- The Scurvy Seven Go Formation Flying In a Lawless Land
There were seven of them, and they were rough around the edges to the point where most had no edges left at all.
By process of grim attrition, Homeland Security raids, or pathological Darwinism they were what remained after the lesser ones had fallen to the sides of the road. These were the sour cream at the top of the week-old milk; these were the ones in a thousand who could survive any horrifying tank slapper, any cataclysmic run to the beer store with 5 minutes left before closing time, any crazed blitz along a gravel road at 90 mph. These were the dudes that God had cast slightly wider than life.
For the most part they were middle-aged and battered, and trapped inside each was a wild-eyed teenaged boy just itching for something to start. And that could be accommodated.
For each of them had the Gas Properties and each had the Spark Properties, and none were configured to be tempered by the cautionary impulse lobes. They wanted action. They needed action. And if they weren't going to find some, then they were just going to have to whip some up.
They had gathered for the run in the town of Ottawa in Her Majesty's Dominion of Canada. Before them at the saloon were arranged buckets of the brown suds and by early evening the bantering volume had achieved High Din status. The whoppers were being whopped, the tall ones were being stretched, and the builders climbed that anticipatory mountain yet again.
Heroic riding deeds were described in their abundant glory, tragic mechanical mishaps were unfurled with leaky dampness, and the after-ride howlers yet again were being hit with grin-splitting intensity. Bellies bounced, hands and arms gesticulated in the ritual style and, as one, the listeners leaned as the teller told.
These were the different drummers, the guys who couldn't march, the itchy ones who could not abide speed limits or red lights, and their mechanical steeds, the noble Kawasaki Concours, were hitched up in a line outside that raucous place. Before them on the tables were spread the maps. And upon each map was a bold black line with an arrow that pointed north. Due North... to the Arctic Ocean.
If all went according to plan, they would, in 2 or 3 days time, gaze out over the salty waters of the Arctic Ocean on Canada's James Bay, but only after surviving a high speed rip along the final 360 mile, lawless and largely abandoned private launch pad. This paved quasi-race course had been laid down to allow access to the series of mammoth hydro-electric plants far in the north of la belle province of Québec and it made them salivate just to think of it .
And at the halfway point of this, the infamous James Bay Road, was to be found the sole gas station... and beside the sole gas station was the medi-vac helicopter pad. It was possible, if not probable, that this chopper would see some action over the course of the next few days. It was their primary fall-back position whether they liked it or not.
For the most part there were no leaders among the motley, limping collection, for they disliked leading as much as they disliked being led. They were freaks of genetic entropy and how they ever made it this far through life was a deep question for a different day. For now, keeping them all aimed generally northward and in some semblance of order would be enough to burst the forehead veins of Mother Theresa.
The best that could be hoped for at the outset was that they would all arrive on approximately the same date at the end-town of Radisson in Québec's sub-arctic tundra. But it was understood that some would become distracted and would veer at the least sign of something bizarre, something dangerous or anything extreme. The Cree Indian Nation in Chisasibi had been given warning and presumably would be on the lookout for trouble.
The Québec Provincial Police had not.
Day One: Tuesday September 4, 2007
Start Point = Ottawa, Ontario
GPS = 45.32 (lat.) X 75.66 (long.)
Elevation = 114 meters
The boys had recovered nicely from the previous evening's tour of downtown Ottawa where they had gaped and gawked and eventually been accosted by 2 beautiful blondes (one of whom had grabbed the Hog Butt by way of introduction). The gals were quickly escorted to the nearest bar for lies and banter and Tub broke the ice nicely by loudly ordering some "poon-tang" instead of the traditional French dish of "poo-teen".
This drew an admiring glance from one of the sisters who murmured something in his ear that sounded like "... you can't get that in restaurants up here Tub...". But gentlemen they were and gentlemen they stayed, even as the good Canadian beer eroded discipline and inter-gender resolve.
*it should be noted early that “Poutine”, a traditional Québecois dish consisting of about 6 pounds of greasy french fries, coated with a few handfuls of cheese curds and topped off by a bucket of bubbling, fatty gravy, will make several appearances during the story, much to the dismay of any reading coroners or pathologists. Tub and Krumgrinder became particularly afflicted by this evil concoction, usually after the day’s ride, and sometimes with rumours of liquor on their breath.
