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- Week Northern Quebec / Trans Taiga - Make Sure to put the Picaridin on Your Tail Before The Morning Coffee Hits

Boris

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So to get the first things out of the way, did we reach our goal? No.
Did we have fun along the way? Of course. That's a given.
Did we suffer numerous mosquito bites? Kind of. It was manageable, but it was a constant on the trip.

Intro:
This all started with me poking around on google maps years ago, finding the James Bay Rd. Following that and following some side roads, I looked into the Trans Taiga Rd. Boy that's a long road. Goes way out to Caniapiscau, whose reservoir is the largest body of water in Quebec. Pretty cool, right? I further read that the end of this road was the furthest you can get from a town by road in North America. Did I fact check that? Of course not. I took it at face value because it's all I needed to know. Something like 770 km from the nearest town. That's still a lot in freedom feet. And it would all be through Taiga forest, which I just don't have access to in my day-to-day. And the meat of this trip would start just a short 8 hours north of home. I wasn't nearly ready at the time, and years seemed to pass. I started a family, moved about 3 times, reconfigured my family, went through several positions at work, and several different motorcycles, and all of this information lived in the back of my head. Finally my young daughter got old enough that I didn't feel as bad taking a week away, and I realized that I actually have to schedule some of these things well in advance in order to be able to do them within my life. So the plan was made, for August of this year.

I know this trip has been done, and it's been documented, but I figure it would be nice to put all my pics in one place and write it all down before my memory runs out the back of my head like it regularly does

I don't think I want to write all of this in one go, because I am a slow writer, so I'll just do it over the course of a couple posts over a couple days, and I'll start with some teasers and some prep.

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So the plan was made around January, and the date was set around March, and then promptly changed, to start on August 16th. I did some rough (spoiler: incorrect) napkin math on how many days we would need for the distance we would cover, and we planned around 7 days to ride. Life has been particularly busy, and time flew. Summertime childcare co-parenting concerns, some very close friends' destination wedding a month before, the usual work consistency, and living between mine and my girlfriend's house, all made preparing for the trip somewhat difficult. We needed to get the bikes ready and we needed to make sure we took what we needed for a trip where we would be quite truly in the middle of nowhere. The weeks after my earlier trip were focused on getting the parts I needed and doing the maintenance I needed to do. It was non-stop, and we just kind of made it work the best we could.

The tools of the trade:
I took this trip on a 2012 Triumph Tiger xc. I've had the bike for about a year and a half now. Bought it on that old forum at 55k with an engine needing to be rebuilt. Couldn't find the time to do a rebuild but I did find a low mileage donor engine which I swapped last October. From there I rode it about 1500 miles on various day rides. Not very familiar with this bike yet, but it's super easy to ride. Fast and simple with a smoothe power delivery and good torque. It just feels good. It's really well balanced for a street bike, so I feel good in sticky situations, although the gearing is also very street friendly, and it's hard to go slow. But that's irrelevant for miles of gravel.

I went over the bike and performed some necessary maintenance. Tires, wheel bearings, chain and sprockets. went over and checked everything else, but the bike was in good shape otherwise considering recent maintenance I'd done over the prior months. I did almost the whole pre-trip service with the tools I would carry on the bike (minus chain rivet tool - I brought a clip style master link instead). It didn't take a particularly large set of tools. I grabbed some bags I had around that fit pretty well together and filled them with some camping gear and a couple pairs of socks. Grabbed my trusty 2.5gallon carb-friendly gas can, and we were set.

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My buddy's (Serge's) bike was a 2015 Honda CB500X. It actually used to be my bike before I sold it to him. Fantastic choice, just keeps going and going. Biggest flaw is the suspension. Luckily he upgraded it, and now it's a dream. In preparation for this trip he swapped wheel bearings, tires, steering stem bearings, oil, chain, and sprockets. I assure you he also packed his bike, but I had to get a new phone and lost that pre-trip picture. Instead you get an illustrative earlier picture. Serge is a motorcycle natural. He just gets on and gets there, seemingly with ease.
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More to come soon.
 
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Day one:

Tuesday morning - following a busy parenting weekend mixed with trying to get the final touches on the pre-trip maintenance - we were finally on our way. Kind of. I left my girlfriend's place on my fully packed bike, and met up with Serge at my place which was right off I-287 / I-87. Some last minute things were juggled and we finally got on our way. We hadn't talked much about the trip or the route in the last few days. We were both barely getting by with the things we had to get done before the trip. It was exciting to be on the road again (it had been a year and a half since my last trip). the first leg of the trip was all highway, and with the buffeting I was getting (and the state troopers) I wasn't keen on going over 70.

Flashback: Most of the riding I've done on this bike has been in the rocks and in the mud. I've done maybe an hour or so on the highway to and from the pine barrens. I don't have many pictures of the highway slog, so I'll put up some pictures of what this windshield is built for
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Focus back on the road ahead: We took this leg of the trip to test our tanks and our mileage. We started running out of gas at about the same point, starting to look at around 175 miles. Granted, I would be filling up 3.5 gallons where he would be filling up 2.5 gallons. Something to keep in mind for later. I was starting to get worried about my ability to do the long stretch of the trans taiga. Worried the extra 2.5 gallons wouldn't be enough. Well. They have gas cans in Canada.

The food situation for us on the highway usually ends up in a supermarket getting the best thing we can find. This was some chicken wings with roast brussel sprouts and a corn muffin. Delightful.
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The gas situation: The last gas available to non-Hydro employees on the Trans Taiga is at Mirage Outfitters. To get to the end and back from there would be 380 miles round trip. I had a 5 gallon tank and a 2.5 gallon can and I was worried that wouldn't cut it. At least not at the speeds we were going so far. I wasn't worried so much about the Honda, but the Tiger was thirsty at those speeds. Could I have done this math and this research beforehand? In an ideal world, yes, but I had barely had a chance to ride the bike since the end of May, and it wasn't exactly something I had a lot of time to test before the road. I promise that I have more fun this way.

