Many of you have heard comments about my trip up the James Bay Road in Quebec, and many of you have probably seen some of the photos scattered on the forum, or on my website. When I woke up this morning it was less that 5 degrees out, and the wind chill had it in the negative zone. Too cold for riding... at least for me. Instead, I decided to finally type up a bit of a ride report of my trip to the James Bay. Hopefully nobody gets bored in the process of reading it. This is going to be pretty long. I have the time, I have the space, and it's my story. Each day is going to be one post. The riding on the James Bay Road starts at day 3. Picture this story as told over a few drinks next to a campfire. Imagine I'm pretty animated as I tell the story - because that's how I am. Enjoy!
I've always been oddly attracted to remote places. I guess it's the explorer in me; I want to go where few have been, and where few will ever go. I've also fancied myself to be a bit of an "Adventure rider" type... though I had yet to go anywhere off the beaten path. It was almost six months before the MOA rally in Wisconsin, and I was beginning to make some trip plans for myself. I was blessed with an abundance of vacation time from work, some disposable income, and a week to burn between the rally and a yearly family camping trip in Ontario. Days and nights were spent pouring over google maps, looking for small remote places to visit. I quickly settled on areas north of Lake Superior; possibly Highway 11 down to Lake Huron and onto some of the more remote roads that lead into some of the small communities in the area. Still, it didn't sound that exciting, and I continued to look further east and north. Somewhere I stumbled across this "James Bay Road". It offered everything I was looking for - it was remote, lightly traveled, scenic, and somewhere many had never been. My location had been chosen, and my preparations began.
The James Bay offers a few unique challenges to a motorcycle traveler. It's very remote. There is a section of road 233 miles long that offers no service of any kind, save for some emergency phones every 50km or so. This is the second longest stretch of service-free road in North America; and it's second by only 7 miles to the Dalton Highway in Alaska. Fortunately the James Bay Road is paved for it's entirety, though frost heaving leaves the road rather rough. Even in the "busy season", very few cars are on this road each day, so if anything happens you might be waiting a while for assistance. This isn't so much a "normal" tourist destination. The road was built when a large hydroelectric facility was put in years ago, and most of the traffic is to support the small employee population, native communities, and hunters who travel to the area. Second to the remoteness is the wildlife. This is an area that supports black bear, caribou, wolves, fox, moose, and the ever popular black fly. The black flies are probably the biggest problem, as they will gladly chew a hole in your skin to get some blood, and they are rather plentiful in July. Finally, weather is a wild card. It could be hot, it could be freezing, and it could rain the whole time.
With those negatives, "why go", you ask? I went for three reasons; natural beauty (There are a number of large rivers that flow across the James Bay Road and there is wilderness all around you), the challenge of the trip itself, and the remote silence of the area. I wanted to get away from everything, from cell phones (which do not work even before you reach the James Bay Road itself), traffic, and people - save for a possible riding companion.
Though I had a friend or two interested in taking the trip with me, I quickly found none of my riding companions would have the time to join me on the rather remote sections of road I wanted to cover - so I would be going alone. This wasn't a huge deal, although it meant I was going to be forced to carry all of my own supplies, tools, and gear (no splitting gear between two bikes). I spent a few months rebuilding my bike to make it as mechanically perfect as I could, and to increase my own knowledge in case I had a failure on the road. This included learning how to wrestle a tire and tube off and on a rim. Gear was purchased; a lightweight but warm sleeping bag, a 3-season windproof "expedition-style" tent, camp stove, cookware, spares for the bike, and a large can of pepper spray (for bears and other large wildlife) for peace of mind. I also had completed a tentative route and schedule. I had some long days planned, but I felt up to the task. I would leave the MOA rally on Sunday, head north to Minnesota, and then cross into Ontario, following Lake Superior. From there I would head east into Quebec, up the James Bay Road, and then back down. Finally I would ride further South to the North side of Lake Huron, which I would cross by boat before riding the last 200 miles west to meet up with my family for a few more days of camping. Perfect.
By the time July hit, I was as ready as I was ever going to be. After a short weather-related delay, I pulled out and headed to the West Bend MOA rally; the first stop on my journey. As one would expect at an MOA rally, fun was had, friends were made, beer was drank, and sleep came in small doses. By the end I was ready to get away, and the REAL part of my James Bay trip began.
At the rally: You can never be too careful when drinking!
At the rally: Beautiful sunrise over a lake
MUCH more to come...