Later that evening the bar across the street from the motel got a punishing workout and they all started to get to know each other - a posse of 3 from Ohio (one of whom was carrying the State flag for reasons unclear at that point), a lone renegade from Kansas who eventually clocked over 4,500 miles round trip, 2 buddies from Southern Ontario who rode possibly twice as far as necessary that day just to get into the twisties instead of the 401 super slab, and a lone Hog representative of Her Majesty's National Capital Region. Things got loud and a bit crazy, but they turned in somewhat early - something big was ahead and they were frisky.
The lads were fuelled up and ready to get cracking at an early hour. The first part of the ride would involve traffic, speed limits, lights and other profound irritations, but they knew these were to be short-lived. They wended their way through downtown Ottawa and crossed the Macdonald-Cartier bridge over the Ottawa River and into the province of Québec. As they cranked their heads back toward the city they took in the Parliament Buildings on the cliff, the Prime Minister's residence (where an intruder had managed to slip past the sleepy RCMP security detail a few years back only to be met by the PM's wife wielding a 30 pound Inuit soapstone carving), and the waterfall that signified the end of the Rideau River as it plunged into the Ottawa and slipped its way eastward toward Montreal.
Here her waters would join with the mighty St. Lawrence on its endless journey to the Atlantic Ocean where she would continue her evaporative cycle, returning northward 4 days later by way of a series of driving, freezing gales that drove the boys partially mad on the return leg of the run. What goes around comes around. And yes, there might have even been some recycled COG beer in the mix.
While eastern Ontario is generally pretty flat and a bit boring (like the people:) the change in topography on the north side of the Ottawa River was striking. Here was the beginning of the massive Canadian Shield which is the world’s oldest mountain range, covers over 95% of Québec (580,000 square miles) and contains some of the oldest igneous rocks in the world, dating back to the Precambrian period which had its day about 1 billion years ago (even before Tub was born, some say).
The Shield has been scraped and pounded by glaciers which explains the boulders, gravel and sand that were to be seen along much of our route. The Shield also has a mind-blowing arrangement of over a million lakes, peat bogs, rivers and streams which seem endless when viewed from a plane or a zooming sports-tourer like brave Connie.
The lads were itchy in the first hour or so as they endured commercial and commuter traffic along highway 105 which snaked along beside the Gatineau River. There also was a bit of construction going on which further impeded things. Eventually though, we left all that crap behind and our Connies got to stretch their legs a bit, despite the police presence and less-than-optimal road surface.
"Any chance we can wind it up a bit? I thought we were going to be able to rip a bit quicker than this." This from Colin, the token ST 1100 rider that we allowed to join us in a rather magnanimous gesture, even though we were careful not to joke about his bike when he was within ear-shot.
"Let's hold off a bit, at least until we get used to each other. Things open up quite a bit when we get into La Verendrye Wildlife Refuge and what few cops are up there are generally pretty tolerant. Later today we'll get past Amos and things get real isolated and swervy from there to Matagami. I have no problem suggesting that we can go WFO on that stretch". This from your scribe, Mr. Know-It-All, in words he would later eat, albeit in a non-litigious way.
Any worries about group rides and co-ordination of the freight train quickly vanished as the guys slipped into a nicely-spaced, neatly staggered right/left accordion and wound their way along the winds and bends of Highway 105 North as it paralleled the river. Excellent cliffs, river vistas, classic Québec rural architecture and lots of rolling farmlands were enjoyed by all. As were group pee stops that tested the spiritual foundation of that passing motorist and his wife.
La Vérendrye is about the size of Connecticut (17,000 square kilometres) is punctuated by horizons-full of bush, rivers, rock and lakes, and has zero gas stops along its 100 mile length. Every 20 kilometers (12 miles) were to be found "SOS" stations where anyone in distress or being pursued by a ravenous gang of bears could dial 911 and get some help as long as they spoke fluent French. The signs looked pretty cool though in their brilliant red and white and served nicely to help the cloistered Yanks get used to the Canadian metric system. Remember that these boys were getting hit by the alien triad of a new currency, a new language, and a new measurement system ("still just looks like a can of beer to me").
La Vérendrye's landscape is typical of the Shield and has massive growths of coniferous tress like the ever-abundant Black Spruce and Jack Pine. There are reportedly over 40 types of critters up there as well, including moose, white-tailed deer, bear, wolf ("hey Steve, how big was the one you saw?") and beaver. There's also oodles of pickerel (walleye for you heathen Yanks), pike, trout, smallmouths and whole navies of sturgeon for those that like to drink beer in a boat and whiz over the side.