Back to the road: We got to Montreal, and we decided to spend the night there and get some food and a couple drinks in us. We stayed at a hotel in the latin quarter, which happened to be the Hotel Quartier Latin. There was a cool mural outside.
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Another flashback: It just so happened that Serge and I took our first trip to not-quite-as-far-northern Quebec province. That was our first "adventure ride" a couple years after we had started riding. This is what the mural and the room looked like back then:
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Back to the trip:
Last time we were there we were on the 2nd or 3rd floor, and it was a nice airy but simple room. This time we were in the basement, and it was not ideal. The location still worked for us, but it was a lot more musty. I think we were ready for a night out as much as we were ready to ride up to the tippy top of QC. We went to a multi-location poutine place called Frite Alors, that was right on the street, and got the best poutine of the trip.
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Serge got the smoked meat poutine, and I got the poutine with Lamb sausage.

We got back to the room and finally had a minute to look at the trip and the route ahead. And the realization of the scale of the trip. And we realized maybe getting a room right that night might have been a mistake. Riding for only 5 hours and stopping might not have been the best decision. In retrospect, after the stresses of life leading up to the trip, and not having done a long ride in a long time, that was all we had in us, and probably exactly what I needed. We also had busy mornings and ridden an extra hour and a half before that 5 hours. But back to the trip, we were starting to stress. We got ourselves to sleep and set an early alarm, ready to continue the trip on an equally stressed out foot or side of the bed or whatever.

More to come soon.
 
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Day 2:

Standing in the underground parking garage with zero air movement, strapping the top bag back onto the bike, sweating my ass off with my jacket removed, I'm very ready to get going. We had a morning that was focused but wasn't rushed. Got up and ate the only thing that was open at 6ish AM, which was at the bus terminal. By the way, I hope you guys wanted to see all the stuff we ate, because I photographed almost everything we ate that wasn't snacks or dehydrated camping food. Here's my panini and americano
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What was it? Who knows. I think it was ham and eggs.

There were a few people up and about near the bus terminal. It made me really appreciate the autonomy on a bike. Although riding around the city stresses me out in the heat. We were antsy to go. I had gotten a real deal GPS unit for this trip. Why? Because I wanted to be able to go places in a flexible manner and be able to get back without cell service. I was also so overly optimistic about how far we could make it that I thought we could do parts of the TCAT along the way. I ended up loading up some tracks on the GPS a few days before the trip, and filling up all the storage for waypoints. Back in the garage I was trying to figure out how to get it to navigate to where I wanted. We had to get out of the garage. So now we were on the little alleyway, still sweating our asses off. Finally I got navigation to where I thought I wanted, and we were on our way.

The first hour or two were just highway. and getting used to Quebecois traffic (which was totally normal, just a statement with no implications). By the way, did you know that I love service stations when I'm on the road.
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We soon got off the highway because it was closed. There were no detour signs we could follow for where we needed to go, so we managed to look at google maps on a small scale where we were, and found a way through town. The stress was mounting a bit, because we just wasted a half hour and we knew we had to make good time. But we were finally moving again, and we had crossed the St Maurice river. And then we hit out first construction of the trip. At least the view was nice.

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We stopped for a quick restroom break and continued up the river for a couple hours. The road was amazing and the views were great, but the viewpoints weren't, and we really wanted to stay focused and keep our average speed up. So I have nothing but my memories about the St Maurice river. All I have is this other picture of a gas station and my promise that it gets better later in the day.

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On and on we went through the woods, which to us felt endless. We passed through the La Tuque region, which we knew of a bit from the trip 9 years prior. The woods were vast from our perspective so far, and we were trucking (other than the persistent construction stops). Finally we got to another town on a big lake, and decided to stop for a late lunch. We'd long been past the point where everyone only speaks French, and lunch was our first challenging (but not too challenging) interaction where we had to work out what we wanted across language barriers. I got the fish on a fish plate, and Serge got some meatballs. Blueberries are the name of the game here, and we got some blueberry pie as desert.

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There was another thing about lunch. This is where we realized we went out of the way. We had ridden for about 5 hours, and it was a beautiful road ride, but it wasn't quite where we needed to go. The road up the province is the James Bay road. It goes up to Radisson (the french town up there), and has offshoots to native towns, including Chisasibi, which is near the James Bay itself. There are big hydroelectric installations there. Hydroelectric is also the reason for the Trans Taiga Rd. There are settlements for the workers up there, and that's what a lot of the infrastructure is for, also used for hunting and tourism as a secondary purpose. And all of that is up the James Bay Road. The James Bay Rd starts at Matagami. There is also a side route to get to the James Bay Rd, which is the Route du Nord. That comes from Chibougamau, and is 440km of gravel. The Route du Nord is a longer way to get up there by half a day to a day, and that's the route that I had put us on. oops. This put a bit of a damper on our lunch. We were at at St Jean Lake and we could have been most of the way to Matagami at the time.

It took a while to get out of town, but once we did, the scenery improved drastically
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And we continued north. The trees were getting smaller up here, and there were some noticeable changes. There were also lots of logging routes and clear cuts that you could see through the immediate trees near the road.
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And there were more long stretches of road with few cars, although there were other stretches with more cars and construction as well. The construction made it challenging because it was still hot, and stopping was not ideal.
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We finally got to Chibougamau, where we got gas, and fuelled ourselves up as well.
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Dinner was at Chez Raymonde, which was open every day, and had poutine in a massive size (which we split)
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The goal was to get as far up the Route du Nord as we could. We wanted to load up on food for the rest of the night, so we could easily camp without a lot of food prep, which would lower our total time exposed to Mosquitos. We were gassing ourselves up on still being able to make it all 770km out the Trans Taiga, but it was a tough balance. We wanted to see things and stop and look and talk to people, but we would need to focus on having as many riding hours per day that we could.

