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James Bay is a motorcycle trip I've been wanting to do for a couple of years now, but for one reason or another, I've never been able to. However, about two weeks ago the opportunity presented itself, so I decided to go for it. With only about a week's notice, nobody else could get the time off to make the trip with me, so I was going to do another solo trip.

James Bay is the bottom portion of the Hudson Bay. It is considered to be the southernmost part of the Arctic Ocean. The only road access to the James Bay is by the James Bay Road in Quebec. This road was built to service the massive hydroelectric projects in the James Bay watershed. The road begins in Matagami and runs 620 km (385 mi) to Radisson, and is paved its entire length. Radisson is a small town built to service Hydro Quebec. There is one gas station the entire 385 miles, and that is at kilometer 381. This means that any vehicle traveling this road needs at least a 236 mile fuel range, though a comfortable margin is recommended due to the remote nature of this road, and the seemingly inexplicable reduced fuel economy often seen while traveling this road. The James Bay road itself is extremely remote and runs through the dense Canadian taiga forest. Besides the fuel stop at km 381 and a few Cree Indian villages several miles off of the road, there are no settlements along the road. Chisasibi is a Cree Indian community that is located where the La Grande river empties into James Bay, west of Radisson. It is the northernmost Cree village accessible by road.

My goals this trip were to make it to Radisson and Chisasibi, dip my tires into the James Bay (thus making the Arctic Ocean the third ocean my bike has been dipped in), and ride a bit of the Trans Taiga Road (more on this road later) if time permits.



I already had two 2-gallon Rotopax fuel containers that I was going to use for the Trans Taiga Road last year (but this ride never happened), so I was good on fuel for the road. I looked up the weather and saw that I should expect 30s and 40s the entire time I was there, so I packed my warmer sleeping bag, and a set of thermal underwear. I was also doing this trip on a very tight budget, so I packed all the food I was going to eat during the trip with me. Between cold weather gear, my camping gear, and all of the food, my boxes were stuffed. I HATE strapping gear to my bike, so I decided to leave my heated gear home to save space, plus the forecast wasn’t calling for any rain during the trip…


My bike packed and ready to go!

I had planned to leave Tuesday and be back Friday. Total trip distance was going to be about 2400 miles, which meant I had to travel an average of 600 miles per day. On most of my other trips, I usually average around 500-600 miles per day, so this sounded like a very doable plan. Leaving mid-September meant the possibility for some cold weather, but I wouldn’t have to deal with the black flies and mosquitoes!
 

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Day 1

On the afternoon of Monday September 8 I decided to leave for my trip early. I had the bike all packed up and I was just pacing around the house. My plan was to get up at 3am and out the door by 3:30am. However, I figured that if I just left in the afternoon on Monday I'd be able to get a few hundred miles in and then I wouldn't have to wake up early the next day... Plus I'd be able to start my trip earlier!

So at 3:00pm I hopped on my bike... and the first thing I realized was that with the CamelBak bladder in place, my back hit against the fuel tanks strapped behind me. A minor annoyance for a short trip, but for a longer trip, that would end up being miserable. I honestly didn't need an extra 4.5 gallons (I always keep two 1/4 gallon fuel bottles with me just in case), so I just took off one of the two-gallon containers and headed out. With an extra 2.5 gallons plus the 4.5 gal fuel tank, I had a total of 7 gallons of gas, which is 350 miles with my average of 50mpg. That's FAR more than adequate for this trip.

I slabbed the first 225 miles to Watertown without stopping, so no pictures, but I made great time! I stopped to get gas in a Tim Horton's.



I also checked the oil level and was pleased when I saw that I had not burnt any oil. I should back up here and mention that I just installed this new engine a couple of weeks ago. My old one burned a massive amount of oil and then seized up, so I was a bit nervous about this one, since it was still largely untested by me. I only had about 300 miles on it since installing it. So for it to travel over 200 miles of 70+ mph without a hiccup was comforting.

