The girl looks to be in her 20's. Dark hair, somewhat long... a bit curly. Glasses. Thin. Feel free to give her my website address; she may recognize me from the pictures.
Wait... where was I? Oh yeah... heading south on the JBR. Back to writing!
The girl looks to be in her 20's. Dark hair, somewhat long... a bit curly. Glasses. Thin. Feel free to give her my website address; she may recognize me from the pictures.
Wait... where was I? Oh yeah... heading south on the JBR. Back to writing!
Outstanding story Josh. I generally prefer pictures over text but this is great reading. I loved the killer salamander. I can't tell you the number of times I too have been scared (expletive) by small mammals outside my tent coming for me.
Keep it coming.
Was that one of those 30 Kg. Canadian ones?
Here is the first part of the next day. The second part will be posted shortly, as well. It was just getting a bit too long for one post. Sorry; only one photo, here.
Waking up to blaring 80's rock music before the sun is even up is not what you would expect when you're sleeping in Radisson. I had been sleeping with earplugs in, as I had been warned one of my roommates tended to snore. Still, they just couldn't keep out the high-volume cacophony pouring in through the window. I was still terribly exhausted, and somehow managed to fall back to sleep through the music. It added to the surrealness of the trip. I would occasionally wake up briefly and roll over; the CD must be on "repeat" because I had heard that same song last time I was awake... or had I only been asleep for a minute? Once, I glanced outside in a failed attempt to locate the source; possibly a truck parked back by a shed. There was no way to be sure, and I wasn't getting out of my sleeping bag. For the next few hours I slept fitfully as I continued to dream about riding and mechanical failures, all set to a soundtrack. Eventually the sun began coming up, the music stopped, and my roommates began to stir. I climbed out of the sleeping bag and began my daily ritual; rolling and packing the bag and my therm-a-rest. While the other guys showered, I went about fishing out some clean clothes to wear and re-packing my bike. My turn for the shower came and I happily jumped in - a very nice way to start out the day. I stepped outside, finished my last bit of packing, and spent a few minutes looking the bike over. No leaks, no obvious visible problems. I tried starting it up and as usual, the engine jumped to life and settled into a welcoming idle. While my four new friends were headed off to tour the hydroelectric facilities, I was on my way back south. I had made a decision while I was in the shower. I was going to do whatever it took to get off the James Bay Road, today. I was going to run south and find myself a nice hotel, with a REAL bed. Over a breakfast bar, I bid my friends a fond farewell before fueling up and hitting the road. According to the GPS I had about 600km to Matagami, and then another 184km to the first small town; Amos. 500 miles. The sky was blue with scattered clouds and although it was cool out, I wasn't shivering this time. I can do this. WE can do this. I double-clutched down as I made my turn onto the JBR and accelerated away. Every mile from here was a mile closer to home.
The road had smoothed out a bit near Radisson, so I knew keeping my speed up wouldn't be a problem. 110kph, 120kph, 130kph... 135kph, and then the bike stumbles. Merde. I was getting an idea of the problem; likely a timing issue. I could pull off the road and check the points, but that seemed ill-advised to me. Based on my luck, something would break or fall off, and there I would be, stranded on the JBR. I noticed things ran fine between 120 and 125kph. Not a problem; slow and steady wins the race. I have no problem keeping my speed down. Now I just have to worry about the transmission.
The miles rolled by, and it would have been downright enjoyable if not for the crushing fear of my transmission exploding into a thousand tiny pieces. I kept talking myself down. Remembering the guy who said he rode for days losing a gear at a time, only stopping to drain the metal shards and fluid out of his transmission across Africa until reaching a dealership. I'm on decent, clean pavement. I'll be fine. We'll be fine. A short distance and I found myself braking hard; almost missing the turn into KM381. Double clutching myself in. Only two more stops until reaching Amos - only two more times of shifting down and back up. I cruised back, gave the gas boy another $36, and was back on the road. Back to dodging huge cracks and dips in the road; back to looking out for wildlife, back to worrying about the bike. Stress coupled with very little sleep had me on a short fuse. Any unusual feel or sound had my heart in my throat. My blood pressure must have been terribly high.
