Joined: Jul 2007
Day 5: Continued
I shoot north on the Baie-James, and Iím right back where I started. Same fuel pumps, same gasboy, so while he fuels the bike I call home. ďWhat are you doing back in Radisson?Ē, 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 ďbreathe the fresh airĒ. 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 ďOh yes, for me, for me, I stop in Virginia on my way to my house in Ft.Lauderdale.Ē 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, heís 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 Iíll need to get there with whatís on the bike. I think my range is 600km with the cans full, so 300 miles is no strain. Iím 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 Iím riding east on this famous gravel road, only 225 miles to go.
Once again Iím 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. Iíve lost the partly sunny skies I had at Radisson, and now the sky doesnít look good at all. Secondly, thereís a grader coming right down the center of the road towards me, never a good omen when youíre on two wheels. The gravel surface on this road is similar to the Longue Pointe road, but the real surprise is that this road doesnít 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 hadnít 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 whatís in the curve or after, so thereís 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 didnít 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 donít recall ever seeing someone walking a bush road and have no idea where heís going, except itís going to be a damn long walk.
Some very slow sections, and then a sprint when the road improves. Itís 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. Iíd 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, itís raining harder, and daylight is fading fast. Basically, Iím screwed.
I check the map, gps, and trip meter. Same conclusion on all three, Iíve got 100 miles left to Mirage, but I canít 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 wasnít a good feeling to be out there right now and I hadnít seen anyone for a long time. Iím at this low point when suddenly a Hydro QuebecYukon flies past, showering me with crap from the road. I donít think they were expecting someone else on the road, and hadnít moved over in time. Now I had a track, letís 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 Iíll take anything. Into the Yukon track and I try for a little speed. This track was probably 10Ē 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 youíre 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. Doesnít 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 Iím 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 didnít 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, Iím really liking this road and the surrounding country. Adventuring ainít 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 Iím glad I hadnít 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 Iím 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. Weíll 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 thereís 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. Iíts 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. Thatís 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, thereís 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. Tomorrowís ride was almost 400 miles of gravel. Wet or dry?
Damn, doesnít look good.
(To be continuedÖ)