Saturday morning was the start of my first day of true Northern Quebec driving experience. After refueling Ansel at the Gas Station on Rte-117 beside the motel I began my voyage through the Réserve faunique La Vérendrye, which would take me over 20km through some of the most beautiful and isolated area this region has to offer. During this part of the drive I didn’t see many vehicles, I would guess around 15 in total, which included a Quebec Peace Officer that was concerned when he saw Ansel with the hazards and me lying on the shoulder of the road. Little did he know I was only taking a photo of a lounger chair that was left on the side of the road. Once I talked with him, he laughed and went on his way. He probably thinks all Ontarians are insane thanks to me. Throughout Réserve faunique La Vérendrye cell phone signal is horrible. I would only get 10 seconds of signal when I peaked certain hills and it wasn’t even enough to make a call or text. The only company I had while driving was through my CB radio and the music playing on my stereo. There were many side roads that I wish I had the time to explore, but I knew I had a 7 hour drive ahead of me and they were calling for heavy rain. I had to limit my stops to special photo opportunities, refueling and minimal bathroom breaks. One of the many things I noticed while driving Rte-117 were all the signs for the Anishanbek and their support of #MMIW (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women). I’m not familiar with the issue, but I remember hearing about it when they came into Toronto during the Occupy Rally in 2012. It would be interesting to hear their side of the story, but that will have to be another day and another trip.
After exiting the Réserve I had a chance to fuel up as well as finally having cell signal, which meant I could upload my journal and photos from yesterday. I took a short hour break, posted, replied to comments then got out to quickly stretch the legs before heading back onto the road. I took the turn off onto Rte-113 that brought me into the quaint village of Senneterre. I didn’t get out to take any photos of the village since I was starting to make the day take longer then necessary. Unfortunately it wasn’t long until I found something I had to photograph. Not far out of town were several float planes just sitting in someone’s field, beside the riviere Bell. I couldn’t resist the opportunity, so out I hopped with a Nikon DSLR in hand and my Nikon 70-200 lens. It would have been nice to use my Nikon 20mm and get some close ups, but trespassing is not something I would endorse. Couple minutes spent snapping some rainy shots of the planes and I was back in Ansel and on my way. It wasn’t long though before I found a small, adorable yet rugged shack on the side of the road that was calling out to me. The sign above the door says, “Les arpents certs de rapide des cedres” which translates to “Green Acres of Cedar Rapids”; a fitting name considering the location.
Back on the road, it wasn’t long before I was turning onto Chemin Du Moulin; this would be my first logging road in Northern Quebec. The first 8 km were macadamized, a mixture of small stone and bonding agent, usually concrete or asphalt. Quebec normally keeps their roads in pristine condition, but this road was the worst I have ever driven. I was thankful when I got to the start of the logging operation and the road turned to straight gravel. The remaining 100km of logging road takes me just outside of Matagami, Quebec and has a listed speed of 70km/h. They also ask that you have a CB radio and turn it to channel 10 to get the warnings about oncoming logging traffic. Since it’s a Saturday I only saw one Ford pick-up at the start and then on the last 10km I saw a minivan. Throughout the road, I was able to drive it 70km/h since the logging company kept it in great shape. Actually I saw one of their graders parked on the side of the road. It was not surprising that the road had more potholes after seeing that machine. My guess is that they haven’t finished grading the whole road. The entire length of this road makes you feel completely alone and in true wilderness. There are many side roads that lead off to lakes, hunt camps and various unknown destinations. My inner explorer was calling, but it was already 4pm and I knew that I shouldn’t be roaming around here in the dark. It was time to move on and make my way to my final destination for the night, Hotel Matagami.
Once arriving to Hotel Matagami I was pleasantly surprised to find it was a 3-star hotel with very comfortable rooms. Upon check-in I decided I should try my French skills once again; I was practicing while driving and watched the news in French last night. That works right? Well, my first attempt to sound respectful to the local’s heritage had me saying, “Je ne pas parler français.” For those of you who aren’t familiar with French that means, “I do not speck French”. Even through my French is 15 years rusty, I was giving thumbs up by the woman at check-in and she thanked me for trying French. After that I asked her a few tips on commons words, which meant I was able to order my dinner in French, only after I excused myself for not being fluent. The woman serving my dinner had a good laugh at my horrible accent but told me I was doing okay. I now know how to order “Salade César au poulet”; Chicken Caesar salad. Watch out, I might just learn something yet!