IT'S GOOD TO HAVE A THEORY, BUT NOT IF IT DOESN'T WORK
"No, no, no. You're doing it all wrong Mr. Harris", exclaimed my travel companion, Mr. Seck.
"Power through it so that the front wheel stays above the mud", he continued. "It's the only way".
With that he launched the BMW 1150 GS forward and slid majestically to the right, then to the left. He refused to concede defeat until the bike had careened off the road and into the ditch.
We were on a logging road 45 minutes south of the Québec mining town of Val-d'Or, and only just beginning the dirt road part of our adventure into the Canadian wilderness.
Underneath our laughter was a nagging concern that we had bitten off a lot more than we could chew.
It seemed like a good idea at the time. A two week trip in the Canadian province of Québec with two BMW GSs (1150 and 650) that could not only eat up the highway miles, but also grind through the mix of dirt, sand and gravel that are the logging roads, which criss-cross the remoter areas of La Belle Province.
The starting point was Montreal and then heading north through the Laurentians, ending up at the mining town of Val D'Or. From there it's dirt road all the way down the east side of the Ottawa Valley, eventually getting back onto asphalt at Fort Colounge. After a brief rest and some white water rafting, it would be back to Montreal via the Outaouais region. Sounds simply enough.
The more northern areas of Canada are an awe-inspiring expanse, but for me, spending the night amongst the blood sucking mossies and flesh munching black bears did not seem like a good idea, especially alone. And so it seemed like a good idea to do all this with fellow motorcyclist and professional photographer, Richard Seck. Mr. Seck, could not only make sure that the trip was well documented graphically, but could also watch my back when we were out in the middle of nowhere.
MONTRÉAL & THE LAURENTIANS
I usually find it best to spend a day or two at your launching point. This gives you a chance to prep the bikes and get some last minute supplies. Also, if your kick off point happens to be Old Montréal, then there's plenty to see and do as well.
We kicked off with a couple of nights at the captivating B & B, the Auberge Bonaparte, situated right in the heart of Old Montréal by the port area.
It can take a while to get out of Montréal. We chose the twisty Hwy 148 over the main arteries and got caught in the stop-and-go traffic of the burbs. We finally escaped at the town of Lachute about 50 km north of Montréal and a good launching point for the Laurentians.
When you do get here, my recommendation is to take any one of 300-series highways and just get lost. Literally.
The surface of these 300-series roads can leave a bit to be desired however, thanks to cold winters causing much frost heaving and asphalt break-up. Also don't be surprised to be cruising nicely on the black top only to hit a 30km stretch of hard-packed gravel. Luckily, the 1150 and 650 BMW GSs that we were riding are just as much at home on gravel as on asphalt.
We meandered the rest of the afternoon away, soaking up some prime Canadiana with the occasional gravel stretch to get accustomed to our two travel companions and refresh our off-road skills something that would be in much demand later in the trip.
The next day we planned to explore the Laurentians, and the main attraction - the ski village of Mont Tremblant. So in the interests of good journalism we saw, stopped, but quickly left. Just a bit too planned for my liking. May I say a bit gaudy? Of course I may, I just did. Oh, and I'll add faux' to that as well, just because I can.
Having wasted far too much time trying to find the redeeming qualities of the place, we gave up and went in search of the Québec gastronomical delight known as "poutine". For the uneducated amongst you, poutine is a bucket of fries, smothered in gravy, with a liberal dose of cheese curd. Sounds foul, looks foul, but is strangely addictive. Une poutine grande pour moir, s'il vous plait.
Our search pour la poutine ended at Route 66 (the café, not the highway), located just south of Mont Tremblant, where we gorged on a bucket of Québec's finest. We continually harassed the waitress into posing for our photographic records of lunch (I mean, really. An hour to take a picture of me having lunch? Mental note #1 Don't do trips with professional photographers in future).
With all blood flow diverted to the digestion of cheese curd and other oddities, the lowered brain potential meant that we missed the planned turn off and ended up back where we started again in the morning. It was a bit like the Blair Witch movie, except that it was day time, we were on motorcycles and there were no witches. But we did end up going in circles
Our next step was Parc Mont Tremblant. As you enter the park boundaries, you also enter prime Canadiana - lakes, rivers and forests, but now with the added bonus of bugs, bugs and more bugs. And of the biting type to boot! Stopping here requires either a liberal dousing of a strong bug repellent (look for DEET content for the repellent factor) or a very stylish mesh head cover. Being of the stylish type, we opted for the mesh head cover.
