In the 100th post of 650Thumper, I reflect on a summer of forced relaxation.
Yesterday, the image above popped up as a Facebook memory of exactly one year ago, just to remind me that I once did something pretty remarkable. By contrast, this summer has been pretty tame, even by my standards.
To be fair, this was supposed to be a restful summer after the Epic Adventure of last year. I had eight months to recover, of course, but teaching is a pretty intensive profession, the workload of the semesters off-set by the summers of recovery, and this past year was especially draining as we continued to deal with masks and Covid protocols and the accompanying anxiety of a global pandemic. As a teacher, I am part pedagogue, part social worker, so found myself assuaging the anxiety of some students and standing firm against others who tried to take advantage of the situation. Deciding which is which is the hardest part of teaching, to be honest, and by the end of the semester, I and many of my colleagues were limping to the finish. “Boo-hoo!” I hear those in the medical and services professions saying. It’s true that I didn’t have to wear a mask 8-12 hours a day, but my experience has only heightening my respect for those who do.
But the real reason for a stay-at-home summer is that my wife and I got a new dog, and he was a rescue from a horrible situation. He doesn’t travel in the car without getting sick, and he has some triggers and in general is still settling, so we didn’t feel we could do our planned east coast trip this year. We’ll give him another year to get comfortable enough that we can leave him for even a few weeks so Marilyn can join me for part of that trip, as she did last year. We pledged to make the best of it, doing short day rides and maybe an overnight to test his limits.
The summer started with a bang—buying a new bike and doing a series of short trips with friends in June while Marilyn did dog-sitting duty. First was a club ride to Westport, a small village on the Upper Rideau Lake, that took us along the Saint Laurence Seaway and up through the twisties of SE Ontario. I was on my new bike, purchased, registered, and insured the day before, so I was grinning the entire 700-kilometre, 2-day trip, except for when I watched in a local bar The Leafs lose Game 7, once again.
I followed that with a trip to visit my sister and friend at a cottage in Denbigh, my first solo ride with the Triumph and a chance to put it through some paces on the winding highways of the Ontario Highlands. Then I did a little road trip (in a car) with a writer friend to Vermont in search of literary landmarks, followed by a return soon after with Mike and Danny, my riding buddies who did The Puppy Dog Route with me pre-Covid, but this time we finally did Bailey-Hazen, a military road dating back to the War of Independence. We also did some of the Hamster Ride, a similar dirt-route in New Hampshire, and road out to the ocean in Maine.
I did another trip with Mike and another riding Buddy, Steve, to the VRRA races at Calabogie Motorsport Park on the July 2 weekend. And between those trips was a ride back to my hometown of Burlington, Ontario, for a reunion of The Burlington Teen Tour Band, a marching band I was in through my teens. So lots of short trips in June, when I usually rest on the couch watching a major football tournament, and by July, I was ready for that rest.
July is a bit of blur, to be honest, and the short day rides with Marilyn didn’t materialize. I did a few club rides, but to honest, I didn’t ride much in July. I think that had something to do with a good friend’s passing. I kind of fell into a funk, and didn’t feel like doing much of anything. I’m not sure where my time went, but I know I spent a lot of time on the couch. It’s true what they say about depression: it takes the incentive out of doing even the things that normally bring you joy.
Finally, with the end of summer looming, I decided to do a solo ride to Lake Placid, and that put a grin back on my face. I let Kurviger decide much of the route, and for some reason, part of it was a gnarly section of Class 4 road that had me wishing my Outback Motortek crash bars and skid plate weren’t back-ordered. At some point, I decided it was easier to keep going than turn back, and I managed to get back to asphalt without dropping the bike. I had on the front only the Pirelli Scorpion Trail II, the stock 90/10 tire, but we managed. I’ll be doing a comparative blog of the GS and Tiger, but one thing I can say now is that the front end on the Tiger is much better than the Beemer’s. That 21″ front wheel was rolling over stuff surprisingly well! I don’t think I’ll be doing trails with this bike, but it’s good to know what it’s capable of should my adventures take me through some technical riding.
Marilyn and I did finally do a day trip yesterday, down to Smuggler’s Notch in Vermont. I’m back to work in a week so I said it was now or never. Unfortunately, now was 34C and it required all of our tenacity to get through the day, especially the border crossing that had us sitting in idling traffic for about an hour. Brutal.
The silver lining to the end of summer always is that the best riding in Canada is in the fall, when the leaves have turned colour and the temperature has dropped. There will be some more club rides and day trips and maybe an overnight if my son is available to dog-sit. The Triumph Tiger is a blast to ride, and fingers crossed, so far there has been no indication that we’ll have to wear masks again in class, so my work will be relatively back to normal. I have a lot to be thankful for, and a big east coast trip to plan for next summer.
The first in a series of posts on my riding gear. In this one, I discuss my touring gear.
I’ve had a few queries about the gear I use, usually from someone about to set out on a similar long tour, so I’ll devote a few blogs to the subject. This one is on what I wear when touring. In the next, I’ll talk about my off-roading gear. I’ll then cover my camping gear, and round out the series on navigation apps and other equipment I carry on the bike.
Let’s move from head to toe.
The first time I bought a helmet, I had no idea what I was doing so relied on the salesperson. Unfortunately, she put me in the wrong helmet. She would put a helmet on me, wriggle it from side to side, say “Too big,” then put on a smaller one. Eventually she had me in an XS which, yeah, fit side to side, but within half an hour at my first class had created a pressure point that felt like a nail was slowly being driven down though the crown of my skull.
I’m surprised that head shape is not emphasized more than it is. It’s the starting point of finding the right helmet, but rarely talked about in reviews or explicitly mentioned in product descriptions. I have a long-oval-shaped head, so after a little research, I bought an Arai Signet-X as my touring helmet. I know there are cheaper helmets, but when one’s brains are at stake, I don’t mind paying a little more. I need all of what’s left of mine. The Arai brand speaks for itself, but I like that the helmet is Snell rated and comes with a Pinlock visor; I’ve never had any issues with fogging. I replaced the original visor before my big tour with the pro-shade visor, which is great, but I still find myself shading my eyes with my hand when riding directly into low sun. My next helmet will probably be an ADV helmet with a peak like the Aria X4. I know the peak will create wind noise but I suspect it’s worth it for the speeds I usually do.
Helmets are extremely personal, so the only advice I can provide is to get one that feels right for you. Just bear in mind that, according to The Hurt Report, 1/5 of all impacts on a helmet in an accident are on the chin. And if you don’t know if you are a round, intermediate oval, or long oval, ask someone to take a photo of the top of your head. It will narrow your search and potentially save you a mistake like mine.
A lot of people, even motorcyclists, ask me what that thing is around my neck. The neck brace was designed by Dr. Chris Leatt after he saw one too many riders die or become paralyzed from the neck down. There is a great interview with him on Adventure Rider Radio, if you’re interested in the origins. Otherwise, all you need to do is look at this independent study to be convinced that neck braces make a significant difference in preventing cervical spine injury and even death. It does that by stopping your helmet from rotating beyond what your neck can withstand and by transferring those forces down through your skeletal structure. Once I have it on (and properly fitted), I forget that I’m wearing it; it doesn’t obstruct my head movements at all, such as when I check my blind spot.
What about an air vest, you ask? Doesn’t it do the same? Well, yes and no. According to Dr. Leatt, there is a difference in safety, and I’m not going to try to explain it but will refer you again to the ARR episode in which they cover this subject, also speaking to the head of safety at the Dakar Rally, which recently switched from mandatory neck braces to air vests. (Incidentally, many riders were not happy with the switch.) I’m not going to advocate against air vests. I think if you are wearing either a brace or a vest, you’re ahead of the crowd. I personally decided against a vest because it’s another layer in the heat. And do they all have to be the same colour as piss after you’ve taken your Vitamin B complex?! Let’s have some air vests that look a little more cool, please.
I bought the Leatt STX; the wider scapula wings do not conflict with back armour or an aero hump if you’re rockin’ full leathers on track days. Yeah, neck braces are pricey. There’s a lot of R&D that goes into them and I guess they are still a niche market, but like most of my gear, I bought it significantly reduced (like 50% off) once the particular model became discontinued. I now make it part of my everyday gear, even when commuting to work. I’d hate to have some bad luck on the day I leave it sitting at home.
After some trial and error, I decided to go with a layering system when touring. For one, I didn’t have $1,500 for a Klim Badlands Pro jacket, and two, it weighs a ton. At first I bought a Klim Traverse jacket and tried that. It’s Gore-Tex, which is great because you don’t have to watch the skies but can ride through rain or shine uninterrupted. But Gore-Tex is hot! Yes, it wicks sweat, but it doesn’t allow much air flow. I was imagining the stifling-hot days of midsummer and decided to buy the best mesh jacket money can buy, and in my opinion, that is the Klim Marrakesh.
I have to admit, the Marrakesh is nothing to look at. Plain Jane. For some, that might be part of its appeal. Who wants to look like a Transformer character in an action animation? But put one on, and you will not want to wear another jacket again. It is my most comfortable riding jacket. Perhaps it’s my most comfortable jacket, period. That’s because the Marrakesh is all about the fabric: a 1000 denier 4-way-stretch mesh that breathes, stretches, and protects. Just a little hi-viz is all that is needed, and it has D30 armour in shoulders, elbows, and back. Okay, the armour is Level 1, not 2, but I decided to sacrifice a little on safety for the sake of comfort, with the compromise of upgrading the back protector to Level 2. I was very happy that I went with this jacket when I got into the midsummer heat that followed me all the way up to Dawson City.
Okay, it’s not waterproof, so I had to carry a rain outer layer in my tank bag. (Klim says the material is “hydrophobic,” which does not mean afraid of the water but water repellent.) There are plenty of good light rain jackets to choose from and they will all do the trick fairly inexpensively. I bought the Scott Ergonomic Pro DP Rain Jacket. This outer layer was helpful not just in the rain, of which I didn’t get much, but also when I just wanted something to break the wind.
Underneath, I had either a light athletic shirt if it was hot, or a merino wool base layer if it wasn’t. I also kept in my tank bag, or somewhere quick at hand, a good quality (800 fill) down vest. It saved me many times on and off the bike. It packs down into the breast zippered pocket to about the size of a mini football (remember those?) and did just the trick when I needed a little something under the jacket in addition to the merino wool base layer or around camp when the sun went down. Doing without the sleeves meant it packed down smaller, and if you keep the main organs warm, the extremities will be too. The Microtherm 2.0 down vest from Eddie Bauer has become my favourite piece of touring gear.
I had one more layer, if needed—a good quality polar fleece jacket. This also doubled as my pillow at night when folded or rolled. So between the different base layers, the fleece, the vest, and the wind/rain breaker, I had lots of options for the varying conditions; I could ride from single digits to 35C, rain or shine.
I decided to go with Klim Carlsbad pants, which are Gore-Tex, but you don’t get much airflow over the legs anyway, and who enjoys pulling on rain paints by the side of the road? It’s one thing to pull on a rain jacket and another to remove boots or deal with zippers halfway up your legs. The Carlsbad pants do have some decent venting, so when my nether regions feel a little hot, I just stand up on the bike for a few seconds to air them out, so to speak.
One of the reasons I like Klim is that the Gore-Tex is in the outer layer. With other brands, it may be an inner layer, so you may stay dry, but the clothing still gets soaked and, aside from being heavy, may take days to dry out completely. I also like the D30 armor (Level 2) in knees and hips (removable so you can wash the pants periodically), and the little Level 1 tail-bone protector.
Underneath, I wear soccer shorts with a mesh liner. They double as swimming trunks (to borrow vocabulary from my dad’s era), dry quickly, and, ah hem, provide some freedom for the boys. I never needed anything else, but I have worn thermal underwear (i.e. long johns) in early spring and late fall riding here in Canada.
