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rdwalker 09-27-2010 06:16 PM

James Bay Road & North Road Solo Blitz, September 2010
Yet another "me-too" Ride Report...

Still, preparing the posts is fun and I hope that this will be of interest to some inmates here, especially those who are planning the ride or recently finished it.
So here it goes: my ride to Chisasibi, Quebec.

First, acknowledgements. Thanks to all others who posted their reports here, especially
donnymoto and RockyNH - the advice and info was invaluable. XMagnaRider from BMWLT forum: silk gloves in the rain - brilliant! Deadly99 - thanks for the encouragement to take the North Road. It was fun!

Let's start with some teasers, boys and girls.
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You, too, can have your own GAS BOY.
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We're goin' in.
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Make room for the king of the road.
North Road, that is.
</td></tr></tbody></table><table border="0"><tbody><tr><td width="300">

In slippery snot.
</td><td width="500"> </td></tr></tbody></table><table border="0"><tbody><tr><td width="500"> </td><td width="300">

Done it! Got there!
But - boy, the Arctic Ocean is really frigid!
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More power, Igor!
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Time's ticking away - still 368 ticks to go...
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We're not in Kansas anymore.
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More to come.

rdwalker 09-27-2010 08:18 PM

Day 1
I have been thinking about riding up the James Bay Road for quite a while now. I became aware of it when preparing for my ’08 Trans-Labrador ride: Walter Muma’s site,, the "basic reading" for Trans-Lab travelers, has a parallel section devoted to James Bay Road and to North Road.

James Bay is one of the few exotic adventure locations available within a reasonable driving distance from the US East Coast.

OK, so it certainly is not in the class of Charlie’s and Ewan’s "Long Way" ride, nor Colebatch’s Siberian Extreme - still, I do find it a challenge to battle distance and elements in order to reach the Arctic Ocean.

Getting to James Bay would give me the satisfaction of having ridden a bike to the shore of every ocean in Earth: Arctic, Atlantic, Indian and Pacific. Well, maybe with the exception of the Southern Ocean - though I have been a mere 5 degrees of latitude, 300 miles away from it in Ushuaia.

Nevertheless, the idea of this trip remained a "nice to do". I did not go on any big rides this season and did not even plan on any more, until I realized very recently that the remaining weekend schedule is very booked. Effectively, I had only one weekend open before the end of northern riding opportunities!

Suddenly, the trip was on and the preparations went into high gear. I secured a few days off before and after that free weekend in late September and laid out the route.

* North via Montreal toward Chibougamau, Quebec (point "C" on the map).
* Access the North Road and travel east on gravel to join James Bay Road about midway.
* Continue northbound past Radisson toward Chisasibi to reach James Bay ("D).
* Return trip would be all-paved: south to Matagami, then home via either Montreal or Ottawa ("F").

I checked out the bike and realized that the front Anakee has 11,000 miles on. Quick! - get a new one ASAP!

A week before departure, my dining room table became the preparation area. All the gear was collected and packed, then taken down to the garage.

September 15: Northern NJ to Plattsburgh, NY - 285 miles.

Finally, the departure day arrived. I was still working, but my itinerary called for putting in a good number of miles in the evening, to give myself a nice distance advantage for next morning. I sped home from work, changed into riding gear and pulled the bike out from garage. It was getting dark – a long night ride was ahead of me. Little did I know: it was a portent of things to come throughout the whole trip: night travel all around!

Riding at a steady pace, I went past the Adirondacks in surprisingly good conditions: dry and fairly warm for a night that season, in low 40’s. Just before midnight, I was bedding down in the Plattsburgh, NY Econolodge.

RockyNH 09-28-2010 01:58 AM

Been Looking for this one Robert!!!! Signed up to ride along!

Pat in NH

ct-ktm 09-28-2010 05:54 AM


lakota 09-28-2010 06:58 AM

I'm in:lurk

GB 09-28-2010 06:59 AM

Looks good.. thanks for the intro :thumb


Throttlemeister 09-28-2010 07:09 AM

Hate to see you missed the old sign out at LG1

Little tricky to find here before you cross LG1 dam:

From what I've read it looks like they change it out once a year or so.

