The Trans Labrador Highway.
In 1999, the first phase of the TLH was completed offering a solid-gold riding experience that ranks alongside Route 66 USA, Alaska Highway and Stuart Highway in Australia.
549 km of gravel road between Labrador City and Goose Bay. In early 2010, phase three of the project was completed between Goose Bay and Cartwright. This phase is 250 km of gravel road, and for the first time, enables you to travel form Labrador City to Read Bay - a total of 1200 km through the remote province of Labrador.
We departed NYC on June 30th 2012 at 7:30am. The drive north on Interstate 87 was uneventful. No delays crossing the border at 10pm and onto route 15 on the Canadian side where we camped 10 miles after crossing the border. At Quebec, I needed to be sure to take the northern road (route 138). The ride from Quebec along the river was very scenic, with the houses generally being very well maintained and colorfully painted, even the roofs.
On Sunday July 01. 2012 at around 5pm after 625 miles from NYC, 50 kmts from La Malbaie, Canada on route 138. Carlos and Daniela decided to go back home due that Daniela’s 1986 Honda Rebel 250cc kept on breaking down on the second day and finally lost power and will not go faster that 45mph. I was very sad.
From Quebec City, the 100 miles to Baie-Comeau was fairly straight and surprisingly large town, French speaking – although there were some road works here and there. Not a bad surface. I rode at 70mph most of the last 50 miles through the forests, although the early part of it had quite a bit of slow traffic – camper vans and such. The route included a 10 minute Ferry ride, from Baie Ste. Catherine to Tadoussac (where I stayed camping for $32 Canadian dollars). The weather was beautiful in the afternoon and evening, with the temperature being in the 60′s. There was very little traffic the last 50 miles. Gas was very expensive once we crossed the border into Canada, and it was even more so out towards Baie-Comeau where the road from Baie-Comeau was fairly good.
Km 0: Baie Comeau. is where this road begins. I arrived here on July, Monday 02, 2012. This is the last town until Fermont and Labrador City (585km from Baje Comeau). From route 138 I made a left turn heading north on route 389 to Manic Cinq (5), where my journey to ride the Trans Labrador Highway (TLH) starts. Also From here to Manic 5 (214km) the road is paved, but it is twisty, narrow, and very hilly, with no real shoulder. No gas until the Manic 5 dam, 214km to the north. I had headed out at 9am from the Tadoussac camping grounds after breakfast and reached Manic Cinq, the giant hydro-electric station around 1pm.,
214 kilometers from Baie Comeau to Manic Five. Gas and accommodations at Energy Motel at Manic Five -no town here, restaurant, liquor, and Manic 5 T-shirts are about all that is available. Gas @ 1.30 cents/litre (July 2012). Another day and 585 km, and I would reach the province of Labrador and the start of the TLH. After Manic 5, the blacktop road abruptly ceased, and the gravel road started. It was quite easy to drive on, although one element of danger was the fact that some of the heavy trucks were terribly poorly lit. They threw up so much dust that it would have been very easy to run into the back of one. The first I one I saw I nearly rear-ended, because I came up on him quite fast – it wasn’t clear that there was a truck there; it could have been a dust cloud from a truck further up the road.
175 kilometers from Manic 5 to Gagnon. (ghost town). Gas, restaurant and accommodations at Motel Relais Gabriel, which is just 100 kilometres past Manic Five and 75 kilometers before the ghost town of Gagnon. No towns here, just food and gas. I didn't see a "motel" of the usual standards, only some shacks and unfortunately they did not had any room available for me when I stopped here at 5pm but they allowed me to setup my tent. Showers are $12 and beer $6.50. Seems this would be suitable for anyone stranded or needing a rest, or perhaps hunters. Gas @ 1.35 cents/litre (July 2012). In this part of the world the sun goes down at 10pm and comes up at 3:30am. The land here is unspoiled, raw and untamed, and where moose gently amble across the road or stand in all their huge magnificence, commanding you to slow down and gently drive by.
On July, Tuesday 03, 2012 at 8:30am after breakfast I left Relais Gabriel toward Labrador City and trying really hard to reach Churchill Falls but it was getting too late and instead I setup my tent at another truck stop.
Gagnon to Fire Lake, 89 kilometers. Gagnon is a ghost town with nothing but old pavement left behind. Fire Lake is an open pit mine that is no longer active. No gas, towns, stores or any other facilities along this section.
Twisting gravel road made without dynamite or much cost. Rumour has it that this was built by striking workers, and it looks it. Any place there is water, the road goes around rather than over it. Any place there is a rocky hill the road goes around rather than through it. At one point they steal the gravel base of the railway track to carve a wedge in that and call it a road. This section crosses the railway tracks about 8 times and so you must stop to look out for an iron ore train. Locals call it "the trail".
