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Old 11-22-2010, 09:53 PM
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Default All the Way to the Bay: Our James Bay Road Trip

This past August my friends and I did our first big ride together, the James Bay Road. My buddy Ted wrote down our story for his family (since they’re spread out they keep up with each other this way) and I added everything in blue print. We’re from the Central New York State region and therefore have a American-centric attitude so if we offend, we don’t care. I’ll try to include as many informative pictures as I can, and if you have any questions let me know. Without further ado, Ted’s (*and now my) account of our trip:

Well, I’m back from the northern wastes of the James Bay Road. The James Bay Road (JBR from this point on) winds north from a logging town called Matagami, in the northern part of Quebec Province, Canada. It ends 384 miles later, at a town called Radisson, which is inhabited almost entirely by workers of the hydro-power stations nearby. The JBR is a remote locale; amenities and gas stations are not plentiful. In fact, there’s only one gas station on the entire length of the JBR, at the 381 km checkpoint, or roughly half-way up the road. It was about 2000 miles round trip from the starting point of Camden, NY. The trip was a great break-in to the world of adventure touring, and a fun journey. This is the story of my trip on the JBR.

The setup:

I had gotten my buddy Jeff’s interest in motorcycles piqued a couple of years ago by letting him sit on my Ducati 996, and then starting the engine. The sound and feel of a Ducati underneath you will instill, in anyone with a pulse, the urgent need to ride a motorcycle. That need grows over time, like an unchecked virus. Only a few short months later, Jeff was riding his own motorcycle. *That 996 has a mean sound, although I would be afraid to actually ride it. If I remember right the speedo goes well past 180 mph. It was a classic peer-pressure trick that we used on each other in the navy. Well, turnabout is fair play- this past December, Jeff called to invite me on a motorcycle trip through Canada that he was putting together with his friend and co-worker, Scott. I took a second to assess the logistics of my attendance, keenly aware of my 996’s small gas tank, concentration camp ergonomics, and slight storage capacity (the 3”x5” 100 page instruction booklet won’t fit in the storage space beneath the seat). Now, I had done long distance trips on my 996 before; some were unintentional, some were planned out, and all were grueling, painful treks. (A prime example of such being the infamous “ride south until we find a store that carries Mickey’s malt liquor” trip- a short Saturday jaunt which turned into a 2-day, 1000 mile marathon of pain, ending with my buddy Dan and I being too drunk to stand at division quarters aboard ship the following Monday morning.) Coincidentally, Uncle Andy and I had been talking about adventure-touring motorcycles at Gramp’s house, just days before Jeff called. Adventure-touring bikes can function as dirt bikes or as street bikes, and they have the carrying capacity of your average gypsy caravan. “If I had one of those”, I thought to myself, “I wouldn’t need to buy another bike for the rest of my life.” I gave Jeff a positive confirmation, while I mapped out my resources in my head. He had turned the peer pressure tables on me. Flipped the script, as it were. *Ha ha. I bought a new BMW R1200GS Adventure a few short months later. Scott’s brother, Doug, would be the fourth member of our trip. Jeff, Scott, Doug, and I would maintain email communications for months prior to the trip, exchanging ideas and recommendations.

Ted showing off his new bike down in Maryland on one of our preliminary trips. Note his obnoxious BMW jacket with the sleeves zipped off. Wow.





That's me (Jeff) and my baby. Like those Stromtrooper patches?


Jeff and I decided to get in a few work-up rides before the big show, to get used to each others’ road habits. We rode out and met Scott on one trip, and went camping for a few days on another trip. We were on our last prep ride a week prior to the JBR when I lost my topcase- a piece of aluminum luggage that clamped on the luggage rack behind the seat. The topcase went sailing off the back of my motorcycle after I hit a bump on I-476 in PA, north of the Allentown rest area. Now, I have to admit, I’ve secretly been preparing for something random like that to happen ever since seeing my first “CHiPs” episode. I figured that if my topcase came off, it would go bouncing down the highway, and cars attempting to avoid it would comically vault off of each other, exploding in mid air (as flying cars are wont to do), or would somehow jump off of a shrub and go cartwheeling off into a ravine. Naturally, everyone would be fine, save for the one attractive woman trapped by a stubborn seatbelt buckle in her soon-to-be inferno of a car. I had been planning on getting the jump on Officer Frank Poncherello and extract that woman first, reaping the rewards as the car exploded in the background. I sprung into action quickly when my luggage went flying off the bike, determined to beat the dapper highway patrolman to any distressed damsels. To my dismay, however, nothing happened. My case just slid harmlessly off the road in my rearview mirror, while motorists went calmly around it. Not a single cartwheel, jump, or explosion, and any stubborn seatbelt buckles trapping attractive women in their seats went quietly along down the highway. Disappointed, yet relieved at the same time (I later reasoned that cartwheeling off a ravine would probably get someone hurt, and I doubt they’d want to kiss me after), Jeff and I immediately pulled over and started walking back to find the case. Two miles later, we gave up. *This was the most hellish, grueling walk I have ever been on. We were in basically full gear and it was sunny, about 80F and 95% humidity. I didn’t want to stop because I knew how expensive that case was. We just kept walking and looking, sweat pouring down. Just one more set of guardrails. Nope, keep going. Either it had gone under the guardrail and off the ravine (bitter irony, that), or someone had already picked it up. Either way, due to the fact we couldn’t find it, BMW couldn’t see that it was a material defect that caused it to come off, so it wasn’t covered under warranty. My insurance covered it, but the case cost just over $600, and I have a $500 deductible. So, in essence, I paid $500 to have a dream of mine shattered, in addition to the loss of 1/3 of my motorcycle’s storage capacity- right before a trip that required every ounce of storage I could muster. As a result, I had to make significant modifications to my trip load-out in relatively short order. This would come back to haunt me later.
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  #2  
Old 11-22-2010, 10:00 PM
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Thumbs up Coming soon!

Day 1 of our James Bay trip will be posted up in a few days.

Anyone know how to put formatting in posts? Like margins to make it easier to read?
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Old 11-22-2010, 10:48 PM
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Old 11-23-2010, 04:48 PM
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Default Day 1 of the Trip: North through Ottawa to the Valley of Gold

This is an account of our trip to James Bay. My friend Ted wrote most of it, but I butt in where it shows blue text.