Nice times up there, thanks for sharing

billhig 09-28-2010 04:43 PM

Sounds like a great ride but I for one am glad he didn't finish his comment with "I haven't gone any long rides this seasons ------ because my dumb ass riding buddy fell off a ladder"


Not that I know why he would say that.


rdwalker 09-28-2010 06:35 PM


Originally Posted by Throttlemeister
Hate to see you missed the old sign out at LG1 ... Little tricky to find here before you cross LG1 dam: ...

Arrrrgh! Grrr!
And I was so prepared! Even had a permanent marker, still packed back home. All for nothing! Now I have to go there again.... how awful. Awful? :evil:rofl


Originally Posted by billhig
..."I haven't gone any long rides this seasons ------ because my dumb ass riding buddy fell off a ladder" ...

I bet you that the titanium plate in my buddy's wrist is custom machined by a CNC mill - and beautifully anodized.

rdwalker 09-28-2010 06:52 PM

Day 2.
OK, here we go.

September 16: Plattsburgh to Chibougamau - 516 miles.

First full day of riding ahead. Getting up in the morning, I was elated: only half an hour to Canada.

As usual, I got off the Interstate about 2 miles before the border, to avoid the Northway crossing. In my experience, the little customs posts on side roads are much quicker and, very often, much more pleasant: the staff will talk to you at leisure and not hassle you with the officialdom.

This is my "secret" crossing when going to or from Montreal: Lacolle. It is located between the two busy border points (I-87 and Rouses Point) and is not well marked - perfect.

As expected, there were no other vehicles at the checkpoint. The Canadian customs agent conversed with me for a while - she was very amused and intrigued by my destination. In short order, she wished me Bonne Route and sent me off.

First order of the day: Canadian Tire. While preparing for the trip, I was surprised to find out that nowadays - at least in NJ and NY - only so-called "spill proof" gas cans are available, with a whole valve contraption in the outlet. First of all, I never spill as much fuel as I do with these "spill proof" pieces of crap; they are so cumbersome to use. But, more importantly, I have been worried about dropping the bike and breaking the valve. Instant disaster.

Guess what, Canadians can still buy the old-style reversible funnels! Quick run into the store and I was well equipped for the road with the good stuff. At first I thought that one container should be enough, but I bought one more just in case. A wise move in retrospect: the GS would not have made the 381 kilometers on James Bay Road without the 2.5-gallon reserve.

Back on the road! I followed Saint Lawrence River on Autoroute 40, and then turned toward La Tuque. Now it was for real. Pretty views, winding road.

Stopping for a moment at Riviere Mekinac to just savor the moment. I really like being here again - Quebec is a great destination for motorcycle rides. I come out this way for several rides every year.

In the southern part of the province (that is, along St. Lawrence River and south of it) one can ride quite late in the season - although last year, mid-October, I had a bit of a snow fall around Quebec City en-route from Natashquan. In the northern sections, the season is basically limited to May through September.

Quebec roads are in very good shape (at least when compared to NJ!). The crews are working on them diligently in the short construction season, so one needs to be prepared for the frequent construction zones and the possibility of having to ride long stretches on gravel detours.

Guess what. Here it is - another construction zone. Everyone is stacking up patiently.

Many of these sites are controlled by automatic traffic signals. The cycles can be very long and, therefore, the remaining time is displayed. This one had well over 7 minutes indicated when I pulled up (!); by the time I decided to pull out the camera, it was down to 381 seconds. A good omen? As in Relais 381? Let's hope.

By the evening, the weather was clearing out. I was nearing Lac Saint-Jean - the lake is just peeking from behind the treetops.

As I entered Saint-Felicien in another 20 kilometers, I saw a curious apparition in the clouds. It was very bright and very distinct. Yet, it was not a regular rainbow - these form when the sun is behind the observer (for you anal types: at an angle of 42 degrees). In this case, the sun was shining from the side. My guess was that the phenomenon was either created by sun's reflection in the clouds or was a reflection itself. Unusual - another good omen?

It may have been good omen for the whole trip, but not for finding a place to stay that night.

I was going to overnight at La Dore, just a bit up Route 167, but found that all accommodations in that town were closed for the season, including two upscale auberges that were supposed to be open year-round. I was faced with the choice of backtracking some 25km to Saint-Felicien or biting the bullet and continuing up north to next town, 200km away (next town, indeed!).

