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Old 05-25-2014, 05:33 AM   #1
nick949eldo OP
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1972 Guzzi - Trans-Taiga Road, N.Quebec VIDEO ADDED Jun3/14

1972 Moto Guzzi Eldorado into the land of Little Sticks

It was a simple plan: take a 42 year old Moto Guzzi Eldorado to the end of the most northerly road in eastern Canada, at which point we would be at the furthest point by road that one can get in North America from any public settlement (village, town etc.). Although I almost always travel alone, on this occasion I was accompanied by Norm on his KLR.

The Trans-Taiga Road runs for 666 kilometres (410 miles) from the James Bay Road, east across the centre of northern Quebec to the Caniapiscau reservoir, which is part of Quebec’s huge hydro electric James Bay Project. It is a gravel road throughout its entire length. You can read more facts about it here http://jamesbayroad.com/ttr/index.html .



First though, a little context.

Quebec is huge. It’s twice the size of Texas, six times the size of the United Kingdom and if plonked on top of the United States, would stretch from the Gulf of Mexico to the 49th Parallel (if you don’t believe me, try it) http://overlapmaps.com/index.php. The northern part of the province has an incredibly low population density, with about 30,000 people clustered in a few coastal villages: there are more than twice that number of black bears.



Most of the terrain is low, with areas of till plain, a few low rocky hills, and vast numbers of lakes, rivers and bogs. It looks as though the Wisconsinan Ice sheet left the day before yesterday. In geological terms, it did. The trees are stunted and sparse: ‘taiga’ is the sub-arctic interface between the Boreal Forest and the true Arctic.

To get to the Trans-Taiga Road, you ride up the James Bay Road - itself an isolated and uninhabited 620 kilometre (388 mile) highway. It is fully paved the whole way. I’ve described that road before http://wildguzzi.com/forum/index.php?topic=55178.0 , so I won’t bore you with much about it here. Suffice it to say that by the time you have reached where the Trans-Taiga leaves the James Bay Road, you are 1600kms (1000 miles) north of Toronto. It’s a long way!

Norm and I met as agreed on Sunday morning at 6:30. Well actually, I was at the agreed intersection at 6:15 while he didn’t turn up until 6:35, not that it irked me or anything.



His KLR was vastly overloaded.
“What on earth have you got in there?” I asked, looking at his vast plastic panniers and top box and bags strapped all over.
“Oh, just a few things......”



I suspect the all-up weight of our bikes was about the same, even though unladen, the KLR is about 150lbs lighter than the Eldorado.

The first day rolled by uneventfully. We stopped a few times for all the normal reasons.





As well as for some sight-seeing



and for leg stretching and minor adjustments.



but mostly, we hummed along on empty highways until we reached Matagami, 821 kilometres (510 miles) later.








Norm likes to be in bed before the sun goes down, so after polishing off a few beers, we both hit the sack.

The James Bay Road starts at Matagami and ends at the small village of Radisson. At kilometre 381 there is a gas pump, cafeteria and some rudimentary lodging. That’s it! There are no communities, no shops, no gas stations. Your credit card and cell phone won’t help you here. If you don’t have it with you, you don’t have it. There are a few First Nations camps in the bush, but these are only occupied from time to time and there are no permanent dwellings.



There are emergency phones along the route but they are intended for real emergencies. I can imagine you would get a frosty (and expensive) reception if you called saying you’d run out of gas or you’d forgotten to bring kleenex.



You must carry enough gas to make it to 381 so it’s best to fill up in Matagami before setting out. The kind folks at the Quebec government registration building at kilometre 6 will check to see if you are adequately prepared.

I know for a fact that my Eldorado will travel 376 kilometres from completely full to drained dry. Last time I rode the road, I ran out - but fortunately had more with me.

This time getting to 381 was just the beginning. There were places ahead where we needed even greater range.

381 Cafe


381 Accomodation


Forest fires are a natural part of the cycle in the Boreal Forest. By the time we reached 381, we had been travelling through burned land for more than an hour. It took at least another hour beyond 381 to get back to country that hadn’t been completely devastated by fire. It didn’t matter how far one could look in any direction all was burned and blackened. Somehow 381 had been saved. All else was devastation.









One can only imagine the toll on wildlife.
Along the James Bay Road one crosses a number of major rivers, now sadly diminished by having their natural flow diverted so that Quebec can sell power to New York. It’s too high a price - turn your darn lights out!

