It’s Sunday morning, I’ve just checked out of Hotel Matagami, grabbed breakfast, refueled Ansel and entered my destination into the GPS; Relais Routier at KM381 of James Bay road. Only 10-feet down the road and I’m completely disconnected from the rest of the world. No cell signal, Wi-Fi or Internet for an extended period of time. 4 km out of Matagami I come to the security check-in at the base of James Bay. Everyone that drives this road must check-in with the office and handover their trip itinerary. They take your safety seriously here since the next service station is 381km away with nothing but hydro lines, rivers and complete wilderness isolation. James Bay road is definitely not for everyone and especially not for small, low riding cars. Although it may be paved, that was done in the early 1970’s and since than has become more inline with a macadamized road with very large, speed bump like ridges. Even Ansel had his work cut out for him, as the speed limit is 100KM/h and each sharp ridge made him wiggle and bounce around. Any moment I thought of slowing down, a local would pass me doing 120KM+ and remind me that if I can’t keep up, to turn around. Turning around wasn’t an option, so I just keep moving along. The first 100 km of the road is surrounded by the typical short spruce and pine that you would find in the top regions of the Boreal forest where it starts to enter the sub-arctic Taiga landscape. Mixing in with these unique tree lines are bogs, swamps, marshes, lakes and occasional enormous river. Unfortunately the bottom of the road is also littered with the garbage from the last summers campers which only disappeared after 200KM; the breaking point for most people trying to drive this road.
While driving I didn’t expect to see many other cars, but I was actually surprised at the amount of vehicles on the road, going both north and south. There were many transport trucks, mostly Kepa Transport, which is a local company that brings supplies in and out of the area. After driving for a couple hours I decided it would be a good time to stop for a lunch break, pulling into one of the rest stations built by the region. These rest stops are located along James Bay road in various areas, giving visitors the ability to stretch the legs, use the provided bathrooms and make emergency calls on Telebac phone. Considering the remoteness of this area, I was impressed with the way they have built these stations. You’ll see a sign at each of the stations asking for a donation of $5/day to help cover the cost of maintenance, which is more then fair. During my lunch break I had two visitors. A small red squirrel that was too friendly, probably conditioned from summer campers feeding him and a small bird that I’m unable to identify without a birding book. It wasn’t long after getting back into Ansel that I was reminded of how dangerous this road is to the unseasoned or unprepared driver. In the ditch was a Ford Focus that crashed during the summer months when the driver thought it was safe to drive at night in a rainstorm. Around dusk and into the early evening is when Moose start to wander from bog to marsh and back. Something many of us forget is that we have encroached on their space and must learn respect and to live around them.
There are so many beautiful locations that I would like to visit while driving up this road, but unfortunately it takes 4 hours just to get to the service station without stops. That means I need to keep myself from getting too distracted and minimize my ventures. Unfortunately for me that isn’t easy and it wasn’t long before I found another wonderful location to stop, breathe in the fresh air, get some photos and transgress into the natural beauty that surrounding me. I loaded up my bear banger, strapped on my Black Rapid double harness, attached my two Nikons and headed off down the pathway following the river. The rain yesterday and this morning gave everything a magnificent glow and there was a wonderful smell of spruce in the air, which reminded me of Christmas as a child. Sitting at the waters edge, eyes closed, listening to the sound of the moving water lapping against the rocks and the rustle of the trees in the wind, I felt a sense of relaxation that only mother nature could provide; I was in absolute bliss and wanted to stay indefinitely.
Reality eventually kicked in, as it was time for me to get back to the vehicle. Working my way up the road I knew that I had to make enough time for a short stop at the Rupert River. It wasn’t a landmark easily missed as there is a huge bridge spanning the river, an engineering marvel, which was built in 1970 to help the 300-ton equipment to reach the hydro project at the end of the road. The roar and rush of the waters coming down the Rupert River falls are astounding. In 2009 the Quebec Hydro project diverted a large portion of the river, but there is still quite a flow. My inner adventure junkie wished that I had my whitewater gear with me, but that will have to be a trip for another time. Heading back to the car another little bird decided to pose for me several times. This bird must have been a model in a past life as he kept looking at the camera and changing positions as the flash popped. Although I had such a captivating subject I knew it was time to really get myself in gear and travel the final 85KM to the Relais Routier service station. Darkness was looming and I had promised myself, and many others, that I wouldn’t travel at dusk or nighttime. I finally arrived at my destination at 6pm, twilight in tow and greeted by two of man’s best friends as I opened my door.
Sean P. Carson, B.F.A.