Baie-Comeau… estas

July 27, 2010

Departing Labrador City on Saturday, I was full of hope and determination for what was going to be the longest day of riding so far. The ride from Lab City to Baie-Comeau in Quebec is roughly 8 hours and my backside was not looking forward to it as much as my brain was. Fortunately, there was some pavement to ride on until a little past Mont-Wright where you come to a mining area and the gravel starts. Now here is where the road gets interesting.

There is a lot of gravel on this part of the road and pockets of deep loose gravel at the edges of the road. After 5 mins or so on this part of the road, I was being closely trailed by a car who obviously wanted to pass me so, being the fine fellow that I am, I started to angle the bike to the side of the road to let him pass. However, he didn’t take the hint and so I looked in my mirror and began to wave him by. Looking in my mirror meant that I wasn’t looking at the road and the large pile of loose gravel on the side of the road that I was about to drive over with one hand on the handlebars! As the car roared by in a cloud of dust, I hit the gravel and the front wheel started to slide out. Grabbing the handlebars and kicking my left foot out to stop the bike from going down, I managed to regain control of the bike long enough to realize that I was now OUT OF ROAD!!!

Off the road and into the bushes I went doing about 20mph, at that point. St. Christopher was obviously watching over me because that part of the road had no 5 or 6 foot drop off like most of the Trans Lab Hwy and there were no large rocks or boulders hidden in the bushes for me to hit. Actually, the bushes that I hit were a typical one for that part of the country and they were about 5 feet tall and very thick, with branches that were flexible yet strong. Basically, they acted like a net to catch me so that, and the copious use of brakes, stopped me from going more than 6 or 7 feet into the bushes. As, I sat on the bike surrounded by bushes, you could just see my head sticking out over the tops of the bushes. It was kind of comical actually and I wish I had taken a picture but I was a bit shaken. Two more cars passed right by me and didn’t even see me in the bushes… kept on driving… maybe they thought I was part of the wildlife!!!

Anyway, I managed to force my way back on the road thanking BMW for the horsepower it gave the beast. Now, the French – Canadian engineer who designed the next 50 miles of road was drunk when he did it… of this I have no doubt. The gravel road was in fair condition but the constant twisty turns and crowning of hills only to have another hairpin turn right away made the ride less than fun. Maybe my earlier mishap had sapped my confidence but the bike got real loose a few times and I reduced my speed significantly for fear of going off the road again. When I reached Manic-Cinq and pavement I was ecstatic!

Manic-Cinq is home to the largest buttress-arch dam in the world but more importantly it has pavement all the way to Baie-Comeau!! Thank you, God!!!! After more than 1400km of gravel and enough dust to last a lifetime, I was ready for smooth riding. As I walked into the hotel lobby covered in dust (and bushes) I smiled politely to the young lady at the front desk as she calmly asked me do I have a reservation… IN FRENCH!!!

Oh yeah, I’m in Quebec now… DUH! 5 years of high school French came flooding back to me… all three words I remembered anyway 🙂 I mumbled my way through with a few Oui’s and merci’s and was soon checked in and headed across the street to a brasserie (brewery). Now, the French aren’t known for their tolerance of non-French speaking people and my lovely waitress was no exception. The thing is that they don’t realize that if you just give us a chance to try to speak French we will but intimidation and a bad attitude doesn’t help 🙂 Eventually, I managed to stumble through and order something… that turned out to be steak kabobs and rice… who knew I could do it… I actually thought I had ordered a Greek salad and some pork chops but it was all good 🙂

Tomorrow I was off to Quebec City where even more French speaking xenophobes lived… joy! I’m kidding… I was looking forward to practicing my French… there is something very sexy about that language. Not when it comes out of my mouth of course but I was looking forward to hearing it spoken properly again… preferably by a beautiful, chain smoking hussy 🙂

Largest multiple arch dam in the world


Groundhog Day

July 26, 2010

So Friday morning I walk out of my hotel to go to the hydro plant tour.  Flat tire AGAIN!!!!  Took off rear wheel.. AGAIN!!!  Couldn’t find leak… AGAIN!!!  This time I got smart and pumped up the wheel and took it upstairs for a bath.  Leak found 🙂  Small little bugger but a leak none the less.  So, back downstairs quickly for the 2.5 hour tour of the plant.  Very interesting stuff but I had a tire to change and I had to be in Labrador City that night.

Managed to change the tire to my spare… good planning to have one… then had lunch before setting off on the four hour drive.  The spare tire wasn’t a true knobby tire but a hybrid (Metzeler Tourance) but it worked fine in the gravel.  Not much else to report :)

Churchill falls… again!