The Trip:

Day one:

The morning of July 30 was warm, and Jeff and I were up around 0500. I didn’t get much sleep, due to a case of the jitters. *Me neither, maybe 3 hours. This was my first adventure ride too. We crammed water and other provisions into our cases, and were on our way to Scott’s house by 0700. After a brief introduction with Doug and some friendly ribbing (Doug and Scott have the same bikes, in the same color, with the same options), we were on our way. Scott took the lead on his goldwing, which is more of a car with two wheels than it is a motorcycle. *Interesting, I always thought of it as an easy chair with two wheels. (Honda USA mandated that we take a special class at Motorcycle Mechanic’s Institute on how to pick one up if you dropped it; an effort to avoid lawsuits from mechanics blowing their backs out trying to upright them.) I followed Scott, Jeff was on his Suzuki V-Strom behind me, and Doug was bringing up the rear in his goldwing. That would be the basic formation for the duration of the trip. Our group went north on I-81 and crossed the border at the 1000 Islands checkpoint. The customs agent there was thoroughly bored with his job. He didn’t look up from his desk, didn’t make me take my helmet off, and clearly didn’t listen to the answers I gave to his questions regarding alcohol, tobacco, or firearms. I could’ve been riding on a nuclear missile and he wouldn’t have cared. He waved us through, and we were on our way.


We distributed the water between 4 bikes so the Strom didnt look quite so...gypsy. It still kinda did anyway though.



Crossing the border at the 1000 Islands. Scott is on his wing just in front of the car.


*Straight out of the gate Scott took us the wrong way and we got off on a local two lane instead of the clearly marked highway. Seven months of planning and he still hadn’t figured out how to use the GPS that comes in the dash of his couchwing. Oh well, it was the first of many wrong-ways and U turns. When we got back on the highway, I was reminded of how much I can’t stand Canadian drivers (sorry if you’re Canadian). I run into them all the time in NY and they confuse and anger me. There’s random speed and lane changes, tailgating, superspeed pass and then turn on cruise at the speed limit. This mysterious driving behavior made our first half-day of driving hard, since the four of us had never ridden together.

We didn’t take the time to exchange for Canadian currency at the border. ATM machines give great exchange rates, and you can find them just about anywhere. So the first gas station we stopped at was just outside of Ottawa, so we hit the ATM there. The ATM decided that it didn’t want to play along, and refused our cards. We paid for gas with credit, and pressed onwards. We kept a pretty good speed north, with fairly light traffic until we entered Ottawa. Ottawa is Canada’s capitol, and home to the worst city planners on the planet. There’s no beltway around the city, and traffic going north is forced to merge from four-lane highway to the narrow European-style streets of downtown Ottawa. As a result, the traffic patterns are ridiculous. After negotiating that bit with only a few wrong turns and a detour around a construction zone, we were northbound again. *my fault this time. Scott- “You planned the route, you lead us through Ottawa.” Me- “…” We stopped for lunch at a little drive-in diner/convenience store outside of the town of Low around 1230. While Scott and Doug placed their orders at the window, Jeff and I went into the convenience store, to hit the ATM that was boldly advertised by a cheerful neon sign in the window. We found the ATM had mysteriously been left unplugged. Jeff asked the clerk at the counter if she could plug it in for us. The clerk explained that she could indeed plug it in, but there was no money inside of it. I paid credit for the burger and fries. After eating our meal, we were once again on our way northward.




A shot of the growing Ottawa skyline. I took this while in bumper-to-bumper traffic, surrounded by an ocean of tractor-trailers because there's no frickin beltway. You can just make out a truck in the foreground.



Our lunch stop where they choose not to plug in stuff.


We went through the town of Maniwaki, where stores were advertising that they accepted cigarettes as cash, up through Bois-Franc, and into Grand-Remous, where we would get gas, and try to get an ATM that worked. We gassed up at the first station we saw, and found an ATM inside. It was displaying some sort of error code, and the Francophone clerk cheerfully informed us in broken English that it didn’t work. We paid for gas using our credit cards. We tried the other gas station in town, but they didn’t have an ATM. Amazed at our streak of bad luck with ATMs, we merged onto the Trans-Canadian Highway, northbound through the Province of Quebec, towards our campsite at Val D’Or. *I was getting pretty unsettled. When we walked into place #5 with either an unworking or unwilling ATM, I thought Ted and I were in trouble. We were a few hours and many miles (or kilometers, whatever) into Canada and our plan of getting cash was being mightily crapped upon. I was sure we would need cash soon for some reason, and didn’t want to rely on places taking credit cards, seeing how well they kept up their ATMs.

It’s at this point that I’ll interject and mention that road signs in Quebec are comical. French is Quebec’s official language. The rest of Canada speaks English as their official language, and there are also numerous regional native languages. So to keep municipal costs down and make sure everyone understands what’s going on without using billboards for road signs, the road signs in Quebec use pictures instead of words. A black triangle with a tractor going down one side, and a car with cartoon “speed” lines behind it going up the other side, for instance, would indicate that you need to be going fast enough up the hill in order to jump any tractors going slowly down the other side of the hill. (At least that’s what I got out of it.) *My interpretation- Chase Tractors Off Of Cliffs Zone

Canadians use the (mostly two lane) Trans-Canadian Highway as their version of the Autobahn. Locals would routinely tailgate us until there was a passing lane, and pass us like we were stopped even though we were going 10 mph over the speed limit. If they couldn’t pass all four of us within the short (900 or so feet on average) passing lane length, they’d just merge in the lane with us and assume we would get out of the way, because we were smaller. One such occasion almost ended our trip- and Jeff’s life. A turquoise Chevy Cavalier decided to pass us towards the end of a passing lane. Jeff was in the lead at this point. As the passing lane was ending, the douche in the Cavalier decided to try and pass Jeff on the right, where the guardrail was. Once the guy saw that the guardrail was merging the lanes left, he slammed on his brakes and skidded sideways towards where Jeff was, tire smoke rolling out of the wheel wells. He somehow missed Jeff while fish-tailing off to the left, then passed him on double-solid lines while going uphill. It was the single most retarded bit of driving I had ever seen. It was the kind of thing that makes you want to throw away six months of planning, and instead follow someone you don’t know, to an unknown destination, in a foreign country, and give them a vicious beatdown. *It’s funny but I think this was more traumatic for Ted because he saw the whole thing first hand. I saw lights in my left rearview, then lights in my right from insanely close, then back left really quickly. One finger salute time. If he would have just kept on the gas and pulled a bit left, he would have shot around me easily. None of this helped my mood though.

