Toronto to Hudson's Bay and back on a Motorcycle
29 August - 9 September 2015
Toronto to Golden Lake campground
Day 2: Golden Lake
campground to New Liskeard
Day 3: New
Liskeard to Camping du Lac Matagami (km 38)
Day 4: Camping du
Lac Matagami (km 38) to km 444 road stop
Day 5: km 444
road stop to Radisson and James Bay
Day 6: Radisson
to to km189 road stop
Day 7: km189 road
stop to Camping municipal du lac Beauchamp
Day 8: Camping
municipal du lac Beauchamp to private property
Day 9: Private
property to Muskoka
Day 10: Muskoka to Toronto
I've been dreaming about this trip for a couple of years. I saw
it mentioned on gtamotorcycle.org and I found the website jamesbayroad.com
- if it weren't for that website I don't think I would have risked
going there. I would have gone alone but my two riding friends
were also interested so we all went together. That made it
slightly less stressful - I had an exit guaranteed no matter what
happened with my bike.
Most of the preparation involved was finding the time to go. To
make the journey comfortable you really need ten days. Some people
do it in four but that doesn't seem very pleasant to me. Also
there is a strong recommendation to go either early in the year in
april or late (in september) because of the black flies season.
But you have to balance that with the colder weather. Also we
found that the paid campgrounds up there close the second week of
september - just coincidentally we went the last week when they
were still open. Strictly speaking you don't need them but it's
good to know when you're planning the route.
Speaking of which - I recommend you don't shortcut the process of
choosing a route. Usually I start with good intentions and get
bored, so I end up on semi-major highways most of the time. Those
are the opposite of what you want for pleasure riding, for a
cruiser you want the smallest and most remote possible roads that
are still paved. Usually those are also the most scenic ones. This
time Robert did the planning and it was an awesome job. People say
the trip up north is boring - I didn't think so at all. Below
you'll find screenshots of each day's GPX tracks I made with my
phone using OpenGPSTracker (click on them to get a bigger
version). They're from OpenStreetMap.org - where I also added the
campgrounds and their access roads.
I lost the exact stuff-to-take checklist I had for this trip, but
it would have looked something
Toronto to Golden Lake campground
Breakfast and we're off!
Rode all the way up Woodbine to lake Simcoe, the pretty but now
boring (cause I've been so many times) Lake Drive, a boring
inevitable stretch to Bala, and to the wonderful (for motorcycles)
Southwood Drive. Too bad it started raining, had to put our rain
gear on. I remembered the last time I was here in the rain - I was
completely soaked and frozen even though it was the summer. This
time I was prepared with waterproof shells to put over my pants and
The road to Algonquin was good, we mostly avoided Highway 11.
Nothing too exciting in Algonquin park but it was a good ride for
the rest of the day.
When entering Algonquin I decided to test out the rack I built for
the fuel can. I made the rack from copper pipe (used for plumbing),
the pieces soldered together (as if for plumbing). Custom built for
my bike. It looked quite decent and felt rock solid. I figured it
should be able to hold 20 liters of gas. It didn't. In Barry's Bay
as I was doing 5km/h behind some slow SUV I felt the bag behind me
disappear. I was half expecting this so I immediately pulled up on
the sidewalk and examined what happened. Basically the weight of the
gas (which is far more dense than I thought) ripped one section of
the copper pipe. Luckily the black bag's velcro strap held the can
in place while I pulled over. If I were on the highway and hit a
bump - there would have been some serious damage done to my
belongings, could have taken my tail light out too, but probably
wouldn't have exploded :) Eugen told me that was going to happen,
but if I weren't stubborn I wouldn't go on trips like this.
Emptied the gas into our tanks and soon after we made it to the
planned campground - primarily a trailer park on Golden Lake, we
found an area of the park with almost noone in it. This one looks
more like a family place, but it was nice enough. Except the lake -
that was a large shallow disappointing pool of mud.
Here's my poor rack, fixed up with wooden sticks, electrical tape,
and some zip ties:
Day 2: Golden
Lake campground to New Liskeard
Nothing too exciting in the morning, except for the horned demon on
We rode north through Petawawa (do they block GPS signals over
there?) and on on highway 17. That's not any better than highway 11
but we had no other choice. I was holding out hope for a more quiet
road starting at Ralphton going north into Quebec and west, but (as
Robert expected) that road was only paved in town, pavement stopped
as soon as we crossed the bridge.
