I actually spent about a thousand miles in French Canada.
Kevin knew I had books. He called me a “literary guy.”
Maybe it’s because I have glasses.
I have a few books with me. I’ve been reading Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck. In it Steinbeck, at this point both an author of well-renown and old man, takes off across America with his dog Charley. He does it in a custom made pickup truck with a camper on the back. Look, Steinbeck did it the easy way, even coming across as bit of a tenderfoot at times (c’mon, French poodle?), but it’s been a great read thus far and I won’t begrudge him because of the fact that he was an old man when he did it. Plus he just kind of comes across as a really likeable dude. I’m still reading it so don’t spoil it for me (Charley dies at the end?), but I’m finding that there’s a lot of similar thinking going on in there. Maybe the thoughts of the wanton traveller resonate across our select minority, ubiquitous to all those who stave off into the night, into the darkness, to seek out knowledge that has so far been unobtainium.
Well, regardless, Steinbeck talks about wanting to visit Fargo, ND on his trek across our nation. He wants to see it on a whim really, because for him it has always held a place in his mind as being a destination that was just so out there, so far away, so as to be become legend and attain a sort of mythrus status, similar to a Cathay or a Timbuktu, but of the mind really, and in America.
Chibougamau has held a similar bookmark in my brain for some time now, and that’s why I went there. Because it’s there. I saw it on a map years ago and I would take a look at it every once in a while. It’s on most maps, but some maps have roads going to it and some don’t. It’s out there, really it is. A truly isolated, desolate place. Nowheresville, man.
La Fin du Monde.
I left Quebec City Saturday morning, heading up Hwy 175 through the Reserve Faunique Des Laurentides and yet another desolate stretch of nothing. Natural beauty abounds in Northern Quebec. Countless dirt and gravel roads shoot off into the bush. Hundreds, thousands of lakes, pools, and rivers stretch into infinitum, the earth blanketed in trees and rocks and water. There is not much out here. You reach Chicoutimi and find it, this seat of the Quebecois culture, to be unremarkable. Turn left here and head towards Lac St. Jean, which is remarkable in its immensity. Its waters stretch to the horizon and it is truly beautiful. Of course, it is ringed with RV Parks, asphalt campgrounds, miniature golf, and go-kart racing.
Travel Tip: Don’t drink the water in Quebec. Buy bottled water. This is known to me from previous occasions. It has been told and you have been warned.
Past Lac St. Jean, you come to La Dore, a small outpost and the last place to obtain gasoline before making the end run towards Chibougamau.
Travel Tip: If you arrive in La Dore with no kopeks and no place to spend the night, take the gravel road on the left ¼ mile past the market, follow it into the forest, and set up shop in the clearing of your choice. Hide your rig behind the largest rock you can find for maximum stealth. Strain your eyes for the Northern Lights and your patience may prevail.
The CB500T gas tank only holds about 3 gallons or so of gas with a tad bit more in the reserve tank. And remember, it’s been a bit of a drag as of late in the mpg department. Best to fill up the spare tank you got in Chicoutimi so as not to run out of that precious fluid and be left to kill, steal, plunder etc. on the road Mad Max style.
I’m just looking for safe passage through the wasteland.
But, aren’t we all?
At night your thoughts turn to the Quebecois. They are a different breed indeed. A cursory glance into the eyes of the Quebecois will return an icy stare. These are the descendants of frontiersmen, trappers, soldiers, desolate loners on the fringe, madmen, and whores. The great North of Quebec is a foreboding place. Desolate. Cold. Alone. It is not easy to make it here. It never was. The heart yearns for a friendly face that speaks the English tongue. And maybe for one of Larry Russell’s delicious peanut butter crackers.
The road to Chibougamau is long. 130 miles or so of nothing in between save for forest and the trees. This is the Ashuapmushuan Reserve and it is gargantuan. It will swallow you up. You have been warmed. Stop to slosh in the rest of you gas from the can you bought especially for this road because no one ever said that reaching Chibougamau was easy. There’s no romance without, right? While you’re there, at a picnic table at Lac Triolet, warm yourself up with some noodles, down some sardines, and spoon out some peanut butter. Because you only live once. Listen to some tunes. It’s been a week and you’re out alone in the world, this strange and terrible place. Thoughts are with you always. Memories. Regrets. They’re all there.
Chibougamau is out there, somewhere, but apparently it has internet and it has young people. I was able to get a host for the night. I could have camped out off of a dirt road somewhere, and it did indeed turn out to be a beautiful night, but I wanted to meet a real life Chibougamauan. See how they live. Ask them why they are here. What are they doing in this outpost?
Chibougamau was not really what I expected, because I expected it to be a logging town. It wasn’t because it’s a mining town. Mining towns are a different breed up here, at least the one’s with the big mines. There’s money floating around. They’re clean and safe, with plenty of bars and even strip clubs. No one gives a shit about some Manboy passing through
on an old bike with squeaky brakes and a cooler bolted to the back. Chibougamau’s a fun little town. But that’s probably for about 5 minutes and I wouldn’t want to live here. I imagine a whole different place come the incredibly harsh winter. Loneliness and lack of precious sunlight breeds desperation in most folk. And I’m sure there are few couchsurfers passing by in winter.
I grew tired of French Canada today. I miss America very much so. But I’ll take English speaking Canada as a sort of compromise. I’ve made it to Ontario, camped just within the border on Bear Lake Rd on a little pullout. It was a long, hard ride today. But chin up young Turk, for now we head West again. Forever and always.