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A rite of passage (Part 3)

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Labrador is a beautiful, unforgiving landscape. Over our past two articles, I have tried to show its wonders, along with its hazards, but I don’t think I ever stated how much we loved Labrador. It was easily one of the main highlights of our cross-Canada expedition. Having left Battle Harbour behind us, we were excited to get back on the bikes and explore more of this ruggedly beautiful landscape. Labrador seemed to have the same feelings for us, as over the next three days, it did everything in its power to keep us locked within its borders.

After a sunny ferry ride from Battle Harbour back to the bikes, we packed our gear and prepared for a short 122 km (75 mile) ride from Mary’s Harbour to West Saint Modeste. We were in high spirts after our relaxing holiday away from the bikes: our butts had a break and the aches and pains in our knees, elbows and back had been rested away. About 25 kms into our ride however, a thick fog descended over the landscape, draping the hills and road in layers of dark, damp clouds that limited our visibility to only a few metres in front of us. A cross wind then suddenly picked up, and even our fully loaded bikes were getting blown all over the road. Janel’s anxiety about riding slowly returned so we decided to just move at a snail’s pace. Going about 40 kph (25 mph) we were getting closer to our destination; however, the wind was not easing up, nor was visibility improving.

“This sucks!” Janel, obviously distressed called to me though our Cardos.

“It isn’t fun, that’s for sure.” I replied. “The slower we go, the longer we are out in this garbage weather, but if we speed up, we could, you know, die. I don’t think we are too far from Red Bay, maybe we should pull in there and see if we can get a hotel.”

Within moments of my suggestion, drops of rain started to hit my visor as the fog and wind mutated into fog, wind and rain. The rain was the final straw, and I could hear in Janel’s voice that she was done. I kept trying to keep her motivated with the good old “if everything goes according to plan it’s not an adventure!” talk, but she wasn’t having it. Finally, wet and grumpy after another hour of dark, wet roads, we saw the turn off to Red Bay.

With the fog and rain still coming down we couldn’t see much ahead of us. After about 300 meters, there were some people on the side of the road, and then more and more, then more just walking down the middle of the road. As we honked to get them to move, we asked each other what was going on? This was a town with a population of 169 people, who were all these randoms? As we pulled up to the only hotel and restaurant in town, the “Whaler’s Station Restaurant and Cabins,” we saw hordes of people. Again, I wondered what the heck was going on? As I parked my bike, way off in the distance shrouded in the fog, I saw a massive cruise ship anchored off shore. Not having done much research on Red Bay we questioned: “Why on earth is there a cruise ship here?” The answer to that question was not a priority, we needed some food and a place to dry off.

I left Janel with the bikes and went inside to try and find out if there was somewhere we could rest for the night, as the weather wasn’t improving. After dodging hundreds of cruise goers, I spoke to the owner’s daughter who said they were fully booked for the night. “I don’t know if you have been outside,” I said, “but the weather out there isn’t great for riding a motorcycle. We are happy to just pay someone to sleep in their basement. Literally, anything will do.”

At that point she locked eyes with me, and I could see her understand that we just needed to get off the road. “Let me speak to my parents and I will see what I can do.”

“Dust…com….side…quick… Your…. bi……” Janel was trying to speak to me, but her outside and me inside was not conducive to the Cardos’ functionality.

I told the kind woman I would be right back, and when I walked outside, I saw my bike had tipped over in the wind and several men were trying to convince Janel to let them pick it up.

“Oh, thank God you came out. It just blew over!” She said to me.

“All good, let’s get it up.” Janel took her position standing on the rear tire as I lifted from the handle bars. As I checked over the bike, the hotel/restaurant owner came out to tell us we could stay in their basement apartment at their house. She explained that her husband “Bim” would lead us to the house, where we could unload the bikes and then he would bring us back to the restaurant in his truck to get a hot meal in us. With expressions that were a mix of gratitude, excitement, and hunger after hearing about a warm meal, Janel and I hopped on the bikes and followed Bim to our new home for the next two days.

The following day, the rain stopped and the sun was out to warm our backs. I did a bit of maintenance on my bike after the drop (or tip over), and then we went to explore the UNESCO World Heritage site that is Red Bay (hence the cruise ship). Red Bay’s waters use to be jam packed full of right and bowhead whales and thus in the 1500s Spanish and French whalers made the area their prime hunting grounds. The history here is fascinating, but being a huge fan of whales, it made me a little sad to read about how many used to swim past this area. With whales now being a protected species in most of the world, many have returned. Even now in Red Bay, you can watch the whales in the distance splash around during sunset cruises while learning about the history of the area.