There's supposed to be a very nice waterfall in the park called Les Chutes Des Diables' (the Devil's Waterfall). We made the detour to get a gander at these, only to be left with the option to walk the 800 meter path sans bike (that laptop strapped to the back is just about all I own). Or take a nice 10 second tour of the parking lot and get back on those roads. We chose the roads.
After a day cutting trails on the mix of glorious sandy and impressive asphalt roads, we sampled some excellent Belgium beers at one of the trip's highlights, Chez Ignace. As the name suggests, Chez Ignace is a B&B and restaurant owned by a man called Ignace (pronounced In-yass, try a few pints of Belgium beer if you're having trouble with that one to start).
Ignace and clan also live in these lodgings in the village of Lac Nominigue just off Hwy 117, on the north-west edge of the Laurentians. Not only is he a most excellent chef, but a great host and a motorcycle rider too ... if you can count a Yamaha 650 V-Star as a motorcycle. Oh, and a cellar full of the finest Belgium beers.
If I may make an observation at this point, our trip was one of variance. Not only in the roads and scenery encountered, but also in accommodation stayed at. From the ultra exotic Château Montebello (later) to the bog standard motels, the ones that I remember with the most fondness are the B & B's. Moderately priced and with a host whose very existence depends on their ability to make you want to come back for more. Recommended if the budget allows.
TO THE NORTH
The morning light at 6 a.m. was glorious, or so I was told by Mr. Seck, as he beat on my bedroom door to get that "early morning looking out of the window" shot. Mental Note #2: If the chance arises, kill the photographer.
The next day, in our quest for adventure we veered north, away from the cozy Laurentians and into the more rugged part of Québec. This translated to a 350 km blast up Highway 117.
It was not as bad as expected, mainly thanks to the hilly terrain and lack of a justifiable construction budget to blast a straighter road. The trip took us a little under 4 hours to complete, thanks in part to the lack of Officer Plod in these remoter areas and the GS's ability to cruise for long periods at a steady 130 km/h.
This brings another important point to mind. The frequency of gas stations declines in direct proportion to the general remoteness of the area. If the road is paved then you can probably expect a fill up opportunity every 100 km or so. That's more than any reserve that I know of, so don't get all blasé about it, or you'll end up with a long hike to the nearest banjo playing village. Another proportion to remoteness thing is English. "Parlez vous Anglais"? will most likely be greeted with a "Non", and then you're down to sign language (although that can be interesting as well).
As the day drew to a close, we zeroed in on our destination, Val-d'Or (The Valley of Gold). The city gets its name from the discovery of gold there in the 1930s, which led to the establishment of several mines. The mines are still active today, the town that grew around them, a bit less so.
HAIRCUT IN VAL D'OR
The following day I decided a haircut was in order.
Trying to get a cut while a photographer frames up each shot and asks the barber to co-operate to boot, takes a tad longer than the average cut. It also runs the risk of the guy with the scissors making a right mess, as he is constantly knocked out of rhythm. Mental Note #3: Some things should be done while the photographer is not present.
Thankfully, 30 minutes (and 4 rolls of film) later, Rejean (the barber) had done a fine job and so we were once again free to peruse the attractions and spenders of this town in the Valley of Gold. Bluntly put, that's a guided tour of a gold mine.
La Cité De L'Or is a well sorted mine with visitor's centre and guided tour into a mine itself. The mine part is very cool. No seriously, it's only 8 Celsius down there. Well recommended should you find your self in Val-d'Or with 5 hours and $20 burning a hole in your pocket.
In typical CMG organisation and strict time keeping, we didn't actually get out of Val-d'Or until 4:30 p.m. This meant that the direct (dirt road) path to Ville Marie was now the only option. With rain clouds moving in and night fall not far off, we left the safety of the paved road for the chaos of dirt, mud and a close encounter with the ditch.
Don't you just hate it when it suddenly ends just as things are getting interesting? Well, since we've now published part 2, all you have to do is click here, and you're there (as opposed to still being here).
If you want to read about where we stayed and ate at as well as the equipment we used and our wise recommendations, then go to:
Cheers, Editor 'arris