Highway 7 is my preferred route out of Vancouver. This past summer was a doozy when it came to wildfires in British Columbia, especially where I was planning to ride in the Cariboo. So, when plans changed, I took a more regional ride with the intent of exploring the secondary road that led me to Hope, British Columbia.
Wes Taylor and I had spent the day on our Kawasaki KLR650s weaving our way along the pleasant twists and turns of Highway 3A and 31 between Nelson and Kaslo. The sun was out, the riding easy and we enjoyed the introduction to our three-day adventure together.
We were walking along 4th Street in Kaslo returning from dinner and having seen the National Historic Site of the SS Moyie when I breached the subject of the day ahead.
“I think the road runs out at Meadow Creek.”
While most motorcyclists fancied the twists of Highway 31A east of Kaslo, to New Denver, Wes and I were taking the less beaten track: Highway 31 north to Meadow Creek and beyond. Most travel brochures stopped describing tourist destinations north of Meadow Creek. I suspected this was because the asphalt ran out north of the small community.
“What do you think we’ll be dealing with past there?” Wes asked.
“I’ve heard it’s a well-graded road but gravel,” I offered. I had a few other anecdotal bits of information to add, but it would be new ground. Our moods turned thoughtful as we walked towards the Kaslo Motel.
After returning from breakfast the next day, Wes and I set about packing up our KLRs in preparation for the ride ahead. There was a motorcycle parked next to ours, a BMW R1200GS. We soon met its owner; Dave from Nevada.
As it turns out, he had just finished riding south solo along Highway 31, the road we would be taking. We asked him how the riding was. Dave was a man of few words.
“It’s not a technical ride,” Dave told us. “It’s hard-packed gravel for the most part.”
Wes and I looked at each other and smiled. I think we breathed a little easier after hearing Dave’s brief road report, and meeting someone who had travelled the route successfully.
There was a lesson to be learned here, I think. Wes and I had kept our anxieties too much to ourselves. It was fortunate we met Dave as I think we enjoyed our morning much more having heard what was ahead. It’s not unlike asking for directions at a gas station, checking in at a tourist information booth or asking a friend you know who lives in a place you’re not familiar with. Asking alleviates anxiety about the road ahead.
Oh, and Wes and I did enjoy riding Highway 31. Very much.
(You can read the story of our ride through the West Kootenays in Zero Avenue to Peace Park )
I was delighted over the weekend to hear that Wes Taylor’s surgery went well and he’s recovering in a Colorado hospital.
He told me by email that he’s “recovering but hurting also.” I’ve been mailing him motorcycle travel books so he can pass the time while healing. I send my riding buddy emails from time to time in between bringing my sons to activities and the latest writing jobs. I’ve been thinking about him over the weekend, sending him good thoughts.
For those of you who don’t know the story of how I met Wes, it begins five years ago when I was setting up my one-man tent at Meziadin Lake Provincial Park when what should appear next to me but a huge trailer towed by a pick-up truck. Wes and Nancy Taylor and their friendly dog Amber soon emerged having driven south from Alaska and we have remained friends since we were neighbours at that northern British Columbia campground. Wes was keen on Kawasaki KLR650s and I was riding one. We would soon be talking about riding together. I tell the story in more detail in Nearly 40 on the 37.
I was looking through my Zero Avenue to Peace Park photos over the weekend and found the above shot. It tells a particular story about when Wes and I got to ride together, two years after we met.
We were riding north on a cloudy August day on Highway 31 near Kaslo, the shores of Kootenay Lake not far to our right. I was in the lead and checking to see Wes was in my vibrating rear view mirror. After a minute or two of not looking, entranced by the ride and the scenery, I looked back and Wes wasn’t in my mirror anymore.
I looked for a place to turn around, then rode back thinking the worst. When I finally did encounter him coming at me along empty Hwy 31 we stopped, our front wheels pointed in different directions. He said over the engine that he was scouting out locations for another spot to bring Nancy and Amber to in the RV along the many gravel dips off the road into Kootenay Lake Provincial Park. Just like Wes to be thinking of the next adventure when he was on an adventure!
(The full account of our ride in the Kootenays, exploring historic silver towns on and off road, is in Zero Avenue to Peace Park.)
