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Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by jdrocks, Sep 15, 2010.
Nice pics and stories Dave!
Looking forward to the rest!
thanks, meeting that woman in Gatineau was one of the more unusual things i've ever encountered on the road. she had clothes on...sort of, and when i say she was a beauty, no joke there. memorable.
Day 4: Tuesday 8/24/10- Val-dOr, QC, to Radisson, QC, 563 miles
Big ride today and I'm ready to go. A long run up highway 109, and then onto the Route de la Baie-James, a road built to serve the Hydro Quebec projects in the northern regions of the province.
When I checked in, the young lady at the desk strongly suggested that I park my bike in back near a side entrance to the hotel. Sure, darlin', be happy to. Heck, I never park my bike behind anything at night, and I found a nice little spot directly in front of the main entrance.
With all the mining activity in Val-dOr, it has a little high roller flavor from the looks of some of the characters I saw around the hotel. Miners and oil men both had the look, and I've seen plenty of both. I was just about to leave when I met the hotel
, actually, I'm not sure what she does at the hotel. All I know is if she hung out in the lobby a few more hours a day, the rest of the hotels in town might as well shut the doors.
This young lady was about 6 tall and had her own interpretation of business attire, but along the same lines as my friend from Gatineau. She was wearing a very cute little strapless push up bra in black. Gosh, how would I know that? I didn't need x-ray vision, her dove gray blouse was as sheer as the screen on my tent. Combined with her plum miniskirt that ended just a few millimeters south of the never-never land, bare legs, and 5 hooker heels, she was marching around, all business at 7AM. In those heels, she looked ready for the WNBA. Have your photo taken next to her, and you better be standing on a 5 gallon bucket. The guys in the lobby with her all looked really wide awake, no complimentary coffee needed. If we had all this stuff going on in the States, our business productivity numbers would flat line. Be fun while it lasted though.
Fueled, and if I can negotiate the Val-d'Or round abouts without getting killed, I'll be on my way to Amos on highway 111. It takes some time to clear the city clutter, but then I find a series of homes and small farms in a typical rural setting. There is quite a bit of building and remodeling in the area reflecting a strong mine payroll. I'm quickly up the road to Amos in very light traffic.
I stop for fuel at Amos, and this time I add fuel to both cans. One or both cans would have fuel for the duration of the trip. The gas man is especially talkative and he invites his friends over to meet me, even though they speak almost no English. The gas man is my translator, and soon we have a 4, 5, and then 6 way conversation going on in two languages. Total chaos, and everyone is laughing. One of the French speakers volunteers that he saw two bikes northbound on the 109 road when he came down from Matagami this morning. Good, I have seen no bikes on the way up here so far.
Now I'm on highway 109 and the traffic has dropped off to nothing. I ride 60 miles without seeing a vehicle, and then a number of log trucks pass southbound. It must be a long haul to deliver that wood. No northbound empty log trucks, so I have no idea what the turnaround time would be. The trees are cut on Crown land and would have to be free on the stump for anyone to turn the first penny on this operation.
The pavement is in good shape as far as northern roads go, and I'm sailing along as fast as I feel like. Another clear day, no enforcement, lets ride. Hydro Quebec is all over the region and appears to get a free pass to do almost anything. Here they've opened up a big area under a transmission line. I'm sure they have foresters on the payroll, but I don't know what the management plan would be for something like this.
Into Matagami for fuel and a snack. The fuel stops are getting farther apart and now if I ride by one it would be foolish, even with my spare fuel. I talk with two RV drivers who brought their coaches up from Ottawa to see the sights and do some fishing. They were southbound now and said the contractor fuel stop was open at about 130 miles. Beyond that, the regular stop was at Relais 381, about 240 miles. If I can get fuel at the first stop and then Relais, I should be able to get into Radisson without adding a can.
The first stop is the Checkpoint at the start of the Baie-James. The guy manning the facility wants to give you a sheet that has the locations of the emergency phones spaced along the road. If you're nice, he might give you a map. He also enters your name in a logbook in case you disappear somewhere, so at least the authorities will know when you started even if they never find you.
This road is not patrolled, but I wouldn't recommend getting too crazy out there. The civil designers set up the curve radii for speeds in the 80-90km/hour range, so if you run 130km/hr plus, it can get exciting
except that you're on a loaded bike and the frost heaves and pavement breaks are in the corners too. Some of those frost heaves develop a sharp lip, so it you unload the suspension at that speed, you might be dead. Pay attention, the locals use the whole road to find a smooth path, just like they do on gravel.
Some riders say they get bored with these northern roads, described as endless miles of spruce. Not me, I love it up here and think just the opposite, there's plenty to see. You better be comfortable with yourself, because many times it just you out there, nobody around for miles, and open space to the horizon. Crest a rise and see the curvature of the earth in all four compass directions.
One of the leisure activities practiced just about everywhere you go these days is graffiti painted on any flat surface, and the north is not immune. It must be a late night activity, in all my travels, I've never seen any of these freakin' dummies doing it during the day.
