A Man and his Motorcycle
Sometimes I have to just put my finger on the map and go.
I've always wanted to go to Hudson Bay. Not because of anything I've heard...just the opposite. Hudson Bay and its appendage, James Bay, are colossal. They dominate any map of North America, yet somehow you never hear about them. For a long time I didn't even know how to get there; my maps either didn't go that far north, or they showed no roads. Finally, last summer, when I was driving a cab, one of my fares told me that he'd not only been there but he'd been there by motorcycle, my own transportation of choice. The reason the road didn't show on a lot of maps is that it's a private road built and owned by Hydro Quebec...a private road 400 miles long.
It had all the allure of a secret route, a legendary passage spread by word of mouth. A road like that is pure gold to a motorcyclist.
I've never had to sign in to use a road before, but I did for this one. Just north of Matagami was a gatehouse where they put my name, address and telephone number into a computer so they could print up a report if I never came back.
It was 240 miles to the next gas pump. I used all the gas in my main tank, then refilled it from two red plastic cans I'd strapped to the back of my bike. Hours later when that gas was gone I switched to my reserve tank and then rode it dry. I finally had to pour my little canister of stove fuel into the tank to make it the last few miles. That was a silent, lonely moment on a road where an hour would pass without a car.
I spent that night close to the gas pump.
As I rode due north across the Canadian Shield I gained four degrees of latitude: the trees shrank and spread apart, dark stone broke through the earth, and the ground was replaced by a sprawling mat of lime-white lichen, a surreal foreshadowing of the tundra.
At the end of the road, 1300 miles from home, the signs were in Cree, a language that uses the same alphabet the Naboo use in The Phantom Menace. The churning brown water of the bay was less than welcoming and the beach sported neither sunbathers nor sand...just rock and some very serious Cree boats. I wasn't sure where to go from there...the North Pole or outer space?
I spent the better part of three days on that road. It's a long road: by the time I'd reached the end I'd almost forgotten where I started, why I was there, who I was. But that felt good because sometimes the ride's the thing.
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