Needless to say, Wes is an adventurous fellow. And despite being in his early 70s he is still thinking ahead to the next one. I admire that. I hope in my 70s I’m still dreaming of adventure, splaying out the maps in the winter and planning the next one, whether solo, with my family, or a riding buddy.
As for my riding buddy Wes, I wish him a swift recovery and hope he is dreaming of future adventures as he heals in his hospital room.
I don’t know about you, but I’m a frequent filler-upper.
Regular stops at gas stations, I’d say every 150 kilometres, are where it’s at for me.
Sure, my F650GS has a digital fuel gauge, and I could surely make it to 250 kilometres and beyond without stopping for fuel.
But I like to stretch my legs, use the washroom, maybe have a cereal bar and a sip or two of water, and make some human contact.
I’ve never been a big fan of the card-reading automaton when I pay at the pump. It just beeps and whines at you like a second-rate R2D2. And it’s always demanding things: your PIN, what octane fuel you want, whether you want a receipt printed. You can’t small talk about the weather or comment about the wonderful road you’re riding. If you did it would be a very one-sided conversation.
So in this blog I’m choosing to remember the gas station attendants I met when I went inside the station building to make a human connection. No matter how brief. I’m always saying how riding a motorcycle allows me to connect with people, not connect with machines.
East of Castlegar, 139 kilometres from my starting point at Nakusp, I pulled in to the quiet Glade Esso. It’s to be found on the west side of the Kootenay River, just before the hydroelectric Brilliant Dam. I dismounted to find the pump actually was not card-operated, nor did it indicate which octane it dispensed, forcing me to make human contact to make enquiries.
I found two young ladies wearing sunglasses, seated and chatting in the early morning sun at the deserted fuelling station. I could have very well been their first customer of the day.
“Morning. Is it 87 octane fuel it pumps?” I asked.
“Sure does,” a young lady with a nose ring and long sandy blonde said coolly as she stood up and opened the door for me to go inside and pre-pay.
“I just need an amount to authorize for,” she said as I handed her my credit card. I thought about that a minute. “It’ll only charge you for the amount you pump.”
“Ten dollars,” I said. “Could I also use the bathroom?”
“Mm hmm,” she handed me a key attached to part of a wooden handle.
I did my business, fuelled up then walked my bike away from the pump where I parked it and tucked into a cereal bar and a few sips of water, aware the two ladies were curiously watching me. Even though it was just a small interaction, it was the most I’d spoken to another person that morning, and it actually charged my brain up a little bit, the side not focused on riding the bike and taking the twists and turns of Highway 6 from Nakusp.
The next stop was Grand Forks at a Petro-Canada station. The day was warming up. I had just made it over the big climb at Bonanza Pass, ascending to just over 1500 metres’ elevation before descending into the old copper town. The August day was really starting to warm up and the landscape becoming more arid as I wound my BMW around curves past ranches and slowed down to enter the quaint town on a Sunday. I could see people entering churches for the morning services.
It was good to stretch my legs after fording the Monashees. And I needed another bathroom break (I had anticipated needing hydration on the expected hot day and drank much orange juice and water that morning). After paying for my fuel at the pump I proceeded inside.
The middle-aged, bespectacled woman at the till was helping another customer. I patiently waited in my riding gear, holding my helmet. Anticipating my needs, almost as though she could read it in my face, she handed me the washroom key with a smile.
“It’s just around the building to the left,” she said conspiratorially with a wink.
I was impressed. The gesture gave me something to think about for the exit out of town. How had she known? What a kind exchange.
The next stop would be in Osoyoos, at a Petro-Canada station at the foot of the steep switchbacks leading down into the Okanagan Valley. During the steep climb out of Rock Creek earlier, I had noticed with some alarm just how hot it was getting. I needed some refreshment, stat.
After once again fuelling up at the busy multi-pump station, I pulled the bike around to park next to some leather-clad Harley-Davidson riders. Proceeding inside I searched for fruit juice, choosing a bottle of orange juice and filtered water. I went up to the till to pay.
“Hi there. Just these two please,” I said in as friendly a way as my dehydrated self could.
“It’s a hot one out there, isn’t it?” My attendant was of First Nations ancestry. I was right next to Nk’Mip Resort and the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre, a place I’d stayed a few summers before with family that I knew demonstrated the culture and history of the Okanagan people.
“Keep cool out there,” she said with a look towards my riding jacket.
“I will thanks,” I said, making eye contact. It’s always nice when a stranger takes a genuine interest in your wellbeing.