Shortly after that incident, we came upon a construction zone. Construction zones were just marked with an orange sign that said “Travaux” (French for “work”. Sadly, there were no cartoonish pictures to interpret for road work areas). The road crew had closed down the southbound lane, and directed southbound traffic into the northbound lane. The northbound lane was moved to the shoulder. That wasn’t a problem, until the shoulder ceased to be paved. You see, they had a water truck wetting the dirt to keep the dust down, turning the makeshift north-bound lane into mud. That would usually warrant a warning sign or something in the states, as motorcycles with street tires tend to not turn, stop, or handle at all while in mud. In Quebec, however, there are apparently no regulations to make road crews let you know that they’ve turned the road into a 50mph tractor pull track. Not even a Quebec-style road sign with a giant middle finger next to a motorcycle, or a sign depicting a motorcycle with cartoon speed lines skidding sideways into a steamroller. You were just driving on mud all of a sudden, with white knuckles and a tightened sphincter. That lasted for a few miles, before the shoulder was paved again. *Not a problem on the V-Strom (or that GS Adventure I bet). It was really disconcerting going from paved shoulder straight to mud, and I was worried about the Goldwings. That’s almost $50,000 worth of couch following me and Ted. I’d hate to see it get dirty.

After that, we made good time to Val D’Or, which turned out to be a lot bigger than Google Maps said it was. The people of Val D’Or treat automobiles in the streets like you’d treat a crack-head begging for change. (Keep your head down, pretend not to see him, and go about your business.) Pedestrians didn’t care what the crossing light said, or how fast traffic was coming towards them. They just went, baby strollers and all. We stayed at a campground/RV park just outside of town. The campground had a gravel driveway that corkscrewed downhill and to the left, and it was a pain in the ass to park in our spots, which were on the right. We had to pass our sites by, pull a u-turn, and then pull straight in to the spots. *Again, not a problem on the V-Strom. I missed the turn on the main road to get to the campground and U-turned from shoulder to opposite lane. None of the other riders seemed to think that was cool, even though they bravely, but timidly U-turned from shoulder to shoulder.



The base of our campsite at Le Nid d'Aigle. Got to see a floatplane take off from right to left. Neat



Our side of camp. Ted's tent is so bright as to be offensive to nocturnal animals.

After we got our sites set up, we realized that we were close to civilization, three of us craved beer (Doug is a diabetic and can’t drink), and there was absolutely no reason to eat a dinner of granola and dehydrated chili-mac when there were other choices available. There was no need to draw straws- it was a pain in the ass to pack the behemoth goldwings into their parking space, so Jeff and I were volunteered to go. We decided on subs, and started taking orders. Doug gave us very specific instructions on what he wanted and what he was able to eat, which I promptly forgot. I was certain Jeff was paying attention. He’s a school teacher, and they do that kind of thing. As it turned out, he wasn’t really listening either. Four hundred and fifty or so miles in a day on a motorcycle will do that to you, I guess. In addition, not many people that far north in Quebec speak English, so we wouldn’t have known how to say “sweet peppers” anyway. That was our official excuse. Jeff and I stopped at a gas station to fill up and try our luck at another ATM. This time, the ATM worked. *Halleluiah! We were impressed. I bought the stiffest, nastiest beer I could find- six 955ml cans of LaBatt Bleue Dry, in 10.1% alcohol. (Can’t get them in the states, you know.) We then went to the grocery store, which, for some reason, was located in a shopping mall, like a Sears would be. We were lucky at the deli counter, and had an English-speaking clerk. They order deli meats by the milligrams there, so it would have been quite a process to get the right amount for four sandwiches on the scale in French. We were not so lucky at the checkout counter, however. The poor girl was talking right along for a half a minute or so before she realized we had no clue what she was saying. I understand French, but only if someone speaks slowly with easy words, as if they’re talking to a small child. Eventually, she just turned the register display towards us so we could see the total, and she gave up on asking us if we had their club discount card. We got back to the site, offered the official excuse to Doug, and commenced dinner. It was later that night when I noticed the first big thing I had forgotten to pack- a pillow. Luckily, I had my armored riding jacket, and I was just tired enough, and just drunk enough, so that it felt comfortable under my head. *That 10.1 is officially the worst beer I’ve ever tasted. Most of the malt liquor I’ve had is generally just fine by the time you work your way into it. Not that Labatt’s 10.1 Every sip tasted like malt pain. It still turns my throat a bit just to think about it. Ted drank two, I guess to scare off the bears with his manliness. It scared me.

We'll be back with Day 2 after next week. Hope you're enjoying the reading!
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  #5  
Old 11-26-2010, 08:03 PM
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Very interesting RR so far.

For the record - most Canadians think that the Quebecers are absolutely freaking insane drivers. I'd take Somali immigrants over drivers from la Belle Province!

Looking forward to the rest of the trip write-up.

Owen
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Old 11-29-2010, 09:35 PM
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Default Day 2: Val d'Or to the Eastmain River Bridge

Day Two:

We were up early the next day. I had a headache- not just from the hangover, but also because (surprise) the BMW Rallye jacket has enough metal snaps, zippers and armor so as to be pretty damn uncomfortable to sleep on. I had been driving a metal zipper into the side of my head for the past six hours, and now it hurt like a bastard. We fired up some dehydrated egg packets for breakfast. It tasted like crap. Hot sauce was another one of the items that didn’t make the cut after losing the topcase. I had to add more water to the eggs than the label called for, and it was still dry and nasty. It wasn’t until I was nearly done that I realized that I had forgotten to remove the desiccant pack before adding the water. I lost my appetite after that. We only had a few minor troubles getting out of the parking spaces. I can, however, say for certain that there would probably still be two goldwings parked up there if they didn’t have a reverse gear. Doug said he was done riding in gravel, and would choose not to ride on any more gravel in the future. We were on the road by 0800, up through the town of Amos, and into Matagami- the town at the base of the JBR.
*After Amos there is quite a few miles of wilderness, itself fairly impressive. It was here that we encountered the first areas that were burned by wildfires. They were generally huge blackened fields, but paled in comparison to the burned out forests farther north along the JBR. I snapped some pics along the way. With every corner along that route the sky would darken further, cloud dropping lower. Just when it seemed that the heavens would open up, we were past the storm with only a few random drops. We stopped for some pictures and proceeded toward Matagami, passing an old woman that had been pulled over by a police officer. Bad luck for her I guess, since those were probably the only two cars around for twenty miles.







