Saying Goodbye To An Old Friend

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Author and Kawasaki KLR650

 

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.

 

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Riding Highway 28 to Gold River

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.

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Exploring The Othello Tunnels

Helen Kennedy looked over the bridge, peering down thoughtfully at the rushing waters of the Coquihalla River. New wooden planking and rails passed over original ties of the Kettle Valley Railway. Those ties had been in place for just over a hundred years.

“We’re standing between Tunnels 4 and 5,” the Operations Manager and Museum Curator at the Hope Visitor Centre said to orient me. “We’re functionally between Tunnels 3 and 4 though.”

She pointed to the tunnel we had just walked through, with a self-conscious smile.

“That tunnel there is actually two tunnels. These were built as the Quintette Tunnels. There are five of them. Although we still refer to this tunnel as Tunnel 5, as you walk through it seems like two tunnels. Just to confuse all of our visitors to the park,” she said with a laugh.

I came to what must amount to one of the greatest feats of engineering in British Columbia’s colonial history. I rode my Kawasaki KLR650 into the shaded roads of the community of Hope from the small town of Coalmont where I’d been early that morning to check out one of the stations of the Kettle Valley Railway, a now retired but extremely important railway. The KVR would effectively end in this place just east of Hope. The final challenge of building the railway would be overcome in this scenic place. Chief engineer Andrew McCulloch had no other alternative than to punch holes through the solid granite of Coquihalla Canyon over the hiss and mist coming from the violent current below. Tunnels would need to line up perfectly to allow the passage of a train. Just over a hundred years since the first train went through in 1916, Kennedy gave me a tour of the tunnels.

I asked why Hope was decided upon as the terminal for the Kettle Valley Railway.

“I think it was partly the politics of building a railway,” she told me. “What made more sense was, at Merritt, to go up through the Nicola Valley, connect with the CPR line up to the Spences Bridge area. That definitely made more geographic sense. But it was a bit more circuitous.”

But as is sometimes the case in a politically charged situation, the quickest distance between two points is a straight line, despite the fact that there are mountains in the way.

“Great Northern (Railway) and the CPR were really fighting to see who would be fastest,” she told me as she gestures two fists coming together. “It was a lot faster to come from Merritt straight to Hope. And then at Hope cross the river. The CPR line came through there. As the crow flies, it was faster.”

So engineers had to move mountains, in a manner of speaking.

Once we were across the bridge, Kennedy called my attention to the cliff face to the right of Tunnel 4…or 3. Anyway, you get the idea.

“They would build ladders up the side of a cliff,” Kennedy pointed out. “Typically Chinese labourers. It would be the worst of the jobs. They would light a fuse, scramble down the ladder and hope to get far enough away before it blasted.”

Then it would be a matter of using hand shovels, pick axes and pack animals to chip and haul away until a tunnel remained.

“I like to say they did it with magic,” Kennedy told me with a wistful look, then looking back and scanning the cliff face and tunnel path. “I can’t imagine using anything as imprecise as dynamite to create such precise measurements in tunnels. They’re not much bigger than a train I don’t think,” she exclaimed with a laugh.

And to test out her observations we walked the length of the path. Some of the tunnels are jagged, still demonstrating the rugged fashion in which they were hacked from the solid granite of the mountains. Kennedy believed it would have been terrifying to meet these tunnels on a train. There really doesn’t seem to be much more than a few inches of clearance to spare from a casual scan of the edges.

The Kettle Valley Railway was abandoned in 1961. A major washout in 1959, as well as the opening of the Crowsnest Highway, spelled certain doom for the engineering marvel. In the 1980s the tunnels were rediscovered and prepared for visitors. May 15th, 1986 saw the opening of Coquihalla Canyon Provincial Park, a place focused on a section of the Kettle Valley Railway bound to generate awe and wonder in anyone.

 

 

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Pulling into Coalmont, British Columbia

I had spent the morning wondering if I would be riding on pavement or gravel.

My map showed a yellow line for the Coalmont Road. Yellow indicates a secondary road. Sometimes that’s the asphalt less travelled and sometimes it’s offroad. I was about to find out as I visited one of British Columbia’s most interesting not-quite-a-ghost-town towns.

Coalmont is nineteen kilometres north west of Princeton. British Columbia. It’s by the Tulameen River, traditionally a placer mining hotspot. There aren’t many rich deposits left though. A hundred years ago or more you’d find prospectors pulling their packhorses or donkeys across wooden bridges spanning the river. Many would be spending their days panning for gold. Coalmont was also near a significant resting place for coal. And as a result, when the railway came through town starting in 1911, it became the equivalent of a fuel stop.

As I snaked my way along the Tulameen on the Coalmont Road, ponderosa pine and modest homes made way for open scrub as I descended the curves into the Tulameen Valley on cracked pavement. My introduction to Coalmont was via two aging and eccentric signs warning against undesirables coming into town, especially magazine and encyclopedia salesmen.