They are still fairly impressive however.

Eastmain River (what’s left of it)


Rupert River


Most of the time though, you are just barrelling along between the trees, maintaining a steady speed while watching for the innumerable, 6 inch high frost heaves or 6 inch deep gullies where the roadbed has subsided. Although there is a nominal 100kph (60mph) speed limit the likelihood of encountering the police is incredibly low. In practical terms, however, even riding at the limit barely gives you much of a chance to brace for the next big jolt.

Much of the time, this is what you see - hours and hours of it. You either love it, or not.




At various places along the James Bay Road there rest areas and informative signs. Unless you read French or Cree syllabics you are out of luck though. In this part of the world, the Quebecois speak French - they may have a smattering of English, but often not. The Cree speak, well, Cree, but because of their early history with English fur traders in the James Bay / Hudson’s Bay area, most also speak English.



“Norm, do you have anything to clean my visor?”

“I thought you said I’d brought too much stuff” he said, handing me a cloth and a can of Pledge. “That will cost you a beer.”

Norm had been happy to ride behind me so that when I wanted to stop to take pictures he could pull over as well. I tend to take quite a few pictures, and what with fiddling with two GoPros and various mounts and attachments, this had the capacity to wear thin very quickly.

It didn’t seem to bother Norm at all. He was quite content to pull over and wait, no matter how much fussing and fiddling I was doing.

After a long, 560 kilometre (348 mile) slog up the James Bay Road, we finally reached to junction with the Trans-Taiga Road.



and spent a little time preparing ourselves for the gravel ahead.



Although the surface was fairly loose and dry, it looked like just another gravel road - although admittedly quite a long one. The last time we had been able to fill up had been back at 381, so we had already eaten up 179 kilometres (111 miles) worth of gas by the time we reached the junction. The next available gas was 358 kilometres (222 miles) to the east at the Mirage Outfitters. Apart from what I had left in the tank, I was carrying two 10 litre jugs on my rear rach and another 5 litres in the pannier. Norm was equally equipped. We were good to go.





I have developed a level of comfort in travelling to remote places alone. I can definitely get myself into a predicament, but so far, at least, have managed to extricate myself too. Having someone else along totally changes the dynamic. Whether it’s true or not, one inevitably feels some sense of responsibility for their safety and well-bing. You can imagine then, it has to be a fairly special person to a) want to undertake such a journey, b) want to do it with me, and c) have the experience and fortitude to do it.

Fortunately Norm has all those qualities. He’s a lifetime rider. Has ridden hundreds of thousands of miles and all over the continent, including to the Yukon and Alaska. Furthermore he’s an acknowledged mechanical guru - a person to whom people turn for help to solve the unsolvable. Apart from all that, he’s an all-around good guy, and remarkably spry considering his advanced years. I didn’t have any concerns about his riding skill - indeed, his level of comfort once the going got rough was way beyond mine.



On the way up the JBH we had noticed a few snow patches in the bush. Once inland on the Trans-Taiga, the rivers were lined with snow and ice and the large lakes were still icebound,



although it was largely gone from the hills.



That evening, we stopped at kilometre 203 (mile 126) along the Trans-Taiga where the Municipalité de Baie-James have established a free rest area and camp site at the crossing of the Pontois River. There was nobody else around, of course (indeed, we hadn’t seen a single vehicle since leaving the James Bay Road), and we spent a delightful night, lulled by the rapids beneath the bridge and the grinding ice in the river below.










We awoke to clear skies and a healthy frost.
From the James Bay Highway to Mirage is 358 kilometres (222 miles) of which we had already ridden almost two thirds the previous day.



The riding was fine with some serious provisos: although traffic is sparse, what traffic there is consists of heavy trucks and Hydro Quebec pickups, all driven at high speed because of the distances involved. It is Hydro Quebec’s road - used to service the various dams and installations along the route. It is not a public highway. Mere sightseers like us are tolerated at their discretion.



The problem for two wheelers is that the trucks all drive the same line. The inner surface of every curve quickly becomes bare and hard packed while the outer radius is loose and deep. One’s inclination and tendency is to choose the bare line, with the very real danger of meeting a truck head-on, or if you see it in time, suddenly finding yourself running too fast into the loose stuff. Plenty of opportunities for pucker moments.



