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You’ve probably never heard of it: The Trans-Labrador Highway. Maybe you don’t even remember hearing much about Labrador. If not, no worries, not many people do. It is part of a Canadian Provence (Newfoundland/Labrador) that is a vast landscape of trees, rocks, lakes, and a few hardy souls associated with iron ore mining, hydroelectric plants, or the Canadian military.

Typical landscape in Labrador: Hardy trees and shrubs growing on shallow soils excavated and placed by the last continental glacier from the granites of the Great Canadian Shield.

Labrador is located on the Great Canadian Shield which was covered by a continental glacier as late as 10,000 years ago. Why am I interested in this wild, isolated place? It has been on my bucket list for a motorcycling travel adventure for several years. I completed a trip from Virginia to Deadhorse, Alaska, at Prudhoe Bay in 2019 with a couple of my buddies. Now, where could I find an equally exciting and challenging ride as a follow-up? Furthermore, Horizons Unlimited, a worldwide long-distance motorcycling organization, was holding one of its Travelers Rallys in Newfoundland. That presented a nice opportunity to meet some like-minded folks and complete the Trans-Lab in the process.

If you are on Facebook with me, you know I completed the ride and you have seen some of my photos from this fascinating trip. With separate blog posts featuring first Nova Scotia, then Newfoundland, and finally Labrador and Quebec, I will expand on my experience and maybe tempt you to travel this route yourself—by car, motorcycle, or bicycle; you choose.

The trip that my riding buddy Jeff and I initially proposed, only part of which would entail the Trans-Lab, was just under 6,000 miles; we planned to complete it in 25 days. The map below shows our proposed route after we departed Virginia and spent two days riding to Maine. We would be riding each day and spending only one night in a given place except for two nights in Halifax, Nova Scotia, two in St. John’s, Newfoundland, and three near Lomond, Newfoundland at the Travelers Rally.

Our proposed route (heavy blue line) through the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Labrador, and Quebec. For perspective, note the state of Maine in the lower left corner of the map.

“Hey, how you doing? How long have been here? Jeff asked as he removed his helmet in front of Granny’s. “Doing well. Maybe 5 minutes,” I replied while I shut down my GPS and helmet intercom. Jeff and I have been riding together since 2013; we have a knack for timing our rendezvous points for simultaneous arrival. Jeff rode from Virginia Beach and I from Blacksburg, Virginia. We each had a three-hour ride from different ends of the state and met at Granny’s, a local restaurant, in Winchester, Virginia for a late breakfast. Our destination at the end of this first day would be Milford, PA, a long 560-mile ride.

Jeff and I traveled from different ends of Virginia and met at Granny’s outside Winchester, VA, to begin our adventure together.
The end of the first day at the Scottish Inn in Milford, PA.

The second day’s ride to Oakland, ME, was equally long, but we received a warm welcome and a cold beer from nephew Brent and his husband Michael as we pulled into their driveway. Our stay with them doubled as a family visit as well as a travel stop-over. There’s always a lot of family gossip to catch up on when time is long between visits. These guys are wonderful hosts, and staying in their beautiful house on Messalonskee Lake in Oakland, ME, a tiny community, was a treat. Now we looked forward to a few days in Nova Scotia via Saint John

Some expensive bourbon on the boat dock after dinner helped ensure an early and good night’s sleep.
Our route for the next five days before meeting the Newfoundland ferry at North Sydney.

With the help of some of Brent and Michael’s tasty bourbon, Jeff and I completed our ArriveCAN application on our iPhones. We had already scanned our passport and COVID shot card into the app and needed only the time and place we would cross the border into Canada. It was almost too easy. After all the closed border problems of the previous two years, we thought it would be more involved. By the time we pulled up to the customs window, the agent already had everything he needed from the ArriveCAN app. Two quick questions and we were sent on into New Brunswick. Jeff worried a little about the border crossing, but I guess we did not fall within the badass biker demographic requiring a baggage search. Maybe it was those yellow riding jackets.

Welcome to New Brunswick. Crossing the border was made easy with Canada’s ArriveCAN app.

Saint John, New Brunswick, on the Bay of Fundy seemed like an interesting place, but it was a traveling target only because it is where a ferry departs for Nova Scotia. We had time for one tourist-type visit and chose the Carleton Martello Tower National Historic Site overlooking the city. It is one of nine Martello Towers built by the British during the War of 1812. The tower and adjacent visitor center are managed by Parks Canada; we learned much about the city, its harbor, and the role the tower played over nearly two centuries. And its location on a high hill above the city offered some great views on a beautiful late afternoon.

Jeff at the Carleton Martello Tower above Saint John, New Brunswick.
Saint John city and harbor on the Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick, Canada.