Labrador City to Churchill Falls, 238 kilometers – Route 500. There are plenty of facilities available in Labrador City (lots of Philipinos workers here). There are no gas stations, towns, stores or other facilities in route to Churchill Falls.
After seven glorious hours and 238 km of driving over loose gravel, across the backbone of the continent, the route crosses the once mighty Churchill River on the Brinco Bridge to ‘Churchill Falls’. Churchill Falls has some facilities but this is largely a "company town", meaning there is very little in the way of private enterprises. There is one hotel, one gas station, one grocery store, one convenience store. The Black Spruce Lodge is a former guest trailer complex and is much cheaper than the local hotel.
I was told by some local that in order for you to live here you must be contracted by one of the companies and when you retire you MUST leave – housing is for the employees and their primary families only.
Churchill Falls is home to a massive hydro–electric dam project - the largest underground powerhouse in the world. The only hotel in town, ‘The Churchill Falls Inn’ can arrange underground tours of the project. The town itself has a very temporary ‘Lego’ feel of uniformity to it. Slant clapperboard houses, solely occupied by the 300 ‘Hydro Company’ workers, who apart from a payment of $100 per month, live rent free. Labrador is on Atlantic Time, one hour ahead of Eastern Standard Time. In Churchill Falls, gas @ 1.24 cents/liter (July, Wed 04, 2012).
Churchill Falls to Happy Valley - Goose Bay, 288 kilometers – Route 500. (Thursday, July 05, 2012). No gas stations, stores, towns, or other facilities along this route until Goose Bay. Plenty of facilities available in Happy Valley - Goose Bay.
Now you can travel further east (600 gravel kilometers) and south from Happy Valley - Goose Bay. Prior to 2009, travel beyond this point was only possible by ferry. Now you can drive from Goose Bay down to the Forteau region. From Forteau, it is a short trip across the Quebec border to Blanc Sablon. There is a short ferry one hour crossing to St. Barbe, Newfoundland.
This section is the worst section of this highway, but it is currently being upgraded due to washouts. Extra caution is required if this section continues to lack road signs.
Happy Valley-Goose Bay – Port Hope Simpson, 400 Kilometers – Route 510. (Friday, July 06, 2012). I arrived at Happy Valley-Goose Bay, a merger of two towns, yet with only 7500 people and a motley mix of architecture. Their claim to fame is located at number 5 Wing Goose Bay – an address that houses a strategic US air force base and where the longest runway in the world still exists. The site, chosen because it is one of the most sparsely settled areas of Canada, was an invaluable base for the British during the Falklands and Gulf War conflicts for our Vulcan Bombers. I took a look around the base and found one still standing proudly, as a monument, along with immense hangar buildings, a control tower, outbuildings, all still looking powerful and impressive, but eerily deserted.
Just before I left Goose Bay on July, Thu 05, 2012. I purchase a rear tire since the gravel ate my 2000 miles tire.
Port Hope Simpson – L’ Anse-au-Loup Forteau, 200 Kilometers – Route 510. (Saturday, July 07,2012). On this highway there were times when I felt I was the only person on it with lots of emptiness. The 400 km across to Port Hope Simpson was ‘a whole lot of nothing’ - an exhilarating snaking road. On the ultimate speed-restriction-free experience. I arrived at the timber constructed Alexis Hotel at 11pm set by the waters edge provided a comfortable night’s sleep and veranda breakfast in the morning but got up from bed at 2am just to give me enough time to catch the 10:45am ferry leaving L’ Anse-au-Loup to the one hour crossing to St. Barbe, Newfoundland – I arrived at 10:50am missing the ferry. Next ferry was at 3pm.
With the throttle open, I realized that I could never get bored here. This is one of Canada’s last great wildernesses where inland wildlife roams in spectacular numbers. All that summer daylight (15 hours) and big blue skies gave me an all consuming feeling of calm; a watch is pretty redundant in these parts, it is easy to lose track of time when gazing at such grandeur.
Time Zone: Labrador is in the Atlantic Time Zone which is Greenwich Mean Time -4 hours, it also observes Daylight Savings between the months of April and October when the difference is GMT -3 hours. Climate: Labrador tends to be cool with average July temperatures between 10 and 13 degrees Celsius and January about -18 degrees Celsius, it can be as cold as -51 degrees Celsius in Western Labrador. The annual precipitation varies from about 40 inches in the south east to 20 inches in the extreme north. The annual snowfall is around five meters.