“I’m looking forward to end of my shift and relaxing in the sun,” she extended to me.
“Enjoy it,” I said. “And thanks…”
As it would turn out, I managed to have my first bout of heat exhaustion I would discover as I stayed at my hotel for the night in Princeton. Silly me, I also took it upon myself to hike downhill into town then uphill afterward to see the museum and have dinner. I overdid it, even though the museum and meal were wonderful. I needed to take an extra day to recuperate.
Pulling out early the next morning, having had a quiet recuperation day with little human interaction, I rode across Highway 3 to a Husky station. In a hurry to fuel up at the pump and get my heat-exhausted self home before the sun was once again upon me, I ignored the young men fuelling up their mini-van behind me.
“Excuse me,” I heard a young man say. It was a German accent. I was still in my helmet and sunglasses.
“Yes,” I managed as I was going through the instructions the pay-at-the-pump droid was dishing out.
“Could you help us?”
I looked at him and held up my forefinger. “Just give me a sec,” I said hastily.
The young man retreated to his friend who was looking confusedly at the pump.
What was I doing? Of course, help him. What a selfish gesture on my part. I fuelled up and went over to the young men. They were confused with the octane options. 87? 89? 91? What did it all mean? The young german’s friend had the van’s manual in his hand and was flipping through it.
“It’s our first gas stop in Canada,” my new German friend was saying. “We are not sure if we should put in 87 octane.”
“What does your manual tell you?” I tried to sound helpful.
“It says minimum 85,” he sounded doubtful.
“Well then, I imagine 87 should be enough,” I managed. “I know, they provide many options don’t they?” I gave a smile.
The young German also smiled.
“All right, we will try that one,” he said brightly. “Thank you for your help.”
“Not a problem,” I said.
I took my receipt out of the droid, hopped on, started up, and proceeded hastily west through the haze of forest fire smoke.
As I proceeded along the switchbacks that make up the ride along Highway 3 west to Manning Park, I though in my helmet of the help received and human contact made in the last few days. Too often, I retreat back into my big city aloofness, my defense against an unforeseen foe who may provide me with a problem.
I realized as I rode into the lodgepole pine forest of Manning that the human contact made on a journey is a major part of it, not to shun it, but revel in it, in whatever form it may take.
This was a non-fiction contest entry that failed to get awarded anything. Perhaps because it wouldn’t have fit in a mainstream travel magazine (the prize awarded a successful entry). But even though it didn’t involve a motorcycle, I wanted to write a personal story about the difference between being a tourist and a traveller. What is an authentic travel experience? I struggled with this question as a young adventurer wandering through Scotland. I hope you may learn from my experience. But take my advice: don’t put on a See You Jimmy hat.
The Search For Scot: a Caledonian quest for travel authenticity
I had a shock of red hair and a horrid tartan cap on my head as I sat on a statue of a legendary long-necked water beast. Our charismatic and enthusiastic tour guide Doug took picture after picture. The cameras were lined up on top of a rubbish bin at the Loch Ness Visitor Centre, while the nineteen of us got plenty of practice shouting “Nessie”. My patience was wearing thin.
I may have had enough of this extroverted gamboling across Scotland, but I was also beginning to feel like a stick in the mud. Was this the real Scotland? After all, I was sitting on a plesiosaur-shaped piece of concrete and acting like I was eight.
Let’s go back a month to when I booked this excursion into passionate tourism.
I was a twenty-eight-year-old living and working in London. My contract with a television production company was about to end. What an opportunity to stretch out and see the rest of the United Kingdom, I thought. The sudden realization that I could travel was exciting. It was also a bit nerve-wracking. It wasn’t every day I got to investigate the land of William Wallace and age-old castles. The movie Braveheart had been released just a few years previous and I knew it well. Monty Python and the Holy Grail had been filmed around Scotland too. I had read Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott. I wanted to get it right.
Previous self-guided trips into Ireland and around England had, at times, found me wandering about somewhat aimlessly. I had the freedom to do what I wanted traveling solo but lacked local knowledge. So I succumbed to my need to have a comprehensive group experience and booked a week’s guided tour of Scotland.
A month later, my giddy tour group was modeling the See You Jimmy hat at Drumnadrochit. This was what Doug called them. I didn’t ask as to the provenance of the term.