The ride through the refuge was tons of fun and some of the fast boys, particularly Colin and John The V, began to stretch it out a bit. Others paired off and Tub and AJ began to establish their reputation as the "clean-up crew" running tail-end so as to be on the lookout for any smoking Connie remains, skid marks through a guard rail ahead, or smug-looking moose. The fast guys also served an essential martyrdom function in their magnetic roles as "radar bait" but we weren't telling them this early in the trip...
Big gas-up on the other side of the park and the boys got to practice their French with the gas kids, one of whom was obviously gaga over bikes and made throttle-twisting motions and sounds as he helped us re-fuel. The French people count in the most eccentric way and trying to keep up in a foreign language with someone asking for "vingt, quatre-vingt-dix-huit" (literally "twenty, four-twenty-ten-eight" or $20.98) can be trying.
Quick run over to the local greasy spoon where we learned the difference between "un hamburger" and "un hamburger spéciale" (the former is a patty on a bun and the latter has stuff on it). Some brave soul took another stab at a cauldron of poutine (man, that stuff could stop the Delta Force in its tracks). Some say Poutine represents the 4 major food groups but science probably could not be sure without a series of full autopsies.
For the duration of the expedition any discussion about any technical topic under the sun would invariably prompt Troidus to pronounce upon the matter. For example, a typical poutine banter would elicit something like “I’m pretty sure that mono-unsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats do not raise LDL cholesterol; although some studies I have read suggest they lower LDL cholesterol slightly when eaten as part of a low-saturated and trans-fat diet.”
The dumb guys would stare and then slowly shake their heads in wonder.
Beyond Grande Remous ("Big Mixture", after the rapids) and we transition out of the Canadian Shield and into another glacial peculiarity known as the "Clay Belt" which is a totally unexpected great swath of fertile land that stretches across northern Ontario and north-western Québec. This strange but rich landscape allows livestock farming and the great rolling wheat fields we passed. It also hides some extremely valuable deposits of gold, nickel and uranium which have made the fame of northern cities like Sudbury, Timmins and Rouyan-Noranda.
Zip over to Val d'Or ("Valley of Gold") for a quick run past a massive open-face gold mine and along a well-paved series of traffic round-abouts ("Blimey you say old chap!!!!”). The boys were flipping the Connies about like they were KLR650s and even the ST1100 was able to keep up:).
In the early afternoon the gang made it up to the start of the 150 mile Amos-Matagami stretch where the "experienced expert" had loudly pronounced that it was quite safe to "let 'er rip the whole way", as there were "no cops, for sure". Without further urging the freight train stretched out, with even the clean-up squad running +100 mph for long stretches. The rest did the grab-ass at light speed and got great thrills out of hitting the roller coasters that seemed to compress suspension a bit in the hollers and make the trees on each side of the road blur just like in the movies.
*Later that night, during the post-caribou burger drinking session ("... anybody like Irish whiskey?") it was learned from "Lucien", Matagami's only GL 1800 rider, that we should, under absolutely no circumstances, go much above the speed limit on the Amos-Matagami stretch as there were cops "all over the place", and they were "without mercy"... hmmmmm.
An hour and a bit later they rolled into Matagami tired but very exhilarated. This was the start of the infamous James Bay Road where, next day, the real fun would begin in earnest. But first they needed to do the hotel, gas and security check-in business. But I digress from the murder mystery.
It was just outside the Hydro Québec security station that The KrumGrinder tried to kill Troidus. No-one could have predicted that the ride up had pushed him that close to the snapping point, but later, during the soothing hops process, it became retroactively self-evident. The fact that he also came close to simultaneously offing the "hitchhiker from Paris" (more on him later) and a passing pickup driver shows how cheap life is to some. Here's the shocking scene.
The boys had just finished that day's patently stupid and criminally insane blitz, had topped up at the gas station beside the motel (with the nameless, ever-nameless Connie boy refusing a CDA # after toppling over in front of witnesses Steve), had somehow registered in an unknown language at the motel and now needed to get things squared away with the Hydro Québec security station Boss Lady.
This was the ornery gal that might have remembered me from the foam dripping out of my pant legs 2 years ago when she last interrogated me (yes, I used shampoo to ease my chapped crotch earlier that fateful day). Her approval would allow the planets to be properly pre-aligned for the next day's highly anticipated Fear Of Death run.
