Joined: Jul 2007
Day 4: Tuesday 8/24/10- Val-d’Or, 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-d’Or, 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 . 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, let’s 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 that’s 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? There’s 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…)