The group was made up of New Zealanders, Australians and Germans for the most part. I was the only Canadian. I had taken the train solo to Edinburgh and stayed cheaply in a shared bunk bed dorm room in a youth hostel. After a day checking out Edinburgh Castle, wandering around Calton Hill and hiking to the top of Arthur’s Seat, it was time to get down to business.
The bus wasn’t what I pictured. It was yellow. And small. As my fellow sightseers got on board, I took note of the various accents I heard. I seemed to be the elder of the group. Many had backpacks. Some were loudly proclaiming themselves to the rest of us. Clearly we were going to have a party. I slid a little further in my upholstered seat and stared at the tiny blank TV screen above me.
At first it seemed we were hitting all the stops. First off was the granular and rough-hewn tower of the William Wallace Monument at Stirling built in the 1860s to honour the Scottish hero of the 13th century. I marveled at Wallace’s broadsword, encased in glass and nearly taller than me. After that it was on to Doune Castle, where John Cleese had once shouted insults at Graham Chapman in a silly French accent. Then it was on to the solemnity of the gravesite of Rob Roy MacGregor and further into the rugged scenery of the bens and lochs of the Trossachs.
Settling in for the evening at shared accommodation in Oban, many turned to the bar to get comfortably laminated, while I convinced a few of my newfound fellow explorers to get castled. Through the mist, I walked up a nearby hill to Dunhollie, a three-story stronghold of the McDougalls of Lorne built in the 15th Century. I was standing defiantly against the precipitation at the base of the ivy-covered fortification, eyes determinedly looking west across to the Isle of Mull. This was the kind of adventure I’d wanted, making the most of the time in this place far from home. Authentic Scotland. I was getting it right.
As the days wore on and castles and lochs and historical facts continued to be absorbed, wittily served up by our gifted guide Doug, I found fewer explorers to join me in my evening jaunts to local landmarks. Some were heading for a wee nip of whisky, more for just a cooler or a pint. It was in Kyleakin on the Isle of Skye where I noticed a discernable change in the mood of the tour group. Even though I marched, alone and in the dark, to the ruins of Castle Moil, continuing my quest to collect photographs of castles, talk to locals outside of the hostels and gather facts and figures and legends for later retelling, I felt more and more like the odd one out. I returned to the hostel’s pub where I found my tour group mid-party, some of which had spilled out onto the parking lot. These guys were on a separate quest.
I had a few wee nips myself and found myself falling from the purer faith. I couldn’t stand myself. What had I done?
The following day I discovered the ideal hangover remedy. Sticking your pounding skull for a few seconds into the icy waters of a Scottish river will cure anything that ails you. Dipping your head in the Sligachan will also provide you with eternal youth, if I believed the tales told by our always keen and good humoured tour guide Doug. After I shook the water from my hair like an obedient terrier, we were soon trudging up a hill past grunting hairy coos to the phallic rock formation of the Old Man of Storr, partially hiding in a stubborn fog.
I felt in a fog of my own, somehow wanting to break free from the group, yet too scared to know how to do it. As Royal Air Force fighter jets boomed overhead, we traveled to haunted Carbisdale Castle. It happened to be Scotland’s largest youth hostel. Gathered again in a shared room, albeit much bigger than those found in previous ones, I rolled my eyes at a very audible Limp Bizkit track coming from one of the Aussies’ CD players. I gave my excuses about wanting to explore the castle to one of the New Zealanders who gave me a look of disbelief. His patience was over. He knew what I was about.
I was searching for Betty. The pure white image of the resident ghost would understand. Empty halls and gold chandeliers throwing reflections of light against the hardwood floors and fading landscape paintings greeted me around every turn. Where had I gone wrong Betty? I was a traveller, now I’ve become a tourist sheep. I’ve lost my way. Please help me see the right path!
The closest thing to Betty I found that night were white porcelain statues in the greco-roman style standing on dark wood plinths. The impassive looks on their faces had me looking inward for answers.
Sitting alone in a bus filled with partying revelers aimed at Edinburgh the next morning I had realized my mistake. I had been looking for the essence of travel. What I’d been confronted with were my own expectations. They were leading me to see what I wanted to see. Amidst visiting the empty fields where a blue-faced Mel Gibson once shouted encouragement at hundreds of heavily-armed extras and petting hairy coos I had expected authentic travel and been hit square in the face with my own preconceived notions of what Scotland was and not let the journey happen. The partying revelers weren’t the problem. They were taking each day as it came, so long as there were drinks to be had in the evenings. In my quest to be a traveler, I’d become a tourist.
