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.