THE TRANS-LABRADOR HIGHWAY 2010
THE MARITIME CLIMATIC ZONE
At 451 kilometres along the Highway I found myself standing on top of a high summit, and I remembered feeling all nostalgic about my journey to date. I couldn't understand why. I certainly had the sense that this mountain marked some kind of significant event on the Highway.
maybe it was something to do with a change in atmosphere or a change in the air - there's a spot in France on the road between Sedan and Troyes thst has the same effect on me, where the claggy industrial northern air gives way to the fresher air from the south-west. And that may well be the reason, for as I round a bend at kilometre 454 I can see way into the distance eastwards.
You'll notice that not only are the pine trees so much bigger but we have all of the deciduous shrubs again at the side of the road. I'm clearly coming down over the top of the climatic divide and it is all looking much more like a kind of northern maritime climate. That mountain range just now was probably the barrier between the Labrador Plateau and whatever is the climatic zone round about Goose Bay.
And even as we speak, I see a sign - Goose Bay 92 kilometres away. Funnily enough, the lady who lives in the sat-nav makes it about that as well so how about that?
Down the hill I go and there are deciduous trees now - loads and loads of deciduous trees and not just any ordinary deciduous trees but these are deciduous trees still with their leaves on. Yes, that range of mountains that I have just crossed is definitely a climatic zone barrier and I am now a different climatic zone altogether. And I never ever believed that I could be so excited simply by seeing deciduous trees.
The temperature has now risen to PLUS 2°C, the first time I've been above freezing for hours, and the ony lichen I can see is on the north side of the larger boulders. Everything else is a kind of grass.
As an aside I can tell you that the 188 kilometres from Churchill Falls to the top of that mountain took me an unbelievable FOUR AND A HALF HOURS. And anyone who travels with me will know that I don't usually hang around. There were times on that road when I was rendered speechless, and that's not something that happens every day.
I am not out of the woods yet of course - I have simply moved into different woods. And the ones that I encountered at 464 kilometres are the same as many that I have seen already on my way round, namely devastated woods. I would love to know what has happened to them that has caused all of this.
And almost immediately I hit the metalled road. And this portion looks like it might go on for a while. And so I celebrate by winding Casey up to a quick 120 kph to blow out the cobwebs. There were quite a few in there.
I don't know very much about trees at all, I'm the first to admit that, but I can say that most of the deciduous trees here have silver trunks. Maybe they are silver birch or something like that. I don't have a clue.
I'm still rolling along at something like a rapid rate of knots when I drive past another working quarry. This one, at kilometre 472, has a weighbridge and so I suppose that all of the working ones will have them and this will explain the significance of the weighbridge that I saw up on the plateau with the huge dumper heading towards it.
Down in the bottom of the valley and I'm still pushing it along on the metalled road, but I have to stop for this photograph. This particular scene could be found almost anywhere in any country in western or central Europe that you could care to name. A grove of huge deciduous trees, complete with leaves of course, lining the side of the highway.
The road is of course in much better condition than it has been but you can tell from the glistening surface that we still have the torrential rain that has dogged us for much of the day.
And a short while further on I encounter a cabin that has been fitted with solar panels. Now that is what I call optimistic.
At kilometre 477 I stop to take this photograph because this will give you some idea of just how marginal this area is. If you notice the floor and the southern slopes of the valley you will see evergreen trees. On the nothern side of the valley you will see deciduous ones.
The nothern side of the valley faces south of course and so will receive the benefit of whatever sunlight there is. The valley floor and southern (north-facing) slopes are in permanent shade so they don't benefit from the warming effects of the sunlight.
The significant amount of difference in vegetation in such a local area is astonishing.
I'm also noticing dozens of residential cabins and other signs of permanent residence round about now. This is clearly civilisation and it wouldn't surprise me if I saw a sign advertising an outlet of that organisation whose name shall never be mentioned in anything that I ever write and which was said by a British judge to endanger the health of their workers and customers by publishing misleading advertising, to exploit children, to be culpably responsible in the infliction of unnecessary cruelty to animals, to be antipathetic to unionisation, and to pay their workers low wages.
It intrigued though to know what work there is out here that would make these people come and live in these cabins. It's hardly likely that they would be working in Goose Bay and risk the weather in winter for the 120-kilometre round trip to Goose Bay. In February it would be impossible.
Followers of my blog will know that I make considerable reference to the weather in the Combrailles where I live, and one of the phenomena that I mention is that of the hanging clouds that roll up the valley and sit in my garden.
And here in this valley round about kilometre 490 we have such a cloud quite happily rolling its way uphill, just like at home.
So in order to reassure the local residents, this area is quite safe from any possibility of me taking up residence here. I don't think that I could even make a courgette grow in these conditions.
Astonishingly, at kilometre 493 I encounter roadworks. I've no idea why, though. There is nothing at all wrong with this particular stretch of road.
Even more astonishingly, at kilometre 498 the metalled road suddenly, if not dramatically, gave out and I'm right back on the dirt road again. Mind you, I've made quite substantial progress in the last 20 minutes that I've been putting my foot down.