We soon hit the Route du Nord, around sunset, and it was magical. We stopped to air down.
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And stopped again because it was too good not to.
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As we continued it got darker, as it happens. You may have noticed the dust in the earlier pic. The darkness with the dust was rough. Serge has a baja light setup, but I didn't have a chance to hook any auxiliaries up on this bike. We tried to keep him in front, but I soon could not see well enough to continue at any useful speed.

We pulled over onto a utility service road and set up a tent in a turn-around.

Flash back to 9 years before. We got destroyed by mosquitos. We had a little spray then, but it was not effective in keeping them off us. We learned to keep our gear on, but would get bit on our faces. This time we brought bug nets for our heads.

We were further north this time, and the cloud of mosquitos was formidable. We had some picaridin lotion that we spread aggressively on our hands and anything exposed. We hung our food in a tree and focused on setting up the tent. We then got our stuff inside and jumped in. For the next 10 minutes we were hunting mosquitos in the tent. There must have been at least 40 that we killed between the two of us. But after that we were safe, and that was the end of day two.

More to come soon.
 
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Day Three:

Dawn.
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It got cold at night, probably around low 40's. You know what that means, right? No Mosquitos. And waking up with that view wasn't bad either. The woods for me are the best place to wake up. I always feel better on mornings like this. I walked and thoroughly enjoyed the quiet little utility road we were on.

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Breakfast was dehydrated, but who can complain at this point?
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We had a good half hour reprieve in the morning, and then it started warming up. Hence the name of the title of this thread. You cannot have any skin exposed that doesn't have insect repellent on it. This made morning business a little urgent if you didn't get it out while it was cold. One or two mosquitos were coming to life and we needed to hurry up and get moving.

The roads from here were amazing. Nice wide tracks of manageable gravel, and we were soon going 70-100 kph. The remoteness was impressive the day before, but now it was amazing. The trees were getting smaller and we knew that aside from some trucks on the road and some mine workers, we were the only ones for miles.
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We would switch lead every hour or so, since the dust would stay in the air for a bit, and we sped along for hours enjoying the road and the scenery. There were occasional "camps" off the road, as well as the occasional utility road, but that's all there is. Some of the camps had tipi's, but all were groups of what looked like simple plywood structures. Oh, and at one point there was a rest area that we decided to check out. And ran into another rider, Marc from Victoriaville. The rest area was pretty nice and had picnic tables, latrines, and big dumpsters where we unloaded the previous night's trash.

Here's Marc, who was also planning on doing the Trans Taiga, but on a much more relaxed schedule as he was off work for the whole summer.

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We continued along the road. The next goal was Nemascau, which is a mining installation where we could get some gas, or Nemaska, which was a Cree village where we could get some gas. We started running into some rivers and some more hydroelectric infrastructure.
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Further we crossed the Rupert river. 50% of this river was diverted north in 2009, to feed that water into the hydroelectric infrastructure up there. We were feeling the hurry at this point, so we didn't walk back to the bridge to take pictures there.
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We continued north, and soon crossed the entrance to one of the mines up here. We were well past the half way of the Rt du Nord, so the truck traffic to the mine was coming in the way that we were going. The road quality dropped drastically, and so did your speed. It was also late morning / early afternoon at this point, and we were starting to sweat. There were giant potholes, for lack of a better word, that were filled in with gravel but not yet packed down, which effectively meant 1-foot-deep gravel pits that were 5-6 feet across. Most were marked with a cone but not all were. This was getting hairy and after around 30km of this we were getting worn out, even at the lower speeds. We passed the Nemiscau camp, but we needed a longer stop and weren't sure about how the fuel availability worked there, so we went on a bit to the Cree town of Nemaska, hoping to be able to sit and eat, and also interested in seeing what it was like.

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We were beat and dusty and we really needed a break. There was no way around it. the road off into Nemaska quickly became paved, and we rolled past a lake with a nice picnic area, into a town that seemed to be being rebuilt. We later spent some time talking to a local Cree native, and he said they were catching up after stopping all construction and closing off the town for over a year due to COVID. There was a gas station, a small shopping mall with 3-4 stores and a restaurant, and several houses. The mall parking lot was being paved that day, and there was some construction going on on a residential street off to the side as well. We stopped at the gas station and filled up there. We met a couple fishing guides from the states who were working up there, one of them from Pennsylvania. We chatted with them for a bit about our trip, but we really needed to find shade and get some food into us.

We went to the shopping mall next, and bought a 20l gas can (just over 5 gallons). The intention was that we would put two 2.5 gallon gas cans on one bike, and the 5 gallon one on the other bike. The price for the gas can was less than I expected, probably less than $30 CAD. We checked the restaurant, but it was closed, so we bought some salty snacks at the supermarket, and went to find a place to make some more camp food. The stress was definitely mounting, because while we badly needed the rest, time seemed to be running out on us getting to where we needed to go,and we were already on day 3 of the trip.

We left town and went back to the lake which was actually the Nemiscau river. A guy pulled in immediately behind us, and this was Cree Jerry. we hung out in one of the picnic structures and started talking to him, and ended up having a whole conversation. This is where the goal to get somewhere specific was starting to really conflict with our actual enjoyment of the trip. But we're not about to miss the chance to have these conversations. We talked about the region and the town. He's the one who told us about how locked down they were for COVID, and the building that was going on. He explained the camps we had passed, saying that those were family camps that went back to the Hudson's Bay Company and fur hunting in the region. They are currently used by the families in the winter. He told us about the winters in general, and things that they did. Hunting and snow machines and such. He told us a bit about the diversion of the Rupert river, and said it had a major impact, including that the Caribou no longer came down as far as Nemaska. They used to be down there all the time before. We spent at least 40 minutes talking about things with him while we ate our rehydrated lunch. This was the kind of thing that I didn't want to miss out on by maximizing riding time each day to hit a goal. But we were still stressed and we were still trying to get there, given that we'd ridden this far up on this trip.

