Northern Canadian Odyssey - James Bay Road

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by jdmetzger, Jan 25, 2008.

  1. jdmetzger

    jdmetzger Lone Wolf

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    This is a ride report I posted on the BMW MOA forum. It was suggested I post it over here as well. I'm actually still in the process of writing it - but updates will come on a daily basis, at least. As I wrote this for the BMW forum, there are a few comments that are more Beemer-centric. I was going to change it a bit, but decided to leave things be. I think everyone here can deal with it. For the record, I don't care what bike anyone rides, so no need to start a flame war. It's all good, because there are jerks who ride all different brands, even BMWs. :D

    With that out of the way; this is the story of my trip on the James Bay Road. I started from the BMWMOA rally in Wisconsin, worked my way around Lake Superior, across Northern Ontario into Quebec, and then up the James Bay Road. This first post is just a prologue, and from there will be the story. Enjoy!

    -----
    I've always been oddly attracted to remote places. I guess it's the explorer in me; I want to go where few have been, and where few will ever go. I've also fancied myself to be a bit of an "Adventure rider" type... though I had yet to go anywhere off the beaten path. It was almost six months before the MOA rally in Wisconsin, and I was beginning to make some trip plans for myself. I was blessed with an abundance of vacation time from work, some disposable income, and a week to burn between the rally and a yearly family camping trip in Ontario. Days and nights were spent pouring over google maps, looking for small remote places to visit. I quickly settled on areas north of Lake Superior; possibly Highway 11 down to Lake Huron and onto some of the more remote roads that lead into some of the small communities in the area. Still, it didn't sound that exciting, and I continued to look further east and north. Somewhere I stumbled across this "James Bay Road". It offered everything I was looking for - it was remote, lightly traveled, scenic, and somewhere many had never been. My location had been chosen, and my preparations began.

    The James Bay offers a few unique challenges to a motorcycle traveler. It's very remote. There is a section of road 233 miles long that offers no service of any kind, save for some emergency phones every 50km or so. This is the second longest stretch of service-free road in North America; and it's second by only 7 miles to the Dalton Highway in Alaska. Fortunately the James Bay Road is paved for it's entirety, though frost heaving leaves the road rather rough. Even in the "busy season", very few cars are on this road each day, so if anything happens you might be waiting a while for assistance. This isn't so much a "normal" tourist destination. The road was built when a large hydroelectric facility was put in years ago, and most of the traffic is to support the small employee population, native communities, and hunters who travel to the area. Second to the remoteness is the wildlife. This is an area that supports black bear, caribou, wolves, fox, moose, and the ever popular black fly. The black flies are probably the biggest problem, as they will gladly chew a hole in your skin to get some blood, and they are rather plentiful in July. Finally, weather is a wild card. It could be hot, it could be freezing, and it could rain the whole time.

    With those negatives, "why go", you ask? I went for three reasons; natural beauty (There are a number of large rivers that flow across the James Bay Road and there is wilderness all around you), the challenge of the trip itself, and the remote silence of the area. I wanted to get away from everything, from cell phones (which do not work even before you reach the James Bay Road itself), traffic, and people - save for a possible riding companion.

    Though I had a friend or two interested in taking the trip with me, I quickly found none of my riding companions would have the time to join me on the rather remote sections of road I wanted to cover - so I would be going alone. This wasn't a huge deal, although it meant I was going to be forced to carry all of my own supplies, tools, and gear (no splitting gear between two bikes). I spent a few months rebuilding my bike to make it as mechanically perfect as I could, and to increase my own knowledge in case I had a failure on the road. This included learning how to wrestle a tire and tube off and on a rim. Gear was purchased; a lightweight but warm sleeping bag, a 3-season windproof "expedition-style" tent, camp stove, cookware, spares for the bike, and a large can of pepper spray (for bears and other large wildlife) for peace of mind. I also had completed a tentative route and schedule. I had some long days planned, but I felt up to the task. I would leave the MOA rally on Sunday, head north to Minnesota, and then cross into Ontario, following Lake Superior. From there I would head east into Quebec, up the James Bay Road, and then back down. Finally I would ride further South to the North side of Lake Huron, which I would cross by boat before riding the last 200 miles west to meet up with my family for a few more days of camping. Perfect.

    By the time July hit, I was as ready as I was ever going to be. After a short weather-related delay, I pulled out and headed to the West Bend MOA rally; the first stop on my journey. As one would expect at an MOA rally, fun was had, friends were made, beer was drank, and sleep came in small doses. By the end I was ready to get away, and the REAL part of my James Bay trip began.

    At the rally: You can never be too careful when drinking!
    [​IMG]

    At the rally: Beautiful sunrise over a lake
    [​IMG]

    MUCH more to come...
    #1
  2. jdmetzger

    jdmetzger Lone Wolf

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    Now that the setup is out of the way, the trip begins.
    -----

    Riding across Wisconsin over miles of smooth pavement through sparse traffic was a rather anticlimatic way of starting what was to be my ultimate trip for the year. The engine hummed beneath me in a way only an Airhead boxer at 75-80mph can. In the meantime, visions of the journey ahead swam through my mind. I stopped infrequently when the sudden stumbling of the engine reminded me we were short on fuel, and once switching the petcocks to "reserve" I would take the next exit - both to refuel the bike and myself. I settled for lunch at a gas station A&W - meal of champions. It had been a bit cool out, and I enjoyed being able to soak up some heat while I sat next to my bike in the sun.

    The highway eventually gave way to a state route, which led me through Duluth and onto Minnesota Route 61 - a two laner that meanders along the north side of Lake Superior through a number of small towns. As usual I found myself well ahead of schedule and I pulled off into Two Harbors, MN for a look around. This was the first time I had seen Lake Superior - the last Great Lake for me to see. Several small signs were followed to a lighthouse which offered some scenic views, even if the day had become a bit overcast.

