Enjoying the picturesque fall foliage in Labrador, Canada. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Highway to Labrador

Fall is a great time to take a short trip to see the fall foliage. Sometimes I go to areas I have been and sometimes to a different nearby region. This year took me further than I had anticipated. It was an adventure. My husband accompanied me and we headed north through Maine. On the way we took time to view the Maine Solar System Model along Route 1 from Houlton to Presque Isle, Maine. At 40 miles long, it is the largest three dimensional solar model in the United States. We also took a driving break to climb Quaggy Jo Mountain in Aroostook State Park. Then we continued to the very northern tip of Maine and crossed the border at Van Buren into New Brunswick, Canada.

The scenery was grand and the foliage was at its peak. We passed three old covered bridges and followed rivers on a scenic route north. I was motivated to see a moose, but no luck that day. We drove until dark and found a motel on the New Brunswick/Quebec border. That evening, we made reservations for the next morning’s ferry crossing at Matane to Baie- Comeau on the St. Lawrence.

The next morning, we started before daylight to reach the ferry terminal at Matane. We arrived in plenty of time, then had to wait, but I was excited to head in a new area where the scenery is grand. Only after the two-hour ferry crossing did we decide that it would be great fun to drive to Labrador. The weather was good and the timing seemed perfect ,so we headed to highway # 389, the only road to Labrador and the only road through Labrador.

It was 12:30 pm when we started out on this road with a full tank of gas, having just left the ferry crossing at Baie-Comeau, Quebec. The sign read 568 kilometers to Fermont, Quebec, which is only a few miles from the border of Labrador. On the map, there were only three tiny specks for gas stops on this remote wilderness road. It reminded me of being in Siberia.

We started out on a paved road, marked every two kilometers with a signage post, which was very comforting to see in this isolated area. At a huge dam, one of the world’s largest when it was built, the road abruptly turned into dirt, winding around the side of the dam: up, up, and up it went, and then turned away into the wilderness again. Except for oncoming trucks on the road, the next sign of mankind was a massive electric power station. I never could have imagined the number of lines, flowing with hissing sounds, that came out of this place. After another hour or so, we came upon the second massive dam, and the road went across the top and down around the side; then off we went again, and the dirt road continued until we came to the big working mines. Here the road became paved again.

From the very beginning, the infamous route 389 twisted with sharp turns and steep hills, going straight down the other side with no visual warning. We went slower on the dirt, as we tried not to slide around turns, and braked on top of hills. All of the opposite sides of the hills were hidden until the car reached the very crest: you could never see what lay ahead until you were directly upon it. You wondered if it went straight down or a sharp right or left, not knowing until it was almost too late. We would creep along, then speed up, then brake again.

The landscape was mixed deciduous forests with evergreen for the first few hundred kilometers. Then it became mostly evergreen forest for the next several hundred kilometers, then stubbier growth as we entered into the northern tundra. There were rivers, streams, and picturesque ponds, but not one single house.

We attended to our gas gage, eager to get gas, watching carefully for a sign that could easily be missed. We were happy to come upon that little place on the side of the road, just a tiny one-pump gas station with a small diner and a few rooms to stay. We filled up the car, so glad to have reached the gas station safely. Now we were concerned about making it to the end of the road before dark. No time to waste.

We went for another hour or so, and abruptly the road changed to dirt and we both let out a groan. We kept on going, stopping every so often to switch drivers.

We passed an area where a large forest fire taken place in 2002. It burned down a complete town and only the sidewalk remained—the rest had been bulldozed. The forests are growing so slowly, and still-darkened soil remains beneath the small trees. I was startled to see an arret-stop sign. Ahead was a single lane plank bridge, and slowly we passed over it; in all, there were three in this vast forest fire area. It was on the news in the United States, that summer of 2002, when clouds of smoke traveled as far down as Maine.

Darkness set in and on we traveled. There was no chance of hurrying and next came the railroad crossings, every quarter of a mile, one after another. Truly the road was not straight, and we kept weaving back and forth over the railroad tracks. The final stretch was paved road again, and we watched for signs of Labrador, but Fermont came first. We turned onto an off-shoot road and came upon a set of several large buildings, apartments for the mine workers, and the only hotel was attached to the apartment buildings. The miners were standing in front of the entrance, waiting for the bus to transfer them to the mines, and others were dropped off from the bus as it arrived. We asked the miners what kind of mines, and they responded, “Iron ore.”

We went right to our room, thankful to have a place to spend the night.

(posted November 10, 2015)