Bay Ferries Limited, the ferry operator, posted a strong statement about arriving at the terminal no less than 1.5 hours prior to the 8:00 AM departure. Jeff was already up and had completed a mile walk by 5:30, which meant we would arrive 2 hours prior, in the fog, and first in line. It’s a military thing—always get there first for an edge on the enemy, a habit hard to break.

On the ferry, we met our friends Don and Karen from Riner, Virginia. Don is one of my riding buddies (Alaska trip 2019). He thought a trip to Newfoundland was such a great idea that he decided to take Karen along, especially since it was a way to celebrate their wedding anniversary. We overlapped at several locations on our way to and around Newfoundland. It was their idea to take this ferry to Digby, Nova Scotia because Digby is world-renowned for its fine scallops. Halfway across the Bay the fog lifted and exposed a glass-like surface of calm water. There was no need to worry about my bike being secured by only one strap. Digby is a charming town, but Jeff and I motored on toward Liverpool on the opposite coast. Don and Karen stayed for scallops.

As a lover of natural and historic landscapes, I was captivated by our ride through the unpopulated center of Nova Scotia. I got a sense of what the original forest might have been like even though it is largely second-growth. It is a great example of the Acadian forest which boasts a rich diversity of native trees, 50 or more species, including yellow birch, red spruce, American beech, and sugar maple, to name a few. We stopped for a closer look. It is a forest that sucks you in, like a warm blanket. You walk through it slowly because you can’t help noticing the unique differences between each tree, its bark, leaf shape, crown architecture, and its place among others. When you know their names they become your friends. Yeah, you want to hug them (maybe it’s just me).

In the center of the province, and within the Acadian forest, is Nova Scotia’s largest national park, Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site. It was designated “historic” to attest to 4,000 years of Mi’kmaq occupancy, the regional indigenous tribe. The cultural landscape includes petroglyph, habitation, burial, fishing sites, hunting territories, and travel routes. I can’t pronounce Kejimkujik, but it is derived from the Mi’kmaq word meaning “little fairies.” There is a Fairy Lake and Fairy Bay nearby. With 381 square kilometers of rolling hills, old-growth hemlocks, and interconnected waterways, Keji, as it’s known affectionately by local folks, is a beautiful wilderness to canoe, camp, and connect with nature—seems I never have enough time to explore places like this, but it makes me happy that others can and do.

Still, without much Canadian currency, it was time to find an ATM and some lunch. We found both on either side of Main Street in Liverpool. But how to feed the parking meter? Jeff had some loose change, but we didn’t know the difference between a loonie and a toonie. Just then Norman came by and set us straight. With his help, we fed the parking meter then we all went into Dixie Lee for fish and chips.

That’s Norman, a new friend who helped us work the parking meter in Liverpool, Nova Scotia.

Norman lived in the next town and was here to visit a sick friend. He was a fisherman for 20 years then drove a refrigerated truck full of lobster and fish to places including Boston and New York for another 20 years. After sharing stories, we became fast friends and shared tee shirts. Norman was really fond of Jeff’s BMW shirt but would need to wait until Jeff could find and send the XL one he knew he had at home.

Norman was just one example of many kind and helpful Canadians we would meet along the way. Oh yeah, you all knew why the Canadian $1 dollar coin is called a loonie because of the loon pictured on its reverse side. Toonie was an obvious choice for the $2 dollar coin simply because it was two dollars.

Norman and Jeff having lunch at Dixie Lee’s. Norman, a local Canadian became our friend during a lunch stop in Liverpool, Nova Scotia.

Old Town Lunenberg on Nova Scotia’s east coast is one of only two urban communities in North America designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Seventy percent of the original colonial buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries adorn the streets with their colorful facades. Founded in 1753, the town was one of the first British attempts to settle Protestants in the area. It is quite a tourist destination due to its UNESCO designation, but its offshore fishery is still vibrant which contributes to the presence of Canada’s largest secondary fish-processing plant. We plugged our motorcycles into some tight parking spots, found an ice cream shop, and enjoyed the picturesque waterfront.

I had never been there, but was always curious about the city of Halifax, Nova Scotia, because of the complex role its citizens played during the American Revolution. At the beginning of the War in 1776 many sympathized with the American Patriots, and most folks in Nova Scotia were New Englanders. But as the British withdrew from the American colonies at the conclusion of the Revolutionary War, they sought land on which to settle the Loyalists who were displaced by the war. Their search led many of them to Halifax.

Hotels in the city were expensive, so we found a place across the Bay in Dartmouth. Halifax prides itself in being a “walkable city” so we took a taxi to the city center and were dropped off at a coffee shop adjacent to the not-yet-open Citadel.

