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Old 09-24-2010, 04:21 AM   #29
jdrocks OP
Gravel Runner
Joined: Jul 2007
Oddometer: 4,585
Day 6: Thursday 8/26/10-Mirage-Caniapiscau-Mirage, QC, 396 miles

I knew it was raining the minute I opened my eyes, I could hear the water dripping off the roof, and it sounded steady. A look out the window confirms a moderate rain, no clearing in sight. Rain or not, I知 riding to the end of the road and back. After the struggle last night to get this far, the road ahead couldn稚 be worse. Yesterday evening I was out there on that road, wondering if the day would ever end. I had been delusional in crowning myself king of the gravel, and my rule over that kingdom had come to an abrupt end as I sat parked on the side of the road in the rain. Now I知 starting another day of adventure, still in the rain and on the same road, and I知 hoping the day never ends. I知 going to jump again today, confident that the safety net will be there. These roads, and the whole north for that matter, are not for those that are uncomfortable straying too far from their LazyBoy.

I知 taking all my gear just in case of trouble, or if the weather clears I might camp. I知 hoping for more traffic on the road, the Yukon last night was the only vehicle I saw in the last 100 miles. A pickup went by on the road while I was fueling the bike at Mirage, and that was it.

The morning was very gray, just that sliver of light sky on the horizon reminding you that the sun was up. I was about to leave when a guy came up to ask were I was going. Caniapiscau, and he replied 鏑ong way, with a smile, but there was amusement behind that smile. This was a guy you hoped would keep smiling. He was a 55 gallon drum with arms and legs to match. The guy must have weighed over 400 pounds and didn稚 look fat, just big, really big. I知 betting he never had to raise his voice in an argument, just roll those shoulders around a little. This was the north, and you just don稚 find many guys that look like interior decorators. He had been to Caniapiscau on some contract work and knew the road. 迭ough past Brisay, and with that he said goodbye.

Let痴 see what the road has to offer, and I知 riding east. Getting started is not problem because the Mirage airstrip is 4 miles east and there has been traffic back and forth, keeping the road packed down. There are two planes on the runway with special equipment mounted to conduct an aerial survey for the Quebec MNR. The survey area is 200km square and requires precision flying both in track and altitude. They did not fly yesterday because of the wind and rain. I asked the young woman who was coordinating the job for the MNR the purpose of the survey and how the final data was distributed, but she was very circumspect on all questions. The pilots had been at Mirage for two months and should be done this week if they can fly today.

East past the airstrip, the road usage drops off to what I saw yesterday, almost none. The road alternates between soft and marbles. Slow going in the light rain, I would like to see some sun.

There is no logging permitted above 52 north, but there痴 nothing to log anyway. Fifteen feet tall after 75 years, the trees are the same height as a four year old pine in Virginia. Many Cree camps on this road also, and Christophe claims they are all used even if it looks like the roof is falling in.

Numerous small rivers and streams cross the road, making for scenic views. Once again, you池e in some wide open country.

I pass what looks like a good camping spot at 60 miles, and I値l stop for a closer look on the way back. Farther on, I ride up on a bridge approach that is all loose silt and sand, very little gravel, and I think this is the same location where a rider went down earlier. I can see why. Hit this 200 yard section at the wrong speed or in the wrong line and you have a problem, maybe a serious problem. An 18-wheeler streams by, the first truck I had seen on the road.

Hydro Quebec has their own roads, towns, schools, stores, banks, what痴 left?...airports and planes, got those too. I pass one of their airports and there痴 a big turboprop on the runway, loading right then. The other airport I passed yesterday had a 737 on standby. Yup, airports on the Trans-Taiga, Walmart痴 next. I see the airport bus from Brisay coming up in my mirrors and give it plenty of room. The bus driver follows my move to the right and goes by at my bar end. There was a message there. 典his is our road and you池e not welcome.

Brisay has the town, dam, all kinds of other infrastructure in the area, and I see just one pickup at the Brisay intersection. When is rush hour around here? The rain has eased off, but the sky is stormy to the south and I don稚 think it痴 done for the day.

I cross the Centrale Brisay dam, and immediately I can see that I知 on a different kind of road. This road has a very rough surface to start and it gets rougher as I go east. The Longue Pointe road is a super highway by comparison, much better maintained. The condition of this road is what the guy back at Mirage was talking about when he said 迭ough past Brisay, except he should have added 途ocky.

Pick your line, the surface is hard in sections with large rocks sitting on top. Hit one of those and you might lose your front wheel. I hit a dozen just to test the 杜ight theory, can稚 help it, they池e everywhere and I have my speed up enough to raise some dust as I dodge and weave through that minefield. I haven稚 seen dust for awhile and it痴 obvious that the rain didn稚 get this far east, at least not yet.