We also talked about our route a little bit, and he said that the next 100km from Nemaska to the James Bay Rd would be the same quality as the last 30km we were on. Apparently it's been terrible since the mine went in, and he's had to rebuild the suspension on his car after hitting one of those pot holes a little too fast. We absolutely did not want to subject ourselves to another 100km of that if it could be avoided, and he indicated that we could take a shortcut by going north towards the Eastmain dam, which would then come out higher up on the James Bay Rd. This was a "smaller" route (the road was the same width, which was, wide) that would not have as much traffic, and he seemed to indicate that we'd be doing 100km no problem (maybe not quite that much, but still).

So off we went. We'd spent at least an hour and a half all together in Nemaska, potentially up to 2h. Not great for the riding time but the way it went down, I wouldn't have had it any other way.

Once again the terrain was vast and beautiful
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We stopped at a little viewing area near the Eastmain dam to look around, use the nature, and try to fix Serge's Cardo
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Unfortunately the charging port on the cardo was toast, and we would soon face the rest of the trip with the usual hand signals and what not. But the infrastructure was cool. We continued on to the Muskeg dam. I'm hitting the post length and image limits, so let's split this day up a bit.
 
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Day Three Part 2:

The Muskeg Dam
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As we headed north, it seemed like the vastness of everything was just increasing. It probably has to do with the trees getting smaller, and the occasional openings where we can see farther. Really there's so much space up here that's just untouched by people. On the other hand, there are also massive reservoirs that are created by people.


We continued on til we reached the James Bay Rd, where we aired back up. That was our First run of 468km of gravel.
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It was still light out, but we had a ways to go to reach Radisson. We had kind of developed a sort of tunnel vision at that point. We were focused on the goal at hand, and not really considering our options. Once we hit the road, though, the terrain really opened up, and we got more and more glimpses into just how vast the open space and the forest is. Not all of this was capturable on camera, and we were sticking to riding, but I can tell you about it. You would ride and there would be a slight variation in elevation, maybe in addition to a turn, and you would just see for miles. Small hills and spots of water and just trees and sky. There's just so much of all of that up here. Trees and waterways and sky.

We rode another hour and a half or so before the sun started to go down. We stopped at another rest area to adjust our layers and our gear (you may have noticed the empty gas can haphazardly hanging off of Serge's bike). The sunset was amazing.

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I believe this is the stop where I kept my helmet on longer than Serge, and the whole bottom of my chin got bit up by mosquitos. Can't half-ass anything up here, apparently. That was an annoyance for the rest of the trip. The whole reason that I left my helmet on is that at this point it hurt to take it off. I had forgotten to add a pair of beeswax ear plugs for this trip, my ears were in pain from the silicon and foam plugs I had available to me. I'm not sure why it was worse on this trip than on previous ones. I used to need to use the wax ones more often, but I hadn't needed them for the last few trips over the last few years. It might have to do with the amount of buffeting that I get with different bikes. Anyway, nice sunset and it's time to move on, right?

Well... we're farther north now and the sunset lasts for about an hour and a half. We had to stop again by one of the numerous lakes, specifically lake Yasinski.

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This was around 9:00 PM, Even after this point, there were bits of sunset visible for almost another hour. We were also getting tired. We just kept riding to Radisson. It was getting cold and we were determined to get there, since that was the next gas and that just made sense in our heads. We figured we would get a hotel room there.


On cell service: When we had entered Canada, we got little notifications from Verizon saying welcome to Canada, you have talk and text, and up to 500m data per day built into your plan. Cool. Of course, as expected, we had service in all the towns, but none in between. So we had no way of contacting Radisson once we left Nemaska. that might have been an oversight on our part. This is the kind tunnel vision I was talking about.


Soon it was cold and dark and we were 40 minutes out of Radisson. We couldn't call and check rooms, and for whatever reason we didn't want to camp again, probably because we wanted to wake up in a town with a gas station. We had to stop to adjust some packing and adjust our layers even further (plug in). We pressed on, and by the time we got to Radisson it was almost 11:00 PM. We pulled into the first and most obvious hotel we saw, the aptly named Auberge Radisson. This was an easy choice because we also saw Marc's bike there. Marc had not gone into Nemaska, and had probably gotten there hours before. There was a woman at the front desk (behind a night-time security gate) who barely spoke english, but she did speak a bit. She told us we had to call the number on a printed piece of paper, so we did. That fellow spoke wonderful english, and said he would need to be there in person to check us in, and that he would be there in 45 minutes. We asked him to call us when he was close because we were going to try to get some food. The whole thing was a bit bizarre for us, but this is also after a tiring day.


We went outside and promptly realized there was no food we could get. There were bars open, but the kitchens had closed. Radisson is the main french town up here, and it's a small town, but it was still loud with the 1-2 bars in town being busy with Hydro workers, locals, and maybe hunters? And a couple riders. We decided to just make more camp food on a picnic table right outside the hotel. We were beat. This was the low point of the trip. It was after 11:00 PM, and there was no way we would get an early start. The woman from inside came out and tried to show us something about a route on my phone. I was entertaining her while Serge was getting stuff off the bike. I'd not seen him like this before, he was curt, and trying to end the conversation. He was as tired and irritable as I was. I was spacing out as she tried to navigate google maps on my phone. This was all unnecessary information to us, because we wouldn't be able to go the way she suggested, because we had no time. The language barrier made it harder. It turned out that that whole time she was trying to tell us about the route we had come from, even though I had already tried to describe to her the place we had come from. It was too much. I managed to stay cool but I was really just feeling defeated about making it out to the end of the Trans Taiga. She did give us one great piece of advice, which was that the previous night they had been all booked up, and that we were very lucky. That when coming to Radisson, you make sure to make reservations.


