Joined: Jul 2007
Day 7: Friday 8/27/10-Mirage to Rupert River (Baie-James), QC, 410 miles
Up early and raring to ride. I was feeliní fresh and thought I was getting into the rhythm of the long days in the saddle. It didnít sound like it was raining hard, and I found just mist and light drizzle as I looked out the window. Looks like Iíll ride this whole road without seeing the sun. I planned an early start, was fuelled and packed, and had told Christophe that I would see him early to check out.
Mirage had just switched their beer vendor, and their entire inventory of beer was down to a dozen bottles when I gave up my spot in front of the cooler last night. They might have done some arm wrassliní for those last few beers and I donít think I could have beaten any of those guys. Hell, I couldnít have beaten most of those women either. It was a rough and tumble north country crowd on the verge of a rock and roll riot. A truck load of beer was due in this morning.
I wanted an early start because I planned on camping at the Rupert River and didnít want to set up in the dark. Only around 400 miles, but I had over 200 miles of the Trans Taiga to go before the Baie-James intersection and pavement. My other concern for today was the distance back down to Relais 381 for fuel, around 325 miles. I should be fine if I didnít get crazy with the speed once I reached a hard surface. I was at the office door at , no Christophe, everything was locked up tight. My early launch strategy fizzled right there.
The only other people around were some guests I had met last night, and they came over to talk. They had helicoptered into Mirage and were servicing all the remote communication towers in the area. These towers seem like they are on just about every high point in the terrain. They were doing this work for one of the big Canadian telecom companies under a complicated layer of contracts, subcontracts, and equipment leases. These young people were doing this work coast-to-coast, ďWeíre a big country, so the people have to go where neededĒ. Kind of a pioneering spirit Iíd say, and it happened to be a young woman who was speaking.
I see the Mirage owner come into the office after 8, and she unlocks the door, finds Christophe, and Iím able to settle the bill and check out. If the Mirage was an unfriendly place in the past, itís not the case now with Christophe running the show.
Now I need to make some time, and without knowing anything about the road conditions, I canít guess if itís possible. No graders were working ahead of me as I ride west on a road still wet from two days of rain. Now Iím seeing some blue to the west and the light rain has stopped. I might finally ride out from under the cloud cover. I make it to the Cree outfitter and pull into the pumps, mainly just to take a break. The pumps were still closed, but this time thereís a pickup at the buildings across the road and a guys jumps in to drive over. A smiling Cree fella, I tell him I just need to top off, no problem, and I think he welcomes the opportunity to talk to someone. I have my camera out and he says ďLet me take your picture at our pumps so you remember usĒ. I think what he meant was to remember that this land belonged to the Cree people. Thanks, my friend, count on me to remember.
I hadnít seen any vehicles yet, but as I continued west, graders had worked the road yesterday and I could see some tire tracks. I had adopted the practice of using the banking in the corners just like everyone else when I had a sight line through the curve. This kept me out of the deep gravel on top and usually there was a well worn line down low, sometimes two.
I was riding comfortably at 50 and downshifted to 5th for a little compression braking as I rapidly approached a sweeping left hand curve. There was moderate banking here with deep gravel thrown up the banking and covering the whole west bound lane. I dropped down and picked a line on the upper track in the east bound side, ran over a patch of marbles, drifted a little lower, and rode right into a deep sand hole saturated by the recent rain.
The front wheel dropped into the hole and the bars were nearly ripped from my hands. I was on the gas instantly, the front end lifted, the rear end came around left, and I roared up out of that sand like I was attached to a bungie cord. Now Iím crossed up right, shooting up the banking at a shallow angle, and in real trouble. My entire world was inside a little circle centered on the bike where the action was going by in high def clarity. Everything outside that circle was a complete blur.
Off the gas a fraction of a second, the bike straightened up, but Iím in the marbles on top of the banking and about to run off the road. Stab the shifter into 4th without the clutch, lean left, and now the rear is coming around right in a spray of loose gravel. I canít believe Iím up. Still at 40 going down the banking at an angle, now Iím going to run off into the trees at the inside of the curve, not in control yet. I muscled the bike back around right, stabbed the shifter again, and on the gas in 3rd when I find another sand hole down low. The bike snapped upright and instead of another lowside, I almost highside. I wanted to be going right and ended up coming around left, still on the gas, that engine was howling. I was moving too fast to catch the upper east bound track, but landed in the hard lower track, upright, straight, and coasting. My heart had stopped beating. I had forgotten how to breathe. My throat felt like sandpaper, I know I was yelling something on that roller coaster, donít ask me exactly what. It was all over in some very long seconds.