    [​IMG]

    The lighthouse is now a Bed and Breakfast - and also claims to be haunted. I experienced no paranormal activities as I climbed to the top of the lighthouse, although the high-viz Olympia AST jacket I was wearing may scare off ghosts as well as it scares of women at a biker bar. I also walked out onto a nearby jetty and enjoyed the fresh air, as an ore freighter came past and deftly maneuvered into the small harbor. As I began to get harassed by a large swarm of flying bugs, I decided it was time to get back on the road and quickly made my escape back to the bike. I'm sure the locals were confused by the guy in motorcycle gear running down the jetty flailing his arms in the air like a madman. Note to self: take a shower.

    A long walk back - maybe I should have ridden out here?
    [​IMG]

    The rest of the ride was sadly annoying - slow traffic kept me from making much forward progress, and the two-lane road coupled with long strings of trucks pulling trailers made passing difficult. I settled back in and sang to myself for the next hour:

    Rollin' Rollin' Rollin'
    Keep that Airhead rolling!
    Why is traffic slowin'?
    Again?!

    (Yeah, I'm no songwriter)

    My only stop was to grab some dinner - fresh cut fruit and some smoked gouda to go along with the jerky in my tank bag. I continued on and finally pulled into the campground at Judge C.R. Magney State Park just past Grand Marais, MN. The place seemed to work on the honor system; nobody was working the front office, but there were instructions for filling out an envelope and making a cash payment. There was also a campground steward on-site to make sure you didn't freeload, and to get firewood for anyone who needed it. I quickly set up on my pine-needle covered site and set about having dinner. Some friendly neighbors took pity on the lonely biker and offered me a grilled hot dog and friendly conversation.

    [​IMG]

    As the sun began to set I built a fire for some ambiance, just as a group of motorcyclists came rolling into the campground and set up next to me. There was a friendly couple on a Harley, and their equally friendly companion on a 1978 Honda with a barn-door Windjammer fairing. After setting up, they brought their firewood over to my site and we shared some friendly conversation, jokes, and cola around the campfire before retiring for the evening. I also remembered to run off and get a good shower - I didn't want to attract any bears who were looking for human hands marinated in turkey jerky and smoked gouda. With my bear spray next to my sleeping bag, I quickly fell sound asleep to the occasional hissing and cracking of the fading campfire...
    #2
  3. jdmetzger

    jdmetzger Lone Wolf

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    I was a little surprised when I woke up around 6am and heard my motorcycle riding campground neighbors already stirring. I guess dairy farmers aren't much for sleeping in. It was a bit brisk as I packed up my things - my anal retentive nature had me on a strict schedule - on the road by 7:00am. It's probably good I was traveling alone, as I wouldn't be annoying anyone with my schedule. As I rolled the tent and did my best to remove several pounds of pine needles, my neighbors offered me some free breakfast. They were trying to use up all of their bread before striking camp, and were busy toasting it over their Coleman stove. Nothing screams healthy, filling breakfast like dry toast. Scrumptious. I think I remember hearing that beggars can't be choosers...

    I managed to pull out of the campground a few minutes ahead of schedule, hopes high for another good day. It was slightly overcast, but the clouds were quickly burning off and a ray of sunlight peeked through the clouds and shone down on the road ahead of me - I took that as a sign of good luck. Immediately after, my bike went on reserve and I realized I had no idea how much further it was to a gas station. Luck was indeed with me, and I pulled into a combination general store/gas station/Indian Casino. How convenient! Again, fuel up the bike, grab a warm can of orange juice, and solve another issue. I purchased a blinding halogen flashlight for my trip, which I thought would make a great bear spotting device. The only problem is it requires a small fission reactor to power the light for more than a few minutes. Failing that, you can use lithium batteries like you would find in a digital camera. Sadly, I drained the batteries at the rally, and I had been having problems locating replacements. The general store had something that looked similar - the batteries were the same size and rating, but were sold as two batteries in a plastic case for some brand of digital camera. I grabbed them off the shelf and made my way back outside. In a moment that would make MacGyver proud, I got out my trusty Leatherman multi-tool and ripped the plastic shell away from the batteries, popped them into the flashlight, and... nothing. Hmm. I twisted the flashlight, played with the button, shook it, spoke some magic words (not forum friendly), and just like in a cartoon, it came on while pointed directly at my face. Well, at least THAT'S working again. After a few minutes my eyesight returned, and I got back on the road, stopping at a scenic lookout to snap some photos of the mountainous terrain around the Lake. This same view was played out again and again as I cruised along Highway 17 - really a beautiful ride.

    [​IMG]

    Crossing into Canada was as easy as ever. The border agent was friendly, didn't require me to remove my helmet, and only questioned me briefly about the bear spray. I happily cruised through Canada, although I was a little unimpressed with what I considered to be an overly low speed limit that I ended up challenging most of the day. Construction signs began popping up telling me I was going to be on an unpaved road for the next 17km. I was less than excited. My unpaved riding experience was probably less than one kilometer in total, and that made me nervous. With no way around, my only choice was to continue on. Luck was again with me as I noticed there was a fresh layer of blacktop that stretched for quite a while, although I began to see a nice layer of dirt on top of it, which quickly turned into a solid dirt road. Cue the rain, and cue oncoming traffic splashing muddy water on my faceshield. Great. As I expected, things got worse before they got better.

    I crested a small hill and 100 yards ahead I spotted some construction equipment, a worker holding a "slow" sign, and what looked like a roadway covered in river rocks. I had very little time to take that sight in as my front wheel started to plow into the rocks and gravel, and my bars began moving wildly from side to side. I had just enough presence of mind to slowly close the throttle as I waited for my eventual impact with the ground. In the meantime, the mysterious Canadian worker held out her hands in front of her like she was holding on to some handlebars and began to move them from side to side. There is nothing more enjoyable than being mocked as you are about to crash, I assure you. Luck was on my side and I somehow managed to bring the bike to a controlled stop next to the previously mentioned friendly construction worker, so I could see how much further this was going to go on. In a heavy Canadian accent, she was happy to tell me:

    "Not much further, eh? You know, you should be careful, we had a guy on a bike get hurt really bad a few weeks ago!"

