The Raw Stupidity Run
(or more aptly, “how nobody got killed”)
by P. Chas. Hogboy (Esq.)
Ride around little doggies, ride around them slow
For they’re fiery and they’re snuffy and they’re rarin' to go
It started out as a simple, enjoyable concept but somehow got tangled up with reality like it always does, where one goddammed thing leads to another goddamed thing. Basically, the idea was to get together with a few other like-minded idiots in Ottawa, get on our bikes and then zip 1,000 miles or so up to the end of the twisty, swoopy road at Natashquan, Quebec along the north shore of the St. Lawrence River. Then come back.
No cops for hundreds of miles (said Mr. Know-It-All), wide open spaces with tundra and crashing great rivers, surf, beaches, sun, beer and good eats. No pressure, no traffic to speak of, and no real need to race at top speed, terrifying yourself ever few minutes until you have ground your teeth to dust and your bloodshot, red eyeballs are popping out to the point where they touch the inside of your face shield.
Nice and easy does it, right?
Four pristine bikes and four pristine riders started out. And four battered machines came back with bruised and brain-numb riders slumped across their seats like the way they used to send the dead cowboys home across their horses saddles. Get along little doggies.
OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but not by much. Here’s how it played out.
Day One: Ottawa, Ontario to La Malbaie, Quebec (600 km or 360 mi.)
As is typical, the boys arrived in fits and starts from the south and the west, gathering in Ottawa for beer and eats and a quick run-planning session with the maps being held down by bottles and plates. Given the drop of the USA dollar, financial and wifely pressures, and maybe a touch of wisdom, the number was down to 4 this year from 7 on last year’s James Bay run.
Nevertheless, this core group made up in determination and blank lack of self-awareness what it lacked in numbers. Tub was in from Cincinnati, Colin from Toronto and the Conando from Kitchener in south-western Ontario. I was holding the fort for Her Majesty’s national capital region so that together we had 3 Connies and a lone ST 1100 Honda.
We were up a bit early on Day One and settled in for the 4-lane, superslab drone through Montreal and Quebec City. If ever there was a disaster-of-a-highway-for-motorcyclists award, the guys who designed the elevated Route 40 through downtown Montreal would be in deep running for the medals. Concrete barriers on each side with zero run-off, possibly the world’s craziest drivers (hey, these guys definitely outclass the dudes I witnessed I China), crap and shit strewn all over the place and 2-3 cop radar units every so often including a hidden bike guy with a hand-held gun.
(We didn’t realize it then, but later in the trip we would have literally killed for a roadway as good as this. But I digress.)
Soon though we emerged unscathed out the other side and continued along through Trois Rivieres and up through Quebec City. Although this is a fantastic town to visit, we were on a Riding Mission and had no time to dally, so we pegged it up a bit and continued along. It gets into the bush beyond QC and you start hitting some of the big up- and downhills that characterize much of the road from there up to Natashquan.
At Baie St. Paul, we peeled off 138 and grabbed secondary highway 362 which led us up through the artsy Charlevoix region of Quebec. Super-cool little villages with old Quebecois architecture, swoops and drops, wondrous ocean panoramas that unfold as you come over the crest of uphills, streams and lakes and bush and rock – it was neat.
We stopped at a great little motel in La Malbaie called Le Castel de Mer (Sea Castle), dumped off some gear and then mounted up for a quick blast to Tadoussac which is where the Saguenay Fiord empties into the ocean. We stopped at a lookout and watched the Transport Canada ferry down below taking cars across the short stretch. We also noted a Beluga whale or 2, riding the current down the river.
Then back to the motel for eats and excellent local beer and The Comparison Of Riding Notes ceremony which is as ancient as humankind. Befuddled slightly by the ale, Idiot Boy left his credit card at the restaurant but was able to retrieve it next morning in a neatly- labeled envelope that was left with the clean-up staff. Tub wasn’t so lucky and was called on his cell by MasterCard who advised him that his card had been compromised by a card reader which had promptly rung up $140 in charges. The Information Age, eh?
Then a snoring, farting crash at the motel with dreams of flying.
Day Two: La Malbaie, Quebec to Chicoutimi to Baie Comeau (500 km or 300 mi.)
Tub and I are early risers and usually are coffeed-up and out for our town walkabout before 7:00 a.m. each day, so we had lots of time to climb the hills behind the town and check out the great homes and great ocean-views. Then back to rejoin the others to lash some things down and warm other things up.
