A map of Josh's trip for you all...
A map of Josh's trip for you all...
Stephen Burns - 2007 R1200GS
BMW MOA Lifetime Member
Wondering about the bear spray. When we go into Canada they ask if we have any fire arms or bear spray. I thought they were asking because both were illegal. However you posts makes it sound like the bear spray is OK.
Could you expound on your conversation with the the border guards regarding this issue?
Bud Meade W9BUD IBA 44018 MOA Lifetime Member
Very nice, Josh. Thanks for taking the time and sharing with us. Very well written, looking forward to riding the rest of the way with you.
'80 XS850 Special
- It MUST be in a large container marked for use on animals
- If you're coming from the USA, Canadian law says it needs to be "US EPA registered bear spray"
- Container size is a big issue. Anything small (keychain pepper spray, for example) is prohibited, and I know people who have been forced to return to the US, throw it away, and try to re-enter Canada. It seems they are mostly concerned with your ability to conceal it.
- If they ask, you need to be able to show you are traveling in an area where bears could be an issue. Going to Montreal for the weekend isn't going to cut it.
- One odd thing: it's illegal to take a small container for self defense against people, but if a person attacked me, it would be legal for me to use the large can against them. Weird.
In the end, I purchased "Alaska Guard Pepper Spray", which has a picture of a bear on it, and is available from Cabelas. It's also one of the strongest concentrations I could find. At my border crossing in Minnesota, I was asked "Do you have any weapons, firearms, or pepper spray?" Which I answered "Yes, I have a can of bear spray". She then asked where my destination was. Once I told her I was headed to the James Bay region, I was told to "have a good trip!" and sent on my way. I didn't even have to show her the can of bear spray. That border crossing area is already "bear territory"; I'm not sure if you would be questioned more at a more urban crossing are or not. I assume not; you don't have to travel far into Canada to get into black bear territory.
Wonderful report, am loving every word of it....
This is a trip I've often thought of doing - thanks for sharing!!
Here's a real long one; with lots of photos. This is another two-parter day. The second half is coming. I left a nice cliffhanger for everyone, again. Glad to hear everyone is enjoying it; I'm enjoying writing it.
Note: I had to split this story into two posts; I'm several thousand characters over limit.
When you have a sleeping bag rated down to 40 degrees and you're wearing woolen socks, insulated leggings (BMW brand), a t-shirt, a hat, and piling your riding jacket on top of the sleeping bag, you know it's a bit cold outside. When you have to do all of this in July and know you have a few hundred miles to cover by motorcycle, things get serious pretty quick.
I woke up terribly early; around 5:15am, and it was already light outside. I dozed in the early morning light trying to get a few more minutes of sleep, but it just wasn't going to happen. It was a pretty calm morning; I could no longer hear the waves from Lake Matagami crashing into shore, and even the forest was strangely quiet. Suddenly I was snapped to full awake by what sounded like someone walking around on gravel; strangely close to my bike. Too quiet for a bear; is a person checking out my gear? Stealing something? I coughed a bit to see what would happen. Silence. Then more sounds of something moving around on gravel; slowly getting closer to my tent. I quietly sat up inside my sleeping bag and listened for the slightest sounds - breathing, panting, anything. Surely a bear would be MUCH louder, right? Every few minutes I'd hear another sound, and each time it would be closer to my tent. I cleared my throat again. I decided there was no way I could get out of my bag and through two zipper safely if it was some nasty forest beast. Bigfoot?
"Twang!" Whatever it was had just brushed against one of the guy lines on my tent. Adrenaline was rushing through my veins now; whatever it was had to be within 3 or 4 feet of my tent; probably closer. I was now protected only by a double layer of tent fabric. I grabbed the can of bear spray and removed the safety from the trigger. If a bear suddenly tore through my tent I was going to make sure I was nicely marinate for him. Maybe I should grab the lighter and set my tent on fire, as well. More crunching gravel, and another "twang!" on the guy line. Now it's behind the tent. No way to get out from there. Several more minutes pass with only the occasional sound of crunching gravel and my breathing. Something touches the bottom of the rainfly and I consider cutting myself out of my tent with my Leatherman until I realize what it is as it crawls along the bottom of my rain fly. I am officially an idiot; it's nothing more than a small salamander. I am likely the only person to ever mistake a salamander for a bear. I can see the news report now: "Shoeless man seen running down James Bay Road in burned clothing. He appears to be crying, or blinded by pepper spray. Mumbling about a killer salamander." It must have been "hopping" or something, making the gravel crunch and hitting my guy lines. I lay back down and put the safety back under the bear spray trigger. I tell myself nobody will ever hear of this; and then consider changing "salamander" to "moose" or at least "fox". After wasting 20 minutes being terrified of a salamander, I decide it's now a good time to get out of bed and get moving; it's still before 6:00am, though.