Nevertheless, for the first 100 kilometres (60 miles) or so, everything went well. From time to time I would indicate for Norm to pull over so I could take a photograph, but the rest of the time we hummed along nicely.





The only vehicle we passed that morning was a white Hydro Quebec security SUV with a young lady at the wheel. I could tell she was a bit surprised to see us (and us too for that matter), especially since I’d been crowding her side of the road around a shallow bend and had needed to quickly adjust into the loose stuff so she could speed by. I may have wiggled around a bit as the tyres squirmed on the gravel, but nothing too out-of-control. But it didn’t really surprise me to see her pulling to a halt behind us, with her overhead flashers going, as I was fiddling with the camera at the side of the road.

It must have been a bit intimidating to engage two big, male riders in the middle of nowhere, but through extremely broken English, she managed to make it clear she was not happy to see us, was very concerned for our well-being, and had both the authority and inclination to forbid us to ride further because of the road conditions beyond LG4 (one of the dams). At the time we met her (at about km250) we didn’t see a problem as the riding was fine, so we told her we were on top of things and promised to be careful.

Reluctantly, she let us proceed and wished us well, more, I suspect, because she realised that we wouldn’t have enough gas to back-track unless we went on to Mirage Outfitters first.

She was right. Beyong LG4, the road surface consisted of about four inches of freshly laid and graded gravel. It was all completely loose and a nightmare to ride on. Those last 50 kilometres (30 miles) to Mirage were a nightmare of squirming and sliding. It’s a minor miracle that neither of us came off: the road surface was demanding so much concentration, it was no longer enjoyable.

Norm has a lifetime of gravel riding under his belt, but he was no better off on his KLR than I was on the Eldo - it was just plain nasty. Someone with more highly developed skills and an unladen bike might have found it OK but I doubt it – and I don't think different hardware would have made a scrap of difference.

Although it was only late morning by the time we reached Mirage, we were ready for a rest.



The bottom line is that for us, the ride in to Mirage was enough. To carry on any further for the dubious distinction of having been to the end of the road, would have been foolhardy and dangerous. I’m usually more than foolhardy enough for most people, but on this occasion, discretion was definitely the better part of valour. Lest you think we were being too wimpy, take a look for yourself www.adamsheritage.info/images/tt/P5200028.MP4.

The Mirage Outfitters caters to the kind of people who simply must travel north to kill a caribou (I suspect them of being a testicularly challenged sub-species). When its not caribou season, fishermen and Cree hunters take advantage of their excellent facilities and hospitality. They have a French chef! Food and accommodation are not cheap - but worth it.





On their way back from goose hunting, a local Cree family had shot a bear. The dad explained that this was a really important thing for them as the black bear is a sacred animal. There were important ceremonies to be performed and that virtually every part would be eaten or used. I have no objection to that kind of hunting.







While we were at Mirage we had plenty of time for some running repairs. One of the bolts holding my panniers had vibrated off. At first I thought of making a temporary fix with a zip tie, but..............

“Norm, you wouldn’t have any spare nuts and bolts would you?”

”Imperial or metric? Do you need wrenches too?”

In the end we found a suitable bolt, a locking nut and some washers in his travelling hardware store.

”That will cost you a beer’.

Our journey back to the James Bay Road was relatively uneventful. Despite the slippery gravel, we managed to ride the 358 kilometres without either of us falling of, although there were definitely a few ‘moments’. Even on the inbound journey we had noticed that my rear tyre was a bit soft. I carry a 12 volt pump but peculiarly, sometimes the tyre would inflate nicely to 25lbs - other times I could barely get it above 18. Norm thought this was a real problem while I was less concerned.

“What if you have a blow out and wreck the tyre?”

”I’ll put the new tube in and run on it anyway”

He gave me one of those looks, we pumped it up again and headed for Radisson.

The James Bay Road has some long sweeping curves which we were riding at between 95 and 105 kph (59-65mph). The Eldorado waggles her a tail a bit under the best of circumstances, especially when I’m carrying a bit of fuel on the rack, but she started to feel a bit wobbly, even beyond my level of insensibility. I signed for Norm to take a look at my tyre and was given an authoritative thumbs-down. I pulled over quickly.

For some reason the pump seemed reluctant to get any air in the tyre - I assumed the pump wasn’t working properly. We manage to get the pressure up to 18 pounds, but since we were almost within sight of Radisson, decided to make the last couple of kilometres.

