THE TRANS-LABRADOR HIGHWAY 2010
LEAVING THE PAVED ROAD BEHIND
It's the end of the paved highway and the beginning of the dirt road that brings you back to some kind of reality. It makes you realise that the adventure begins here. This is the intrepid part of the journey.
Had I been in a Ford F-150 or a Dodge Ram I might have been quite enthusiastic about the forthcoming drive. I mean, I was quite enthusiastic about it, don't misunderstand, but I was in a rental Chrysler PT Cruiser - which I have named Casey by the way, due to its registration number - and I did begin to ask myself whether this was a wise decision. But a faint heart never won a fair maiden and fortune favours the brave, and I was only going to have one shot at it and it was now or never. So "in for a penny, in for a pound" and when I think of some more suitable clichés I'll add them right bere
This is kilometre 227, and that is where I've come from - over those mountains in the distance, round that sweeping bend over on the right-hand side of the photo, and then up this hill. You can even see my tyre tracks where I pulled over to the side of the road.
You will of course notice how the road has degenerated, and also that the weather has degenerated too. But the view is certainly spectacular enough and this is just the photo. Imagine how it looked in real life.
You might not have realised this yet, but I will be taking a break along the trail once I get to Newfoundland (if I ever do) in order to visit the Viking site at L'Anse au Meadows. It's one of those things that I must do and the road is taking me within a hundred or so kilometres of there so I can't miss it out.
The story about how that site in Newfoundland was discovered is quite interesting - how the Norse sagas were translated into contemporary Norse which totally misled the original researchers. But when they were translated into archaic Norse, it suddenly all made sense.
What has set me off on this track just now is that I made a few parallels here in Québec. I live in France and speak French pretty fluently, and I can see the evolution between the modern French as spoken in France and the Québecois French spoken here, which has not evolved over the 250 or so years that Québec has been isolated. From this it is clear and easy to understand how come it is that there came to be such a difference between the language of the Vikings in Greenland and the Vikings in Norway over the 300 years that they were separated. They had even fewer communications that there are now.
It's amazing the things that come floating into my mind while I'm aimlessly driving around in the wilderness with nothing but a CD player and Strawberry Moose for company.
At kilometre 237 I saw a sign for a Bed-and Breakfast - "Le Gouverneur du Nord" it's called. Off down a track just along here. It's existence might be worth noting if ever you are down this way looking for accommodation but I don't know how far down the track it was, and I don't know what the track was like either and that's always a consideration you need to take into account. It's also the kind of place that you would be well-advised contacting to arrange your accommodation before you plan on using it because if they are away on their own holidays or the place is fully-booked or whatever, you might be in for a major disappointment.
One thing you won't be disappointed with is the view. Just about a kilometre or so further on, this is the view that is awaiting you. Now this is gorgeous. It's this kind of view that I have come up here to see and I'm going to drive all the way over here.
It's been raining up here and this dirt track I've been driving over, which is nothing more or less than hard-packed mud with a few stones mixed in for good effect, now has a layer of slime over it. It really is quite slippery and I've already slid Casey around on here, due to the odd lack of concentration every now and again.
The speed limit up here is 70 kilometres per hour and there are a few places where you can actually go as quickly as that. In a few other places your speed will be more like 70 kilometres per week.
It's probably round about this moment that I should tell you that what I am recording is what I did, not what I am recommending that others do. My notes are simply for interest and the purposes of sightseeing - you travel this road at your own risks and perils according to your own ability and that of the vehicle you have chosen for the route.
It's not all doom and gloom though - even though looking at how the weather has closed in you might be forgiven for thinking that it was. There are occasional paved bits of highway that you encounter that encourage you to push along.
This particular bit of pavement starts at about kilometre 257 and goes along to kilometre 263. It isn't all that good but it was paved all the same and I wound Casey up a little to make up some time. But I wish that the weather was better.
I seem to recall that a whie ago someone said something about the fact that the presence of workmen up here would be extremely unlikely. Who was that?
A short way after the end of the paved highway we encounter some roadworks, complete with traffic lights. And you can see exactly what I mean about these LED displays underneath the lights. It appears that I have just 51 more seconds to wait before I can proceed. I seem to remember that I grabbed some food out of the boot to eat while I was waiting.
