Is extreme remote riding simply gratuitous risk-taking?
Recently a story was circulating about Eric Foster, a guy who crashed on the Trans-Taiga Highway. Perhaps you’ve seen it. He was riding solo and woke up eight hours later in a hospital in Montreal. It’s actually an old story from 2017 but was republished end of November and that’s when I saw it. It’s a pretty gripping story, as far as crash stories go. He was riding in perhaps the remotest area of North America when he crashed, breaking his back and a leg. Some trappers saw the smoke from his motorcycle on fire and came to his aid, but it took hours for first responders to get to him, and then hours to get him to a hospital. The story has a happy ending; he returns to the spot where he had the accident and finishes his trip, stopping to thank the trappers along the way who helped him.
I’d never heard of the Trans-Taiga, so the article got me looking. It’s a dirt road built by Hydro Quebec to service their dams, and it is indeed about as remote as you can get in Quebec. According to Wikipedia, it’s the “northernmost continuous road in Eastern North America,” snaking 582 kilometres (362 mi) through forest from James Bay Road to the Caniapiscau Reservoir. That’s right—that’s all there is at the end of a dangerous journey: a reservoir. Then you turn around and ride the same road back.
Why would someone want to do such a ride? Well, the answer is in the article. Eric Foster describes himself as “a challenge guy.” When asked why he wanted to ride the Trans-Taiga, he replied, “Just to say I did it,” then added, “I love a good challenge.” I’ve found myself saying the exact same words of that last sentence, and I’ve written about risk-taking in an earlier post when discussing my decision to try The Dempster, another dangerous highway. Quoting Jordan Peterson, I wrote at the time:
“When untrammeled—and encouraged—we prefer to live on the edge. There, we can still be both confident in our experience and confronting the chaos that helps us develop. We’re hard-wired, for that reason, to enjoy risk (some of us more than others). We feel invigorated and excited when we work to optimize our future performance, while playing in the present. Otherwise we lumber around, sloth-like, unconscious, unformed and careless. Overprotected, we will fail when something dangerous, unexpected and full of opportunity suddenly makes its appearance, as it inevitably will.”12 Rules for Life
Research on the Trans-Taiga led me to looking at James Bay Road, a highway so remote that you have to sign in at a check point before riding it so officials can keep track of who’s up there. I watched a YouTube video of a group of guys who rode it to James Bay, including a few kilometres of the Trans-Taiga, “just to say they did.” And then the YouTube algorithm did its thing and showed me another series of videos of a father and son riding the Trans-Labrador Highway, which was right up my alley because I was considering riding it back from Newfoundland this summer after crossing to Blanc-Sablon.
The Trans-Labrador Highway is one of those classic ADV rides you’ve apparently got to do to call yourself an ADV rider. It also snakes through some pretty remote territory, and until recently, was mostly gravel. (The final remaining section of dirt has recently been paved.) I watched the six-part series and the riders did have some adventure. They had a break-down and had to be saved by some locals, and they encountered some unseasonable weather and were held up for a few days by a late snow fall. There was some good bonding time, for sure, but in terms of the ride itself, it seemed like hours and hours of mind-numbing coniferous forest. No lakes, no mountains, no cliffs, no hill climbs, and as of last summer, no dirt.
Why would the Trans-Labrador be such a popular ADV ride? It has to be its remoteness, and if you live in the northeast of North America, the Trans-Lab is one of the few remaining truly remote roads.
If you’re looking for a challenge, remoteness will provide it. For one, there is the not-so-little issue of fuel; you have to be able to cover upwards of 400 kms between fuel stops, which can be done by carrying extra fuel in a Rotopax or another fuel container. With remoteness usually comes some challenging riding too since no one wants to pave a road that has limited use. And if it rains, that challenge increases significantly, especially on roads like The Dempster or The Dalton that are sprayed with calcium chloride as it makes the mud greasy. Then there’s the danger of wildlife, whether it be an aggressive grizzly bear or, worse, the black flies.
But the real challenge of riding remote is simply the lack of assistance should you have a mechanical or medical problem. I won’t say you are on your own because even on these remote highways there are still trucks passing periodically, but parts and medical assistance become scarce. This is where you have to be prepared: know how to fix your bike, carry spare parts, bring a first-aid kit, and have on you a satellite tracker like the Garmin inReach units that are connected to emergency services.