I then made it through customs into Canada without any hassles. I stopped at the duty free shop and exchanged $200 in cash for Canadian dollars. I got screwed on the exchange rate at the duty free shop, but I wasn't sure that any banks would be open this time of the evening, and I didn't want to waste time looking for them either. I ended up only losing out on about $10 over the official exchange rate anyhow, so not a big deal.



I wanted to make it past Ottawa that night so that I didn't have to deal with any rush hour traffic in the morning. I continued slabbing it until I hit a bump and one of my headlights went out. I pulled over and discovered it was an easy fix. One of the ground wires on my HID headlights came disconnected. I reconnected it and tightened up the bolt and all was good. I had a quick dinner out of my top box. Some trail mix and some beef strogonoff or some such crap out of a pouch...



Then I set off again to make time. I really wanted to stop by the Thousand Islands region just past the border. It was really beautiful there, but this day was only about making time, not stopping to see the sights... Besides what I really wanted to see still lay hundreds of miles north of me. I made it through Ottawa with no problems, and then traveled for about an hour past Ottawa until I found a place to pull off and get some sleep.


My home for the night.

Total mileage for the day: 398 miles

 

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Day 2

I didn't set an alarm and slept in until I was tired of sleeping, which was about 8am. I got up and made some breakfast.









I took my time and enjoyed breakfast and a few cups of coffee. I didn't get on the road until about 9:30am. I then rode pretty much straight to Matagami without taking very many pictures. The scenery wasn't really all that spectacular, and there wasn't much to any of the towns along the way, so I just kept riding.


One of the towns on the way to Matagami. I honestly can't remember which one this is.

Some of the scenery along the way



I stopped to make some lunch and get some water. I ended up spending about an hour and a half relaxing, eating, drinking, and watching part of a movie on my tablet. Life is good (but I wasn't making good time, that's for sure)!







 

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Hey, I've got this sticker too!


I brought along my water filter so that I didn't need to rely on stores to get water.



In Val-d'Or I stumbled upon this cool looking tunnel, so I pulled over and took a picture of it. Then I noticed that there was a bike path leading to it. I decided to ride through the tunnel... Turns out that was a mining tunnel! Whoops! I don't think it's still in use. I think it is just for tours now, but still not a place I should be taking my bike through! When I was pulling up to the entrance, I saw lights coming at me from the tunnel. A mine car and/or tour vehicle was coming out of the mine! I turned around and high tailed it out of here! lol



There was a LOT of construction today. I must have hit close to ten construction zones. In these construction zones, they would close one lane for many miles, and then have a lead construction vehicle take the line of vehicles from one end to the other, turn around and take traffic going the other direction through, and they moved at a mind-numbingly slow pace. So, as you can imagine, this was a major time-suck. It seemed to average about 20 minutes or so per construction zone, so that really added up throughout the day...





Between Val-d'Or and Matagami I pulled off onto a dirt road to have a bit to eat and take a leak. It turned out to be some fun riding, and there were tons of blueberries to pick. I ended up filling up with a large meal of blueberries!







Timing these shots is tough!


 

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Some scenery along the way







A cool little mushroom



Finally made it to Matagami!



The town was a bit smaller than I had imagined. The way the town was put together and the style of buildings kind of reminded me of the towns in Iceland a bit, but with a more industrial feel.







Matagami is where the James Bay Road starts. So in reality, this is where I wanted to get to, as this is where my vacation really started.



View of Matagami from the James Bay Road
 

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In order to get to the James Bay Road, you must stop at a security gate ran by Hydro Quebec at kilometer 6. You must sign in with your name and how long you plan to stay. They try and keep control of the vehicle traffic in and out in case you go missing (so they say). However, you can bypass this gate via the North Road, so either they also have a security gate on that road, or they kinda sorta keep track. Who knows.

While there at the security office, I also called Hydro Quebec to schedule a tour of the dam in Radisson. It was fairly late, around 6:00pm or so, so they were closed and I had to leave a message to schedule an English tour for the next day. I had no idea whether they'd actually schedule me one, but I'd find out once I got there.







