Saturday 14th I found myself travelling alone again. Bryan and Paul set off at silly o’clock in the m morning to catch the first ferry across the St Lawrence seaway as they were heading into Maine. Ryan set off after breakfast as he was talking a different route home. My plan for the day was to get to Auberge 31, or as close as possible. It wasn’t going to be a fun ride as it was raining and would continue to so all day.
The day started with wide fast gravel roads, used by the logging industry to be able to get lorries deep into the forests. Whilst riding up the road I stopped to talk to a group of men by a pickup truck. The were Americans looking at a camp plot for sale and were with a local man guiding them. I asked about the road to Auberge 31 and the local man said there was no road, just this one which is a dead end. This got me a little worried so I asked if they had any spare fuel… Just in case! It turns out the road did exist, it was some small double tracks but they were definitely there, I guess the local man had been up the road for the past 50 years but only as far as his plot of land!
On the double tracks I was concentrating so much on navigation, not dropping the bike and try to see through a rain-soaked visor that I almost missed seeing a bear on the tracks ahead of me. It was quite some way off. It hesitated for a moment then took off into the trees. By the time I got to where it had been it was long gone, and I didn’t stick around to see if it would be coming back! Another 10km further on I stopped to talk to some hunters on quads, I didn’t tell them where they could find the bear.
The TCAT guide says Baie Comeau to Auberge 31 is a very long day and may not be possible in one go depending on weather and road conditions. Well the double tracks weren’t brilliant but it was raining and I was lonely and I was dammed if I was camping out alone. When it finally came into sight I almost could believe I was there, it’s the Canadian equivalent of an oasis in the desert.
Next day I didn’t know how far I was going to get but I did know that if be facing Fan’s Hill, as it is know by TCATers. The day starred off well, until I got to with a kilometre of Fab’s Hill and I hit a steep rocky climb. I seemed to be bouncing from rock to gully back to rock and suddenly the bike was down! The first time is dropped it on the trip. I quick attempt at lifting the bike confirmed my fear, it wasn’t possible when loaded, so I unloaded the bike. And was finally able to lift it but I couldn’t move forward as it was on lose gravel. With much effort I managed to move the bike back down the hill a bit to former ground. Whilst getting my breath back and cooling down I walked up the hill to get the last of the land. It turns out I was less than 100 metres from the top. Rather than loading the bike where it was and risk dropping it again I rode the bike to the top of the hill and then carried my gear up. All in all I’d been stopped for over 30 minutes and was very tired. Of that wasn’t Fab’s Hill I was worried how much more if the TCAT I could do! As it happens the GPS way point was out and I had just been on Fab’s Hill.
Riding on through double tracks and I stated coming across Ponte Fermé signs. My French is good enough to know that means Bridge Closed. This can mean weak bridge or bridge is completely gone and there’s now a water crossing, either way none of them was a show stopper.
About 4pm, on double track that has no sounds of recent use by quads, I managed to bounce the bike off a stone on a hill and ended up in a sand pit. A momentary loss of control and I lost another hour working to get the bike freed. Hot, tired and in desperate need of a shower I got moving again and prayed to any good listening to get me off the double tracks. Before my prayers could be answered I’d have to cross a river on a small barge ferry that i hoped would be running, I figured to was Sunday and hunters with quads would be wanting to cross. Unfortunately I was wrong! It turns out the ferry only operates by prior arrangement and I hadn’t arranged it prior to arriving. My DeLorme InReach came in useful as I was able to communicate with Ingrid back home, she was able to contact the ferry owners but was told to didn’t go on Sundays, so I prepared to camp out that night. However, before I could get my tent out a very kind gentleman with hiChibougamau passing by stopped and took me and my bike across for free!
Finally I was back on gravel roads and then tarmac. I stopped at a truck stop diner for supper and used their WiFi to find somewhere to stay. What I found was Auberge Ile Repos. The Auberge is a crazy mash up of campsite and hostel with the forms being cabins in the campsite.
Monday my target was to get to Chibougamau. This was going to be a long day but figured that if I could get from Baie Comeau to Auberge 31 in one go then this should be possible. The route stated out passing through blueberry fields, which is love to see when the fruit are ripe, then continued though a logging area. The trails were very sandy and I’m glad I had previous experience of riding a GS in the desert as the bike doesn’t like going in straight lines in sand, you just have to gently suggest a desired direction of travel and hope the bike gets the message. I made it to Chibougamau and found a campsite for the night.
Tuesday I decided to get to Mont Laurier. The forecast for that afternoon and night was for thunderstorms and if come to the realisation that I’m a fair weather camper. The halfway point for the day was a town(?) called Parent. The route that far were all wide logging roads, flowing, smooth and fast. I found myself hitting 70+mph on gravel with a fully loaded R1200GSA, and the bike was loving it.
I stopped at parent for lunch then set of on the second leg to Mont Laurier. Just past Parent the route diverts onto double tracks that include rocky climbs and a hand drawn ferry. Not far into the track I hit a first rocky climb and dropped the bike, it had also just started raining! Knowin knowing the double track sections would be a minimum of 3 hours on a small bike I made the tactical choice of heading back to the logging roads. I’m still sorry I missed out the hand drawn ferry but as I sat in a B&B that evening talking to the owner and some American guests over a glass of wine and watching the torrential rain outside I knew I made the right choice.
Wednesday morning was a fun ride into Ottawa. Most of the ride was though a wildlife park through swooping logging roads. There was a overgrown double track in the middle, with a washed out section. The exit of the washout was a steep step-up that I miscalculated and dropped the bike, another 20 minutes to unload it, pick it up, move it to level ground ferry the gear to the bike and finally get going again. Eventually, I started seeing fresh quad tracks then fresh truck tracks. I’ve come to realise that fresh truck tracks probably means I can get through without too much problem, so they’re always good to see.
Suddenly i was out of the forests and a short ride to the ferry across the Ottawa river. I followed the GPS route through Ottawa, at the start of the rush hour. There are lots of cars and lots of traffic lights! Hitting Tim Hortons to find out where I was staying I discovered my friend-of-a-friend wasn’t able to put me up so my second choice was the centrally located Jail Hostel.