Klondike Days

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.

Nisutlin Bay Bridge

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.

Fortunately, there was ice cream.

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.

Robert Service 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.

Feeling like I’m on top of the world.

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!

Eagle Plains Lodge. I like how the server casually steps over the rope toy.

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.

Washing my cookware the next morning in the turquoise Rock River. Strange to see the water flowing north.

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.

Note scavenged box underneath with plastic liner to catch the oil. You gotta do what ya gotta do. The dirty oil did end up back in containers and dropped off at the local Can Tire.

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.

Northern BC

The journey continues now solo from North Vancouver to the Yukon border.

Seeley Lake Provincial Campground, BC

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.

Pemberton lunch spot. Nothing like a weeping willow on a stinking hot day.

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.

Duffy Lake Road

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.

Cinnamon Recreation Site

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.

Pavillion Lake

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.

On the Highway of Tears

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.

Seeley Lake Provincial Park

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.

Ksan Historical Village, Hazelton

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.

Stewart-Cassiar Highway

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.

Boya Lake Provincial Park

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.

Boya Lake sunset from my campsite

The Sunshine Coast

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.

Heading from Comox to Powell River

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.

Vancouver Island

We explore Bowen Island with a good friend, then head over to Vancouver Island for the highlight of our west coast adventure.

Off the coast of Mayne Island en route to Vancouver Island

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.

Somewhere on Bowen Island

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.

The Sunken Garden at Butchart

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.

Where else to get the best fish & chips but the Fisherman’s 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.

The last functioning one of its kind, unfortunately, not functioning on the day I visited. (Normally there’s a constant flame for lighting your cigar.)

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.

Towering redwoods at the appropriately named Cathedral Grove.

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.

On the Rainforest Trail.

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.

Beautiful British Columbia

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.

Leaving Calgary

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.

Contemplating my next 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.

Thank God for this little hill to help us bump start the bike

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?

Has good road riding? Check. Has good dirt riding? Check.

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.

Stopping on the 31A for the photo-op

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?

Enjoying a local brew at our friends’ place in New Denver

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.

Osoyoos under smoke

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.

Sea kayaking off Bowan Island

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.

The Chocolate Suite

Next up: we explore Bowan Island, head back to the mainland for a few days, then cross to Vancouver Island.

Northwest Ontario

I leave Chutes Provincial Park and ride along the north shore of Lake Superior into Lake of the Woods.

You don’t realize how big Ontario is until you have to drive it. The people I know who’ve driven across Canada say getting through Ontario feels like half the journey. It’s made long in part by having to circumnavigate Lake Superior, but seriously, what better obstacle could there be? I’ve written about my love for the geography north of gichi-gami, aka The Great Sea, and in that article I said “you could drive from Sault Ste. Marie to Thunder Bay in eight hours, but why would you?” Well, if you had to be in Calgary in five days, that’s why.

I’ve driven in the car Highway 17 to Thunder Bay with my wife, and I’ve ridden on the bike Highway 11 as far as Kapuskasing, but this would be my first time riding the beautiful 17 on the bike. That was a large part of the reason for my smile upon waking at Chutes Provincial Park that morning: I knew the ride that lay ahead of me for the day.

Whether you have time to stop and savour the landscape or are on a tight timeline, the ride is amazing. The weather was cooperating and the bike was running great so I put on the miles and made it all the way to Pukaskwa National Park in time to set up camp, eat, and stroll the shoreline before losing the light.

Looking at views once painted by The Group of Seven

Upon leaving the park the next morning, I saw a sign indicating that there was a National Historic Site nearby, so naturally I followed the signs to The Pic, an important Aboriginal meeting place for thousands of years and the site of an important trading post during the height of the fur trade.

Today there is little evidence, aside from this marker, of the historical importance of this place.

I continued west, but was soon diverted by another sign marking Ausable Falls and Gorge.

Pretty spectacular view just off Highway 17 west of Terrace Bay at the head of Lake Superior

There’s a convenient parking lot right off the highway, and the short little hike down to the lookout makes a good rest stop. Best of all, there is no charge to get a view worth a million bucks.

Looking south out to the Slate Islands on the horizon

Okay, now it was time to avoid the distractions and pound out the miles. There are a number of spectacular lookouts along the north shore but I sadly had to blow past most of them or I’d never get to my destination just west of Thunder Bay by evening. It was hot, like 30+C (~90 F), and I was glad I’d purchased the Klim Marrakesh jacket specifically for the tour and days like this. It vents a ton of air, and my fuel pack meant I had plenty of water to keep me hydrated.

Still, I pulled off on one of the lookouts just to take a break in the heat and ran into two other riders, about my age, it seemed, maybe a little older, heading east on sport tourers. They had travelled from Victoria and said the heat bubble followed them for the first several days of their trip and was pretty unbearable. Their red, puffy faces showed the aftereffects, and I was glad I missed the worst of that. I experienced it on TV newscasts from the comfort of my air-conditioned living room. I would ride in heat the entire trip, but nothing like they experienced.