I'm really enjoying the ride, clipping along smoothly into a stiff headwind. My fuel light is on again, but I'm near the contractor station, and thats where I stop. The gasman speaks a little English and we get a friendly banter going. I ask whether any other bikes have stopped today and he says no.
North again and a pickup passes unexpectedly at about 90mph, a reminder to watch the mirrors. With all the hills and curves, vehicles can seemingly come out of nowhere. Some wait until they know you see them in the mirrors, while others blow on by. Approaching the famous Rupert River there's no traffic, so I can stop right on the span and take a look. More bonehead autographs on the bridge supports, but I didn't stop to see the bridge, I wanted to look at the river.
The Rupert is a famous northern river, once known as the Nile of the North. The river has been used as a seasonal migration and trade route by the Cree for thousands of years. No more. Hydro Quebec diverted the river flow two years ago and the small amount of water you see today is just for show. If you can imagine this flow times 10 or more, you would have the Rupert of old.
I have a small connection to this river, and plan to stop again after I take care of some business farther north.
Camera tucked back away, I know I need to get moving or I'm going to be riding in the dark again. There is zero future in riding northern roads after the sun goes down. My philosophy is to take a look at the things that could happen, not the things that will happen. Think about that for a minute or two, and you know you better not be on the damn road in the dark. I quickly pass the intersection with the Route du Nord, and I'll be seeing that intersection again also.
Despite frost heaves, I can maintain speed through this stretch of road as it meanders up, down, and around the rocky landscape. There is evidence of a series of forest fires throughout the area, typically caused by lightening, and rarely by human activity.
Leaned over and enjoying it, I exit a big sweeping curve and
oops, what the heck happened here? Theres a trailer loaded with equipment sitting in the ditch. I stop to look it over and I think the hitch sheared completely off from pounding through those frost heaves, and the heaves in that curve were the last. I couldn't see where the tow vehicle went in the ditch with it, but a reminder of the joys of travel across the north, tough on any kind of vehicle.
(To be continued
Day 4: Continued
The next stop is for fuel at Relais Routier, commonly known as Relais 381 for it's location at the 38lkm marker. This is the only reliable 24/7 fuel stop between Matagami and Radisson, a distance of 630km. I pull up to the pumps and my gasboy is quickly over to assist, except this ain't no boy.
All smiles, no English, she tries what a number of the French attempt with me. Immersion. She's into the process about ten minutes before it dawns on her that she's dealing with a freakin' foreign language dummy, and gives up. I would meet others that didn't give up anywhere near that soon. Into the gas shack to run my card, she reaches under the counter and pulls out two English language instruction books. Aha!, now the roles are reversed and she wants me to hang around for a little tutoring. Sorry honey, I need some miles, and I was gone to Radisson.
Now I'm runnin', I have the fuel and can't go wrong, only about 150 miles to my stop for the day. I pass the Route du Trans-Taiga intersection, hello and goodbye, I'll be seeing you soon. I'm a river man, so I don't ride by many without taking a photo. No, I don't get tired of it, each is unique to me.
I'd been on the gas hard, still into the wind, and get a fuel light at the Chisasibi intersection. I slow a little, but I'm sure I can make it to the pumps at Radisson. Past the airport, left at the police station, and I find fuel as I enter town. The smiling Frenchman owner is the gasboy, and I find out that the public campground is up the hill across the road. Fueled, I run up the hill to check out the campground, find one large motorhome, otherwise deserted. Looks good to me and I'm back down at the combination bar and café, looking for something to eat. Almost 600 miles, and I was tired and hungry.
The café was busy, a mix of French and Cree. Service was very slow and while waiting I watched a Cree fella spend $150 on dinner for his large family. Plenty of money floating around. I waited a week for my so-so meal to arrive, ate it, and couldn't get out of that hot greasy air fast enough. The bike was parked right next to the deck steps, and even the outside seating was full. The locals must have known better than to sit inside and have their lungs slowly fill up with lard.
Jacket on, helmet on, and I'm back on the bike. Let's get up the hill and set up camp. I'm about to hit the starter when a drunk Cree stumbles down the stairs and is now straddling my front wheel. Christ, what next? I'm tired, just had crap for dinner, and I'm about to lose my sense of humor. I'm trying to figure out my escape when he reaches over the bars to shake my hand, I'm your brother!. You want to be my brother, I suppose that's ok, so I shake his hand. Now the ice is broken, and he figures that's the green light to repeat this ceremony again, except louder. Then once more, he's shouting, and now we have a growing audience.
I started the bike, but he still has the wheel trapped between his knees. I try to motion him out of the way, but he stays planted, really getting agitated. I'm pissed, and thinkin' If you don't move out of my brotherly fucking way, I'm going to run over your brotherly fucking drunken ass with this brotherly fucking bike!, and followed that thought with two quick blips to almost 10 grand. I don't think anyone had heard a sound like that before in Radisson, at least not lately. Everyone jumped. I saw a gal on the deck get about a foot and a half of air. Not bad, except she had a beer bottle in her mouth at the time. Mighta chipped a tooth, the landing wasn't pretty. My Cree buddy tried for air, never made it, tripped on the stairs, and went down in a heap with the three people behind him. Now I had plenty of room, increasing by the second. Let's go camping, and I was out of the parking lot, tossing some gravel around with the TKCs, ya know, just for good measure.
