THE TRANS-LABRADOR HIGHWAY 2010
THE LABRADOR COASTAL DRIVE - THE FIRST 100 KMs
Once I had organised myself (not an easy task of course) around Goose Bay, it was time to head out towards the new bit of the Trans-Labrador Highway.
This involves heading back towards Labrador City a short way and yes, here we are, the Labrador Coastal Drive, otherwise known as Highway 510, coming right up. Anse-au-Loup - the Wolf Cove - is down there and that's where we are going, and way beyond there as well. Mind you, we all knew that the turning was here because we drove past it in the blinding rainstorm last night on our way to seek refuge in Goose Bay.
And so I made a mental note of where the tripmeter was when I turned onto the highway, and then promptly forgot it. A check a little further down the road enabled me to calculate that the start of the Highway corresponded with 23.7 kilometres on Casey's tripmeter and so I shall knock that amount off the kilometres that I noted and report the adjusted figures.
And by "new", what I meant to say is that the next part of the road is not a year old yet. And it's this part of the drive that has made my circular tour a possibility. I couldn't have done it last year.
The next fuel station down the Labrador Coastal Drive is 392 kilometres, the longest stretch on the circuit I reckon, so check your fuel. I did that in Goose Bay of course (ha ha) and the 24 kilometres or so of ambling around the town sightseeing won't make much difference (even more ha ha).
L'Anse-au-Loup is 579 kilometres away and I need to go beyond there of course to Blanc Sablon and the ferry to Newfoundland. And so will you, if you don't want to have to come back or freight your car down the St Lawrence. Highway 389 will of course eventually link up with Highway 510 at Blanc-Sablon but not in our lifetimes, I reckon.
But I wont be doing all of that today of course. And I won't be going all the way to Port Hope Simpson either, even though it is a mere 392 kilometres away. I'm making for Cartwright, just 373 kilometres from here, and for a couple of good reasons too.
At 1.3 kilometres I come to our old friend the Churchill River. Or at least, I think that this is what it is. This particular photograph is looking eastwards towards Lake Melville and the Hamilton Inlet. The open sea is down there, but it's quite a significant distance away. Significant as in "a couple of hundred kilometres"
You can tell by the weather what kind of day we are going to have. It's all miserable, grey and depressing again. Strangely enough, it isn't actually raining at the moment.
This photo is from the same point looking westward towards the interior. And it was way, way, way over those mountains in the far distance that I drove yesterday. I first encountered the Churchill River at kilometre 240 from the Québec border, as you may recall. Here. I'm at roughly kilometre 536.
And in the distance you can just about make out some blue sky. Where was that when I needed it yesterday? Here, so close to the sea (or at least to open water) the winds will be blowing onto the land so I can't hope for a significant change in the weather just yet. Not until the landmass warms up anyway.
The bridge over the river was exciting. It's another modern bridge with an open lattice-work deck but they haven't put the sections quite in line. So when you cross it in a car your wheels catch in one of the latticed grooves and so you are being dragged over the bridge in a series of zig-zags and it's quite a weird sensation.
At the brow of the hill at kilometre 4 on the far bank of the river there's a good view back down where I've just come from and back over the river.
You can see the river in the valley below just here, and it is over there on the far side somewhere in amongst the trees that the road from Churchill Falls to Goose Bay runs - from left to right across the photo.
You can also see the kind of road that we have here. Hard-packed shale on a bed of huge rocks. It's quite nice and compacted as it ought to be, seeing as it has been open for less than a year. I'm intrigued to see what it will be like after four or five hard winters.
And the woman who lives in the sat-nav is now totally confused. She doesn't recognise any of this at all and according to her I'm travelling across acres and acres of green space without even the merest hint of a road.
I'm afraid that I spoke a little too soon about the road. A short way further on from where I stopped the road suddenly degraded itself by presenting me with tons and tons of potholes and ruts, most likely caused by the passing of heavy lorries. But there's still the hard-packed surface and so long as I keep out of the ruts I shall probably do okay. There's little danger of me ending up in the bushes around here if I go into a slide.
There's no traffic coming the other way of course so if I judiciously pick out my route and slalom around the potholes I can put my foot down a little. I'm doing about 80 down here at the moment and that's really about as fast as I want to go. My adventures over the last couple of days have told me that I ought to make rapid progress whenever the road lets me because I don't imagine for a minute that the road is going to be as good as this all the way, no matter how new it is.
I've been climbing out of the river valley for quite a while and at about 23.5 kilometres I reckon that I have come out onto the top of a plateau. The reason for the uncertainly is that I can't see anything because of the trees and whatever, but I'm reasonably certain of this.
Another uncertainty in my mind as well is due to the fact that I haven't seen any kilometre markers yet. Although I mentioned this problem a little earlier and that I was simply going to deduct 23.7 kilometres from Casey's trip meter, I'm very likely to be doubling back here and there to see things that I missed. This will of course mean that the difference will increase and I won't have anything to use as a check to bring myself up-to-date. After 300 or so kilometres of this road you'll be totally confused as to where I am. But not to worry - so will I be.
And just to remind me that I'm supposed to be noting what I see along the road, then at 27 kilometres the new road upon which I am travelling bisects an old lumber or quarry road that nas now been closed and walled off from the new highway by a load of stones. And in an irony to end all ironies, I notice that the old road is a metalled road and that it has been replaced by a dirt road. How about that?