July 24, 2010

So the next morning I go outside to ride off and hike to the falls as well as see where the water exits the plant at Tailrace. However, my bike had other plans. The rear tire was completely flat! Crap… this is the adventure part I guess! Ok, no big deal… I have spare tires for this exact thing and although I have never changed a tire on this bike, I changed a ton of them in my youth! Be that as it may, I still decided to take a quick look at a tire changing video I had on my PC… just in case there was something special about changing a large tubeless tire. TUBELESS… did I say tubeless? Crap… all my experience has been with tubed tires but you’ve got to figure tubeless must be simpler yeah? Ahhh… maybe 🙂

So good thing I watched the video cause the whole breaking the bead thing was new to me and I had to learn how to use the “bead-breaker” tool. Good tool once you know how to use it 🙂 Feeling sufficiently knowledgeable, I proceeded to remove the back tire and got a good look at the surface of it. Despite scouring every inch of that tire, I couldn’t find a hole or much of anything. Hmmmm…. strange. So, feeling smart, I cranked up my tire pump and put 35psi in the tire. Then I got a bucket of soapy water and proceeded to douse the tire and look for the leak. So here I am in the middle of the supermarket parking lot with tires, tools and soapy water spread all around. No dice though… I still couldn’t find the leak. So, then I thought someone must have been busting my balls and let the air out so I put the tire back on and took a spin down to Tailrace to see the water exiting the plant.

Now, I’m halfway to Tailrace and I realize 2 things. One, my tire is slowly losing air and, two, I am driving down a remote road to a place I’ve never been but it is close to the dump… and BEARS! No-one knows where I am and I have no GPS locator, cell phone or bear spray. Instantly a news headline runs through my mind… BIG BEAR BITES BRETT BAD!

I make it to the bottom and snap a few quick pictures before jumping on my rapidly deflating tire and speeding back to town… bears can’t run faster than 25pmh 🙂

Back in town, I break out the tools again and this time I take the tire completely off the rim. I look at it again inside and out and can’t find any defect. Screw it, I’m lubing up my spare tire about to put it on when over saunters this Argentinian mechanic who happens to be stranded in town waiting for a new fuel pump. He looks at the old tire and can’t find anything wrong either except a lot of dust around the bead. He surmises that somehow dust has worked itself into the bead and is causing a slow leak. Clean up the tire, re-bead it and put it back on and it will be fine he says. Ok, so I do it and by the time all this is over the entire day is over! What a waste of a day.

Off I go to my room for bed because I am leaving town tomorrow morning after the hydro tour.

Churchill Falls

July 24, 2010

Ok… so sorry it took so long to update my posts. I’ve been busy 🙂

Phase II of the Trans Labrador Hwy runs from Goose Bay to Labrador City but I decided to stop halfway in the remote town of Churchill Falls. This town is home to a massive hydro-electric plant that was the largest in the world when completed in 1970. It generates over 5,400 megawatts of electricity… check the link under my Blogroll for more info.

The reason I stopped was to take a tour of the hydro plant. Unfortunately, the tour guide had sprained her ankle and so I had to stay two days in this thumping town of 650 people until another tour guide returned from vacation.

The drive on the gravel from Goose Bay provided some nice scenery but little else in the way of excitement. When I arrived at Churchill Falls I checked into the only hotel in town and asked the hotel manager, Kirby, what there was to do in Churchill falls. His response was “meet me here at 5:30 and I will show you around.” Let me tell you, this guy was the absolute epitome of “nice” Canadian.

At the appointed time Kirby whisked me off in his truck and showed me things that I guess most visitors don’t get to see. First, he showed me the basin of where Churchill Falls used to run before the hydro project. The river must have been huge! It was also cool to see the old cable car infrastructure that they used to use to cross the river in the old days. Then we tore off on some back roads and drove across the top of some of the largest dykes I have ever seen. These dykes were constructed in several places to hold back and divert the water for the hydro project. In total, the they contribute to a drainage basin roughly equal to the size of Florida!

On we drove to a place called Pike hole where Kirby guaranteed me that we would catch a fish on the first cast. Well… first cast he hooked a fish that broke the line and ran off with his brand new lure. Second cast was pretty good and he pulled in a Northern Pike. I gave it a shot and pulled in a bigger one… that swallowed the entire hook so I felt bad that Kirby had lost two lures in a very short space of time.

Undeterred, we drove on the the Whitefish locks where I proceeded to foolishly climb out onto one of the fingers where the water was rushing through. The power of nature was truly spectacular and I’m glad I did it.

I had said to Kirby earlier that I had never seen a bear in the wild and his response was “I can show you plenty of bears.” I was very excited as we sped off to… the town dump!!!! Sadly, the black bears in the area know how to find an easy meal and as many as 22 of them at one time have been spotted at the dump. We pulled up and climbed onto the mounds surrounding the dump. Sure enough, a small adolescent black bear was digging through the trash. As we stood and watched him, another 3 bears arrived to join the fun. We kept looking back over our shoulders because the bears could pop up at any time right behind you. I did not need that close of a nature experience.

After snapping some pictures, I headed back to the hotel and had dinner before turning in for the night with a movie and an Aero bar 🙂

All in all, it was a great day and I got to see a few things I had never seen before… that’s what it is all about!

Duck, duck, goose!