So layering on top, vented Gore-Tex below. It was a good combination that worked for me.
I should add that I’m not sponsored by Klim (I wish!). I just find they make the best gear, and motorcycling is so important to me that I’m willing to pay a premium for their gear. But as I’ve said above, I never buy full price. I spend part of the off season researching and window shopping, and when the item I want goes on clearance, I pounce.
Like the pants, I went with Gore-Tex boots that I could ride in rain or shine. No dorky-looking overboots, no plastic bags inside the boots, no waterproof socks—just a really good pair of Gore-Tex adventure boots. For me, that is the SIDI Adventure 2 boots. These are amazing, and not just because they look so cool! (When I first showed them to my son, he said, “Dad, these are Batman boots.”)
Adventure riding is all about compromises, and a good quality adventure boot like these offers a balance of protection and comfort. I’ve had the bike come down on my foot in an off-roading off and literally walked away from it, and I’ve climbed mountains and walked for miles around town in relative comfort because they are hinged. I know some will say only a motocross boot provides adequate protection, but for touring, you need something you can walk in. You also need something with a good tread in case you have to push your bike out of mud. The buckle system of SIDI boots is unparalleled in the industry. If you have a particularly wide foot, you might want to look at the Alpinestar ADV boots; I know Lyndon Poskitt recently switched from SIDI to Alpinestar Toucans because he found his feet were a little cramped in the SIDIs. Like the helmet, boots are all about fitment, so not gear to buy online.
The SIDI Adventure 2’s are a premium item but will probably be the first and last pair I’ll ever buy; you can get the sole on these replaced by your local cobbler when they wear out.
While we are down here, let’s quickly talk about socks. I wore one pair pretty much the entire tour. They are actually not motorcycle gear, per se, but athletic compression socks from The Running Room here in Canada. Compression helps with blood circulation over those long days, and the height (over the calf) prevents chafing at the top of the boot. They are also anti-bacterial and wicking. There’s no point in wearing a Gore-Tex boot over a nylon sock.
For cold or wet weather, I have a pair of Pearly’s Knee-High Possum Socks. Possum, you ask? Yes, Pearly’s has managed to turn road-kill into a business. Each strand of possum fur apparently is hollow inside, creating a dead-air space that is unmatched for insulation and warmth with the exception of caribou hide, which shares the same property. If that were not enough, Pearly’s has woven it with merino wool, resulting in a wool that is pretty special. They are also a premium item and it took me a few years to pull the trigger on these babies, but there’s nothing more comfortable or warm for cold-weather riding.
Finally, let’s move to the other extremity. It may surprise you, but I went minimalist with my gloves: only one pair for the entire tour. If a pair of deerskin gloves is good enough for Pirsig, who writes about them in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, they’re good enough for me. I have a pair of BMW Gore-Tex insulated gauntlet gloves for cold weather riding, and a short pair of Five Stunt gloves for summer riding, but for the Epic Adventure Tour, I took only a pair of Aerostitch Touchscreen Elkskin Ropers.
Why? Mostly for comfort. Like the Marrakesh jacket, once you put these on, you will know why. They are super soft and super comfortable, yet provide sufficient abrasion protection in an off. I have heated grips so rarely need an insulated glove, especially for summer touring, and Elkskin, unlike cowhide, can get wet without drying hard. In fact, on a hot day, if you wet them and wear them riding, they will shrink as they dry and mold to the shape of your hands on the grips. Neat.
Aerostitch do a good job with these gloves, still handmade in The USA. There’s touchscreen thread sewn into the thumb and fingertips of the first two fingers, and a visor squeegie on the thumb. They may feel a little bulky compared to the thin leather of other gloves, but the dexterity they provide is adequate for touring, and I suspect they will last for years and years. In fact, like wine and some women, they are one of those items that gets better with age.
Adventure touring requires that you be ready for all kinds of weather yet minimalist because you’ve only got so much room on the bike. This is what has worked for me. What are your preferences? Did I miss something? Let me know in a comment below what your favourite piece of touring gear is and why. I’m always ready to learn, and we Canadians need something to keep us occupied during the long off season.
Some observations on Canada and long-distance touring
Most mornings, Facebook shows me a memory from this time last year, so over the past few weeks, I’ve been reliving my trip across the country, day by day. I’ve also been thinking about it as I write up these blogs, and now that I’ve completed the individual blogs on each segment of the tour, I thought I’d write some more general observations as I step back and reflect on the trip and the country as a whole. Here are five observations, in no particular order.
1. Six weeks isn’t nearly enough time to explore this vast country.
Canada is huge and the distances are immense. Our days were jam-packed, staying just one or two nights maximum at each place before we had to “push on” (a refrain on this tour). Yes, I crossed the country, twice, but far too much of that riding was on the Trans Canada and other major highways than I would have liked. In fact, it was only once I got off the freeway that I was able to experience any geography, history, and culture at all. My need to cover distance was in constant conflict with my desire to slow down and see more of what I was passing. I felt that this trip was really only an overview of many more to come, and I’ll need to spend six weeks in each province to really have a sense of the depth and diversity of Canada. So I’m going to consider this trip as exploratory; a deeper discovery of the country will have to wait until my retirement.
2. One tire cannot do it all.
I decided to use Michelin Anakee Adventure tires, an 80/20 street/off-road tire, because I wanted something relatively smooth and long-lasting for all the asphalt I would be covering. In the end, I was able to do the entire tour without changing my tires—that’s all 20,000+ kilometres on the same tire. This is what the rear looked like shortly after my return.
As you can see, there’s still some good tread left in this tire. So if it’s longevity you are looking for, the Anakee Adventure is a good choice.
However, I was vulnerable when I went off road, particularly up The Dempster. If it had started to rain, the dirt would have turned into mud and I would have been in trouble. The problem is that there were actually two very distinct kinds of riding on this trip: largely asphalt to cover the miles, and sections of dirt or gravel when I could afford it. Ideally, I’d have shipped more aggressive off-road tires out to BC and put them on before heading north. This is exactly what many people do: ship TKC 80s to Dawson City and put them on before hitting The Dempster. A 50/50 tire like the Heidenau K60 Scout would have been another option, but the more aggressive tread on those tires is noisy on the road, despite the centre strip. (In fact, in the 650GS tire size, there is no centre strip, and the rear flattens quite quickly.) The next time I attempt The Dempster, I’ll be starting in BC and will use an off-road tire, even if it means burning through that rubber on the pavement.
Another problem with the Anakee Adventure tires is that they are quite vibey on asphalt. The hard compound down the middle of the tire results in long tire life but at the cost of vibrations. I used my Kaoko throttle lock whenever possible but my right hand still developed some numbness and tingling. I’m convinced that if this were my regular tire choice, I’d develop nerve damage. The long days, day after day, led to numbness that didn’t completely dissipate for months after my return, well into the off-season. In this respect, I might have been better off with a 90/10 tire like the Michelin Anakee 3 than the Adventure.
In sum, if I were to do it all again, with 5,000 kilometres to cover before I get to serious dirt, I’d go with a true street tire to get me across the country, then switch to a true off-road tire for playing in the dirt once I’m out there. Adventure riding is all about compromises, but when your safety is involved, there are no compromises: if you are doing any technical or remote dirt riding, use an aggressive dirt tire.
3. French and the Problem of Québec
Everywhere I went, I heard French. I sat in a diner in Smooth Rock Falls, Northern Ontario, and heard four older men in the booth next to me speaking French. I sat at the base of the Nisutlin Bay Bridge, Yukon, during a rest stop and had a conversation in French with a man who has been living in Yukon for over 20 years but whose native language is French. I walked into a supermarket in Whitehorse and heard two people in the produce section talking in fluent French. I heard French in every province, and I’ve heard it of course in Acadian Nova Scotia and elsewhere on the east coast. The French language seems to be surviving just fine outside of Québec, without any Bill 101, ridiculous sign laws, or punitive Office de la langue française.
I mention this because, last May, the Quebec government passed Bill 96, which essentially extends Bill 101 beyond high school to the college level. What this means, among other things, is that all students graduating from any college in Quebec will now have to pass a French language test. It’s really more than a test of basic competency; students have to analyze a piece of French literature and write an essay exhibiting that understanding with a minimum of expression errors. Errors are counted and, after a certain amount, the student automatically fails. It’s quite difficult, and many students who have been educated in French their entire lives struggle to pass this required exam. Now even anglophone and allophone students who have gone through an immersion program in which some, but not all, courses are taught in French will have to pass the same test. It’s not clear yet how they are going to do that, or what kind of resources will be available to help them.
The rationale stated by François Legault and his Quebec government for these Draconian measures is that French is disappearing, but to my knowledge they’ve never actually presented any specific data to support this claim. Many of my friends and colleagues—not all English Quebecers, I should add—think this bill has little to do with protecting the French language and everything to do with cultivating a victim mentality in Quebecers, perpetuating the idea that they are somehow besieged by a foreign power such as the Federal Government (the favourite scapegoat) or English North America (as if North America were all English). Some even theorize that restricting access to education in English—except for those who can afford to send their children to private school, where such restrictions do not exist—keeps working class Quebecers “in their place,” just as The Catholic Church did until the Quiet Revolution of the 1970s. Even if French is in trouble—and I’m questioning whether it is—forced unilingualism is not the answer. In Europe, learning multiple languages is the norm, not the exception, even in countries like Hungary, which is a linguistic minority within a larger demographic, comparable to Quebec. (Elementary students there have the option of Hungarian and either English or German. I know because my son did a year of school in Hungary when he was in Grade 3.) Learning French does not have to be at the expense of learning English. We can teach both languages effectively, if there is the political will.
But the problem of Quebec extends beyond the issue of language. Quebec has managed to leverage the threat of separation successfully to entrench special privileges and special status within Canada. Many people might be surprised to know that Quebec gets more in equalization payments than all the other provinces combined. This is because, somehow, when those formulae were developed, Hydro Quebec was exempt from the calculations, making Quebec appear on paper like a have-not province. Removing Hydro Quebec, one of the province’s major employers, from Quebec’s calculations is like removing the oil and gas sector from Alberta’s. It’s time we opened up the equalization formulas and retooled them to make Quebec start pulling its weight in the confederation. There’s a lot of resentment out west towards the status quo, as evidenced by this poster seen outside an outdoor store in Northern BC.
The sense out west that Canada is run by Ontario and Quebec is nothing new. Remember that The Reform Party started out west, as did The Green Party. Quebec is not a have-not province and doesn’t deserve special status or extra money. It’s time that Quebec decides to be either an equal player in Canada or to get out and become the nation it clearly pretends to be by using language like “national” programs, “national” parks, and a “national” holiday.
And while I’m on this subject, I’ll add that I was upset that Montreal did not have a Canada Day parade (July 1st) this year, and rumour is that there won’t be a budget for it in the future either. The decision to cancel the parade had nothing to do with Covid, as there was a Ste. Jean Baptiste parade just a week earlier. I think that if the Quebec government thinks so poorly of its membership in Canada that celebrating Canada doesn’t warrant a parade once a year, perhaps it should give back some the $11.7 billion it receives of the total $19 billion in federal funds transferred to provinces (latest available numbers). But of course it won’t. Under the current cozy situation, Quebec would be foolish to separate. It’s become dependent on the hand-outs to subsidize an inefficient economy.
When my wife was living in Alberta, if she got sick, she’d phone her doctor and get an appointment for later that day. In Quebec, you’re lucky if you have a doctor. Health care is a mess, our roads are a mess, and as a teacher, I see everyday the effects of chronic underfunding in our education system. Yet Quebec has the highest taxes in North America. Where is all that money going? The Quebec government has replaced The Church as the benevolent Big Brother taking care of “its people,” an argument developed more fully in a recent op-ed piece by Vanessa Sasson. I’ve put “its people” in quotation marks because 99% of the Quebec civil service is still white francophones, a statistic that hasn’t budged since the 1970’s. Corruption and a bloated, inefficient civil service are draining the public purse; there are simply too many people at the trough.