Is it worth it? Well, to each his or her own, but for me, the risk itself is not enough. In fact, I’ve been wondering if riding remote for its own sake is really just a way for some people to feel alive again. Stuck in otherwise pretty safe lives, we seek danger in answer to an ancient call somewhere in the reptilian brain that harkens back to another era when we lived close to death. Some people skydive. Others bungee jump. Some climb mountains. And some race The Isle of Man TT in search of what Guy Martin calls “The Buzz,” that adrenaline hit you get when you are on the edge of life and death.
But watching these videos has led me to rethink my upcoming tour. I don’t think I’ll be coming back from Newfoundland via The Trans-Lab. It’s not because I’m scared of remote riding, but in my world, there has to be some pay-off for the risk, and bragging rights just isn’t enough. When I rode up The Dempster, every kilometre was worth the risk for the magnificent views the highway provided. I’d never seen geography like that before and likely won’t until I get up there again.
But the Trans-Lab, the James Bay Road, and the Trans-Taiga don’t offer much beyond hours and hours of forest. From what I can determine, there aren’t even places to pull off safely for a rest or to camp. These are roads built exclusively for trucks to get from Point A to Point B, cutting a single line through otherwise impenetrable bush. I’ll leave it to the black flies.
For a challenge, I’ve decided instead to ride this summer the NEBDR and MABDR (North East and Mid Atlantic Backcountry Discovery Routes respectively) down to The Blue Ridge Parkway, and while there, I’ll probably do Tail of the Dragon, although riding a curvy section of road at the limit of my skill and the bike is not my preferred mode of challenge these days. Rather, I’m looking forward to testing my metal on those Class 4 roads of the NEBDR. I’ll take a rocky hill climb over speed or gratuitous remoteness any day; it’s what drew me to ADV riding in the first place. Off-roading provides a challenge that is relatively safe. That might sound like an oxymoron, but you don’t have to risk your life to get “The Buzz.” Successfully completing a technical section of road or trail will give you a hit too, and if you don’t make it and drop the bike, well, you live to try another day. And along the way, there are some pretty great views, villages, and campgrounds.
What do you think? If you ride a motorcycle, you’re familiar with managing risk. Is remote riding your thing, and if so, why do you do it? If not, what kind of riding gives you The Buzz? And if you don’t ride, what do you do to step outside your comfort zone and feel alive? Drop a comment below; I’m always interested in hearing from readers.
5 thoughts on “ADV Riding as Thrill-Seeking”
Hi Kevin, I enjoyed the post. I’m presently between motos. Sold my ’05 F650GS – just too heavy for me at 72. I’m looking for a small dual sport now. Riding for me has been about living in the moment, hyper awareness of the surroundings and “riding in the zone”. It clears the mind of clutter with all senses focused – a bit like mindfulness meditation or perhaps an Inuit hunter (not that I would know!). I’ve enjoyed following your journey over the past several years. Any plans for getting a smaller dual sport?
Hi Ray. Good to hear from you. So you are in the envious position of having to buy a new bike! What are you looking at? I’m going the other way, for now. The Tiger is a few pounds heavier than the GS and more top heavy, so I have to be careful moving it around. But once rolling, you don’t feel the weight. I agree: riding is meditative and puts me in the moment, in touch with my body and the environment, erasing all daily concerns. It’s the act of concentration and the tactile quality of the experience. If we didn’t have to pay stupid rates for registration here in Quebec, I’d get a second, smaller bike for trails. I’m sure there will come a time when I’ll have to downsize too, but at 59, I’m not there yet. The plus side is that you can go anywhere just as well on a 250 or 300 like Itchy Boots. Keep in touch. I’m curious what you end up getting.
Good to hear from you Kevin. I’m looking forward to reading about your future BDR adventures. The top of my list at the moment is a used Yamaha XT250 or perhaps a KLX. The CRF300 is certainly getting a lot of exposure lately and the closest dealers to us out here in rural Nova Scotia are Honda. As long as it has 2 wheels, is affordable and feels good the brand is not important. Best regards.
Just my opinion, but the Cherohala Skyway is far prettier than the Tail of the Dragon, and has way less traffic. Hope you make it down here either way.
Thanks! I’ve heard there are better roads in that area and now I have a specific one to check out.