I met a man with shock white hair, full white beard and sporting sunglasses who was minding two Chihuahuas and holding a kitten. He welcomed me to Coalmont, full-time population of twenty souls. This is where the Kettle Valley Railway, otherwise called the Coast to Kootenay Railway, rumbled through on its way to Hope or Midway.

Further down the dusty road I came to the intersection of Coalmont & Parrish, where I found, almost looking like it did on opening day, the CPR-red Coalmont Hotel. It opened in 1912 with the expectation it would service rail travellers for decades to come. The hotel was closed on my visit. It is now sporadically operated it would seem.

I heard a familiar engine’s rumble. I was soon shaking hands with the driver of an all-terrain vehicle, Ralph. He was enjoying camping at the Granite Creek Recreation Site with family. It would seem many come from the Metro Vancouver area to camp along the Tulameen or a kilometre north of Coalmont at Otter Lake Provincial Park.

It would seem Coalmont’s locomotive travellers have been replaced with the outdoor adventure kind. The local Mozey-On-Inn boasts panning trips along the Tulameen and campers can find canoeing opportunities and rainbow trout fishing at Otter Lake.

I rode out along the dusty, twisty and broken pavement of Coalmont Road and climbed out of the Tulameen Valley in the bright noonday sun, keen to see the Othello Tunnels in Coquihalla Canyon.

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Of Pontiac wagons and tent trailers

One Sunday a month as I was growing up in Victoria, my parents would get my brother and I into our 1974 Pontiac Astre Wagon. Our destination was Crofton, a pulp mill town just east of Duncan, where my grandparents lived. The process for my parents of getting my brother and I into the Pontiac was different for each child. He fought tooth and nail, thinking the hour and change sitting in that back seat to be a fate worse than death. Oh, if only the wagon’s wood grain paneling could talk. I, on the other hand, couldn’t wait, not only to see my grandparents, but for the journey to get underway. I didn’t even need a colouring book.

Goldstream Provincial Park went by. We ascended Malahat Drive to the view over Mill Bay. We passed the colourful shop facades of Whippletree Junction. We descended toward the billowing stacks of Crofton’s mill. I couldn’t wait to see them, and imagine their stories. Why was there a road there? Why was that mill there?

Similarly, when the family later acquired a Coleman tent trailer we cheekily named Herb after the bespectacled character in Burger King commericals (don’t ask, it was the 1980s), I couldn’t wait to hit the road in my parents’ 1985 Ford LTD as we towed Herb behind us. My parents took us all over British Columbia on camping trips. We’d travel up and down Vancouver Island, park lakeside in the Okanagan and explore the Kootenays. I loved it.

I would watch the world go by from the back seat, wondering about the story behind that farmhouse gradually collapsing as it was being reclaimed by nature, or why there was a gravel road there (where did it lead to?) or why there was a collection of eclectic shops away from any town whatsoever. It fascinated me.

When I started giving my “Riding Across Historic British Columbia” presentation last year at Horizons Unlimited CanWest in Nakusp, I tried to remember what had started my interest in B.C.’s history. The above is what I came up with.

I’ve discovered I’m not alone. At my presentation at Vancouver BMW Ducati in November 2016, Dave told me about how he too had travelled with his parents in a tent trailer, developing an appreciation for the South Chilcotin, where his family had roots, and many other places in the B.C. interior. To hear this was fulfilling; I wasn’t the only one who had developed a love of travel and appreciation of exploring the province’s history via camping tent trailer style.

I still see tent trailers at campgrounds when I’m camping solo or with my family, some of the same vintage of our family’s old Coleman. I hope that, in those tent trailers, are a new generation of adventuresome kids that are developing an interest in their home province…its places, people and history.

My question is: What would wood paneling say if it could talk?

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Reliving childhood adventures along Highway 19a

When I was a kid, I would look forward to camping up island all year.  My favourite campground was Miracle Beach near Courtenay. And I would get there on Vancouver Island’s  wonderful Highway 19a.

Now that highway has a super-speedy counterpart, Highway 19, where travellers can blast along at 120 kph, but I prefer taking it slowly, riding along the coast past oyster farms, quiet bays and beautiful scenery.

Here is a visual record of riding this exceptional road from Oyster Bay south of Campbell River to Qualicum Beach.  I hope you enjoy it…

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Pemberton: a step back in time

A few summers ago, friends Gabe Khouth, Matt Sell and I rode up the Sea-to-Sky and had a nice brunch in Pemberton. We decided to ride through the historic centre of town and pulled over by the Pemberton Museum. Stopping in I learned about how hard it was to live in Pemberton before the railroad and highway made it to town.  Today, people come for the active outdoor lifestyle and music festival. Back then, getting the necessities of life was difficult.  The Pemberton Museum & Archives Society is another one of the hardworking community groups I’ve met in my travels around the province that prioritize preserving how life was for early settlers to British Columbia…

 

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My History Teacher Was Right

About twenty-five years ago now I was enrolled in two history courses at Camosun College in Victoria as I worked toward my undergraduate degree. My professor was a positive, encouraging and jovial man who once, when I was done asking him a question about an upcoming project during his office hours, asked me a question I still think about to this day.