We are back in the heavy rain again and a couple of kilometres further on, round about 30 kilometres or so, there's a nice bit of really slippery downhill bit that leads onto a nice slippery metal bridge.
Mind you, I am not alone at this spot. There's a pick-up truck parked just here on the left and there's also a little camper as you can see if you peer through the bushes. Those of you who have been following my journey along the Trans-Labrador Highway will recall that I was considering making the journey in a camper but for a variety of reasons I decided against it.
The concrete bridges around here all have dates cast into them, presumably signifying when they were built. This one is no exception and is dated 2008.
And standing on the bridge, this is the view that you see looking northwards in the general direction of Lake Melville. The river is flowing northwards as you might expect, and there is a waterfall cascading through a little gorge where a small stream flows into the larger river.
One would imagine that the two rivers were of similar height but the superior erosion of the larger river, probably accelerated by a more powerful glacial action during one of the many ice ages, has worn the larger valley to a greater depth.
It's quite a pleasant sub-arctic scene all the same.
Now hang on a minute - there's something up there in the distance with red lights flashing. Now what would the farces of Law and Order be doing up here? And as I approach, it looks like it might be a lorry, and as I close up on it, it turns out to be a grader. Hmmmmmm. A grader. What on earth would a grader be doing working up here? The road has only been open for about nine months.
You might recall from a few kilometres back that I thought that I had climbed up out of the valley of the Churchill River onto the top of a plateau. Anyway, here at 30.3 kilometres I've just seen a sign mentioning the Eagle Plateau Management Centre. It is therefore a safe bet that I'm currently somewhere upon the aforementioned plateau.
As for the Eagle Plateau, it appears that it is some kind of ecosystem of string bogs, whatever they might be, and native wetland plants including Labrador Tea, whatever that is. And having talked quite often about climax forest I can tell you that round here it's black spruce.
Up on the plateau at 34.1 kilometres I am now joined on my left hand side by a great big lake. There are loads of those in Labrador. Not for nothing is it known as "The Land of a Thousand Lakes". And if that isnt enough to be going on with, the sun is now doing its best. It's struggling a bit but it's having a go. After all of the miserable weather that I've been having, it would be nice to see the sun.
Here at 55.8 kilometres (is it really 25 kilometres since I've seen anything worth talking about? I suppose that really sums up the Labrador Coastal Highway so far) we start to descend from the plateau and I reckon that this may well be the real interior of eastern Labrador, I suppose. It's hard to believe that this road has been open for a mere 9 months.
The road stretches for miles and miles over there, away into the forest, away into the wilderness. We are now going to be moving south-eastwards into the interior and it's going to be absolutely ages until I encounter the coast. There is nothing any special significance for the next 250 kilometres.
And there are two things that I've noticed round about here. Firstly, there's a derelict pick-up camper shell just here on the right halfway down the slope. A road that's only been open for 9 months and they are already dumping rubbish down it. And so I wrote at the time, long before I spoke to anyone about them and discovered their significance.
Secondly, I've just seen a sign back there deep in the trees at the bottom of the hill, telling me that I'm at kilometre 58. Clearly someone has listened to me moaning as I've been travelling along the highway. The tripmeter in Casey is recording 81.7 kilometres at that point and that's how I've been able to set the difference at 23.7 kilometres.
It's probably going to be another 58 kilometres until I see another sign (and maybe not even then) so this will probably have to do, despite me doubling back occasionally.
At 62.8 kilometres I come to this nice big and wide bridge. In fact, it's quite substantial so I don't know what they are expecting to encounter. They could have managed with a dip down the bank onto a lower bridge across the river. It would have been much less expensive too.
It's dated of course, like the others that I have noticed, and the date for this one is 2010, ie the current year. That doesn't seem right to me as I am told that the road was opened in late December 2009 and I can't imagine the early travellers swimming the river. Maybe they crossed on the ice, or perhaps there was another earlier bridge here that was washed away in a flash flood or eaten by a polar bear or something.
Meanwhile, the lady who lives in my sat-nav is telling me that there's a right turn in 5.2 miles. Now how on earth does she know that? According to the screen I am still driving on a patch of greenery miles from anywhere
The view from up here is magnificent. This is the top of a range of mountains at kilometre 72.7 showing the view right across the plain behind me. You can see the road stretching miles away in the distance off to the left of centre and that's the direction from whence I have come.
The weather today is quite grim as I have already said, although nothing like as grim as the part of yesterday's drive out of Labrador City, and you can see a hanging cloud on the right edge of the photo, a cloud that chased me up the mountain. And magnificent as the view might be today, just imagine it in September late evening sunset
And I was right about the road. Round about the 78 kilometre point the road starts to deteriorate just as I predicted.
Very shortly afterwards I encountered a matching pair of roadsigns. This particular one was on the other side of the road facing the other way and you will note that I've travelled 85 kilometres so far this morning once I finally hit the road.
But have you seen the way that Happy Valley has been spelt on the sign? There's someone around here who evidently can't spell and I'm sure that it isn't me. Nevertheless, I'll check it out before I make a fool of myself.
On the other side of the road we have a road surface that is very badly cut up and potholed, a very filthy Casey and another roadsign for the direction in which I am travelling.
I am of course going to Cartwright as you know, and that is 296 kilometres away. At the start of the highway Cartwright was 373 kilometres away and so we ought to be at kilometre 77 and so it doesn't take much to work out that the mileage is nothing like it ought to be and someone is doing something wrong.. You can see just how confusing all of this is likely to become.