The history of Halifax and much of Nova Scotia was beautifully displayed and, to some degree, re-enacted at the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site. The Halifax Citadel is certainly a comprehensive museum, but it’s a lot more than that. Every day, the Citadel comes to life with the sounds and color of its re-enactment interpreters, the 78th Highlanders, and the Royal Artillery. Dressed in the same uniforms that their respective regiments wore in the mid-1880s, they guard the entrance and conduct marching and band drills on the parade grounds. Historians say that Halifax, a city on the sea, owes its existence to the Citadel. This fortification on the large hill overlooking the easily defended harbor below led the British military to establish the town at this location. Today, the Citadel continues to watch over the downtown core, although now it serves as an active display of the city’s proud history. Everyone we met at the Citadel was enthusiastic and eager to share their knowledge of this place. The Citadel was clearly the place to begin our inquiry.

The downtown of Halifax was indeed walkable. The east-west streets are steep but they all lead to the waterfront which was chock full of people enjoying the shops, restaurants, and museums on a warm, sunny Friday afternoon. The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic was the best and most comprehensive display of the history of ocean-going vessels and ocean sailing I’ve seen. And the fine restaurants served the best scallops, cod, and halibut along with beer from a dozen craft breweries. We especially liked the scallops and Alexander Keith’s Lager.

The pedestrian ferry across the bay to Dartmouth was free. Then it was a two-mile walk past Lake Banook to the hotel. Earlier during his morning walk, Jeff discovered that the 2022 World Canoe Races were ongoing on the Lake. We would walk right by this international festival. On the ferry next to us stood two young Hungarian women with race logo tee shirts. Ever curious, we struck up a conversation and learned through their heavily accented but good English that they were part of Team Hungary. We also learned much about the event and the specific race in which Laura and Vina’g would be competing. They had been racing canoes professionally for eight and eleven years, respectively. I couldn’t help but notice their muscular arms and broad shoulders; they would surely win their race.

As we approached Lake Banook we heard enthusiastic cheering; someone’s team was paddling harder than the rest and winning the race. The street adjacent to the Lake was lined with vendors of all sorts including food trucks, canoe racing paraphernalia, tee shirt printers, and even a lemonade stand run by the cutest little girls selling really tasty lemonade; I had some.

Later that evening in the bar of the hotel with a Keith’s Lager in hand, we spoke with a couple of gentleman recording and broadcasting the canoe race events for the rest of the world. “On what channel could I have watched the races if I were in the states? I asked. “Sorry,” he replied, “no one broadcasts the races live or shows them after the fact in the U.S.” “I don’t know why,” he continued after a pause, “ they are exciting, colorful, international, and just plain fun.” “Indeed,” I said, “maybe one of the many golf tournament broadcasts on one of the many sports channels could be interrupted to show some of the activity of this spectacular, annual event.”

The Cabot Trail around the northwest corner of Nova Scotia is considered one of the world’s most scenic destinations, with beautiful ocean vistas, old-growth forests, rock cliffs scarred by glaciers, and quaint fishing villages. It makes a 185-mile loop while passing through the Cape Breton Highlands National Park at its northernmost point. It is named after the explorer John Cabot who landed in Atlantic Canada in 1497, although modern historians agree his landfall likely took place in Newfondland and not Cape Breton Island.

We spent two days on the trail although one could easily spend five or six if all the places of interest were done justice. The Whale Interpretive Center at Pleasant Bay was particularly interesting, not only for its content but for the long conversation we had with Mildred, one of the elderly local volunteers who lived in the area her entire life. She shared many stories about the island, fishing, whale watching, local culture, and the harsh, isolating winters. Just down the road from the museum was the Mountain View Hotel where we stayed and had a lovely dinner on the patio. We shared space with a mother/daughter couple from Quebec City who lauded the beauty and culture of their town and prodded us to visit.

The Cabot Trail was indeed a gorgeous display of marine and terrestrial scenery. We saw no whales, but on the east side of the island, for thirty minutes, we watched a pod of seals playing around a large offshore rock. Jeff did see a moose just as it entered the tree line next to the road. Numerous road signs warn motorists of the perils of encountering this large animal. A tourist brochure for the Cabot Trail warns: “Watch for moose. If you crash into one, the best you can expect is an extended hospital stay. Many drivers do not survive direct encounters with these large animals.” One gleaned a negative vibe about this majestic animal from the roadside warnings, tourist literature, and discussions with local folks. On the other hand, we stopped for a brief rest next to a large abandoned barn with a large sign admonishing: “STOP THE CULL It cost taxpayers $430,000 to kill 37 moose. Friends of Cape Breton Moose.” I wonder if the moose on Cape Breton Island know how controversial they are.

We ended our travel on the Cabot Trail at a nice Cafe Deli. It was fish cakes and beans for lunch—very traditional. We had just enough time to ride to North Sydney for the 3:30 PM check-in at the ferry terminal for the 17-hour, overnight sail to Newfoundland. The journey continues.

Ingonish Beach on the Cabot Trail, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.

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