After Mattawa we were finally done with the big highway and soon got
onto a wonderful riding road in Quebec - highway 101. Lots of
twists, ups and downs, practically no traffic, but well paved.
Except this one spot on the entire 60km stretch - a blind
corner with gravel immediately following the blind turn. After
riding for half an hour on great pavement I was not prepared for the
gravel at all. I was going too fast, my foot was off the brake, and
my front tire isn't exactly great for offroad stopping.
I was doing about 10 under the speed limit, and if I wasn't caught
so off guard I would have stayed up, but having lost a bit of
precious time dealing with the surprise - I didn't have enough
distance left to slow down before hitting the full gravel shoulder.
I dropped the bike. A couple of scratches for me, nothing major.
Fucked up the windshield (this is a thing I do with new
windshields), scratched the tank, but otherwise all OK. There's me
being an idiot, trying hard not to be upset about stuff I can no
longer do anything about:
For the rest of the day I was telling myself that's the sort of
thing that will happen if you're going to ride, so no point feeling
bad. Eventually (some days later) I convinced myself that's true :)
This night we stayed at the cottage of one of my wife's friend
families, got some good rest.
Day 3: New
Liskeard to Camping du Lac Matagami (km 38)
In the morning I wanted to check that the rubbing noise I was
hearing after the crash wasn't anything serious. Somehow we
managed to get the rear wheel off the ground (it helps to have
three engineers' brains and some scrap wood). It looked like maybe
the wheel got misalligned a little and the belt was rubbing the
pulley side but I didn't have the big wrench to undo the axle nut
so I decided to take a chance and leave it alone for the rest of
the trip. It turned out to be ok, in fact even today six months
later I still haven't quite fixed it. I think it's less noisy now
but I'm not sure, I'll need to spend a couple more days on it
figuring out what's happening.
Can't remember much of the trip from that day. We went back into
Quebec, passed through Rouyn-Noranda, and saw some signs for Val
d'Or. That's Valley of Gold in english. Turns out (my neighbour
works with the mining industry) that's not just a pretty name - they
really do mine gold there.
Now that I know it - that explains why we kept riding past mine
entrances, but the only trucks we saw coming south were full of
lumber. I guess the mines are for metals.
This was one of our hourly breaks (that annoyed Robert so much).
Note the new location for the gas can. Turned out because my bag is
flat on the top that worked pretty well, even with the gas can full.
Had lunch in Amos, which was a pretty cute little town. Quite more
civilized than I expected this far into nowhere. I guess the mining
business is going well in that part of the country. After that we
had no choice but to go up highway 109 to Matagami. It was getting
late, we just stopped for gas (including filling up the spare tank)
and admired the obesity epidemic in that population, and went on to
the beginning of James Bay road.
We didn't really want to start on the road today but the campground
was on km 37 so we pushed a little to get there. At the entrance to
James Bay road there is a trailer where you're supposed to register
when you drive in. I thought maybe they do that in case you go
missing and they'll come looking for you, but I don't think so. I'm
not entirely sure what the point is, I didn't think to ask.
We got out of our bikes and went into the trailer and chatted with
the nice guy a little. He already had our names, probably because I
registered for the power plant tour, gave us a map, and explained
that as ontarians we're allowed to fish only in some parts, and
where there are reservations of what type, basically telling us not
to hunt or fish in reservations cause the inhabitants get angry
about it. That was fine with us.
The first 38 km of James Bay road were not promising. Kind of ugly,
they had the machines out trimming the trees away from the road (way
away), but that was probably good - it set low expectations :) The
campground was nice enough, though the entrance off the road didn't
look inviting (probably trying to keep vandals from breaking in
during the winter). Looked like it's primarily used by people who
work there and take the family to the park on ocasion. Full of
trailers. But no people.
Camping du Lac Matagami (km 38) to km 444 road stop
In the morning we met the black flies. I wasn't sure at first,
I've never seen one, or at least I never noticed. They say there
are plenty in Algonquin but Algonquin flies must be slow and
drunk, compared to the vicious crazy ones from here. These ones
come out in the morning when it warms up a little and hide again
in the evening when it gets dark.