Another controversial bill recently passed here in Quebec, Bill 21, targets religious minorities. It prevents anyone in the public sector, including doctors and teachers, from wearing religious symbols, as if those items would somehow influence or prejudice their work. For Christians, this isn’t a significant problem, but for many Muslims, Sikhs, and Jews, they must choose between their religious garb or their careers. No one should have to make that choice, certainly no one in the Canada I know. The standard line given by Legault to defend Bill 21 is that “the majority of Quebecers support it,” an argument that has at its heart the logical fallacy known as Appeal to Popularity (sometimes called Appeal to Ignorance.) I teach this fallacy by reminding my students that at one time slavery was the popular economic model. The fact that it’s popular doesn’t make it right.
Here’s a confession: in the last provincial election, I voted for Legault’s CAQ party. I was tired of paying half of my wages to the government and still having unacceptable roads, health care, and education standards. I was tired of the corruption in the construction sector that has held Montrealers hostage for decades. I’d heard of scandal after scandal at all levels of government, and hoped that Legault, a co-founder and CEO of Air Transat before going into politics, would be a fiscal conservative with the strength of character to do some much-needed restructuring of the Quebec economy. But he hasn’t done anything of the sort. Instead, he’s focused almost exclusively on a social agenda to solidify his grip on power, playing to his rural base and exploiting the most repugnant racist and xenophobic aspects of Quebec society.
What has Prime Minister Trudeau done about this wave of racial nationalism gathering in Quebec? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. He needs the Quebec vote too much in order to cling onto his own weakening power. So while he talks a lot about values and morals and draws a hard line against those he claims hold “unacceptable views” in Canada, he allows the Legault government to crap all over the Charter of Rights and Freedoms his dad helped draft and ratify, unwilling to protect religious and linguistic minorities in his home province.
If he had reformed the electoral system, as promised, and made every vote count, regardless of where you live, he would not be so beholden to “the Quebec vote.” But of his three major election promises—reform the electoral process, reform the Senate, and legalize pot—he’s managed to legalize pot. The other two promises were dropped once he learned, after studying the matters carefully (at considerable expense to taxpayers), that they were not politically advantageous to him and his party. Prime Minister Trudeau talks a lot about social justice, equity, and protecting minorities, but he is essentially—we must remember—a drama teacher. He’s acting, and these days there isn’t much genuine coming out of his mouth.
I don’t usually get this political in my blog, and I don’t really want this place to become heavily politicized. But I love this country, and if I can’t get off my chest here, in a blog reflecting on Canada, what I think are some problems we are currently facing, then where can I? And I feel that, having lived in Quebec since 1990, I’m qualified to give some constructive criticism of it. No one else is. You don’t have to agree with my observations and comments, but like in my teaching, I say if we can’t have civil and open discussions about difficult issues, then our problems run deeper than the health of the French language or the status of Quebec in Canada. What do you think? Feel free to drop a respectful comment below.
4. The Orange Summer
All summer long I saw orange garments hanging randomly in trees, and church steps lined with children’s shoes and toys. Some people have referred to last summer as The Orange Summer, a time of reflection and reckoning in the hope of eventual reconciliation. We are very early in this process and much has still to be determined with regard to what a reconciliation would look like. I don’t really have any suggestions, nor is it really my place to make them. But I believe that all relationships are healed through communication, so let’s start there. I believe we will get further faster by talking than pulling down statues. What is clear is that there is an enormous amount of pain out there to be addressed. I thought it was à propos that on my final day of riding, as I rode the 417 down from Sault Ste. Marie, I passed on a stretch of that highway a small contingent in orange T-shirts walking with police escort at the side of the road. A sign on a support vehicle read “Walk of Shame.” I recently saw another roadside sign, this one in Kahnawake, indigenous territory on the south shore of Montreal. This one read, “Legault, hands off our children,” a clear reference to both Bill 96 and residential schools. Are we making the same mistakes again—an authoritative government who think they know best what is right for your children? Have we learnt anything through years of suffering?
Let’s hope that the indigenous peoples of Canada get an apology from Pope Francis when he visits next week. It’s long overdue and a crucial element in collective healing. Then we need a thorough investigation into what happened to those children and hold those to blame accountable. There’s much more to address—difficult work of hashing out treaties—but it seems to me that would be a good start.
5. Heat and the Big Thumper
The 650GS did great the entire tour. I really can’t complain. With over 100,000 kilometres on it and fully loaded, it pulled Marilyn and me over those Rocky Mountain passes in the heat, and it was hot! The battery let me down a few times, but the mechanics of the bike are sound. It’s a great little adventure bike.
Are you sensing a but, dear reader? The 650GS is happiest under 100-110 km/hr, and much of my riding on this tour had to be >120 km/hr, just to cover those distances. This is a bike for secondary highways, not freeways. It is a classic European touring bike, but all of Europe is about the same size as Canada. Those days crossing the prairies, 6+ hours at 5,500 rpm, were not fun, and as I’ve said, I developed some numbness in my throttle hand due to vibrations. By the time I rolled back into the driveway, I was ready for something a little more powerful and a lot smoother.
I also found it difficult to regulate oil level during this tour. It’s difficult with the dry sump system at the best of times, but the varying temperatures and types of riding on this tour made it all the more challenging. The extreme heat, and riding at high revs for hours, led at times to oil rising so high in the reservoir that it spilled into the air box, where it leaked down the side of the engine and baked onto the skid plate.
Shake and bake
It’s possible that I over-filled the bike, but rather, perhaps I was just asking it to do a little more than it was designed to do. I’ve been pushing this bike beyond its limits on and off road.
People have since told me that, for a tour like this, I should have used a 1200 or 1250GS. The big boxer cruises at 120 km/hr, and like its predecessor of another era, the Honda Gold Wing, it eats up the miles. I’ve considered getting a big GS, but I like the dirt too much, and my skills just aren’t capable of taking a 600 lb. bike off road. I’ve had my eye on the Yamaha Ténére 700 (T7) for some time, and the World Raid version looks just the thing for my long distance adventures. Unfortunately, once it gets to Canada, it will be probably close to $20G—a little beyond my budget for now.
I also considered an 800GS. This would be the obvious upgrade to the 650, with a similar Rotax engine and the fuel tank under the seat. But a parallel twin is also prone to vibrations at highway speeds; isn’t it basically a big thumper but with two cylinders? So I started looking at it’s main competitor, the Triumph Tiger 800. From everything I’ve read, the essential difference between the two bikes is that the BMW is better off road, the Triumph better on road. That inline triple has a lot of character and is silky smooth. With 94 hp, it has more than enough power for two-up touring. And if I am being completely honest, most of my riding is on road, even when touring.
So here is my big announcement. After a lot of research, I’ve bought a 2013 Triumph Tiger 800XC. It only had 14,500K on it, so looks and feels practically new. It has been maintained well with regular service and always stored in a heated garage. I’ve put over 7000K on it already this summer and love riding this bike! I can’t wait to do some long-distance touring on it.
Don’t worry: the blog is not changing its name. I will continue to write about my adventures here, having built a little following. I’ve ordered crash bars and a beefier skid plate and so the slow conversion to off-road riding has begun. But for this summer, I’m happy to ride it stock with street tires and just enjoy this engine. It looks, feels, and sounds like a jet, so that’s what I’ve named it.
As for Bigby, I’ll be selling it when the market heats up at the end of season. I know that many potential buyers will be nervous about buying a bike with that many kilometres on it, but anyone who knows the 650GS knows that the engine is bullet-proof and that these bikes are over-engineered. There’s still plenty of good riding and adventures to be had on Old Faithful.
As I write this, we are about halfway through the summer. I’ll be taking the Tiger on day trips and perhaps a few overnights, but mainly just getting familiar with it. I’m planning a similarly big east coast tour with it for next summer and so will be getting some stronger panniers and doing other mods to set it up for adventure touring. I’ve received some queries from readers about my gear, so I’ll also be writing some blogs about what has worked for me. I hope you will stay with me, regardless of what you ride, as we continue the journey.
In the completion of my Epic Adventure, I cover 5,500 kilometres from Whitehorse to Montreal in seven days to be home in time for work.
In my last post, I rode up The Dempster Highway to Rock River Campground, just south of the NWT border, then went to Whitehorse and did an oil change to prepare for the final leg of my Epic Adventure Tour. I had a week to be back in Montreal, 5,500 kilometres away, so I knew there were going to be some long days in the saddle. I would have to let Google Maps do its thing and direct me there on the shortest, fastest route. It was beginning to feel like my tour was coming to an end, but I still had those seven days and lots to see and to experience as I crossed the country for a second time.
My first night was at the famous Liard Hotsprings Provincial Park, just outside of Yukon in northern BC on Highway 97, the Alaska Highway. I retraced my ride on the 1 back to Upper Liard, but instead of turning right and heading south down the 37 (Stewart-Cassiar Highway), as I had come up, I continued south-east to Watson Lake. My first rest stop was at Sign Post Forest.
A quick peanut butter sandwich lunch and I was on my way again. Somewhere along the 97, heading into Liard, I encountered Bison on the road. I’d heard they are unpredictable and will charge a motorcycle, so I waited until the road was reasonably clear, then slowly passed, one hand on the throttle, one snapping photos.
I also came upon sections of burnt-out forest. All summer we had been dodging forest fires. Now I was seeing close-up the after-effects of one.
I’d been told you have to make reservations at the campground—it’s that popular—but I took my chances on a weekday and got lucky; there were lots of spots left. I pulled in late afternoon, pitched my tent, and headed to the hot springs.
There, I met a couple of other ADV riders, so we naturally struck up a conversation about our travels. When I mentioned a few details about my trip, one of them said, “Oh you’re that guy with the blog.” That was a bit of a surprise. I’ve been writing and publishing poetry for over 30 years but have never been recognized for my writing outside of a literary context, so it was an unusual experience. Hmm . . . might the universe be trying to tell me something? I’m proud of my poetry collection, Invisible Sea, but I think my next book will be something more like this, related to my motorcycle adventures, targeting a more popular audience.
Mike at Liard also rides a 650GS and lives in Powell River. He had sent me in a previous post before I left some tips for BC touring, including the possibility of buying a week-long pass for BC Ferries, which might end up being cheaper than buying tickets for individual crossings. Thanks, Mike. I hope to catch up with you later when I retire to BC. Perhaps we will do some touring together one day.
The next day was some great riding through the mountains of Northern BC, including passing Muncho Lake. At one point, I passed a couple of motorcyclists stopped at the side of the road, so I naturally pulled a U-turn to see if they needed any help. I recognized one of them from the hot springs the day before. They had a little problem but nothing serious and would soon be on their way. As I left, I pulled another U-turn to return southward. I had the entire lane to do it and knew I could without crossing into the oncoming lane, so foolishly didn’t even check over my shoulder to see if there were any vehicles coming behind me. I also had my ear-plugs in, so the 18-wheeler barrelling down on me was a bit of a surprise and for a moment I lost my nerve and almost dropped the bike, saved by a couple of heavy dabs. The poor truck driver must have crapped his pants as he swerved onto the shoulder. I looked back at my friends and one dropped his jaw. Yeah, it was close. A momentary lapse of judgment is all it takes. In the entire 20,000K of the tour, this was the closest I came to an accident.
I also experienced in Northern BC the third and final rain shower of the six-week tour, it was that hot and dry all summer. I did “only” 616 kilometres that day and found a spot for the night at Inga Lake Provincial Park. There I met Walter and his dog Simba, travelling in a converted camper van. Like Mountain Man Mike I had met in Yukon, travelling by converted van or truck seems to be a very popular choice these days. Gas is cheaper than with a full RV, it’s easier to get around, and most have a small kitchenette and bed. Walter and I ended up sharing a drink and watching the meteor shower together that night.
