BMW Owners News
ContributorsFind Your CrossroadsShe Rides a Beemer

A rite of passage (Part 1)

Read Part 2 | Part 3

The Trans-Labrador Highway is a bucket-list route for many riders scattered across Canada and the US. Considered one of the most remote highways in North America, the highway winds from Quebec’s boreal forests to the rugged coastline of Labrador leading to the island of Newfoundland. Along the highway, there is no cell service between towns for stretches of over 400 kilometers (250 miles) and no services—including fuel stations—meaning a break down could mean waiting more than a day before a tow truck can even show up.

That said, there is a benefit to a highway this remote¬: drivers on the highway are a community. If a vehicle is pulled off on the side of the road, everyone stops to check in. This is great in theory, but with so few people living in this remote area of Canada, one might be waiting for an extended period before someone actually drives by. With all this going for us, the one thought on my mind was: “Please don’t let us get a flat tire;” my tire changing skills are not the best, and trial by fire did not excite me.

The evening of our arrival into Labrador City had brought with it an intense storm. Lightning blazed across the sky as the rain hammered down on the pavement outside. From the window of the bed and breakfast we called home that night, I watched the rain come down on our bikes and hoped the last day of our 13-day marathon would be blessed by the sun. The previous two days had been long as we tackled Route 389 through northern Quebec. I knew the part of the trip that had worried Janel the most was now over, and I noticed a big change in her mood. Even with the rain pouring down outside, Janel’s outlook was positive: I saw a pride in my wife that I did not often see. Janel had accomplished something few others had done, and she was proud of herself. Even a torrential rainstorm couldn’t negatively impact her good mood.

By morning, the worst of the storm was over, and the sun was beginning to peek through the clouds. With only 250 kms (155 miles) to ride that day, we decided to visit the local museum and Welcome Center Gateway Labrador for a quick history lesson on Labrador before hitting the road to Churchill Falls. However, while there, we were given the unpleasant news (or pleasant news, depending on whether you saw it from mine or Janel’s perspective) that the Labrador Highway had officially been completely paved as of the day of our arrival in Labrador. Yes, the paving of the whole 1,149 km (714 miles) highway had actually been completed the day we arrived in Labrador. The project had officially begun in 1997, and after 25 years of construction, we were going to be some of the first motorcycles to ride the highway in all its paved glory. I was a little heartbroken that our dirt riding was coming to an end so soon, but I knew by the look on Janel’s face that the suitcase of dirt riding stress Janel had been carrying on her back had quickly dissipated with this news. With one of us happy, and the other a little disappointed, we threw our legs over the bikes and carried on to find what Labrador had in store for us.

It didn’t take long for us to notice the remoteness for which Labrador was famous. Ten kilometres outside of Labrador City, the largest bull moose I had ever seen with a rack that would make any photographer drool, strode across the highway into the never-ending swampy muskeg. The moose was the first sign of life we had seen since leaving Labrador City and was the only life we would see for the next hundred or so kilometres. About halfway to Churchill Falls we pulled off on so called shoulder of the highway. With limited traffic, the shoulders are almost non-existent and instead just drop off into a four-foot ditch into the muskeg. We chose to use a mileage sign’s base as our pull out for a quick snack break. People around Canada had really hyped up the bug problem in Labrador: black flies and mosquitos are the most notorious. However, when we pulled into our makeshift rest stop, we were pleasantly surprised by the limited number of flying annoyances.

“I think all this bug talk is just hype,” I said to Janel. She looked at me in that look of a knowing woman and said, “Maybe just wait until we have made it across Labrador before you go jinxing us.”

A few hours later a grated bridge welcomed us across the Churchill River and into the town of Churchill Falls. A company town based around the generating station, Churchill Falls has about 730 residents, one gas station and one hotel. For some reason, our GPS wasn’t picking up our hotel’s location. Seeing a police cruiser at a four way stop, I flagged the officer down.

“What da ya at there, b’y?” he asked in a strong Newfoundland accent.

“Thanks for stopping,” I responded politely. “We are trying to find the Height of the Land Hotel.”

“Oh yes, b’y! Alright, watta ya need ta do is head er down that der way…. Ahh f*** it. Ya jus follow me.”

Without waiting for a response, he went up the road and spun back around for us to follow him. We then rode through the small town with our very own police escort to the Height of the Land Hotel in Churchill Falls.

As we pulled into what looked like a recreation center parking lot, the officer stopped and explained that Churchill Falls has one main building that houses the library, hotel, grocery store, and any other thing the town might need. He then gave us directions to the hotel in the building and left us to our own devices.

That evening while we were enjoying dinner, Carvey Noble, the owner of the Height of the Land Hotel came over and introduced himself. Dressed in a khaki short sleeve dress shirt, black work pants, and some serious hiking boots, Carvey gave off the vibe of an outdoorsman who took his business seriously. When Carvey spoke however, he made us feel welcome, and we could hear and feel the pride he took in his home of Labrador.

I asked him some questions about the generating station and the area surrounding Churchill Falls, and while answering my questions, Carvey offered to take us on a tour the following day. We quickly agreed as we (and our butts) were excited to take a day off from the bikes after 13 days straight of riding.

After a solid night’s sleep, we met Carvey in the parking lot at 8:30 AM; he was waiting next to his black Hummer and was ready to tour us through this remote area. As we hopped into the vehicle, Carvey told us that our first stop would be the short hike to the actual Churchill Falls for which the town was named.

“Great!” I replied to this news. “I brought my drone, and the light is fantastic for photographs today.”