I had the tent set up and gear stowed in record time, a nice grassy spot for the tent and I just wanted to stretch out and call it a day.
The start of the big gravel tomorrow.
(To be continued)
Day 5: Wednesday 8/25/10-Radisson, QC, to Mirage Outfitters (Trans-Taiga), QC, 440 miles
I could hear light rain on the tent fly at 5AM, but it had mostly stopped by the time I got up at 6. Cloudy sky and breezy, a shame after yesterday afternoons perfect riding weather. I'm on the gravel for most of the day and would like to ride it dry. I'm packed up and loading the bike when one of the guys from the RV comes over to visit. From Montreal and speaking good accented English, he is very interested in the trip and wants the full rundown. I get a beaming smile when I say that I am enjoying my travels in Quebec, and a laugh when I tell him what happened in Gatineau, and then Val-d'Or. Yes, but if you want to see really beautiful women, you must come to Montreal. The citizens of Quebec are very proud of all things Quebec. Goodbye with a handshake, they're headed south too. The skies are starting to clear.
I had some breakfast bars with me and the bike was fueled. This was going to be a solid day of riding with two gravel roads and some high speed paved sections. Once again, I was concerned that I might run out of daylight, so by 7 I was started south to the Chisasibi road. I see fuel pumps when I pass the airport, but I don't know if they sell to the public. West towards Chisasibi, but I don't intend to ride to the village. I'm watching for the turnoff to Centrale La Grande-1, a dam about halfway out the road, and the start of the Longue Pointe gravel road which will take me 30 miles northwest to James Bay.
The access road is paved and after I pass several maintenance buildings, the dam is in sight. I don't known how many of these dams Hydro Quebec has built in the province, but most don't have the access that this one does. I've been across the top of dams before, but hey, it's a lot more fun to do it on a bike in northern Quebec, especially with adventure on the other side.
There are some maintenance crews working and everyone turns to look as I ride by. I'm sure bikes get out this way, but most riders going to take a look at the Bay probably go through Chisasibi. Not me, I'd rather ride this gravel bush road out to the Cree landing at the end. The gravel starts right at the dam, and after just a few miles, I can see that this road is going to be tricky. The surface is coarse crushed stone, and doesn't look like it has been used much lately. This road is the first real test of the ER6C and I'm cautious to start, getting a feel for how this loaded bike is going to run in the marbles. Prudent, it sure doesn't look like there's anyone out here. Damn, this is big country, it seems to go on uninterrupted forever.
Concentration is the key to riding these roads, and as the speed increases, so does the peril. Your eyes are burning a hole in the road, probing for anything that can hurt you. There's plenty that can hurt you out there, so if you're slow to learn and recognize the hazards
bad things can happen. I've been on thousands of miles of these roads and still run into occasional trouble.
The road winds towards the coast, passing many Cree camps, some tidy and most not. I'm unsure how and when these camps are used, maybe moose or caribou season only. No one around today, and some of the camps don't look like they have been used for years. I run up on a section of freshly graded gravel, deep, and you sure as hell better be watching for these, or down you go. I find the grader that churned up the road parked on the side, good, and then finally just a few miles to water.
This landing is used exclusively by the Cree and their boats are skidded up the gravel shore far enough to be safely above the storm line. The grader operator had made several passes between the waters edge and the storm line to make it easier to launch and pull the boats.
In eastern Canada the boats are called freight canoes, but when I used this same boat in northern Manitoba, it was called a scow by the locals, although it doesn't fit that definition anywhere else. I'm surprised to find a fiberglass panga style boat pulled up with the rest. You would find this boat from Mexico south, and I fished from this same boat in the Sea of Cortez. Amazing to find one way up here.
And a makeshift anchor.
The Cree must have camps on the islands or up the coast. This material was neatly stocked and covered, ready to load, but its weathered from sitting there awhile.
There were snow machines and sleds left all over the place, indicating a lot of activity at certain times during the winter.
Men in small boats, and it's big water out there, this I know. I almost lost my life in northern waters running the same boat I see at this landing.
You need some luck in most ventures, but if it runs out, maybe someone will remember you.
I put a boot in the saltwater, and then back on the bike for a fast run to the dam. I have this road pretty well figured out and can maintain good speed. I pass a pickup headed to the coast and I think it's the grader operator, the only person I would see. A ptarmigan flushes at the shoulder and flies right along with the bike just outside the mirror. I could have reached out and grabbed it. I get back to the dam and have a chance to see it from the other side. This is a small dam compared to others in the area, but still an impressive structure.
Across the dam, out to the Chisasibi road, then east to the Baie-James, I'm on the move. Unfortunately, I need to run back up to Radisson for fuel. I've used over 100 miles of fuel and wouldn't come close to having enough to reach the days destination without refueling the main tank. There's no fuel between here and the Trans-Taiga intersection.
