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ADV Rides10 Lessons Learned The Hard Way On The Trans-Labrador Highway

10 Lessons Learned The Hard Way On The Trans-Labrador Highway

 Useful tips to help you get across one of the loneliest roads in North America.

Published on 09.07.2017

“Is this it? Did the Trans-Labrador Highway beat us?”, – thoughts of uncertainty raced through my head as I watched my bike dangle helplessly off a logging truck’s crane. Lucy, my trusty Suzuki DR650, had gone from Mighty to Lifeless in mere seconds, and getting stranded in the middle of nowhere in Labrador was now a very real possibility. Frantically swatting hordes of black flies and mosquitoes away and trying to ignore our squelching boots, we loaded my dead motorcycle onto the truck hoping to get help in the next settlement some sixty miles away.

Endless woods on both sides of the road whispered angrily in the wind, and the skies darkened over the horizon threating with rain. My partner, Paul, struggled to start his bike, and we both fell silent for a moment. How did we get here?

Tips To Help You Survive the Trans Lab

The Trans-Labrador Highway is considered one of the loneliest roads to ride in North America. Labrador is a remote region of northeastern Canada, and the Trans-Labrador Highway is the only road connecting Blanc Sablon in the East and Labrador City in the West. It can also get rough: although it has ‘highway’ in its name, the road is anything but. Hundreds of miles of dirt, gravel, potholes, corrugations and unpredictable weather can turn the road into an impassable mess within a matter of hours. But it is the remoteness and unspoiled pristine wilderness that makes the Trans Lab one of adventure riders’ bucket list destinations in North America.

Trans-Labrador Highway
Food, fuel and lodging are scarce in Labrador – prepare to be self-sufficient for at least two days.

After an extremely unlucky month in Newfoundland and Labrador, we counted our losses: a broken luggage rack and shattered battery internals on my bike, fractured frame on Paul’s, dust and dirt-clogged air filters, brake pads wearing at an alarmingly higher rate than usual, a broken spoke, one dead phone, and one pair of waterproof boots that turned out to be water-welcoming.

Week after week of icy cold weather and relentless rain, unexpected allergy to black fly bites, the world’s biggest crane game and a hitch-hiking stunt later, Paul and I finally arrived in Labrador City with plans to someday tackle the whole Trans Canada Adventure Trail: the remoteness of Northern Canada is awe-inspiring, and completing the whole TCAT is still in our plans.

But in the meantime, there were bikes to be fixed, and lessons to be learned. True, it’s impossible to prepare for everything, but these ten tips will help you plan a smoother Trans-Labrador Highway ride:

1. Mind the Beasts

The black bear population in Newfoundland and Labrador is flourishing, but your #1 headache won’t be a furry teddy: black flies and mosquitos are absolutely horrendous in Labrador, so make sure you have a seriously strong insect repellent as well as a head net (or even an anti-mosquito jacket). You might be allergic to black fly bites and not know it, so stash some Benadryl in your tank bag just in case!

2. Talk to the Weatherman

Danell's record setting 53,000+ mile journey

Yes, it’s hard to predict bad weather, but managing seasons is key to riding across Labrador. Summers are short and autumns are harsh and cold, so be sure to tackle the Trans Lab between the beginning of July and the end of August. Once the summer is over, it’s over: freezing cold temperatures and relentless rain can ruin the adventure quicker than bike trouble.

3. Stock The Pantry

However well prepared you are, the unexpected may still happen. Getting stranded in Labrador can mean serious trouble, so make sure you have at least two to four liters of water and enough food for a minimum of two days. That way, even if you do run into problems, at least you’ll be able to get help or find a solution yourself without the added stress of being hungry and thirsty. Insider tip: buy your food in Blanc Sablon, not on Newfoundland Island – it’s cheaper there, and the port has a well-stocked supermarket right before you hit the Trans-Labrador Highway.

4. Hold Your Horses

Trans-Labrador Highway Adventure Motorcycle

The Trans-Labrador Highway can be a thrill: on some stretches, there’s nothing and no one for hundreds of miles, and keeping the throttle wide open might seem like a fun idea. Trouble is, truck drivers have the exact same idea and sometimes come straight at you at breakneck speed, so err on the side of caution. On top of that, the road is sometimes crisscrossed by corrugations and potholes, so racing carelessly might mean a broken luggage rack or even a fractured frame!