So, of course, I rode up. It was actually a very nice run. Temperatures were swinging about 40F - I was well bundled and heated, even though the electric vest kept kicking off for some reason. The road was actually quite busy; I could follow the logging trucks. These were big and fast! I liked having them in front of me, to guide me and to hopefully clear any critters ahead.

The route took me to Chibougamau, the entry point into the North Road. Even though this was much, much further than planned, I did not mind - it gave me more time for next morning.

By 10:30 pm I checked into Hotel Chibougamau and, still before closing time, managed to sit at the bar, having a glass of red wine and using their Wi-Fi, listening to bartender's iTouch hooked up to the PA system - headbanger music...

Chibougamau is a real town in the middle of nowhere: strip malls, a bit of main street. There was even a taxi waiting in front of the hotel - and the bike was parked in the courtyard. Not like the Spanish courtyards, though - more like someone's construction shed.

Francis P Monaco 09-28-2010 11:58 PM

I'm enjoying the trip report so far. The pictures are nice and it sounds like you had fun on your journey.

rdwalker 09-29-2010 05:26 AM

Thanks, Francis - fun is just beginning. Read on.

rdwalker 09-29-2010 05:28 AM

Day 3.

September 17: Chibougamau to Lake Boisrobert - 268 miles.

Morning exploration took me into the town. Chibougamau is somewhat western in feeling: wide streets, utilitarian buildings. In a sense, it is a frontier town; it was constructed in the 1950's to service the region's mines.

Hotel Chibougamau looked much better in daytime than upon my arrival the night before.

I fueled-up the bike and my brand-new gas cans, then stopped at a supermarket for some food and water for the upcoming night. As usual, I got involved in conversation with bystanders - them using broken English, me smiling and nodding a lot. It was pretty weird, though: a cabbie was strenuously trying to convince me to avoid the North Road and take the paved route to Matagami instead. He even took me to his taxi, to show the shattered windshield from his recent foray onto gravel.

My itinerary was calling for only a bit over 450km (280 miles) of gravel and remaining 2500 miles on tarmac; therefore I decided to run on the Anakee 2 tires. I have been a bit concerned: should the gravel be very soft, I'd have a lot of trouble. Initially, I have been even thinking about skipping North Road, but Ted (Deadly99) reassured me. Needless to say, the taxi driver was not helping...

Oh, well... I left the town, winding my way through pretty, hilly landscapes.

About 10km out of Chiboumagau is the entrance to Route du Nord. Exciting! The adventure was beginning for real.

The lights were not flashing - therefore the road was open (that's what the sign was about).

One of the fist things to notice was a reminder of the purpose of the road. It ain't no tourism - it is to haul timber. "TRUCK BIG. VERY BIG".

This sign warns of entry of the trucks from a logging road on the side. There were plenty of these, for sure.

Sure enough, very soon one of these monsters appeared over a crest of the road.

Growing larger...

And larger...

I do have to say that I had no problem at all with the trucks on North Load and James Bay Road. This mirrored my experience on the Trans-Labrador: the truck drivers were always very considerate, slowing down and pulling to the side to reduce the dust and gravel spray. It was the occasional maniac in a pickup or SUV that one had to worry about - passenger cars rarely seemed to care about my well-being.

I really lucked out with the road conditions here. Quite possibly, the maintenance ended as the season was coming to a close. I only encountered one or two graders and for most of the run the surface was smooth, hard-packed dirt with very little lose gravel.

For most of the route, I rode at a comfortable 45-65mph.

However, it is a remote, desolate stretch and safety is of concern. This was the first season I have been riding with the SPOT messenger. As a routine, I'd send a check-in-OK message each morning and evening to the relief of people back home.

On the North Road, at certain spots, signs encourage drivers to check in, announce themselves over CB. I am guessing that these were spots with good propagation and someone was monitoring the channel - maybe over a repeater.

There are also a few sites where the conditions are just right for a whiff of cellular signal. These are marked with a sign; a graded shoulder allows the drivers to safely pull to the side of the road.

Of course, my own phone did not work: the sparsely populated areas of Canada appear to be only covered by CDMA systems (such as Telus, Bell Mobility or Telebec).

Rogers Wireless, the Canadian GSM operator, seemed to be present only in the busy corridor along US border. Once I left Trois-Rivieres on Saint Lawrence River, I had no signal on my AT&T phone - until nearing Ottawa five days later.