    That was interesting information that would have been MUCH more helpful 100 yards earlier. I wondered if the "slow" sign was to warn me of the worker, or the road itself. I assume they hang "bridge out" signs in the center of the road halfway between each end, as well, so you have a chance to read it as you fall to your death. This girls sister is probably at the bottom telling people to be more careful, next time.

    I continued to slog my way through the next 100 yards of deep, smooth gravel, then through a bit of packed dirt, and finally back to pavement. Again on cue, the sun comes back out, and the rest of my ride is under bright sunshine and cloudless skies. A short distance down the road I start seeing gas station full of other bike brands. The owners are busy cleaning mud from their bikes with the windshield wash squeegee and bottles of water. I had to laugh to myself a little bit about that one; I guess it's more about the look than the ride, for some. I eventually pulled off myself for a refuel and got a good look at the damage. I was muddy, the bike was muddy, but otherwise things were fine, and I was sure to run into more dirt and mud before my trip was through.

    [​IMG]

    The next several hours were full of some truly beautiful riding; elevation changes, sweeping turns, and few police officers. Lucky for me the ones I DID see never moved to come after me; even if I was a ways north of the speed limit. The hours came and went as I would stop for the occasional break; lucking on to scenic Aguasabon Falls near Terrace Bay, ON.

    Brief video of the falls. Not overly exciting, but I felt like getting some mixed media in with this story to fancy it up. That's Lake Superior far off in the distance.

    <object height="373" width="425">

    [FONT=Arial,Helvetica,Sans-serif]Adblock[/FONT]

    <embed adblockframename="adblock-frame-n5" adblockframedobject2="true" adblockframedobject="true" src="http://www.youtube.com/v/KN7JueR6GUo&rel=1&border=1" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" wmode="transparent" height="373" width="425"></object>

    I finally got to the small town of Wawa, where I stocked up on single use coffee (coffee in a tea bag), breakfast bars, and subway. The last 50 or so miles to the campground at Lake Superior Provincial Park were grueling, but there was a big payoff when I got there and ended up with an absolutely beautiful campsite. I immediately grabbed my Kermit chair and my sub, kicked off my shoes, and enjoyed an early dinner on the beach. An annoyingly bold squirrel who closely resembled the squirrel from "Ice Age" finished half of the sub I left sitting on the picnic table, but I really wasn't as hungry as I thought, anyhow. I took a relaxing stroll along the beach, climbed up a rocky outcropping, and enjoyed being off the bike for a while.

    [​IMG]

    Later, I relaxed at my campsite, wrote down some of the days happenings, and went off to bed just as the sun was setting across the lake. You would have thought it was a tropical paradise and not Canada.

    [​IMG]

    Around 4:30am I woke up to the sound of a lone timber wolf howling far off in the distance. I smiled to myself, and drifted back off to sleep for a few more hours, wondering what the day would bring.
    #3
  4. GB

    GB . Administrator Super Moderator Super Supporter

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  5. jdmetzger

    jdmetzger Lone Wolf

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    This next day is a two parter, as a lot happened to me. No pictures in this one, but the next post will have a few...
    -----
    Waking up in my tent and seeing my breath in the middle of July was a little bit surprising. Then again, I was camped right on the edge of Lake Superior, so some cooler temperatures were to be expected. I quickly dressed inside my tent, crawled out, donned all of my riding gear (aside from the helmet and gloves) and paced around the campsite eating a breakfast bar until I warmed up a bit. From there I again quickly packed my gear and was back on the road by 7:00am; this time heading North on Highway 17 back to Wawa, where I would then be turning east towards Chapleau and Timmins, before turning north in Quebec to the James Bay Road.

    Sure, it was a bit cold when I was packing up my tent, but blasting up Highway 17 along Lake Superior at high speed made me glad I installed heated grips. I quickly switched them on and also noticed it was cold enough that my mirrors were fogging up. I wasn't too worried - traffic was very light, and I didn't expect anyone to catch up to me. Small lakes and bogs along the road were invisible under the collected steam hovering over the top of them.

    Midway through my ride I spotted a single headlight coming towards me. "7:00am, middle of nowhere, motorcycle... this HAS to be a Beemer". A minute later I was proved correct as we roared past each other; waving on our way by. I'm sure he was smiling as big as I was.

    I quickly came upon a lone semi who was slowing my forward progress. Many parts of the hilly and winding road are only two lanes and strewn with double yellow lines. There is plenty of space for a motorcycle (or lone car) to pass, but I think the lines were painted for the lowest common denominator of large trucks and tourists hauling trailers. I was just checking for a clear space to shoot by when the truck turned on his left signal... then turned it off... then on again. I had seen this a few times yesterday before making passes, as well. It finally sunk in that they were signaling to let me know the road was clear ahead. How nice! I wish truckers elsewhere would follow this same procedure. I blew past the truck, gave a friendly wave, and continued on; quickly reaching Wawa. Once in Wawa, I fueled up the bike and also grabbed a two gallon gas can. I was finally getting into more remote areas, and was pretty sure I would at least need an extra gallon for the James Bay Road. With the gas can filled up and secured to the rear rack of the bike, I veered off onto Highway 101.

    The next section of road was less that exciting, except there was very little traffic. Fear of wildlife kept me from going too fast, even though they kept the brush trimmed well away from the road. The air was still a little cool, but the sun was shining brightly and promising a good day. I would pass an occasional car, but more frequently I was seeing logging trucks pulling off of the many dirt roads scattered about - leading back into the wilderness. Houses would pop up from time to time, as well as signs for various campgrounds and hunting/fishing lodges. I'm sure this area gets a bit more traffic when hunting season is really open. I skirted Chapleau, and continued on this rather boring road until my map showed me I only had one decent place to stop for fuel before getting to Timmins; a distance that would be just beyond my reach. Off of 101, I turned into the small town (village?) of Foleyet. With a booming population of 350, I'm sure a new visitor is quite the talk of the town; especially a visitor on a BMW motorcycle, with a high-viz jacket on, with Ohio plates. I rolled past what is probably the only restaurant in town, and 4 or 5 locals stared as I passed them by and pulled into the gas station/general store.

