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steep slope downhill side of road trans labrador highway 500 churchill falls happy valley goose bay canada october octobre 2010

I pull over to the side of the highway at 338 kilometres and take a photograph. Here we are going around the side of a hill, with the road balanced precariously on a pile of loose rocks. It doesn't look particularly stable and it's a long way down there if I miss my footing or Casey goes into another slide. We've had a few of those, but none to the point where we are ever in danger of losing control.

There is no doubt about it though. The scenery on parts of this highway must be absolutely splendid during the summer when the sun is shining but in the pouring rain like right now, with raindrops splashing on my lens, or in the snow or whatever then it is not quite so good.

But not that I'm complaining. You come here in the height of the summer and you can't move for blackflies and tourists. And there won't be anything in the way of affordable accommodation either, not that ...gulp...$128 plus sales tax in mid-October is particularly affordable, but there you go.

And round about 380 kilometres or so as I come out of the hills I notice that we are back in the sub-arctic tundra with lichens, mosses and so on.

main wilson river trans labrador highway 500 churchill falls happy valley goose bay canada october octobre 2010

The next interruption to my route is the Main Wilson River. Information on this river is ... err ... sparse and so I've no idea about the origins of the name. For all I know, it might even have been named for Dennis Main Wilson, the producer of the Goon Show on BBC Radio back in the early 1950s. That wouldn't surprise me in the least. You probably needed a certain sense of humour to go exploring around here in a motor vehicle back then.

The river does seem to be flowing southwards and so that would very probably imply that it is a tributary of the Churchill River, whose valley we are vaguely following towards Goose Bay. The Main Wilson River has a beautiful setting and the valley through which it flows was well worth the stop and the photograph.

main wilson river bridge trans labrador highway 500 churchill falls happy valley goose bay canada october octobre 2010

Under the bridge was an impressive set of rapids bubbling away over the rocks. And this is October when the flow of river is dying down. Can you imagine trying to ford this river in the summer when it is likely to be in full spate before the bridge was built?

And do you know what? I've only just realised that Brain of Britain has done it again - he forgot to note down the mileage of exactly where it is along the route. If you are looking especially for it you will just have to take pot luck. Sorry about that.

new bridge road improvements trans labrador highway 500 churchill falls happy valley goose bay canada october octobre 2010

Here's some more new road work just a short way further on. And even though it is quite new in appearance you can see that the surface isn't up to all that much.

All of the more modern concrete bridges along this road are dated, presumably with the date of construction. I had a quick glance at that one as I drove over it and it is proudly displaying a date of 1995. It made me wonder just how people with motor vehicles crossed the river or stream or whatever it was prior to that date. What an adventure that must have been, and I would have loved to have tried it back then.

And those two vehicles - the MPV and the pickup that I have been encountering every so often along this road? They just passed me as I was setting off from here. I'm thoroughly intrigued now as to what they might be doing. It's hardly likely to be the payroll delivery as there is nothing to spend the money on round here. I'll let you know if ever I see a shop, but don't be holding your breath.

There are more roadworks at kilometre 346 (I remembered to note the kilometrage just for a change) and they are putting a lot of effort into trying to get it to look something like a highway. They have dug out some grading, banked a few curves, infilled valleys with those huge corrugated curves and so on.

The old road is off to the left here and occasionally it crosses over to the right and you can just about make it out in places. Some of these drops and peaks that the old road takes are astonishing and I don't think that you would have managed to bring a car like Casey up here in those days.

I wish I could photograph it but to get anything like the best effect I'll need to balance precariously on the edge of the drop and with all the loose scree about, it isn't something that I am keen to do.

One kilometre further on is a sign to warn people that caribou-hunting is prohibited in this area. I suppose that they chase out the hunters to leave the food supplies for the road workers. They have to eat something while they are working up here and so they won't want anyone else poaching on their food supplies.

komatsu digger road improvements trans labrador highway 500 churchill falls happy valley goose bay canada october octobre 2010

These two monsters working over there on the edge of the road are at about 350 kilometres. I have to wait for a few minutes until they can swing their bodies out of my way. The purposes of the ditch that they are digging are many, but one of the chief ones is that it slows the moose up as they approach the highway, giving motorists more time to spot them. Moose are taken very seriously around here.