Several of the more eager lads had found, to their worry, that they needed photo i.d. to get loaded into the Potential Corpse Database at the security station. This listing would tell the search & rescue canine units how many bloated/frozen carcasses they should be seeking when they did the spring fling should less than 100% of the visitors not make it out again.
Showing off just a little (as is their wont), the need-to-get-my-passport-pronto guys took off from the checkpoint like double AA fuelers with a great howl from the straining Connies. No-one thought anything when KrumMan fiddled with his spare gas canister, looking guiltily all about as he loosened the bungees, possibly glaring with bloodshot eyes at Troidus.
Scant moments later, and juxtaposed with the mystery hitchhiker, the mystery pickup, and the oblivious Troidus, the gas canister was fired like a cannonball rearward from The Grinder's bike where it smashed on the ground, was hit by the truck and spun like a hyper-pinwheel into the direct path of The Bike From Kansas. The hitchhiker, whom we later discovered was a journalist from Paris, was terrified by these mad, homicidal bikers and scrambled wildly across the Bell River bridge and away from the impending carnage.
Disappointingly, there were no explosions or even open flames, Troidus scrambled clear with cat-like reflexes, and the canister was recovered, intact and none the worse for wear from the bizarre encounter. Tub pony'd up a spare bungee net and the gang moved through the border processing and back to the motel. They were thirsty. And the day's tales needed to be told.
At some blurred point in the night, the erstwhile Lucien showed up and regaled the Connie men with tales of French-Canadian Goldwingdom. The guy was hilarious and seemed to attract various riff-raff over to join in the revelry. At one point the mystery hitchhiker made a cameo appearance where he was roughly question by the boys until he fled. Like other weird characters, we would meet him again later in the trip.
Wednesday September 5, 2007
Start Point = Matagami, Québec
GPS = 49.73 (lat) X 77.71 (long)
Elevation = 281 meters
Up early yet again for the warm-up. Coffee shook its way down shivering throats as it was cold - it would remain that way each morning of the run with temperatures being in the low 40s at best. But the boys were ready and were layered up. A quick huddle and a brief consultation with the "expert" whose stock and credibility had taken a big hit the night before when the gang reflected on doing WAY over the limit for a few hours in an area that was discovered to be cop turf.
Oh well, today was going to be different for sure - the infamous James Bay Road - "Route Isolée" said the big French road-sign. No cops, no speed limit, and no gas station until Mile 230.
Even knowing that they needed to exhibit throttle frugality for most of this stretch they couldn't hold back, and some cranked it right out of the box. However, prudence and a really banged up roadway, replete with many frost heaves brought them to their senses. They did well, all things considered, and held a steady 80 - 90 mph pace for much of the way. The scenery was mesmerizing and was basically bush, rocks and water with a couple of 20-30 minute rides through huge, old forest-fire burn patches that looked other-worldly. This for hours and hours with nary a human or a house to be seen.
The gang pulled off a couple of amazing stops alongside the raging rivers that are the source of all Québec's hydro wealth ($11 billion gross last year just through the northern systems alone). The stop at the Rupert River dropped everyone's jaws as the rapids were easily several hundred yards wide and raged right to the horizon. This river will be dammed next year which has pissed off some of the Cree (despite their agreement and acceptance of oodles of money) but will add to the province's revenues in perpetuity.
It was at the Rupert River stop that the one pathetic-looking rider discovered that his fairing head-stay was completely shattered. Almost like he'd been riding like a crazed idiot over a paved motocross track and at top speed for hours and hours. Coils of zip-ties and thin-gauge wire were tried but were quickly destroyed. Then the Grinder and The V got out the nylon rope and cinched 'er down real good. The other 4 guys struggled for mechanical position - all the tools were out. A sub-arctic wrench session was on!!!!
"That should do until we get to Radisson. I'd keep the speed down if I were you".
This advice was actually being offered to a moron who had absolutely zero self-discipline, had taken the art of wilful obliviousness to new highs for several decades, and who wouldn't have dreamed in a million years about riding slow while sitting on perhaps the planet's primest real estate for worry-free speeding. Don't make me loff.
Hours later, eyes were glued to the twin trip meters (given Connie's pathetic attempt at a gas gauge) and speeds slowed as the tanks began to get lighter. Eventually the gas stop appeared on the horizon with several of the itchy boys already waiting at the intersection with their mounts facing northward toward Radisson.
"You guys gas up already?" This from the stupid-looking guy who was beginning to look less and less like he actually knew anything about this whole sordid mess.