We stopped for lunch at a restaurant/pub in Matagami. Scott, Doug, and Jeff all had poutin, a dish of French fries covered in gravy and cheese curd. I’d had poutin before, so I looked for something that I couldn’t identify on the menu. That something was the “Michigan Burger Hot”. I’d no idea what that was. It didn’t even make sense to me- it was just three random words placed next to each other. I hadn’t seen something like that since elementary school, where you were supposed to circle the correct answer. But there was no question this time. So I ordered it. I thought for sure I was going to regret it when the waitress brought it out. It was a cheeseburger, loaded with all the fixins, smothered in some sort of Manwich-type meat gravy, with a side of fries. Usually, something like that after a night of drinking will keep you sitting on the toilet the whole day. Not exactly the thing you’d want to have happen to you while on a lengthy motorcycle ride in the middle of bear country. Well, this time I was determined to show my gut who was boss, so I piled as much of it as I could right on top of all that nasty beer I had drank the night before. We finished our meal, gassed up, and took a picture at the sign which signals the start of the JBR on our way out of town.
*Again, Ted is a man’s man. Just looking at that dish made me queasy, and I wasn’t even hung over. He packed it in without ceremony while I laughed at what I was sure would be an awesome afternoon of frequent stops while Ted wrestled with his kickstand, ran into the ditch, and tried to get his new BMW riding pants off before his roadside assault began. My hopes were dashed though, because Ted tamed that Michigan Hot Burger or whatever it was called. Bravo sir, well done.



A nice looking hotel/restaurant we didn't eat at because they were closed at lunch. The look on the receptionist's face said that we should have known they don't do lunches, ever. We ate at the place just past the grocery store



Doug, Ted and Scott at The Sign.

At km 6, just outside of Matagami, there is an office that everyone traversing the JBR must check into. They take down your names, plate numbers, your intended destination, and the estimated length of your stay. That way, they can go looking for you if you come up missing or overdue, as has been known to happen from time to time.





The woman at the office asked if we were interested in a tour of the hydro-power facilities. We said we were, so she called up to Radisson to see when they could arrange for an English-speaking tour. The Hydro-Quebec representative said it was possible to arrange one, as long as we checked in at Radisson before noon the next day. We booked the tour, and were soon on our way north. It wasn’t long before we ran into the first oddity that the JBR offers.

Along the JBR, you’ll occasionally see yellow road signs with a black horizontal zig-zag, like Charlie Brown’s shirt. This, it turns out, means that the road ahead is screwed up, and you need to be alert. Then, after the Charlie Brown sign, bumps and rough sections are rated like ski slopes, using small orange diamond signs on the roadside. One diamond means a small bump or dip, two diamonds means a larger dip or a section of bumps, and three diamonds means to avoid that section of road, if you can. Each lane is rated independently going both ways. The frost, forest fires, and trucks raise hell with the road, and it’s just plain cheaper for Hydro-Quebec to put up road signs than it is to replace or re-pave sections of road.

The terrain on the JBR is fairly boring- small jack pine and spruce being the majority of the trees there, with hardy, scraggly underbrush and tundra moss covering every inch of the ground where there’s not water or a tree. Makes for one hell of a tinder box when it’s dry, and forest fires are both frequent and severe there. Hydro-Quebec doesn’t fight the forest fires unless they are threatening equipment or directly threatening people’s lives. As a result, there were vast swaths of black, charred nothingness and patches of forest in all different stages of growth as far as the eye could see along the JBR. *This made a big impression on me, which only increased later when I read that it can take 30 years for the trees to re-grow. The level of destruction that must go on during a forest fire up there is colossal.



Besides trees, there are blue and white question mark signs here and there along the side of the road. We finally stopped at one about 80 miles in. It pointed up a nearby hill. We could see a large placard at the top, so we figured we’d go see what it was about. After a short hike, we were treated to an awesome view down into the valley. Also, JBR point of interest placards, we discovered, were only written in French and Cree. From what I could tell, this particular one was just some weepy poem written by someone who became entirely too emotional over a sunrise they saw. That, or it was a dissertation on how awesome fire trucks are by an anonymous four year old. (I can understand French, but can’t read it too well…). The view was totally worth the hike, but we found out the placards themselves were a huge waste of time, as none of us could fully understand what they said. We wouldn’t stop at another for the rest of the ride.
Much has been made about the Rupert River being diverted near its source, upstream from the JBR. I even remember some Stromtroopers wanted to get up there before the diversion happened last winter. What we saw was a rushing, raging set of rapids which were impressive to say the least. Evidently, this is nothing compared to the full power of the Rupert before it was diluted by Hydro-Quebec. When we told the woman working at the km 6 stop that we would take a look at it, she scoffed and told us how it wasn't very powerful anymore. So, in sum, the river is still there, you'll still die trying to get through in a boat or kayak. But apparently they have diverted some of its power to a resevoir somewhere.



View from the top of a hill, wilderness in all directions.



An example of the interpretive signs.



Ted hamming it up in front of my bike.



The Road.



Rupert River Rapids, still very impressive.



Looking back at the Rupert River Bridge

We reached the gas station at the km 381 checkpoint late in the afternoon. The km 381 checkpoint consists of a one-pump gas station, a cafeteria, and facilities to house the employees that work there. We pulled up to the pump, where there was a sign posted that read “wait for the gas boy”. Well, we saw a “back in 15 minutes” sign tacked to the little shack that the gas boy uses as an office, so we dismounted and sat around waiting. We were chatting in front of the office with our bikes parked in front of the pump when the gas boy, a gentleman probably in his sixties, walked past us and into the office. We assumed he knew that we needed gas, and would be right back out. We assumed wrong. The gas boy waited until we went into his office and told him we needed to fill up. He then rolled his eyes, sighed impatiently, and moseyed out to the pump. That gas pump was no joke. My bike has a 9 gallon fuel tank, and it took about 4 seconds to top it off. We thanked the gas boy by leaving his tip jar empty, and were on our way again.



