Part 2 - Val D'Or to Nowhere
A TASTE OF DIRT GRITTY!
On departing Val-d'Or's city limits, the road hit hard gravel, and the GSs were in their element. A regular pounding by logging trucks leave two distinct ruts. Pick your rut and stick to it is the plan, at least while it's there.
Within about 10 minutes of hitting gravel it started to spit. 5 minutes later and it was raining, hard.
Initially I thought that this was a good thing. Following Richard on the big GS was proving rather difficult, as the 1150 kicked up copious plumes of sand in its wake, making it impossible to keep a lock on the rut ahead. Then there was the added bonus of a crunchy mouth - the grit soaking up the saliva and generating a fine grinding paste. Shit, at least my teeth would be gleaming by the end of the day.
The dousing of rain put a stop to this problem pretty quickly, but added two new factors:
1) The visor fogged up.
2) When the road turned from gravel to a soil/sand mix we reached the limits of the GSs.
Factor number one was solved by dumping the specs, keeping the visor open a crack, and trying not to breathe too heavily. Addressing factor number two was a matter of applied theory and experimentation.
The theory of off-road riding states that in order to prevent the front wheel from sinking into the loose surface of sand or gravel the rider must apply power to the back, therefore allowing the front to skip over all the irregularities. However, years of riding on smooth asphalt have instilled in me an automatic slow-down-cause-you're-gonna-die reaction. Unfortunately, doing this causes the front wheel to dig in and slap the bars to the left and the right, at which point you're spat off like the worthless piece of chicken that you are.
This was the time where Mr. Seck enlightened me with a quick summary of this theory before unceremoniously parking the 1150 in the ditch. The flaw in the theory is that if you have tires that are meant more for asphalt than dirt, then they're going to quickly fill up with mud and rear wheel traction is lost, leading to the inevitable ditch parking episode.
After the rain had stopped and the photographic documentation of the event had been done, it was time to remove the 1150 from said ditch. In a situation like this I find that any attempt to keep oneself in a clean and orderly condition is futile. Richard obviously agreed as he revved merrily while I pushed from behind. The new Aerostich suit had been duly christened.
After liberating the 1150 we re-hit hard packed gravel (without the dust clouds thanks to the rain), making good time by pelting along merrily at 100 km/h plus.
Since I seem to be expounding theories left, right and centre, here's another one on gravel roads:
Both GS's were very comfortable on the harder stuff. Speeds on the more open and straighter stretches could reach 130 Km/h plus without concern, except for stopping. We're in the wilds here, and a moose, bear or deer could jump out at any moment (albeit unlikely). While taking the dirt at speed seemed all hunky dory (maybe even preferable due to the front wheel skipping effect), stopping is a whole new kettle of fish.
Now some of you dirt experts may disagree with what I'm about to say, but anti lock brakes are the way to go here. The 1150 had them, which translated to "just grab a hand and foot full and she'll stop when she can". The 650 didn't have ABS and ended up needing a lot more slowing down distance, most of which was used locking up the back wheel and sliding merrily from side to side (note - use the front brake frugally as it tends to lock up on dirt rather easily!). The best option here was to let the 1150 ride up front with the 650 a hundred yards behind to allow for the ham fisted braking.
As the sun began to err towards the horizon, pangs of fear of a night in the woods were dispelled almost as quickly as they had arisen, as the road turned to asphalt. This meant that we were now out of the wilderness and closing back in on civilisation. I stopped, got off the 650 and kissed the asphalt. Then I had to do it again, and again, and again, because it made for a good picture (mental note #4 - Don't be dramatic in front of a photographer. Oh and kill him if you get the chance).
Soon after, the day gave way to night and it started to rain once more, but I didn't care. We'd located our position on the map, the road was hard and smooth and some hot food, a cold beer and a warm bed were only an hour away.
Our first day of dirt had tasted gritty, but we had emerged unscathed.
THE DAY THE DIRT STOOD STILL
So this was to be our big day of dirt. If all went to plan, we'd motor down the 100 km or so of highway to Témiscaming, then head due east and onto the remote logging roads towards Fort Coulonge, the ultimate destination of this leg of the trip. We would stop in a small village halfway there, called Rapides-des-Joachims for some food and much needed gasoline. Then it would be back into the forest for the final dirt leg.
