Your March road report

Michael Johansen
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The older sedan parked on the side of the Trans-Labrador Highway was listing sharply towards the ditch. Both right tires were not only flat, but had nearly been ripped from the rims.
"They hit that big rock back there," the driver said, climbing out and leaving a woman seated alone inside the car. "Didn't you see it?"
"I must have missed it," I said.
One rock not hit and left behind is quickly forgotten on the TLH, since there are plenty more rocks in front to worry a driver. The dangers aren't just stones the size of heads left on the road by frost heave or mechanical graders. There is also blinding dust, or long sharp ruts carved through frozen mud and sudden washboard bumps that rattle wheels right out from under a chassis.
At Churchill Falls, the gas station attendant had spoken to a trucker who'd said the road was rough after Pope's Hill, which is just under 100 kilometres west of Happy Valley-Goose Bay. "After" for the trucker didn't mean the little left over before you get to Goose, but everything all the way back to Churchill.
"It's rough that way, too," I said, indicating the road to Wabush. "It's always rough."
In western Labrador the failed experiment that was chipseal was ripped up and has, for some ways, been replaced by a better-quality tarmac that ends abruptly at one of the region's many railway crossings.
For some reason the chipseal held up better on the eastern end of Route 500 and it's still being used there. However, real tarmac has been promised for the road beyond the chipseal at least as far as where the provincial government wants to build a hydroelectric dam at the top of the Gull Island Rapids.
The new pavement that has been laid so far (a year behind schedule) provides a fine, smooth ride for a weary driver and the segments under preparation for paving are mostly in good shape. Unfortunately, the hundreds of kilometres still awaiting upgrading feel abandoned.
The man at the disabled sedan thanked me for stopping (although almost everyone stops to offer help on the Trans-Labrador Highway), but he said help was already on its way.
"I've got a satellite phone," he explained. "I called the RCMP."
The man did not look worried, but he sounded quite concerned over where exactly he got stuck. He wondered how far it was to the middle point of the road and how far to the end of it; how far, in other words, it would be for the flatbed towtruck to come and fetch him and his wife.
For the rest of my trip I watched for that needed towtruck. There was no sign of it 20 kilometres on at the highway department depot - the halfway point from Churchill Falls to Happy Valley-Goose Bay - nor hours later at Pope's Hill itself.

Rescue on way
Finally, a large RCMP cruiser appeared on the last stretch of dirt and gravel just before the new striped pavement. The officers inside had been stopped by other travellers and were no doubt getting directions, if they needed them, to the couple stranded 170 kilometres away. The sedan might have to wait for the towtruck on its own, but it looked like the man and woman would get a warm ride to safety before it got too dark.
Just short of the town boundary the newly opened road to Labrador's south coast beckons from over the sandbank crossing in the shadow of Blackrock. The new road is at the start of its life and is still in the best shape it'll ever know as a dirt highway. However, like the two older parts of the Trans-Labrador Highway it connects together, it will soon launch into a car-wrecking cycle of stones, dust and mud that will eventually get so bad, even the provincial government will admit it needs to be widened and paved.
Unfortunately, it's a future far away, but one worth waiting for - especially if you've got two ruined tires and nothing to do but wait.

Michael Johansen is a writer
living in Labrador.

Organizations: Trans-Labrador Highway, RCMP

Geographic location: Labrador, Happy Valley, Goose Bay Churchill Wabush Gull Island Rapids

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Recent comments

  • Polly
    July 02, 2010 - 13:09

    I spent six years in the Big Land over forty years ago and , it sounds as though little has changed .

  • Polly
    July 01, 2010 - 19:44

    I spent six years in the Big Land over forty years ago and , it sounds as though little has changed .