It was a long way to anything, so it was a good thing I had plenty of gas!





The scenery along the way was beautiful. There were tons of lakes and rivers. This is interspersed with bogs and forest. The forest here is known as taiga and is dominated by tall spindly conifers. There were vast sections where forest fires had destroyed the taiga and it was either very barren, or the regrowth was just beginning and the trees were still very short. Apparently these forest fires happen with some regularity here.







It was really buggy, and I had to pull over a few times just to clean the bugs off of my visor.



 

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I don't think the video in this section turned out too well...



The road is all paved, and they maintain it fairly well. There were very few actual potholes, and those that were there were mostly well marked with cones. However, the road still sucked! There were tons of frost heaves, uneven (mostly filled) cracks in the road, and bumpy road repairs. This made for a very rough ride. However, I still flew through there! I was averaging about 90mph through most of it this night. Since this road is owned by Hydro Quebec, there is no police presence on the road monitoring speed. However, it was a lot of speeding way up, seeing a massive bump in the road, slowing way down, speeding back up again, and so on through the entire road.

I pulled over about a hundred miles from Matagami to refuel, as I'd rather not have to carry all the extra weight of the fuel up high on these bumpy roads if I didn't have to. First thing I realized was that the Rotopax safety spout sucks! In fact, I never could get it to work. I twisted the piece to the 'unlock' symbol, and all that happened was that fuel leaked out of the sides all over my gloves. I fiddled around with the stupid thing for a few more minutes, all the while spilling more and more fuel all over the place until I finally gave up and just poured it from the jug into the gas tank without the spout. I spilled a bit doing it this way, but it worked. The second thing I realized is that I was getting TERRIBLE gas mileage. I had only gone a hundred miles, so those two gallons should have topped me off. However, I couldn't even see the fuel level in the tank after putting those two gallons in. Hmmm... Good thing I brought way more fuel than I 'needed.'



It was starting to get dark at this point, so I started looking for a spot to camp. I was planning on just pulling off down one of the many dirt roads and camping anywhere that was close to a water source, so I could fill my CamelBak and get some water for cooking and coffee as well. However, at kilometer 189 I saw a sign for a campground. I pulled off down the dirt road that ended in a parking lot with a few picnic tables and fire rings. Perfect! There was nobody else there, so I had this campground all to myself!







Gathering firewood...


I made a fire and started drinking astronaut screwdrivers (Tang and vodka - packs very well on a bike!) and watching a movie on my tablet. However, I was very quickly pushed inside by the sudden unexpected rain. The forecast wasn't calling for any. It ended up raining heavily all night....

Total mileage for the day: 572 miles

 

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Nice pics. I hate tenting in the rain.
 

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Sounds like an awesome trip, can't wait to read the rest. Does Canada use ethanol in their gas? When I was riding down in North Carolina I found some pure gas and my gas mileage improved by about 4-5 mpg
 

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Day 3

I woke up to a soggy cold morning, but at least it had quit raining. The temperature in the morning was in the mid to high-thirties, at least according to the weather forecast. It certainly felt at least that cold… Here are a few better pictures of the campground:







There are several of these campgrounds along the James Bay. They include a picnic table and fire ring at each site plus an outhouse, and they’re absolutely free to camp at, though they do ask for an optional donation of $5. I was planning on just camping along the rode somewhere, so having picnic tables and a place to sit while shitting was great!

I stopped at the end of the campground dirt road to take a picture of the Quebec stop sign, when I noticed my right turn signal was out. As it turns out, my exhaust was tilted a bit and pointing at the turn signal, melting the housing. When I had reinstalled the engine, I hadn’t noticed that I had the exhaust on a bit crooked. At this point, the turn signal was ruined, so I didn’t bother repositioning the exhaust. This was something I would wait to do once I got home.