We were finally at the picnic table boiling up some water for or dehydrated dinner. Serge mentioned, hey, are those the northern lights? You betcha. We weren't sure just looking at them but it was clear as day in the picture.

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This could have been some magical moment when we would appreciate where we were and what we were seeing, but that barely made it through our bubbles of self-absorbed displeasure. We went right back to trying to prepare dinner. We were beat and it was hard to see the bright side. I kept looking at the distances on my phone and figuring out how we could do them in the time left. We had done 695 km today, 470 of which was gravel. the end of the Trans Taiga was 770km from where we were, and then another 730 or so back to pavement. Something finally clicked and we realized we had to make the decision to just enjoy the trip. The stop in Nemaska, talking to Jerry, talking to other people we'd talked to, stopping to see things, stopping to enjoy the scenery. Those were all things that we actually wanted. Hitting the end of the road was not nearly as important as that. I mean we were even going to skip seeing the James Bay itself in order to make it to the goal. Why? I realized I had to focus on one or the other for this trip, and to stop going back and forth about if we were going to make it to the end of the road. And it was clear that waking up at 6 and trying to bomb out and back in two days was not the move. That settled it and we were also in agreement.


We ate our rehydrated meals and called the hotel employee again. It sounded like he was at a bar. Little annoying but at least we had gotten a room instead of having to head back out of town to pitch a tent.


Today was a challenging day that also included a turning point for us. While we didn't want to miss an "opportunity" to get to the end of the road while we were all the way up here, we also didn't want to be all the way up here without interacting with the place. It would be like failing to see the forest for the trees (in more ways than one). That decision lead to this being an amazing trip, including this day.


More to come soon.
 
I’ve been trying to get to the TT for 2 years now still with no success.
I don't think I'm going to try again for 3-4 years. There's plenty of places to ride. But one day I'm making it to the end of that road.

Amazing. Maybe, next summer for me
Highly recommend going, worth it even if you don't make it to the end.

More to come soon.
 
Day Four:

The Trans Taiga holds some special significance to me just because I've had it in my head for so long. It's almost mystical. I know logically it's just a road. There are Cree and sportsmen and miners and hydroelectric workers that use the road all the time, and for them it might just be a road or maybe even a nice place to be. But for me, it's a destination and something really special. 100's of miles of gravel out in the middle of a boreal forest, and a unique (although not confirmed) location being the most distant from a town in North America. And isn't a big part of motorcycling going out there and riding on special roads, trails, or paths? Even though we decided not to ride to the end, we figured we should at least ride on it. There are regional campgrounds in a couple spots along the road and we decided to either get to the one at 62km or 200km from the beginning of the road.

But first, we were to enjoy our luxurious hotel and our new-found freedom from the goal.

And what more classic way to start our hotel morning, than to turn continental breakfast into something that would sustain us for a long day ahead?
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We ended up running into Marc at breakfast. He was trying to get a tour of the Robert-Bourassa generating facility. This is the largest underground generating facility (I think), and the tour is supposed to be pretty special. It's also 4 hours long and you need to sign up in advance so they actually have a tour guide for you. Sounded cool, but not for our timelines this trip. We did end up chatting for a while, basically to the end of the continental breakfast.

This is also where we discovered that I had melted a hole in one of the fuel containers the previous day when they got jumbled on the back of the bike. So now we were down to about 7.5 gallons of spare fuel.

Serge and I decided to check out what we could see of the hydroelectric infrastructure ourselves. Nearby were some nice views nearby of La Grand Riviere Reservoir and LG-2 which was the second dam on La Grand Riviere, chronologically (IIRC). Everything up here is massive, and this was a great place to see some of it.
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Further we checked out the spillway, both from the top and the viewpoint. This was a massive set of steps made to slow the water down if the reservoir level needed to be lowered. It was challenging to capture the scale up close.
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And from the viewpoint.
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Since we didn't take the tour, this was the closest we could get to the actual generating facility. But they did have some used turbine runners and other parts in a yard nearby.
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We were having a really good time looking around with no pressing place to be. This is the feeling we were missing in the beginning of the trip. We continued on towards Chisasibi. This is a Cree territory that has a town inside it, as well as the island of Fort George, and access to the James Bay. I do like having an opportunity to see a body of water, so that was pretty exciting. We first stopped at the LG-1 Dam.

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The viewing platform had a good bit of information about what was here before the dam. These were the first rapids, where the local fishermen would come every year. There was a story from one of the Cree elders about how she used to come here with her mother to see her father fish, and how she brought her grandkids there to see the place and the first rapids were gone and this giant dam was there instead. There was an interesting mix of emotions in this place. On one hand, I do use electricity, and I do appreciate its availability. On the other hand, there's some hardship for the land and the people who were here.

There is a road that goes across the dam and up to a spot called "long point", but we decided we only had time for one spot on the James Bay, and the one past town was supposed to be better because it faced a larger part of the bay.

In town we tried to stop for lunch. The first place we went was Jerry's father-in-law's place, Retro Daze Cafe. They had fried food there, but it was only take-out. The COVID restrictions are still strong among the Cree, and we really wanted to sit at a table and eat if we could. We asked if there was anywhere that was open for dine-in, and they indicated the restaurant in town. That actually ended up being closed until dinner, but the structure was interesting.
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Too bad. A guy on his cigarette break suggested another place that had just changed their hours to be open for lunch, so we went there. This place was also take-out only, but the delivery driver stopped in, saw us in all of our gear, and pulled a table out for us to dine in. This was much better than what we were going to do, which was sit in the gravel in the parking lot by the bikes. We talked to him for a while about our trip, he was very friendly and interested.