The next day was the big push into Edmonton. My friends at Liard had tipped me off that hotels are super cheap in Edmonton for some reason, so I indulged myself.
The next day I did 651K into Prince Albert National Park. I was trying to hit all or most of the national parks en route. I followed my GPS that took me the back way in (see title image above), which was more interesting but got me there later than I would have liked and campsites were scarce. In fact, I rode through the park to a couple of the campgrounds before doubling back and finding a single spot right on the water.
The site showed that it was occupied for another few days, but before I rode off, a neighbouring camper kindly came over to say that I’d be fine. Apparently, there seemed to have been a domestic dispute and the family packed up early, not bothering to remove the reservation from their site. My guardian angel had done the deed, of course, and I felt a little guilty to be profiting from an argument. How anyone can be at conflict in such a beautiful location is hard to imagine, but then again, they say a good test of marital compatibility is to go camping.
The next day was another 700K and another national park, this time Riding Mountain National Park in Manitoba. Where Prince Albert is remote and beautiful, Riding Mountain is a camping suburb. There are 427 available campsites at RMNP, and reservations are highly recommended during peak season, which it was. I think 425 were already taken when I got there, and I found myself tucked into a tiny site at the far end of the campground. I guess the park serves the generally landlocked residents of eastern Manitoba and Winnipeg and provides a summer playground for the kids, but it’s too big. It was good for a night’s rest but I wouldn’t want to vacation there. The next day I rode down to the beach just to check it out, and along Wasagaming Drive in search of a coffee. It felt very touristy, with fake indigenous trinkets, souvenir T-shirts, and plastic sunglasses. It didn’t feel like a national park, or any park, for that matter, and I didn’t buy a sticker for my pannier before hitting the road.
Okay, it does have a short beach, but with that many campsites and hotels in the area, I imagine it gets pretty crowded in the summer months. This was taken early morning. By afternoon, I suspect it looks more like this.
I started heading east on Highway 16 that took me through Neepawa. The name should have twigged but it didn’t until I saw a sign indicating that the former home of Canadian novelist Margaret Laurence was nearby. What an unexpected treat! I don’t do much research before touring but prefer to follow my nose, which generally serves me well. Her home is just a few blocks off the main road. If you like her novels, it’s worth a stop. Admission is a few dollars and you receive an audio tour through the house.
I knew that her novel The Stone Angel was inspired by a monument in a nearby cemetery and was directed there by the nice young man working at the house.
If you want to understand what it’s like to be inside the head of a failing old woman, read The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence, set in the fictitious town of Manawaka, based on Neepawa. It should be required reading for students in Special Care Counselling who wish to work in elder care. I am always impressed by prose fiction that is not autobiographical. A mature writer is able to imagine characters and voice, not simply fictionalize his or her own experiences.
I pushed on, aiming for Kenora, just over the Manitoba-Ontario border. I was in such a hurry leaving Kenora westbound that I didn’t get the required photo-op with Husky the Muskie.
In truth, my only reason for stopping in Kenora was in search of food and campsite beer after another long, hot day on the bike. I arrived after the imaginatively-named The Beer Store had closed, but thankfully Lake of the Woods Brewing Company was still open and had cans for sale.
This delay meant that I arrived at Sioux Narrows Provincial Park at sundown, after the park had closed, but I had phoned ahead and reserved a site. The staff there were nice to not charge me a reservation fee and my reservation paperwork and a map of the park were waiting for me under a rock on the picnic table of my site when I arrived. The staff at this park get full marks.
I was now in Ontario and things were looking familiar again. I was retracing my ride westward from six weeks prior, including an overnight stay with extended family on Shebandowan Lake, just west of Thunder Bay. It was nice to see familiar faces again and sleep in a bed. I was getting pretty tired from all the riding and needed a good night’s sleep before the big push home.
The next day I rode my favourite highway, Highway 17, which I’ve written about for Ontario Tourism, including a stop for the other required photo-op in Wawa.
It was all business now and I pushed all the way to Sault Ste. Marie. I deliberated where to stay that night. I considered Pancake Bay Provincial Park, just west of Sault Ste. Marie, but I knew the next day was already going to be a very long day to get home. I considered pushing past the Sault but it was getting late and dark. I hate spending money on hotels but with miles to cover and being my last night, I splurged on a room at the Quality Inn there. Counter to Edmonton, though, hotels in the Sault are expensive. Perhaps it has something to do with being so close to the US border, just over the bridge (although the border was still closed due to Covid), or maybe it’s just a factor of pure supply and demand. At any rate, I paid through the nose but had a good night’s rest before the final push home.
The next day I rode further than I ever have, 1000 kilometres (968 to be exact), pulling into my driveway in the dark at around 10 o’clock after having successfully navigated the requisite construction detours and pylons welcoming you to Montreal. Thankfully, I didn’t have to function the next day, but I was back in town for my official availability at work. I’d have another full week to decompress, prepare for classes, and wrap my head around the culture shock of stepping into the classroom again. When I did, it seemed almost surreal that just a little over a week earlier I had been above the Arctic Circle.
The bike was a mess, an absolute disaster, and some of that week would be spent on a thorough cleaning and some much-needed maintenance. But I was home. I’d completed a dream over forty years old to cross Canada by motorcycle. It was the end of that dream, but the trip had firmly planted an adventure bug in my ear. I knew now that I was capable of more—the east coast, including Newfoundland and Labrador, the Trans America Trail (TAT), The Continental Divide, The Trans Canada Adventure Trail (TCAT), and more. I was sadly at the end of my tour, but in many ways, this was just a beginning.
In my next post, I’ll complete the blogs about the Epic Adventure with some general thoughts and reflections on the tour overall and make an exciting announcement.
Continuing north, I explore Dawson City, then venture up The Dempster Highway.
When I was at Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan, a neighbouring camper wandered over to examine the stickers on my panniers. He had a box on the back of his camper and also collected stickers, so we struck up a conversation about the places we’d been. He told me that he and his wife had been all over Canada and their two favourite places were Newfoundland and Yukon. I’d never been north, as in North, and I had a bucket list item to see Canadian tundra, so I was especially excited about entering Yukon. The trip so far had been amazing, but in many ways this felt like the climax of the tour.
I left Boya Provincial Park and soon entered Yukon. I was expecting the 3rd degree but in the end didn’t even need to show my vaccination passport. There was a roadside check and I had to fill out some paperwork but was soon on my way.
The Klondike Highway (2) is long and under considerable construction, so there were delays and some tricky deep dirt and mud in the bypasses that was warm-up for The Dempster later. Apparently they’ve been working on this road for longer than Transport Quebec has been rebuilding the Turcot Interchange, but I suspect the mafia aren’t behind these delays. It led to a long hot day in the saddle. The heat was following me all the way north and it was 32 degrees Celsius in Dawson City when I arrived late afternoon.
The first thing you notice about Dawson City are the colours. I suspect it has something to do with there being little light for major portions of the year, like putting up Christmas lights midwinter. Or perhaps residents know that tourism is a major part of their economy so why not make the buildings look nice. Lord Elgin High School, built in the 70s in my hometown of Burlington, Ontario, with its purple and orange colour scheme has nothing on this school in Dawson City.
I crossed the mighty Yukon River on the free 24-hour ferry and set up camp right on the river at Yukon River Campground. I love the Territorial campgrounds! They are $12/night including firewood. Like the recreation sites in BC, they work on an honour system, with envelopes and a secure deposit box at the gate.
The forecast was clear so I decided to try sleeping in my hammock. That would turn out to be not a good idea. My sleeping bag is good down to 7 degrees Celsius plus I have a silk liner, but I was still cold. The relentless heat that had been following me across the country was finally abated at night in the Yukon. I also found it very difficult to get in and out of both bags (liner inside of bag) in the pitch dark for those nighttime bathroom breaks. I wish I had a video of me trying to climb back in. I tried climbing into the hammock and then inserting legs; I tried standing and pulling the sleeping bag up first and then climbing in. Both were comical, and I felt like I was in a Charlie Chaplin movie. The next night I slept comfortably in my little warm tent.
The next day I took a guided tour of Dawson City. Yukon Tourism provides tours with a guide in period garb and you get access to buildings that are normally locked to the public. We went into the local bank (one of the first in the region), the post office, the saloon, but for some reason not the brothel. I was surprised to find the same BC fir on the ceiling of the post office that is in my 1934-era home in Quebec. I guess that wood was freighted right across this country.
After the tour, I wandered up to Writers Lane, which contains the homes of three major Canadian writers—poet Robert Service, Pierre Berton, and Jack London—all a stone’s throw from each other.
I don’t know what is in the water in these parts, but there is some major literary talent up here. In fact, Maria Rainer Rilke and other writers like Robert Bly have written that the main ingredient for good writing is solitude, and there’s certainly plenty of that up here. There is also some pretty dramatic history that makes for good fiction.
The next day I pulled up stakes and headed up The Dempster Highway. I write that casually but in fact the decision of whether to try any of The Dempster had been on my mind the entire tour as I was traversing the country. My original plan, as anyone who has been following this blog knows, was to reach the Arctic Ocean at Tuktoyaktuk. I knew I didn’t have the right tires (Michelin Anakee Adventures) but thought I’d be okay at least for the bottom 70K into Tombstone Territorial Park if it was dry. Only once I was on The Dempster, all that was on my mind was “This isn’t so bad . . . I can do this . . . I wonder if it’s all like this? . . . I don’t want to have regrets that I didn’t try . . . you won’t be here again for some time . . . don’t be a wuss,” etc., looping through my brain like the daredevil “friend” who always gets you into trouble.
So when I got to Tombstone, the first thing I did was ask at the the Interpretive Centre if The Dempster is like this all the way up. The nice young ladies at the centre replied, “Have you received permission to enter Northwest Territories?” What now? I had been following the Covid restrictions on the Yukon border all winter because it was closed for much of it, but hadn’t checked NWT! Turns out strictly residents and people doing business were allowed in. The staff did encourage me, however, to go to Eagle Plains, about halfway, and from there I could ride another 45 minutes for the photo-op at the Arctic Circle sign.
Hmm . . . I had the rest of the day to mull that over, looking closely at the forecast. (If there were any rain, I’d be stuck and would have to wait for the highway to dry out, which could be days.) In the meantime, I decided to do a hike just north of the Interpretive Centre on Golden Sides Mountain. A short ride got me to a horse trail that leads to this spectacular view of four valleys—three in front, and one behind.
That night in my tent I did the mileage calculations over and over again in my head. You need to have a range of at least 370 kilometres to get to Eagle Plains. Although I had not planned to go up The Dempster, I fortunately filled up at the base of it first. (One gets gas when one can in these parts.) My bike has a 17-litre tank and I have another couple of litres in bottles on the back, only one of those bottles was half full because I use it for my stove. So I had about 18.5 L and my bike gets 20-25 K/L, depending on the riding, so I calculated my worst case scenario and concluded it would be tight but I had enough to get me there. And in the end, I did. I cruised at 80 K/hr. and my fuel light came on about 60 K from Eagle Plains but I made it.
Click on any image to enlarge.
Once there, I treated myself to a steak at the restaurant at the lodge. I guess dining etiquette is a little relaxed in these parts because you can apparently play ball with your dog in the dining room here, and why not? I think you should be able to play ball with your dog in any dining room!
There I met Mountain Man Mike. Mike is an avid outdoorsman with his own YouTube channel about his adventures in his truck-top camper. He told me about Rock River Campground just south of the NWT border so I decided I’d follow him up there for the night.
I headed up to the Arctic Circle sign. Mike was already there doing some filming and took the requisite photo. Thanks Mike!