350 kilometres means of course that I have travelled a mere 88 kilometres since fuelling up at Churchill Falls. 88 kilometres and it seems like I've been driving down this road for a year and I don't seem to be getting any further. By my reckoning I have over 200 kilometres still to travel before I can think about accommodation.

There is a possibility of low-flying aircraft ahead at kilometre 364, and this time the warning sign is intact so they don't fly as low as they do between Labrador City and Churchill Falls. And then to my surprise just two kilometres further on I encounter another compacter. That's two now, and I am keeping the score.

pickup mpv regular traveller grader road maintenance trans labrador highway 500 churchill falls happy valley goose bay canada october octobre 2010

Do you notice the cars stopped in front of me again? Yes, it's our old friends the pick-up and the MPV. I've caught up with them again at the roadworks at kilometre 369. The truck here is tipping a huge pile of gravel onto the road surface and the grader is spreading it out.

Well, spreading it out is one way of describing it. He's creating quite a hump or ridge and it's clearly not made for vehicles like Casey as I grounded out going over it.

But once I'm over it the surface is a little more even but we are now confronted with all of the loose stones and gravel. I'm going to let those two vehicles in front get well ahead of me before I follow them. The last thing that I want up here is a stone through the windscreen.

Mind you, there's no real cause for alarm as this bit only prevails for about a kilometre and then we are back in the mud and the ruts again. Oh happy day!

And much to my surprise, kilometre 374 finds me putting my foot down and I'm touching 80 kph (50 mph) along here. It's been a really long time since I've been able to do a speed like that on this highway. It doesn't last too long again and we are soon on the bad stuff.

And then it picks up again.

And then it drops off

And then it picks up again

And just as we smash off one piece of good road onto a particularly bad bit there's a tremedously heavy downpour of rain from a rather large black cloud that had been lurking around for a while. It was measured to a metre and was rather like the arrival of the Demon King.

Something like that actually happened to me once. I was to attend an important and somewhat controversial meeting of the Open University Students Association in Milton Keynes and there were about 20 students hanging around outside the door of the building as Strawberry Moose and I arrived in Caliburn. And as I opened the door and put a foot on the ground there was an enormous flash of lightning and a huge clap of thunder.

I stopped at kilometre 388 to take a photograph of what looked like a part of the old road. it wasn't a very good photograph and it wasn't the best example that I could have found. I was hoping for a much better example and I've had no luck so far but I've now noticed the time. It's 16:28 and if I'm not very careful the light will be going.

old abandoned road trans labrador highway 500 churchill falls happy valley goose bay canada october octobre 2010

But scrub all of the foregoing as well as the photograph that I took for just half a kilometre further on I've seen a part of the old road that is much more photogenic and so we'll use this one instead. Now just imagine trying to do anything like 80 kph along a road like that in the old days.

Yesterday (and was it only yesterday? It seems like a year ago) I was discussing the climax forest up here, having noted that it was all deciduous scrub that was growing back at the sides of the highway in Upper Québec. Here, there is no doubt about it - it's all small evergreens (and I use the term in its biological sense) that are growing back.

On transcribing my notes at a later date (I use a dictaphone when I'm going round on my travels) I notice that I still have an obsession with this road. I remarked round about here that there are some patches that are quite good and there are other paths that are .. errr .. nothing like as good, although they are certainly not as bad as some of the stuff I've driven over recently.

I must have been cheered up a little just then but of course it didn't last for long. pride always comes before a fall and at 395 kilometres I'm back in the mud again - up to Casey's wheel rims too. But this only lasts for a kilometre or two and by the time I arrive at the Cache River, which is at 398 kilometres for those of you who are interested, the surface is ... errr ... less bad.

The Cache River would have been quite photogenic had I encountered it first thing this morning, but I've seen so much since then that is so photogenic that I simply dismissed it with a passing glance.

It's interesting to speculate on the name of the river though. In the stories of the trails west to California and Oregon during the 1840s, a cache was the name given to a hidey-hole containing the goods of an emigrant whose wagon had broken down or whose mules or oxen had died, and so he could no longer transport them. The idea was of course that he would acquire a new means of transport and go back to recover the goods but that rarelly happened and even in the 1930s these caches in the salt deserts were still being discovered, mainly by a historian called Charles Kelly who recorded them in his book Salt Desert Trails, a book for which I wrote a review for Amazon.

