By the time you read this, I’ll be en route to Labrador … I hope. For months now, I’ve been planning a trip on the Trans-Labrador Highway by motorcycle.
There are a couple of reasons for this.
First off, it’s almost a rite of passage for east coast adventure riders. Want a challenge? There’s nothing like a romp through the potholed back roads and gravel tracks of Labrador and western Newfoundland.
You can’t get lost, as there’s only one way in and out, but you can get run off the road by a gravel truck, stomped by a moose, chewed by a bear or horribly disfigured by black flies. Or, your ferry could hit an iceberg and sink, or you could run out of gas on the highway and succumb to hypothermia, or … you get the idea. If everything goes right, the Trans-Lab is a fairly straightforward trip, but as soon as something goes wrong, you can get into serious trouble, because most of the route travels through wilderness.
Secondly, CMG has some unfinished business on the Trans-Lab. All the way back in 2011, Editor ‘Arris and partner-in-crime Jim Vernon reckoned they’d tackle the road. Everything went swimmingly until Jim wrecked his BMW F800 GS at speed. He was shipped back to Newfoundland for medical attention, the Beemer was shipped to Montreal via a random passing pickup truck, and CMG never did complete the trip (unless you count Mark’s shameful cop-out, traveling the road by car).
So, I’m hoping to pick up where CMG has failed before, and finally conquer the Trans-Labrador Highway.
The Trans-Labrador Highway itself is roughly 1,250 kilometres long. Ten years ago, the Trans-Lab was mostly graded gravel. The province has been on a paving spree recently; now the gravel is mostly restricted to the stretch between Happy Valley-Goose Bay and Port Hope Simpson. That 400-km stretch also doesn’t have any gas stations.
The western end of the Trans-Labrador Highway lies at the Quebec-Labrador border, just before Labrador City. From there, the road runs easterly through mainland Labrador back toward the Strait of Belle Isle.
There, you can cross back into Quebec, at the isolated settlement of Blanc-Sablon, and catch a ferry to the island of Newfoundland. When you’re on the island, you ride south and grab one of the Newfoundland-Nova Scotia ferries, and then ride home.
At least, that’s the way you’d do it if headed clockwise, and that’s how I’m headed. Some riders recommend going counter-clockwise, as sometimes it can make it easier to catch the ferries to and from Newfoundland. However, I want to tackle Quebec’s Route 389, the twisty, remote road from Baie Comeau to the Labrador border, on a fresh set of tires.
The Trans-Labrador is the point of the trip, but everyone I’ve talked to about it says the sections through northern Quebec and western Newfoundland are more enjoyable than the Trans-Lab itself, with better scenery and roads. Is it true? I’ll find out for myself, I guess.
The prep work
I’ve heard of riders going to extreme lengths to prepare for a Trans-Lab trip (bags of spare parts and tools), and I’ve also heard of riders who’ve done nothing except put a set of aggressive tires on a street bike for the trip.
I’m taking my 2009 Yamaha WR250R, and have made a few changes. The stock 7.5-litre fuel tank has less than 200 km range, so I’ve replaced it with an 18.5-litre aftermarket tank from IMS, acquired via eBay.
Even in summer, Labrador can be cold, and it’ll certainly be rainy, so I’ve added a cable for a heated jacket. The bike’s previous owner had crudely installed a set of heated grips (bare wires twisted around battery terminals!). I re-wired those, added a lead for a heated jacket, and also added a generic found-on-Amazon phone mount with charging port. I connected all the electric accessories to a terminal strip, with a five-pin relay that stops the accessories from running unless the key’s turned on. No dead battery for me, thanks!
I didn’t want to go crazy with protective bits, but the bike has the minimum; it came with handguards and a skidplate, and I bought a radiator guard from Force Accessories in Australia. That’s probably overkill, though.
On this trip, I’ll be using Giant Loop luggage, including a Diablo Pro tankbag, a Coyote saddlebag and a Tillamook tailbag. I’ve used previous versions of some of this gear, and found it offered a lot of functionality with little weight, which is very important when you’re riding a 250.
And on that note: Why bring a 250 in the first place, especially when I have a DR650, and could probably get a press bike for the trip?
The main reason for the 250 was its fuel economy. The 18.5-litre tank should be just about enough to get me through the Trans-Lab’s longest stretches between fuel stops. My DR650 has a gas tank that’s the same size, but it’s only good for half the range, thanks to the tuned-up engine and pumper carburetor.
Plus, it’s possible the smaller bike may make the trip easier, at least in the gravel sections. I’ll be less tempted to go too fast, which has been the downfall of many an adventure rider on the Trans Lab.
The Trans-Lab trip was supposed to start Friday, July 5, but the Yamaha had a leaky fork seal, and no amount of cleaning would fix it. I ordered the spares in and they arrived on Friday. Now, I’ll leave Saturday morning, and hopefully reach Baie Comeau by Saturday night, where the adventure really begins.
Will it all go CMG? Keep an eye here and on CMG’s Facebook page, and find out!