I set up camp next to Mike and we had a nice campfire through the evening. At one point, about 10 o’clock at night, he was chopping wood and it was LOUD! I asked, “Isn’t it a bit late to be chopping wood?” He paused for a second, thought about it, then said simply, “It’s expected.” Well, it’s not like Security is going to come tell you it’s quiet time.
Now there are a few places on Earth where you especially don’t want your bike not to start, and halfway up The Dempster is one of them. I had put 20W/50 oil in this bike in North Van when the heat had been relentless, but now it was about 2 degrees Celsius and my bike wouldn’t start. It doesn’t like 20W/50 in cold weather; the flywheel is just too big to crank over fast enough.
Mike could hear what was going on and wasn’t surprised when I slunk over to ask him for a push. He’s fortunately over 200 lbs. and very fit, but it even took him a few tries to get me going. Thanks again, Mike. You were a Godsend!
It was drizzling as I pulled out of Rock River so I high-tailed it down into lower climate where there was sun. A quick gas stop in Eagle Plains and I was on my way again.
I saw Mike only one more time, somewhere down The Dempster. He’d stopped to take some drone footage. After saying our good-byes, I pushed on and was soon back at Yukon River Campground for one night, exhausted but happy that I’d made it as far as legally possible. I didn’t make it to the Arctic Ocean, but it’s not going anywhere soon, and I’ll return to complete The Dempster when the time is right.
I’m glad I risked it. The geography up there is nothing like I’d ever experienced. The area is vast, remote, and pristine, untouched and unblemished by humans. And in that rawness is a natural beauty that is unparalleled by any park or nature reserve I’ve visited. There are very few places on Earth like it, and those are quickly dwindling. I hope that when I return, it will be as I remember it.
This marked the turnaround point of my tour and now I started heading back home. I had to be in Montreal in a little over a week for work. But first Bigby needed an oil change, so I went to Whitehorse, where I knew there is a Canadian Tire. Unfortunately, the large and excellent Robert Service Campground was closed so I ended up at High Country RV Park.
I found a private corner of the crowded camp and did an oil change. Now Bigby was ready to make the big sprint home across the country.
The journey continues now solo from North Vancouver to the Yukon border.
In my last post, Marilyn and I toured the Sunshine Coast on our BMW f650GS. We’d been having some problems with a lithium battery I had put in before leaving, so as soon I was back in Vancouver, I headed over to High Road Vancouver and bought a glass mat battery. There was no way I was heading north into remote territory without a reliable battery.
While crossing the city, the most fortuitous thing happened: my phone fell out of its mount onto the road and broke. Why is this fortuitous, you ask? Well, because my phone was old and needed to be replaced. We’d noticed a huge difference between photos (the same photo) taken on my old Samsung Galaxy S5 and Marilyn’s new iPhone 11; the GPS often dropped the connection to the satellite (probably because I’d dropped it on my office floor); the screen sensitivity was failing and often didn’t respond to touches, which is really annoying when you are riding—in short, I’d developed a hate-on for the phone and just needed a good reason to replace it.
So before leaving North Van, I went to the Koodo store at Capilano Mall and upgraded to a Galaxy S21. Photos from this point on in my trip are much, much better. I had to pay a bit extra for the wireless charging, but finally I would be free and clear of the cords and charging issues on the bike. Okay, I didn’t have a wireless charger yet, but I’ve since picked up a Quadlock mount with vibration dampener and am never going back!
Marilyn flew back to Montreal and I suddenly found myself alone again. I love solo riding, but I loved touring with Marilyn more. This was—dare I say—a bit of a surprise to me; it would take a day or so to adjust. Her absence was felt all the more since the first day involved riding that same Sea to Sky Highway we’d ridden just the day before. But this time I didn’t stop in Whistler but blew past, all the way to Pemberton before taking a break.
Then the road got really interesting. Serj, a local ADV rider I’d met on the Sunshine Coast, had told me about this section of Highway 99 and it didn’t disappoint. Also known as the famous Duffy Lake Road, the small but well maintained mountain road weaves through the range with magnificent views of the valleys on each side. I passed a few recreation areas en route but had in mind to stay at the campground in Lillooet, only once I dropped down into the heat of the town, took one look at the parched and empty campground, I turned around and high-tailed it back up into the mountains.
BC has what they call “Recreation Areas,” which are unserviced sites for only $15 a night. They’re not full campgrounds but just a handful of sites on a loop off the road. You pick up an envelope at the entrance, drop your cash in it, tear off the portion that gets posted at your site, and deposit the money in a secure box. A park official comes by once in a while to check. These sites are a little rustic without running water (you have to pump it by hand, Waltons-style) and only drop toilets, but with a picnic table and fire pit, it’s a step up from wild camping (i.e. bivouacing). There’s also a sense of security with a few other campers nearby.
The next day I rode back down out of the mountains into the heat of Lilooet. Lilooet is apparently the jade capital of the world, so I stopped at The House of Jade Mineral Museum with the idea of picking up a gift. As it would turn out, the only gift I bought was for myself and it wasn’t jade. My eye was caught by a polished bit of tigers eye. I decided it would be a good-luck talisman for the rest of the tour and asked the owner to string it for me as a necklace that I could put under my gear.
“Do you know the particular properties of this stone?” I asked.
“No idea,” was his reply.
He was very knowledgeable about the local geology and geography, but clearly not interested in the energetic properties of crystals. As I write this, nine months later, I see on Wikipedia that “Roman soldiers wore engraved tigers eye to protect them in battle. It is still used as a stone of protection today.” My intuitions were correct.
As I and a few others browsed the store, the owner gave a sort of impromptu lecture on an unusual local geological landmark. About 45 minutes further along the 99 is Pavilion Lake, renown for sections of brilliant emerald water. The water gets its emerald colour from limestone, extremely uncommon in the Rocky Mountains, but apparently a mountain of it drifted up from California during the continental drift and attached. Sure enough, about 45 minutes down the road, I saw what he was referring to.
Soon I was on the 97, the Caribou Highway as its called here, blasting through place names like Williams Lake and Quesnel that I’d heard of when my son was tree-planting. While also planting, my niece and boyfriend had a bad experience wild camping near Prince George, and really, the only place I was nervous about for security reasons in all of Canada was PG, as the planters affectionately refer to it. So when an old friend from my undergrad days who was watching my progress on Facebook messaged with an offer to stay at her place just west of PG, I was doubly happy. Her husband also rides a GS, so we had a lot to talk about over dinner. Kristen and Dale live in a beautiful log cabin on a gorgeous piece of property. The last time I saw them was at their wedding near Whitby over twenty years ago, so it was a treat to see them again.
The next day I rode west along Highway 16, the Highway of Tears, as it’s called because so many murdered and missing indigenous women have disappeared while hitchhiking on this road. I passed billboards such as this one, and roadside shrines, and the miles laid down that day were pensive as I reflected on yet another layer of trauma inflicted on the indigenous peoples of Canada. I’d seen singular orange garments hanging from trees right across the country like a breadcrumb trail leading to a sordid history Canadians are only now truly beginning to recognize and accept, but now I was riding along a road that was tangibly a place of violence for many women. The contrast between my ultimate freedom on the bike and others’ lack of freedom in even the fundamental aspects of self-determination was poignant. And I couldn’t help also reflecting on the perpetrators of these crimes, and how damaged and deranged their own lives must be to do such heinous crimes. It was one of the more melancholy days on the bike.
Just south of Smithers, I decided to take another look at my bouncing front tire. The open roads in these parts allowed me to look down at the wheel as I was riding highway speeds. (Okay, maybe not a brilliant idea, but 6,000 kilometres of curiosity had gotten the better of me.) I noticed, in addition to the bounce I’d been feeling throughout the tour, that there was a definite wobble in the wheel. Aha! It’s not that the wheel is not balanced but that it’s not true! At least this is fixable, or so I thought.
I’ve trued up bicycle wheels before. It isn’t easy, and you have to be careful because you can easily make it worse, but I had a spoke wrench on me. However, with this much at stake, I thought maybe I’d have it done by a professional. As I came into Smithers, I saw a Yamaha dealership and pulled in there. They didn’t have a mechanic on duty but directed me over to Eyecandy Customs motorcycle repair and bikes. Sam took one look at my front rim and said it was bent. In fact, it was bent in two spots, probably from the two failed attempts to get up a particularly challenging rocky hill climb shortly before my departure in Montreal. He said there was nothing he could do about it. It wasn’t a matter of adjusting spokes; I’d need a new rim. Damn!
With that bit of good news adding to my day, I pulled in to Seeley Lake Provincial Park just east of Highway 37. The sunset there was the most beautiful I’ve ever experienced, so there really was a silver lining to this grey day.
The next day was my big push north to the Yukon border up the Stewart-Cassiar Highway, but first I doubled back to Hazelton and the Ksan Historical Village because there are some totem poles there that Emily Carr had painted. It was getting late when I passed Hazelton the day before so I decided to do it this way. It meant that I arrived early and saw them in the rising sun.
The poles were impressive, and the colour paintings on the dark wood of the longhouses striking. I wanted to explore more and was curious about the history of this place, but like my visit to Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung Historical Centre in northwest Ontario, everything was shut up due to Covid. I found myself strangely alone without a single soul in the historic village or adjacent town. Old Hazelton—quaint and picturesque, with a paddle boat at the water and old buildings with original exteriors—felt like a ghost town.
So I read the historic plaques, took some photos, then hopped on my bike and headed off. I had a big day of riding ahead of me so perhaps it was for the best.
Soon I turned onto the 37. Now there are two ways to get to Yukon: the Stewart-Cassiar Highway (37) or the Alaska Highway (97). I took the 37 up and the 97 down. They are both pretty good for different reasons, but in terms of riding, the 37 is better.
Although tiring, I was happy to put on the kilometres, all 707 of them over nine hours with only a short break south of Dease Lake for fuel and food. I had to keep my eye out because there were a lot of bears on this road. You see a black dot up ahead and, sure enough, when you get up there, it’s a bear—in the ditch eating berries, crossing the road in front, or climbing the embankment on the other the side. I lost count how many I saw, thankfully all black bears. I even came across one dead on the shoulder, poor thing, half decayed, maggot infested, and stinking to high heaven in the heat.
I was aiming for Boya Lake Provincial Park just south of the Yukon border and pulled in exhausted, late in the day. The entire campground was full except for one spot on the water, too small for anything but a motorcycle and tent. As I was pitching my tent, it started to rain and I didn’t have time to cook. Suddenly a man was there, offering me food. He said he does a lot of backcountry camping so I guess was understanding if not sympathetic, and he and his family were just pulling out in their RV and had some extra dinner. I was of course very appreciative of the gesture and the food. It was a delicious bean and pasta salad, which I ate in my tent during the downpour. When the rain stopped, I poked my head out to see this.
Luck and human kindness had shone on me again. It had been a long day of riding and I was tired but didn’t feel much like sleeping. This far north, the sun stays up well past midnight, so I just sat there at my picnic table and smoked my pipe and admired this sunset that lasted for hours. It just doesn’t get any better than this. Or so I thought.
The first time I took my bike to a rally, I dropped it three times. It was my first time off-roading and I had street tires on. That’s not a good combination. Back at camp, I was lamenting a scratch I’d put in one of the body panels when another rider set me straight: “Ah, you can’t worry about that. It’s a bike.” Obviously, his conception of a motorcycle is different from many others who keep their bikes spit clean and polished to a gleam. I know one rider who scratched his bike in a tip-over at a red light so he sold it and bought a new one.
My f650GS is my learner’s bike. That’s the one you make all your mistakes on, so it shows all the wear and tear of your learning curve. It’s seen plenty of tip-overs and a few crashes—thankfully none on asphalt—and has plenty of “honour badges” to show for it. It’s also now 15 years old. So after completing my cross Canada tour last year, which included an excursion up The Dempster Destroyer, I decided to restore it and retire it from trail riding. It’s a great adventure bike and I’ll continue to use it for that, but I’ll no longer try to push it where it ought not to go. I hope to get a different bike eventually for more technical riding.