“Have you considered a career in history?”

I politely told him I would consider the possibility. But at the time I was more interested in filming another season of “Northwood” in Vancouver. I was twenty and, not unlike many twenty-year-old men, confident I was making my mark and on the right track, thank you very much.

As I would move into broadcasting and writing his words would continue to haunt me. History, and a growing interest in it, has become more of a part in my life.

The next book project I’m developing has a strong history focus. Much of the positive feedback I’ve received from my two books has to do with that I take in the historical context of the places I’m riding through.

My recent talks at Horizons Unlimited CanWest and Vancouver BMW Ducati have been called “Riding Across Historic British Columbia”. Yep, I think my history teacher saw my interest back in 1992. He nailed it.

It’s not as though I’m going to work on my Master’s Degree anytime soon. I’ve made my decisions. But the foundation that history has laid in British Columbia is becoming more of an integral part in how I write and why I ride.

Have you had an increasing interest in British Columbia’s history?

 

 

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Riding Across Historic British Columbia

It doesn’t seem that long ago I was pitching my tent in the Nakusp Municipal Campground. It was a weekend event that changed how I saw what I was doing.

Horizons Unlimited CanWest 2016 allowed me the opportunity to give a presentation I called “Riding Across Historic British Columbia”. I felt like a small fish in a big pond. Speakers were to talk about motorcycle travels across Russia, journeys to Alaska, riding across continents. I was going to speak about riding my Kawasaki KLR650 to regional places, locations of significant historical events in British Columbia’s history, but that didn’t take months to get to.

It was a standing-room-only event. There were about forty chairs set up in the ice-free hockey arena renamed “The Asia Room” for the event. I since gave the talk at Vancouver BMW Ducati to a full house. Clearly, there is some interest in riding across historic B.C, and learning about routes to get there. After I gave my talks I opened up the floor to ideas shared from the audience as to historic rides in the province. One route I heard about I’ve taken to heart, and have booked accommodation already for the July adventure north.

I’ve taken the interest I saw to heart and plan to add a historic rides section to my website and to make riding to historic locations in British Columbia a focus of my next book. Historic storytelling has been a part of my two books, but not to the extent I’m planning for my next project.

It’s interesting to me how some down time over holidays, to reflect and gain perspective, can help clarify goals and, sometimes, point out the obvious path for the new year.

My thanks to all that attended those two presentations which gave me such clarification. I’ve signed up again as a presenter for Horizons Unlimited CanWest 2017 and I’ll be talking “Riding Across Historic B.C.” in Nakusp again. I hope to see you there…

 

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The Origins of Open Road MC

Gabe Khouth and I have been friends for almost three decades now. We met when we were actors with the same agent in the late 1980s as we both were auditioning for roles in the rapidly growing film and television industry in Vancouver, British Columbia.

I was fortunate enough to get to work with Gabe on the CBC-TV teen series Northwood. We would play friends going to the same high school. I remember with a smile how we got to play some fun comedic scenes together in a camping episode in the final episode of the series, filming in the wilderness of Lynn Headwaters Regional Park in North Vancouver.

Flash forward twenty-three years and we were still goofing around with a camera in the forest, this time at Alice Lake Provincial Park near Squamish, British Columbia while we made our Open Road MC segment about motocamping.

Gabe and I would both discover an interest in riding motorcycles later in our lives. Even though we rode different style bikes (my Kawasaki KLR650 and his Ducati Monster 696) we thought it would be an opportunity missed if we didn’t combine our on-screen abilities and our interest in motorbikes. So we created Open Road MC, a YouTube channel for anyone interested in riding motorbikes…and we make it clear it doesn’t matter what you ride, it’s that you ride in the first place that counts.

Gabe has moved on to be a series regular in the hit ABC-TV series Once Upon A Time and I’ve enjoyed seeing his success as an actor. I moved on from acting in 2005, working away at freelancing at CBC Radio before writing for a variety of magazines mainly about motorcycle travel in British Columbia, then writing my own books. Open Road MC is a chance for Gabe and I to be really creative on camera, explore different roads and avenues of motorcycling. From regional ride ideas, modifications, travel tips, bike reviews and event coverage, Gabe and I have covered quite a lot of ground over the last couple of years. We’re still coming up with ideas, getting together whenever our busy lives relent a bit for us to meet for a production meeting over a cup of coffee. Join us won’t you? And be sure to subscribe…

 

 

 

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