5. Check Your Range

There are 251 miles between Port Hope Simpson and Happy Valley-Goose Bay, and then another 178 to Churchill Falls. Make sure you have enough fuel to cover these distances between petrol stations.

6. Ask for Help

Trans-Labrador Highway Adventure Motorcycle

Ran into trouble? There’s no shame in asking for help if you can’t fix the problem yourself. People in Labrador are incredibly friendly, generous, and hospitable, so if you’re lucky and see a car coming, seize the opportunity and flag them down. And remember – there’s no phone signal on most of the Trans-Labrador Highway, so a smile goes a long way!

7. Stop for Moose

Moose are almost as plentiful as mosquitoes in Newfoundland and Labrador, and they’re unpredictable: if you see one on the road, just stop and wait until it walks away. And don’t ever get between a mama moose and her calves: moose might look cute and awkward, but they will charge if their young feel threatened.

8. Beware of the Graders

If you notice orange cones scattered across the road, or a grader left on the side, slow down: when the road is freshly graded, there’s usually a long narrow stretch of soft dirt right in the middle. If you hit it at speed, it can be much harder to control the bike.

9. Know Your Bike

Trans-Labrador Highway Adventure Motorcycle

Make sure you can fix the most common problems on your bike (like flat tires or slack chain) and have all the essential tools to do so: breaking down in the middle of nowhere can mean long hours before anyone comes along to help you. Carrying spare tubes, tire patches, chain lube, and an air pump can make a difference between camping in a ditch and reaching your destination!

10. Parlez-vous Français?

Once you leave Labrador City and head West, you’re in Quebec: a French – speaking province. Be respectful and at least manage a ‘bonjour’ – The Quebecers feel very strongly about their language!

Photos by Paul Stewart
Egle Gerulaityte Author ProfileAbout the Author: Riding around the world extra slowly and not taking it too seriously, Egle Gerulaityte is always on the lookout for interesting stories. Editor of the Women ADV Riders magazine, Egle focuses on ordinary people doing extraordinary things and hopes to bring travel inspiration to all two-wheeled maniacs out there.

Author: Egle Gerulaityte

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8 thoughts on “10 Lessons Learned The Hard Way On The Trans-Labrador Highway

  1. While I always love reading about people’s impression of the place I live, invariably, there’s going to be errors.
    Icebergs are not present all the time, there is a very defined season for them, and unfortunately, there are relatively few places along the trans-lab where they are visible.
    Also, there’s no forestry industry in Labrador, despite the vast stretches of forest. So, no logging trucks. Ever. There are, of course, plenty of tractor-trailers hauling freight of various kinds. And you won’t see any bull-dozers along the road, but graders are common.
    I’ll agree with the author that July and August are the best months for travelling Labrador, but some of my best trips across Labrador have been as late as October. We can have really nice weather in September and October.
    All in all, though, some really good advice!

  2. Regarding #4 and #5: Can you suggest whether to schedule by # of days, or by # of miles / day? That is, did you attempt to hold a set # of days schedule, and then travel miles to cover the days, or did you set a # of miles per day goal, and aim for that?

    • Thank you Bob! Frankly, we just winged it. I’d say, just make sure you have enough fuel (we both have tanks that cover a 400 mile range) and that you’re fully self-sufficient to wild camp if need be. There’s an abandoned campsite in Happy Valley – Goose Bay by the river (just ask the locals, it’s a little tricky to find), and in Churchill Falls, the owners of the gas station are super friendly and will probably let you camp there. Or, just wild camp anywhere but be cautious about bears!:) Most of the time, if we don’t know what lies ahead, we improvise – aim at around 180-200 miles a day if it’s easy dirt like the Trans Lab, 100-150 if it’s technical, and 250-300 if it’s pavement; our only rules are: a)always have enough water and food for at least 2 days b)don’t gamble with visas – if they run out, out of the country we go, too. No scheduling beyond that:)

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