One of our last stops was Drumnadrochit and Loch Ness, where I had firmly placed a shock of synthetic red hair on my head for a group photo. In it I’m distinctively crouched down in a position of defeat, a smile covering my disappointment and wish to flee.
After the photo event I strolled down solitarily to the edge of the loch in the soft rain and didn’t see a single creature emerge from its waters.
It was in the summer of 2010 that I was walking along Quebec Street in Vancouver with my wife Laura when I spotted a red Kawasaki KLR650 with aluminum panniers parked at the curb. We stopped and I commented to her that the motorcycle, as it was modified, represented a kind of adventure motorcycle look that was popular among the ADV crowd.
In short, I wanted one.
A few months later I would be scouring the Craigslist posts, thinking that searching at the end of the riding season would create a buyer’s advantage for me. I thought that riders thinking of parting with their rides would likely be keen to do so before the gloom of winter set in. In October I got lucky, buying a well-kept blue 1999 KLR, with few modifications made, from a musician moving from a tiny ground floor suite off Commercial Drive in Vancouver, to a massive farmhouse in Manitoba. He was eager to sell, pricing his dual sport bike at $2000.
I would insure the bike for the day and ride it to Burnaby Kawasaki, where it would hole up for the rainy season as part of their winter storage program.
At the first sign of warm weather I started in with a vengeance. I ordered an aluminum pannier kit from Happy Trails in Boise, Idaho, and started working on it with a friend, modifying it to the adventure machine I wanted for an upcoming journey.
In a few months I would be riding with my friend Mike Whitfield along the Duffey Lake loop, taking the KLR from the cool coniferous air of Whistler, into the heat of Lillooet, one of the hottest places in Canada, before riding in the setting sun to Vancouver, clocking 660 kilometres that day.
By August, I was ready. I was nervous, but up for the challenge. Setting out with Mike, we would ride to Cache Creek, then next day on to Prince George. Mike had to get back to Vancouver, so I continued north while he returned back along the Cariboo Road.
The next ten days would introduce me to a part of British Columbia I had never seen before. I rode past the massive lumber mills of the Nechako, whistled along the waters of the Bulkley, leaned on my motorcycle while staring in awe at the Bear Glacier and sorted out camp gear on its flanks at Kinaskan Lake southeast of the stratovolcano of Mount Edziza. I would ride solo along the broken pavement and gravel of the Stewart-Cassiar Highway before turning around at the powerful and pristine waters of the Stikine River. That KLR gave me a sense of connection to my home province that I hadn’t had before, but had secretly craved since I was little, and learning about the history of my home province in the safety of the exhibitions of the provincial museum in my home of Victoria.
Connection. That’s what that motorcycle gave me.
I’m emphasizing it because, until then, British Columbia history was something static, that I took in from an armchair. The KLR pushed me out of my comfort zone and had me meeting people and really taking in the sights, smells and climate of the places I rode through.
The KLR and I would have many more adventures after that. We would bounce along the dusty rugged forest service roads leading from Cowichan Lake to the natural sanctuary of Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park and the peaceful fishing village of Bamfield. I would ride with Mike again, visiting our American neighbours to the south, to the edge of the site of the nearest natural disaster of my youth; Mount Saint Helens, which erupted in May 1980. I would explore the silver towns of the Kootenays with Wes Taylor, a friend I made while traveling the Stewart-Cassiar Highway. Mike Whitfield and I would ride together one more time, attempting to get as far north as we could by road on Vancouver Island along bumpy forest service roads, stopping at the logging town of Holberg near Cape Scott.
This winter I learned that Mike, who was in his early seventies, would be retiring from motorcycling. He offered his riding buddy first dibs on his motorcycle, one I’d always admired, a 2010 BMW F650GS. This spring I bought it from him. Although I will think of the F650GS as Mike’s bike for years to come I’m sure, it really is a pleasant motorcycle to ride.
I had to be honest with myself. I couldn’t maintain and insure two motorcycles. So the practical solution was simple, if not a little difficult to face: I had to sell the KLR.