As I continued on, the sky remained mostly clear. It was still cold, but I was comfortable just running the heated grips for my mesh-gloved hand. I noticed traffic was a bit heavier now; I'd see another vehicle every 30 minutes or so; mostly trucks pulling trailers or boats. Having lost all track of what day it was, it took me a few minutes to figure out that it was now Thursday; maybe people are heading up for a long weekend of fishing and camping.
200 miles down the road my bike stumbled again; this time it was just me going onto reserve. Stress. I hated the thought of shifting down and stopping with nobody around - but I had no choice. I slowed and came to a stop in the gravel at the top of a small hill and hopped off to stretch out a bit. A truck blasted by and the driver waved as I removed the gas can and gave him a "thumbs up"; all was well. I spent about 10 minutes filling the bike, draining myself, and taking a photo or two before getting back moving. It was again a quiet stop as no other traffic passed me by. Such a beautiful day; what a difference the weather can make.
Back on the road; across the tundra towards the promised land. Shifting through the gears, settling into a nice cruise until more engine stumbling. It seems my throttle hand has a mind of it's own and wants to get out of here even more than the rest of me does. I slow down and ride on, and on, and on. I keep checking the GPS and watch the kilometers tick away until Matagami appears on the tiny screen. My spirits get a bit higher. I cross the Waswanipi river and past the sign for Matagami Lake campground. I smile... now only 35km and I'm off the JBR, into Matagami, and within 180km of Amos. Two more hours, and I'm there. We're going to do this. I pull into the security checkpoint at the start of the JBR and walk in, happy to tell them I'm off the road. Riding into Matagami I fuel up the bike, grab more gas station food, and sit outside on a picnic table to enjoy the warm sun shining on me as I refuel myself. I'd come a long way in the past few days. Last time I was here I had just been hailed on, the sky was still overcast, and I was being assaulted by black flies. What a change. Again, back on the bike, out of town, and onto remote Highway 109. Blasting down the road, through the trees, past the spot where hail had delayed my forward progress. Past a slower moving car; past the entrances to mining and logging operations. In good weather, this road was downright boring.
Approaching a sharp turn to the west, I remembered turning here and heading north; outrunning the storm. I half expected to round the bend and see the same storm waiting for my return. I was, of course, pleasantly surprised to see more blue skies dotted with clouds. My shadow stretched out in front of me as continued on, my stress level rapidly falling.
Rolling through Amos, QC and stopping for more fuel, it was now around 3:30pm. Even with my stop at KM381, my stop on the side of the road to fuel up, and my 30 minute stop in Matagami for lunch, I was still averaging 61mph. Not bad, at all. I pulled out the paper map and started looking for a place to stay. My Canadian friends had mentioned there would be hotels in the town of Rouyn-Noranda; less than 90 minutes away as estimated by my GPS. I was feeling pretty good at being somewhat back in civilization. I could be in a hotel by 5:00pm and relax from there. I went to the GPS and started looking for hotels; there were several "brand-name" hotels in Rouyn-Noranda, and then the next closest was back in Timmins. I surely wasn't going to head back there. The next days ride would be about 330 miles from Rouyn-Noranda; a short day, for this trip.
Low posted speed limits and high riding speed brought me into Rouyn-Noranda in about an hour. This was indeed a bustling town compared to what I was used to, and I found myself growing quickly annoyed with stoplights and traffic. Am I actually missing the James Bay Road? Sitting in traffic I get a wild idea and start hitting buttons on the GPS. It's not quite 5pm, and I'm feeling strong. Possibly more than that, I have an overwhelming urge to get out of French-speaking Quebec and back into the safe feeling of Ontario. I'm already close to the border of Ontario; I can make it! I start my search for hotels a little further on, but find there is nothing very close aside from some strange "no name" types of places. I'm not risking that. Looking between the paper map in my tankbag and the GPS screen, I click the GPS cursor on North Bay, ON (a large dot on my map) and have it calculate the distance. Quick calculations in my head show me it's less than 200 miles away; only one tank of gas. I figure I can make it there in about 3 hours or so and be to a hotel by 8:00pm; it won't even be dark, yet. I ask the bike how it feels about that by twisting the throttle, and it responds by shooting off like a bullet.