(To be continued
Day 5: Continued
I shoot north on the Baie-James, and I'm right back where I started. Same fuel pumps, same gasboy, so while he fuels the bike I call home. What are you doing back in Radisson?, must mean my wife has SPOT tracking up on the screen. An SUV pulls in behind me and the driver comes over to talk when he sees the Virginia plate. Another Frenchman from Montreal, up to visit friends, and breathe the fresh air. We have the pumps blocked, nobody seems to care. When I say that the motels along the I95 corridor in Virginia fly the Maple Leaf, he says Oh yes, for me, for me, I stop in Virginia on my way to my house in Ft. Lauderdale. So many people from Quebec are living in Florida now, the authorities might as well change the official state language from Spanish to French. After protracted well wishes and a goodbye, he.s gone.
I go in to pay my bill and get something cold to drink. A Cree woman buys two cases of Miller Lime and a case of Diet Coke. The diet drink must be an attempt to zero out the beer calories. The owner carries everything down to her car, she just spent $130. Nothing is cheap across the north.
With almost 300 miles left on the route for today, the day is getting away from me. Between Radisson and Mirage Outfitters on the Trans-Taiga, there is no reliable fuel source, so I'll need to get there with what's on the bike. I think my range is 600km with the cans full, so 300 miles is no strain. I'm quickly back down the Baie-James again, crossing that short section above the Chisasibi road for the fourth time in 24 hours. I find the Trans-Taiga intersection just where I left it yesterday, and now I'm riding east on this famous gravel road, only 225 miles to go.
Once again I'm putting along to start a new road, every single one is different. I need to get a good look at it. Two additional factors are in play now, besides daylight hours. I've lost the partly sunny skies I had at Radisson, and now the sky doesn't look good at all. Secondly, theres a grader coming right down the center of the road towards me, never a good omen when you're on two wheels. The gravel surface on this road is similar to the Longue Pointe road, but the real surprise is that this road doesn't show all that much use either. I knew that Hydro Quebec had extensive operations spread out the length of the road, so where is everyone?
Lack of traffic did not mean that the graders working the road would cease churning it up and that fact would become the key element of my ride on this road. The road could be alertly ridden at a good pace where it hadn't been graded, but was real tough in the graded sections. Too loose a mixture of gravel and fines to get on top and too deep to plow meant some strenuous riding ahead and I still had a long way out to Mirage. Respect the curve signs on this road. The sign gives no indication of what's in the curve or after, so there's no way to know a safe speed to enter.
I pass a young guy shuffling along westbound, no hat, no gear, this was not a hiker and he didn't look up when I went by. WTF? He was at least 20 miles from the last Cree camp on the road, and it was starting to rain. I don't recall ever seeing someone walking a bush road and have no idea where he's going, except it's going to be a damn long walk.
Some very slow sections, and then a sprint when the road improves. It's raining harder now, the road is a mess and getting more hazardous by the minute. Worse, I had seen only a couple vehicles in the last 100 miles, and you need those wheels to pound the road into riding shape. Looking ahead through rain and haze, I see that the road has changed color shoulder-to-shoulder, and this is about the worst thing that could have happened right now. A grader had worked the road both east and west and not a single vehicle had crossed since. I'd slowed down enough to test it safely, but after 100 yards of slewing all over the road in this nasty surface, the bike had just about gone down a half dozen times. I get back over to the right shoulder, stop, and shut it down. The road is simply unrideable right now, its raining harder, and daylight is fading fast. Basically, I'm screwed.
I check the map, gps, and trip meter. Same conclusion on all three, I've got 100 miles left to Mirage, but I can't move an inch until I get some help with this road. I thought about getting out the tent fly to use as a tarp, but decided my gear would get all wet in the process, so there I sat. It wasn't a good feeling to be out there right now and I hadn't seen anyone for a long time. I'm at this low point when suddenly a Hydro Quebec Yukon flies past, showering me with crap from the road. I don't think they were expecting someone else on the road, and hadn't moved over in time. Now I had a track, let's get the hell outta here.
Bike fired, and I ease out on the road. I could have wished for a larger dual wheel vehicle, but I'll take anything. Into the Yukon track and I try for a little speed. This track was probably 10" wide at most, but in the rain, on gravel, with twilight, it seemed like trying to stay on top of a length of string line. Get off the string and you're toast, down in an instant. The guy at the wheel of the Yukon drove like a drunk, all over the road, and this was another complication. Doesn't sound that tough, try it some time. The ride through this section went on for 18 miles, but it seemed like a lifetime. When I got through it I had to stop for a minute, the stress had put a dent in me. I had survived about a hundred virtual crashes.
Now I'm on a better surface, but still slick, and plenty of berms with deep wet gravel at every curve. Areas where the stone sub base had been broken were now saturated silty sand and you didnt want to drop a front wheel in those things. The rain had eased off to a drizzle and I was able to get myself together and run at decent speed. Despite the problems, Im really liking this road and the surrounding country. Adventuring ain't just for sunny days.
I pass the Cree outfitter camp, and the fuel pumps are there, but closed. There are no people or vehicles around that I could see, and I'm glad I hadn't counted on refueling here. It looks like a substantial operation, but the caribou herd while headed south is still pretty far north of their hunting areas.