I get out of my tent, don all my gear, and pace around eating breakfast, again. It's really cold outside, and I can see my breath. I can't wait until the sun gets higher in the sky and warms things up, a bit. There are still a few black flies who are undeterred by the cold. I quickly pack my gear and stuff my soaked rainfly into a mesh bag attached to the back of my bike. I hope the wind will dry it off a bit. The bike roars to life and settles into that familiar "noisy sewing machine" sound of the Airhead boxer. The valves sound just fine. I click into gear and work my way down the gravel driveway and back onto the James Bay Road. I get moving at a pretty good pace; still watching for wildlife. This was sure to be a quick and easy ride with a few sightseeing stops. 30 minutes of riding all by myself brought me to my first stop for photos. There had been a forest fire here years ago (started by a lightning strike), and the devastation is amazing. I had never seen a forest completely burned; pretty shocking. In some areas the pile of charred wood stretched on forever; with not even a hint of anything green trying to peek through. In another area there were miles of burned trees still standing, but stripped of almost all their limbs; a ghost forest. It's hard to imagine that this area was once teeming with life; lush and green. Already moss and other ground cover was starting to reclaim the area; mother nature is not to be stopped.
As I made my way along the JBR, I was noticing small orange diamond signs on the side of the road. It didn't take me long to realize these were to let you know a large bump was approaching. These weren't simply potholes; these were cracks that ran across the road, so there was no option to maneuver around, although I kept trying. Frost heave must be a big issue up here. The first few I ignored and kept riding. Finally I hit one that bounced me hard enough to dislodge me from my seat and leave me standing on my pegs. Ouch. From here on in, most of the ride involved slowing to 45-50mph as I approached these signs. Later on, I came around a bend in the road and encountered a sign with three orange diamonds on it, which had me hitting my brakes. I had heard stories of people coming up here and running flat out for a few hours; that must have been back when the road was in better condition; now you would be bounced off the road into the trees.
Another 30 minutes of riding, and I realized my mesh glove covered hand was getting a bit cold. The heated grip wasn't quite cutting it. I was also getting scattered drops of rain hitting me. I pulled off and started digging through my tankbag. Out came my silk glove liners and some heat packs. I had nearly left these single use heat packs at home, but at the last minute I decided to grab them since they took up very little space. I'm so glad I did. I ignored the warnings about placing the packs directly on your skin; I put one on the back of my hand and one on my palm, then donned both silk liners, then shoved the whole mess back into the mesh glove. It was a bit bulky, but I still had decent movement, and could still get to my brake lever quickly, if necessary. Once back on the road, my fingers started to warm up a bit, so I cracked the throttle open a bit further. Finally I was settling in to a nice pace, and I was plenty comfortable on the bike. The sun peeked through the clouds, traffic was non-existent, and I was happy to see the JBR actually had a few bends in it. After nearly an hour I saw something else on the road; a small red fox sitting just off the birm watched me tear by. Cool! Later on I saw a sizable caribou run across the road as well, although once I got to that point he had disappeared into the forest. I was keeping my eyes peeled for bears and moose; I was really hoping to see a moose. It took me nearly an hour before I saw any other cars on the road - I was really out on my own. A little further and three motorcycles were head south on the JBR; all three BMW's. We are a crazy bunch. At least they were heading towards warmer climates and denser population.
My ride finally brought me to one of the most important destinations for my whole trip. the Rupert River. Part of my decision to come up here was to see this river which crosses the JBR. Increased electricity demand in Canada and the US has Hydro-Quebec looking for more "green" power. The result of this is plans for the mighty Rupert to be diverted, turning the raging rapids into a tiny stream. It's really a beautiful area, and the water is said to be clean enough to drink untreated. They are currently in the process of building the dam, and full diversion is expected by late '08 or early '09. I wanted to see this before it was too late. I immediately pulled off into the small lot on the south side of the river to get off the bike and take some photos. I was surprised to find I wasn't alone; there was a single van parked there, along with a woman and her two dogs. I was rather amused at the stop sign in the lot; printed in both French and Cree.