I'm feeling stronger than ever as we blast through the countryside. Swifter than eagles! Stronger than lions! The R80 buzzes beneath me as I keep the speed just below that magic number. Singing in my helmet as the miles race by. I'm back! Unstoppable! Helge Pederson doesn't have a thing on me!!!! I AM adventure! It's quite possible I was becoming a bit punch drunk from all the riding I was doing, but my spirits were soaring. Suddenly, several hundred feet ahead of me, some black mass runs across the road. It takes a few moments for me to register that it was a black bear. How can something so big and heavy move so fast?? Less than a quarter mile down the road I see another one, standing in some tall grass only about 20 feet off the road in someones yard. It was rather massive and looked like it had something pinned down in the grass. Hopefully it wasn't a person. They are a lot less friendly looking in real life than they are on TV. I decided it would be best for me NOT to stop.
Rolling down more back roads and through numerous small towns, I finally see another welcome sign letting me know I was crossing into Ontario. I pumped my fist in the air, patted the tank on the R80 and smiled. My enjoyment was quickly broke when the engine stumbled again just a few minutes later. I was only going 120kph. The problem was getting worse; had I made a mistake in trying to reach North Bay? I readjusted my speed to no more than 110kph. I was still well over the speed limit, and I really didn't need to get pulled over by the Ontario police. Passing through New Liskeard, I realized it was about time for my last fuel stop as I went on reserve. I continued to put it off until I turned south on Highway 11, at which point there were no more gas stations. That was stupid. I didn't feel like turning back, so I threw caution to the wind and rode on for a few miles before seeing a gas station and restaurant in the center of a large gravel lot just past the hamlet of Coleman. This would have to do.
Pulling in, a woman came running across to the pumps from the restaurant. There was still an hour left in their schedule, but she had already turned the pumps off. Lucky for me she happily ran inside to turn everything back on, as well as offer me a free can of soda with my fill up. Nice! We made small talk as I removed my tank bag and started to fuel up the bike. Hearing I had been in Radisson she asked me "Did you meet those two guys from Louisiana, up there? They were riding BMW's, too!" My jaw nearly shattered as it fell to the ground. What a small world we live in. With all the gas stations in all of Ontario that I could have stopped at, I stopped at the same one my two new friends had stopped at just a few days ago. Amazing! I told her I had indeed met them, and went into the story of them saving me from sleeping in the parking lot. We both agreed that they were great guys. I was now an hour and a half from North Bay. We would make it. As always, my friend fired right up and we turned back towards North Bay.
I had covered a lot of miles today, and I was starting to hit a wall. I was getting a little stiff, and that overall lack of sleep was wearing on me. I should have drank something with caffeine in it back at the station. I keep stretching and moving around to keep the blood flowing. Highway 11 is a rather easy ride as it passes by some scenic areas lakes and rivers. Traffic was not too bad for Thursday evening, though I kept getting lined up behind cars; something I wasn't used to. I had become more leery of passing with my speed limitations in place. I was also becoming more worried about wildlife jumping in front of me as dusk set in. As it turns out, it was not wildlife that would be my problem. Cruising along, I suddenly caught something come flying towards me, hit the road, and explode into many pieces. I made an evasive maneuver to the right; just making it past the pile of debris. In that split second I realized what had just happened. The car ahead of me had decided to jettison their bag of McDonalds. I was more than a little upset. I honked and flashed my light. A short distance away, the road widened to include a passing lane, and I jumped on the throttle and ran up next to the car who's occupant was now hunched down in her seat, refusing to look over. Two young girls. Though still angry at their attempt to wreck me, I realized they were likely just littering, and didn't notice the motorcycle behind them. At least, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. It didn't look like they were going to do that again any time soon. They had likely already been scared enough. I finished my pass and continued on towards North Bay.
Finally, into North Bay, and I was all smiles. The sun had dropped low on the horizon, and the sky was a beautiful shade of red-orange. I hadn't decided on a specific hotel, but sitting at a stoplight I saw everything I needed; on one corner a Travelodge, on another a Mexican restaurant. I moved into the turn lane, and then made my way into the hotel parking lot. Pulling up under the front entrance I kicked down the side stand and nearly hugged my bike. We had done it. I hopped off and grabbed a room - fortunately they were NOT booked solid. The receptionist was extra friendly and gave me a room on the ground level with a sliding glass door so I could carry my gear in easily. I moved the bike and parked directly outside of my room - spending the next few minutes removing and carrying gear in. Once completed, I set about taking care of the last bit of business at hand. I called and checked in with my family to let them know where I was. I called a BMW mechanic who agreed my points were probably causing my stumbling, and gave me some things to check on the transmission. I'd save that stuff for tomorrow. I looked at the GPS and saw how far I had come. 752 miles over 14 hours and 10 minutes. 53mph average when you include all the stops. My new longest day of riding. Not bad. I shaved down my next day to a mere 200 miles.