    My first task was operating the nearly antique gas pump. This was one of those fun ones with the rolling numbers and the spinning ball inside a glass cover that showed you fuel was flowing. Far out. After fueling up I went inside to pay and grab a Red Bull, which I enjoyed outside on the covered porch. I felt like I was in the old west. I didn't find any tumbleweed; probably out of season. The whole time the locals at the nearby restaurant were eyeing me, and I started to hear that "Deliverance" music playing in my head. I didn't think my barnyard animal imitations were really up to snuff, so it was time to move on. Riding out of town they again followed my every move, and I gave them all a wave as I passed. One returned the wave; the rest just kept staring... I imagine they watched me until I was totally out of sight.

    I eventually made it into the booming metropolis of Timmins; population 43000, and home of Shania Twain (as advertised on the welcome sign). Rolling into a place this large was quite a culture shock for me, and took a bit of the "adventure" out of my trip. I stopped at a large grocery store to get something to clean off my face shield, I grabbed some junk food at a Burger King, and I felt great sitting outside in the warm sun. I pulled out my cell phone (now with excellent service) and started calling friends and family to relay my most recent hardship to them. Pretty rough living in Timmins, I assure you. I am an adventure riding god; look out Helge Pedersen, I'm coming for you, right after I finish my Whopper! With a huge smile on my face I rode out of the hustle and bustle of Timmins and in what seemed like no time at all I was celebrating crossing into remote Quebec as I had my gas tank filled up by the young "gas boy" who spoke little to no English. Ahh, beautiful day. I continued on east and then north towards Macamic where I noticed the sky began to get a bit darker off to the northwest. No worries; I pulled over in the small hamlet of Poularies, closed the vents on my jacket, donned my rain pants, and continued north. In my mind I spoke in my best French Canadian accent; "Rain? I worry not about rain!"

    Approaching my turn onto Route 111 in Macamic, there was a slight problem; the road was closed and the only detour was back south. Still no worries... until I noticed that "rain cloud" had turned into a thunderhead; full of very visible ground-touching lighting, now only minutes off to the East. "Mon Dieu!" I quickly hauled south and saw the posted detour sign. I turned back east following the detour, and all I could see in my mirrors was black sky and the occasional flash of lightning. I was determined to outrun this beast. WE were determined. I twisted the throttle open on the R80 and received an immediate response as we hit warp speed...
    #5
  6. Viking

    Viking Ækt trønder!!

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  7. jdmetzger

    jdmetzger Lone Wolf

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    I was now barreling down Quebec route 390, crouched into a bit of a tuck on my R80; riding for my life. Anything on the road moving slower than warp speed was quickly passed by as I worked to get ahead of the approaching storm. Each time I would turn south I had an opportunity to look at the beast following me; to judge if I was making any progress. The storm itself was a flat wall aside from a small piece sticking out in front of the rest; like a hand reaching out to grab me. I would not go down without a fight. East, south, east, south; running across the countryside like a scared jackrabbit. East onto Route 111, following it's curves through tiny hamlets, past collections of houses, around the farm tractor making it's way slowly down the road. My riding would have made Ernst Henne proud. Now at the tops of my mirrors I was seeing something different; clear sky. I was winning! A short time later the sun actually came out, but I wasn't going to be complacent - I kept running until I hit Amos and turned back north on Highway 109; the road that would eventually become the James Bay Road. I stopped briefly in St-Felix-de-Dalquier for fuel; the last stop before reaching Matagami, and the start of the JBR.

    My fuel stop was brief, and I had no time to celebrate anything at this point; I could still see the monolith unflinchingly moving towards me across the fields. Looking north, I could see the edge of this beast. If I moved fast enough I might be able to outflank it. I remounted the R80, hit the starter, and jumped back onto the road. Things quickly went from small towns to remoteness; traffic went away, and the fields gave way to a solid forest of trees. The road cut back east and then finally turned for the long run north. Within a few minutes I knew I had outrun the storm. I smiled to myself. My French Canadian accent came back "I am not afraid of any rain storm! You come for me, but you shall never catch me! I am like the rainbow!" I settled back in for the next 100 or so miles to Matagami on this wide and well paved section of road; past a closed hotel, past mines, past small lakes and abandoned houses. Is that sky ahead a little bit dark? Possibly... stormy looking? Is that a hint of leather riding boot I taste? Maybe a bit of gore-tex, as well?

    Yes, I was riding directly into another storm cell, and the sky continued to get darker and darker as I approached. I thought about stopping to let it pass, but there was more off to the west of me, so that wasn't an option. My choices were rather limited, actually. I could pull off to the side and hide in the forest and risk a nearby tree being struck by lighting, I could pull off and stand on the road; the tallest thing around unless I decided to lay down and risk a logging truck running me down on a rain slickened road. I took the final option; I was going to ride through it as fast as I could. I ducked back down behind the small windshield, cranked open the throttle, and just as I saw a flash of lightning I was thinking of Hunter S. Thompson; "Faster, Faster, until the thrill of speed overcomes the fear of death." That thought didn't last long. I noticed my tank bag wasn't covered, and I didn't want my camera and gear to be destroyed by the rain. I quickly pulled off onto the gravel shoulder to put the cover on just as the rain started falling in earnest. With my head looking down as I scrambled to attach the rain cover to my tank bag, I was surprised at how loud the rain was, and how big the drops must be to make that much noise on my helmet. Then I caught something out of the corner of my eye. Rain isn't supposed to bounce, is it?