I never stopped. If I hadnít been dazed, I might have. At a quarter mile I was fidgeting around in the seat trying to get comfortable again, and at the half mile mark I was back in 6th and rolliní west at 50. There was nothing else to do. I had been riding at a deliberate pace, not slow, but not nutso fast either. I couldnít think of anything to change. Being in 5th sure helped me power out of that first hole, and not for the first time, but 4th gear was the one that saved my ass. From that curve forward, I thought of 4th as my ďget me the fuck outta hereĒ gear, and would need it again on the gravel ahead.
West of the Sakami intersection the road was showing even more use. A Hydro Quebec service truck went flying by, these people are maniacs on this road. Graders are back working the road in both directions, but the windrowers werenít doing a good job of moving the rocks back over to the shoulder. It was tough riding even when dry.
A few miles farther, the west bound grader operator had stuck the blade down in the ditch and pulled all the big rocks back into the road. Thatís where I find the same Hydro Quebec service truck, left rear tire shredded. Now Iím out to the Baie-James and off the bike for the first time since fuel this morning. The Trans Taiga had proven the toughest of all them all so far, mainly due to wet roads and lack of traffic. Iíd love to ride in there again, just not today. You need faith to ride into these roads, the faith that somehow and in some way, you will come back out again.
I had a few flashbacks to that earlier incident, but didnít dwell on it. My focus had turned south to the Rupert, the sun was shining, and that net I was hoping would be there when I jumped had caught me after all. I was in good shape fuel wise and knew I could make Relais 381, no reason to go slow, so I didnít. Run it up to 80 and go, it felt real different after the last three days. I dump in a can when I get a fuel light, I was expecting to see it, and then Iím back at the 381 fuel pumps again. No French speaking gasboy, no tutoring request this time. Man, I needed a break, and have a nice long lunch late in the afternoon. Two pieces of pie for dessert, I had worked hard for them.
It was only 80 miles south to the Riviere Rupert, I had slowed down to an easy cruise, just enjoying the day with plenty to look at. A dozen shades of green on the trees, a dozen shades of brown on the rock. The Route du Nord intersection is on the left, Iíll see you tomorrow. The Rupert is just ten miles farther south. I suppose the wayside there is not for camping, but I wanted to camp at this particular spot. This is the site of the old 1200m Cree portage around a small falls and a long series of rapids, and had been used for centuries, maybe thousands of years. At this same time last season I had been on the Albany River across James Bay to the west, mapping the traditional Cree portages found there along the established trade routes. With most of the water diverted now, you might wonder what all the fuss was about. Before the diversion this section was considered unrunnable even with modern river craft, forget anything with a hull made from bark or skin. Many had tried, many had died trying.
Two men were sitting on top of a picnic table towards the front, so I went over to ask them if they thought it would be ok to camp. The older of the two was a bulky hard muscled 5í10Ē, and covered with elaborate black tats, including neck and shaved head. My impression was that this is one dangerous dude, nothing fake about him, and he had that smile that only a real deal tough guy can achieve. If he hadnít shaved you might not notice that thin scar that ran from ear to chin along his jaw bone. If whatever had cut him had been a half inch lower, he wouldnít be sittiní in the sun on that table. They spoke little English, but understood what I was asking. In halting English the tat man finally said ďIn Quebec we are free, we do what we want. You can stay.Ē In the time that guy sat at the table up front, a number of cars pulled in. Nobody got out, nobody lingered.
I ran the bike down the footpath and set up camp at the back near the river. The ground was solid rock and I had to find some boulders to hold the tent down, no chance to drive a stake. So there I was as the sun went down, ready to sleep on the same rocks where the ancients had walked for so many years. I had visions.
Just a week into this trip, and I had already seen and done some things I would remember always. Back on the gravel tomorrow, round threeÖ.
(To be continuedÖ)