Parting with my old friend wasn’t easy. But when I realized that I was getting further into middle age, a more comfortable bike with a lower seat height (such as the F650GS) made a lot of sense. There were many other practical advantages to the F650GS, but it didn’t help my sensitive side, which believed I was planning to sell off an old friend.
I reluctantly got the word out that the motorcycle was for sale. A carefully worded post was composed for Craigslist. The right buyer, in all of my worrying to find him or her, responded right away. Cesar was finishing up his time in Vancouver after working construction sites for several months. In his mid-twenties and with few attachments, he was planning a cross-continent motorcycle journey, and needed the right adventure machine, for a good price.
Six years earlier, I had been much like him, although a bit longer in the tooth, yearning for adventure, with a certain expectation as to how it would look.
Knowing that the KLR would still be presenting someone with opportunities for exploration and adventure to come, I agreed to the sale. There is now one motorcycle in the garage, waiting to go on new adventures.
Although this year has presented a few obstacles provided by Mother Nature (heavy rain and cold leading in to summer, a record-setting wildfire season in the Cariboo), there are some adventures awaiting me this riding season I hope. And although the KLR is no longer with me, I will always have the connection with British Columbia it allowed me to have, as we whistled past the glorious rivers, mountains and historical sites of this wonderful part of the world.
I know this isn’t Craiglist. Nor is it a place to moan about the old days. But I’ve got some sad, perhaps surprising, news.
The motorcycle I’ve been riding for the past six years is for sale.
Yes, you read it right. The Kawasaki KLR650 that I’ve ridden all over British Columbia (into Alberta and Washington State a bit too, but who’s counting destinations?) searching for historic places while bouncing up and down on gravel roads and holding onto for dear life while taking switchbacks on FSRs to former gold towns is up for grabs.
It’s for sale. What am I doing? I’ve been sneaking into the garage not saying anything (I usually do say hello to my motorcycle…What? Don’t you?) to my KLR for days.
I’ve written notes on its solid, unforgiving factory seat that would become paragraphs in my two books. It has appeared, dusty and proud, in my articles in Motorcycle Mojo, Inside Motorcycles, RidersWest, Canadian Biker, Rider Magazine… just to name a few.
The motorcycle has brought me to faded silver towns like Sandon in the Kootenays, to the back door route up forest service roads to park next to Mount St. Helens, to the northern extremes of Vancouver Island along unforgiving gravel, to the peaceful and rainy park at Waterton, Alberta, and led me up the Stewart-Cassiar Highway into the north of British Columbia.
Needless to say, I’m reluctant to part with this particular motorcycle.
But as I’ve recently purchased my friend Mike’s BMW F650GS (see Mike’s Bike), it’s time.
It’s time to part with an old friend who, I hope, will find a good home.
The motorcycle has been winter-stored at Burnaby Kawasaki for the six years I’ve owned it. It was bought in October 2011 from a musician leaving for Manitoba in a real hurry. I’m the third owner. It was a basic, non-modified factory model when I bought it. I added Happy Trails Teton 33-litre aluminum panniers, Happy Trails bash plate, Moose pegs, hand guards and a 16” Clearview windshield. The doohickey’s done. Also I’m including a Wolfman Explorer Lite tank bag and Wolfman Expedition Dry duffel bag as well as all the Rok Straps you’ll need to secure it. There are two Michelin T63 knobbies on, front and back, with lots of tread on (as well as an Avon rear and Bridgstone front as a spare pair of shoes).
Regularly maintained at Burnaby Kawasaki (I kept records and receipts), it was also valued by the good folks at BK at $3000. So that’s how I’ll price it.
So if you are in the market for a well-loved dual-sport motorcycle that has had its share of media exposure and still has many adventures left in it, I’d like to hear from you.
Here’s my email address: email@example.com
Don’t try to talk me out of it! Oh my my my…
I’ve got to point something out.
I’m a stay-at-home dad. I’m a loving husband to my wife, Laura. I look after my wonderful thirteen-year-old son Michael who was diagnosed with autism when he was six. I also look after my precocious six-year-old son Marc who is actively involved in tee ball, musical theatre and loves riding his bike. I coach his tee ball team on Tuesday evenings. I’ve struggled with anxiety, sometimes depression, throughout my life. I’m an introvert. I stand at five foot eight. Sometimes getting back on a motorcycle after a time not riding scares me.
Needless to say, I’m not the stereotypical image of a heroic adventurer.
I am an Everyman.
