Toronto to Hudson's Bay and back on a Motorcycle

29 August - 9 September 2015

Andrew Smith, Robert, and Eugen


Day 1: 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 and I found the website - 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 - 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 like this.

Day 1: 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 riding jacket.

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 my windshield.

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. Heaven.

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.

Day 4: 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 dislike bugs.

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 launch, campsite:


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 insects!

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 that day.

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 enough.

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.

Day 6: 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. Very cool.

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 electricity!

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 two-meter-tall tree-fireball:

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 went.

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 Toronto

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!

The end.

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