For some inexplicable reason, my buddy Gentleman Slim and I have been getting into the cowboy music lately during our weekly beer and jam sessions. As such I found myself with a song-infection of my brain throughout the trip and couldn’t shake it for 6 days. You know what I’m talking about if you’ve ever internally played “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” for a few hundred hours non-stop.
I ride an old paint, I lead an old dan
I'm goin' to Montana to throw the hoolihan
They feed in the coulees, they water in the draw
Their tails are all matted, their backs are all raw
Ride around little doggies, ride around them slow
For they’re fiery and snuffy and they’re rarin' to go
So yes indeed, the morning of Day 2 found the boys “fiery and snuffy” and we were definitely “rarin’ to go”. Instead of proceeding along 138 however, we had decided the day before to divert up the west side of the Saguenay Fiord through Chicoutimi and then back down again.
The roads were super and the vistas reminded me very much of Switzerland with great granite cliffs, rolling valleys, lakes and rivers and plenty of bush. Unfortunately, it was sweltering hot even as we cranked it up a bit to avail ourselves of the breeze and to de-carbon the heads. Note that we were still on patrolled roads at that point so there was no insanity. Yet.
We took 170 up the west side of the Saguenay and 172 down the east if you’re interested in the least. We also stopped a few times along the river and witnessed a neat tidal bore, where the incoming tide from the ocean, some 40 miles downstream, was causing turmoil and whitecaps as it blasted into the current which was going in the opposite direction.
This was a real good ride and we blathered about it excitedly when we stopped for beer and poutine near the bottom of the loop. Then a quick little rip up to Baie Comeau where we stationed ourselves for the next day’s planned run up the paved section of the Trans-Labrador Highway. Here was where the gauntlet would be flung.
I had been across this highway to its end-point at Goose Bay a few years ago and remembered it as a wild and crazy road, punctuated by whoops, potholes and Woodland Caribou. I also still have some residual fear when I reflect on handing back the partially-destroyed rental van to the lot owner. (“Looks like somebody took a machine-gun to that van!!”). The first 50 miles or so (which we planned to run as a side-trip) is “paved” and the other 300 makes a motocross track look sweet.
That night at Le Compte hotel, we ran into a strange couple from Britain who were setting out to ride a brand-new, knobby-equipped GS 1200 BMW the whole way. From their questions, riding gear (brand spanking new matching sets), and seeming lack of preparedness it looked to us like they were in for a whole load of pain. I figured they at least had acquired some recent riding experience but they informed us that they had shipped the bike up on a train from Florida where they lived. Go figure.
We offered to ride up the first 50 miles with them the next day but they were slow starters in the morning and declined. I gave them some rushed advice on camping (“yes, as a matter of fact there are bears up there…”), on taking it easy (“not much help around if you go down”), on watching out for caribou (“they run ahead of you on the road if you don’t scare them off to the side…) and ensuring they didn’t get driven mad by hordes of blackflies (“… you haven’t any bug spray????”).
Day Three: Baie Comeau to some insane place of the Trans-Labrador Highway (389) and back to Sept Iles (maybe 400 km or 240 mi)
Old Bill Jones had a daughter and a son
One went to college, the other went wrong
His wife, she got killed in a poolroom fight
But still he's a-singin' from mornin' till night
Ride around little doggies, ride around them slow
For they’re fiery and snuffy and are rarin' to go
This was the day where the world stopped, in a manner of speaking.
The road was maybe 50 miles long and was composed, at most, by 5% straightaways and the rest were twisties. The start of the ride up the paved section wasn’t too bad, but the road surface quickly deteriorated and then the drizzle started. As the surface got worse so did the handling of my bike and the functioning of my brain. When things get dicey on a bike I revert to my old motocross style of muscling the thing around, which is the dead wrong thing to do on a 660 pound Connie. Loose, not all pumped up, loose.
Mile after mile things got worse and we were continually banged around by a roadway that looked like it had been worked over by an invasion fleet of giant Martians armed with great big jackhammers and spiked logging boots. Gradually, when I realized we were on a doomed and wildly dangerous exercise I backed off, but not before running off the road twice (once with gravel at the apex and once when I spun up the rear 880 Metzler). Then, after maybe a half hour of this stupidity, I scared the shit out of myself following the Tubinator around a logging truck after a long, fast downhill run.