Actually, it wasn’t me who first described me that way. It was John Campbell, the editor of Canadian Biker Magazine, when he was writing an endorsement for my second book Zero Avenue to Peace Park…
His writing is framed by the iron of tireless research and underscored by the musical notes of a relentless motorcycle as Zero Avenue to Peace Park, the Journey of an Everyman, brings new life to the dusty streets and forgotten people of long ago.
I’m grateful for John’s words, which are now on the cover and early pages of my second book. He gave me an objective look at myself. Sometimes when riding into the unknown I feel pumped up, almost believing my own publicity as it were. I need to remember who I am.
I’m that kid who looked out from the back seat of his parent’s Ford LTD while travelling to another campground, an old and weathered tent trailer being towed behind. The Okanagan, mid-Vancouver Island, the Kootenays. That kid looked out from that back seat, observing, wondering all sorts of things. What lay at the end of that secondary road? What was the story behind that collapsing farmhouse being reclaimed by nature? Why was a totem pole raised on that spot?
I’ve been underestimated at times. Not so long ago I asked a particular company if I could use their topographical maps in my second book. Interest turned to indifference after one look at me and my beat up KLR650. Granted I may not be the most shiny and buff of adventurers.
But what I’ve done on that KLR650 may surprise you. It may have surprised that map company too if they’d not judged a book by its cover.
I’ve ridden down deep gravel roads to forestry towns, taken muddy single tracks to former gold mining communities, pushed myself to the extremities of the province’s rugged north, as my motorcycle shook and squeaked under the punishment, me at times scared, exhausted and feeling out of my league.
But underlying it all, was the desire of that kid, looking out from the back seat of that Ford LTD, to explore beyond what he knew, to get to know his home province of British Columbia better. That’s what I do. That desire still drives me.
Recently I watch the film Eddie The Eagle. I haven’t been that taken with a film in a long time. It was the story of an underdog that may not have come in first, but wanted to prove himself, have his moment, prove deniers wrong. I’ve come to think of myself as an underdog. Eddie certainly had his moment, overcoming his fears.
When I get on a motorcycle, I sometimes get anxious. Once I’m riding I feel great. Usually I feel better when riding further out of town when I can ride along with as little traffic as possible.
John Campbell published my first magazine article in Canadian Biker about my two-week two-wheeled journey into northern British Columbia along the Stewart-Cassiar Highway. He suggested that a trip like that would create memories that would last a lifetime and would be the envy of many who ride motorcycles. That was in 2012. I’m still going.
Grant Johnson, who, along with his wife Susan Johnson, created the overland adventurer forum Horizons Unlimited, once encouraged me to present my talk Riding Across Historic British Columbia. I was having my doubts about presenting with a group of cross-continent overland motorcyclists at their travellers meeting in Nakusp, British Columbia. Grant told me that many motorcycle adventurers were people like me, with a desire to explore their region. He wrote Horizons Unlimited needed people like me, the Everyman, to tell their stories and inspire others to explore.
Are you an adventuring Everyman… or Everywoman?
Then you have a story to tell too.
I found one of the best motorcycling roads on Vancouver Island in September 2016. But I hadn’t intended to…
You see, my friend Wes Taylor, who I’d met motorcycling in northern British Columbia in 2012, had invited me to ride in his home state of Colorado. A day before I was to fly to Colorado Springs, I received a baffling email. Wes was hurriedly typing on his smart phone, urging me to cancel my flight, if there was enough time to do so. He was in hospital. He had just been in a car accident.
Wes was lucky to be alive, but he would need some recovery time. I was glad my friend was relatively all right and concerned about him. But I was disappointed I couldn’t visit and ride with him along some of the best motorcycling roads in the United States of America.
I had more than a week freed up. What to do? Well, I hurriedly decided to travel a road on Vancouver Island that I knew was long overdue to ride. It also promised a great deal of historical incentive to get me going: Highway 28 west from Campbell River to Gold River.
Gold River is at the end of fifty-five kilometre Muchalat Inlet. It used to be a community known for its chief employer: the pulp and paper mill. I had prepared several stories on Gold River when I was at CBC Radio Vancouver, one of which was on the subject of Luna, the orca calf that had lost its mother and wandered in to Muchalat Inlet to befriend the people of Gold River. I was never comfortable filing stories about places I’d never been to. Visiting Gold River was long overdue.