Now Im looking for Mirage around every curve and beyond the top of every hill. I was ready to get off the bike, have dinner, and then a few beers. I had read that the Mirage facility had been reclaimed by the original owner, and now was supposed to be a friendlier place. We'll see. Over the top of a rise and Mirage is in front of me, a series of different buildings, and the whole place is much bigger than I expected, including a helicopter pad, maintenance buildings, and cabins.
The front door is locked and nobody around the front, but theres a mike for a radio, and after putting in a call, Christophe the manager comes up to unlock. Friendly guy, he was with the guests in the dining area for dinner. It's so late that the kitchen is closed, but we fuel the bike quickly, I had come in at 290 miles with the fuel light on for 8 miles after adding one can. Then it was rush back in to try for some leftovers. That's what I had for dinner, some leftovers, but it was hot and I ate a couple plates of some kind of beef recipe. I have no idea what you would call it, I was in a foreign country remember.
I had some beers with the other guests, a very friendly crowd, primarily French, but some from Ontario also. The Bell Rangers I had seen on the pad belonged to some of the guests who were flying them around to the remote lakes to do some fishing. Like I said, theres some money in the air up here. By the end of the day, those fish must be worth about $500 per pound.
I was tired after that last run on gravel, but took a peek at the sky before turning in. Tomorrows ride was almost 400 miles of gravel. Wet or dry?
Damn, doesn't look good.
(To be continued
I'm enjoying your report JD.
Weatherman at Environment Canada predicts 60% chance of showers over your way for tomorrow, with gusty winds.
Likely the results of hurricane Igor that's been buffeting Newfoundland since yesterday.
Friday, Saturday and Sunday's predictions are mixed sun and cloud, highs around 10 C, which is...umm, carry the one...about 50 degrees in American.
Lows around the freezing point (0 C, 32 F).
Looking forward to reading more, stay focused and enjoy the adventure.
thanks. been in Ontario off and on since 1962. if you think trying to ride the trans taiga in a pouring rain is dangerous, i should tell you about some of my adventures in Ontario.
Day 6: Thursday 8/26/10-Mirage-Caniapiscau-Mirage, QC, 396 miles
I knew it was raining the minute I opened my eyes, I could hear the water dripping off the roof, and it sounded steady. A look out the window confirms a moderate rain, no clearing in sight. Rain or not, I'm riding to the end of the road and back. After the struggle last night to get this far, the road ahead couldn't be worse. Yesterday evening I was out there on that road, wondering if the day would ever end. I had been delusional in crowning myself king of the gravel, and my rule over that kingdom had come to an abrupt end as I sat parked on the side of the road in the rain. Now I'm starting another day of adventure, still in the rain and on the same road, and Im hoping the day never ends. I'm going to jump again today, confident that the safety net will be there. These roads, and the whole north for that matter, are not for those that are uncomfortable straying too far from their LazyBoy.
I'm taking all my gear just in case of trouble, or if the weather clears I might camp. I'm hoping for more traffic on the road, the Yukon last night was the only vehicle I saw in the last 100 miles. A pickup went by on the road while I was fueling the bike at Mirage, and that was it.
The morning was very gray, just that sliver of light sky on the horizon reminding you that the sun was up. I was about to leave when a guy came up to ask were I was going. Caniapiscau, and he replied Long way, with a smile, but there was amusement behind that smile. This was a guy you hoped would keep smiling. He was a 55 gallon drum with arms and legs to match. The guy must have weighed over 400 pounds and didn't look fat, just big, really big. I'm betting he never had to raise his voice in an argument, just roll those shoulders around a little. This was the north, and you just don't find many guys that look like interior decorators. He had been to Caniapiscau on some contract work and knew the road. Rough past Brisay, and with that he said goodbye.
Lets see what the road has to offer, and I'm riding east. Getting started is not problem because the Mirage airstrip is 4 miles east and there has been traffic back and forth, keeping the road packed down. There are two planes on the runway with special equipment mounted to conduct an aerial survey for the Quebec MNR. The survey area is 200km square and requires precision flying both in track and altitude. They did not fly yesterday because of the wind and rain. I asked the young woman who was coordinating the job for the MNR the purpose of the survey and how the final data was distributed, but she was very circumspect on all questions. The pilots had been at Mirage for two months and should be done this week if they can fly today.
East past the airstrip, the road usage drops off to what I saw yesterday, almost none. The road alternates between soft and marbles. Slow going in the light rain, I would like to see some sun.
There is no logging permitted above 52 north, but there's nothing to log anyway. Fifteen feet tall after 75 years, the trees are the same height as a four year old pine in Virginia. Many Cree camps on this road also, and Christophe claims they are all used even if it looks like the roof is falling in.
Numerous small rivers and streams cross the road, making for scenic views. Once again, you're in some wide open country.
I pass what looks like a good camping spot at 60 miles, and I'll stop for a closer look on the way back. Farther on, I ride up on a bridge approach that is all loose silt and sand, very little gravel, and I think this is the same location where a rider went down earlier. I can see why. Hit this 200 yard section at the wrong speed or in the wrong line and you have a problem, maybe a serious problem. An 18-wheeler streams by, the first truck I had seen on the road.