In the morning I thought it wasn't so bad, I could deal with it,
but later in the day I knew why everyone warns you about these
fuckers when you talk about going up here. They can drive you
absolutely insane. I almost wished they were like mosquitoes -
bite me and leave, cause what they do is worse - they crawl all
over your skin under clothing, over previous bites, and minutes
later they bite. Holy crap is it annoying.
Even having prepared myself mentally for months I found it
impossible to ignore them. Eugen and Robert didn't seem to suffer
as much, so maybe they're tougher or maybe their bug spray worked.
I didn't bring bug spray, I dislike that stuff as much as I
One interesting thing (must be a coincidence but it's a really
strange one) is that there were no black flies on the road before
we got to James Bay road. It's as if everything north of Matagami
was a designated black fly reservation.
Traffic is very light on the road, but there's more of it than I
expected. Primarily logging trucks and native people's trucks. The
farther you go up north the less traffic there is. Even in the
first part - this would be hard to do anywhere else (the photo is
taken off a tripod standing in the middle of the road, as are we:
Later I also tried to make a photo while riding. It looks better
than I expected, I was not at all comfortable doing it:
I was surprised there wasn't much wildlife up here. I always assumed
the fewer people there are - the more wildlife, but I guess that's
not how it works. I did see a mama bear and her cub crossing the
road. I didn't want to get too close and it took me a while to get
the camera out and zoom in so I didn't see them too well:
At km189 we pulled into the road stop. This is one of a bunch of
campgrounds on the side of James Bay road that have an access road,
flat pads to put up tents, and fire pits. Usually they also have a
porta-potty and so did this one. I went in there, and ran out a
second later. It had a large number of wasps (or bees) inside - I
think there was a nest, but I didn't take the time to examine it. I
guess they mean it when they say it's not maintained :)
This road stop had an RV in it, an older couple with a dog. The guy
came out and said hello (in english). I thought the RV must be a
pretty nice way to travel, not only do you get all the comforts with
it - but also you can hide from the black flies in there :)
Here's what the typical unmaintained campground looks like, boat
There are boxes in these campsites with envelopes for voluntary
donations. I was pretty impressed with the facilities (I wasn't
expecting really anything there at all) so I took one of the survey
envelopes, and much later filled it in and mailed a 25$ cheque to
the James Bay Regional Government. They deserve it.
This must have been Rupert River (km257). Pretty cool bridge:
Some of the road stops just have a picnic table, or not even that.
They would be quite nice except for the black flies so you can't
really stop for a long time. Our most successful stops (in terms of
fly avoidance) were on the side of the highway where there weren't
any trees, and even then the flies find you after 10 minutes. Nasty
Most of the rest of the day we rode through a kind of desert. Burnt
trees as far as the eye could see. There are frequently natural
fires up here, sometimes very large ones. We were told by the locals
there's been one in 2013 that burnt down 400km of forest. They
didn't even try to control it, since it's part of the natural cycle.
The highway was shut down for a couple of weeks.
Strange that there are logging trucks coming down from this area.
The number of trees seems infinite, but I don't understand where
they found trees large enough to cut, maybe farther off the highway
where the trees are older.
Our stop for the night was at km444. This one had two campgrounds -
one on the access road and one near the lake. We picked the one near
the lake. You can kind of see on the right between the two trees
there's a log tied up there. Almost certainly used for hunting. I
wonder what they hunt here, there seems to be almost no wildlife.
The brothers tried to catch some fish, but no luck.
Boiling our soup was challenging because of the wind, it blew our
small gas stoves' heat sideways. We managed. Later we made a fire
too (I don't even know where we found the firewood, I think someone
else left some branches and we used them.
Day 5: km
444 road stop to Radisson and James Bay
I slept in, Eugen told me he caught a good size pike. I thought he
was joking. Turns out he wasn't or else he's really good at editing
photos on his camera:
I don't remember anything about the way to Radisson from here. There
isn't much to see, and basically when you start seeing various
facilities - you're in Radisson. The town exists purely to house the
workers for the hydro plants, and it's not a lot of them. We got
different numbers from everyone we talked to, ranging from 40
families to 300 families to 1500 people. That last one we only saw
on the sign at the entrance, we were later told that was probably
from back when they first built the place and they needed loads of
workers for the three-year the construction project.
