Friday, August 20, 2010

Day 32 August 1st to August 7th

Sorry for the long delay in posting. Apparently half of the blog I spent writing in Labrador City was lost into cyberspace. Unfortunately, since I wrote in the blog what I would have entered into my journal, I lost my notes. I'll do my best to remember what I lost.

I've finished posting the remainder of my photos on picasa. To see them, click here.
Day 32 August 1st continued (Sunday)

At around 9 AM a woman came by the town center building to bring me over to the town hall where the tour was to begin. My tour was to be led by Karen, and my fellow tour mates were a retired couple (he had worked at the plant in fire and security) and their two granddaughters. We started off by looking at some models of the turbines and then watching a film on the history of the hydro plant.

Outfitted with hard hats and eye and ear protection, we hopped into the van to head up the road to the hydro plant. For security, identification was required of all entering the plant. Passing through security, we drove up to the earthen dam that was the terminus of the canal that brought the water that had been diverted from the Churchill River to the intake pipes for the turbines. The pipes and the turbines below were built into the mountain of solid granite. From the infeed to the outfeed was a drop of around 1000 feet.

The gates that control the flow of the water into the canal, and thus the amount of electricity that can be generated, are located far enough upstream that it takes three days for the water to reach the intake. The amount of electricity needed is determined by Hydro Quebec, the primary recipient of Churchill Falls' power. Thus, when Hydro Quebec lost 2/3rds of its transmission capability in the ice storm some 10 years ago, only 1/3rd of the water in the canal could be utilized by the plant. For the first time in some 30 years, the water in the canal was diverted back to the original channel of the Churchill River and allowed to flow over the spectacular Churchill Falls. As this was a once in a lifetime occurance, our tour guide spoke of grabbing her children out of school and allowing them to see the falls in their spendor.

We visited the underground caverns carved out of the solid rock that contained the transformers, the turbines, and the surge chamber. The hall cavern carved out for the turbines was as tall as a 15 story building and as long as 3 football fields. At one point the plant was the largest underground hydro plant, but now ranked second to a plant that is part of the Jame Bay hydro system. Needless to say, the plant generates an incredible amount of electricity. No wonder the locals use electric heat! ( I was told the teaching jobs in Churchill Falls were popular as teachers had a$100 monthly house rent, free electricity, and a very low student/teacher ratio.)

Returning to the town center building after the tour, I treated myself to a "Super Burger" at the town's only restaurant (in the town's only hotel) in the town center building. Going back to the gym/pool area, I found it open, so I took a welcome shower and washed a few pieces of clothing. I had found a book to read by a recycling barrel, so I spent most of the afternoon reading and relaxing in the bug free lobby of the town center building.

Late afternoon I searched out a small convenience store that was open. The town's grocery store (also located in the town center building) was closed Sundays and Mondays, and was even going to be closed Tuesday as Monday was a special holiday. (I guess the management felt they deserved an extra day off work, too.) I thus had to pick up any extra food I needed for the next leg of the journey to Labrador City. I found a nice bag of trail mix that would fill out the menu. I also picked up a can of beans and some peanuts - destined to be my dinner. I was saving myself for the banana split I had seen on the menu at the restaurant.

Returning the the town center building, I resumed reading, ate my dinner of beans and peanuts, and went up to the restaurant for a dessert of a banana split. The banana split was a bit disappointing, but I was able to finish off the novel in a comfortable atmosphere.

I headed back to the convenience store and bought a quart of milk to use for my cereal in the morning. Back in my tent, I went through the ritual of killing the black flies that entered the tent when I did. That task complete, I settled in for the night.

Unfortunately, the night wasn't very restful. It seems a small group of kids had decided to party at the beach around 100 yards from my tentsite for the night. Their loud conversation continued until morning, making sleep difficult throughout the night.

Day 33 Monday August 2

I arose somewhat tired from a poor night of sleep and quickly emptied the tent and set it on the driveway to dry. Meanwhile, I reorganized my bags, finding room for the food I had purchased. When the tent was dry, I packed it onto the bike and headed over to the town center building for a breakfast of cereal and milk. I hit the road around 8:30.