Hydro Quebec has their own roads, towns, schools, stores, banks, whats left?...airports and planes, got those too. I pass one of their airports and there's a big turboprop on the runway, loading right then. The other airport I passed yesterday had a 737 on standby. Yup, airports on the Trans-Taiga, Walmarts next. I see the airport bus from Brisay coming up in my mirrors and give it plenty of room. The bus driver follows my move to the right and goes by at my bar end. There was a message there. This is our road and youre not welcome.>
Brisay has the town, dam, all kinds of other infrastructure in the area, and I see just one pickup at the Brisay intersection. When is rush hour around here? The rain has eased off, but the sky is stormy to the south and I don't think its done for the day.
I cross the Centrale Brisay dam, and immediately I can see that I'm on a different kind of road. This road has a very rough surface to start and it gets rougher as I go east. The Longue Pointe road is a super highway by comparison, much better maintained. The condition of this road is what the guy back at Mirage was talking about when he said Rough past Brisay, except he should have added rocky.
Pick your line, the surface is hard in sections with large rocks sitting on top. Hit one of those and you might lose your front wheel. I hit a dozen just to test the might theory, can't help it, they're everywhere and I have my speed up enough to raise some dust as I dodge and weave through that minefield. I haven't seen dust for awhile and its obvious that the rain didn't get this far east, at least not yet.
The road is fast enough that I can get back into my regular gravel riding style, on and off the gas, shifting fourth through sixth. On a decent gravel road, I rarely cruise and almost never touch the brakes,
ok, I touched the brakes pretty hard when I rode up on that washout. At the bottom of two hills, rain had washed a two foot deep ditch across almost the entire width of the road. A small dead branch with six inches of flagging tape was the warning sign. If you hit that washout at 50mph, youre dead, that simple. Past that hazard, and I find another big hole in the west bound lane. That one would kill you too. This road was supposed to be traveled, but I still haven't seen anyone since Brisay.
Some signs advertising services appeared and I knew I was close. It had taken me over six hours to ride 200 tough miles, so even if the rain stopped, I was going to have to move if I was going to get back to Mirage before dark. If it was still raining west and the graders were working all day, I would be right back where I was last night. First I needed fuel, and I followed the signs to Air Saguenay. I had come all the way out to Caniapiscau on the main tank, pretty good. The handyman at the floatplane base knew what I wanted before I shut the bike off, and in fair English told me to follow him over to the tank farm. When I asked him about other bikes, he said no bikes had fueled there recently. Maybe theres another source for fuel somewhere here.
Fueled and back at the base, the woman manager says they got no rain or high wind and have been flying every day this week. She says they had a pretty good season, but I see no customer vehicles parked there today. There should be caribou hunters at the outpost camps, I think the hunting season has started farther north.
She said it was ok for me to look at their planes, so I wander over to look at the turbine Otters. One of the pilots is scrubbing the floats on his plane and we end up talking a streak. I have flown in Otters previously and was familiar with the turbine conversion. The radial engined Otter is the workhorse of the north, but do the conversion and you have a real hotrod with 900hp. The pilot said Air Saguenay had thirty planes on floats, but he wasn't interested in any other plane than the Otter, he knew he was flying the best. This plane, she always bring you back, never leave you in the bush. Leather flight jacket, handlebar mustache, cocked hat, and that bush pilot attitude,
he could have been flying P51 Mustangs in a different era.
Time to go, but I want to see the reservoir first. I don't know how long Hydro Quebec worked on this thing, but it is huge and I can't get a photo of it that reflects its size.
Back down the road towards Brisay, I know what to watch for on this road. I meet a grader running east and he must have been called to repair those washouts, a good thing before someone gets hurt. Water levels are low everywhere and I don't know if its because of lack of rainfall or related in some way to the Hydro operations. I see dozens of what I think are spruce hens along the road and most hardly move when I roar by. I've been up close to these birds on foot, I think you could hunt them with a stick, no firearm needed.
Dark clouds in my path, and as I cross Centrale Brisay again, it starts to rain. Ten miles west and the rain stops, the road has a nice hard track and I can sprint for a change. This road was designed with banked curves, many blind, and these can be dangerous as hell. You can tell just by looking at the way the gravel berms are formed that vehicles traveling both directions are using the banking. In other words, left or right curve, everyone dives low and keeps their foot in it. Right hander, and you might meet someone in your lane. Left hander, and you have to ride through 6 of loose gravel at the top of the banking to stay in your lane. I had a Hydro Quebec pickup miss me by two feet in a right hander as I rode back west, he never backed off. Remember, they really do own this road.
I'm off the fast section and need to slow down. Graders have been working, but there's been some traffic on the road even if I haven't seen it, and the surface is in fair condition. You can't do much sight seeing from the saddle as you ride a road in this condition, it isn't safe to take your eyes off the road. Get a glimpse of something interesting and you're better off stopping. Maybe that's why I can't make good time, I need to stop and soak it in too often.
