James Bay Trip, Val-D’Or – Matagami

Filled with gas, but delayed, I’m now heading North from Val-D’or on highway 111, at about 2:30. Several gas stations on 111, a good mental note for next time. My map and plan suggest the town of Amos is about an hour North, and would make a good next stop.

The next hour of riding feels more familiar — it’s not that far between towns here, and there is less “wilderness” feeling. The areas between the towns are still dotted with the occasional roadside building, and the road has long straight stretches.

As Amos approaches, I’m thinking about food. After that monstrous breakfast, I don’t feel much like eating. But I know I’m about to enter a long stretch with no services at all, so I think I should stop for a snack. With this still on my mind, I pull into the town of Amos and — whoah! — an A&W! This is too much to ask, and I stop for a Teen Burger and frosty root beer, and feel 30 years younger for a few minutes.

As I leave Amos heading North, I pass a big provincial billboard, which I translate as something like “this marks the boundary of the trial of permitting right turns on red lights. From this point North you may not turn right on red lights.”. What the sign doesn’t mention, and I don’t realize for a couple of days, is that there are no more traffic lights from this point North.

The next hour or so is still similar roads — straight pavement with light industrial/residential mix off to the side. My map says St-Dominique-de-Rosaire is the last town for some time, so I top up the tank there even though it only takes a bit.

Suddenly, there are 4 hard right angle turns and I’m Northbound in a very different environment. Although the road is still rather straight, the signs of industry rapidly fade and the trees edge back closer to the highway. A sign informs me there is a rest stop and telephone in about 80 Km. If a telephone 80 Km away warrants a sign, this is going to be a pleasant ride.

That turns out to be correct. The road gradually gets more twisty, and soon it’s continuous big sweepers and gentle hills. The pavement is quite good too. Gravel shoulders on each side, a rather narrow strip of cleared land, and then forest.

Is it my imagination, or are the trees getting smaller? After a while I decide yes, they are definitely smaller. But whether it’s because they are the recovery of an old fire, or forestry, or the environment doesn’t support large trees, I can’t decide yet.

After an hour, I come to the promised rest stop and telephone. I have not seen another vehicle going my way, and have passed only a dozen or so going the other way, so I can see why you’d want a phone available. There’s a big tower here too, and I guess that the real reason this stop exists is to support the microwave relay — the phone and outhouse are just an added benefit. There’s nothing here — no water or view or anything, just a chance to stop and stretch, so I soon get ready to resume.

As I think about remounting the bike, I notice again that there are rather ugly dark gray clouds gathering to the North. Rather than being caught in rain, I take a few minutes to take my boots off (does that ever feel good!) and don my waterproof socks. About 20 mosquitoes attack my feet while I am doing this, but I think I’ll be glad for the socks. Waterproof glove covers over my regular gloves too. (All this done without taking my helmet off because the bugs are so thick.) Back on the road again.

Another hour passes on great roads, and the trees are definitely getting thinner. At 4:20 I stop for another stretch. This is “Halte Cartwright”, which my map claims is only 50 Km from Matagami. I’m at Km 649 from home.

I finally remember my camera, and that I haven’t been taking pictures, and I promise to fix this oversight tomorrow. In fact, I’ll start now although the scenery isn’t as interesting as what I’ve been passing.

Cartwright is typical of the stops I’ve been seeing for the last couple of hours. A place to pull off the road, mainly to service a tall microwave relay tower; a telephone; an outhouse.

In this particular outhouse a couple of garter snakes have taken up residence in the corner and aren’t happy when I join them. They scurry out through a crack in the wall, but I can’t find them when I come out afterward. Odd they’d be inside in the shade. It’s quite cool and I thought they were supposed to seek warm places. Maybe they were braving the cold to catch bugs or mice or something.

Looking around while stretching, the landscape is getting more barren. Rolling hills in the distance with stunted trees. Still can’t tell if it is from fire or environment. (I later learn that it is the regrowth from a big fire several years earlier. I’m not yet far enough north to see stunting from climate.)

It’s getting cooler and there has been a sprinkle of rain now and then. Light rain for a few Km, then nothing, then on again.

At about 4:35 I’m off again, only about 1/2 hour to Matagami. As I start seeing signs for the town, and for the James Bay Highway slightly beyond the town, I’m planning my overnight stop. I had planned a camping night, but I’m reconsidering. That monster breakfast I had this morning is catching up with me — I’m groggy, tired, and my stomach is complaining. So I decide to treat myself to a night in the hotel; camping can wait.

I arrive at the town at 5:25, Km 718. Take a quick bike tour through the town. It’s about 10-15 blocks square, very much set up as a through station for travellers and support for major industries (which, according to a sign, are a mine and a forestry company). There are 3-4 hotels, 1-2 schools, and quite a nice looking town hall and arena. I pull into a friendly looking hotel, no problem having a room with no reservation. Unpack the bike, have a wonderful meal of local trout, and turn in early.

Some notes for tomorrow:

  • Top up the tank right to the brim
  • Start the day with extra socks, long sleeves under the suit, and electric vest. It’s going to be cold, and I’m going to try to minimize the use of the electric vest, to save fuel.
  • Move the tent and mattress bundles to the sides of the bike, not behind me like today. They kept working into the space between the top case and seat, loosening the tie-downs.

Tomorrow will be the ride up the James Bay Highway to Radisson.


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