He went first and made it past clear, which gave me a chance to get up to maybe 90 mph as I pulled out to pass through the spray and the drizzle. Just as I did, I was horrified to see a deep black diagonal gouge across my lane but there was no time to react before I hit it and the bars blurred back and forth in a micro tank-slapper. If you’ve ever done one of these you know what I’m talking about. And if you haven’t, you don’t want to.
After this I backed almost completely off and hoped earnestly that I wouldn’t come around a corner and see somebody down. Which is close to what happened about 20 minutes later when I caught up with Colin and Tub who were parked on the side of the road. Since I couldn’t see Conando, I immediately feared he had flown off a nearby cliff and was down the bottom of a granite-sided canyon. But fortunately he wasn’t there and presumably was still up ahead and on 2 wheels.
I stopped and Colin said through the drizzle, “I do not feel the love. I do not feel the love”.
Turned out that Colin was following Tub when the man from Ohio hit a big whoop and launched his Connie into the air at about 75 mph, flying deeply into the oncoming lane. Apparently, it was not occupied by a fully-load, 18-wheeler logging truck at the time which is something that will never ever be shared with Mrs. Tub I believe.
It was a relief to stop after what seemed like hours of major tension and we all agreed we would need to abandon this thing if we didn’t want to see anybody get hurt. Since there was absolutely no help around, and cell phones didn’t work, a fall and an injury would have been a Bad Thing. So we waited for Conando who eventually looped back and blandly wanted to know what “the problem” was.
I had a brief chat with him which ventured into the philosophic at the outset.
Hog: [stunned a bit] “Conando, did you ever stop to think what would happen to you if any one of a zillion bad things went down while you were going that fast?”
Conando: [blank look] “Not really.”
Hog:[staring] “What if a moose or a deer walked onto that wet, bumpy, filthy road as you were approaching. What if a logging truck came around in both lanes like they sometimes do? You would be immediately dead and then we would have to clean it up and do the cops/hospital thing which would wreck the whole trip.”
Conando:[brief pause] “If it happens it happens... not much you can do about it.”
Hog:[dog-with-a-bone] “Have you ever figured out why people do stuff like this? Like, what essential ingredients do they have that others lack?”
Conando:[reflective a bit] “Just stupidity I think… yes, raw stupidity.”
So, for the first time in my career, we abandoned a ride because it was obvious that we were going to get emerg'd if we kept it up. These roads were build by God for bikes like lightweight supermotard Husky’s and certainly not Connies. How the Brit dudes on the knobby-equipped BMW fared we will never know…
p.s. back at the Sept Iles Hotel Conando discovered a burst can of beer in his Givi case. It would not be the last.
Day Four: Sept Iles to Natashquan and back for beer (800 km or 500 mi)
Day 4 started with a boisterous huddle where Mr. Know-It-All loudly proclaimed that there would be “no cops on this stretch” and that anybody wanting to “crank it up” a bit should feel no guilt in doing so. To add credence to this, said idiot had stripped off his saddle bags (leaving them in the hotel room to which we would return that night assuming no-one got killed or jailed) and had bolted on his shorty windscreen at the start of the trip.
It was Race Face Time and the boys were fiery and snuffy were rarin' to go…
We peeled off nicely from the “surfside” motel and wound our way out along 138 checking to our right to catch beautiful views of the ocean and beaches below as well as the islands and ships coming into port from across the Atlantic. Sept Iles is a cool town with the lowest crime rate in Canada (probably because they’re nowhere to run).
Here’s a blurb from Wiki: The first inhabitants of the area were the "Montagnais" Innu people, who called it Uashat ("Great Bay"). Jacques Cartier sailed by the islands in 1535 and made the first written record of them, calling them the Ysles Rondes ("Round Islands"). He was not the first European on the site however, as he encountered Basque fishermen who were coming yearly for whaling and cod fishing.
Early economic activity in Sept-Îles was based on fishing and the fur trade, with trading posts established by Louis Joliet in 1679, and by the Hudson's Bay Company in 1842. The village was incorporated into a municipality in 1885. The town, lacking road access at the time, got its first pier in 1908. The City of Sept-Îles was incorporated in 1951, on the 300th anniversary of the first Catholic mass held in the village.