We didn’t. Just 1 kilometre short of the village, the tube let go. Norm was concerned that the tyre was wrecked, but fortunately it was still fine, if a worn and square from running with low pressure for so long. Within a couple of minutes we had the bike on its side, the wheel off, tube out, the new tube in and managed to get the failing pump to provide enough air to get to the village. It was an interesting end to a long hard day.

No matter how hard we pumped, the air wouldn’t stay in.


The right wrenches, a couple of tyre irons and a new tube.


Lay her down and fossick with her rear end.


The culprit.


Norm’s idea of a joke - guess who did the work!


From the way the tyre had been behaving, I’m assuming the nail had been in there all the way to Mirage and back - over 700 kilometres on the gravel, only to let go within sight of civilization.
Good old girl.

Beer and a free campground in Radisson after another long day.



The last couple of days were basically a rewind of the first two: the long haul back down the James Bay Road to home. After an early breakfast, we were on the road by seven heading due south. You might think that endlessly droning down a highway lined with stunted trees, with few stunning views, no outstanding scenery and almost no other distractions would get boring. It hasn’t become boring to me. The smell of the air, the sound of the motor and the unfurling of the road ahead all have their charm - and anyway, you are far to busy trying to avoid having your hips jammed up between your shoulder blades as you hit yet another enormous frost heave.

As before, I stopped from time to time to take a few pictures: a few more pictures of burnt forest, another river, a Cree hunt camp, whatever caught my eye.



After one such stop, I turned the key, the dash lights lit, but the starter didn’t crank. Norm looked a bit worried. I leaned over, wiggled the spade fitting at the solenoid a couple of times and turned the key again. The Eldorado burst into life once more. Over the sound of her steady idle, I turned to Norm and said:

”Its one of the advantages of knowing your bike.....”

He probably thought, ‘pompous git’, but he knew what I meant. Of course in Norm’s world, that dodgy electrical contact would have been found and fixed long ago and would never have given him trouble.

At another one of our stops - and I can’t remember exactly how he phrased it - Norm made some comment about the low, bedrock hills being the ancient bones of the earth.



Meanwhile, I was looking for an opportunity to photograph another odd phenomenon I had noticed. This recently deglaciated landscape is laced with low eskers: the beds of former rivers and streams running across the glacial ice. When the ice melted, the river bed - rocks and all - was deposited as a linear rock pile. These features often snake for miles across the landscape.

The forest fire had removed all the surface vegetation and soil, leaving the river bed rocks exposed and visible.



We made it to Amos that night - another 800km (500 mile) day. After a few beers we both slept well. Even my snoring didn’t keep Norm awake.



Our last day was going to be another long one. I’m a bit tall for the screen on the Eldorado so I had been suffering a bit from wind blast all week. I usually have a section of visor bolted on to deflect the air but for some reason I had left it behind. A bit of pizza box and some of Norm’s industrial strength camo tape did an elegant and effective job. It’s a bit ‘Red Green’ but it worked. I think it cost me another beer!



By the time we reached the Ottawa River and the border between Quebec and Ontario, the skies had darkened with small thunder clouds. The rain was sporadic and hard, but blissfully warm. After days of endless sunshine and blue skies it was almost a relief.

Abandoned farm in the Pontiac Region, just north of the Ottawa River


One last stop a few miles from home.


Thanks for coming along...........

Nick

nick949eldo screwed with this post 06-03-2014 at 01:56 PM Reason: added video
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Old 05-25-2014, 05:26 PM   #2
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Damned fine ride on a damned fine bike.
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Old 05-25-2014, 05:55 PM   #3
nick949eldo OP
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Facts and Figures

A few facts and figures

Total days = 6
Time off at Mirage = 0.5 days
Total distance ridden = 3988 kilometres (2478 miles)
Total distance ridden unpaved = 716 kilometres (445 miles)
Average vehicles encountered per kilometre (Trans-Taiga) = 0.016
Greatest distance between sources of fuel = 537 kilometres (333 miles)
Number of minutes ridden ‘Dakar style’ = 0
Pucker moments = 62
Most northerly Latitude reached = 53' 47
Crashes = 0
Breakdowns = 1
Distance ridden with nail in tyre before it blew = more than 600 kilometres (372 miles)
Insect bites = 2
Value of being places completely devoid of all human sound = priceless

Nick
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Old 05-25-2014, 07:49 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nick949eldo View Post
A few facts and figures

Value of being places completely devoid of all human sound = priceless
Great ride report, Nick. It really brings me back to the time I went there with 9 guys from the F650GS "Chain Gang". I remember sitting in a park not far from Radisson, on my own, revelling in the total peace and quiet. It was magical.