    I was being paid back in spades for my arrogance at outrunning the last storm as marble-sized hail fell on me. I stood there for a minute or two; there was really no place for me to hide, and at least my full riding gear was keeping me safe. Note to self; let Olympia and Arai know their gear works in hail. The hail continued, and suddenly my prayers were answered; a small, well-worn pickup truck came down the road, pulling off to the side across from my bike. I ran across the road and the passenger door popped open just as I got to it. I had no idea who the driver was, but for the moment he was my best friend - I dove in and slammed the door shut. Here we sit; three guys packed tight in a Chevy S-10 that had seen better days. The passenger window wouldn't roll up all the way, and small chunks of ice would come flying in and land in my lap. My two new friends were covered in mud and dirt - probably mine workers - I was never sure as they spoke no English, and I spoke no French aside from a heartfelt "Merci!" It didn't matter; the hail falling on the metal roof of the truck was deafening, and we would have needed to yell at each other. Eventually another van joined us on the side of the road, along with a bus I passed 20 minutes before. In the meantime, my R80 was leaning at an obscene angle as the side stand sunk into the gravel on the side of the road as streams formed and ran underneath. My GPS was still sitting in it's mount, and I wondered if the screen would be cracked. Eventually the hail subsided, and I stepped out of the truck to survey the damage. Just as the truck drove off I realized one of my warm, insulated gloves must still be inside the truck. He had no rear view mirror, so I'm sure he didn't see me waving at him. Merde.

    Road covered in melting hail.
    [​IMG]

    My unflinching companion, waiting to get going.
    [​IMG]

    Yup, that's hail.
    [​IMG]


    I approached my bike and set about getting things back in order. I grabbed a smooth rock to wedge under the side stand to bring the bike back to the right angle, then I repacked my tank bag, checked my GPS (undamaged!), and dug out one of my new mesh gloves so I'd still have a protected right hand. I had plenty of time to wait around as riding on the hail was going to be like riding on marbles. I stood there in the silence and watched the road steam, listened to rain dripping off of the trees, and tried to gather my thoughts. Eventually a car came past and cleared a path that I could ride in, so the helmet went back on and I rode off. Several miles later the hail cleared, and several miles after that the road wasn't even wet. It took about 10 minutes of me riding in a rather shell-shocked state to realize I never buckled my helmet back on. Not safe. I pulled off into a small picnic area and in the 20 seconds that it took me to secure the helmet I had 10 black flies buzzing around my helmet. Excellent. My spirits had never been higher. I rode on for a bit until I started to laugh like a madman. I really didn't know why; but it felt right. The situation was just too absurd. I'm all alone, in the middle of nowhere, on a motorcycle, and marble sized hail starts falling on me. I thought back to how I got involved in riding, and how I had planned this trip. Never had I even remotely considered something like this would ever happen to me. C'est la vie. I rolled on until finally reaching Matagami.

    Once in Matagami, I fueled up the bike (where is my gas boy??), and went inside to grab a fresh (I hope) made sandwich, some chips, and two bottles of water. I wasn't in the mood to make any food for myself. Back onto the road and to the official start of the James Bay Road. I pulled into the checkpoint set up at the start of the JBR. The road is remote enough that they like people to check in and tell them where you're going and when you'll be back, so if you turn up missing they have an idea as to where you might be. Comforting. The workers were rather friendly, even though I was sure I looked like walking death; I know that's how I felt. They were surprised I had encountered hail earlier on, as things had been rather nice further north. I wondered if I would have avoided all of that had there not been a detour for me earlier on.

    Isolated Route, 375km. The whole length is isolated, but the first 375km is the worst.
    [​IMG]

    Just a reminder there is no fuel for 375km. Do you have enough?
    [​IMG]

    A sign showing how far everything is. I was headed to Radisson, and also to Chisasibi - that's a lot of kilometers.
    [​IMG]

    I pulled out of the checkpoint and rode the last few miles to my stop for the day; Matagami Lake campground. There was a nice gravel path leading back into the trees to the campground. The shirtless man checking me in was friendly enough, and I was quickly on my way to my site. Things were adequate, although the campground was full of trailers and tents setup on wooden platforms. Apparently people leave their things here year-round as I saw hardly anyone moving about.

    Hopping of my bike and removing my helmet I was quickly surrounded by black flies, and not just a few. I dug in my tank bag for my UltraSuperSportsmandontletkidsevenlookatthis Deep Woods Off and sprayed any exposed skin; hands, face, and my hat before tucking my pant legs in. This kept the black flies at bay, although they would still swarm around me until I would get annoyed and walk into the bathroom for a few minutes until they dispersed. I had my tent erected just as one last rainstorm rolled though; fortunately it was rather light, and left a nice rainbow for me as I ate dinner and checked out the beach along Lake Matagami.

    Lake Matagami; storm just starting to clear, overhead.
    [​IMG]

    A rainbow over my campsite; good luck?
    [​IMG]

    It had gotten late but the sun was still shining pretty brightly; I was quite a bit further north than I'm used to. Sun or not, I was tired and went to crawl into my tent. Fortunately I noticed the hundreds of black flies on my jeans before getting in and a liberal spraying of my jeans had them all running scared. I ended up making it into the tent with only one uninvited guest, who was not long for this world. With the bear spray next to me and my BMW riding tights still on (it was pretty cool out) I dozed off to sleep; waking up once to pile my riding jacket on top of my sleeping bag for extra warmth. Boy is it ever cold for July.
    #7
  8. Thisguy

    Thisguy Hold Fast

    Joined:
    Apr 21, 2004
    Oddometer:
    2,349
    Location:
    Socialist Republic of Maryland
    Very nice!!!!:clap
    #8
  9. no

    no dreaming adventurer Supporter

    Joined:
    Nov 19, 2005
    Oddometer:
    116,840
    Location:
    right here on my thermarest
    :lurk
    #9
  10. xdbx

    xdbx Motorcycle Connoisseur

    Joined:
    Nov 3, 2006
    Oddometer:
    2,503
    Location:
    NorCal
    this is a pretty interesting route considering I'm from Detroit. Excellent so far, and please do continue soon!! :clap
    #10
  11. Kyler

    Kyler Geezer

    Joined:
    Jul 21, 2007
    Oddometer:
    2,835
    Location:
    Just north of Keedysville, MD
    :lurk I plan on doing this next year roughly the same time. Am looking forward to the rest of the trip report!
    #11
  12. haggeo

    haggeo Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2005
    Oddometer:
    949
    Location:
    oakland, ca
    :clap sweet!
    #12
  13. jdmetzger

    jdmetzger Lone Wolf

    Joined:
    Mar 5, 2007
    Oddometer:
    3,384
    Location:
    DC Metro
    When you have a sleeping bag rated down to 40 degrees and you're wearing woolen socks, insulated leggings (BMW brand), a t-shirt, a hat, and piling your riding jacket on top of the sleeping bag, you know it's a bit cold outside. When you have to do all of this in July and know you have a few hundred miles to cover by motorcycle, things get serious pretty quick.