The modern Sept-Îles was practically built overnight during the construction of the Quebec North Shore and Labrador Railway, 357-mile (575 km) railway link to the northern town of Schefferville between 1950 and 1954 by the Iron Ore Company of Canada. Iron ore mined near Wabush, Labrador was transported on this railway and shipped from the Port of Sept-Îles, then a deep-water seaport second in Canada only to Vancouver in terms of yearly tonnage. This huge engineering project led to a major population boom: from 2,000 inhabitants in 1951 to 14,000 in 1961, and 31,000 in 1981.
The pace gradually picked up as the traffic thinned and eventually we were pretty much on our own with a nice, wide highway ahead doing great multi-mile climbs up over the granite hills and then plunging down again almost endlessly to yet another one of Quebec’s lovely salmon rivers, foaming rapids spilling into the Atlantic. We had hours of this free space ahead of us and we dug in with relish.
For sure there was some giggling and grinning going on deep within the helmets as we stretched it out – 140 kph then 160… and then it was banzai time. The other three had bags and higher screens than my bike and topped out just the other side of 180 (say 110 mph). Mine was comparatively stripped and I was able to zip along a bit quicker. We held these speeds for quite a while…
Going fast in a straight line is no big deal (except to cops, ambulance attendants and judges) but the higher velocities are definite fun when you get into the curves and the climbs and the plunges. Think of your very own private 100 mile rollercoaster track strapped onto a 2-wheeled jet engine and you get the general idea.
Eventually we slowed as we came into one of the picturesque little fishing villages along the way (St. Marie-des-Grandes-Tetons, I think) and we crawled through town in a dignified and almost responsible manner. As we exited we started to crank it up a bit through a final dropping swoop which sets the stage nicely for my near-heart attack.
Connie has excellent acceleration characteristics for times like this and I was just winding it back up through 3rd gear when I saw 2 trucks plunging toward me from the other direction. The passee was an old 4X4 or something and the passer was a big white truck that had some sort of luggage rack on the top. As I got closer I saw the rack seemed to be painted blue and red….
And that’s when the cop strobes and blurt of siren happened. As we whizzed by each other the police truck driver inside was making frantic up and down motions with his hand. “SLOW DOWN!!!!!”.
I bet there never has been 4 quicker braking-reaction times on the planet as the boys did a mass, unison nose-diving lockup and speed was scrubbed off very rapidly indeed. Then it was time to glue the old eyes to the mirrors and pray against all hope that he wouldn’t turn around and materialize with tazer and handcuffs warming up on the seat beside him.
Miracle of miracles he stayed gone, but the scare set deeply into the gray matter and my old Mitchell Boys paranoia returned in spades. Shit! How could that have happened?!?!?! What was he doing up here?!?!? What if he saw us a few minutes before?!?!?!
At the nearby gas stop we debated this phenomenon and whether he would wait lurking for our return later that day. Or radio ahead for his buddy to set up an ambush. Ultimately we decided to pretend it never happened but we never got quite back up to the Big Speeds again and each time we passed one of the big red speeding-warning signs (“140 kph = $650 fine and 10 points”) it bit deeper and deeper. Basically, 140 was walking speed at that point.
The highway up near its terminus started to degrade and we came across several gravel construction sites. One was particularly deep and lethal and Conando hit it at a pretty quick rate and slithered all over the place before coming to the resumption of pavement. This experience seemed to spook him a bit and he later confided that he was sure he was going to do a face plant.
The landscape meanwhile was becoming more and more Martian and the remaining trees were stunted and were sparsely dotted amongst the moss, muskeg, granite hillocks and small pools of icy-clear water. We didn’t see any wildlife aside from eagles and vultures but there were big moose signs everywhere and we sure didn’t want to tangle with them. Especially at high speed.
Eventually we came to the end of the pavement, noting that an additional gravel section had been extended a further 38 kms since I was here a few years before. No-one wanted to do the gravel thing again, so we collectively deemed ourselves to have accomplished our mission and we took some shots on the beach with one of Conando’s traditional secret beers clutched in our trembling, shocked hands.
Here again Conando discovered a burst beer can which had ruined his shop manual and COG directory, which tells you something but we weren’t in any condition to figure it out at that point.
