James Bay Road

Wednesday, September 5

air hose

Before leaving this morning I gassed up for the 260 mile stretch to the next gas station. I couldn’t find the air for the tires – they had to direct me to the little door on the side of the building which opened up to reveal the air hose inside behind a plastic air lock. No frozen air hose in the cold winters up here!

Welcome sign

Here it is – the start of the James Bay Road. I was all excited, not quite knowing what to expect, but expectant anyway! This 420-mile long road was built between 1971 and 1974 to get machinery up to the sites in Northern Quebec along the Le Grande River where the huge Quebec-Hydro dams were to be built. The road is maintained by Hydro-Quebec.

James Bay check-in

At km-6 I stopped to register at the tourist office. They took my name and the license number from the bike, my destination, and noted my planned date of return. They explained where the gas stops and other services were along the road, and asked to make sure I had accommodations.  In the background of the photo you can see one of the very large logging trucks that hauls logs from the north to the mills in the south.

James Bay Road

This is what the road looks like – it is paved and fairly well maintained although there are many heaves and dips, presumably from the cold weather. The road was very well made, constructed to handle 500 ton rigs. There is no berm to speak of, and sometimes the forest along the side comes within 10 yards of the road. In the 420 miles I saw only a handful of vehicles headed in my direction, mostly trucks. Sometimes I would go for 10 or 15 minutes, or even longer before seeing any oncoming traffic.

SOS phone

SOS phones are located at 6 locations along the road. Each has its own diesel generator and antenna tower. The phones will accept credit card or collect calls, including calls to the tourist/security office at km-6.

Metagamie campground office


While taking a photo I noticed the battery in my camera was low! I found the office of the Metagamie campground open and they graciously allowed me to plug in my charger.

Metagamie campground staff

This man and his girlfriend run the campground during the summer; in the winters he makes long-sleeved gloves out of fur pelts.

Bear spray

While riding along at a good clip enjoying the scenery and isolation I suddenly remembered my bear spray was in the topcase! So I stopped and got it out, gave it a trial shot, and then put it in the tank bag in case I needed it. So far it’s been working – no bears!

Rupert River

The Rupert River at km-257, one of several large rivers in the northern Quebec region flowing into James Bay. The La Grande River further north had rapids like these before it was dammed up to generate electricity.

pizza lunch

At km-381 I stopped to fill up with gas and have my lunch of left-over pizza, when an elderly Cree man came over to chat. I had noticed him just a minute ago getting out of a van with his teenage granddaughter clinging tightly to his waist. He was taking her to a boarding school in Val-d’Or, several hundred miles to the south, so she can learn English and French. He felt it was important for her to also retain her native Cree, explaining that without her language she will lose her culture. He was a wise and humble man, with a smile that filled his face. I wished I had had more time to talk with him, but he had to get back on the road.

mushroom pickers

These men wanted to know where I was from, and where I was headed. They were from a small town several hundred miles to the south, and on their way up to Radisson to pick mushrooms for sale to Asian restaurants in Montreal. They were after a large flat variety, not like the morels we find in the woods back home.

Northern forest

This is the Eastmain river crossing further north along the road. I took this photo to show the terrain along the northern part of the road – much like the terrain in northern Alaska along the haul road.

Radisson Hotel

Finally at around 6 pm I made it to the hotel in Radisson, and found two group of motorcyclists had made it there before me. The one group of 5 guys from Massachusetts were going to ride the Trans-Tiaga Road tomorrow, a 435 mile gravel road  branching off the James Bay Road that provides access to additional dams along the La Grande River. It is a remote road, the northern most in Quebec, with few if any services. I might like to ride it someday, but I wouldn’t want to do it alone.

This was a long and tiring day, and I was ready to crash, but not before getting a bite to eat and watching Bill Clinton deliver the speech of his life at the Democratic Convention. It was an amazing day…