For those who don’t know, The James Bay Road is the longest road in North America (and one of the longest in the world) without services. The only places to get fuel is in the end town of Radisson and the camp known as Relais, which is 237 miles from Matagami. That’s 237 miles of no services. No homes, ranches, utilities… no nothing.
We have traveled all over the continent and been on some rather remote roadways. The Dalton in Alaska, the MacKenzie in NWT, the Cassair in BC and Yukon, and the Labrador Hwy. But the James Bay is by far the most remote and uninhabited.
So when you start the James Bay Road north of Matagami, there is a checkpoint restricting access. All drivers MUST log in and put their return date. If you don’t turn up, they send in a search party for you. We didn’t know this, and we figured since we’d be driving for hours on end anyway, we thought we it would be prudent to drive through the night to Wemindji. Instead, we drove to the start of the James Bay Road, and encountered this late-night outpost and a closed gate.
The man chattered in French through a loud speaker. We told him we spoke English and he asked why we were driving up here. He made me come inside and proceeded to lecture me on the danger of this road. Also, he said leaving right now would be a terrible idea, because we would be driving this remote road at night, and would be arriving in Relais when the gas pumps will be closed. Then we would be bear food while we waited for the pumps to reopen the following day. I told him we brought our own fuel and don’t need any from that station. He insisted we turn back to Matagami, but since it’s a public road, he wasn’t going to stop us.
Off we went.
The odd thing about going to Wemindji is, you have to make a rather lengthy drive due to the limitations of services. One cannot just drive to Relais and drive to Wemindji and back. There are too many miles between Relais-Wemindji-Relais to do it one tank. If you have a conventional vehicle without spare tanks of fuel, you have to drive to Relais, then fill up, then drive to Radisson, then fill up, then drive back down to Wemindji, then drive to Radisson, fill up, then drive to Relais then fill up, then drive back to Matagami. Wow. Thank goodness we have a veggie van with lots of fuel in the back. Whenever we need to fill up, we just fill up. No extra miles needed.