We've been talking a fair bit about quarries and so on just recently and probably the largest one that I've found so far is the Pavex quarry at Mount Sterling, which is at kilometre 506. Yes, 506. I thought that I would never get here, and once again I'm really disappointed that they didn't lay out the red carpet for me at 500 kilometres.
This looks like it might be the crushing yard, judging by the pile of large rocks, the heap of smaller gravel and the couple of grading bins in the shot.
Now there's a sign around here that I notice, and it tells me that the quarry is actually 48 kilometres up a side road just here and I am wondering if I properly understood that, as it seems to be an awfully long way away. And if I did, then it's quite a distance to be bringing large stones and so on for crushing and the like.
That's a huge pile of sand and a slightly-less-huge pile of small gravel over there, and I wonder what they will be doing with it. It doesn't look like it's road-building material and I wouldn't imagine that large-scale concrete would have much of a hope up here.
There's a weighbridge too, and so that must be the sign of a working quarry. It isn't that much of a weighbridge and it certainly won't take the weight of those huge dumpers that I have been occasionally catching sight of while I've been on my way round, never mind one with a full load on.
And of course you will have noticed the weather around here. It's still absolutely teeming down and shows no sign of letting up. The light is holding up, however, even though it's getting late.
Just a short way further on, on the other side of the road, there is a quarry. And it's definitely an abandoned or worked-out quarry because there is no weighbridge here. You see, I've worked all this out now.
I can't remember how many old quarries that I have seen on my way around the Trans-Labrador Highway. "Dozens" may well be not much of an understatement. With the amount of roadbuilding and the difficulties of transportation prior to the development of the highway, the only way to have built the road, I suppose, would be to exploit a number of small local quarries.
It's not too far after that that I have my first real view of the sea. Well, I suppose it must be the sea as it is the head of the arm of Goose Bay
"Head of the arm? Are you sure about that?"... ed
And even so, we are still quite a long way in from the actual coastline. I don't know exactly how long this inlet is, but it must be a couple of hundred kilometres at least.
Of course we have power lines - no surprise there - and we also have deciduous trees complete with leaves.
Another feature that we have in the photo is hanging clouds, and here is a good example drifting up the valley. As I said before, they aren't just things that affect nowhere else but the Combrailles.
And you remember what I was saying a little earlier about the marginal nature of the climatic zones around here? From on top of the hill to the north of the valley you can see clearly that the southern side (facing north) is almost exclusively evergreen, the bottom of the valley (which might have sun in midsummer) has a few deciduous trees, and the northern side (facing south) has a preponderence of deciduous tree.
And here we are, just a short way further on where I crest the brow of a hill, and this is the site that greets my eyes. It's a much better view of the bay just here. Right over there is of course the south side of the bay and that is where I'll be going tomorrow.
If I had come here when I first planned on doing this trip, it would not have been possible to travel over there. The road round to Cartwright was only opened at the end of December 2009 - about 9 or so months ago - and it is that which has given me the impetus to come here right now. Previously the option was to turn back to Baie Comeau or else take the ferry round to Cartwright.
At 519 kilometres I see a sign for Muskrat Falls. There's an island in the bay called Muskrat Island and so I imagine that the falls may be somewhere in that vicinity. But the light had all-but-gone by now (it's amazing the difference that ten minutes can make), it was absolutely pouring down with rain and the road down to the bay was an incredibly steep dirt track. What with this kind of car in this kind of weather on this kind of hill in even less light than right now, I wasn't convinced that it was a feasible proposition to go down there for a poke about.
A little further on, I made a little note to myself that as Casey's tripmeter was showing 260.3 kilometres (since fuelling up at Churchill Falls) I passed a mile-marker showing 565 kilometres. That's a difference of roughly 305 kilometres. But surely this can't be right? I made a note that on leaving Churchill Falls the difference on the tripmeter was just 262 kilometres and subsequent checks during the journey showed no need to change it by very much.
There's clearly something not right about this. I haven't doubled back by anything even approaching a tenth of that increased difference. I'm going to leave the difference at 262 kilometres for now.
At 529 kilometres the road 2 opens out into a huge sandy bowl that you are obliged to drive through. It's just like some kind of wadi in the desert. Had it been lighter and there was somewhere from where I could have taken a good shot, I would have had a photo of that.
But not to worry. Sandy bowls and wadis out here are like old cut-off roads, views of lakes and London buses. There will be another one along in a minute. And I was right too.
Earlier on today, I mentioned eskers. How they are banks of sand and gravel deposited by glaciers as they retreated back northwards during an earlier phase of global warming. Of course, I wouldn't recognise an esker if one jumped up and bit me but it does occur to me that with these sandy banks and bowls around here and the quarries extracting all of the stones and gravel, whether or not this all might be part of some kind of esker.
But what do I know?
Ahhhh - at 536 kilometres I see the turning for the Labrador Coastal Drive on the right. That is of course where I shall be going tomorrow and where I couldn't have gone a year ago. But tonight I'm going on to Goose Bay. I'm goosed.