    I woke up terribly early; around 5:15am, and it was already light outside. I dozed in the early morning light trying to get a few more minutes of sleep, but it just wasn't going to happen. It was a pretty calm morning; I could no longer hear the waves from Lake Matagami crashing into shore, and even the forest was strangely quiet. Suddenly I was snapped to full awake by what sounded like someone walking around on gravel; strangely close to my bike. Too quiet for a bear; is a person checking out my gear? Stealing something? I coughed a bit to see what would happen. Silence. Then more sounds of something moving around on gravel; slowly getting closer to my tent. I quietly sat up inside my sleeping bag and listened for the slightest sounds - breathing, panting, anything. Surely a bear would be MUCH louder, right? Every few minutes I'd hear another sound, and each time it would be closer to my tent. I cleared my throat again. I decided there was no way I could get out of my bag and through two zipper safely if it was some nasty forest beast. Bigfoot?

    "Twang!" Whatever it was had just brushed against one of the guy lines on my tent. Adrenaline was rushing through my veins now; whatever it was had to be within 3 or 4 feet of my tent; probably closer. I was now protected only by a double layer of tent fabric. I grabbed the can of bear spray and removed the safety from the trigger. If a bear suddenly tore through my tent I was going to make sure I was nicely marinate for him. Maybe I should grab the lighter and set my tent on fire, as well. More crunching gravel, and another "twang!" on the guy line. Now it's behind the tent. No way to get out from there. Several more minutes pass with only the occasional sound of crunching gravel and my breathing. Something touches the bottom of the rainfly and I consider cutting myself out of my tent with my Leatherman until I realize what it is as it crawls along the bottom of my rain fly. I am officially an idiot; it's nothing more than a small salamander. I am likely the only person to ever mistake a salamander for a bear. I can see the news report now: "Shoeless man seen running down James Bay Road in burned clothing. He appears to be crying, or blinded by pepper spray. Mumbling about a killer salamander." It must have been "hopping" or something, making the gravel crunch and hitting my guy lines. I lay back down and put the safety back under the bear spray trigger. I tell myself nobody will ever hear of this; and then consider changing "salamander" to "moose" or at least "fox". After wasting 20 minutes being terrified of a salamander, I decide it's now a good time to get out of bed and get moving; it's still before 6:00am, though.

    I get out of my tent, don all my gear, and pace around eating breakfast, again. It's really cold outside, and I can see my breath. I can't wait until the sun gets higher in the sky and warms things up, a bit. There are still a few black flies who are undeterred by the cold. I quickly pack my gear and stuff my soaked rainfly into a mesh bag attached to the back of my bike. I hope the wind will dry it off a bit. The bike roars to life and settles into that familiar "noisy sewing machine" sound of the Airhead boxer. The valves sound just fine. I click into gear and work my way down the gravel driveway and back onto the James Bay Road. I get moving at a pretty good pace; still watching for wildlife. This was sure to be a quick and easy ride with a few sightseeing stops. 30 minutes of riding all by myself brought me to my first stop for photos. There had been a forest fire here years ago (started by a lightning strike), and the devastation is amazing. I had never seen a forest completely burned; pretty shocking. In some areas the pile of charred wood stretched on forever; with not even a hint of anything green trying to peek through. In another area there were miles of burned trees still standing, but stripped of almost all their limbs; a ghost forest. It's hard to imagine that this area was once teeming with life; lush and green. Already moss and other ground cover was starting to reclaim the area; mother nature is not to be stopped.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    As I made my way along the JBR, I was noticing small orange diamond signs on the side of the road. It didn't take me long to realize these were to let you know a large bump was approaching. These weren't simply potholes; these were cracks that ran across the road, so there was no option to maneuver around, although I kept trying. Frost heave must be a big issue up here. The first few I ignored and kept riding. Finally I hit one that bounced me hard enough to dislodge me from my seat and leave me standing on my pegs. Ouch. From here on in, most of the ride involved slowing to 45-50mph as I approached these signs. Later on, I came around a bend in the road and encountered a sign with three orange diamonds on it, which had me hitting my brakes. I had heard stories of people coming up here and running flat out for a few hours; that must have been back when the road was in better condition; now you would be bounced off the road into the trees.

    Another 30 minutes of riding, and I realized my mesh glove covered hand was getting a bit cold. The heated grip wasn't quite cutting it. I was also getting scattered drops of rain hitting me. I pulled off and started digging through my tankbag. Out came my silk glove liners and some heat packs. I had nearly left these single use heat packs at home, but at the last minute I decided to grab them since they took up very little space. I'm so glad I did. I ignored the warnings about placing the packs directly on your skin; I put one on the back of my hand and one on my palm, then donned both silk liners, then shoved the whole mess back into the mesh glove. It was a bit bulky, but I still had decent movement, and could still get to my brake lever quickly, if necessary. Once back on the road, my fingers started to warm up a bit, so I cracked the throttle open a bit further. Finally I was settling in to a nice pace, and I was plenty comfortable on the bike. The sun peeked through the clouds, traffic was non-existent, and I was happy to see the JBR actually had a few bends in it. After nearly an hour I saw something else on the road; a small red fox sitting just off the birm watched me tear by. Cool! Later on I saw a sizable caribou run across the road as well, although once I got to that point he had disappeared into the forest. I was keeping my eyes peeled for bears and moose; I was really hoping to see a moose. It took me nearly an hour before I saw any other cars on the road - I was really out on my own. A little further and three motorcycles were head south on the JBR. We are a crazy bunch. At least they were heading towards warmer climates and denser population.
    #13
  14. jdmetzger