With the cruise ship gone, Janel and I wandered the quiet town and its museum, trying to understand the greed that went along with whaling. As much as I found it upsetting, I do believe it is important to understand our history, good and bad. However, about halfway through the day, I started to feel a little under the weather. My throat was sore, and my head felt like it was loaded full of cement. Janel and I were supposed to head out on one of the sunset cruises, but I told her she should just go as I was in rough shape and feared I could get other people ill as we were still in the late chapters of COVID-19. After some convincing, Janel headed off on the sunset cruise.

She returned a few hours later to see me curled up in bed looking like death had taken my soul a little earlier than planned. To try to brighten my spirits, she told me stories of the cruise where a woman sang beautiful traditional Labrador songs and played her guitar and she watched the sun set over the land as the yellow and orange glow radiated off the calm ocean in the bay. Her story made me happy, and before she and I both knew it, I was sound asleep.

In the morning, I awoke with some sweats and knew I had full blown COVID-19. The only thing I could think of were the cruise passengers–I must have picked it up from them as we had not spent much time around anyone since leaving Ontario.

I pulled up our Excel sheet with our route on it and saw we had an 80 km (50 mile) ride to Blanc-Sablon, Quebec, where we would catch our ferry to Newfoundland. From there, we had another 117 km (72 mile) ride to a house we had rented in Englee, Newfoundland. This ride was likely to be on some of the worst paved roads Newfoundland has to offer. Realizing this was not the day to be attempting this ride, I called Labrador Marine Inc, to change our reservation and was told the next possible ferry with room for us was a week away.

“I don’t think you can ride Dustin,” Janel said, with a look of concern on her face.

“What other choice do I have?” I croaked. “We can’t stay here a week, we have too many things booked that we can’t change at this point. Let’s just get moving,” I stated while rolling myself off the bed. Janel accepted this with a sour look.

Once we got moving, I felt a lot better. The fresh air and the nice weather did me some good. We stopped at a small market where Janel went in and bought snacks and food for us to cook once we arrived in our house that evening, and we headed the last few kilometres to the ferry terminal. Once Janel had checked us in at the office, I took off my helmet, wrapped two masks around my face, and sprawled out on the pavement next to the bikes awaiting the ferry which was already over an hour late.

“Hey Dustin,” I suddenly heard from above me.

I opened my eyes to see the shadow of a man silhouetted in the sun. I sat up and realized it was Peter, from Battle Harbour.

“I thought,” he continued, “Dustin is either excessively hung over, or he is in rough shape.”

We laughed about me feeling like someone had removed my brain and poured thick oatmeal into my empty skull cavity, and I warned him I likely had COVID-19. He kept his distance but then mentioned he had some of those buns from Battle Harbour and knowing how much we loved them, he gave Janel a few for us to take on the ferry. As Peter said his goodbyes and invited us to return to Battle Harbour one day in the future, a few more motorcycles pulled up to wait for the already very late ferry.

The first two bikes to pull up were two gentleman who were riding across North America. Interestingly enough, I recognized one of them from the BMW MOA Facebook group. I had seen Michael’s posts on the group and messaged him to see if we could meet up along the way. He didn’t think we would overlap, but low and behold, we ended up at the ferry at the same time. We exchanged some stories while we waited and he snapped a few photographs. It is always great to run into fellow BMW MOA members.

You never know when you’ll encounter another MOA member!

The next person to pull up was Paul from Montreal. I was looking at his 90/10 road tires on his 650 Versys, and asked, “Did you ride Route 389 on those?” His reply was an astounding yes; he then went into details about his journey to Labrador.

Paul explained that he and three of his friends left Montreal together to ride Route 389 and the Trans-Labrador Highway into Newfoundland, across Nova Scotia, and back to Montreal. Everything was going according to plan until Paul ended up getting ahead of them when Route 389 turned to gravel and was waiting for them at the one gas station on the route. He waited over an hour and they never arrived. Deciding something must be wrong, he headed back towards Manic-Cinq to find out what had happened. It turned out his friends all had similar tires, and in the first big corner, one of them took a spill, the bike flipped, landed on him, and broke his back. He needed to be Heli-extracted back to Montreal for surgery. The other two friends decided to head back, but Paul didn’t think he could do much, so he carried on.