Radisson isn't much (as you would expect :)) but it's not
uncivilized. We visited two restaurants, basically both fast food
places, a bit expensive, but again - given where it is - it's not as
bad as you might think, less than double the price and about the
same quality as a regular fast food place.
Here we are at the centre of town. I think we tried to explore but
didn't get very far before the road ended, so what you see in these
photos is pretty much it :)
We set up camp in the Radisson campground. I don't remember being
bothered by black flies there, so something must have been keeping
them away. In fact I don't remember black flies anywhere in
Raddison, LG2, or Chisasibi - but maybe I'm just forgetting.
Then we went to Chisasibi, so we could say we saw James Bay, which
is of course nothing but a small part of Hudson's Bay. The paved
road to Chisasibi was nothing special but the unpaved road from
there to the bay was much worse than I expected. I thought it would
be like the kind of unpaved highways we have in southern Ontario but
it was closer to a dirt path with large gravel on it.
To make things worse - we must have been unlucky (or lucky, I don't
know) that the tractor putting down the gravel was doing its work
Needless to say after my fall I still haven't recovered all my crazy
so I was the slowest and most stressed out of the three, but we made
it without complication.
James Bay, it turns out, is a pretty ugly pool of shit :)
So ugly that this dude had to piss in it. This is the type of class
I travel with :)
The fishing boats seem to really be used for fishing, and we
witnessed one of them being rolled out of the bay using some kind of
logs. I don't know much about engines but I do know a little about
canoes and these were not made by the locals, they're the expensive
modern shit :)
We didn't stay long, just enough to appreciate that we made it. On
the way back we took a quick detour through Chisasibi - man these
guys have got money. The facilities (including a hockey rink) would
be welcome in a GTA neighbourhood, and the houses looked as modern
as the Radisson residences you can see in a photo above. Something
tells me they didn't suffer much with the building of the dams,
though I'm sure they'll tell you the handouts they got are not
Eugen wanted a photo of this, I wonder if the writing is in the same
type of made-up alphabet as they have on the way to Whistler in BC?
When we got back we saw at least 3 different foxes in the
campground, unless it was a really fast and sneaky fox. I tried to
make a photo but it didn't work very well in the dark. They didn't
seem too scared of us, acted just like racoons back home.
Radisson to to km189 road stop
The last thing to do before leaving was to visit the generating
station LG-2. This had to be booked two days in advance but I booked
it more than a week in advance, and the lady called back a couple of
times to reschedule.
The free tour is well worth the time! Not only do you get to see the
largest hydro plant in Canada on the outside, but you get to go
inside as well. We were also lucky to see a new turbine about to be
installed, it was just sitting there in the middle of the floor.
No photos allowed in the plant. The first two are from the visitors'
centre and the rest from outside as we were driven around:
Those weenie cables carry a mind-boggling 735000 volts of
The tour was scheduled for very early in the morning so we'd have
time to ride a good distance that day. We packed up and went.
For the next few kilometers I kept stopping, looking for a couple of
trees to take home with me. I really liked the idea of raising a
tree from that far up north somewhere in my front yard. Spoiler:
they did not survive the trip, despite my best efforts watering them
and trying to keep the roots in dirt:
Eugen really wanted to see the two-phase long distance DC line going
to the USA, we found it soon enough:
Stopped to camp at km189. The guys were making fun of my beekeeper's
net but I didn't mind, it helped a little to keep the bugs away. I'm
not really sure about its effectiveness. Bugs can for sure get in,
probably go under it rather than through it, and if there's one in
there - your already irritated skin and the sight of the others
crawling over the net is just as irritating as not having it at all.
But I think I did get bit less with the net on.
I found a whole tree to burn. A little wet but it burned well. I
went to sleep pretty early so I didn't see this or the
Day 7: km189
road stop to Camping municipal du lac Beauchamp
Nothing too exciting on the way back. Robert decided to take one of
the breaks sitting in the middle of the highway. Noone bothered him
:) Eugen (after laughing at my trees for a day) decided to grab some
too, to make a hedge. I don't know if his trees survived any longer
than mine, but maybe they did - he kept his in the saddle bag.
