Red sun, smoke, ghost town, crosswinds, flies, gravel, mines and fires

I know the name makes it sounds like the 7 plagues (make that 8), but really it’s more interesting than that…..I wake to find an unbelievable number of mosquitos clinging to the outside of my tent under the rain fly. I didn’t see any last night, thank goodness as I couldn’t have spared any more blood than what I lost to the black flies. I have welts on my neck and ears, apparently the places I neglected with bug spray. The sun has come up in a thick haze of smoke and is glowing red. It isn’t bright enough to need sunglasses because of the smoke. The fires of northern Quebec have spread smoke for hundreds of miles. We have heard for a couple of days now that the Trans Lab is closed ahead and has been for nearly two weeks due to fires in Labrador as well. I’m hoping we can get on one of the few escorted convoys that go out each day from Labrador City to the east.
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As I leave Relais Gabriel I’m dreading the 150 miles of gravel to ride before Labrador City, but decide to buck up and do my best. All of the fuel stops and small outposts have a few miles of gravel on either side of the “town” I assume to reduce dust so I’m not surprised to be riding out on a little bit of tarmac. But I am surprised when I top the hill and see it continues as far as I can see for a mile or two ahead….and it continues on and one for nearly 100 miles – lucky me!
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I ride through a section that has curbs and sidewalks and then see a sign that I have come to the abandoned mining town of Gagnon. The town was apparently packed up and moved completely. There are building foundations off to the sides of the main road, and streets, but the bush has overtaken them and all I can see is what is exposed on the road edge. It’s eerie. I continue up the road and finally reach a sharp right turn followed by an immediate left and the end of the tarmac. The road ahead is hilly and twisty and crosses a railroad track a dozen times over the next 50 miles all while exposed to a strong crosswind. After 40 miles or so I come into a valley surrounded on both sides by mountains with no trees. I see a big lake on the right hand side but the water is muddy and brownish red. On the far end I can barely make out an enormous mine through the haze of smoke. Later I realize the mountains are actually tailings and the lake is a pond for the mine. This place is incredible and huge. I find out later in town that they are mining iron ore, and the whole side of the country is filled with mining operations.
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At the far end of the valley I pass out of the dust from gravel back into the pure dense smoke that is the air today. Only a few miles to the border into another province and time zone, a Tim Horton’s, and English language.
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