    jdmetzger Lone Wolf

    Joined:
    Mar 5, 2007
    Oddometer:
    3,384
    Location:
    DC Metro
    Continued...
    -----
    My ride finally brought me to one of the most important destinations for my whole trip. the Rupert River. Part of my decision to come up here was to see this river which crosses the JBR. Increased electricity demand in Canada and the US has Hydro-Quebec looking for more "green" power. The result of this is plans for the mighty Rupert to be diverted, turning the raging rapids into a tiny stream. It's really a beautiful area, and the water is said to be clean enough to drink untreated. They are currently in the process of building the dam, and full diversion is expected by late '08 or early '09. I wanted to see this before it was too late. I immediately pulled off into the small lot on the south side of the river to get off the bike and take some photos. I was surprised to find I wasn't alone; there was a single van parked there, along with a woman and her two dogs. I was rather amused at the stop sign in the lot; printed in both French and Cree.

    [​IMG]

    I walked around a bit, took some photos, walked onto the bridge for more photos and video of this amazing river. I was feeling pretty excited to finally be here; a place I had been reading about for months. It really was beautiful; more impressive than I expected. There was an extremely strong current, and the rapids pushed mist high into the air. Raw power. From across the river I could see a small lookout stand on the opposite side. I had read about this, and was ready to hike the nature trail leading to it so I could get some spectacular photos. Before heading across, I decided now was a good time to add the two gallons of gas from my gas can; I'd rather have it in the tank of the bike, even if I wasn't on reserve, yet. I pulled out the can, extended the filler neck, and managed to spill a bunch of gas all over my gas tank. No problem; I finished getting most of the gas into the tank and then rinsed it off with water from one of my water bottles. I did make one more terrible mistake by re-attaching the gas can to the rear rack with gas spilled on the outside. That would be fine, except my tent rain fly was in a mesh bag directly against it. Gasoline on a rain fly can't be a good thing. Merde.

    The bridge over the Rupert River
    [​IMG]

    View of the rapids from the bridge
    [​IMG]

    Video of the Rupert River from the bridge on the JBR. I started looking down from the bridge to show how fast the water is moving (youtube seems to decrease the quality a bit):

    <object height="355" width="425">

    [FONT=Arial,Helvetica,Sans-serif]Adblock[/FONT]

    <embed adblockframename="adblock-frame-n4" adblockframedobject2="true" adblockframedobject="true" src="http://www.youtube.com/v/WOJxOpM2dB8&rel=1" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" wmode="transparent" height="355" width="425"></object>

    Back on the bike for a very brief ride to the "nature trail" on the north side of the river. There was no parking area so I simply parked on the birm; leaving my helmet. Traffic was so light I had doubts a car would come by while I'm gone, and even if they did; I doubted they would stop to try to take my helmet, or anything else. It was rather odd; there was a painted wooden structure at the start of the trail, but they failed to make an opening in the guardrail, so I had to hop over. I walked down and was immediately on a rather narrow trail through the forest. It was 1.2km to the scenic lookout. All alone, walking through the forest in bear country. Surely this is a good idea. In one hand was my camera, and in the other was the can of bear spray. All my riding gear made plenty of noise as I walked, but I still whistled; hoping it would help keep me from sneaking up on anything. The trail went from soft, spongy ground through a stand of pine trees to a rocky narrow trail through dead trees and lots of scrub bushes. It continued to get worse as there were small trees laying across the trail, and then larger ones I had to climb over. Apparently there was also a forest fire in this area, and the trail has been woefully unmaintained. I considered turning back, but my adventurous spirit got the best of me, thankfully.

    Start of the trail:
    [​IMG]

    Further down the trail:
    [​IMG]

    I think there is still a trail here, somewhere:
    [​IMG]

    There was several more minutes of scrambling over downed trees until I finally reached the scenic lookout, and was it ever worth it. I stood there enjoying the site as the water roared past. I've been to Niagara Falls before, and this had a very similar sound to it. Totally amazing - unbelievable amounts of water were roaring past every second. The hail was worth it. I've read that several people have tried to run these rapids in a kayak; I was not surprised that nobody has ever done it. Due to the pending diversion, I'm sure nobody ever will.

    Massive rapids:
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Here is a short video of the rapids from the lookout stand:

    <object height="355" width="425">

    <embed adblockframename="adblock-frame-n5" adblockframedobject2="true" adblockframedobject="true" src="http://www.youtube.com/v/GkoQkGZUc-c&rel=1" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" wmode="transparent" height="355" width="425">
    [FONT=Arial,Helvetica,Sans-serif]Adblock[/FONT]

    </object>

    I eventually turned back, safely reaching the bike. The gear went back on, the bike started, and I was back on the road; next stop, fuel at Kilometer 381. It was a cool ride with small amounts of drizzle, but nothing serious. I would see a car or truck every 30 minutes or so, but for the most part I was all alone. I really loved it. I stopped once and pulled my helmet off, just to enjoy the solitude. Most of the large trees were going away, and now the scenery was mostly small bogs, scrub bushes, and short coniferous trees. They were probably pretty old by the time they reached 4 or 5 feet; the growing season is terribly short up here. I had read you can hear cars approach for miles up here, and it turned out to be true; a sound I heard 10 minutes ago eventually grew louder until a truck rolled past. Wild. I continued on; passing emergency phone towers, and passing a sign letting me know I had reached the 52nd parallel. I'm not sure what the significance is; I never saw another sign like it. I was getting a bit cool, but suddenly found refuge at the Kilometer 381 stop.