Then it was time to mount up and retrace our path back to Sept Iles, but this time knowing that we would have to contend with the evil gravel stretches yet again (which we did without damage or injury). We punished the beer when we got back, I am informed.
Day Five: Sept Iles to La Malbaie with another insane side trip up 385 (500 km or 300 mi)
We had a shot at redemption on this day as a squinting look at the map showed highway 385 just waiting and available for any wimps that had abandoned its sister highway (389 or the Trans-Labrador) a few days before. This one went up to a little logging mill town called Labrieville and I assumed that Conando would leap at the chance to have another crack at this kind of a paved motocross track. It was 84 km long (say 50 miles) and I figured Colin would join his buddy so Tub and I could beg off. This would allow us to get over the hotel in La Malbaie earlier than planned so we could get the beer cold should the other 2 actually survive the new challenge.
Unaccountably, Colin declined and I found myself hoist on my own petard as Shakespeare would say. Do I let that lunatic Conando loose on his own on such a lethal highway, or do I tag along in his dust, hoping against hope that he wouldn’t kill himself on my watch. Well, at least it was dry, which would let me goose it up a bit more than the last time.
Painted into my own corner, I volunteered to ride with Conando and we set off from the junction at Forrestville. Fate laid yet another one on me when it arranged to have a drizzle start within 10 minutes but this time I went bulldog. I was not abandoning 2 runs on this trip baby. No way.
So we slithered and skipped along, noting this road was considerably worse than the Trans-Labrador. We grunted along, not enjoying one moment of it (maybe Conando did, who knows what goes on inside that skull?) and eventually ran across (wait for it) some gravel construction stretches. Shit.
These ones had those cool solar-powered stoplights with a digital countdown screen. Considering there was no-one around, I suggested we blow the wait and race along real quick before an opposing truck came along. Conando made some comment about insanity which was the pot calling the kettle black if there ever was.
Of course we made it without incident which cranked up the pressure when we came to the final stop-lighted construction zone at the top of a cliff. I suggested we do the same thing, but this one was a bit tighter and there was little run-off room between the single lane and the cliffs on each side. If anybody came along in the other lane we would need to do something. Quick.
Sure enough we take off down the blind path only to encounter a 1-ton truck crawling up the other side about 30 seconds later. We squeaked over and tried not to look sheepish but we were nailed. The guy was towing a trailer of what looked like destroyed motorcycles and dead riders under a tarp. It was leaking fluid
The stop at the bottom marked the end of the road and we turned, repeated the stupid stunt up the other side and prayed to god that there would be no big logging truck racing down the single light with his green light. We made it without mishap (“… never, ever, do that again…”) and stopped at the summit for some photos and a ceremonial beer.
This is where my Connie lost electrical power (does it every year at some god-forsaken spot) and I did the tear-down while Conando muttered and drank his beer and had a leak. It was the battery leads yet again which goes a long way to explaining why I went through 2 headlight bulbs on the trip and we soon retraced our steps back to the big highway.
We were greeted by pouring rain, which lasted for the entire run back to the hotel, so we took some time to change light bulbs (that would be me), put on rain pants which somebody had been too lazy to put on before (same dude) and watch some idiot on one of those little 4x4 dirt thingees do some very long and amazing power slides through the gas bar parking lot. Conando and I recognized a kindred spirit and applauded him to new heights of stupidity with each pass.
Came across the ferry and then over to La Malbaie, but not before 2 morons passed me and then tailgated Conando. The first was in a newer black Vette and the 2nd was some mouth-breather in a monster truck, carrying a chopper in the back. He was also towing a jet-ski which said something about his mentality.
Beer and eats again with the boys, but only after Conando discovered his 3rd burst beer can. Man, they make them things cheap.
Day Six: La Malbaie to all points under the sun (variable and wet)
Not much happened here. We moseyed along in a bit of an anti-climax, what with all the traffic and cops and other crap signs of civilization. High fives all ‘round as we parted, with me splitting off in Quebec City for the return, dreaded run through Montreal.
The others decided they needed more so they peeled off south headed for Maine and then ultimately, home. Ride up. Ride back. Mission accomplished.
When I die, take my saddle from the wall
Place it on my old pony, lead him out of his stall
Tie my bones to my saddle and turn our faces to the West
And we'll ride the prairie that we love the best
Ride around little doggies, ride around them slow
For they’re fiery and snuffy and they’re rarin' to go