“Oh, you will want to be careful.” Carvey replied. “If you crash your drone out there, there isn’t any way to get it back.”

Where the drone went to die.

This was the point where Janel told the story of how I lost my first drone in the close quarter buildings of Budapest, Hungary. While Janel and I laughed with Carvey at my misfortune from several years previous, I explained how I had already learned my lesson and I was sure my drone would make it back safely.

The trail to the Churchill Falls is only about three kilometres (1.69 miles). When we arrived at our first viewpoint of the falls my jaw dropped; we stood at the top of a massive valley with steep green cliffs surrounding the river below. It looked like a combination between South Africa’s Victoria Falls and the Grand Canyon. I took my bag off and quickly flew the drone.

Flying down to the far end of the canyon I could see the edges of the falls, and I knew I had to get a panoramic shot of the water smashing down into the river below. As I panned back towards us—to really draw the viewer into the story—I thought “I can’t see the drone, I better not go too wide.” That was when the drone smacked into a tree, and I watched through the monitor as it tumbled down the cliff and into the river below. Watching the drone roll and roll and roll, hurt my soul a little bit. I turned towards Janel and Carvey waiting to be admonished due to my stupidity, but instead, Janel shrugged and said “Well, I guess we need to budget for a new drone.” Carvey gave a short laugh and said we could go look for it, but it was unlikely we would find it. With my head hanging low, we continued the hike out to the falls.

After spending about half an hour viewing the falls, we hiked back out to the Hummer and Carvey took us to the reservoirs that feed the generating station. Driving along the dikes was a surreal experience, roads made of dirt piled over 10 metres high at points, with water on one side and thick forest on the other. I thought how great it would be to ride the motorcycles along here when Carvey mentioned a lot of ATV riders try to ride up the dikes which often leads to rollovers.

“Maybe another time then,” I laughed.

After our tour of the dikes, we headed down to the Churchill River where Carvey had a boat waiting to take us fishing. As the boat pulled up near to the generating station that is literally built into the valley cliffs, I grabbed a fishing rod and cast it out into the river.

Janel’s mouth dropped open: “You know how to fish!?” she exclaimed.

“Of course!” I said, likely more firmly than I needed; I was still feeling stupid about losing my drone earlier that day. “I grew up in small town British Columbia. I know all kinds or rural things.” It’s always great to still be able to surprise your wife after three years of marriage. Unfortunately, my skills at fishing weren’t up to par, and neither Carvey nor myself caught a single fish. Instead, we had a fascinating tour of the river as we cruised up and down exploring the different areas. It was very peaceful as we were the only people on the river and the water was glass calm. It felt as though Labrador was welcoming us. As per usual on this cross-country trip, we were incorrect.

That evening we watched as storm clouds closed in and a downpour unlike anything we had seen yet crashed down on the small community of Churchill Falls. I enjoyed our day in the sunshine, and the boat ride would have been horrible if it had rained, but come on, enough was enough; it was July! Where was summer!? Why is the Labrador Highway all paved!? Where is my drone!? UGH! With my frustration kicking into overdrive, I went to bed and hoped for a sunny morning.

Rising early, I packed up the bikes as the rain came and went several times in 20 minutes. After fueling up we had about a 300-km (186-mile) ride to Happy Valley-Goose Bay. Dark clouds sat low in the sky as we road east. Trees lined the road tightly creating a tunnel effect as we tore down the newly laid asphalt. Like most of Labrador, there were no services on this route. Unlike the road to Churchill Falls however, there were several pullouts along the way. We took advantage of these to stretch our legs, use the bathroom, and have a quick snack. At the first pullout I took my helmet off, and within seconds realized my mistake as I was swarmed by hundreds of black flies. The bugs attacked at full force while I tried to undo my Klim riding pants so I could relieve myself. Janel mocked me for my previous comment about the bugs in Labrador, all while I prayed I would not get a bite in an unkind location. With lessons learnt, each time we stopped thereafter, our helmets stayed on except for when we needed quick gulps of water.

Later that day, we pulled into the parking lot at the Royal Inn and Suites in Happy Valley-Goose Bay and were welcomed to a rather large apartment with chocolate and fancy coffee waiting for us. At this point we were halfway across Labrador. The next half of the trip would take us through the 404 km stretch of nothing, to an old harbor town, and finally to the island of Newfoundland. I am sure there will be more bugs and rain along the way.

Things to do and places to stay in and around Labrador City and Churchill Falls

Gateway Labrador
This beautiful museum loaded with tourism information and located right as you come into Labrador City should be your first stop as you arrive in Labrador. The very kind and knowledgeable staff will give you the up and up on what the province has to offer you on your ride. Plus, it’s completely free!

Height of the Land Hotel
There is only one hotel in Churchill Falls and although you might not a get a police escort there, it is a fantastic hotel. Very quiet rooms with AC that will set you up for a comfortable night’s sleep. The restaurant offers a variety of meals including delicious pizza. At CA$169 (US$125) a night, it is worth stopping in to explore the area.

Touring Churchill Falls
There aren’t a lot of tourism options in Churchill Falls; however, Carvey Noble, the owner of Height of the Land Hotel, runs a small business where he does tours by car and fishing tours in his boat. He knows everything about the area. His prices are reasonable. If you really want to learn about Churchill Falls and Labrador, reach out to him via the hotel. It is well worth it. Email using the “Touring Churchill Falls” link above or call at (709) 925-3211.

Read Part 2 | Part 3