The road out of Churchill Falls was paved the few miles to the airport. The next 10 miles or so were a good dirt surface and it seemed the day's ride might be easy. Not long after I had left the pavement, I sighted my first and only black bear of the trip as he crossed the road ahead of me. I passed the empty channel of the Churchill River. Now only a trickle runs down through the bedrock that had been carved out by the river.

I was lucky to have continued good weather, but the headwinds continued as I headed west. The dirt road surface was rough and some steeper hills gave me the opportunity to take a "walking break". Not only did these walking breaks give me a different set of muscles to use, but they also gave my still raw seat a break from the saddle. I passed more ponds and rivers, welcome breaks from the monotony of the black spruce forest.

My goal for the day was to cover 75 miles, half the distance to Labrador city. I reached that distance around 7:30 PM, some 11 hours after setting off that morning. I had arrived at the maintenance depot located half-way between Churchill Falls and Labrador City. There I asked some of the truckers staying there if I might throw out my sleeping bag somewhere for the night. I was offered the couch if I wished.

There were 8 truckers staying at the depot. They were all from New Brunswick and they were hauling gravel for the upgrade on the highway. One of the truckers had caught and cooked some trout and I was offered some of the leftovers. Delicious. I was encouraged to share some of the fridge full of beer, and I had to politely refuse a third, fearing the effect on the next day's riding.

Mileage: 75

Day 34 August 3 Tuesday

It was an early awakening as the truckers were up at 4 AM and on the road at 5 AM. I was warned that the day's cycling was going to be extremely dusty, as 30 dump trucks would be travelling a good section of the road. One of the truckers offered to give me a ride to within a few miles of where the pavement began 30 miles from Labrador City, but I let him know that would be cheating my adventure. The truckers shut off the generator when they left, so the depot returned to darkness and I caught a few more minutes of sleep.

I decided to head out around 6 AM, setting my sights for the 75 miles to Labrador City. The road continued to be rough. After around 20 miles I hit the section of road to where the truckers were hauling gravel. As each truck passed me, I was enveloped in a cloud of dust. The truckers who I had met at the depot were courteous and slowed down so their dust cloud wasn't as bad. Two of the older truckers, Ross and Ken, each stopped their trucks and handed me food they had picked up at the worker's camp for me. Ross had picked up a sandwich and some fruit and Ken gave me some cinnamon muffins, sodas, and snack food. I enjoyed the change from my usual lunch menu.

After 20 miles and several hours of dealing with the dust, I finally passed the gravel quarry where the trucks were loading. The road surface became excellent as I was on the section of road due for paving next. I stopped and chatted with one of the flagwomen on the road, and it was she that suggested I might want to wash as my face was covered with dirt. Thirty miles from Labrador City I hit the new pavement. I was still dealing with headwinds and hills, but at least I didn't have to deal with the road being rough. I stopped at one of the lakes I passed and stripped and took a bath, washing my dust filled bug jacket at the same time. It was such a pleasure to be clean!

As I continued on, I got caught in a shower, but waited it out under the plastic with which I covered the bicycle. Shower over, I finished the remaining miles to Labrador City.

My first concern at arriving at Labrador City was to go to the information center to sign up for a tour of the iron mine the next day. Labrador City was a busy town with fast food restaurants, car dealers, and many motels. After a quick burger snack at McD's, I asked directions to the info center and headed there. Unfortunately, the center closed at 4 PM and I didn't get there until 4:30.

I took a different route back to the center of town and passed the Royal Canadian Police barracks on the way. I inquired where there might be a good place to camp and learned the fire station was just down the road. I went there and they were happy to give me a place to camp behind the station. I was offered the use of the shower and bathroom, but as I had bathed, I didn't need them. A nearby restaurant was recommended and I enjoyed a hot roast beef sandwich with extra scoops of mashed potatoes for dinner.

Returning to the fire station, I asked where the town library was located so I could go onto the internet. It turned out to be across the street from the fire station. I went over and worked on my blog until closing time.

