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James Bay, Québec: Expedition (2/11-25/2001)

post-trip summary: Contents, page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4, page 5, page 6, page 7, page 8, page 9...

Our rest was quite refreshing, the rooms were warm and comfortable. I had remarked the night before that the hotel was the nicest we'd been in this whole trip. The showers were good, too - actual pressure! It was heaven. The morning was again very bright, I thought we'd all be tan on the little exposed skin we had, usually part of the face. I met up with the others (except for the still-sleeping Mickey) in the same restaurant we had been in the night before.
map of the fifth day's route

After breakfast, Mary and I went over to a souvenir store next to the hotel. She had seen some Inuit art there that she thought I would be interested in, especially since my mom had asked me to get her something and I didn't want to disappoint. Nick, the man who ran the shop, was also a very nice guy, and was interested in our little journey. The little, bearded man was quite the talker, too, and I was afraid I'd never get out of there. I hadn't packed, and I knew Ted and Michel
outside the Carrefour La Grande hotel
would be itching to get on with the drive as soon as possible. I selected two items ("I give you such a deal!" he kept saying), and in order to pay him I had to go back to the hotel, ask the proprietor to run my credit card through the machine and get cash from him. This took forever. He wasn't at the office, but at another one just down the way. I would never have known but Michel (of our group) came out of that office and told me he (Michel the proprietor) was in there. We chatted a bit about our trip and his local experiences living here (it gets into the 40s°C there in the summer and the black flies are unbearable!). I commented in a friendly way how hard it was to get anything done around here, and his response to me (in his thick Quebecois accent) was, "zee North ees zee North!" It was a phrase that stuck with us for the rest of the trip. It summed everything up so succinctly.
entering the Transtaïga road

lunch by the side of the road

frosted trees

After getting the bundles of cash, I walked back over the frozen parking lot with Mickey to the souvenir store. Nick again engaged us in conversation. He wanted me to see the photos he had of Radisson's founding back in 1974. They were interesting photos and we enjoyed talking to the man, but we had to go - no more deals! It turns out though that no one was in the rush I thought they were. After packing our goods and warming up the cars, we went to yet another souvenir shop. It was much more polished than our friend's, and I bought nothing. I was pretty tapped anyway. We gassed up and doubled back over last night's route, this time making a left on the Transtaïga Road. Amazing how similar it all looks. This road, unlike the others we had been on had the extra added attraction of being composed of gravel, which reminded Mickey when he got too close to the others. A well-placed rock kicked off of the front bumper with a bang: he had been warned. Not long after that, he drew near again, and this time wasn't as lucky. A nice neat crescent-shaped pit about an inch wide appeared diresctly in front of him. He got on the radio and told the others he'd be hanging back. Of course, that didn't last long. Nothing that hit the rest of that day caused much damage though.

Quick Facts:

(note: US$1=approx.CAN$1.51; 1gal=4.24 liters; price for premium grade, what Discos use. Stations on Cree land don't have taxes levied on gas; Feb 2001 prices and a lot of rounding!)

Gas prices: (US$/gal) (avg)
Washington, DC: ~$1.85
Toronto, ON: ~$1.68
Matagami, QC: ~$2.00
Relais 381: ~$2.20
Radisson, QC: ~$2.24
Transtaïga km 358 (Cree): ~$2.04
Pourvoirie Mirage: ~$2.60
Wemindji, QC (Cree): ~$2.04

This might have been the most uneventful day thus far, though, and my photos are a testament to that. There's not a lot in them but the backs of the lead vehicles as they passed through the scenery. We stopped for lunch near a nearly iced-over river, but what was more important to us was the fact that our sandwich fixins were iced over. The others had nice warmed food but Mick and I had to wait while our sandwich meat thawed under the hot air by my feet. It only took a few minutes, but we were hungry, and our sandwiches had a little crust of ice on them. Since we had no food immediately available, I walked down a little to a bridge over the river and took some pictures of the open water and a curious sight: since the water was warm enough in some places to be liquid, there was a bit of steam which rose
river scene
up in places. It floated eerily along until it hit a solid object, which in this case happened to be trees, turning them ghostly white. After a few shots, I ran back. I was not as protected from the cold as I should have been and my hands were numbing.
Quick Fact:
approx distance from
Radisson to Le Grande-4:

248.5 miles (400 km)

Over the entire day's drive, we were alongside miles and miles of high-tension wire. As important as electricity is to Canada and Québec, these pylons and spun metal lines seriously degraded the landscape. On one hand, they were a strangely beautiful tribute to man's succesful taming and harnessing of nature, on the other, they were a blight on the scenery. We enjoyed the sunset over the Rivière Pontois, and pressed on.

We were grateful to see a gas station within a few dozen kilometers of our destination. It was run by a Cree man who had a cute little lab dog which ran around all over the place and was very skittish in our presence. Mickey played with the puppy and kept it out of harm's way as I negotiated the truck over to a pump.

miles and miles of wire

sunset at the Pontois

At long last, we found the provisioner's at LG-4, called Pourvoirie Mirage. It really gave the impression of being in the middle of nowhere, because it was in the middle of nowhere. There are other provisioners in the area, but none
of this scale. It is a loose conglomeration of permanent buildings, semi-permanent trailers and various outbuildings, powered by loud generators and I'm sure at the peak of the hunting season was bustling with activity. Now, though, the season was over and the hunters gone. We hunted around the compound to find the office. They knew we were coming but knew not why, his puzzled interrogation amusing Michel in French at first and later us, as he recounted the tale.

The main building was spartan, but had all the accoutrements of home: warmth, lights, food, an office with brochures and souvenirs, phones, fax machine and, we heard, a computer with internet access, owned by the sister of the provisioner. She unfortunately, had left the day before; but the fact that she could get on the internet was heartening to us. We weren't sure about being able to post our daily log here, so far from any town with a phone line. If someone else can do it, surely we could?

We got our cabin number assigned, but weren't told where it was, so we drove the compound again. As Michel and Mickey drove over the well-groomed driveway to the cabin entrance, Ted decided to go off to the side and mired himself in snow. He would remain frozen there, not only overnight but almost all the next day as well, for it was not to be a driving day for once. We settled in,
writing the log
got our food which we bought the other day at a local grocery store, and made dinner. Afterwards we set about to write our story and get the pictures edited in time to get to the bar, back in the main building, and maybe have a drink, too. No luck.
a room in the cabin
Not only was the bar not open for business, but we tried every way possible to get the pay phone to accept the modem's signal, to no avail. Our provisioner was eager to go to bed, so after a few more tries, we called it a night.

No success for the first time. We did not know it at the time, but Ho was having difficulties of his own and Discoweb was down for a few days. We had told everyone where we could be seen every day, with new photos of us and we could prove to the naysayers we were alive. Now, even if we could post, no one would see it because the site
Daily Log
click here for
our impressions
taken that day...
wouldn't be available for a few days. The three of us retired to the cabin and relaxed a short while, debating the merits of Ted's and Michel's -100°C boots over whisky and port, before hitting our beds. Tomorrow would be the greatest test of our gear and photo equipment ever. Would I be able to take good shots of the main quarry of the area from the back of a snowmobile? Would I get anything? At these extreme temperatures, hovering in the -30°C range (before wind chill), film can become brittle and wreak havoc inside the camera. I could not only lose a few shots, but lose my ability to take any more that day.

Next: Life and Death


© tjd