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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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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Many Adventures Written Down

 

carmanah1

As I add to my WordPress site and pile on the articles I’ve written in my Writing page, I’ve come to realize just how many motorcycle adventures I’ve been on in the past three years.  I’ve since told myself I have to go on an adventure that I DON’T write about. But I can’t help it. And I’ve got two dozen or more magazine articles to show for it. I’ve only got up to adding the articles published until the end of 2014, but I’ll continue.

The above picture was taken in Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park not long after arrival in June 2013. I seem to remember having set up my tent at this point and my friend Matt and I were about to take a hike into the beautiful Carmanah Valley to see the groves of ancient Sikta spruce and hemlock. It wasn’t an easy place to get to. Ironically, the only way to get to a place protected from logging companies, was to ride bumpy gravel logging roads maintained by those logging companies. The southwest part of Vancouver Island really is a magical place. I suppose it’s a good thing that it’s not easy to get to, otherwise everyone would be going there!

Check out my Writing page if you haven’t already. I’ll be sure to add 2015 and 2016 articles soon…

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Part 1 of Riding Across Historic British Columbia: my presentation at Horizons Unlimited CanWest 2016

Traveling to Horizons Unlimited CanWest 2016 was a nine-hundred kilometre adventure along some of British Columbia’s best motorcycling roads, including Highway 6 east of Vernon.

But the experience of presenting “Riding Across Historic British Columbia” to a crowd assembled at the travellers meeting from across the province and from Alberta and Washington State was a real privilege. Afterwards my audience and I chatted about ideal routes for historical motorcycle travel across B.C.

Here is Part 1 of the presentation where I talk about riding my KLR650 along the forest service roads of southwest Vancouver Island to the Carmanah Valley and up the Hurley River Road in the south Chilcotin to the old gold mining town of Bralorne.

 

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North From Zero Avenue: riding across British Columbia

Connecting with British Columbia via my motorcycle is what I like to do. And to share that with you, I’ve started making YouTube segments on my own Trevor Marc Hughes channel. “North From Zero Avenue” will take you to remote places around British Columbia, perhaps some you’ve never even heard of. I think the motorcycle is the ideal form of transportation to connect with places, especially, if like me, you’d like to get a sense of why they’re there and why they have roads leading to them. Below are links to the first two episodes…and I know I’ll be making more. Enjoy.

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