Along the gravel roads, such as Route du Nord, parking is a problem, not only just to make phone calls. The drainage ditches are very deep and steep; even worse, the road surface at edge of roadway can be very soft and treacherous. Very often, the vehicle is virtually imprisoned on the road - and, with the fast and heavy trucks, stopping in the middle is not advisable.

Fortunately, there are frequent rest stops with picnic tables, sometimes even dry toilets and garbage containers. I rode into one of these for lunch: a piece of fresh baguette with half a bag of fruit-flavored gummy candy. Health food, eh?

Next stop: kilometer 238 of Route du Nord, the famous Rupert River. A part of the James Bay Project, it was diverted late last year (2009) and now carries only about half of its original flow. The rapids are still impressive - they must have been spectacular before.

An information panel shows the layout of the James Bay hydroelectric installations. The size of the area covered is just immense. To get a sense of scale, consider that James Bay Road (shown as the busy vertical stretch on the map) is about 600km (400 miles) long - and so is Trans-Taiga Road, shown horizontally following a string of lakes. Tremendous!

The area is incorporated as the Municipality of James Bay (Municipalité de Baie-James) and contains the 9 operational generating stations of the La Grande River Complex - plus two more under construction. Even though there are only some 1500 permanent inhabitants, it covers almost 300,000 square km - about the size of Italy or Poland, larger than the UK.

There is no free lunch and there is certainly no free power. Hydro installations come at a significant environmental and social cost. But, I very much do appreciate the engineering here. This is a section of the informational panel showing the Rupert River diversion. The audacity of scale of the project just boggles the mind. Hydro Quebec not only dammed the river, but also a whole region of lakes, using a system of dozens of dams and tunnels. The water is diverted over a great distance into the La Grande River, adding there to the flow that powers several generating stations.

And this is the product of the area: one of the many ultra-high-voltage power lines, crossing the land - here just above Rupert River - carrying electricity from one of the La Grande stations down south. It is very likely that we use it here right now: a lot of Hydro Quebec power is sold to New England and to New York State.

This style of pylons (towers) is quite unique. They were invented by Hydro-Quebec during the construction of the James Bay project. Technically known as "cross-rope", but popularly called "chainette" (little necklace), they suspend the 735kV insulators on a cable, rather than a traditional support beam. The guyed tower-legs require relatively small foundations, minimizing environmental impact. Most importantly, chainettes use only about a fourth of the steel required by traditional tower systems for the same line length.

Hidden in the woods at kilometer 258 is Poste Albanel transformer station (substation). Notice the dead trees: during my trip, I encountered great swaths of land succumbed to forest fires. Apparently, it is a frequent occurrence in the region. These trees were burned several years ago; further up along the North Road there were very fresh burns, with tree trunks still blackened and the ground cover completely destroyed.

Kilometer 290: a construction camp run by the Cree Construction Company. Not much more than an equipment yard with a few storage containers and some mobile homes. There was a cafeteria and the most important feature: gas pumps. Once filled, the bike was much happier...

Just a short distance further, a turnoff leads to the Cree village of Nemaska, about 10km away. Here the gravel was laid down more recently and I almost dumped the bike in the soft stuff, on the causeway across the lake. Adrenaline time!

Nemaska is not exactly your photogenic tourist destination. Its importance is due to the fact that it houses the Grand Council of the Crees, but the village basically consists only of municipal buildings and residential structures.

Back on the road. I pulled into the last campground on Route du Nord: kilometer 381 (that number again!), Lake Boisrobert. I hastily set up camp to beat the oncoming darkness.

The dinner was in the spirit of the region: cheese with remainder of the baguette, washed down with red wine. For desert: gummy candy, of course!

I was hoping to have a nice view of the night sky, with almost-full moon - maybe even some northern lights - but instead, clouds raced in and in short time rain droplets started thundering against the tent. Good sleeping weather, though.

RockyNH 09-29-2010 05:37 AM

Robert, Great report!! Looks like you camped the same spot we did on the North Road..

Pat in NH

Kyler 09-29-2010 06:07 AM

My brother and I rode to James Bay a few years back - I wish we had also covered the North Road - I'm enjoying your RR very much! I wonder if I can talk him into another trip...

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