The road is fast enough that I can get back into my regular gravel riding style, on and off the gas, shifting fourth through sixth. On a decent gravel road, I rarely cruise and almost never touch the brakesok, I touched the brakes pretty hard when I rode up on that washout. At the bottom of two hills, rain had washed a two foot deep ditch across almost the entire width of the road. A small dead branch with six inches of flagging tape was the warning sign. If you hit that washout at 50mph, you池e dead, that simple. Past that hazard, and I find another big hole in the west bound lane. That one would kill you too. This road was supposed to be traveled, but I still haven稚 seen anyone since Brisay.

Some signs advertising services appeared and I knew I was close. It had taken me over six hours to ride 200 tough miles, so even if the rain stopped, I was going to have to move if I was going to get back to Mirage before dark. If it was still raining west and the graders were working all day, I would be right back where I was last night. First I needed fuel, and I followed the signs to Air Saguenay. I had come all the way out to Caniapiscau on the main tank, pretty good. The handyman at the floatplane base knew what I wanted before I shut the bike off, and in fair English told me to follow him over to the tank farm. When I asked him about other bikes, he said no bikes had fueled there recently. Maybe there痴 another source for fuel somewhere here.

Fueled and back at the base, the woman manager says they got no rain or high wind and have been flying every day this week. She says they had a pretty good season, but I see no customer vehicles parked there today. There should be caribou hunters at the outpost camps, I think the hunting season has started farther north.

She said it was ok for me to look at their planes, so I wander over to look at the turbine Otters. One of the pilots is scrubbing the floats on his plane and we end up talking a streak. I have flown in Otters previously and was familiar with the turbine conversion. The radial engined Otter is the workhorse of the north, but do the conversion and you have a real hotrod with 900hp. The pilot said Air Saguenay had thirty planes on floats, but he wasn稚 interested in any other plane than the Otter, he knew he was flying the best. 典his plane, she always bring you back, never leave you in the bush. Leather flight jacket, handlebar mustache, cocked hat, and that bush pilot attitudehe could have been flying P51 Mustangs in a different era.

Time to go, but I want to see the reservoir first. I don稚 know how long Hydro Quebec worked on this thing, but it is huge and I can稚 get a photo of it that reflects it痴 size.

Back down the road towards Brisay, I know what to watch for on this road. I meet a grader running east and he must have been called to repair those washouts, a good thing before someone gets hurt. Water levels are low everywhere and I don稚 know if it痴 because of lack of rainfall or related in some way to the Hydro operations. I see dozens of what I think are spruce hens along the road and most hardly move when I roar by. I致e been up close to these birds on foot, I think you could hunt them with a stick, no firearm needed.

Dark clouds in my path, and as I cross Centrale Brisay again, it starts to rain. Ten miles west and the rain stops, the road has a nice hard track and I can sprint for a change. This road was designed with banked curves, many blind, and these can be dangerous as hell. You can tell just by looking at the way the gravel berms are formed that vehicles traveling both directions are using the banking. In other words, left or right curve, everyone dives low and keeps their foot in it. Right hander, and you might meet someone in your lane. Left hander, and you have to ride through 6 of loose gravel at the top of the banking to stay in your lane. I had a Hydro Quebec pickup miss me by two feet in a right hander as I rode back west, he never backed off. Remember, they really do own this road.

I知 off the fast section and need to slow down. Graders have been working, but there痴 been some traffic on the road even if I haven稚 seen it, and the surface is in fair condition. You can稚 do much sight seeing from the saddle as you ride a road in this condition, it isn稚 safe to take your eyes off the road. Get a glimpse of something interesting and you池e better off stopping. Maybe that痴 why I can稚 make good time, I need to stop and soak it in too often.

It痴 getting late, but the rain has stopped. It痴 been a 50/50 day with no hard rain despite the sky. I find the camping spot I went by this morning, nice, and right next to a small river. I looked things over, liked what I saw, decided to camp, took a photo, and the second I hit the button on the camera, the rains came one more time.

The heck with this shit, and I was riding the last 60 miles to Mirage in the hardest rain of the day, road real sloppy, but rideable in failing light. Safely back at Mirage, I did a tally of the vehicles I had seen so far in two days of riding on this road. The count stood at eleven, and that was over 600 miles. The only major road I had even been on with a lower vehicle count per mile was the Liard when I came down from Ft.Simpson, NWT.

I had enough food with me for dinner, forget the leftovers, then just point me towards the beer cooler. I spent the evening talking with Christophe and some other interesting guests, many of which had worked all over Canada. When I asked Christophe about drivers all running low on the curves, he said yes, two Hydro Quebec trucks had met head on this spring. By the time I was ready to quit, I had just about talked Christophe into going down to southern Louisiana to teach the Cajuns some French. The school districts with a large Cajun population were looking for native French speaking teachers. 添ou know, I think I really want to do that, and that痴 the way we left it.

(To be continued)
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