But I digress, shameless self-publicist that I am.
"And not for the first time, and neither for the last time, and yes"...ed

I should also mention that this area is currently being surveyed for minerals. So far, copper and gold have been discovered, so maybe this is the reason for the frantic road construction in certain places. Who knows?

According to my own calculations I only have about 122 kilometres to travel to Goose Bay, but the lady who lives in my sat-nav seems to think that there is 97 miles to the next left-turn. If she is right, that means that so far I have done half the road between Churchill Falls and Goose Bay.

It's slowly going dark and I am thoroughly exhausted. This has been a really difficult stretch of road, the most difficult so far.

And I'm soon back in the mud again. I'm in and out of ruts, in and out of potholes, in and out of flaming everything, so I said into my dictaphone while I was driving. My good humour didn't last very long, did it?

But then again at 402 kilometres there's another highways depot so maybe this is a hint that things might be about to change as far as this road is concerned.

We also need to look out for low-flying aircraft round here.

road building improvements trans labrador highway 500 churchill falls happy valley goose bay canada october octobre 2010

Here at 419 kilometres there's a good example of just how much work they have been doing on the road. The surface is all nice and graded, it's level and the banks are all nicely sloped - all that kind of things. There are armco crash barriers fitted at the drops, everything like that, in fact all mod cons.

But even with all of this expenditure, you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear and the road surface is pitted with potholes and ruts. I'm wondering what this road must have been like 4 years ago when I first had the idea of talking of coming on this expedition and doing this trail. It must have been awful.

From here we steadily climb up into yet more mountains and at 429 kilometres there's some kind of small pull-in where there is a small loading ramp - the kind that a person would load his quad or his snowmobile into the back of his pick-up. I've even seen a cabin that has the air of being abandoned, deserted and derelict. Well, maybe it is, maybe it isn't, but the idea that you might have cabins and living accommodation means that civilisation can't be all that far away.

Having said that, however, I do recall yesterday seeing cabins, complete with occupants of the human kind, that I reckoned were 180 kilometres from the nearest shops. It makes my 6 kilometres in the Auvergne pale into insignificance.

We encounter a metalled road at 434 kilometres but
 i.... it's badly pitted and rutted
 ii... it doesn't last for very long - only about half a kilometre as it happens.
so it's nothing to get excited about. In fact it made me wonder why someone bothered. But the road that follows it is a good piece of hard, compacted dirt road. Full of ruts and potholes of course but it's still better than some parts of the metalled road I've been driving on. And seeing as there are no other vehicles about (and I really can't remember when was the last time that I saw another vehicle) I can make a little head of steam, judiciously slaloming my way around the worst bits.

I'm climbing higher and higher into these mountains and I'm noticing, contrary to what you might expect, that the pine trees are getting bigger. There is still plenty of lichen about but very occasionally there are patches of a sort of grass. That must mean that I am crossing into a slightly more temperate zone. And that can only mean that over the other side of this mountain range, if I ever get there, might be the valley that leads down to Goose Bay. I can but hope.

But we haven't finished with the roadworks just yet and here at 446 kilometres there are some more. They are for only half a kilometre or so and there is no indication of what they might actually be doing or going to be doing but they have signs up and flags out - all that kind of thing. But I do notice that the road is starting to deteriorate again. No surprise here.

top of the mountain trans labrador highway 500 churchill falls happy valley goose bay canada october octobre 2010

I reach the summit of the mountains at 451 kilometres and there's the view down to the bottom. I've just travelled up there through those roadworks, if that is indeed what they are. And I've come from right across the valley away in the distance.

Despite the presence of power cables (which seem to signify some kind of domestic or small business presence in the area), the view was spectacular even in these kind of appalling conditions and so you can imagine what it must be like in the summer with the sunshine and so on. I really haven't had any kind of luck at all with the weather today.

Mind you, given the snow that was coming down as I was leaving Labrador City this morning, I suppose I could count myself very lucky to have got this far.

But do you know, I found myself standing on top of this summit feeling all nostalgic about my journey to date and I couldn't understand why. I certainly had the sense that this mountain marked some kind of significant event on the Highway.

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