Some scenery along the way:





There were a couple of very small sections of dirt. I’m glad they had signs far in advance warning of something in the road ahead. I would have hated to hit this dirt section around a corner going 80-90mph!



At kilometer 257 is where the James Bay Road crosses the Rupert River. In 2009, a large portion of the river was diverted to Hydro Quebec’s other hydroelectric dam projects in order to increase water flow (and thus more powaaa!). About 70% of the river flow upstream was diverted, which left about 50% of the flow left at the rapids. Nevertheless, the Rupert River was VERY impressive. I’ve read several other ride reports and seen the pictures, and everybody says how impressive the rapids are, but the pictures never look all that impressive. And truly the pictures don’t do this river justice. It is an absolute impressive show of power, and is surprisingly loud. This is definitely a must-see if traveling along the James Bay Road.

On the bridge over the Rupert River



 

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A walking path leads to a viewing stairway. This obviously isn’t supposed to be for motorcycles, but nobody else was here, so I rode down.














Being mid-September, the temperatures were cold and the bugs weren’t bad, but even hanging around the Rupert River for a few minutes, and the mosquitoes started showing up in swarms. I couldn’t imagine how bad the bugs would be here during the heat of the summer…

It had started drying up by late morning. It was raining on and off all morning, and the roads were wet with lots of deep puddles, so the roads drying were a welcome sight.
 

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Some more pictures along the way:











Some Indian hunting cabins



Lots of creeks, rivers, bogs, and lakes along the way





Crossing the 52nd parallel



More scenery

 

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With the two extra gallons of gas I added to the tank yesterday, my low fuel light should have never come on at all by the time I hit the 381 fuel stop. My fuel light works by blinking when there is a gallon of fuel left. Then when there is only half a gallon left it goes to a solid light. I knew my fuel mileage was TERRIBLE when I got to the solid light and still had another twenty or so miles to go until the fuel stop. I wasn’t worried though because I still had a half gallon of fuel left in my two fuel bottles, but I was hoping to make it without having to resort to using those.

I made it to 381, the only fuel stop along the James Bay Road without having to use my fuel bottles. At the fuel stop is fuel (obviously), some motel rooms, and a cafeteria. The place really is a dump. The motel looks like crap, the gas is expensive, there are dogs running around, and there is piles of junk laying around everywhere… But they serve hot food and have warm beds, so it’s a rather happening place.







Helicopter landing



The bastard dog on the left seemed nice enough as it came running over wagging its tail and sniffing me. As soon as I put hand out (and right after this picture), the little shit gnashed its teeth at me and growled. I quickly hopped on my bike and left. The one on the right was very nice though.



Soon after leaving 381 my speedometer started acting funky. The speeds were all over the place. One minute it showed me going 0, then up to 299, and all in between. Then it settled on about 1/7 of my actual pace. This meant that I now didn’t have an odometer. My speedometer wasn’t a big deal because there weren’t any cops up here monitoring speed and I still had my GPS on my phone to use as a speedometer.



However, within probably ten miles of the speedometer taking a shit my GPS quit working. It wouldn’t follow the road, the measured speeds were obviously incorrect, and it would reset frequently. Great. No odometer and no speedometer now… Since the odometer was based off the incorrect speedometer, I could figure out the correction factor on the speedometer by comparing the kilometers on the odometer compared to the kilometer markers on the road. I eventually found out that if I multiplied the speed on the speedometer by 7.5 I was reasonably close to my actual speed.

So far there are three casualties of the trip
-Right turn signal
-Speedo/odo
-GPS
 

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Discussion Starter #16
More scenery:









Every 40-50 kilometers or so there were these emergency phones connected to large antennas.



At lunch time I rode down a dirt road into a camping area by a lake and made a leisurely lunch with some hot coffee.







 

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I also pumped some water from the lake. All of the water up here has a yellowish brownish color to it. I think it may be from all of the pine needles decaying in the water, but I’m not sure. It doesn’t look appetizing, but the water tastes great, so I’m not complaining!