July 20, 2010

I had a conference call this morning so I left Port Hope Simpson around 10:30am headed for Goose Bay. This is the newest stretch of the Trans Labrador Hwy and was opened in Dec 2009. Although technically open, as one construction worker told me today, “the road isn’t quite finished.” The road was in good shape coming out of PHS and heading the roughly 70km to Cartwright Junction. From there the road to Goose Bay actually improved as it became a packed down track with little gravel. I made good speed at about 55mph but then reality set in when the road suddenly became much more laden with gravel.

If you have ever had the pleasure of riding on gravel on a bike you will know that gravel plays havoc with your front tire and makes the bike “shimmy” or get a bit “loose.” Having experience with “loose” things I had no major problems 🙂 but I did have to concentrate in order not to get into trouble. There are about 30km of road still under construction but apparently I timed my ride perfectly. As I pulled up to the first construction worker holding a stop sign he informed me that the whole bunch were about to go on break and that I should have no delays. He was right and I got to tackle the rough roads without worrying about being run over by heavy equipment or having to stop every five minutes. It was fun and necessary to ride standing up on the pegs for about 10km although my neck hurt in the end because the bike is still too short for a 6’7″ freak like myself.

The weather was a perfect 70 degrees and sunshine for 95% of the trip with torrential rains coming down on me about 15 miles from Goose Bay. So yes, I was ridden hard and put away wet!

No more issues with the deathtrap ESA so that was good news. I didn’t do many pictures cause there wasn’t really anywhere to stop although I was having an Atkins bar on the side of the road (thanks Chris) and a guy stopped because he thought I was in trouble. His only comment when I told him I was from Bermuda was… “Yer a long ways from home then, aye!” Ahhhhhh… for all you Bill Engvall fans… Here’s your sign 🙂

The BMW Deathtrap!!!

July 19, 2010

So, the usual ho-hum driving for an hour and a half to the ferry terminal in 55 degree fog. I was last onto the ferry and it was a short hour and a half trip from St. Barbe to Blanc Sablon. I roared out of the terminal and started the trek to Port Hope Simpson. The pavement to Red Bay was a bit beat up but still passable. The weather changed for the better and the sun was shining and it was 75 degrees. The scenery was quite beautiful as you can see.

When I got to the beginning of the gravel at Red Bay, I stopped and put the Automatic Stability Control (ASC) into off road mode and the Electronic Suspension Adjustment (ESA) into two up and off road smooth mode. I also disabled the Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) as it can be dangerous to ride off road with it on.

I rode 60 miles on the gravel doing roughly 50-55mph without even a hiccup. Then I am coming down a small incline and I go through a depression in the road… not a pothole just a little bouncy bump. All of a sudden the suspension goes haywire. The entire front suspension freaks out and all the weight is suddenly shifted to the rear. The bike is wildly swerving back and forth as I try to control it because essentially there is little to no weight on the the front tire. It was like trying to steer a snowmobile on the pavement. I came about a foot from going over the edge at 50mph in the middle of no-where! I managed to get the bike to stop and after calming my thumping heart I looked over everything including my tire tracks that swerved back and forth back up the road. There were no issues that I could see so I did a little ten mph test ride and again the the bike was un-drivable because the front suspension seemed to be fully extended and the bike’s weight distribution was to the rear. I stopped and changed the ESA back to one rider with luggage and normal mode. The settings took effect and the whole front of the bike dropped a huge distance as the ESA “released” the fully extended front shocks.

I drove rather carefully to Port Hope Simpson without further incident but now I am freakin paranoid. Is my BMW a deathtrap? It almost killed me… or scared me enough that as soon as I am back to civilization, it will be going to the nearest BMW dealer for a once over and to have the ESA thoroughly tested.

There be whales, Captain… part deux!

July 19, 2010

So, guess what the weather was like this morning… yup… FOG. So much for my whales and icebergs. I went to the dock anyway and the fog actually began to lift a little so out we went in the boat. What an amazing trip. Whales of every shape and size, dolphins, birds and even ORCAS!!! Also, the biggest iceberg you have ever seen. The trip was absolutely amazing and if you believe that then I have some swampland in Florida to sell you.

Friggin whales!!!! I didn’t see anything but a whole lot of ocean, vomiting passengers and a couple of measly birds… 95% success rate my derriere!!!! The whales have it in for me I think. This is now the fourth unsuccessful trip this season for me. I’m giving up on the whales.

After getting off the boat I took the 30 min drive to L’Anse aux Meadows. See the link under my blogroll for more info. Pretty cool place and it was interesting to stand in the place where Norsemen lived more than a thousand years ago.

As I was working on my bike before dinner, I bumped into the four gentlemen on BMW’s who I had met on the way to big falls. We exchanged tips as I lashed my spare tires onto the rear of my bike. I was preparing for the Trans-Labrador Highway… about 1500km of gravel roads and my first big off road adventure in a very remote part of the world. See the link under my blogroll for more info.

Wish me luck and oh… BTW… its raining again and is supposed to for the next 3 days… ARRRGGGHHHHhhhh!!!!!