The heat got worse, and the stretch from Nipigon to Thunder Bay seemed endless! All I had on my mind was finding the first Tim Horton’s and getting a large Ice Cap, which I did. As I was standing outside savouring it (the A/C dining area still closed due to Covid), a Harley pulled in riding two-up. He was struggling in the heat to back his bike into a parking spot, so asked his wife to dismount first to make it easier. I thought, “He’s tired.” Turns out he’d been on the road since 4:30 a.m. and this was his first stop since leaving Sudbury. And I thought I was in a hurry.

“That was some heat coming down through those hills,” he said. And then, before I had slurped the last of my drink, they were back on the road again, apparently to Regina.

I thankfully had another small errand to run, happy to be in A/C for a little longer. I stopped in to the local grocery store to pick up something for my hosts that night who live in the Shebandowan area just west of Thunder Bay on Highway 11. This is a lovely cottage area with its own network of lakes. Marilyn and I stayed with her cousin last summer and did some water skiing there, which left me stiff for days but was exhilarating. This time there was none of that; I was happy to relax, see familiar faces, and meet more extended family.

The next morning I continued west along Highway 11 toward International Falls. The evening before, in conversation with a fellow biker, I was told that “the road is straight and remote, and you might be tempted to see what your bike can do, but be careful because OPP are along there.” I now saw what he meant so “sped responsibly.” I really couldn’t afford a whopping fine let alone having my licence suspended.

Somebody has a warped sense of humour

I was excited to experience Lake of the Woods, which I had never visited before but had only read about in researching an article on The Northwest Loop. But first I decided to explore Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung, or Manitou Mounds, another ancient Aboriginal meeting place of national significance that contains “the records of 8000+ years of recurring use or habitation” and “the largest group of burial mounds and associated village sites in Canada” (https://manitoumounds.com/history-culture/). It was about forty minutes out of my way but I decided to pay the price to learn first-hand about ancient Indigenous history and culture. Only once I had paid the price, not only in time but kilometres of dirt road, the only thing I learned was that it was . . . you guessed it, closed due to Covid. Nothing on the website indicated that, which would have been nice. (I could hear my wife’s voice in my head saying “You should have phoned first,” which is probably true and would have saved me the frustration.)

Now I was in the mood to see what my bike can do. I’ve never had it pinned and have always wondered. Okay, the bike was fully loaded, but it still hit 160 km/hr in a tuck, which is pretty good for a 650 that is 16 years old with over 100,000 kilometres. As luck would have it, soon after that little test, I passed an OPP sitting at the side of the road. Sometimes you get lucky.

Highway 71 lived up to its reputation, winding up through a mixture of forest and wetlands as it skirts the eastern border of Lake of the Woods. My wife who grew up in Winnipeg has talked about this region using similar tones that Torontonians use to talk about the Muskokas. It’s beautiful cottage country, for sure, and its remote location has saved it from the more obnoxious development that has altered the Muskoka region during my lifetime. The road north of Nestor Falls is twisty and hilly with views of lakes and wetland. I stopped at The Narrows Gift Shop and took a browse (I’m always on the prowl for pannier stickers). Beside is The Lazy Loon Restaurant. Okay, there’s some kitsch development here too, with fake inuksuks, fake totem poles, and mini-putt, but I forgave it all because THEY HAD ICE CREAM!

The final leg of the day and my ride across Ontario took me into Anicinabe RV Park and Campground in Kenora just as a thunderstorm broke. It had been a long, hot day, and the cooling rain was welcome relief. As it would turn out, it was one of only three showers I would experience in my six weeks on the road.

One of the last spots at Anicinabe Campground near the Manitoba border.

Have you been to any of these places? Drop a comment below. I love to hear from my readers.

Next up: Prevented from stopping in Manitoba due to Covid restrictions, I ride across in one day and spend the night in Moosomin, SK.

Trip Planning: Secondary Decisions

Talus Lake, Tombstone National Park. Photo credit: Travel Yukon

In my first post on planning my big trip this summer, I discussed the essence of the route, some preliminary considerations regarding how much dirt to ride, and got some gear to help with navigation and heat. In this one, I make a significant change in the route, start getting fit for long days in the saddle, and prep the bike for the start of season.

Change of Plans

The initial plan was to ride from Montreal to Calgary, where I’d meet up with my wife, and then we’d ride together through southern BC, including Vancouver Island. After that, I was going to head off south solo down the west coast to California and make my way back through The United States. However, after watching Covid-19 numbers in The United States climb through the winter and political tensions cause rioting on both sides of the country, I decided that perhaps now is not the best time to be travelling in The States. As it turns out, our American friends are doing better now with their vaccination program than we are, and the political tensions have calmed, but I still have concerns about the sharp rise in violent crime rates in the US. The causes of that increase are currently being debated, but no one can deny the alarming spike.

I don’t like to get political here, but there’s nothing more political than personal safety. The Grand Canyon is not going anywhere soon, and besides, I keep hearing on Adventure Rider Radio that you don’t need to leave your home country to have an adventure, especially a country as big as Canada. So while our American friends are sorting out a few things, I’ll take the opportunity to explore and discover fully the country I’ve proudly called home my entire life. When I hit the Pacific Ocean, instead of turning south, I’m heading north. The Far North.