I walked around a bit, took some photos, walked onto the bridge for more photos and video of this amazing river. I was feeling pretty excited to finally be here; a place I had been reading about for months. It really was beautiful; more impressive than I expected. There was an extremely strong current, and the rapids pushed mist high into the air. Raw power. From across the river I could see a small lookout stand on the opposite side. I had read about this, and was ready to hike the nature trail leading to it so I could get some spectacular photos. Before heading across, I decided now was a good time to add the two gallons of gas from my gas can; I'd rather have it in the tank of the bike, even if I wasn't on reserve, yet. I pulled out the can, extended the filler neck, and managed to spill a bunch of gas all over my gas tank. No problem; I finished getting most of the gas into the tank and then rinsed it off with water from one of my water bottles. I did make one more terrible mistake by re-attaching the gas can to the rear rack with gas spilled on the outside. That would be fine, except my tent rain fly was in a mesh bag directly against it. Gasoline on a rain fly can't be a good thing. Merde.
The bridge over the Rupert River
View of the rapids from the bridge
Video of the Rupert River from the bridge on the JBR. I started looking down from the bridge to show how fast the water is moving (youtube seems to decrease the quality a bit):
Back on the bike for a very brief ride to the "nature trail" on the north side of the river. There was no parking area so I simply parked on the birm; leaving my helmet. Traffic was so light I had doubts a car would come by while I'm gone, and even if they did; I doubted they would stop to try to take my helmet, or anything else. It was rather odd; there was a painted wooden structure at the start of the trail, but they failed to make an opening in the guardrail, so I had to hop over. I walked down and was immediately on a rather narrow trail through the forest. It was 1.2km to the scenic lookout. All alone, walking through the forest in bear country. Surely this is a good idea. In one hand was my camera, and in the other was the can of bear spray. All my riding gear made plenty of noise as I walked, but I still whistled; hoping it would help keep me from sneaking up on anything. The trail went from soft, spongy ground through a stand of pine trees to a rocky narrow trail through dead trees and lots of scrub bushes. It continued to get worse as there were small trees laying across the trail, and then larger ones I had to climb over. Apparently there was also a forest fire in this area, and the trail has been woefully unmaintained. I considered turning back, but my adventurous spirit got the best of me, thankfully.
Start of the trail:
Further down the trail:
I think there is still a trail here, somewhere:
There was several more minutes of scrambling over downed trees until I finally reached the scenic lookout, and was it ever worth it. I stood there enjoying the site as the water roared past. I've been to Niagara Falls before, and this had a very similar sound to it. Totally amazing - unbelievable amounts of water were roaring past every second. The hail was worth it. I've read that several people have tried to run these rapids in a kayak; I was not surprised that nobody has ever done it. Due to the pending diversion, I'm sure nobody ever will.
Here is a short video of the rapids from the lookout stand:
I eventually turned back, safely reaching the bike. The gear went back on, the bike started, and I was back on the road; next stop, fuel at Kilometer 381. It was a cool ride with small amounts of drizzle, but nothing serious. I would see a car or truck every 30 minutes or so, but for the most part I was all alone. I really loved it. I stopped once and pulled my helmet off, just to enjoy the solitude. Most of the large trees were going away, and now the scenery was mostly small bogs, scrub bushes, and short coniferous trees. They were probably pretty old by the time they reached 4 or 5 feet; the growing season is terribly short up here. I had read you can hear cars approach for miles up here, and it turned out to be true; a sound I heard 10 minutes ago eventually grew louder until a truck rolled past. Wild. I continued on; passing emergency phone towers, and passing a sign letting me know I had reached the 52nd parallel. I'm not sure what the significance is; I never saw another sign like it. I was getting a bit cool, but suddenly found refuge at the Kilometer 381 stop.
This is no scenic rest area. Totally utilitarian; mobile home trailers where you can rent a room for the night, a large corrugated steel building for working on their trucks (snowplows and so on) which also contained the cafeteria. There were also some stacked 55 gallon drums, and some gas pumps far in the back. I cruised back to the pumps and saw my two choices; "diesel" or "essence". I'm assuming "essence" is whatever fuel they can get up there, and I was suddenly very glad I dual-plugged my Airhead, so it no longer required premium. There was a sign telling me in no uncertain terms to not pump gas, and instead wait for the "gas boy". In the meantime I pulled off my helmet, expecting a chance to warm up without the 70mph wind blowing in my face. How wrong I was. If anything, the temperature had dropped even more; I could see my breath, and a cold wind was blowing across the lot. I still had a way to go until Radisson. It was still a quiet place, and the only sound aside from the wind was the 55 gallon drums "ticking" as the metal expanded and contracted in the weather. Rather soon the "boy" approached; a man who was at least twice my age. He was an interesting guy; I can't imagine wanting to work in a place like this. He did speak English and would chat with me a bit - I'm sure he meets some interesting people up here. After filling the bike and my gas can, we walked into a tiny building to pay. I considered hanging around, as it was heated. Total price of unleaded fuel at KM381 for 5.5 gallons; about $36. Ouch. I didn't really think much about it; I knew it would be pricey, and it's not like I had a choice. I ate a bit more breakfast bar for strength and hopped back on the bike to finish off this last bit of cold, overcast riding.