We made it to the Eastmain River, around km 395, and decided to set up camp at the Eastmain campsite. Three kilometers of gravel trail later, Doug was calling Scott an asshole, and we were laughing at him. We set up camp next to a Francophone family who were pulling a couple of small campers. There was also a nice outhouse there, which smelled of sweet coconuts. Our group was determined to change that. Fueled by hangovers and grease, the four of us relentlessly tag-teamed that outhouse. We had absolutely no effect. The old man who was camping next to us went in while the iron was still hot, and he did it with a smile on his face. I’ll say this: Canada is light years ahead of the US in outhouse air freshener technology. After setting up the stove and eating some dehydrated chili-mac, we took a hike down a trail to see the underside of the bridge we would traverse in the morning. The bridge was about 200 feet off the river, and it used a large steel arch to span the distance of what looked to be a little shy of a ¼ mile. The supports were very impressive from that angle. We had traveled about 430 miles by the end of the day, and we sacked out early. I developed another, more sober and less painful plan for a pillow- I would stuff my tent bag with extra clothes. It worked a hell of a lot better than my zipper-laden jacket.
*For whatever stupid reason I polished off the last liter can of 10.1 Labatts. I slept well. On this night it was noticeably bright until well into the evening with twilight lasting for hours. A colder night and less darkness were our first real indicators that we were already about 750 miles north of home. The stars were amazing, and it was a great night for camping.



Our campsite at the Eastmain River. We just took over half of the parking lot area.



The Eastmain River Bridge the next morning. There is a nice little observation deck where I stood to take the picture.

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Old 12-01-2010, 07:32 PM
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Default Day 3- We made it: Radisson and the Run to the James Bay

Day 3:




The view east from atop the Eastmain River Bridge. It was a fine morning, but clouded up later on.


We were up at 0500, and discovered that something had raided our campsite. There was trash and mutilated granola bags strewn everywhere. We decided that it was a bear that did it, because that sounded twice as manly than the more likely raccoon, and bears make for a better camping story. We fried up some hash on the portable stove, and were out of the campsite by 0800. *The little black flies finally showed themselves that morning. As soon as the temperature was above 45 degrees (F) they were all over, which happened after breakfast. As long as you kept moving they weren’t more than an inconvenience. If you stopped to look around for gear to pack up though, they swarmed and became a real pain. I had prepared for this my buying a little mesh net to fit over my hat, and like a dope I didn’t even think to use it. In fact, I didn’t even touch it the whole trip. We were glad to get moving that morning. The end of the road was close! We were about 50 miles out of Radisson, when I saw a sign on the side of the road of a guy carrying a canoe on his head. That started my mind wandering on a fairly bizarre tangent: “What the hell kind of sign is that? How many people have been hit in that spot carrying canoes, and how many canoe/car accidents does it take to warrant a “canoe crossing” sign posting? How many people carrying canoes on their heads need to get run down before they stop using this spot…” It was then I noticed Scott was turning in to a rest area, and I was still going 70 mph. A bit of the brake snatched me back into reality, and I turned in right on Scott’s heels. We had just gotten off the bikes when two guys on proper adventure bikes rode by, loaded down with all kinds of gear. Jeff and I started discussing about how those guys probably knew what they were doing when they pulled in. They had turned around to chat with us. The first words out of their mouths were “who owns the beemer?” kind of a ridiculous question, as my jacket has BMW emblems on both shoulders, and says BMW on my back and on my pockets. But I answered up, and they complimented me on my choice of equipment. They were older gentlemen- retired air force tanker pilots from New Jersey. They were on Kawasaki KLR 650’s: single-cylinder, street-legal dirtbikes, and they were loaded down with 5.5 gallon jerry cans, GPS units, extra-big bolt-on luggage, and mondo suspension setups. Everything was bolted, welded, and then bungied on for good measure. One of the guys had run the Dalton Road up to Dead Horse, Alaska (made famous by that “ Ice Road Truckers” show) on a motorcycle, and was one of the first guys to take a motorcycle on some logging road in Labrador after it opened to the public, during the winter, when it was -60 F. *He even had little lettered stickers that said Trans-Labrador Highway, February something of 2005 or 2006 maybe. We were all thoroughly impressed with both their gear and their credentials, and that one of them was riding with a busted shoulder. They had been attempting to negotiate the Trans-Taiga Road, a 500 or so mile gravel trail winding east of Radisson that Hydro-Quebec uses to access their upstream generation facilities. If you get to the end of that road, you’d be the furthest away from civilization in North America or something. Well, they had made it 20 or so miles before the one guy wiped out attempting to avoid a broke down car in the road. He took a header off the bike and jacked up his shoulder. They stopped back into Radisson to have it looked at, and were heading south to take The North Road- a 400 mile gravel logging road that connects back into civilization east of Matagami- in order to salvage their trip. He would ride the rest of the way with one arm, not using the clutch on his bike to shift. It was then that the money line came. He said that he didn’t care about his clutch or transmission- they chose the KLR 650s because, “they were cheap and disposable- like that V-Strom over there.” The Suzuki V-Strom, of course, is Jeff’s bike, and it’s his baby. Its been awesome for him, its done everything he’s asked it to do, and its been a reliable friend. And now we had guys, who are essentially pros giving tips to the peewee team, congratulating Jeff for doing the smart thing- buying a cheap, disposable, throw-away bike. That was all the validation Scott and I needed to relentlessly break Jeff’s balls every time we stopped (“What are you doing parking here? The dumpster is over there”, etc.) Hell, it was practically chiseled into the ten commandments after that. Doug would get digs in here and there as well, but was generally nice about it. *My world pretty much dissolved into a harrowing nightmare of trash-related jokes. All the value arguments in the world couldn’t repair the damage that guy threw my way. Now that I think about it I don’t like the way Ted just wrote “The Suzuki V-Strom, of course, is Jeff’s bike…“ What’s up with that Ted? Why do you assume it's mine? And why did I have to go through and capitalize V-Strom for you throughout this whole report? The two guys wished us luck, said we were only 50 or so miles from Radisson, and went on their way. We got into Radisson around 1030.