Eventually I am permitted to proceed and almost straight away, just before kilometre 268 I cross the 51st parallel. I'm now level with Shaftesbury in Dorset, Bonn in Germany and near Irkutsk in Siberia.
They say that a careful motorist always makes careful use of his rear-view mirror, and I was doing that all along the highway. This is what I saw at kilometre 270. The clouds have closed right in over the mountains and everywhere looks grey and miserable. In fact it reminds me very much of the highlands of Scotland and over on the Isle of Skye, all those kinds of places.
The road is cutting up pretty badly as you can see. Potholes and ruts are common-place and the rain is turning the ruts into small streams. Driving is not so easy as it might be. And a short while later I encountered a different type of surface, all black, slippery mud and I reckoned that had I touched the brakes on that in this rain I would have been off into the forest somewhere.
You don't want to be stopping either as it wouldn't be all that easy to set off again. Round about kilometre 279 there were traces of someone having come off the road up here and dug in at the side of the highway.
At kilometre 287 I'm starting to notice the deciduous trees again. I seem to have found a deciduous forest and not only that, many of them don't appear to have lost their leaves and the colours are beautiful. And very shortly after that I notice through the trees a huge lake in the distance. I wonder if all of the water in the lake has created a microclimate all of its own around here
It's not the only think I notice either. There's a car coming towards me and as we pass each other I notice to my surprise that it's a new-shape Mini. Now if he can travel down here then so can Casey and I, and that reassures me.
We are back in the rear-view mirror again. This is the view that caught my eye this time, at kilometre 295. Isn't it picturesque? And just imagine how it looked in real life, and what it would be like in glorious sunshine too.
But you'll see snow up in those mountains if you look carefully. That's rather ominous for mid-October. I was hoping it might hold off for a few more days to give me a chance to drive all the way round the trail.
Have a close look at the sides of the road where thy have clearly cleared away the vegetation (and I'll tell you why they do that in due course because I found out the answer). The vegetation that is growing back is all deciduous trees. It makes me wonder if deciduous trees are endemic to this area and whether the conifers have been planted by man. And by the time I arrived at kilometre 298 there was nothing but deciduous trees.
I mentioned a few moments ago about the huge lake in the distance. At kilometre 301 I cross over a bridge for the Rivière Mathevet and in the distance upstream there is an opportunity to see the huge lake about which I've been talking.
I've also been talking a great deal about the vegetation and you can see in the foreground a large amount of shrubbery - and it is all young deciduous plants. I'm intrigued to know what the climax forest around here would be, although there's not much hope of finding out. I imagine that this area is pretty-much exploited for its timber and only the fast-growing evergreens make it to maturity.
At kilometre 314 - precisely to the metre, there was a nice friendly little parking place and this was a good place to stop for a comfort break.
We are quite high up here and so there's a splendid view right over the vegetation to this huge lake that I've been driving around for about a week. You can see what I mean about it being enormous - I've already been driving alongside it for more than 25 kilometres - and why I consider that it's creating its own little microclimate.
2 kilometres further on - that's kilometre 316 if you need help to work it out - I come to the Relais Gabriel. There is definitely fuel there you can see the pumps - and there is also said to be accommodation there,
I might have been able to tell you more about the accommodation for this was in fact where I was planning to stop for the night, but it's just on 15:00, the roads are nothing like as bad as I've been expecting and I've been making excellent time so far. The next place where there is likely to be accommodation is Fermont and that is 250 kms away and so after some debate and discussion I've decided to push on, or push off as the case may be. What swung the decision for me was seeing the snow in the mountains back there a short while ago.
Never mind the snow in the mountains. I can't be more than one kilometre from the Relais Gabriel and I can't have climbed up more than 50 feet, and here are Casey and I in the snow. I wasn't wrong about this.
The way I see it is that if there has been snow about it's more likely to have fallen through the night. This gives an opportunity for the warmth (such as it is) during the daytime and the road-clearing crews (if there are any) to do their work during the day so travelling on these roads in late afternoon is the best way to go about it. Driving in the snow first-thing in the morning when no-one has had time to do anything is the worst time to be out and about.
