Join Date: Jun 2009
Location: Central New York State
Day 3- We made it: Radisson and the Run to the James Bay
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.
07 Wee- Suz Centerstand, Crashbars, Motech Risers, H&B Topcase, Oxford Tankbag, Grip Puppies, OEM Handguards, Custom PVC Tube
Last edited by TallJeff; 12-01-2010 at 09:57 PM.