Days Mileage: 75

Day 35 August 4th Wednesday

I set the tent on the driveway to dry and the fireman on duty offered me the use of the washing machine at the firehouse, so I washed all the dirty clothes that I had and hung them over the tent poles to dry. I then went over to the library and worked some more on my blog (this section disappeared into cyberspace!) When the library closed at noon, I packed up my bags, went to the Subway at the street below for a sandwich, and then hurried over to the information center where the tour of the mine was to begin at 1:30. I had to check in and pay my $10 before that time. I ate my sandwich there and we were loaded onto a school bus for the tour.

I must say the tour was a bit disappointing. The tour guide was extremely short on information. He'd make a statement like, "Here is the concentration building. That is where the ore is concentrated." No, duh! How about what is the concentration of the iron before and after it was processed? Added to this, we were unable to get off the bus at the two observation points at which we stopped. The scale of the open pit mine was still impressive.

Following the tour, I cycled the short distance to the mall on the way out of Labrador City. I picked up some more food for what I expected to be a five day trip to Baie-Comeau. It was then a short distance to the Labrador/Quebec border. I had cycled the complete Trans-Labrador Highway! While at the border, a couple of motorcyclists from Rhode Island came along and we traded off taking photos of each other. I then continued on and turned off the highway onto the short road leading to the mining town of Fermont. In Fermont, I called up the friend of my Warmshowers host's Alice and Jeff, who brought me the key to their appartment. They had arranged that I could stay there, even though they were in Guatemala. Talk about trusting!

The apartment was located in what is called "The Wall", a multistory building that is about a quarter of a mile long. The building shields the homes on its southern side from the north winds as well as containing multiple apartments and all the town's businesses. They even have a strip club in the building! I was told they had multiple suicides there one year because many of the residents never went outside. They apparently shut down some hallways, forcing the residents to step outside for a short distance if they wanted to go somewhere in the building.

Having a nice kitchen to cook in, I went to the grocery store and treated myself to a nice steak, salad and fresh green beans for dinner. I even bought some beer to go with the meal, leaving the remainder for my hosts upon their return.

I wish I had met Alice and Jeff. By the school calendar on the wall and the notebooks and texts on the shelves, I surmised they are both teachers. We would have had a lot to share as their photographs on the wall of Nepal, Thailand, and other countries brought back memories of my around-the-world trip.

Mileage: 17

Day 36 August 5th Thursday

I had a hearty breakfast of boiled eggs, bagels, and yogurt for breakfast. When I carried my bicycle back outside and when I was mounting my panniers, I found that there was a crack at a mounting hole in one of the low rider racks and the screw had disconnected from the rack. Using some of the wire I had wound around my pump for such repairs, I bound the lowrider rack to the stay from the upper rack to make it more secure.

I had about 10 miles of pavement as I headed into the headwind to Mont Wright. Chatting with one of the civil engineers there, I learned that the ore there is extremely rich, containing 50% iron, as compared to the 30% at Labrador City. He also explained how the concentration process worked. The ore is ground up and then in a solution of water it goes through a centerfuge process where the iron ore is separated. This particular engineers job was dealing with the water and rock particles that were left from the process.

After Mont Wright, the road again returned to gravel. The road twisted and turned and at times it felt like I was going in a circle. I learned that the road had been constructed by striking miners. The mining company had allowed the workers to use the mine equipment for construction. There was next to no engineering done on the road so it was neither straight nor flat. The road constantly crossed the railroad tracks that led to a new mine site under development.

At Fire Lake, another mine site, the road again turned to pavement. It continued through the town of Gagnon, a previous mining town that is now just a set of sidewalks along the road, and at one point, a divided highway where at one point must have been the town's center. A short way out of town, the road again turned to gravel.

It was a slow day of cycling, so it wasn't until early evening when I reached my day's goal of 73 miles. I saw a sand pit with a backhoe parked in it that looked like a reasonable camping spot. I was able to lean the bike on the backhoe to keep it upright. As a storm was brewing on the horizon, I quickly set up the tent and decided on a cold dinner of peanut butter and jelly on bagels.