"Naw, we just weren't sure that this was really the place." This from one of the Frisky Ones (Colin, John and Troy at that stage).
"Yeah, I guess it is pretty bad looking isn't it? Well anyways, this is the place - let's go!".
The gas bar actually looks like a Gulag and has the biggest, rustiest gas holding tank on the planet, looking like it had been stolen from the Red Army, circa WW2. The big giant gas guy was still there (what a life) and we all obeyed the bold instructions that forbade anybody but him from operating the pump (diesel and regular only). The Expert pointed out the empty medi-vac pad and pronounced upon the likelihood that it was out gathering body parts for the last biker that attempted the JBR without proper martial arts spirit and attitude. Credibility further eroded when it then whumped into view and dropped off a guy with an electric guitar and what looked like a case of beer.
The remaining stretch to Radisson was only 130 miles and the road had improved. As a result, speeds… ummm… increased and mileage suffered to the point where it whimpered and then completely capitulated. It is remarkable how fast you can go through 7 gallons when you really put your mind to it. It was also remarkable at how quickly you can grow accustomed to sustained hyper-speeds, one of which manifestation is the belief that you can probably step off your bike and walk when slowing through towns or sighting members of the law enforcement community.
The blitz was resumed with a vengeance, the boys crossed several massive forest fire clearings that probably were the closest thing to the Martian landscape this side of Kandahar, and they eventually stopped at the Radisson airport to watch an ancient Hawker-Siddley 748 belonging to Air CreeBec (I kid you not) blast off into the wind with its nitrous-type boost system. As predicted, they ran into the pilot a few days later outside the bar in Radisson.
Well, they sure laid out the red carpet for us at the Auberge (hotel) Radisson. The proprietress, Suzie ("they call me the princess of Radisson"), met us upon arrival and quickly chided us for leaving our bikes in the parking lot.
"Please bring them up onto the sidewalk in front of the reception area. Can you park them like cowboys please? We love such good publicity". Heads shake at this one - yes, this is different for sure.
Inside, the dusty beaten idiots were greeted by the gorgeous Lebanese assistant, Rachel, who had personalized portfolio’s for us all with maps, instructions and meal passes enclosed. Generally, we got a room, 3 squares, and a free VIP tour of the hydro installation for about $110 a night which is a real steal in the far north. Suzie was especially excited about offering us a Nordic Dinner on the last night featuring a caribou fillet mignon (and booze).
That evening was spent recounting some of the crazier racing incidents of the day, quoffing good Canadian beer, and grabbing some more caribou burgers. The bikes were then tucked in and the boys collapsed into some pretty decent hotel rooms. It had been a long day and, unaccountably, no-one had been killed.
Thursday September 6, 2007
GPS = 53.37 (lat) X 77.42 (long)
Elevation = 195 meters (and later that day – sea level)
The boys had a free day in Radisson but had big plans too. First at bat was the VIP tour of the Bourassa Hydro complex and that would prove to be a hot one with the technical boys ("how many kilowatt hours did you say?"). Then grab some lunch and mount the steeds for a quick run over to the Cree village of Chisasibi and a symbolic wheel-dip in the Arctic Ocean ("hey, it is salty!"). It was never suspected that the 100 mile roustabout over there and back would be the hairiest and most insane of the trip, if you count the guys who didn't get lost. But I run ahead of myself...
We were welcomed to the muti-media, high-tech Hydro Québec auditorium by Eric a Québecois version of Nikola Tesla who, we found out later, was a fully trained hydro-electrical engineer and definitely knew about which he spake, The fact that he was fun and very fluent in English was a bonus. At the gathering point (about 30 yards from our hotel rooms), we ran into John L. Sullivan (yep, same guy) and his buddy whose name I forgot. John and I had both been up the JBR in previous, separate solo runs and had found to our amusement that we just might bump into each other up in Radisson - serendipity I think it's called.
We had learned quite a bit of tolerance by allowing Colin's ST 1100 to keep up with us so far, and turned these new skills to work for John and his buddy who were up on BMWs (cursed be thy name). Later that day we saw them off as we grabbed some emergency Poutine at the Boreal Bar, remarking on the tremendous amounts of gear they had packed in. Man, and they say the DC3 was a workhorse!
Grab a hardhat and hop into our own little mini-bus as Eric continued the tour out past Radisson and toward the underground complex at Cheyenne Mountains (hey, wait a second!!). Seriously, the hydro installation was blown so deep into the pre-Cambrian granite that some wag remarked on the possibility of finding Tub-like fossils...