With the US no longer in the picture, the technical riding of the BDRs and TAT was out of the equation. Most of my trip would be on the pavement, so I went looking for a new goal to challenge myself and decided to try to make it up to Tuktoyaktuk, NWT, as my final destination. A solo trip up to the Arctic Ocean seems like a worthy goal.

I’ve been trying to figure out why it’s so important to me to have that kind of a crazy goal, as if crossing the country is not enough of a challenge. It’s hard to explain to my wife and others what would motivate me to ride solo into that remote wilderness. I didn’t even understand it myself, until I read recently something by Jordan Peterson that provided an answer. In his best-selling book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, in the chapter on Rule 11, Do Not Bother Children When They Are Skateboarding, Peterson makes a case for allowing our children to risk pushing their limits, whether it’s athletically in play or otherwise. Early in the chapter, he writes:

“When untrammeled—and encouraged—we prefer to live on the edge. There, we can still be both confident in our experience and confronting the chaos that helps us develop. We’re hard-wired, for that reason, to enjoy risk (some of us more than others). We feel invigorated and excited when we work to optimize our future performance, while playing in the present. Otherwise we lumber around, sloth-like, unconscious, unformed and careless. Overprotected, we will fail when something dangerous, unexpected and full of opportunity suddenly makes its appearance, as it inevitably will” (287).

In other words, I like a challenge! Yes, there is risk involved, and I often find myself strangely reluctant to leave on one of these adventures because I am literally leaving the comfort of my home and increasing my stress level. There’s a mild anxiety that descends on me, and part of that stems from going solo. But anxiety is just another shade of excitement if you frame it differently, and once I’m on the road, that’s how it appears to me. (I’m referring to mild anxiety, to be clear, not the debilitating kind that afflicts some people.) It’s akin to the performance anxiety of a big game or a race; once the game or race has started, it’s all fun, even the tough bits. And I haven’t even mentioned yet the rewards of the ride, which in this case will include seeing the tundra, the northern lights, and the Yukon Mountain Ranges—all firsts for me. Who knows what else the trip will bring? 

Anxiety is just another shade of excitement if you frame it differently.

I have to add that this is not foolhardy behaviour. I’ve been preparing for this kind of trip since I started riding in 2015—developing technical riding skills, learning about my bike, and getting the right gear (which in this case includes bear spray). Heck, I’ve even been teaching myself this winter the 5 best knots to add to my bushcraft. Maybe Peterson could have simply said: the antidote to chaos is preparation.

Now I’m just waiting to see if the territorial borders will open. Currently, anyone crossing into the Yukon and the Northwest Territories has to self-isolate for two weeks. I haven’t had my first vaccination yet, but at 57 years old, I’m next in line, and our fair Prime Minister has promised that all Canadians will be vaccinated by July 1st, so I’m betting that they will open. This might be a game-time decision near the end of July, but I’ll ride up to northern British Columbia and see how far I can get.

Getting Fit

Sitting on a motorcycle all day is like sitting on a stool all day, unless you have a backrest (which my bike doesn’t) or have loaded the pillion seat with bags (which I can’t, leaving room for my wife when she joins me). Usually this time of year I’d be swimming and running and playing indoor soccer, but Covid has killed all that, leaving me pretty sedentary. I realized I had to get going again, so on March 1st my wife and I made a mutual pledge to do 30 minutes of exercise 5 days a week. So far it’s been working out (ha ha, bad pun) and we are starting to feel the effects.

For me, the key to exercising regularly is finding the right activity at the right time of day. Those two elements are the combination that unlocks the door to fitness. We decided that 10:30 a.m. was the best time for us. We’ve had our coffees and have done a little work at the computer and are ready for a break, especially one that involves moving. And since I’m mostly interested in core strength and cardio fitness, I’m alternating between Pilates and running every other day. This way, each muscle group gets a recovery day between workouts.

My wife alternates between Pilates and her stationary bike, so every other day we do Pilates together. There’s a saying in the Pilates world: do 10 workouts and you’ll feel better, 20 and you’ll look better, and 30 to have a completely new body. I’m not sure that last one is possible at our age but we certainly are feeling better after our first 10. We do a very simple routine using only a yoga mat. If you want to improve your core strength and flexibility, check out Pilates. It has cured my lower back issues and gives me better overall body awareness and posture.

I’ve had some foot issues so the running has been difficult, but a new, wider, pair of running shoes has fixed that and I’m literally on the road to improved cardio. Come April, I’ll move on to some strength training, particularly upper body, and I’m working hard to rehabilitate my thumb that was injured last fall in a little off.

Prepping the Bike

Our riding season here in Quebec officially kicked off on March 15th. I wasn’t on the road that day, but some unseasonably warm weather has allowed me to get out to the shed a little early and do what I needed to do to get the bike road-ready. This is the first year I haven’t done something major, like change my shock, chain, sprockets, brake lines, or even fluids, and it’s been nice! For once, a few little jobs and Bigby is ready to ride.

itcontroller

I mounted the Carpe Iter Controller. There wasn’t room on my handlebar for it so I had to make a little bracket that mounts on the mirror stem. I also upgraded my navigation software (OsmAnd, Locus Maps, Kurviger) to the pro versions and updated my maps. I added a little guard for my rear brake master cylinder (thanks Rick / Kildala), and flipped my auxiliary lights on the mounting bracket to get them a little lower and add separation from the main headlamp—all easy stuff and I went for my first ride last Tuesday. I even figured out a workaround for my tank bag harness that was damaging the plastics, and I’m really happy to have my Wolfman Explorer Lite tankbag back.