We were told at the Auberge Radisson (our hotel) that we had to wait a bit for our hotel rooms to be ready, so we headed out to the diner to get some breakfast. The diner menu was in both French and English, save for one item- creton. I had never heard of creton before, and there was no English description for it, so I ordered the only meal that it came with. When my meal came out, there was a little dixie cup full of some sort of cold meat paste on the side. Creton. It tasted a bit like chicken salad, and it was dynamite on toast. I was hooked, and didn’t really care what it was made of. We checked in the hotel, and decided to lounge about for a few hours before heading out to the bay. Doug and Scott went to the Hydro-Quebec office (which was attached to the hotel) to see about the English tour. They could set it up for 0800 the next morning. It would take roughly four hours. We discussed it, and it was a unanimous “screw that” answer. We could cover a lot of miles south in those four hours. The Hydro-Quebec guys said that they could instead fit in an hour long mini-tour for us right then, if we were interested. We accepted, and piled into a company van. Our tour guide was a law school student who had worked summers in Radisson the past few years for the extra cash. He took us around to a transforming station, and took us to see the massive dam and spillway. The dam is made entirely out of natural materials- the rocks, soil, and lumber they had to move to make the spillway. It was pretty impressive. *It was really impressive. The scale of work that was done up there was massive, and the company really pushes the tours-they want you to see it all. The entire complex is a series of dams and flooded valleys that extend for many miles and power a large portion of Quebec. I remember reading somewhere that the square mileage of all the bodies of water dammed up and diverted by the Hydro-Quebec plants was equal to the size of Texas. So yeah, it was pretty impressive.



These babies were humming with current. The picture doesn't do it justice and this was just atop one of the LaGrande stations.



The view from the top of the spillway. They call it the giant's steps.



The spillway. Each step is 30 feet tall, for a total drop in height of 300 feet. Just behind the spillway is a dammed up lake, which extends to the right and back around where we were standing. The lake is held back by a manmade berm.



Scott, Ted, Me, and Doug. The berm is the entire area to the right of the spillway, hopefully that gives you an ideas of its scale. You can see maybe a fifth of it.


After our tour was over, we were heading back to our rooms when we met Frank and Joe, two brothers from somewhere in the Province of Ontario. One of them was on a V-Strom like Jeff’s, and the other was on a KLR, like the air force guys. Both were “disposable” bikes, according to the earlier criteria set by the pros. I let them know that. We invited them to go with us to the bay, they accepted, and we set off shortly thereafter. To get to the James Bay, we had to drive south about 10 miles, then head west about 60 miles to the Cree town of Chisasibi. *The Hydro-Quebec office gave us a photocopied, hand drawn map that was worthless. It labeled Chisasibi as like 50 kilometers away. If you go there and they give it to you, throw it in the trash, right in front of them. Once there, we went past the town on a very poorly maintained dirt road for a while, and then turned left, on to an even more neglected dirt road. The road had the texture of corduroy, like if a heavy tracked vehicle had driven on it and left indentations. It was terrible on my bike, and my bike was built for that kind of road. The goldwings had absolutely no business being on a road like that, but Scott didn’t give a damn, and Doug had either ceased to give a damn, or didn’t want to be left behind. *The only non-corduroy was right down the middle. Unfortunately it was dusty sand which more often than not was tugging the wheels in opposite directions. Not fun. We became somewhat lost, as we didn’t figure the dirt road to the bay would be that long. Scott flagged down a 4WD truck going the opposite way and asked where the bay was. Inside the truck was an old Cree couple. They conversed in Cree for a second, then the woman said to keep going straight for a mile or two. We were close. Scott thanked them, and promptly took a right turn. It was classic. Scott would later admit to not understanding a word of what she said, but he nodded his head courteously and thanked them as if he did. We ended up at a ferry that was taking Cree people across a river to Fort Georges Island. There was a yearly pow-wow happening, and all the people from the Cree nation were gathering there. We briefly consulted a friendly man in his truck who (somehow) figured we were lost, and he told us how to get to the bay. The old woman was right.

Crazy fact about the Cree people- they mostly only speak Cree and English, because, like US tribal nations, they deal extensively with the federal government, not the provincial government. The Canadian federal government uses English, so there’s no need for the Cree to learn French. The younger Cree, like the guy in the truck and the little girl who would later pump my gas, spoke English with an American accent. There were no “ehs” at the end of sentences, and they didn’t pronounce “ou” sounds like “oo”. It was crazy. We finally got to the bay a short while later. It was pretty, but it smelled like Norfolk harbor, and the mosquitos were atrocious. Jeff got into a soft patch of gravel while parking his bike, and it went out from under him. We calmly reminded Jeff not to litter, and that it was bad to leave trash on the beach. He picked his bike back up, and parked it on level ground. We walked down the treacherously loose gravel slope to the water. The tide was low, leaving numerous rowboats beached way up the slope. We took pictures, shook hands, and stood in the water.



The ferry. Scott asked me if this was far enough, I told him this wasn't James Bay, this was a river and we didn't come all this way to see a river.



My parking job. It's a great photo of my homemade pvc tool case. Bay behind it.



Doug and Ted. We made it!



Doug, myself, and Scott. Team Peewee.



My boots in the Arctic.



Joe brought his KLR right down into the water for a good photo opportunity.

One thousand and change miles north of home, we were standing in the Arctic Ocean. Joe rode his bike down to the water, and put the front tire in. Pictures were snapped. After, he roosted his way out of the mud and water, and thumped up the slimy slope. We then hustled back to Radisson in order to make our 2000h dinner reservations.

The restaurant at the Auberge Radisson is pretty fancy. I had caribou pate for an appetizer, some fancy mushroom and grilled chicken pasta meal that I can’t remember the official name for as the main course, and an awesome napoleon pastry for dessert, just because it came as a three course meal. We toasted to our general awesomeness with Frank and Joe, and said goodnight. After that, we sacked out- this time in beds. *The food there really was fantastic. The rooms…boring and plain. I had trouble sleeping even though we were dog tired. Ted was snoring and I was keyed up about dropping the bike. The bike was only scratched up, but it was a stupid drop, the kind of mistake you make at the end of a long ride when your brain isn’t thinking but just going through the motions. Who grabs their front brake on a down hill turn in gravel going less than a mile per hour? This guy. I went to sleep thinking about what I should have done instead of making my baby take a dirt nap.