My friend Mike painted his Africa Twin a few years ago and did a great job. His company, Renomac Renovations, specializes in quality home improvements, but he’s just really experienced in all things mechanical and technical and knows paint. So I asked him to give me a hand restoring the panels of my bike.
I used a bumper repair kit to fix a chip in the beak, and bondo to fill some deep scratches. Lots of sanding with 320 and 400 wet-dry sandpaper and then we primed, painted, and clear-coated the panels. I had found on eBay a centre panel to replace the original that had been cracked by the buckle of my tank bag harness, so all panels are looking pretty good. I even had OEM look-alike stickers printed.
While those are hardening in my front porch, I also cleaned up my exhaust using hydrochloric acid in toilet bowl cleaner. It works like a charm and eats through the rust pretty quickly. It even did a pretty good job on the staining of my chrome exhaust that happens through heat cycles. Just use a toothbrush and plenty of water to rinse afterwards or the acid will continue to eat the metal. I actually mixed up a mild solution of baking soda and water to be sure to neutralize the acid, then rinsed. A little Blue Job (no typo here) afterwards had them gleaming like new again.
Last fall, I replaced my cracked and scratched windscreen with a new one. I had the 12″ National Cycle VStream screen on before, but I decided to go slightly taller this time with the 15″. The shorter screen was best for off-roading, but this one, with the Puig wind deflector on top, should be best for touring at speed.
The Michelin Anakee Adventure Tires I used last year were great for touring. I put 20,000K on them and there’s still tread left, but with the bike looking this good, I guess it’s time for a new set of shoes. I thought I’d try those new Dunlop Trailmax Mission tires everyone has been raving about. They are listed as a 50/50 tire, which is the kind of riding I do, but they look like street tires. Dunlop claim that they give “knobby-like performance” in the dirt while having a round profile for smooth asphalt riding and cornering. We’ll see about that. They were a full two years in development and have some new technology built into them, including sidewall ribbing and a stepped tread. And if that were not enough, you are supposed to get 8,000 miles (or 13,000 K) from a set, so they apparently wear really well.
I’ve got a set of Kenda Big Blocks with a lot of tread left on them sitting in the shed, but I think I’ll save those for my next rally. I was looking for a long-life 50/50 tire for adventure touring. I’ve tried Heidenau K60 Scouts on this bike and while the front was great, the back flattened pretty quickly. I’ll post later how these are. In fact, I think a tire review of what I’ve tried so far is in order.
The only thing I’m still waiting on before getting back on the road is the circuit board from my dash assembly. Last fall, the clock started showing nonsense and partial numbers. According to Wayne’s excellent website crossroadz, the plastic cover of the display can wear away the copper in the circuit board and disrupt the signal. Thankfully, there is an electronics technician at the bottom of my road who does excellent work at a fair price because I don’t have the confidence to practice The Dark Arts myself. He’s going to take off the display and rebuild the pathways, whatever that means. It’s a relatively small thing, but I actually use that clock a lot when riding, and the bike will otherwise be good as new, despite the 130,000 kilometres on it. The engine still has good compression and is not burning oil.
These restoration projects have been taking some time, but the real reason this blog has been so quiet lately is that I’ve been organizing a reading tour for my recent collection of poems, Invisible Sea, published by DC Books here in Montreal. So aside from proofreading and doing final edits on the manuscript, I’ve also been contacting bookstores and other possible venues to organize reading events. The collection explores the theme of flight and, in particular, early human flight.
I wanted to write something positive as a kind of antidote to the state of the world today, and decided to reach back to my childhood heroes, The Wright Brothers, for inspiration. So the opening section is in the voice of Wilbur Wright as he solves “the problem of flight,” as it was then known. The second section tells the stories of other early aeronauts, both legendary and real, from Icarus to Brother Eilmer of Malmsbury, The Flying Monk, to Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier, and John Glenn, orbiting Earth. The third section is an exploration of aerodynamics, musing on the major discoveries of air, beginning with Leonardo da Vinci’s study of streams, to something called The Compressibility Burble that happens at transonic flight. The final section is a celebration of birds, bats, boomerangs, Frisbees and all things that fly into our everyday lives.
So if you are an aviation enthusiast, you will enjoy this book. I’m marketing it to a popular audience since many of these poems are narrative and accessible to any reader, not just those who read poetry. I was inspired by the stories of these courageous men and women who risked their lives in leaps of faith, and if you ride a motorcycle, the closest thing to flight while remaining on the ground, you will connect with these poems. The collection is all of $20 and available through Amazon, Indigo, directly from my publisher, and elsewhere.
So if the blog has been a little quiet lately, it’s because I’ve been busy both with my paid work and in organizing reading events. I’m trying to put together a tour down through The United States to Kitty Hawk on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. As most of you probably know, that’s where the Wrights first flew, and I’d like to visit The Wright Brothers National Memorial there. That would allow me to ride The Blue Ridge Parkway—a bucket list ride of mine—as well as Tail of the Dragon. Then I will head over to Dayton, where the Wrights grew up, to the Dayton Aviation Heritage Museum, and back through Dearborn, Michigan, where Henry Ford has moved the Wright family home and bicycle shop as spectacles in his historical park. If all goes to plans, I’ll be able to combine in a short tour my love of riding with my love of aviation history.
Other than that, it will be a quiet summer in and around Montreal. I have to postpone my plans to tour the East Coast of Canada, including Newfoundland and Labrador, because our new dog, a rescue, still suffers from some vestigial anxiety and doesn’t travel well. He’ll need another year to settle in, so the bookend tour to the west coast one last year will have to wait another year.
What are your plans for the season? April is always an exciting time to be a biker in Canada. And are you doing any mods or restoration work to your bike? Let me know in the comment section below. I’ll be finishing writing up the remainder of last summer’s tour in the coming days, then looking only forward to another exciting season of riding on a bike that, if not new, looks good as new.
We tour the Sunshine Coast from Powell River to Gibsons, then do a day trip on the Sea to Sky to Whistler before Marilyn flies back.
It’s been a busy semester so far, but I am on my March Break now so have a chance to complete our journey before the new season opens. In my last post, my wife and I crossed the Georgia Strait to Vancouver Island and spent a few days in Victoria and a few days in Tofino. Now we were heading back across the island to Comox, where we were going to catch the ferry over to Powell River. This plan was decided in Calgary in consultation with some friends who know the area better than we do. They said the ferries offer great sightseeing, motorcyclists get priority loading and are cheap, and the Sunshine Coast is lovely.
We arrived at Comox in good time but was surprised to find a single lane leading to the ticket kiosk. It was stop and go, literally, in the heat as we crept forward; the line was moving so slowly, I killed the engine and restarted a few times before we reached the kiosk. It was a bit stressful but we ended up buying our tickets with time to spare, then were directed over to the motorcycle lane where we pulled in behind a couple of grizzled ADV riders on KTMs. Yes, there’s a kind of competitiveness even among ADV riders, and their bikes, aside from being KTMs, had more mud than ours, knobbies, and soft luggage. You don’t want to stall your bike in front of them, I thought. Turns out that would not be possible because when we were signalled to board, the bike wouldn’t start.
The lithium battery was over-heating again. I guess all that idling in the heat, combined with the hot bath upon shutting off the bike once we were in position, had led to the overheating. The bikes behind me filed past, so when I turned around, I had a clear lane back for a push start. Marilyn knew the routine by now. Unfortunately, the loading area was flat and she couldn’t get me enough speed. We tried a few times, and just when I thought we would miss the ferry, a guy jumped out of his truck, and another even climbed over the high chainlink fence that separates the foot passenger area, and they helped Marilyn push. We began in 2nd gear, which is the standard practice. Several unsuccessful attempts left me crawling at the end of the lane, where I did a Hail Mary and kicked the bike into first and tried one last time. It fired!
Now I had to be careful to keep the revs up so the bike wouldn’t stall; I knew from experience that this bike doesn’t idle with a dead (or non-functioning) battery. I managed to do the U-turn, get back to the front of the lane where Marilyn remounted, gesture thanks to my helpers, then sneak onto the back of the ferry just as the ramp was lifted. It was like the James Bond movie chase scene with the lifting drawbridge, except we didn’t have to jump across any open water. Once on board, Marilyn was beside herself. A BC Ferries staff member took one look at her, doubled-over, red-faced, and gasping for air, and asked, “Are you okay?” “It’s just a hot-flash,” I replied, which didn’t earn me any points. I was red-faced too, but for different reasons.
Now comes the big wait during the crossing when the only thing on your mind is whether the bike will start on the other side or if you’ll be the subject of more dramatic theatre there. You try not to think about it, and there’s no shortage of spectacular scenery to distract you, but your mind always pulls back to the bike sitting alone behind all the cars and trucks onboard, and the thought of pushing it up the ramp if necessary. By the time we shored an hour and half later, I’d located a glass mat (AGM) battery in stock at High Road Vancouver and planned to swap out the lithium before I headed north. Better still, it was under $100. I’d ship the lithium back to Anti-Gravity and sort out the warranty claim later.
The bike did start, thankfully, after cooling on the ferry, and the hotel where we stayed had a bar that was open with a courtyard. There was a whack of Harley riders staying there as well and yucking it up at another table, and soon all the stress from the ferry incident was washed away with Guiness.
The next day we had a short ride along the coast to Saltery Bay and another ferry crossing. There, we met our KTM friends again, and they asked what had happened to us. They hadn’t realized that our bike didn’t start. Serj and I struck up a long conversation during the crossing because they went to Tuktoyaktuk when the ice road first opened, and he had a lot of good advice for me, including not to try The Dempster on my current tires (Anakee Adventures). He said I’d be okay as long as it was dry, but if it rained, I’d be “all over the road” and would have to wait for the road to dry, which could be days. We landed before he could impart all his wisdom on the subject so we spoke on the phone later. He was really helpful, providing advice on specific routes and campgrounds up through northern BC and Yukon.
We followed them off the ferry from Earle’s Cove all the way down to Roberts Creek. Marilyn had a few rest stops in mind along the coast through that stretch but we were enjoying the ride so much that neither of us wanted to stop. The next thing we knew, we were in Roberts Creek, where we were staying for the night.
I’ve never understood the appeal of McMansions. So much house to clean, and so much stuff to manage! When I first started teaching, I used to use a short documentary in class on Voluntary Simplicity, a movement during the late 1990s and early 2000s when people were downsizing and realizing that they’d rather spend more time with family and friends and less time at work to subsidize a certain lifestyle. I think I was more interested in the concept than my students, but I hope I planted a bug in their ears.
Of all my early rental days, I was never happier than when I had what’s called here in Quebec a 1 1/2 apartment—one room plus a bathroom. I remember carrying box after box of stuff on my bicycle handlebars to the Salvation Army store as I downsized. I had a large Williamsburg faux colonial pottery mug that contained all my cutlery, no oven but just a hotplate, a kitchen table with fold-down leaves, and a wardrobe for all my clothes. I knew the precise location of every single item in my possession. Once when I loaned the apartment to some friends, they phoned me to inquire where something was. “Yeah, if you look under the sink to the right in a plastic container . . . ” Life was simple; I didn’t even have a TV then. So I get the appeal of a tiny house. My current house is not tiny but small, and my next house will be small too. As Ennis of Brokeback Mountain says, “If you got nothing, you don’t need nothing.” It was a joy to spend a night in a tiny house at Roberts Creek.
After we had settled and met our host, we walked down to the waterfront to the famous Gumboot Restaurant. I don’t know where the name comes from, but the owners clearly have a thing about getting something stuck on the bottom of your boot.