I changed my shirt, donned a hat, and made my way to the Mexican Restaurant across the street; on foot. I almost felt bad leaving my friend sitting in the parking lot, but it earned a break, and was at least resting on pavement instead of dirt. The restaurant was mostly empty as I sat down at the bar to be greeted by a young and attractive blonde. My day kept getting better. Food was ordered and a beer was poured; some tasty microbrew I had never drank, before. It probably could have been old stale beer, and it still would have tasted good. I know water would have been the logical "healthy" choice to make, but I really didn't care.
Nobody else was at the bar with me, and the bartender set about asking me if I really was from Toledo (I was wearing my "Toledo Mud Hens" hat), and then asking me what brought me to North Bay. I began recounting my story before realizing I had a bartender and two servers standing around listening to my tales; asking questions and expressing surprise at my stories; laughing with me about my hardships. My head swelled more than a little. I WAS adventure. Our conversations got sidetracked and we began chatting about Ontario-Quebec politics, the rarity of seeing a moose (I had been a bit disappointed), and other great vacation spots. Shortly after the manager came by to break up the fun; he was missing some of his servers. My audience was chased off. I sat back and glanced at the TV as my second beer was delivered. That's when it hit me. I hadn't seen a TV or read any news since I left my house over a week ago. As far as I was concerned, the only thing that was happening in the world was happening to me. News didn't stretch much further than I could see and hear. I smiled to myself; of all the vacation I've taken over the years, I had never really gotten away like I had this time. On top of that, through all the hardships I had recently faced, I came out alive and well. If the restaurant workers were any sign, I had some great new stories to tell, and my trip wasn't even over. All that stress and fear melted away and was replaced by happiness and pride.
Finally the fatigue, full stomach, and beer caught up with me; I was getting tired. I made my way back to the hotel, kicked on the TV, and laid down on the bed next to my tank bag. I awoke a few hours later and killed the TV, but I was too tired to reach for the lights or clear off the bed. I slept uninterrupted for the rest of the night; still dreaming of the ride. Even in my dreams, I was smiling.
You captured the essence of adventure. Great story!
note: no salamanders were actually hurt by me on this trip, but I did kill at least one black fly.
Killer Salamanders Eh
I'm happy to join your fan club. That was marvelous reading.
A solo 2 wheel trip makes me feel freer than anything else I can currently think of.
OK all, time to wrap this one up. You've ridden along with me this far, and I'm taking you all the way back home. This is the last update, though I'm writing up a bit of an epilogue that I'll post, soon. It's all informational and is not part of the story itself, really. This post covers the next two days, plus the last bit home.
After a night of much-needed and well-earned sleep, I managed to hop out of bed just after dawn. Surveying the room, it looked a lot like my saddlebags had exploded. One saddlebag was on the bed (half open), one was on the floor next to my Ortleib dry bag and the gas-smelling rain fly, and the other bed was half covered in my tank bag, and half of it's contents. Knowing I only had 200 miles to cover, I took my time sorting, cleaning (turns out gas DOESN'T eat through a tent rain fly), and re-packing all of my belongings. I also took the time to wash myself until the bar of hotel soap was down to a sliver. From there, I re-adjusted the points on the R80 (they had closed substantially, and WERE the cause of my engine stumbling), and got back on the road.
The ride was rather dull, especially after the excitement of the past few days. I was back into traffic, back into frequently seeing signs for food and fuel, and back into a comfort zone. The monotony was broken only by a quick stop to help a Harley rider pulled off to the side of the road. He was an interesting character; wearing a peanut-shell helmet and a baclava that was painted to look like a skull. I wonder if he had a hobby scaring children. While his initial diagnosis was water in his gas, it turned out to be no gas in the tank. After a few minutes of transferring fuel in my stainless collapsible cup, we were both back on the road. I continued east until hitting Highway 6, where I turned towards the small town of Espanola.