Given 9/11 and all that, we picked up a security guard/escort who eyed us warily the whole way. Not sure why, as I myself had rarely seen such a clean-cut and well turned-out group of polite individuals in all my born days.
Hope I don’t get too much of this wrong, but the scale and throbbing power inside the 1/3 of a mile long cavern just blew us all away. There were 6 massive generating units each of which weighed over 900 tons and they put out over 450,000 horsepower each which, incidentally, is just a tad more than the Windsor Green Connie (Canadian model only) and roughly equivalent to three Boeing 747s.
Later, the boys got a change to scramble down a spooky stairway and peer inside one of the turbine units to see it spin (60 revs per second). Troidus put his brain in gear and started to compute rotor weight, rpm, and voltage step-up values and came up in his head with a power output estimate that was pretty close to the real thing (333 megawatts). By this time people were starting to look at this dude whenever he opened his mouth.
At one point Eric mentioned that the moving parts used a very thin oil bearing to keep all the granite-shaking metal monsters from frictioning themselves into a great heap of smoking slag, and this caused seven heads to snap up in unison.
“What kind of oil do you use?”. Eric didn’t know off the top of his head, although he did comment on how all the oil was recycled in-house. The seven kept staring though and Eric slowly realized that the type of oil used was of critical importance to these guys – lord knows why. He promised to look into it.
The tour finale was a winding drive along the gravel road network that led to the massive La Grande (LG 2) dam. Not sure if I have used the word massive enough and need to go back to check. Anyhoo, this sucker is like a third of a mile wide at the base, contains more than 23 million cubic meters of fill (slightly more than all the poutine gulped down during the trip), and is almost 3 kilometres across (1.8 miles).
It has created a lake that is used for boating, water-skiing and fishing. We learned that once a year the “trash gates” are hoisted so that the accumulated debris can be removed, thereby allowing only unsullied water to flood through the turbines.
“What kind of stuff do you find in those gates?”, went one of the questioners.
“Well, we get materials like trees and things.” replied Eric politely.
“No bodies, or motorcycles, or crates of gold?”, posed the creative boy hopefully.
“Not really”, dashing the hopes and images of all.
Later that afternoon the boys prepared for the run over to Chisasibi and fuelled up in eager anticipation. Although contact had been made with the Cree band council beforehand (“sure, drop over anytime and say hi”) I knew in my heart that the odds of anybody being found were slim to nil. These are folks that generally are not clock-watchers and move instead to many of the naturals rhythms of the environment – the geese are coming through, the caribou have started to migrate, the artist-formerly-known-as-Prince has a new MTV video, etc.
We zipped out from Radisson and into a stiff westerly headwind that banged us around for a half hour or so until we got over to Chisasibi. The closer we got to the bay, the more stunted and desolate the landscape and eventually things faded away to rock, lichen and stunted conifers. We slid about on the last 8 mile gravel road and then, lo and behold, the Arctic Ocean lay before us!
I must admit I wasn’t expecting such a neat sight, especially since the sun was dappling the whitecaps with its reflections and the shore was covered with Cree freighter canoes. Nobody was around, which suited us just fine and the gang began to line up for photos with their bikes dipping front wheels into the ocean.
John the V pulled of a real coup by pulling a case of beer from his Givi and handing them around. Hoots and hollers and high-fives as it began to dawn on us that our mission was mostly completed and that nothing outrageously horrifying had happened. Not even one speeding ticket!!
Back to Chisasibi where no Cree officials were to be found, but by then the let-down was not huge. Lots of gabbing with passing kids and a quick chat with the Chisasibi cops in their very cool 4X4 when it was noted that John the V had not made it back with us.
“I bet he went down in the gravel. He’s probably dead”. Murmured some thoughtful soul.
There was nothing for it but that the Local Expert travel back to discover the remains and maybe grab whatever farkles were detachable from the downed Connie. It must be pointed out here that I am not big at all on riding 660 pound sports-touring bikes on loose gravel, but the single beer I had did its usual encouraging-word thingy and off I flew.
Riding a road bike in gravel is much like riding a dirt bike in sand, and I had many a decade of that stuff under my belt. So I loosened up and let Connie wander where she wanted, reminding myself that her centrifugal forces would bail us out no matter what happened. Yeah, right.