Also in that other post, I mentioned the product AT-205 Re-Seal I was going to add to my oil to recondition the engine seals. I’m always nervous about adding anything to the engine oil so thought I’d contact the company first, just to be sure. Good thing I did! Turns out they do not recommend it in applications that involve a wet clutch. I’ll have to make do with the bike as is, keeping an eye on the oil level throughout the tour, and switching to a 20W/50 once we get into the warmer weather.

Good to Go

I haven’t done much specific route planning yet, but with my departure date roughly three months away that is about to kick into high gear. I’m reading ride reports on ADVRider, but if you have recommendations, please let me know. In particular, I’m looking for good campgrounds, must-see attractions, must-ride roads, and good restaurants and accommodations through southern BC and Vancouver Island, since my wife and I will not be camping much while on the road. Feel free to drop them in the comments section below or send me an email through the Contact page.

Enjoy the spring riding.

Trip Planning: Early Decisions

Photo credit: Amazon.ca

I’m between semesters of my teaching work so have been taking this extra time to do some initial planning for the big tour next summer. I’ll be sharing a series of posts about this process. Here’s the first one on some of the initial decisions I’ve made.

The Route

My wife, Marilyn, will be joining me for some of this trip but how much is yet to be determined. The initial plan is that I will ride out to Calgary, Alberta, where we have some friends and family, and meet Marilyn there. We have some friends in southern British Columbia, the next stop, and then we’ll end up on Vancouver Island. After exploring the island, we will cross the US border to more family in Washington State. I’d love to visit Yellowstone National Park, which is fairly close, and to ride Beartooth Pass, one of the top roads in the U.S. I also want to ride the Pacific Coast Highway through Big Sur down to San Francisco.

Part of my reason for heading south is so that when I head back east across The United States, I’ll be riding through Yosemite National Park, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado, and will be able to see the Sierras as well as those iconic southwestern states and mountain passes. If I keep a fairly straight trajectory, I’ll end up close to The Tail of the Dragon and The Blue Ridge Parkway, iconic rides and bucket list items of mine. Time permitting, I’d like to get out all the way out to the east coast to the Outer Banks, NC, where I have fond childhood memories of family vacations. It’s all rather sketchy at this point, but that’s it, in a nutshell: west across Canada, south down the Pacific coast, and east across The United States before heading north back up to Montreal. A rough and dirty GoogleMaps calculation puts the entire trip at around 12,000 kilometers, or 7,500 miles. It will likely be considerably longer, though, as I plan to explore attractions along the way that will pull me off a direct route.

While I will have some fixed destinations, I want to keep my itinerary flexible and spontaneous. For accommodations, I’ll be camping, and wild camping when possible, which allows for this flexibility. I will cook as much of my own food as I can, extending my budget. It will be a challenge but also part of the fun. This is what adventure riding is all about.

Dirt or Pavement?

One big early decision is how much dirt to ride? I’m thinking this will be primarily on pavement, simply because of the miles to cover, sticking to secondary highways because, well, the super slab is not much fun. But I feel I must get off the pavement through those iconic southwestern states like Nevada, Utah!, and Colorado, even though I’ll be riding solo and am just an intermediate rider. In fact, although I’ll be pushing myself out of my comfort zone, I’d love to put in a few weeks of more technical riding and come back a lot more proficient and confident in the dirt. I just have to do it safely, or as safely as one can.

I’ve been watching YouTube videos of guys doing BDRs (Backcountry Discovery Routes) and the TAT (Trans America Trail) through those states, trying to access how technical these routes are. Bigby is designed for curving secondary highways and light off-roading, and I have to respect the limitations of my bike as well as my abilities. These are big decisions with a lot at stake, and I can’t let ego or bravado get the better of me. On the other hand . . . how can I cross Utah without riding sections of the Moab desert? And I’d be a fool to not get off the asphalt into the wilderness for some of those Colorado mountain passes.

Photo credit: lizhoffmaster

I’m going to order Butler maps for NV, UT, and CO. They show the BDR routes and contain a lot of good information about which sections are easy. I’m also reading ride reports on the ADVRider forum, an excellent resource for exactly this sort of thing. Why not learn from others who have already done it? What I suspect will end up happening is I’ll ride the easier sections of dirt and jump out onto the asphalt as needed.

