city late at night, first on purpose, then just lost. Didn't take many pictures, though I did follow a couple of full-dress Buddhist monks for several blocks hoping they would pass a place called "Super Sexe" at just the right angle. They didn't.

Got on the road, and at the first rest stop saw a Hummer with a Harley sticker in the rear window. Welcome back.

Stopped several times, once to see my aunt and uncle in Albany, and again to eat a piece of pizza at a gas station near Binghamton. I would have eaten at the table inside, but it was occupied by a fat kid and a mountain of stuffed animals. His dad was mopping the floor, wearing a Harley bandana and a shirt that said "You Suck" in large white letters on the front. The kid was nice, he asked why I was eating in the parking lot. I told him it was nice there, and it was. A few minutes later, the dad pulled his Jeep Cherokee around to the front, revealing a huge vinyl "Sons of Anarchy" sticker on the rear window.

Around Wilkes-Barre, I decided to push through for home. I have a tradition of stopping at Rocket to Venus for my first beer back after a long trip, and I figured I could just make last call. I rode through the dark and fog of deer-infested Pennsylvania for home.

About 20 minutes before last call, I was rocketing down the JFX, my music set to shuffle, and the Misfits came on as I took the off-ramp to Cold Spring. I hit it fast and perfectly, right on schedule and ready for a Natty Boh.

And that was when the chain fell off.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

I have a feeling like no one's watching me...

Well, after some messing around with chain adjusting, and general slowness and getting lost, I'm at a KOA near Montreal, catching up on some laundry.

I ran out of batteries on the Spot earlier, so there's a gap in the locator up there, but you obsessive types playing along at home can draw a bunch of squiggles on Quebec City, where I rode around for a while screaming "OU EST LE HIGHWAY TO MONTREE-AWL??!!!" until someone finally pointed at it, and then more squiggles around Montreal where I rode around looking for the KOA, which in French is pronounced "Koa" like koala bear.

I have decided that my tires, my wallet, and the patience of my lovely bride are all growing thin, so I'm going to pass by Toronto, which pains me, but there it is. Tomorrow I start heading south.

Quebec City

I wrote the last post yesterday, and I couldn't just leave it at that, when in fact it is tomorrow, and after a rainy, windy morning along the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the sun has come out and I'm sitting in a lovely cafe is Quebec City, where I don't understand a word anyone is saying. Quebec City reminds me of home-- a little grungy, but cheerful, and my bike is drawing some attention outside, though hopefully not from the police, as I've been parked there for quite a while. An older fellow just stopped to take a picture of it, and a man I spoke to (in French!) when I pulled up shook my hand when I told him where I was vien-ing de. I may stick around for lunch.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Goodbye to Labrador

Well, I'm in Quebec, and I'm not particularly happy about it.

Maybe it's culture shock, being back among the crowds and traffic and strip malls, but I'm a bit depressed. I miss Labrador, and I wish I was back there. I want to tell someone where I'm from and get an enthusiastic "Hyah Boyo! Dats a roide!" in response.I want to do a sweat with Max, go on a boat ride through the icebergs, drink wine with the Russian ladies and beer with the road workers while they hit on the pretty bartender. I miss the people of Labrador. I almost miss the black flies.

There are some things I didn't mention here, because I didn't want to upset some important readers (Hi Mom!). The road was a bit trickier than I let on. In Churchill Falls I saw a truck with its transmission ripped off by a large rock, requiring a $2,100 tow back to Lab City, and a trailer with a broken axle. For riders, the penalty was greater. Two riders, part of a group of 12, crashed near Goose Bay. One had a broken rib and a punctured lung, the other was being kept for observation after hitting his head hard enough to crack his helmet. Rob and Jim, from the motorcycle magazine, had to turn back after Jim crashed and had to be airlifted back to Newfoundland. I hear he is doing fine.

There's a great deal of disagreement among trans-Labrador motorcyclists about the difficulty of the road, or the difference between sections of it. Part of that is down to rider skill and experience-- things which challenged me, another rider might find easy-- but I think the greater factor is the changing nature of the road, from the action of the weather and the relentless graders. After a while, you learn to read it, but it requires constant attention.

It's a challenge, and while I didn't set out to put a check mark next to it on some list, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little proud.

I went to Labrador to see what I could see, and I took the time to visit as much as possible, but I still feel like I missed a great deal. Every day, the Trans-Labrador Highway is being paved more and more, and like the road, Labrador itself is changing. The Fermont Road is filled with trucks carrying houses bound for Lab City, to house the influx of workers. Muskrat Falls, where I camped near the Churchill River, will be dammed up soon, the river will slow to a trickle. The Innu will soon have their own homeland, and maybe that will go a ways towards healing the broken spirit of that people, and Cartwright's fate depends on the whims of travelers willing to head a little further up the road.

The road, and the Labrador I saw, won't be the same the next time I come here. Only Churchill Falls, the strange little suburbia in the wilderness will remain unchanged.

I left Labrador yesterday. The exact border is in dispute, but the first sign of Quebec is the great mine at Fermont, with its mountain of tailings and its lake colored an unearthly pink. From there, the gravel road twists through the mountains and over railroad tracks. After a few hundred kilometers of gravel, this was the best part of the road. It passes through Gagnon, a ghost town marked by a few paved roads and curbs (though perhaps not for long), then on to Manicouagan Reservoir, the site of a meteor impact 23 million years ago, with sibling craters all across the globe. The gravel ends at the huge Manic 5 Dam, and I spent the night at the nearby Motel de L'Energie, dusty and tired.
Gagnon, soon with Timmy Horton's

Tonight, I'm on a perfectly beautiful beach, which I've just realized I have my back to, as the sun sets.

One thing I've learned in my solo travels is that the reception I get is entirely dependent on my own attitude. If I put forth the effort, I receive it back tenfold. Right now, though, I'm not up for it. The language barrier seems insurmountable. I think I'm going to walk up the hill and try to find a quiet bar. I'll feel better tomorrow.

Ever forward.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Not this again...

Last post I mentioned how happy I was that the chain hadn't broken again. In about 32,000 miles on this bike, I've broken two chains. The first was coming down Pike's Peak in Colorado, the second was in Maine a couple of months ago. Both times I was lucky to find a shop that had them in stock.

So when I was about to leave Churchill Falls, it was with a bit of sadness, if not really shock, that I noticed the chain was broken. Obviously I'm doing something wrong. The connecting plate on one side had broken off. I suppose it could have been a rock, but I've been religious about cleaning and lubricating the thing. Anyway, a tow truck driver told me there was a motorcycle shop in Wabush, and I didn't have much choice but to head back out on the gravel, trying not to goose the throttle. The road wasn't bad, although there were a lot more trucks, which meant a lot more dust.

Made it to Lab City and camped last night in the campground outside of town. Labrador City is going through a real mining boom, and it's the biggest town I've been through in a while, at 18,000 and growing fast. In neighboring Wabush there's a motorcycle shop, and I've just installed a new chain in their parking lot. I got extra master links, and I'm keeping the old one as an emergency spare.

Okay, it's about 6 hours to Baie Comeau, and I want to stop at Manicougan Reservoir and Gagnon, so I'd better hit the road.

Ever forward.