John was found a few mile later, unscathed, which blew out the potential for a really good story. As we got back onto the road I pulled out ahead and decided to give it a bit of a goose, showing off the superior performance of the Windsor Green model. I got going at a good clip and turned to look back over my throttle shoulder only to find… no John. I sat up in alarm only to get completely blitzed by this nut-case going past on the clutch side at a speed that was shocking to witness. Obviously the gauntlet was down and we wicked it up to keep his dust trail in sight.
Actually it was a lot of fun and we got up to over 90 mph at which speed our Connies were doing a very impressive wander-about routine. But we were relaxed and reenergized from our dip into the salt water and all too soon hit the pavement.
Back to join the gang in Chisasibi only to have our hopes dashed at contacting the chief or band council. Most people sorta gave us vague directions about the location of the band office and we finally realized it wasn’t going to work. Oh well, maybe next year.
Back on the highway and this time with the strong wind at our backs. It was at this point that The KrumGridner snapped again and dramatically hunched down over his bike and absolutely took off. I jumped to keep up as did John The V and the three of us spend the next ½ hour or so taking our Connie’s to their (OK, our) limits.
We pinned it on the straights and touched speeds towards 120 mph several times (remember we had bags and shields on and the stupidest of us had a fairing secured with the nylon rope farkle). The sweepers along this highway were pretty quick and had few bumps so away we went using all of Keith Code’s racing tricks – fixate on the correct line, enter at about 90 mph and roll on the throttle until the exit, feather touch on the bars with the inner palm counter-steering, and lean it more than seems sane.
The first series of corner were a bit spooky at this speed but then my Connie had The Big K pulling us from ahead and John’s Vision Plus beams pushing our mirrors from behind. Soon it got into a real groove and it just kept on in an almost timeless manner with every pixel of The Line serving to focus the brain.
At one nameless corner the highway snakes and frost heaves had conspired to completely destroy any line through the bend, which I discovered in complete alarm after watching Steve blow it completely and drift into the oncoming lane. We laid on the Double Pucker Power to ward off any oncoming pickups filled to the brim with Cree people and managed to squeak through with a big I.O.U. left behind.
It seemed to go on for an eternity but suddenly I saw a stop sign ahead (actually it said “arrêt” in French and had some cool hieroglyphics in Cree) and knew the fun was over.
As I stopped I thought to myself “Man, those 2 guys must be absolutely nuts. I wonder if they always ride like that!”. Not really, as we all celebrated at the stop, exchanging high-fives and hoots and then shouting that it was time to get back to the saloon for a cold one. We waited a while for the tardy ones to catch up and then formation flew back into Radisson passed the now-familiar Martian Invader installations that served as the transmission base for all the boost going over the lines and down to the USA eastern seaboard, Quebec and southern Ontario.
That night we had a super “Nordic” dinner after bantering quite a bit with "Nancy", our waitress. After farting around with French words for "well done" or "medium" she threw up her arms and said "... you want blood or no blood?" - we got the message. Later, some of us wandered down to the "Pub Seize" (French for 16) – which acknowledges the 16 turbines that make all the power along the La Grande River system. Here we ran into our buddy Eric with his buddy who just happened to be the mayor of Radisson. Later a nut-case Cree guy wandered over spinning us a yarn about how he invented the X Box, or some such stretcher.
Back to somebody's room for ice cold beer from the local store and head over to the Boreal Bar to hang with the locals (anybody detecting a theme here?). Tub was especially interested in the draft tap set-up as he had one in his basement bar (don't we all?) and Troidus got blasted with a $50 bill for 3 pitchers of beer by our waitress, who was yet another "Nancy". Veering back to the hotel we ran into the Parisian hitchhiker-journalist guy who had started to develop a facial tick whenever he saw us. Can't imagine what mention he might make of us in his news story ("Taber-Nac, deez crazeee guys were everrrrywhere!!!!").
AJ snores. But I don't. I'm sure.
Friday September 7, 2007
Start Point = Radisson, Québec
GPS = 53.37 (lat) X 77.42 (long)
Elevation = 195 meters
The return run down the JBR from Radisson to Matagami was very cool (in more ways than one) and the gang stretched it out immediately. Troidus blasted off from the outset but was eventually reeled-in in what would prove to be the last really fast blast on the trip. It was found out later that day that his shock compression was #1 and he had about 25 psi (I think) which probably explains why his bike was see-sawing so noticeably in the really fast sweepers - I was sure he was gonna die, but was disappointed yet again.