Tire Choice

How do you have a smooth, comfortable tire for those thousands of kilometers of pavement and still be able to ride the sand and mud that I will encounter off road? Well, you don’t. There really isn’t any unicorn tire that can do it all. Initially, I was sure I would do this trip on the Michelin Anakee Adventure tire. Its smooth profile, dual compound structure (i.e. hard rubber down the middle for longevity, soft rubber on the sidewalls for grip in the corners), and tread pattern would make it a perfect tire for 80% of this trip. But I’ll need something more aggressive for that planned off-roading. I could swap the tire early (I calculate I’ll hit dirt at around 7,000 K on the Anakees), or I could go with a 50/50 tire for the whole trip and suffer some comfort on pavement. Another option is swap out the Anakees for an aggressive off-road knobby, which will mean another switch unless I want to ride Tail of the Dragon and the Blue Ridge Parkway on knobbies, which I don’t. Currently, I’m leaning toward the reliable Heidenau K60 Scouts, a 50/50 tire that should be able to do the entire 12,000 kilometers with some manageable sacrifices on both pavement and dirt. Another option I’m considering is switching to Shinko 804/805 tires, a 60/40 that is pretty beefy for off-roading and surprisingly smooth on the road. They are only good for about 6,000 K but that should be enough to get me home. I’m open to suggestions, so feel free to leave a comment.

Navigation

In the limited amount of touring I’ve done so far on the bike, I’ve learned that navigation is huge. I struggled in the past with charging issues and roaming charges, even just safely navigating the phone while riding. I think I’ve solved these issues. I followed a thread on ADVRider and bought a Kyocera military grade phone cheap off eBay. It’s locked, but that doesn’t matter because I’ll be using this phone exclusively offline (no SIM card installed) for navigation using maps downloaded to the SD card. This also avoids roaming charges while I’m in The States.

I’ve solved the charging issue by using a magnetic phone cable and gluing the adapter into the port with silicone, making a waterproof seal. (The phone is waterproof but won’t charge if the port detects moisture.) I’ve also purchased the Carpe-Iter Controller, a great little device that mounts on the handlebar and can be operated with my thumb. It works using Bluetooth and has a toggle switch for navigating and selecting apps, and two push-buttons for zooming in and out in maps. It was a little pricey, but will avoid that dangerous dicking around with the phone while one-handed riding. I use OsmAnd primarily and run Drive Mode Dashboard to turn my phone into a dashboard. Drive Mode with the controller is a very nice combination which I hope will make navigation a lot easier and safer.

The only other issue I’ve been having with navigation is that my Ram X-Grip phone holder presses on the buttons on the sides of the Kyocera phone. I think I’ve solved that one by getting the Ram Quick Grip phone holder, which allows you to position the retaining clips to avoid pressing on those buttons.

Gear

One concern I have about this trip is that I’ll be riding in extreme temperatures, from 40C deserts to snowy mountain passes. It’s not like I can turn on A/C or heat in the cabin, so I have to be prepared with the right gear since comfort is part of riding safety. And of course I need my gear to be waterproof.

So far, my go-to touring jacket has been the Klim Traverse. It’s a Gore-Tex shell which I layer with a Knox Venture Shirt underneath. The problem with the Traverse is that it’s hot! Yeah, it’s waterproof, which is great; I don’t have to stop and put on a rain jacket but can just keep riding all day long rain or shine. But Gore-Tex does not flow much air, and the jacket is also black. I imagined dying in some of those really hot days mid-summer in the southwest.

The Klim Marrakesh Jacket. Photo credit: Fort Nine

I decided to buy a Klim Marrakesh jacket. It’s a mesh jacket so will vent a ton of air, but it’s also 1000D Cordura, so unlike most mesh jackets, will hold up in a slide. It has 4-way stretch so is, without argument, the most comfortable jacket on the market. Anyone who puts one on—I dare you—will not want to wear another motorcycle jacket again. I’m going to be wearing this for two months straight, so comfort is important. It’s not waterproof but water resistant, so I bought a Scott Ergonomic Pro DP rain jacket, and I’ll add a down-filled vest underneath and even my fleece sweater if necessary. In other words, I’ve decided to go the layering route, instead of one-jacket-does-all. I’ll be using my Klim Carlsbag pants, which are great. I don’t care that they are Gore-Tex because your legs don’t get a lot of air-flow anyways. And no one likes pulling rain paints on over your boots by the side of the road.

Bike Prep

I’ve had to break the piggy bank for this stuff and my marriage stock is a little low at the moment. But I’m riding an older bike, so what I save on the bike I spend on gear. (That’s my argument, and I’m sticking to it.) I’ve been a little concerned about the amount of oil the engine is losing lately and pondering what I can do about it. As far as I can figure, it’s either losing the oil through the seals or burning it in the cylinder.

It’s a 2006, so it’s possible the seals are worn. My buddy Phil has the same bike but a little older, and he says his engine “sweats” oil at high revs. Yeah, the pressure in the crankcase at high revs might be forcing some oil past those old seals. A little research has uncovered an oil additive called AT-205. It contains a polymer that will restore the plasticity to aged seals that are dried, shrunken, or just worn out. Of course I want to be sure it’s safe for the engine, but user reviews are good and it’s endorsed by Scotty Kilmer. I don’t want to keep this in my engine for long and don’t need to. It apparently works in about 5 hours of driving/riding, so I’ve bought some and will add it sometime in the spring and change my oil soon afterwards. I’m hoping this quick fix will bring my engine back to good health.

