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.
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.
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 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.
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…
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…
I’ve believed from time to time that I’m an oddity among motorcyclists. I mean, who uses the motorcycle to get to historic destinations around his own region? Most motorcyclists I know like to take short rides to camp or to a cafe somewhere, then ride back home. I think the motorcycle is the ideal form of transport to get to know my province’s past. And by getting to know its past, I feel I get to know its character. That past includes European settlement history, it includes First Nations history, it includes natural history. It is not restricted to British Columbia since it was included in Confederation in 1871.
So I rattle and snake my Kawasaki KLR650 along roads usually out of Vancouver, not only to enjoy the ride (although that is a big part of it) but also to stop from time to time, and check out the small towns that I never have stopped in. As a kid, my parents would take me on camping holidays around British Columbia, and as I would stare out from the back seat of the car, I would wonder what the story was about the town I was just passing through. Hmmm, I would think, this place looks interesting. I wonder why it’s here. I wonder who lives here. Where does that road lead? What to people do here? The motorcycle puts you in contact with these places when you step off the bike…and I’m certainly not the only one to have said that.
I’m not the first rider (and writer) to be influenced by RTW motorcyclist Ted Simon. I’ll put a link to a Geek Media Ltd “Under The Visor” segment at the end of this post in which he explains his view of motorcycling, and I have to say I’m very much in agreement with him. I may just be a “regional cheese” (as I heard Adam Cohen put it in a recent interview) and not a crosser of continents, but I do believe the motorcycle allows you to be in touch with it all in a way that a car or SUV inhibits.
I digress! The ride vid on my own YouTube Channel which I’ve posted a link to above, takes the viewer through a particularly historic part of British Columbia: The Silvery Slocan. Much of the province cropped up as a result of the discovery of gold or silver. Towns would be created seemingly overnight (such as is the case of Sandon, which I write about in Zero Avenue to Peace Park, my second book) as the result of some silver-rich ore being discovered in the Kootenay region…and the rush was on. Much of the communities we see along the Silvery Slocan route were created in a real hurry. But the road to get to them, especially in the beautiful Kootenays, can make for scenic and fascinating riding. Enjoy the ride vid above…and I’ll post that Ted Simon segment below.
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.