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Last edited by TallJeff; 12-01-2010 at 08:57 PM.
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  #8  
Old 12-06-2010, 07:37 PM
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Default Day 4: Down and Out of the JBR

Day 4:

We were all up around 0800. It was raining hard outside, so we went down to get some breakfast. I scanned the menu for a meal that came with the mystifyingly delicious unidentified meat paste, creton. I was a junkie, and I needed my fix. Unfortunately, it was only to be found on a meal called “The Builder”, which seemed obnoxiously huge. Most of the meals were in the $6-$8 range. “The Builder” was $12. There was nothing in between. I figured the creton was worth it. When it came out, the waitress had to clear the condiments off of the middle of the table, then she had to push the other plates back, just to make enough room to set my plate down. “The Builder” was a sampling of everything they had cooked back in the kitchen that morning, placed on one of those huge platters that bus boys clear tables with. It was beyond ridiculous. The Francophone waitress and maitre’d both laughed and sneered smugly at the idiot American who dared challenge “The Builder”, and I admit that they were justified in doing so. I utterly failed to make a dent in it. *He did finish the creton though. I laugh out loud every time I read this, not because of Ted’s embellishment of the story but because his description is so spot on. Not only was that the biggest breakfast I’d every seen, it might have been the biggest meal. The waitress and maitre’d began the laughter, but Doug, Scott, and I continued it as we watched Ted struggle with “The Builder.” Honestly he wouldn’t have even finished a normal size breakfast. They could have easily re-served everything he didn’t eat and called it The Sampler, $8. Ted’s manliness took a severe, embarrassing hit, from which I decided he could not recover unless he killed a bear with his hands.

We were on the road by 0930, southbound and down. The rain had lifted, and we were making time. We saw a pack of coyotes lounging in the road not far from Radisson, but other than that nothing notable happened. It spattered rain on us here and there, but never for more than a few seconds at a time.



We ate at the cafeteria at km 381, and made it to Amos by 2030, roughly 500 miles. We followed signs to the Municipality of Amos Campsite, after taking the requisite picture of me in front of the Amos sign for Gramp.



We were a bit disappointed to find that the “Municipality of Amos Campsite” was code-speak for some sort of private rod and reel or ski club, and in fact held no campsites whatsoever. So we went back into town, following the “hotel” signs, and ended up at a place called “Amosphere”. *Get it? Like atmosphere but without the t, so it sounds like…never mind. The clerk there spoke English, which was great, because she was able to clearly tell us that they were booked solid, and if we didn’t have reservations, she couldn’t help us out. She did, however, call and make reservations for us to stay at a joint called “Eskerge” down the road, and even gave us a map to get there. We arrived at Eskerge at around 2045. *We were at the point in the trip where we had covered a lot of miles and hadn’t eaten in a while. We all just wanted to throw down our gear and sack out. The day had gone by in alternating shades of gray cloud, finally breaking into clearer sky as we gassed up in Matagami. I was about comatose at lunch and the afternoon leg tested my mental endurance. It was tough to concentrate and I just plain didn’t want to anymore. Bedtime was moments away…



A gray lake under a gray sky. Typical weather that we encountered.



Dark grey weather rolling in over a lake near the JBR. Believe it or not we didn't get rained on in this area.

The people who were waiting behind us at Amosphere had beaten us to the Eskerge, and were in the process of checking in already. We shared a good laugh with them. The laughing stopped, however, when we found out the lady behind the check-in counter was a total moron. She couldn’t seem to figure out how to charge a credit card on a room reservation. It took her 20 minutes to get those people a room, 30 minutes to get Scott’s card on his reserved room, and then it was my turn. The check-in line was out the door at this point. She spoke as much English as I did French, which compounded her incompetence on their computer system. It was like the perfect storm of stupid, and it would prove to have devastating effects for the people in line behind me. The first hurdle that had to be cleared was that both rooms were reserved under Scott’s name. I had to change one of them to my name. Apparently, that’s not as simple as it sounds. Once that was done, I gave her my card. Then I gave her my billing address about six times. The seventh time she asked for it, I was out of patience. I reached over the counter, grabbed the first piece of paper that I felt, snatched it up, and wrote the billing address on it. She tried to enter the billing address in about 8 more times, while answering room service calls, and calling people on the phone for advice. Then she outright abandoned her post, leaving me standing at an empty counter, with a line of angry people behind me. When she finally came back, the phone had been ringing for about a minute straight, so she answered that. Then she went back to muttering to herself and typing my billing address into the wrong area. Her phone rang again, so she answered it, and went into the back room. Just then, another woman showed up. The new woman directed me to the other computer terminal. I threw my card at her, and the billing address I had written down. She didn’t even look at that. She pushed, and I’m not kidding, three keys on the computer, and the check-in was done. I think one of the keys she pushed was to turn the monitor on, even. We got into the room at 2215. It took 1 ½ hours to check into our hotel room. Jeff and I hadn’t eaten since km381 around noon, so we busted out some oatmeal and granola, and the flask of rum Jeff had smuggled past Sleepy, the watchful border guard. We passed out shortly thereafter. *Doug and I sat to the side on a comfortable leather couch, watching the entire thing play out. The line grew and grew, as did our amazement at the inept clerk. Off to our left there was a huge fish tank filled with many varieties of parakeets and other noisy birds. Odd. There was also a huge display of various beer bottles from all over the world, which I would have enjoyed perusing except that I wanted to punch someone, get arrested, and thrown in a Quebec jail because I would have gotten to sleep faster than bothering to endure Super Clerk’s display of stupidity.
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  #9  
Old 12-10-2010, 07:05 PM
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Default Day 5: Through the Wet Maze and Home

Day 5:

We were up at 0800. Checked the weather, and it wasn’t good. Rain clouds covered a good portion of the map along our route. Jeff and I skipped breakfast, in order to make fun of the Magnum, P.I. and Adam-12 episodes that were translated into French (we all have our priorities). We checked out at 0900, and were in Val D’Or by 1030. Jeff and I ate a sandwich and some chips while we gassed up, and we were off again, down the Trans-Canadian Hwy. We stopped around 1230 at a small roadside diner and gas station, ate lunch, then made more time south in an attempt to beat the rain. Our luck ran out about an hour later, near the town of Low. It rained pretty heavy on us all the way from Low until Ottawa; about an hour. We stopped under an overpass outside of Ottawa to wait out the rain. When it finally let up, we were off again, down through the ridiculous streets of downtown Ottawa. That’s when we caught the traffic.