It's getting late, but the rain has stopped. Its been a 50/50 day with no hard rain despite the sky. I find the camping spot I went by this morning, nice, and right next to a small river. I looked things over, liked what I saw, decided to camp, took a photo, and the second I hit the button on the camera, the rains came one more time.
The heck with this shit, and I was riding the last 60 miles to Mirage in the hardest rain of the day, road real sloppy, but rideable in failing light. Safely back at Mirage, I did a tally of the vehicles I had seen so far in two days of riding on this road. The count stood at eleven, and that was over 600 miles. The only major road I had even been on with a lower vehicle count per mile was the Liard when I came down from Ft. Simpson, NWT.
I had enough food with me for dinner, forget the leftovers, then just point me towards the beer cooler. I spent the evening talking with Christophe and some other interesting guests, many of which had worked all over Canada. When I asked Christophe about drivers all running low on the curves, he said yes, two Hydro Quebec trucks had met head on this spring. By the time I was ready to quit, I had just about talked Christophe into going down to southern Louisiana to teach the Cajuns some French. The school districts with a large Cajun population were looking for native French speaking teachers. You know, I think I really want to do that, and that's the way we left it.
(To be continued
Great report and ride!! The bike looks good too .. Thanks for the detailed updates
thanks, another chapter soon.
that there sir is one well thought out motorcycle
great writing too
keep it coming
thanks, the bike ran really well across some poor road conditions.
more on the way.
Very nice !!!! Tempting, right now !!!!
Keep it coming, like the writing , good stuff
really enjoyed my ride through Quebec, both north and south...people trying to teach me some French, but i'm hopeless.
Day 7: Friday 8/27/10-Mirage to Rupert River (Baie-James), QC, 410 miles
Up early and raring to ride. I was feelin' fresh and thought I was getting into the rhythm of the long days in the saddle. It didn't sound like it was raining hard, and I found just mist and light drizzle as I looked out the window. Looks like I'll ride this whole road without seeing the sun. I planned an early start, was fueled and packed, and had told Christophe that I would see him early to check out.
Mirage had just switched their beer vendor, and their entire inventory of beer was down to a dozen bottles when I gave up my spot in front of the cooler last night. They might have done some arm wrasslin' for those last few beers and I dont think I could have beaten any of those guys. Hell, I couldn't have beaten most of those women either. It was a rough and tumble north country crowd on the verge of a rock and roll riot. A truck load of beer was due in this morning.
I wanted an early start because I planned on camping at the Rupert River and didn't want to set up in the dark. Only around 400 miles, but I had over 200 miles of the Trans Taiga to go before the Baie-James intersection and pavement. My other concern for today was the distance back down to Relais 381 for fuel, around 325 miles. I should be fine if I didn't get crazy with the speed once I reached a hard surface. I was at the office door at 7am, no Christophe, everything was locked up tight. My early launch strategy fizzled right there.
The only other people around were some guests I had met last night, and they came over to talk. They had helicoptered into Mirage and were servicing all the remote communication towers in the area. These towers seem like they are on just about every high point in the terrain. They were doing this work for one of the big Canadian telecom companies under a complicated layer of contracts, subcontracts, and equipment leases. These young people were doing this work coast-to-coast, We're a big country, so the people have to go where needed. Kind of a pioneering spirit I'd say, and it happened to be a young woman who was speaking.
I see the Mirage owner come into the office after 8, and she unlocks the door, finds Christophe, and I'm able to settle the bill and check out. If the Mirage was an unfriendly place in the past, it's not the case now with Christophe running the show.
Now I need to make some time, and without knowing anything about the road conditions, I can't guess if it's possible. No graders were working ahead of me as I ride west on a road still wet from two days of rain. Now I'm seeing some blue to the west and the light rain has stopped. I might finally ride out from under the cloud cover. I make it to the Cree outfitter and pull into the pumps, mainly just to take a break. The pumps were still closed, but this time there's a pickup at the buildings across the road and a guys jumps in to drive over. A smiling Cree fella, I tell him I just need to top off, no problem, and I think he welcomes the opportunity to talk to someone. I have my camera out and he says Let me take your picture at our pumps so you remember us. I think what he meant was to remember that this land belonged to the Cree people. Thanks, my friend, count on me to remember.
I hadn't seen any vehicles yet, but as I continued west, graders had worked the road yesterday and I could see some tire tracks. I had adopted the practice of using the banking in the corners just like everyone else when I had a sight line through the curve. This kept me out of the deep gravel on top and usually there was a well worn line down low, sometimes two.
I was riding comfortably at 50 and downshifted to 5th for a little compression braking as I rapidly approached a sweeping left hand curve. There was moderate banking here with deep gravel thrown up the banking and covering the whole west bound lane. I dropped down and picked a line on the upper track in the east bound side, ran over a patch of marbles, drifted a little lower, and rode right into a deep sand hole saturated by the recent rain.
The front wheel dropped into the hole and the bars were nearly ripped from my hands. I was on the gas instantly, the front end lifted, the rear end came around left, and I roared up out of that sand like I was attached to a bungie cord. Now I'm crossed up right, shooting up the banking at a shallow angle, and in real trouble. My entire world was inside a little circle centered on the bike where the action was going by in high def clarity. Everything outside that circle was a complete blur.