At hearing this, Janel and I just looked at each in shock. This was one of those moments where we really took the time to calculate how lucky we were to not only to be cautious, but to have the right gear for the ride.

The ferry finally arrived, and as with most ferries: motorcycles go on first. However, unlike most ferries, they don’t put all the motorcycles together. I ended up at the starboard bow, and Janel ended up at the starboard stern, with about a hundred cars in-between us. After tying my bike down, I ran back to help Janel with hers. Once hers was tied down, we grabbed some water and headed towards the main decks. Not wanting to risk getting anyone sick, I walked up the stairs and out onto one of the outside viewing decks, where I curled up on the ground while the ferry carried us to Newfoundland. Janel grabbed a warm hot chocolate and came and sat beside me on the metal deck. Every now and then while enjoying her chocolaty goodness with one of Peter’s buns, Janel would check on me to make sure I would still be able to do the last part of our ride that day. I was able to sleep a bit in the cool wind, and when we arrived at the terminal on Newfoundland, I was set to wrap up this long day.

The first issue was of course, figuring out how to reunite with my wife once off the ferry. I was the first one off and at the first gas station I saw, I pulled in to wait for Janel. Since I lost contact with Janel on our Cardos the moment I got off the ferry, I just kept repeating, “can you hear me?” My biggest concern was she would fly by me without me noticing. (This happened when we were in Vietnam, a whole other story!)

Finally, with a little crackle I heard: “Yes… you?”

Once fueled up, we went to tackle the final road. By this time, it was well past 4 p.m. and the clouds were starting to look unfriendly. The winding road to Englee started off well enough, but for the final 80 km (50 miles), it was a complete pothole mess. We constantly had to slow to avoid smashing out bikes though the holes, and as the illness slowly took hold of my body, my patience started to waiver.

“Why don’t they FIX THESE ROADS!” I complained to no one in particular. Janel all the while remained calm, knowing I was just tired and needed to get into a bed.

Finally, within a few kilometres of Englee we saw a pharmacy. Janel went in and bought me some Tylenol to help with my symptoms. Once in Englee, we saw small fishing houses lining the water and running up the small ridge over the open ocean. The roads were no better here, but with no traffic, it made for an easy ride to the Viking Moose Airbnb.

The whole point of booking this place for three days was to have a quiet rest after our 15-day marathon, Route 389 and the Trans-Labrador Highway. Boy, was I going to need it. The first night, I had some of the worst sweats I had ever experienced and the following day I lay in bed and watched Netflix while trying to drink as much Gatorade as possible.

By the third day there, I was feeling better and seeing that Janel was still sleeping I decided to have a shower. I came out feeling refreshed and wrapped in a towel I went into Janel’s room to tell her the news. She sat up, and I noticed she looked a little pale. “Dustin, I don’t feel so good.”

Not again…

Things to do and places to stay along this section of the Labrador Highway and Newfoundland

Whaler’s Station, Red Bay
Obviously, Marilyn and Bim don’t give up their basement apartment regularly. If you are planning on visiting Red Bay, book one of their cabins located right on the waterfront. The lovely cabins have everything you need, and they will make your stay an enjoyable one. You might even see a whale or two. For only CA$145/night (US$110) you can’t go wrong.

Whaler’s Quest Ocean Adventures
Unfortunately, I couldn’t go along for this boat ride, but Janel had a fantastic time. She sailed around Red Bay with the kind crew, while listening to live music, and enjoying the sunset. She said it was a must do in the area. Cost is CA$70/person (US$53) and the ride lasts about 1.5 hours.

Ferry to Newfoundland
I cannot be clear enough on this, book your ferry in advance. Ferries fill up and they do NOT give priority to motorcycles here; you want to book the Straight of Belle Isle ferry. Book FAR in advance. Cost is CA$18 (US$13.75) for the rider and motorcycle.

The small fishing town is worth checking out if you just want to take a break. It is close to St. Anthony, which is famous for icebergs and whales but far more inexpensive to stay. The town is loaded with true friendly Newfoundlanders that will go out of their way to make your stay a pleasant one. Don’t expect any action here, but if you are looking for a place to rest, you found it. Google “Viking Moose Airbnb” to find the accommodations we stayed in. You get the whole house for CA$99 (US$75) plus fees per night, and it has two large bedrooms along with kitchen facilities.

Read Part 1 | Part 2