If the oil is getting past the rings and being burnt in the cylinder, I’ll just use a cheap heavier weight oil, one that is readily available at Canadian Tire since I’ll literally be burning through a lot of it over the 12,000 kilometers. Castrol 20W/50 motorcycle oil sells for $6.99 at Canadian Tire. My old bike runs better on a dino oil anyways, and it was when I switched to a semi-synthetic 10W/40 that I started losing oil. Coincidence?

So that is the prep so far: a rough sketch of the route, some gear purchases, and some problem-solving of an old engine. Now I just need Covid to go away.

I’ll be posting a walk-around of the bike soon, showing the modifications I’ve made over the years to customize it for my riding, so watch for that. My son is helping me with a video, which I will post to YouTube and write a short post containing the link.

Please Like, Comment, and Follow if you are interested in following me on this adventure.

20-20

 

Kevin_cropHindsight may be 20-20 but nobody can predict the future. This Covid-19 has thrown us all for a loop, and we still don’t know how the story will end. It’s hard to make plans for the summer when everything is so up in the air, but I am a Gen-Xer. We grew up with the threat of nuclear war hanging over our heads and still managed to make it to school each day, even hold a few tentative plans for the near future. A little pandemic isn’t going to stop me planning the riding season set to begin.

mushroom

Obviously, much of this is pending how the pandemic plays out, so I’ve made some educated guesses. The regions are starting to open now and the stores and schools will be in a few weeks. It looks like we will be starting to loosen social distancing restrictions in the near future, although I think everyone is going to be wary of close proximity in confined spaces for some time to come.

For that reason, I think most of my riding this summer will be either solo or with a few riding buddies, cognizant of minimizing contact and risk. I’m okay with that. Riding is already a pretty solitary activity even when shared. I love solo touring, but as I said in my last post, I love club riding too. Here are my tentative plans for this summer amid this weird year so far.

Touring

The first little tour I’m going to do is down into Vermont and New Hampshire for a few nights once the border re-opens. Last year I rode the Puppy Dog Route on my own in June and it was just the thing to recenter after being stretched out of shape by 100 students, each wanting a piece of me. This year I will try the Hamster Ride, which is the same sort of thing as Puppy Dog but in New Hampshire instead of Vermont. It’s a series of dirt roads traversing a good part of the state up to the Canadian Border. I love dirt roads, state parks, the White Mountains, the Green Mountains, and the secondary highways of the northeastern states. I think Bigby and I will attempt Mount Washington while passing nearby, but I won’t be putting any “This bike climbed Mount Washington” sticker on my pannier. That’s boasting. Besides, it makes you question the reliability of any vehicle that feels the need to advertise the accomplishment.

MtWashington

Photo Credit: Ted Dillard

I don’t have any other small tours planned, but Marilyn and I will be doing some day trips together. To beat cabin fever, we’ve done a few rides along the river these past few weeks. We go in the late afternoon and it’s a slow, easy ride west as the sun sparkles off the water. Marilyn says she thinks she’s caught the motorcycle bug. The other day while doing some routine maintenance on the bike, I noticed my rear brake pads were finished, so I’m waiting on new pads to arrive in the mail. Now she’s asking, “When are those pads arriving because I want to go for another ride?” Finally, she might be getting the appeal, and as long as we don’t get caught in a rainstorm, I think I’ll be able to cultivate that interest into a simmering passion. We will pack day lunches and head off on our own small adventures.

But The Big One, the tour I’m most looking forward to, is the cross-country one I’ve wanted to do since I was 19. I thought it might be this summer, but then our dog got sick, so it was put on hold; then sadly our dog died, so the possibility was back on; but then Covid hit, so now I’m not sure. But all going well, I’ll be heading across Canada sometime in July. I’ll head up toward Ottawa on Highway 417 which turns into the 17 after Ottawa, then I’ll just keep going, westward, through Chalk River, Mattawa, North Bay, Sudbury, Thunder Bay, and just keep going, as far as Bigby will take me. I’ve never driven across the country, so this is going to be a real discovery for me of the country I grew up in and call home.

Priest Carving copy

Mattawa, ON., Gateway to the West

The plan is to meet Marilyn somewhere out west (she will fly) and we’ll visit her sister-in-law in Washington State. I may be tempted to ride a portion of Highway 101, the Pacific Coast Highway, while I’m close, and that’s why I want to do this in July, although the heat will be worst then; I want to have the flexibility that no fixed deadline provides, and I have to be back to work in August. Then I’m going to come back through The United States, checking out their national parks. I’ve never seen the midwest, or The Grand Canyon, or Yosemite, or much of The States to be honest. So I’ll be discovering that country too, camping all along the way.

I’m considering doing some of this on dirt, either some BDR sections (Backcountry Discovery Routes) or a part of the TAT (Trans America Trail). There’s a lot to plan, but now that my work is done, I have the time to start.

Club Riding

I won’t be going on any tours with the club like I did last year, but I’ll do some day rides in the Montreal area. These are easy rides of 350 km/day or so into the surrounding regions with a few forays across the border. See my last post on the benefits of club riding. This year will be muted by social distancing, but motorcyclists are used to managing risk.

