Two friends travel from Portland, Maine to Labrador and back again on motorcycles
The Raft River to Happy Valley-Goose Bay – 213 miles
May 31, 2018 — I woke to the sound of rain pattering on my tent. It wasn’t a torrent. I got up. Dean and I huddled around his Jetboil, not talking much, till the coffee was ready. The rain let up and we packed our things.
Before we left, we went down to the river and, kneeling on a large, flat rock, washed our faces and hands. The water was bracing. It couldn’t have been more than a few degrees above freezing. Then, I gave Dean Fishbones’ bottle. It had been a perfect hobo campsite. Dean said some words and sprinkled him into the Raft River. The water carried him down stream and into the ages.
Around 50 miles down the road, we hit Churchill Falls. It’s a funny name for the town, since there’s no falls — not anymore. In 1970, they diverted the Churchill River into a series of giant tubes leading to power generating turbines. Once the water has done it’s electricity-making, it’s spit back out into the water course. The river diversion leaves the 245-foot “falls” mostly dry.
The town is one of the last truly company towns in North America. The Churchill Falls Labrador Corporation Limited owns everything. It’s got a humungus, central building, like Fermont in Quebec, though not nearly as large. It did have an eatery, hotel and supermarket inside.
We made our way there, first. Inside, we found the bathroom and the restaurant. I had fried chicken and onion rings. Dean had an open faced turkey sandwich with a surprise bone in the middle. We were the only ones there. During a lull in the conversation, I heard something like nails on a chalkboard.
It was the sound of Donald Trump’s voice.
I got up to see where it was coming from. Around the corner, it turned out, was a wall-mounted television tuned to a Canadian news channel. The big story was new aluminum tariffs and tension between the United States and Canada.
Tension between our two countries — for no good reason — is bad enough. But to have to endure the sound of political pundits and politicians that far from home, after a night on the Raft River, was too much. I lost my appetite and almost didn’t finish my o-rings. Needless to say, we didn’t linger in the restaurant.
Wandering around the colossal building, we found a gift shop and post office. I sent a card home and Dean bought tchotchkes. Then, after a return visit to the restrooms for good measure, we went to the supermarket for road snacks.
As we were stowing our snacks, a four-door work truck parked next to us. Inside, was a load of hard-hatted men, smoking cigarettes. They asked where we were from. We told them. Then, they asked us to tell our president to drop the steel and aluminum tariff shenanigans before someone got hurt. They were good natured but not joking.
We promised to phone Trump with the request as soon as we got home. It sure is embarrassing to be lumped in with American politicians when traveling abroad.
We got gas from a friendly young station attendant, who asked us a lot of good questions about New England, and left town.
For three hours we rode over the same, snow-patched landscape as before. Then, after more roadside coffee and cigarillos, our path started to descend. The rocks and stunted spruce gave way to leafless birch tall evergreens and glacial sand. It got warmer, too. We were coming into the Happy Valley.
Then, without ceremony, Route 500 — the true Trans-Lab Highway — came to an end. At a junction, Route 510 went left, toward Northwest River and the Hamilton River Road led right, into Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
Pausing just a moment, we turned right. Before we got into the town, proper, I stopped to make a phone call. We’d been given Liz and Mike’s number by a friend of a friend with assurances they’d take care of us.
I got Liz on the phone and she gave me directions to their house. As we tooled into town, I noticed a bike pull out of a side street and start tailing us. It was blue, maybe a Suzuki V-Strom, and followed us clear across town.
When we pulled off the main street, into the Mike and Liz’s residential neighborhood, the bike stayed with us. I wondered what was going on.
When we stopped, just in front of our destination, it pulled up alongside of me. Just then, Mike came striding out of his yard to welcome us. Before Mike reached me, the man on the bike asked us if we needed a place to stay. He’d heard about our trip on the advrider.com forum. When he spotted us, he figured out who we were.
I just had time to tell him that we were meeting folks just now. I turned to say hello to Mike as he reached me and the man on the blue bike left. I never got his name but I don’t suppose I’ll forget his friendly gesture. It was impressive.
Mike and Liz could not have been more welcoming, giving us lots of wonderful food and plenty of beer. We went from strangers to old friends in about two hours. After dinner, it was decided we’d stay a day with them and rest a little. Mike had the next day (Friday) off and would show us around.
Dean and I went to sleep that night in a finished room above the garage. It was a palace. We had no trouble dropping off to dreamland. Mike and Liz’s energy, conversation and amazing hospitality had left us fat, happy and a little dazed.