The village of Fort Coulonge, where we were staying for the night, is one of the spit out points for this trail of dirt roads. If we could make it there on the dirt roads alone then we would also satisfy another trip mandate - keeping within Québec! The main road (and only alternative route) cuts over the border into Ontario at Témiscaming and hugs the southern shore of the Ottawa River, only cutting back into Québec close to Fort Coulonge.
Since this was a tad more serious than the preceding day's ride (there's a whole network of logging roads that criss cross each other in this area, making it very easy to get lost), we decided to fire up the GPs, closely follow the topographical maps and make full use of the compass. We'd be a good distance away from civilisation for most of the day, which meant that any mishap could turn serious rather easily. We didn't want to compound that with not having the foggiest of where we were.
After a top up of coffee and the purchase of the final survival supplies (a couple of sandwiches), we left the smooth asphalt of Témiscaming and hit the dirt highway - a wide hard-packed gravel road, cut in a straight line through the forest, rollercoasting off into the distance over the hills beyond.
I let Richard take the lead and tried to keep up. Topping speeds of 140 km/h, caution and braking distances were left in the trailing dust cloud. It's like riding on a two foot wide plank. That's the width of the clear tire rut in the road ahead, to either side there are piles of gravel and then either more gravel and ruts to the left, or a big honking ditch to the right and a mass of solid trees beyond that. Again, high speed allows the front tire to skip over any soft patches, but it requires a big leap of faith as the instinct to slow down at any point could easily result in a dumping, or at best, smelly pants.
The only thing I can compare this required action to is a leap of faith. When I was a young lad and still at school, we had to partake in certain swimming tests, the top one being a test of one's ability to swim around the pool in your pyjamas. Apart from the questionable merits of being able to swim a long way should you suddenly find yourself in water in your pyjamas., the one part of the test that will forever stick in my mind is the initial leap into the pool from the top diving board. Looking down beyond the striped cottony P.J.s and perplexed flexing toes was a 20 foot drop into the deep end. There was no way back (at least if you didn't want to be beaten up for the rest of the year for being chicken) and the only way forward seemed instinctively unpleasant. What was needed here was a leap of faith, literally.
I did the leap of faith, and went on to pass the test - pyjamas. and all.
That day I took that leap of faith, and the reward was a well exercised adrenal gland and the satisfying feeling that yes, I am most definitely alive and life is a very good thing. Man, what a blast.
As we motored on down the dirt highway I started to ponder about the GPs unit. After all, it's probably about time to stop and take a reading. Whoooahh! 30 feet ahead of me the road surface turned an ominous shade of dark brown. The tire rut I was following sank deeply into it. There was only one explanation: soft sand straight ahead!
There was no time to do anything but clench my teeth. It was time to test the soft-dirt riding theory I've been so merrily espousing. As the dark patch moved from ahead to beneath, the 650 started to kick out its rear wheel and shake its bars. I threw caution to the wind and wound open the throttle. I was already nudging 100 km/h, but the extra power gave the rear some more bite and raised the front just enough to lift it out of the sand.
Within seconds I was accelerating hard out of the patch and back onto firm road. Before I could congratulate myself and slow down I plunged into yet another patch and had no option but to open the throttle to the max.
Oh my god, make it stop, make it stop!
It did, for about ten feet and then I hit another one. There was no more throttle left, just a lot of speed and a lot of faith. Sliding, cursing and still accelerating I finally hit a long enough stretch of the harder stuff to haul the bike to a stop, dismount and shakily smoke a cigarette. Time for a GPs reading and a change of pants.
If familiarity breeds contempt then I'd just given birth to the contemptuous triplets. The lesson here is to not let your mind wander. Be warned.
Oh dear, we've gone and cut it off again. Well we had to stop somewhere otherwise we'd be part 3-less. Part 3 is available by clicking here (where we see the end of our day in the dirt and then back onto asphalt for the return leg to Montreal).
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