I’ve decided to lead a couple of dirt rides for the club. We are primarily an asphalt club but there are now a few members with ADV or ADV-styled bikes and even some cruisers who aren’t afraid of dirt. Often on club rides, I’d see an interesting dirt road leading off into the woods and I’d be dying to go exploring. I’m betting there are a few others who feel the same. Ideally, I’d like to offer these as an optional portion of a larger club ride, with a plan to meet the group for lunch. I’m going to call these 50/50 rides (50% road, 50% dirt). With my new Cardo PacTalk comm unit, club riding will be a whole new experience for me this year.

Group_ride_1web

Off-Roading

I cannot tell a lie. What I am most looking forward to this season is developing my off-road skills. It’s been a few years now since I took some beginner courses to get me started and I’m ready to take my skills to the next level. I’ve purchased Chris Birch’s Say No to Slow set of instructional videos on Vimeo and have been watching them while I wait for the brake pads to arrive. I can’t wait to get out there and try some of what Chris is saying.

Why pay for something that is free on YouTube, you ask? In a previous post, I listed some of my favourite online teaching channels, and I still think those are excellent resources. But Chris goes into a lot more detail than most of those, and more importantly, he covers the boring fundamentals that those channels can’t afford or choose not to cover, and that’s what I need. Yeah, everybody wants to learn how to wheelie and drift (but not at the same time!), but I’m more interested in things like bike set-up, foot placement, body positioning, and cornering in the dirt, which are covered in the video series. I was surprised that the entire set of 12 videos is under $50 Canadian. I don’t have any affiliation with the production team. I just know good pedagogy when I see it and what I need now most is guided self-practice.

There is a sandpit just over the border in Ontario I practice at, and a network of trails and Class 4 roads not much further starting in Hawkesbury. My bike has a new rear shock—one capable of some serious dirt—and Ricor Intiminator valves in the front forks,  so the suspension has just been upgraded to dirt-worthy. It’s got good crash protection, as do I with my new Leatt STX neck brace. We’re ready.

stx_front_web_zoom_1

The STX is for street and adventure riding. The wider scapula wings do not conflict with your back protector and you do not need integrated body armour.

Are you ready? It’s been a crappy spring for weather but the double-digits are just around the corner. Is your bike ready? I’ll be writing an article for my new paying gig, Riders Plus, on how to get started maintaining your bike. So get your tools out and let’s change the coolant, the brake fluid, the oil, check your tire pressures, and get ready for a new season. It is the best of times, it is the worst of times. Riding makes everything a whole lot better, especially when shared in the company of friends. If you want to escape the bad news for a day or more, there’s nothing quite like a fast motorcycle to help you do it.

Bike2020

Bigby, ready for the 2020 season.

The Puppy Dog Trail, 2.0

Rest Stop

The first time I did The Puppy Dog Ride, I enjoyed it so much my recurring thought was that I should be sharing it with someone. “I should lead a ride down through here,” I kept thinking. “I should show others how amazing this is!” And so, when plans to tour northern Ontario with a couple of riding buddies fell through, I suggested we change the route to the beautiful dirt roads of Vermont.

Originally, the plan was to do a section of The Puppy Dog in Vermont and a section of The Hamster Ride in New Hampshire, working our way back toward the Canadian border. We also had plans to ride Bayley-Hazen, a military road that dates back to the American War of Independence. But we soon realized that our plans were a tad ambitious. Riding dirt all day in the heat of high summer is hard, so in the end we ended up doing sections of Puppy Dog with some asphalt mixed in to cool off and save time.

My riding buddies were Danny and Mike, whom I met at the 2018 Dirt Daze Rally in Lake Luzerne, NY. In truth, I only met Danny, who unfortunately had suffered an injury early in the weekend, as had my bike, so we were laid up together, so to speak. He and Mike had come down from Montreal, and while I never actually met Mike at the rally, the contact was made, and we ended up riding together later in the season.

I was happy to meet some off-roaders from the Montreal area. You shouldn’t really be riding off-road alone, partly because doing so is dangerous, but more importantly, because it’s a lot easier to lift your bike with the help of a buddy. Those who have been following my blog know about the trouble I’ve gotten myself into riding alone in remote areas. Mike works in the construction industry, so at the end of last July, during the constructor’s holiday, as it’s known here in Quebec, the three of us headed off for three nights of moto-camping in Vermont—Mike on his Honda Africa Twin, Danny on his new Triumph Scrambler 1200XE, and me, with half the power, on my BMW f650GS.

I had downloaded the GPS file for Bayley-Hazen into my phone and we picked it up soon after crossing the Canada-US border. We rode it for several kilometres and it was pretty amazing, but soon my GPS got confused and took us out to a highway. “This doesn’t look like an 18th-Century road,” I thought, so I pulled off to consult with the boys. My phone showed the snaking route for what we had just done, then suddenly a line straight as the crow flies to the destination. It was my first time using a GPS track downloaded from the internet, and I concluded that tracks only work in one direction. They are a series of turn-by-turn directions that take you from Point A to Point B but not Point B to Point A. And since the track I got was south to north, it didn’t work. If anyone knows a link to the north-south route of Bayley-Hazen, please drop me a line either in the comments section below or via the Contact page.