We got some wings and a salad. I usually get tired if I load up on carbs, which is why I try to usually focus on proteins and veggies during the day. Like the other place, though, most of their food here was fried, and the salad was mostly chicken tenders, croutons, cheese, and bacon.
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Our plan from here was to take the ferry to Fort George. This island is the ancestral home of the Cree in this area, and a lot of their structures are still there. It would have been cool to check it out. It turned out that the ferry was broken down or something, and it was closed. A tour boat of the James Bay would have been possible, but it would have had to have been planned in advance. They could have taken us on foot, but we weren't exactly set up for walking, so we moved on to beach that was open facing the James Bay.

There were lots of boats here, clearly going out on the bay was popular for fishing. We saw a family heading out on their boat, but we were a little more tired at this point, having talked to a lot of people within the town. We pulled up in our own little spot to hang out and enjoy the water. I can't visit a body of water like this without going for a swim. The water was cold, but not unbearable. Despite being off the Hudson Bay, the water here is brackish just due to the amount of fresh water flowing out of La Grand river.
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I am once again running up on post photo limits, so I will finish this day in a different post.
 
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Day Four Part Two:

Although we didn't have a pressing goal, we still had to start moving in a way that would get us on the trans taiga, and then home in time. I wish we could have stayed near the water for a few hours. Instead we were there for maybe an hour. This would have been a great place to camp if we had organized our trip a little differently. We snapped some more pictures and moved on.

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The rest of the day was dedicated to getting onto the trans taiga and finding a place to camp. It was 140km from the gas station in Chisasibi to the entrance of the trans taiga, and then another 60km to the first campground. This was now where we were aiming. It was getting later in the day, and at least I was getting tired at this point. It probably didn't help that today's lunch was very one-dimensional. But we were excited to at least make it onto the road we wanted to see. We filled up about 6 gallons of spare fuel total, as well as our bikes, and we headed off.

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Right around when the sun was starting to set again, we finally made it to the trans taiga road. We stopped again to air down.

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The next 60 or so kilometers were in dropping light, which lead to dropping speed. It hadn't rained at all for some period of time up here, so the road was extra dusty. We figured out that it worked better to keep Serge in the back and me in the front once it got darker. My stock lights were sufficient for the road at about 60 km/h, and his aftermarket beams could handle the road with the cloud of dust that I left. This was another trudge, and we were focused on completing this leg safely, but without many stops so our average speed would stay decent. At one point we crossed a bridge, and you could hear or feel a large movement of water beneath it. It was some sort of rapid, but it wasn't a loud one like a waterfall. It was too dark to see anything beyond the bridge, but I noted it for the way back. It was impressive to just know that there was such a big rapid underneath that we knew it was there passing over it on the bikes.

Shortly after that we pulled off onto a road that lead about 3km down to the campground. Marc had told us that he had heard good things about this spot, so we tried to make it out here instead of pulling off the road anywhere like we normally would. There were a couple other parties quietly occupying the campground, which was new for us. There was also a very noticeable lack of mosquitos. I didn't know if the campground had been treated, or maybe it was just cold enough, but I really appreciated it either way. It was dark and we set up a quick camp, and had a quick dehydrated meal (one pad thai and one something else). Here's what the pad thai looked like. I must have been out of it to have taken this picture with the red light on my headlamp.

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I wish I had had something other than my phone so I could take some better night time pictures here. We were off the wide road, and felt a lot more surrounded by the pines in this spot. There was also clearly a body of water here, which I got pictures of the next day.

We felt a sense of satisfaction for having made it onto the road. The plan for tomorrow was to ride more of the road, and then start heading back home.

More to come soon
 
Great read so far! Looking forward to the next update. Glad you guys decided that the journey was more important than the destination . I think most of us fall for that from time to time, and need a reset to realize what the more important part of a trip is…
 
Day Five:

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Today there was a lot of nice riding, but it started with a nice walk. The mosquitos were still not out, but there were lots of gnats in the air. Didn't want to sit in one spot too long. I wanted to take a look around the campground and the nearby reservoir anyway.

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The campground was really nice, and the reservoir was amazing. I didn't realize it at the time, but this was actually around the middle of the La Grande Riviere reservoir. The same one we had been on the previous morning. Here's a picture to illustrate. That whole body of water comprised of two large parts is the reservoir.

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Anyway, we had our coffee and our rehydrated meals, and we were on our way. We filled the bikes up with some of the spare gas we had, and headed further down the road to see how far we felt like going. It was really cool to be on this road, and it was now Saturday, meaning we had the road almost entirely to ourselves. No mining trucks, no hydro employees, just a couple others out on the road. The other people out on the road for recreation seemed to be there with boats on the reservoir, which honestly sounds very enjoyable.

As usual, it's difficult to capture the vastness of the land out here, but occasionally we would have a view.

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The gravel conditions were great, and we were generally able to keep a pace of 70-80kph. We covered another 100km in no time. This morning we had started at km 62, so we decided to go take a look at a stop we knew was at about km 200 from the start of the road. We thought we had enough gas left in reserve, about 2.5 gallons between the two of us. Plus half a tank each. We just kept cruising, enjoying the road and the views as they came. We passed an airport, and a small Dam that kept the massive reservoir at bay right by the road, and miles and miles of road.

Eventually we made it to Halte Pontois. There was an interesting bridge over one of the rivers feeding one of the bodies of water that feeds into the reservoir. And a rather large rapid on this one.

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This was about as far as we were going to go. We needed the rest of our gas to get us home, and we were not riding in a conservative fashion, enjoying the gravel pretty hard. the rain was also starting to pick up, so we checked out the local camping facilities.