There we had a lovely vegetarian dinner in the garden, tempered only by a loud-talker at another table who was enjoying announcing his private issues to the entire restaurant. If only they had a sign about that: “If you talk loud enough about your personal life in a public space, do strangers give a shit about your divorce?” His mom forgot to teach him about indoor voice and outdoor voice. Okay, so we were outdoors, but his poop was casting a smell over my dinner. We then wandered down to the pier and watched the magnificent full Buck Moon rise out of the UBC campus on the horizon across the Strait.
The next day we had a very short ride into Gibsons to meet some family for lunch. The ride was so short, I was getting the Jones for more, but there would be plenty more to come in the weeks ahead. Marilyn’s niece Savannah and beau happened to be there visiting Brendan’s family, so we met them at Tapworks.
The terraces in Place Jacques Cartier in Old Montreal don’t have anything on this place.
Gibsons is known as the setting of the popular show The Beachcombers, which ran from 1972 to 1990 on CBC. I was never a big fan of the show, but felt obliged to stick my head in Molly’s Reach nevertheless. I don’t remember any plot-lines of the show, but knowing CBC, it was probably about how local working class folk solve crimes the police and local authorities are unable to solve themselves. I will give it credit for being among the first to have an indigenous character on cast.
Gibsons has a charm, but if you blink you’ll miss it. After lunch we rode the three blocks, then turned around and rode it again in case we missed something. The appeal of this show is the setting, no doubt, so we spent the afternoon at the shore having one long final drink of it before we had to leave. We were coming to the end of our west coast tour and we hadn’t yet managed to make it into the ocean, so the perfect way to cap this amazing tour was to go for a swim at Georgia Beach.
The ferry crossing from Langdale to Horsehoe Bay was thankfully uneventful, but I’ll remember to my dying day exiting the ferry with the 50-odd bikes that were with us. There were a lot of Harleys and the noise was deafening as we rode through the belly of the boat and up the ramp and though the network of terminal tunnels to Highway 1, which turns into 99. It felt like the first lap of MotoGP.
We had one final day left before Marilyn had to fly back to Montreal and decided to spend it riding the Sea to Sky Highway to Whistler with Savannah on her Honda 400. As far as motorcycle roads go, the 99 out of North Vancouver is about as good as it gets. Marilyn had bonded with the bike and motorcycle touring. It was the start of more adventures to come, but now I had to get used to riding solo again for the remaining three weeks. I loved having Marilyn riding pillion, but it seemed like the pinnacle of the tour—at least in terms of riding—was yet to come.
We explore Bowen Island with a good friend, then head over to Vancouver Island for the highlight of our west coast adventure.
In my last post, my wife and I crossed The Rocky Mountains on our 650GS and arrived on Bowen Island, just off the coast of the City of Vancouver.
After a night of reminiscing with an old friend about our university days, we spent a day exploring Bowen Island. Our friend, Joanne, has a Honda scooter that predates Live Aid, so the two old gals (our bikes, that is) zipped about Bowen. We first went down to the shoreline where we got a good view back over to the mainland and witnessed a mini-earthquake, or so it was explained. When small waves suddenly appear without any passing boat to make them, there’s cause to believe there was just a micro-tremor. Interesting, but not very reassuring. I comfort myself that if there ever was The Big One and we happened to be there when it happened, I’d have an ADV motorcycle to get me past traffic and up onto higher ground.
Speaking of higher ground, we then hiked up a small mountain on good report that there was a wooly mammoth somewhere in the forest. You have to have a lot of trust in your host to do that on yet another excruciatingly hot day, but she was good to her word.
A local sculptor has built this from driftwood carried up from the shoreline. It’s pretty impressive, not just as an object of art but for the effort it must have taken to haul all that driftwood up from the shore. I couldn’t help wondering how many trips it might have taken him to complete the creation, if he worked alone (apparently it’s a “he”; I’m not being sexist here), what implement he used to carry the wood up the trail, etc. Maybe it was the heat, or maybe it was the pragmatist in me, or the masochist, but my mind went there as I marvelled at the accomplishment. And then, sadly, it went to issues of security, and how long it would be before someone vandalizes the sculpture. But let’s not go there. The directions to this local landmark are intentionally vague in tourism brochures, making it a bit of a treasure hunt, and we had to give a few clues while coming back down to a couple we passed who had been looking for some time.
The day was short and we had to say good-bye too soon, which was a running theme on this trip. But we parted with promises not to wait another decade before seeing each other again, either on the west coast or in Montreal.
The next day we crossed to Vancouver Island, landing in Swartz Bay. From there, it was a short ride down the 17 to our room at The Cherry Tree Inn. We chose this location because it was close to Butchart Gardens, a bucket-list item for Marilyn.
A love of flowers seems to have skipped a generation in my family, but strolling through these gardens was a very pleasant way to spend the day. What even a neophyte like myself can appreciate is how the original owner, Jennie Butchart, worked the vestiges of the original limestone quarry into the gardens. I could also appreciate the different aesthetic styles of the Sunken, Japanese, Italian, and Rose Gardens. Unfortunately the Menagerie Carousel was closed due to Covid but still visible through the windows. The Butchart Gardens is now a National Historic Site as a sliver of High Society preserved for even plebeians like us to enjoy. More importantly, they had ice-cream for sale.
After Butchart, we rode into Victoria and found ourselves cruising the scenic Dallas Road, which turns into Beach Drive and hugs the shoreline around the southern tip of the city. I have to say, I’ve ridden through some pretty swanky neighbourhoods, including the Hamptons in NH and Senneville on the western tip of Île de Montréal, but I’ve never seen such concentration of wealth as I did that day—one multi-million dollar home after the next for miles along the coast, with “only” few-million-dollar homes clustered off the coast in a sort of suburbs, but with nothing sub about them.
Of course we spent some time in Victoria. We aren’t city folk, but Victoria isn’t really a city; it’s a garden with some stores and restaurants. Somehow we had been on the coast an entire day without having had fish & chips, so we looked online for the recommended best in Victoria and Barb’s came up. It was pretty good, and right on the colourful wharf.
And since I am an English teacher and practising writer, we naturally had to visit Munro’s Books. This famous bookstore, once owned by Jim and (Nobel-laureate) Alice Munro, is housed in a beautiful building with an ornate ceiling and has, of course, a nice selection of books. Space is tight on the bike so no hardcovers for me but I did pick up Eve Joseph’s Quarrels, 2019 Griffin Poetry Prize Winner—a collection of playful prose poems to savour at the fireside over the coming weeks. Then I walked down the street to Old Morris Tobacconist to stock up on pipe tobacco. The owner told me that they are one of the oldest tobacconist in Canada and other interesting factoids like what brand the Queen smokes and that they have one of only two rare Onyx Electroliers in the world, the other being with the Titanic at the bottom of the North Atlantic. I didn’t know what an electrolier is, let alone that the Queen smokes, so I was learning a lot with my purchase. Old Morris also has an incredibly beautiful, ornate building. It’s worth walking in with the pretension that you are a smoker just to enjoy the sights and smells of this classic tobacco shop.
Next stop was, of course, a pub, to power up in the heat for the final leg of my shopping trip. I reconnected with Marilyn, who was reconnecting in turn with another university friend, so I joined them for a beer before heading off again in search of a satellite tracker. I had in mind to pick up a Garmin inReach Mini. In fact, I’d had this in mind all the way from Montreal and even before leaving but partly didn’t have the time and partly was unsure if I needed it. At $450 plus monthly subscription costs, it’s not cheap, and I figured I’d only really need it if I decided to venture up The Dempster Highway. But that decision was still pending, so this one was too. When I got to Victoria and had a minute to think, I decided it would be prudent to get one, if only to keep open the option to try for my ultimate destination, the Arctic Ocean. Unfortunately, now I had backed myself up against a deadline and there were none in stock anywhere in Victoria—not at MEC, not at Atmosphere, not even at the excellent Robinson’s.
When I got back to our room at The Cherry Tree, I searched online. This must either be a very popular item or Garmin had supply distribution problems under Covid because it was sold out everywhere in Victoria, and an online order shipped to Vancouver would take 2-3 days to arrive—no guarantee that I’d get it in time for my departure north. I tried all the big distributors, even Amazon [gasp!] until, frustrated, I threw my phone on the bed and exclaimed to my wife “F*#k it! I’ll do The Dempster without it!” That probably wasn’t politically wise or the best way to make a life-and-death decision, but in truth I was mostly frustrated with myself. I shouldn’t have dilly-dallied before leaving Montreal and just bitten the bullet on this one. Yeah, it’s half a Grand, but that’s the best money you’ll ever spend when you’re lying in a ditch in the middle of nowhere, concussed and bleeding out. Oh well, I’d have to do it Ted-Simon style.
The next day we left Victoria early. It was a big day because our destination was Tofino. The trip only shows four and a half hours on Google Maps, but we had a deadline because a section of Highway 4 that traverses the island closes for construction 1-4 p.m. each day and we had decided to try to beat the closure. The Malahat Highway was spectacular and I would have liked to have taken the more scenic route along the coast once we got over the pass, but we were on a tight deadline. As is, we only had a short stop at Cathedral Grove before pushing on toward Tofino.
In retrospect, I have to say that the ride across the island was better than Tofino itself. Maybe it’s because I’m not a 20-year-old surfer. Here’s the thing I discovered about Tofino: it’s all about the beach. There’s a small strip of restaurants and bars to fuel up for surfing or to party when the surfing’s over, but not much else. Okay, maybe I’m being a bit unfair; we did see some families there enjoying the beach, and some younger couples, but the average age of tourists there was, I would guess, early- to mid-twenties. Marilyn and I splurged a bit on our accommodations with a room at Middle Beach Lodge, knowing that this was the main destination of our trip. I’m glad we did. It made Tofino wonderful in that we could retreat from the party scene and enjoy the lodge’s private beach and comfortable lobby. We also had a gorgeous view from our balcony and could hear the waves throughout the night. (Better than a sleep app.)
Two nights at Middle Beach and then it was time to head back across the island, but not before checking out Long Beach, hiking Rainforest Trail—a boardwalk that snakes through an old-growth forest—and picking up my pannier sticker in Ucluelet.
As we headed back across the island, I suspect Marilyn might have been feeling the end of her vacation nearing. She’d seen Butchart, and Tofino, two bucket-list items for her, and we were now heading east, not west, so ever closer to Vancouver airport and the flight that would take her back to Montreal. But her trip wasn’t completely over; we still had the beautiful Sunshine Coast ahead of us. We headed toward the ferry terminal at Comox, not knowing that more mechanical drama was just around the corner.
My wife and I go two-up for two weeks through Canada’s most western province.
In my last post, I crossed the prairies, spending some time in Grasslands National Park, then met up with my wife in Calgary. After a few days there visiting family and friends and watching the Euro final, it was time to load up the bike again and continue the journey westward, but now, instead of riding solo, I had Marilyn riding pillion.
We didn’t know how this would go. She had been on the back of the bike for day trips, but not an extended period like this, and not in the kind of heat we were facing. I had explained to her that motorcycle touring is like Longfellow’s little girl with the golden curl: when she’s good, she’s very, very good, but when she’s bad, she’s horrid. This would be a test of Marilyn’s toughness. We both had mesh jackets, but the heat was oppressive. We also didn’t know how the little 650 would fare fully loaded over some of those Rocky Mountain passes. Would this 16-year-old bike (literally) pull through?
Our first stop was Creston in southern BC, where we had some good friends who recently retired there from Calgary. Creston is in southern BC, so south that the US-Canada border is just over a mountain range. Marilyn lived in Alberta and shot weddings in Calgary and BC for close to twenty years, so she was very familiar with the highways and our options. We decided to take the 93 that follows the Kootenay River. It’s a beautiful highway, and our first opportunity to experience a ride through The Rocky Mountains. As we turned south onto the 93, we pulled off for our first rest stop at The Continental Divide, which had me contemplating another bucket-list ride.