Off the gas a fraction of a second, the bike straightened up, but I'm in the marbles on top of the banking and about to run off the road. Stab the shifter into 4th without the clutch, lean left, and now the rear is coming around right in a spray of loose gravel. I can't believe I'm up. Still at 40 going down the banking at an angle, now I'm going to run off into the trees at the inside of the curve, not in control yet. I muscled the bike back around right, stabbed the shifter again, and on the gas in 3rd when I find another sand hole down low. The bike snapped upright and instead of another lowside, I almost highside. I wanted to be going right and ended up coming around left, still on the gas, that engine was howling. I was moving too fast to catch the upper east bound track, but landed in the hard lower track, upright, straight, and coasting. My heart had stopped beating. I had forgotten how to breathe. My throat felt like sandpaper, I know I was yelling something on that roller coaster, don't ask me exactly what. It was all over in some very long seconds.
I never stopped. If I hadn't been dazed, I might have. At a quarter mile I was fidgeting around in the seat trying to get comfortable again, and at the half mile mark I was back in 6th and rollin' west at 50. There was nothing else to do. I had been riding at a deliberate pace, not slow, but not nutso fast either. I couldn't think of anything to change. Being in 5th sure helped me power out of that first hole, and not for the first time, but 4th gear was the one that saved my ass. From that curve forward, I thought of 4th as my get me the fuck outta here gear, and would need it again on the gravel ahead.
West of the Sakami intersection the road was showing even more use. A Hydro Quebec service truck went flying by, these people are maniacs on this road. Graders are back working the road in both directions, but the windrowers weren't doing a good job of moving the rocks back over to the shoulder. It was tough riding even when dry.
A few miles farther, the west bound grader operator had stuck the blade down in the ditch and pulled all the big rocks back into the road. Thats where I find the same Hydro Quebec service truck, left rear tire shredded. Now I'm out to the Baie-James and off the bike for the first time since fuel this morning. The Trans Taiga had proven the toughest of all them all so far, mainly due to wet roads and lack of traffic. I'd love to ride in there again, just not today. You need faith to ride into these roads, the faith that somehow and in some way, you will come back out again.
I had a few flashbacks to that earlier incident, but didn't dwell on it. My focus had turned south to the Rupert, the sun was shining, and that net I was hoping would be there when I jumped had caught me after all. I was in good shape fuel wise and knew I could make Relais 381, no reason to go slow, so I didn't. Run it up to 80 and go, it felt real different after the last three days. I dump in a can when I get a fuel light, I was expecting to see it, and then I'm back at the 381 fuel pumps again. No French speaking gasboy, no tutoring request this time. Man, I needed a break, and have a nice long lunch late in the afternoon. Two pieces of pie for dessert, I had worked hard for them.
It was only 80 miles south to the Riviere Rupert, I had slowed down to an easy cruise, just enjoying the day with plenty to look at. A dozen shades of green on the trees, a dozen shades of brown on the rock. The Route du Nord intersection is on the left, I'll see you tomorrow. The Rupert is just ten miles farther south. I suppose the wayside there is not for camping, but I wanted to camp at this particular spot. This is the site of the old 1200m Cree portage around a small falls and a long series of rapids, and had been used for centuries, maybe thousands of years. At this same time last season I had been on the Albany River across James Bay to the west, mapping the traditional Cree portages found there along the established trade routes. With most of the water diverted now, you might wonder what all the fuss was about. Before the diversion this section was considered unrunnable even with modern river craft, forget anything with a hull made from bark or skin. Many had tried, many had died trying.
Two men were sitting on top of a picnic table towards the front, so I went over to ask them if they thought it would be ok to camp. The older of the two was a bulky hard muscled 5'10", and covered with elaborate black tats, including neck and shaved head. My impression was that this is one dangerous dude, nothing fake about him, and he had that smile that only a real deal tough guy can achieve. If he hadn't shaved you might not notice that thin scar that ran from ear to chin along his jaw bone. If whatever had cut him had been a half inch lower, he wouldn't be sittin' in the sun on that table. They spoke little English, but understood what I was asking. In halting English the tat man finally said In Quebec we are free, we do what we want. You can stay. In the time that guy sat at the table up front, a number of cars pulled in. Nobody got out, nobody lingered.
I ran the bike down the footpath and set up camp at the back near the river. The ground was solid rock and I had to find some boulders to hold the tent down, no chance to drive a stake. So there I was as the sun went down, ready to sleep on the same rocks where the ancients had walked for so many years. I had visions.
Just a week into this trip, and I had already seen and done some things I would remember always. Back on the gravel tomorrow, round three
(To be continued
I took a day trip down to the Adirondacks today.
It was a bit chilly and a couple of wet patches, but I thought of you and declined to complain even a little.
Even when my nice paved side road became a snowmobile path.
Make hay tomorrow, the weatherman says 56 and partly cloudy.
The next few days starting Tuesday is forecast as rain.
Enjoying the report. Have fun!!!