It was swelteringly hot—so hot that you really can’t stop moving—so a quick decision was made to abandon Bayley-Hazen and jump onto the Puppy Dog, which wasn’t far away. Soon we were back in the shade of those Vermont dirt roads. Now that we knew where we were going, we stopped for a break and to water the old growth trees lining the road. Danny noticed a vine as thick as a rope hanging from one of them. A little pruning off the end with a hatchet and we had a swing.

Vine Swing

Boys will be boys.

I don’t have the premium version of WordPress that supports embedded videos, so go here to see how this turned out.

The ride is hard-parked dirt with a variety of forested rural roads, open valleys, switchbacks through dense forest, covered bridges, with some river and lake views as well. If that sounds pretty ideal, it is. You don’t really need an adventure bike to do this ride, but it helps. It’s nice to be able to stand up for some of the hill climbs, and there are some more technical sections that require the clearance of an ADV bike. But generally the ride is easy and undemanding. Danny and I rode it with 85/15 tires.

3 Bridges

The PDR takes you through four covered bridges, including this one in Guilford.

We love Vermont’s state parks almost as much as its dirt roads. They are well maintained, and the sites have lots of privacy, as you can see from the photo below. They are also not expensive compared to what I’ve paid in Ontario. Despite all this, we didn’t have much trouble finding a site even without a reservation on the weekend. Either they are the best kept secret or Vermont has more campgrounds per capita than Ontario and Quebec. The second night we made it down to Fort Drummer State Park near the southern border of Vermont and near the end of the route. For our third night, we stayed at Silver Lake State Park, which is about halfway up the state in Barnard. As a bonus, it is located on . . . you guessed it, Silver Lake, and it’s nice to go for a swim after a hot day of riding.

Mt Ascutney

Mount Ascutney State Park

Mike had said at outset that he likes general country stores, as do I, so as we passed one while riding Highway 100 in Weston, we pulled in. Little did we know what we were getting into. Walking into The Vermont Country Store is like walking into another century. This family-run business prides itself on stocking items dating back to when it first opened in 1946. Where else is checkers the game of the week and there’s a section labelled Apothecary? But the real fun is in the toy department. I saw games there that I did not think were still available, like Etch-a-Sketch, Kerplunk, Lite-Brite, and Operation. There were paddle-balls, which I had to try, and fail at, miserably, and Slinkys, and other hand toys too. The entire store is like a department store from the mid-20th-Century with clothing, candy, soaps, and “sundry items,” to borrow a phrase from that era. It was a blast from the past. I walked out with a “nightshirt,” a term I’ve only ever heard my dad say and Alistair Sim wear as Scrooge.

Apothecary

Apothecary section of The Vermont Country Store. Photo credit: Getty Images

Another fun rest stop was in Chelsea, just north of Silver Lake on the PDR. Okay, it doesn’t have The Vermont Country Store but it does have Will’s General Store, where you can pet the cat sleeping on top the fridge, rent a movie on something called a DVD, buy marbles and firecrackers, and then set off said firecrackers outside until the locals start peering through their front windows at you.

Wills Store

Will’s General Store in Chelsea, Vermont.

While we were disturbing the peace, another group of ADV riders came along. When they saw us they decided to take a break and introduce themselves. It turned out that they are Canadian too, from the Ottawa area, and were doing the PDR the other direction with the plan to complete it by the end of the day. And we thought we were being ambitious!

Chelsea Bikes

Lots of mighty KLRs in this group, and fellow blogger ADV Joe.

One of them flooded his KLR upon restarting, and while the motorcyclist’s code of honour is never to leave a motorcyclist stranded, we had to get going up toward the border; it was our last day and we wanted to get home before dark. He wasn’t alone, however, and Danny, who had a KLR for years, was confident that it would be running in no time. Those things are unbreakable. We decided, in the interests of time, to leave the PDR soon afterwards and ride up through Smuggler’s Notch, which is always nice and had been closed through the early season for maintenance.

Riding solo has its advantages, but so does group riding. The tricky part of group riding is finding the right fellow riders. You have to be compatible not only in riding but also in personality, which is not easy. Mike and Danny have been riding together for a while, so I was a little apprehensive going into this since I was the new kid on the block. There’s also that saying about two being company and three a crowd. Of course I can only speak for myself, but I think we are a good fit. I hope this is the first of many trips together.

GreenMtn View

View of the Green Mountains from the PDR south of Chelsea.

The PDR is luxury adventure touring. The riding provides a taste of dirt but is relatively easy. You are never far from amenities or asphalt, and can pop out anytime to refuel the bike or the body, or to cool off by riding Vermont’s equally enjoyable secondary highways and backroads. The campgrounds are great, and Americans are always friendly and helpful. The only thing it’s lacking is some more sustained technical terrain, and by the end of the weekend we were hankering for a rocky hill climb or water crossing. Perhaps next summer we will do that planned trip to northern Ontario or a section of The Trans-Canada Adventure Trail. With the mid-winter holiday over, it’s almost time to start planning for next season.

Silver Lake Camp

L to R at Silver Lake State Park: Mike and Danny.