My destination for the day was Manitoulin Island; along the north shore of Lake Huron. From there I would take a ferry south across the lake to the Bruce Peninsula, and then ride east to Pinery Provincial Park where I was meeting up with my family for a few days of camping. Finally reaching the island, the riding became a bit more exciting as the road began to wind it's way along. All too soon I reach "Gordon's Park"; a small no-frills campground located close to the Chi-Cheemaun ferry that I would be taking across the lake first thing in the morning. The rest of the day was spent riding around looking for a laundromat (found) and getting a bite to eat.
The next morning I awoke early, packed my gear, and headed towards the ferry loading area. Motorcycles get to ride on-board first, so after verifying my reservation, they had me ride all the way to the front of the group. A few minutes after I was joined by a couple on their own Harleys. They had just gotten married and were taking a short vacation riding around the lake. Both were quite friendly, and were interested in hearing a bit about my James Bay trip. Sadly, another less-friendly group joined us shortly after. Initially there were some comments made about the high-viz jacket, the gear on the bike, and the bike itself. I gave polite but short responses at first, but quickly grew tired and ignored them, completely. They made another comment about the gas can, and it must have been enough to annoy the couple I had spoken with earlier. Suddenly I heard them respond back "He's been riding for the past week and just got back from the James Bay! He's ridden over 4500km, this trip". The comments quickly faded away, and all I could do was smile. Soon enough the massive "Chi-Cheemaun ("Big Canoe") arrived, and we were quickly loaded on board.
The "Cheech" arrives; the largest passenger/car vessel on the Great Lakes:
Tied down and ready to go (rope is provided, but my knot tying skills are not so good, so I came prepared):
The journey across the lake was better than could be expected. It's a two hour crossing, and there is plenty to do. I headed in and grabbed an excellent breakfast before heading out on deck to enjoy the fresh air on this beautiful sunny morning. I ran into the couple I had met earlier, and we stood around on deck taking about motorcycles, riding, camping, and bears. In no time at all we approached the Bruce Peninsula, and we quickly headed back down to untie the bikes and get ready to unload.
Approaching the south side of Lake Huron:
Although I was the first bike onto the boat, the group of unfriendly riders were let off the boat ahead of me. A few miles down the road I grew tired of the noise, and they were moving slower than I would have liked. I finally found an opening and cracked open the throttle, blowing past the whole group of them like they weren't even moving. Not bad for carrying so much stuff on my old bike, eh? I passed a few more cars and quickly lost sight of them. From there I rode east along the lake battling traffic as I passed through one tourist town after another, Soon enough I approached Grand Bend; now only a few minutes from the campground.
Pulling into Pinery Provincial Park, my spirits were at an all-time high. I was here! I followed the twisting road back to the campsites with a huge grin on my face. I rounded the last corner towards the camp office, parked the bike, turned around, and that's when I realized my whole family was there checking in; I had ridden right past them and didn't even notice. It was great to see everyone - my parents, my brother and sister-in-law, my aunt and uncle, and my cousins. An hour later, I was on my large campsite in a bear-free area. My tent was pitched, my gear was mostly unpacked, and I had a beer in my hand. My parents had brought my 4-legged daughter (Lucy Lou) with them; I hadn't seen her for 11 days.
This is one of my favorite photos from my trip. It's not an amazing photo. It DOES remind me of the great mood I was in when it was taken, though. I've been making the trip to Pinery Provincial Park since before I can remember. It's like a second home, and it always feels good to be there.
The next few days were spent hanging out at the beach, walking my dog around the park, sharing stories and laughs around the campfire, and drinking too much. It was a great end to my trip. A few days later I packed my gear one more time, thumbed the starter, and rode the last 164 miles home. It was uneventful and utilitarian. Across Canada, into the USA via the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron, and then through piles of traffic in Detroit before finally making the turn into my driveway. Transmission problem? What transmission problem?
We did it.
Now where is that map? I have some planning to do...
I just want to thank everyone for reading my ride report, and for all the nice posts and PM's I received. I hope everyone enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. It's great to look over some of my old handwritten notes that I scrawled out by flashlight in my tent, and relive some of the experiences; good and bad.
Here's to all of you! Safe rides to all, no matter where you're headed!
Topnotch winter reading material!
Thanks for taking the time to put it down on paper
"A good stick is a good reason"
Congratulations on the great trip and thank you for the wonderful read.
In this case words = 1000 Pictures!