Joined: Jan 2005
Location: The Badlands (of NJ)
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.
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.
rdwalker screwed with this post 10-02-2010 at 10:49 AM