The ride back down to the sole gas station was chilly but clear and the boys made very good time indeed. At the top-up we ran into the Cree Packman dude again who was on a mission to somewhere that probably was inexplicable, like the guy.
“You white men still on my land?” Without cracking a smile.
“Yes, but we’re leaving today and you can have it back. By the way, when exactly is moose season? I told these guys they’d see all those moose heads that you folks usually tie to the tops of your trucks after you chainsaw them off? (no word of a lie)
“Moose season is any season for us man”. A bit of back and forth and I pointed out the double moose whistles I had installed on Connie's front fender.
"Those things work?".
"They must, I haven't hit any moose so far". He stares at me.
That evening the boys pulled up their chairs outside their motel rooms and started the bantering beer session. Famous people of Matagami came and went including a very lovely, chain-smoking, beer-toting nurse who was heading out from Chisasibi for some R&R at the rear. Somebody remarked that it looked like we were probably going to continue to ride through bad weather the next day and she replied:
“There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad equipment”. Now there's a gal after our own hearts!
Saturday September 8, 2007
Start Point = Matagami, Québec
GPS = 49.73 (lat) X 77.71 (long)
Elevation = 281 meters
The final run together down from Matagami prompted mixed feelings in us all. By this point in the trip we had bonded quite a bit, had grown to know each other’s peculiarities and preferences, and were now capable of watching the blurring scenery not as alien and dangerous, as we had on the way up, but as something familiar, fun, and part of our collective experiences.
Together we had probably burned more 100 gallons of fuel just on the James Bay Loop itself ("I swear, the gas gauge was moving faster than my tach.!!!") and had probably sizzled through far more than that in liquid adrenaline. We had thrilled ourselves to the point of terror on several, extended occasions, marvelled at Mother Nature, been chilled and almost drowned by the final day’s freezing machine-gun gales and huddled together under picnic shelters when things got a bit too much for our old bones.
AJ pulled off the best geographic mechanical when his clutch pivot bolt went into orbit about 10 minutes from the Kawasaki shop in Amos, Québec - the boys fixed him up pronto in the best of "franglais" (1/2 French, 1/2 English). After that we gobbled down some "cafe" in the local McDonald's where all the products had French names ("un quartier livre avec fromage et frites s'il vous plait!") but that stuff was old hat to us now.
On the other side of Amos we split into 2 groups with handshakes all round - the Ohio Posse heading west into yet another storm system where they passed through Timmins and down to the border at Sault Sainte Marie, while the Canucks re-traced their route back through La Verendrye and to Ottawa. Troidus, in yet another renegade run, decided that a solo blast up the north route through Cochrane, Kapuskasing and back through Duluth was the proper ticket and proceeded thusly, despite a minor brush with Ontario Provincial Police along the way.
Old habits die hard.
Well, we accomplished our mission which was "seven go up, seven come back", despite coming close on more than one occasion.
Best move was accomplished by John The V who smuggled the beer down to our moment at the Arctic Ocean. Remember that this was the same loonie that passed me at 150 kph (90 mph) on the gravel road out.
Greatest moment of irony happened on the home stretch in Michigan when the steady hands in the Clean-Up Crew got nailed for doing around 90 mph but whined their way out of anything major. Lots of hoots on Open Forum after this came out ("...only 90? Were you guys even in top gear?!?!?").
Longest ride goes to Troidus who totalled about 4,500 from Lawrence, Kansas. If there ever was need for COG to send somebody on the Jeopardy show we probably couldn't do better than Troy, who seems to be a walking encyclopedia of every topic known to humankind.
Quickest wrench session guy was The KrumMon who seemed to have his entire tool kit out within seconds of any mechanical mishap and fought off a line-up of everybody else (except me, the helpless IKEA Boy) for wrenching rights. Must admit though that everyone was impressed by John's foresight in bringing along a torque wrench (a torque wrench?!?!).
Best non-Connie was Colin's ST 1100, probably because it was the only non-Connie we gave joining permission. Seriously, that was a clean rig and Colin rode it very well.
I managed to pull off the worst mechanical record on the trip, going through 2 bulbs, losing all electrical power at the most north point of the trip ("hey Steve, gimmee a hand here will yah"), and the aforementioned fairing stay (this 3 weeks after fracturing the side of the fairing frame up on a pre-run). Found out later that the other side had busted too, so she was hanging pretty loose there at times. Don't want to dwell too much on the 120 mph blasts for some reason...
Anyways, seems there's lots of clamouring to make this a yearly pilgrimage. Anybody out there interested?