    This is no scenic rest area. Totally utilitarian; mobile home trailers where you can rent a room for the night, a large corrugated steel building for working on their trucks (snowplows and so on) which also contained the cafeteria. There were also some stacked 55 gallon drums, and some gas pumps far in the back. I cruised back to the pumps and saw my two choices; "diesel" or "essence". I'm assuming "essence" is whatever fuel they can get up there, and I was suddenly very glad I dual-plugged my Airhead, so it no longer required premium. There was a sign telling me in no uncertain terms to not pump gas, and instead wait for the "gas boy". In the meantime I pulled off my helmet, expecting a chance to warm up without the 70mph wind blowing in my face. How wrong I was. If anything, the temperature had dropped even more; I could see my breath, and a cold wind was blowing across the lot. I still had a way to go until Radisson. It was still a quiet place, and the only sound aside from the wind was the 55 gallon drums "ticking" as the metal expanded and contracted in the weather. Rather soon the "boy" approached; a man who was at least twice my age. He was an interesting guy; I can't imagine wanting to work in a place like this. He did speak English and would chat with me a bit - I'm sure he meets some interesting people up here. After filling the bike and my gas can, we walked into a tiny building to pay. I considered hanging around, as it was heated. Total price of unleaded fuel at KM381 for 5.5 gallons; about $36. Ouch. I didn't really think much about it; I knew it would be pricey, and it's not like I had a choice. I ate a bit more breakfast bar for strength and hopped back on the bike to finish off this last bit of cold, overcast riding.

    After a while of endless riding through this deserted wilderness, I was freezing cold, and it continued to lightly rain on me. Keeping my feet on th pegs, I started to "bounce" my legs in an attempt to warm up. At the same time I was tensing and releasing my arm muscles and wiggling my fingers. Each time I would look at my GPS and see the kilometers slowly tick by. I was talking myself into continuing on. "160km. That's not far. That's like riding to bike night and back. I can do this." The rain continued, and I went as fast as I safely could. Any faster and I was worried I might slide off the road in a turn, off into the scrub. I'd probably lay there for days or weeks before anyone found me. By then I'd probably be bear food. 120km. "That's like riding to one of the Michigan offices from work." That's nothing. Each time I would check the GPS and see I had gone a shorter and shorter distance. I thought about pulling off the side of the road and firing up my camp stove to try to warm up; maybe make some coffee. it seemed like a waste of time, and if I stopped, I'm not sure I'd be able to convince myself to get going again. There were also a few unmaintained camping areas I could pull off into, but it was still cold, and sitting outside wasn't going to do me much good. My body was getting stiff, and I started to shiver a little bit. Now under 100km. Just a touch more than my ride to "bike night". I can do this... I'm almost there. Hot food, hot shower... it was going to be so nice. Time dragged by. This isn't what I signed up for. What the heck ever convinced me to come up here? What kind of moron rides a motorcycle to the James Bay? Isn't the average July temperature supposed to be 63; with highs possible to 90? Why couldn't I be suffering THAT fate? 50km. I'm almost there now. I'm going to make it; I MUST make it. In my mind, failure was not an option - I hadn't come this far to not make it to Radisson and Chisasibi. I needed to touch the James Bay.

    I knew I was getting close to my destination as I passed by a small airport and started to see more road signs counting down the kilometers to Radisson. I slowed down a bit and started to slowly stretch my legs out. I was crippled from the cold and began to worry I wouldn't be able to support the bike when I stopped. Eventually I pulled up to a small security booth. This doesn't seem right. I managed to fumble around with my cold leg and foot to get the side stand down, followed by a numb fingered struggle to pull my helmet off so I could see what was going on. The guard was friendly, even if he didn't speak much English. It seems I somehow managed to miss a left turn to get me into Radisson; this was the entrance to the large Hydro-Quebec installation, which is strictly off-limits to civilians without an escort. I got my helmet back on and struggled with weak, cold muscles to turn my bike around to get heading back the way I came. A minute later I was making the correct turn into Radisson; now so close to my warm hotel room. Radisson was not what I expected. Although I knew it wasn't a large town, the transition from pavement to a muddy, rock-strewn main street made it feel like I was pulling into some old west town. You would think they would pave the last 1/2 mile. Everything appeared dirty and utilitarian; definitely not a tourist spot. A few hotels, a gas station/store, one restaurant, and a building housing hydro-Quebec employees. All the cars were coated in mud, and most parking spaces had a place to plug in your engine block heater in the winter. I quickly found my hotel (one of the few multi-level building in Radisson) and turned myself into the lot, again struggling to get my frozen body off of the bike.

    I made my triumphant walk into the hotel, slightly hunched over, still very chilled, helmet in hand, looking forward to some heat and a nice shower. A smile came over my frozen face. "Welcome to Auberge Radisson, how can I help you?" I provided my name to the puzzled looking receptionist, and quickly realized why she looked so confused. "We don't seem to have you in our reservation system; are you sure your reservation was made here? We are all full.".

    Merde.
    #14
  15. Sock Puppet

    Sock Puppet Dirty again

    Joined:
    Mar 16, 2006
    Oddometer:
    480
    Location:
    Northern New Mexico
    Very nice!:thumb
    #15
  16. Southpawman

    Southpawman Overpowered by Funk

    Joined:
    Dec 8, 2006
    Oddometer:
    280
    Location:
    Lower Alabama - The original L.A.
    Great report Josh!!!! :clap

    :lurk:lurk
    #16
  17. jdmetzger

    jdmetzger Lone Wolf

    Joined:
    Mar 5, 2007
    Oddometer:
    3,384
    Location:
    DC Metro
    :D

    Thanks! (and to everyone else, too!)

    More is on its way, shortly...
    #17
  18. MikJogg

    MikJogg Weekend Adventurer

    Joined:
    Sep 30, 2007
    Oddometer:
    672
    Location:
    Oberkirch/Blackforest/Germany
    :lurk ,great Stuff...
    #18
  19. NatsFan

    NatsFan Adventure Apprentice

    Joined:
    Apr 9, 2006
    Oddometer:
    286
    Location:
    Phoenix AZ
    Great, hooked on another ride report. When will I ever get anything accomplished? Thanks for sharing....
    #19
  20. bavarian

    bavarian bavarian

    Joined:
    Nov 25, 2003
    Oddometer:
    1,776
    Location:
    Munich, Bavaria
    What a joy to read it!!
    #20