Must get back there again soon.
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Old 05-26-2014, 05:49 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by Emmbeedee View Post
Great ride report, Nick. It really brings me back to the time I went there with 9 guys from the F650GS "Chain Gang". I remember sitting in a park not far from Radisson, on my own, revelling in the total peace and quiet. It was magical.

Must get back there again soon.
9 guys...yikes. my idea of hell.

Nick
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Old 05-26-2014, 06:07 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by nick949eldo View Post
9 guys...yikes. my idea of hell.
I let them go on the Dam(n) tour and took the quiet route, exploring the area on my own.
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Old 05-26-2014, 06:35 AM   #7
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Excellent report, thanks!
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Old 05-26-2014, 07:07 AM   #8
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What a great report. Did the trip just take place? I assume it did. Also, recognizing when the level of danger is starting to be beyond the comfort zone is a great asset. I admire you for calling it quit when the gravel road was deemed too dangerous. ;-)

In regard of this abandoned farm near the Ontario/Quebec border, do you have any ore precise localization? I am a sucker for abandoned landmarks...

Lee
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Old 05-26-2014, 07:20 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by MassiveLee View Post
What a great report. Did the trip just take place? I assume it did. Also, recognizing when the level of danger is starting to be beyond the comfort zone is a great asset. I admire you for calling it quit when the gravel road was deemed too dangerous. ;-)

In regard of this abandoned farm near the Ontario/Quebec border, do you have any ore precise localization? I am a sucker for abandoned landmarks...

Lee
This friday past was our return day - got home about 5PM after riding all day from Amos.

The farm is between Otter Lake and Cambell's Bay on Highway 301. I didn't record the exact location, but it's a nice road to ride and you can't miss it.

Nick
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Old 05-26-2014, 07:48 AM   #10
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great report

Nick,
It sounds like you had a good time. Glad to hear it and glad you got away.
cheers,
Phil
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Old 05-26-2014, 08:31 AM   #11
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Enjoyed the ride report. Years ago I rode from Chibougamou on Route Du Nord over to the James Bay Road (424km of gravel), then up to Radisson. I know what you mean about the gravel. The graders were all over Route Du Nord and the depth/looseness of the gravel can be deceiving. I was riding an '03 1150 GS that itself was heavily loaded (spare gas for 3 bikes), and counted 7 tank slappers after hitting a particularly loose section before I got control of the bike again. My Fiancee on her comparatively light F650 GS had a much easier go of it.

It was really cool to see the area and go that far north in Quebec, but that was when I figured out I really don't like riding gravel for that kind of distance. I varied between discomfort, anxiety, and panic. I never really enjoyed myself, but fortunately didn't crash either.

I applaud those who enjoy riding in those conditions and dream of going back. I don't, as I'd choose the beautifully paved Smokys or Rockies for my limited riding time any day!
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Old 05-26-2014, 09:22 AM   #12
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Thanks for the report. I want to travel that area sometime.
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Old 05-26-2014, 09:56 AM   #13
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I am heading to Chisasibi in a couple of weeks, just before the big flies season ;-) It is 100% tarmac. I am going with my 1150GSA while my son will be riding his Hunda Blackbird. I will be carrying the fuel for him ;-)

This weekend we might go explore this ghost farm ;-)

Lee
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Old 05-26-2014, 10:01 AM   #14
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Really enjoyed this
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Old 05-26-2014, 10:20 AM   #15
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Originally Posted by MassiveLee View Post
I am heading to Chisasibi in a couple of weeks, just before the big flies season ;-) It is 100% tarmac. I am going with my 1150GSA while my son will be riding his Hunda Blackbird. I will be carrying the fuel for him ;-)

This weekend we might go explore this ghost farm ;-)

Lee
I was informed by some of the Cree folks we met that Chisasibi is in the middle of having sewers and town water installed throughout the town, so expect to see some dug up streets. If you're going that far, you should make the 40km ride in to Long Pointe -just because.

My son and I did that a few years back - him on a 1981 CM400 and me on a Royal Star Tour Deluxe (which was just fine on gravel, despite weighing 830lbs!

Nick
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