It rained heavily during the night with a strong wind. My tent pegs didn't hold well in the sandy soil and by morning most of the rainfly guy strings had pulled loose allowing water to seep onto my tent's footprint (ground cloth.) Fortunately the tent has a bathtub style floor that didn't allow the water beneath into the tent.


Day 37 August 6th Friday

It was still raining when I woke up and I had to pack up the tent wet during a lull in the rain. It wasn't until 9 AM that I had finished breakfast and was packed up. I headed back onto the highway. There was a cold headwind and I was only able to travel 25 miles by noon. At that time I could see a heavy shower approaching. By luck, I happened upon a maintenance depot at that time and found shelter under the residences front porch. I was chilled, so I put on my warmer long underwear top. I was already wearing pants and a jacket. A strong wind came with the rain and I had to curl up under a table on the porch to stay dry. I started in on my lunch of ham and cheese slices on wraps.

One of the workers entered the residence at that time and as I was still chilled, I asked if I could come in and eat my lunch. He obliged and even offered me a hot cup of coffee, which I gladly accepted. When both he and I had finished our lunches, I was offered some bottled water to take with me, but I took some water from the bulk bottle instead.

Back on the highway, the road turned more westward and I there was a strong headwind. The road became hillier with steep climbs and descents. To the northeast I would get glimpses of Lac Manicouagan, a lake formed by an asteroid impact. The crater is over 40 miles in diameter and on the island in its center, minerals not formed here on earth have been found. I took many "walking breaks" on the grades of 8 to 11 %.

The black spruce forest became denser as the branches were fuller than out in the open plateau. The mountains provide some protection from the winds.

When I had reached the 70 mile mark for the day, I started looking for a place to camp. Serendipity struck when I approached a hiker standing by the trailhead for a group of mountains called Uapishka. The hiker, Justin, told me there was a camp where I could spend the night up the path from the trailhead. We followed the path and along the way saw several fanciful totem poles and other whimsical structures. The first building we came to was a sweat lodge. It was open and it looked like it had a reasonable bed in it in which to spend the night. Continuing up the path, we found two more cabins, one of which was open to be used.

Justin and I decided to have dinner together. I had some camper's beef stroganoff and he had some deli meatloaf and some fresh vegetables and dip, and some wine! I added his meat to the stroganoff and we ate in grand style. I slept in the cabin for the night and he returned to sleep in his car. Be sure to see the photos in Picasa of the structures at the encampment. It felt like I was visiting the Hobbits!

Mileage: 72.5

Day38 August 7th Saturday

I had nice weather today, but the travelling continued to be arduous. The road conditions weren't horrible, but it was a constant roller coaster of hills. I had to be careful not to pick up too much speed on the downhills, as loose gravel was always a danger. The road was winding, so it was interesting traveling, but with the slow going I just had to be patient.

Around 20 miles into the day I reached Relais Gabriel, the half-way stop between the Quebec border and the St. Lawrence River. There is a small restaurant and hotel there, and I stopped for some coffee and a roll. I chatted a while with a motorcyclist from Toronto who had cycled to Newfoundland, only to find it would have taken weeks to get a ferry reservation to go to Nova Scotia and thus he had to retrace his route back through Labrador and Quebec.

Back on the road, I pushed on with the goal of reaching pavement at the Manic 5 power station. I t was around 7:30 pm and I was near my goal when disaster struck. As I was descending a hill around 20 mph, a screw failed where the lowrider rack mounts to an eyelet on the front fork and the rack caught in the spokes causing me to catapult over the handlebars. I was able to stand up and inspect the bicycle - finding the front fork bent back slightly and the front wheel unable to roll with the rack twisted into the spokes. Worried about shock, I put on my polar fleece coat and windbreaker and bent over the bicycle. My shoulder was very sore and I had a moderate amount of road rash on my knees. I figured I better take a ride and get checked out by a doctor. About 20 minutes later, a truck came along and I flagged it down. The driver, Ron Karnaske from Charlotte NC, helped me load my packs into the truck and he tied the bicycle down across his flatbed trailer. Ron then drove me the hilly, twisty 150 miles to Baie-Comeau, the nearest town. We arrived in Baie-Comeau after midnight.
Mileage: 70

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