The snow at my level doesn't stick around for long, for which I am grateful, and round about kilometre 325 I see another impressive lake in the distance. That looks quite pretty too, if only that huge dark grey cloud would push off and let the sun shine through a little.
And you'll see that at some time or other the edges of the road have been cleared and that it's deciduous shrubbery that has grown back. It's definitely significant, this.
A few kilometres further on it's a rear-view mirror moment again and I couldn't resist stopping to take a photograph of this view, looking southwards. I've come from down yonder road, all the way over those ridges and mountains and I couldn't wish for any better scenery than this. The weather, though, could have been kinder to me than this.
But what you won't notice in these photographs, because I didn't notice a single one along the whole route, were snow poles - you know, these thin posts that stick up a few metres from road level at the side of the road to tell you where the edge of the highway is during deep snow conditions. I was expecting to see these all along here given the kind of weather that this area is reputed to have.
At kilometre 335 there's yet another rear-view mirror moment. It's not quite the same type of view as the previous photograph but it's impressive in its own right nevertheless.
Poking through the low, hanging cloud is the mountain and that has quite a covering of snow high up there. The weather is definitely starting to turn and I wish I had come along this road a week or so earlier. I wouldn't have had the snow to worry about.
There's still the odd bit of traffic on the roads though. You can see two vehicles disappearing in the other direction. I wonder where they are going. And where they have come from, for that matter.
The view looking forward from that spot is quite a respectable view as well. That's a nice big mountain, the best one that I have come across so far. And that has its own little snowy cap too.
Just after here is a left turning with the indication "Refuge du Prospecteur". I seem to recall that there is some kind of accommodation on offer down there, but it's quite a dirt track down there and I have enough on my plate right now with this dirt track up here. I've no intention of going down to look.
Once more though, out here, if this is where you might be planning to stay for the night you will be best off trying to arrange your accommodation before you set off, just in case ...
I've also seen a sign to tell me that I'm now entering the Partie Nord-Ouest of the Partie Sud. I'll figure that one out in a minute. It seems to be something to do with Zone 19 point 347, whatever that might be. If you know, please .
From there on, we started to climb up into the mountains and we went quite high. And at about kilometre 355 I crest another significant ridge to find yet another impressive megalake in the distance. It's definitely living up to its publicity as the land of a million lakes, or whatever it was.
This lake keeps on going for quite some time and at kilometre 367 I cross over the Rivière Beauprin. This is where I started to notice not a single deciduous tree anywhere and furthermore all of the pine trees have shrunk. They are certainly stunted, nothing like as tall as before. Further inland and at a higher elevation, I'm clearly in yet another climatic zone.
Well, a short while later I started across some more deciduous trees so I was clearly in advance of myself just before. And then just a few more kilometres further on I came across a bridge that said "stop" - or, rather, a bridge with a sign with the word "stop" written on it. And so stop I did.
If you look across the bridge to the other side you will see that there is a turning just there. That's indicating to a place called Hart Jaune.
The river is in fact the Rivière Hart Jaune, one of the more famous rivers here in Upper Québec, and so I went for a wander over there to look. It's quite a way down there, isn't it? I wonder how many fur trappers have fallen into there in the past.
And in a reflective mood, which happens occasionally, I wonder what kind of people it was who came up here to explore the area. Probably not the real explorer-type of person but more likely some French-Canadian fur trapper heading further and further into the wilderness to make his living in peace and quiet following the collapse of French-Canada on the plains above Québec city.
Somewhere in between kilometre 373 and 374 I have to slow down dramatically as the road just as dramatically deteriorates into more of a morass than it was before. It really was dreadful round about here, especially in this weather we were having.
And you might remember that a short while ago I told you that we had been climbing up into the mountains. It occurs to me round about here that for the last while I haven't seen any mountains, any significant rocks, nor any trees of note. I wonder if I'm now on top of the Labrador Plateau because I know that a part of Upper Québec is on this plateau and I wonder if this is it.
Another thing that I have noticed, and my memory was jogged by that left-hand bend sign up there is that there have been no significant bends on this road for quite some time. The road has been more or less straight on.
But all of this is about to change.