The Continental Divide Trail is a primarily dirt route that runs north-south from the Canadian to the Mexican borders, passing along the spine of the divide through Montana, Idaho, Colorado, and New Mexico, and consisting of approximately 4,500 kilometres of spectacular wilderness. It’s one of the great ADV rides and is part of my retirement plans. But one bucket-list ride at a time. Soon we were back on the highway heading south, with Rocky Mountain peaks looming on the right and the turquoise Kootenay River following us on the left.
We passed through Radium Hot Springs and Fairmont Hot Springs, but neither of us felt much like soaking in thermal waters. Rather, we pulled off at Wasa Rest Area to wet our shirts in the Kootenay River before continuing on, a trick I’ve used several times when even airflow across perspiring skin is not enough to keep you cool. When I climbed back on and went to start the bike again, the instrument panel lit up for an instant and the bike made a kind of choked cough—not quite a crank but more the sound of its intention. I tried again with the same result.
“That’s not good,” I muttered.
“What’s not good?” my passenger replied.
“The bike won’t start.”
This comment elicited the type of silence no husband wants to hear. Then I noticed a warning on my phone, which I’d left on the bike, that it was overheating. I also had a lithium battery in the bike and deduced that the battery in the bike, like the one in the phone, must be overheating.
One thing I like about my bike is that you can bump start it. Just a few days prior, I had been riding with my brother-in-law who has a KTM 390 Adventure. It’s a great bike, but he doesn’t like the slipper clutch on it. The first time he stalled the bike off-roading, he popped the clutch, expecting it to fire up again. But you can’t bump start a bike with a slipper clutch, so if you have battery issues, as I did now, you’re hooped. I say it’s better to learn how to rev-match and downshift properly and stick with a conventional clutch. I suppose there are some who say the same about electric starters, how we have lost the ability to kick-start the bike if necessary.
Meanwhile, our friends in Creston were texting that appetizers were ready. I looked around and noticed that the rest stop had a slight hill at one end, so I pushed the bike up as far as I could and turned it around. Now came the difficult part: asking my wife to push. Remember, it was 33C (91F) in the shade—hot enough to overheat batteries, let alone mere mortals in full riding gear. But she did, to her full credit and glory, and the bike fired up again, and we were back on our way. Marilyn had passed the first test of MTT, Motorcycle Touring Toughness.
What really bugged me about this incident is that I had just put a new battery in the bike specifically for this trip. Anyone who has been following this blog knows the problems I’ve had with the OEM battery, and they always seem to occur while on tour. The battery is above the engine, where a gas tank is on most normal (i.e. non-BMW) bikes, so it gets the full heat rising from the big thumper, and if that were not enough, it’s also next to the oil reservoir of the dry-sump system under the left body panel. To make matters worse, my bike is black, so with a heat source from three sides—engine, oil, and sun—it’s a veritable oven in there that boils the wet cells dry.
So part of my prep for the tour was to buy an Anti-Gravity lithium-ion battery, and it wasn’t cheap. Unfortunately, what I later discovered in talking with their tech support is that there is a thermal sensor in those batteries, and I guess the extreme heat on this particular bike was tripping the sensor and shutting down the battery. To add insult to injury, I have a battery jump pack, and the bike has remote jumper terminals under the seat, so it would have been easy to jumper the bike, but the battery pack was sitting safely in my workshop at home. Doh! I was so confident in the new battery that I had decided to not pack the power bank. I would regret that decision more than once on this tour.
Back on the road, we decided to not risk turning off the bike until our destination. Thankfully we had enough gas to get us there and the remainder of the ride was without drama. The cold beer upon our arrival never tasted better.
After a few days in Creston, it was time to continue on to more friends in New Denver. Now there are a few ways to get there, but again, my back-seat navigator knew the best: the 3A up the east side of Kootenay Lake, a ferry across the lake at Kootenay Bay to Balfour, the 31 up the west shore, and the spectacular 31A from Kaslo to New Denver, the latter listed as one of the Top 10 rides in Canada. This is without doubt some of the best riding I’ve ever done, not just for the twisty roads but also for the incredible views. It just doesn’t get much better than this.
I am now 58 years old, so retirement is not as far off as it once was. We plan to retire in BC, and part of this trip was to get a feel for the place—familiar to Marilyn but new to me—and scout possible locations. I immediately got a good vibe about Kaslo during our brief stop. Okay, you don’t make such a decision over a coffee break, but there was much to admire in that little town. For starters, it’s equidistant from friends in Creston and New Denver. I noticed that there were a lot of kayaks on top of vehicles, so I figured Kaslo has a healthy, recreation culture. I also noticed that they had managed to maintain the old architecture of their buildings, and the aesthetics of a place is important to me. And speaking of aesthetics, Kaslo is surrounded by mountains, is on a lake, and is just the right size: big enough for a strip of stores for your essential needs, but small enough for passerby to say hello in greeting. We lingered a bit, and Marilyn wandered down to the water and along a path to where a paddleboat was docked. Then we hopped on the bike and went for a spin around the neighbourhood to take a look at the houses, and I stopped to talk with a guy who was selling a classic Triumph T120 parked on his driveway. Hmm . . . Another seed planted in plans for the future?
The 31A from Kaslo from New Denver is famous, unfortunately not all for the right reasons. Apparently some idiot who shall remain nameless posted a video of himself doing that 46K stretch of road in something like 8 minutes. Now it’s “a thing,” in the parlance of GenZ’s, to do it as fast . . . or kill yourself trying. We happen to know the paramedic in the area and she has the unpleasant task of scraping bodies off the road, so to speak. And if that were not tragic enough, you can tell from the inconsistent points of view from the helmet cam footage that the infamous video has been edited. Folks, enjoy the ride, but don’t be an idiot. If you want to ride like that, rent some time at the track, but don’t do it on public roads where you put your and others’ lives in danger.
Once in New Denver, we stopped at The Apple Tree Sandwich Shop for lunch, where I noticed this ad posted inside on a wall. You couldn’t get away with this kind of thing these days, and it shows just how times have changed in half a century. Where ads like this were previously attacked as sexist, today they are posted as interior decor, the double-meaning more amusing than anything else because the sexism is recognized by all but the most unenlightened.
Will the same be said of current marketing in the not-so-distant future?
Will some of the stereotypes surrounding motorcycles and bikers also become transparent to a general public? Not as long as we still have idiots who try to ride from Kaslo to New Denver in 8 minutes.
More friends welcomed us in New Denver, but before dinner we had enough time to check out the Nikkei Memorial Internment Centre. This National Historic Site is “dedicated to telling the story of over 22,000 Japanese Canadians who were forcibly relocated during World War II . . . [and] contains original buildings, period artifacts and interpretive displays as well as the Heiwa Teien Peace Garden, designed by the renowned Japanese Canadian gardener, Tomomichi (Roy) Sumi” (Nikkei). We took a stroll through the buildings and garden, then went down to the shoreline to wade into the water in the afternoon heat.
The Centre is a moving and reflective place that asks more questions than it answers, but perhaps that’s the primary purpose of sites devoted to remembering our more shameful historical events. The country is now deep in a period of reflective questioning and healing of other shameful events, and we later would see the signs of the Orange Summer wherever we went.
If you have the chance to visit the Memorial, you should. It’s well done. What I appreciated the most was that the artifacts and facts were presented without any political commentary, so you are free to interpret the events and draw your own conclusions. I never got the sense I was being “sold” a particular political narrative, or that blame and shame were being delivered. The over-riding feeling I walked away with was sadness, tragedy, and the massive costs of war. I found the displays of the children’s bedrooms the most moving, and tried to imagine what life would have been like at “The Orchard” internment camp, how a child would process those events, and how a parent might try to explain them. And I couldn’t help wondering if or how things would be different today if circumstances were similar. Which of course they are. As we enter the third year of another kind of war, there are plenty of reports of anti-Asian sentiment. Maybe times haven’t changed that much in certain respects over the previous decades.
The next day we were headed to Penticton, the Myrtle Beach of the North, for a change of pace. Our friend Brian was hosting us, and we were texting him throughout the day as we monitored news reports of a large forest fire threatening the area. You’re supposed to ride away from wildfires, not toward them. But he reassured us that the fires were “nowhere near,” which meant the other side of the mountain.
Our route took us over the Blueberry-Paulson Summit on Highway 3 between Castlegar and Christina Lake. At 1535 metres high, the Bonanza Pass would be Bigby’s first real challenge. The engine is the heart of any bike, and the Rotax engine on this little machine is a good one. Only once did it falter, and that, I have to add, was my fault. We were climbing and climbing and it was doing so well we were passing vehicles, so I got a little over-confident and pushed it too hard. At 120 km/hr in 5th at one of the steepest sections, the temperature light came on. I slowed, put it in 4th, kept the revs up at 5,000 rpm, and the bike was happy. We never had any other issues riding through the Rockies as long as I kept to this formula. If you have a 650GS and have to climb mountains fully loaded in heat, remember: 4th gear, 5,000 rpm.
One MTT test passed, we rode on towards another. As we descended, the heat climbed. It reached its peak, so to speak, in Osoyoos, a desert border town whose tagline is “Canada’s Warmest Welcome.” The town was blanketed in smoke blowing down from fires to the north, so now we had to deal with not only heat exhaustion but also asphyxiation. But there’s nothing a Tim Horton’s Iced Capp can’t fix.
After a brief break for us all, we pushed on up the 97 north into Penticton. Upon arrival at Brian’s place mid-afternoon, I went to move the bike, having realized I should have parked it further up the drive and in a more discrete location, but it did the same thing as before—the choked cough—which was testament to how hot it was. What was there to do but push the bike to its new spot and then go to the beach, which I understand is how most Pentictonites deal with life’s worst problems, like mechanical failure and climate change. We went for a swim, ate Indian food, and bought ice-cream. The day’s stress demanded all three.
As we walked along the beach taking in, uh, a different kind of interpretive display, a helicopter made regular passes overhead, swinging its Bambie Bucket en route to the fire location. It was the most surreal juxtaposition of events: on one side of the mountain, a massive forest fire eating its way through the wilderness; and on this side, bikini-clad girls playing volleyball (perhaps there were some boys playing too) while hot rods cruised the strip. The smoke of weed and forest fire battled for dominance in our olfactory senses. Penticton was a fun place to visit, but I don’t think I’ll be retiring there.
Our final leg out to Vancouver and the Pacific Ocean took us over Allison Pass into Hope—more great riding but now of a different kind. Where the Bonanza Pass was relatively straight, this section of Highway 3 is twisty and required my full attention. As we descended down to a hairpin turn, chatting about something or other and going a bit too fast, Marilyn tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Hey, it says 20 km/hr. You’re making me nervous, dude!” Those signs are suggested speeds for the trucks, of course, but I appreciated the warning. It only takes one lapse of attention on a road like this for things literally to go sideways.
I’d like to say that arriving at the Pacific Ocean was climactic, epiphanous, and moving. In fact, we dallied a little too long over dinner in Chilliwack, or maybe it was Abbotsford, I can’t remember, and missed by minutes our ferry to Bowan Island, our destination for the day. So our first sight of the Pacific was from the ferry terminal while we waited 45 minutes for the next departure—a rather anti-climactic ending to an epic ride across the country for me and over The Rockies for Marilyn.
Never mind. Whatever sour mood that had descended on us from our bad luck at the terminal was washed away by the sea once on the island. Our good friend, Joanne, who owns Cocoa West Chocolatier on the island, had rented sea kayaks for us, so the climax came in a paddle along the shore at dusk.
If you are ever near Bowan Island, make sure you get out to Cocoa West. The organic chocolate is worth the swim, and the accompanying suite is tasteful too.
Next up: we explore Bowan Island, head back to the mainland for a few days, then cross to Vancouver Island.