Taking in the scenery.

There had been an accident on the 4-lane highway leaving Ottawa, in addition to it being around rush hour- about 1700. My motorcycle is air-cooled, meaning that you have to be moving air across the engine in order for it to control its temperature. If you run the engine and leave it on the kickstand, or, say, sit in stop-and-go traffic for a period of time, it will eventually overheat and damage itself. I had a fun time watching the temperature gauge creep up towards the red line. I started a procedure of getting the bike rolling, hitting the ignition kill switch and coasting to a stop with traffic. I’d then leave the engine off until traffic started rolling again. Then I’d repeat the procedure. That did the trick, and the temperature gauge hovered just below the red line before coming down. We made great time after Ottawa, but ended up taking a wrong turn near the border, crossing back into the US at Ogdensburg instead of 1000 Islands. *Poor Ted. Probably the only weakness of his bike (besides randomly losing its top case.) Again, Ottawa was designed by mentally deficient monkeys, which made it so hard to get through in the rain. After we stopped under the bridge Scott made me lead through the city again, which was difficult enough when you’re trying to avoid tractor trailers, irate Canuck drivers and near-suicidal pedestrians. However, add in the steady rain and you get a foggy visor. I had to flip up my visor just high enough to permit some air flow, but low enough to keep the rain out of my eyes. Plus since we were constantly changing speeds, stopping in traffic, and the intensity of the rain kept changing, the visor needed constant adjusting as I piloted my fully loaded bike through heavy congestion. The temperature had also risen to the point where rain soaked the outside of our suits, and sweat soaked the inside. There wasn’t a single waterproof boot among us and very quickly they all succumbed to the deluge of warm water. It was not a pleasant memory of Canada’s capitol. At least the weather passed as we finally crept onto the highway out of Ottawa. The warm “southern” air helped to dry out anything that wasn’t completely soaked, although I was damp for the rest of the ride.
The bridge over the St. Lawrence River at Ogdensburg is a steel grate bridge, which causes motorcycles to wobble uncontrollably as the tires try to stay in a groove. In addition, the grates were wet from rain, making them slick. During the downhill section of the bridge, some genius decided to not only change the grate pattern, but put up a stoplight, and force traffic down to one lane. My ABS was chattering as I tried to slow down, tires slipping a bit on the grate. The light turned green before we stopped fully, and traffic got moving. The border guards made us dismount our bikes this time and stand aside as they scanned them with an x-ray machine. After that, we were on our way towards Watertown, to hit I-81. *We talked later and apparently I was the only one with the guts to look straight down through the grating. In case you have never done this, the grate seems to disappear while the bike is moving and you feel like you are floating along with nothing beneath you. Probably over 100 feet down was the St. Lawrence rushing by. Magnificent.

We stopped for coffee and pie at a diner near I-81, just north of Watertown. The pies they had that day were apple and coconut cream. I hadn’t had coconut cream pie in years, so I ordered a slice to go with my coffee. It tasted exactly like how the outhouse smelled at the Eastmain River campsite. I was horrified, amazed, and thoroughly confused all at the same time. I tried to get Jeff, Scott, or Doug to try some to see if I was crazy, but it seems no matter how good an outhouse smells, telling someone to taste something because it reminds you of an outhouse is a huge turn-off. They abstained, and the pie went largely uneaten. *Damn right, I mean seriously Ted, who would have even tried that?

Jeff and Scott split off from Doug and I at the Pulaski exit, and we waved. Jeff and Scott were going to Camden, while Doug was bound for Rochester, and I was going to my parents’ place in Hannibal. It was getting dark at this point, and I was wearing a tinted visor- like wearing sunglasses at night. It’s not quite as cool as Corey Hart made it out to be in that song of his. There are no lights on the controls, and with a tinted visor, I couldn’t see anything that wasn’t lit by headlights. When it was time for me to split off from Doug at the Parish exit, I struggled to find the horn button on my handlebar controls. (I had only used the horn once since I bought the bike. I used it to bust Jeff’s balls at a rest stop earlier on the trip. It was daytime then, and I had to look to find the button). I flailed my left thumb looking for the horn, and ended up hitting the high beam flasher, then the electronic suspension adjuster, which put me in a different suspension setting. As my bike was adjusting its spring preload for the “sport” setting, I managed to find the left turn signal button. Sorry Doug, that’d have to do for a proper sendoff this time. I straightened out my suspension settings at the exit stop sign, located the horn button, and rode back to my parents’ house with the visor up.
*Scott and I exited I-81 and immediately missed our turn. I trusted Scott to guide us, thinking that since he has been around the area longer and he has satellite navigation, he could find an unknown-to-me side road to lead us back toward Camden. We ended up going down a side road that, without warning, turned into a mostly unkempt dirt road. We stopped and turned around, and as Scott pulled even with me, we laughed at our predicament, getting lost so close to home. “You don’t know the way from here, do you?“ “No, when you missed the turn I thought you knew where we were going!“ More laughter. We retraced our steps back to Pulaski, and then took the proper roads home. The James Bay lay 1000 miles to the north, left behind in a wonderful memory of two wheeled travel and adventure.
















The best part about the JBR- There's just nothing out there but nature and quiet. The end.
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  #10  
Old 12-19-2010, 01:16 PM
TallJeff's Avatar
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Default Day 127: An amazing discovery

I got an interesting text message from Ted, long after our trip was over and even after I had finished up posting our trip report and pictures. His first text was as follows:

Dude... got a letter yesterday from a guy in PA, said he found some sort of metal box with my pay stub inside it, and if I could call him and tell him what it was and where I lost it, he'd UPS it back to me for the cost of shipping. Just got off the phone with him- he tripped over my topcase while taking a piss in the woods off 476, and found my pay stub inside of it. It was in a wooded section. We probably walked past that f*cker twice.

I remember asking Ted what was in his topcase when he lost it on our preliminary trip (the first post of this report) and he replied that the only thing in there was his paystub. When I wrote him back that there was no way that coincidences like this happen, he sent another text that said when he called the guy:

...We were both giggling and carrying on like schoolgirls over how crazy it is.

I guess there's still good people out there.
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