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This stop had a picnic area with shelters, as well as a campground. There were was a couple trucks with a rather large truck camper and a couple boat trailers (and a bed full of diesel jerry cans) taking up most of the picnic area, but we were able to snag a spot. The regional government sets up these picnic areas and campgrounds, and they're very nice, but they don't seem to be heavily used. I'm guessing the locals know that and are a bit more liberal with where they park their campers.

This stop consisted of, I'm sure you guessed it, more rehydrated camp food. There were also some wild raspberries a little bit away from the stop. And a great view of the bridge pictured above. There were, once again, an army of gnats making our lives annoying. But I guess it's just something you have to live with if you're spending time in the woods up there in the summer. Eventually it was time to head back, and to enjoy miles and miles of gravel highway in the reverse direction.

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We passed the previous night's campground and stopped at the other bridge that we only felt in the dark. As expected, the movement of water was massive. This was the Sakami River. I know I've seen large flows of water, but there was something about being on such a small bridge so close to it. It wasn't a waterfall, but just a steady unstoppable movement. I'm not sure anymore if this flow held some of the diverted water from the south, but whether or not it did, it was impressive.

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And it was also soon that we started to get the first hint of trouble. You may have noticed that I've been mixing speeds and distances and measurements between metric and imperial. I was doing that on the trip. I had the GPS set to miles, and the bike set to kilometers. This ended up being a bit unwise. You see, I knew I had a 5 gallon capacity, but I didn't know how many kilometers that would be riding at different speeds. Like I knew that I could get as low as 125 miles out of a tank on the indicatorif I rode it like I meant it, and I knew that would be between 3.5 and 4 gallons if I didn't sweat it too much before finding a stop. But I didn't have a good sense of how many km I could get out of my 18.9 liter tank, nor how many liters it showed on the display. A bunch of gas did not end up being enough, and we should have been riding much more conservatively for the planned 707 kilometers from Chisasibi to halte Pontois, to the next gas down towards home, which was km 381 on the James Bay road (the Trans Taiga starts at km 544).

So yeah. We were in gas danger. A risk caused by my own carelessness, but still. We distributed the last of the fuel, mostly into my thirsty girl, and tried to keep the speed below 60kph. But even with that, it was getting slim. I was now playing with the trip computer, the last crutch I had to make up for not knowing this stuff myself and not being able to do the math on the fly. This gave me a sense of what the bike thought it was drinking, in a handy liters per 100 Kilometers (as if that didn't add a layer of confusion). But at this point, the actual math didn't matter. I just had to minimize that number. It hovered between 5 and 6.

By the time we got back onto pavement, the trip computer told me I had no more gas in the tank and no more kilometers I could go. Well, the bike was still running. Radisson was now the closest gas, about 75 km away. It was also now getting a bit later in the day. I was worried that the gas stations would be closed before we could make our way there.

The Honda, of course, had a healthy reserve left. It seems to happily get a minimum of 45 mpg even when you really wring it out. So we put all of the tent stuff on my bike in case the gas stations really did close, and Serge sped up to Radisson to get us another 20l of gas. So now, what was there left for me to do. The obvious answer was to see how far I could get. So on I went, limping along on the shoulder doing 50kph. This was barely above idle. And the bike sipped. I didn't actually find out when I would run out of gas, because I didn't. By the time Serge came riding back with a container of gas, I had made it about 45km towards town, and I might have even been able to make it all the way. Who knows. At this point it was near impossible to tell how much I had left. Maybe if I had thought at the time to get as close to an accurate measurement as I could from the gas can, and fill up my bike. But anyway, we were just glad to be out of that pickle.

Here's the victory chocolate bars that Serge ended up picking up in town.

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This was it. It was now time to get home. Sunset was close, and we wanted to get as close as we could to that next gas station that was about 200km south of us now. Every time the sun dropped, it got significantly colder, and this little trudge made me very grateful for my heaters.

Not a great picture of the sunset, but it was something.

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Eventually we crossed another bridge over another river, and found another campground just a few km ahead of the next gas. I know you guys can't wait to hear about our next meal of rehydrated camp food, but we might not go into details. This time we actually got in in good spirits and good energy, and were able to find enough scrap wood at the nearby sites to easily make a little fire for ourselves. Unfortunately, it seems not being able to find a trash can is an international problem.

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This was another great day, despite some setbacks that we can call first hand learning experiences. And now it was time to rest up before the thousand or so miles we had left to go.

More to come soon.
 
Better get the rest of this out before I forget it all.

Day Six:

It was now time to focus on getting home. We woke up nice and early to try to enjoy as much of the northern scenery as we could. This is always a bittersweet part, excited to get back to my family, but aware that I have to let go of the freedom of motorcycle travel soon.

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We explored the campsite and the area around it. We shared this campsite with just one camper, who was parked down by the water. We had the whole camping section to ourselves. It would have been far from ideal if we had to share it, but it worked out really nice for us. Also some great pictures of under this bridge over the river Eastmain. This is the output of the Muskeg dam that we rode on a few days before.

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We finally got a move on and made it to our next gas stop, the aptly named Relais Routier KM 381 (km marker along the James Bay Rd. This is where we were hoping to get to the previous day coming off the trans taiga. It's a mid point where you can get gas on the way up to the settlements at the end of the road.

What we didn't know was that they had hot breakfast, and we almost almost missed it. It closed at 9 AM and I think we walked in at 8:50 AM. This was a treat after days of camp food and continental breakfast.
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This wasn't particularly luxurious but it was a great break and a nice way to kick off the drive south.

What followed was miles of paved but remote highway. We watched the trees slowly grow larger, and the terrain change little by little. I wish I had more pictures to remember this stretch by, but we were focused on our goal.

But we couldn't skip stopping by the Rupert river again. Even with a lot of its flow diverted north, this was still a very impressive river. I'm happy with the way we went coming up, but if this were more of a road bike trip, this would have been a nice teaser and entry to the water features up north.