I refuelled in full at the only gas station at km381 and though I
filled the spare tank - I wanted to see how far I can get till the
tank is dry. The bike started jerking at around 410km but it ran
till 430. Which means that if I were alone - I'd be able to do the
trip without reserve gas. Cool.
Pre-planned campsite for the day was just west of Amos. I didn't
like it. Though it looks on the map like it should have access to a
lake or two - it doesn't. There's an impassable swamp in between.
Not only that - but the super anal and nosy guy at the entrance kept
telling us how he calls the cops on people trying to swim at the
beach. Seemed like a jerk, but maybe he has lots of drunk idiots to
deal with - I don't know.
The guys did go and find a place to get some beer. I don't think I
had any despite what it looks like in the following photo :)
Day 8: Camping
municipal du lac Beauchamp to private property
At some point this day we found an old tower, used by (or built in
memory of) miners. Pretty cool, but I didn't record where it was:
Some time later we pulled over on one of those shoulder-rest-stops
and there was a lake. I decided what the hell, I'm not going to have
traveled as far north as I could and not have had a single swim. So
I got my clothes off and jumped in. The resolution is too low for
you to see anything :)
Getting late, we needed a place to set up camp. But there was a
surprising amount of private property everywhere. Not sure why,
maybe this area is the Sudbury / North Bay cottage country. We
stopped in some random spot on the side of the road and I thought
the entrance looked abandoned, so I suggested we stay there. Out of
the way, behind some rocks and trees. Like this:
But it turned out there was someone there, and they came by at
night. We thought we would hide but then when I saw the amount of
light our little fire cast on the surrounding trees - I realized it
was hopeless, everyone who looked vaguely in our direction would
have seen us.
Day 9: Private
property to Muskoka
We stayed, but I decided to leave at 6 in the morning (which I did).
The other two lazy bums wouldn't get up so I left them there and
waited for them down the road in Noelville. It was ok for me, there
was a school with a bench where I lay down and read a book.
Eventually I heard Robert's ridiculous straight pipes and on we
Turns out they did run into two guys at the campsite just before
they left. But lucky for them instead of baseball bats they had
coffees. Chatted for a minute and left. Most likely that poorly
groomed property was a day rental or some such thing.
Lunch some place on the side of the road:
Later we entered Muskoka. I knew this was a pile of cottages
unaffordable to mere mortals but I got seriously angry this evening.
Not only did it turn out that Camp Whatever we planned to stay at
was one of those team building bullshit day camps - but later as we
stopped for more beer - I was forced to be too close to too many
rich kids and women for too long. I don't even know if it must be
really nice or it must really suck to have never worked a day in
your life, driving daddy's sports car and spending half the day at
the spa. I'm used to Rosedale with its multimillon dollar houses but
something here really got on my nerves. I still don't know what it
was but I know I never ever want to go to Muskoka again.
Another problem was of course finding a place to stay. Not a lot of
crown land in Muskoka, but Eugen's eagle eyes spotted this one -
it's under some power lines, between a bridge and a lake, basically
the one spot in a 50km radius that doesn't have a cottage on it. It
was great. Here are the final photos of the trip:
Eugen did manage to get a fish (third Pike on the trip), enough for
everyone to have a bite.
Day 10: Muskoka to
Partly because I was still stewing about the rich and partly because
I started thinking of all the work I have to do when I get back - I
don't remember much about the last day. I think it was good, but I
can't say I remember anything.
But thinking of the whole trip - it was completely worth it. It may
have been my low expectations but I enjoyed all parts of it exept
for Muskoka - Ontario, Quebec, the James Bay road, organized and
free-for-all campsites, the power plant tour, the bear and the
foxes, the fish. Even the bugs - they drove me insane at the time
but it's the sort of thing you can laugh at later - knowing you
don't need to deal with them again.
It was an awesome experience. This sort of trip is the reason I
still have my bike though I have small kids and I don't ride half as
much as I used to. All together this is likely the cheapest 10 day
vacation I could go on by far, and a good one too!
If you have questions for me, please use this
Other trips of mine.