More of my turn signal broke off in the meantime...



At kilometer 544 is the junction with the Trans Taiga Road. This is the most remote road in North America. It is 666 kilometers long and is unpaved its entire length. It only exists to service the remote Hydro Quebec projects. At the end of this remote road you are the furthest north by road you can be in eastern North America and also the farthest from a town by road anywhere in North America (745 km). This was the trip I actually had planned last year, which I had bought knobby tires for the SV, built a skid plate to protect the oil cooler from rocks, and mounted an extra 6.5 gallons of gas… But for a few different reasons, that trip never happened, and I didn't have the time, gas, or food to ride this road to the end this trip. However, I figured riding a few miles down the road wouldn't hurt!



Apparently somebody doesn't think too highly of the Mirage outfitters on the Trans Taiga road...



I was surprised how good the road surface was on this road. Despite only having sport touring tires I was able to maintain speeds of about 50 mph on the straights and slowed to around 40mph on the curves. Though, I only went down the road maybe 20 miles or so before turning around (fuel and time issues), so maybe this smooth surface didn’t continue the whole way.









 

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This was a VERY remote road. Between stopping for a bite to eat, taking pictures and videos, and riding, I was on this road for about an hour and a half, and I didn’t see a single vehicle going in either direction. Wow! I really wish I could have taken this road to the end. Though if I was going to ride 800 miles of gravel road, I would really like to have proper knobbies, not sport touring tires. Although they were working, it would sometimes get a bit squirrely, since these tires had almost no grip on a loose surface.





I also discovered that my left HID headlight had gone out. I assumed it was the ground wire again, so I pulled over and saw that it was indeed disconnected. However, when I went to reattach it, it sparked when it was grounded, and the headlights didn’t turn on. So, this was a b***** problem. I still had one working headlight, my two low-beam auxiliary lights, and a VERY bright high beam auxiliary light, so I wasn’t concerned enough to fix it.



From here I continued north to Radisson. Here are a few more remaining pictures along the way



The massive electrical station outside of town



The Radisson Airport. I was surprised at how big the plane was here. It wasn’t a large jet by any means, but I was picturing Cessnas as being all that landed here.





I finally made it into Radisson!



Gas here was expensive at $1.60 a liter, which is over $6 per gallon!

 

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This town had a very cold and industrial feel to it. There was a gas station, a couple of stores, a restaurant, a very small town park, which was really little more than a section of grass with a sign in the center, and then lots of dormitory housing, which I assumed was for the Hydro Quebec workers. It really was not a very inviting place, though the people there were friendly enough.













This was the cool sign in the center of the town park



A fox hanging around the edge of town



I was disappointed to find out there was no cell phone signal here. Before I left I bought a Canadian data plan through AT&T, and their data maps showed Radisson and Chisasibi as having 4G signal. There was nothing available here.

I took my pictures and rode around town. It was getting late and I already missed my time for the tour of the hydroelectric dam. I heard this was a great tour, but it said it took about 3.5 hours. I decided to skip the tour (though I’m not sure they’d even make time for me anyhow) and head to Chisasibi and then to James Bay.



 

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The road to Chisasibi was paved and in great condition, in fact much better than the James Bay Road.







It was about 50 miles to get to Chisasibi, and then about 10-15 miles past Chisasibi to get to the James Bay.

Chisasibi was a much larger town than I had expected. The sign at the edge of town had the population listed at 5,000. Chisasibi is a Cree Indian community. The community was relocated from Fort George Island in 1981, presumably due to fears of island erosion from the increased water flow on the La Grande River from the Hydro Quebec projects.

The town itself had a strange and depressing feel to it. Most roads in the town were still dirt, though it looked like they were in the middle of a project to pave a lot of the main streets in town. It was very dirty. There was trash everywhere, windows in the public buildings were broken and patched over, and dogs ran around all over town. The people were very friendly, but most of them looked sad.













 
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