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This was the last major landmark on our way down the James Bay highway. The next stretch was a couple hundred kilometers south to Matagami, which is the gateway to this highway. This town is just south of Lake Matagami and next to the Bell river. It's a town that has more amenities, which we haven't really seen since leaving Chibougamau several days prior.

We stopped for lunch, but there wasn't really a restaurant open. I guess not too many amenities. We picked up some food at the supermarket and sat out on a park lawn. When I say it's a town with amenities, I guess I'm trying to describe the feel. This was suburban, even though the general area is rural. Here's the supermarket in a strip mall:

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And of course our lunch. Salad and some chicken jerky
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We had a real break, but we were generally in the zone and soon we were back in the saddle. We still had a bit of spare fuel in one of the cans, but we had access to regular gas stations now, and it was just a matter of making our way south.

We were making time, and enjoying the surroundings as much as we could, but not many stops and not many pictures. The plan was to come down 109 to 111, through Val-d'Or, and then take 117 south towards Montreal and New York. At one of our gas stops we looked at timing, and had to make a choice. Here's the gas station, by the way.

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The real annoyance with trying to fit a trip into a certain amount of time, is that you have to make big compromises on certain days. This was day 6 of a planned 7, and we knew that the more distance we covered today, the easier the last day would be. In an ideal world the last day involves some bike cleaning and settling in, and we didn't want that to be a terribly long day. We were eyeballing the map, and there's a large stretch of mostly woods and forests 117. It looked like our options were limited if we didn't have some back woods lodging researched and reserved. We could either stay in a hotel in Val-d'Or at around 7-8PM, or we could stay in a hotel beyond the forest at around 9-10 PM. Everthing between was woods. Val-d'Or was not far enough, but getting past it would be a challenge. We were making good time, though, and we decided to go for it.

We hit the end of sunset about 30 minutes past Val-d'Or.

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We realized we had also passed the last fuel 30 minutes ago. We had just enough to get through the remote stretch, so we emptied the rest of our fuel cans into the bikes here. The temperature had also dropped significantly on this stretch, so this is where we put on all of our layers and got ready for the next 2 hours.

I hate riding at night on trips. This would have been a very pleasant and interesting part of the ride, but our limited time means we were doing it at night. This stretch had its own assortment of woods and rivers and lakes that we missed completely. Of course the difference was getting home at 6pm on our last day and having some contingency, or getting home at 9 pm and possibly even later.

This day was great up until sunset, but this part was far from enjoyable. Cold, dark, foggy, cold, worn out, did I mention cold? And there wasn't really for any purpose to our exertions except that we wouldn't have to worry about our arrival home. I could have taken an extra day, but it would mess with parenting schedules even further, and I wanted to leave that contingency for something like a break-down.

We kept on trucking, until we finally started hitting settlements. This trip just couldn't let us go without another mistake, though. When covering ground in the US, I'm generally used to more things being open. Especially gas stations. There's zero reason for us having had this expectation. Maybe our decisions were already affected coming out of Val-d'Or. On paper we had enough fuel to make it to the next town, but we really could have made our lives so much easier by just filling up. When we got to the next gas station, it was closed. And the next one after that, and the next one, too. We started hitting small settlements, but all of them were completely dark. There was no lodging or gas to be found. this time it was the Honda that was low on fuel, since we had been more careful with tiger. Our only option was to drop speed and try to cruise into the next big town.

We finally got to Mont-Laurier, where the gas stations were closed but the bright shining super 8 beckoned to us. Having had to drop speed, we took a lot longer to get here, plus with the broken communicator we had to stop and discuss our fuel struggles and make decisions. By the time we got booked it was well after midnight. At least they let us leave the bikes out front in the snow machine parking.

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Day Seven:

All rested up, we got up and went to that gas station in the picture above to finally fill up. We promptly hit our first traffic jam coming down from the north, but otherwise got moving. 117 is the Trans-Canada Hwy, which is probably really common for all the people driving it, but pretty exciting to us, even though we're just headed towards Montreal. It was a decently nice highway, and I remember a lot of the turns and hills from a decade ago. As expected, it got more and more populated, and the road became bigger and bigger. We stopped for wardrobe changes related to rain and temperature, but the goal was to get back into the states and make our way home.

Flashback: Much of this was a repeat of our trip 10 years ago. That day was 100% rain all day. We had woken up in the rain, ridden all day in the rain, and pulled into a hotel, just having crossed the border into the states, in the rain. It was probably my wettest day of riding to this day, and I appreciated that it was not quite as rainy this time around.

Back to the trip: We had to stop one more time for a goodbye plate of poutine. This was at a Harnois gas station on 132 just south of Montreal. This was a memorable stretch of roadside industry, and a stark difference from the rest of our trip. The gas station had a hotel and a food court, and we made use of the food court to pick up these stomach busters:

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Mine has a corn dog on it.

There's not much left of this trip in pictures. The rest was several hours of highway riding. My ears hurt, and my body was sore, but I was happy to get towards home.

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This was a very fulfilling trip for just 7 days of riding. Miles of woods, Kilometers of gravel, lots to see, challenges to face, mistakes made. We didn't reach our original destination, but that just leaves another reason to come back in a few years, or even in another decade. Lots of pictures left to take, and lots and lots of gravel left to ride. Lots of potatoes to eat, not to mention the freeze-dried meals. Today I'm working through a house sale and a house purchase, and I'm looking forward to a busy year full of growth and work this year (2023 now). I still have hope for more bucket list trips to plan in future years. And even if it's not "The Furthest Point from any Town in North America", I'm still really looking forward to the next trip, whatever it ends up being.

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We're planning to hit the TT in August and we're planning to do all of the south road etc. Just to let you know the James Bay Road has been renamed the Billy Diamond Highway in tribute to one of the more recent First Nations people.
 
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