After a while of endless riding through this deserted wilderness, I was freezing cold, and it continued to lightly rain on me. Keeping my feet on th pegs, I started to "bounce" my legs in an attempt to warm up. At the same time I was tensing and releasing my arm muscles and wiggling my fingers. Each time I would look at my GPS and see the kilometers slowly tick by. I was talking myself into continuing on. "160km. That's not far. That's like riding to bike night and back. I can do this." The rain continued, and I went as fast as I safely could. Any faster and I was worried I might slide off the road in a turn, off into the scrub. I'd probably lay there for days or weeks before anyone found me. By then I'd probably be bear food. 120km. "That's like riding to one of the Michigan offices from work." That's nothing. Each time I would check the GPS and see I had gone a shorter and shorter distance. I thought about pulling off the side of the road and firing up my camp stove to try to warm up; maybe make some coffee. it seemed like a waste of time, and if I stopped, I'm not sure I'd be able to convince myself to get going again. There were also a few unmaintained camping areas I could pull off into, but it was still cold, and sitting outside wasn't going to do me much good. My body was getting stiff, and I started to shiver a little bit. Now under 100km. Just a touch more than my ride to "bike night". I can do this... I'm almost there. Hot food, hot shower... it was going to be so nice. Time dragged by. This isn't what I signed up for. What the heck ever convinced me to come up here? What kind of moron rides a motorcycle to the James Bay? Isn't the average July temperature supposed to be 63; with highs possible to 90? Why couldn't I be suffering THAT fate? 50km. I'm almost there now. I'm going to make it; I MUST make it. In my mind, failure was not an option - I hadn't come this far to not make it to Radisson and Chisasibi. I needed to touch the James Bay.
I knew I was getting close to my destination as I passed by a small airport and started to see more road signs counting down the kilometers to Radisson. I slowed down a bit and started to slowly stretch my legs out. I was crippled from the cold and began to worry I wouldn't be able to support the bike when I stopped. Eventually I pulled up to a small security booth. This doesn't seem right. I managed to fumble around with my cold leg and foot to get the side stand down, followed by a numb fingered struggle to pull my helmet off so I could see what was going on. The guard was friendly, even if he didn't speak much English. It seems I somehow managed to miss a left turn to get me into Radisson; this was the entrance to the large Hydro-Quebec installation, which is strictly off-limits to civilians without an escort. I got my helmet back on and struggled with weak, cold muscles to turn my bike around to get heading back the way I came. A minute later I was making the correct turn into Radisson; now so close to my warm hotel room. Radisson was not what I expected. Although I knew it wasn't a large town, the transition from pavement to a muddy, rock-strewn main street made it feel like I was pulling into some old west town. You would think they would pave the last 1/2 mile. Everything appeared dirty and utilitarian; definitely not a tourist spot. A few hotels, a gas station/store, one restaurant, and a building housing hydro-Quebec employees. All the cars were coated in mud, and most parking spaces had a place to plug in your engine block heater in the winter. I quickly found my hotel (one of the few multi-level building in Radisson) and turned myself into the lot, again struggling to get my frozen body off of the bike.
I made my triumphant walk into the hotel, slightly hunched over, still very chilled, helmet in hand, looking forward to some heat and a nice shower. A smile came over my frozen face. "Welcome to Auberge Radisson, how can I help you?" I provided my name to the puzzled looking receptionist, and quickly realized why she looked so confused. "We don't seem to have you in our reservation system; are you sure your reservation was made here? We are all full.".
Salamanders make great breakfasts!
Did you find a local lady for the night or did they come up with a room? Don't leave us hanging like that!
Awesome trip report, thanks Josh!
"A good stick is a good reason"
And now the rest of the story
This has been the best story surly it needs space in the ON. the writing is so descriptive, it's like reading Hemmingway, so good are your words.
Gone for now hope to see you all soon Michael..
Lost children will be sold to MOA staff and trained to ride Harley's
?????? you're not honoring the Hollywood writers' strike are you???
Very enjoyable so far.........
"Plans are meaningless, planning is everything." Dwight Eisenhower
Josh a group of us, eight bmw riders, rode from NY to Radison several years ago thanks for bringing back the memory of that ride. We rode up in the beginning of June and also encountered hail, swarms of black flies, and huge temperature swings.