The road west from Campbell River soon developed the curves I’d heard about from friends and other sources. It winded along, having me flick the bike back and forth in the sun of an early Fall day, the smell of burning leaves filling my nostrils while I anticipated the next series of turns leading to the Campbell Lakes.
There were no communities along the route to Gold River. The only structures seen were lodgings within Strathcona Provincial Park. Crossing a bridge at Buttle Narrows, I climbed, then descended, while stealing glances at formidable Kings Peak before encountering the boot: the Gold River Boot carving that is. It marked the entrance to the community.
I would ride another thirteen kilometres to Muchalat Marina before being treated to a view of Muchalat Inlet in the sun. The MV Uchuck III was in dock, men painting the historic vessel after a busy summer taking travellers to nearby Nootka Sound, Yuquot and beyond.
Yuquot village is a National Historic Site of Canada. It’s the ancestral home of the Mowachaht, and a place where traditional whaling was practiced. It had been a community for four thousand years by the time Captain James Cook encountered Chief Maquinna there. Europeans would call it Friendly Cove after their congenial visit in March of 1778. The MV Uchuck III, a former US Second World War minesweeper, makes daily runs to Yuquot in summer months. Uchuck means “healing waters” in the Nuu-chah-nulth language.
I looked out over the smooth lines afforded by the mountains rolling into the distance across from the inlet, listened to the calm water lapping against the dock supports and was warmed by the midday sun.
I said hello to the husky dog lazily guarding the office door of Get West Adventure Cruises, the business that runs the Uchuck III. Off to the right there was a log sorting station where heavy machinery was separating logs into piles according to type of wood in advance of them being hauled by truck into Campbell River. Some logs were dumped back into the inlet. This was all that was left of the pulp and paper mill that shut down in 1998.
A few men walked along the wooden planks of the small marina, where two tall modern sloops were in contrast to the stocky silver water taxis. The tug Malaspina Straits bobbed up and down next to its neighbour, Nanaimo Flyer. As I walked back to my motorcycle, I took note of the Air Nootka floatplane at a small dock. The Gold River-based business flies north regularly to Kyuquot as well as charters for those seeking an adventure beyond travel to Gold River.
My instinct was to try to get on a boat, or a plane and explore further, as this was the end of the asphalt. But it was time I got to my bed for the night in Qualicum Beach, a two hundred kilometre ride east.
Wait a minute! That meant I would get to ride the twists and turn of Highway 28 all over again!
With plans for future adventures on the MV Uchuck III or a seaplane filling my head, I got back on my Kawasaki KLR650 and rode east towards Campbell River. I had to call Wes Taylor and tell him about the joys of Highway 28. I knew it would make him feel better.
Buying a motorcycle. It sounds great doesn’t it? I have mixed feelings about it lately.
This past weekend I bought a 2010 BMW F650GS. I’d admired this de-tuned 798cc motorcycle for a while. I had seen it close up on several occasions, as it belonged to my friend and travel companion Mike Whitfield. Mike decided recently to retire from motorcycling.
For anyone who has read Nearly 40 on the 37 or Zero Avenue to Peace Park you know how influential Mike has been to me. He was the one that convinced me to continue on my Stewart-Cassiar Highway adventure years ago. He was the one who kept reminding me about the nature of adventure. Without him I may have turned around at Prince George…but I didn’t. After that trip there were Mount St. Helens and the Holberg Road on north Vancouver Island, two adventures I’ll never forget.
So, seeing his orange GS in my garage is a bit disconcerting. It’s with pride that I’ll ride it this weekend, but…it’s Mike’s bike!
I’ve received pleasant messages of support from friends reminding me that Mike would be glad to see the BMW in good hands, in the possession of someone who will take good care of it and ride it on other adventures.
Last weekend, Mike showed me the various features of the GS in his underground parking garage. There were features that blew my mind…like a fuel gauge! When ready I took it for several spins around the garage. Some clutch-throttle control exercises. Some sudden braking. Then it was time to exit into the world on Mike’s Bike.
It was raining. Pouring. I have to admit it affected my mood.
I’m planning a Saturday ride out to Iona Beach. I keep checking the weather forecast.
It’ll take a while to get used to riding Mike’s Bike. It’s a bike packed with memories of riding alongside my riding buddy…certainly for Mike who has ridden the GS all over the world.
It’s time to create some new memories.