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

Restoration

Making an old motorcycle look good as new.

The first time I took my bike to a rally, I dropped it three times. It was my first time off-roading and I had street tires on. That’s not a good combination. Back at camp, I was lamenting a scratch I’d put in one of the body panels when another rider set me straight: “Ah, you can’t worry about that. It’s a bike.” Obviously, his conception of a motorcycle is different from many others who keep their bikes spit clean and polished to a gleam. I know one rider who scratched his bike in a tip-over at a red light so he sold it and bought a new one.

My f650GS is my learner’s bike. That’s the one you make all your mistakes on, so it shows all the wear and tear of your learning curve. It’s seen plenty of tip-overs and a few crashes—thankfully none on asphalt—and has plenty of “honour badges” to show for it. It’s also now 15 years old. So after completing my cross Canada tour last year, which included an excursion up The Dempster Destroyer, I decided to restore it and retire it from trail riding. It’s a great adventure bike and I’ll continue to use it for that, but I’ll no longer try to push it where it ought not to go. I hope to get a different bike eventually for more technical riding.

My friend Mike painted his Africa Twin a few years ago and did a great job. His company, Renomac Renovations, specializes in quality home improvements, but he’s just really experienced in all things mechanical and technical and knows paint. So I asked him to give me a hand restoring the panels of my bike.

I used a bumper repair kit to fix a chip in the beak, and bondo to fill some deep scratches. Lots of sanding with 320 and 400 wet-dry sandpaper and then we primed, painted, and clear-coated the panels. I had found on eBay a centre panel to replace the original that had been cracked by the buckle of my tank bag harness, so all panels are looking pretty good. I even had OEM look-alike stickers printed.

You have to have a loving wife to tolerate this use of the front porch.

While those are hardening in my front porch, I also cleaned up my exhaust using hydrochloric acid in toilet bowl cleaner. It works like a charm and eats through the rust pretty quickly. It even did a pretty good job on the staining of my chrome exhaust that happens through heat cycles. Just use a toothbrush and plenty of water to rinse afterwards or the acid will continue to eat the metal. I actually mixed up a mild solution of baking soda and water to be sure to neutralize the acid, then rinsed. A little Blue Job (no typo here) afterwards had them gleaming like new again.

Last fall, I replaced my cracked and scratched windscreen with a new one. I had the 12″ National Cycle VStream screen on before, but I decided to go slightly taller this time with the 15″. The shorter screen was best for off-roading, but this one, with the Puig wind deflector on top, should be best for touring at speed.

The Michelin Anakee Adventure Tires I used last year were great for touring. I put 20,000K on them and there’s still tread left, but with the bike looking this good, I guess it’s time for a new set of shoes. I thought I’d try those new Dunlop Trailmax Mission tires everyone has been raving about. They are listed as a 50/50 tire, which is the kind of riding I do, but they look like street tires. Dunlop claim that they give “knobby-like performance” in the dirt while having a round profile for smooth asphalt riding and cornering. We’ll see about that. They were a full two years in development and have some new technology built into them, including sidewall ribbing and a stepped tread. And if that were not enough, you are supposed to get 8,000 miles (or 13,000 K) from a set, so they apparently wear really well.

A new set of tires and tubes to complete the bike. Let’s see how these bad boys are.

I’ve got a set of Kenda Big Blocks with a lot of tread left on them sitting in the shed, but I think I’ll save those for my next rally. I was looking for a long-life 50/50 tire for adventure touring. I’ve tried Heidenau K60 Scouts on this bike and while the front was great, the back flattened pretty quickly. I’ll post later how these are. In fact, I think a tire review of what I’ve tried so far is in order.

The only thing I’m still waiting on before getting back on the road is the circuit board from my dash assembly. Last fall, the clock started showing nonsense and partial numbers. According to Wayne’s excellent website crossroadz, the plastic cover of the display can wear away the copper in the circuit board and disrupt the signal. Thankfully, there is an electronics technician at the bottom of my road who does excellent work at a fair price because I don’t have the confidence to practice The Dark Arts myself. He’s going to take off the display and rebuild the pathways, whatever that means. It’s a relatively small thing, but I actually use that clock a lot when riding, and the bike will otherwise be good as new, despite the 130,000 kilometres on it. The engine still has good compression and is not burning oil.

These restoration projects have been taking some time, but the real reason this blog has been so quiet lately is that I’ve been organizing a reading tour for my recent collection of poems, Invisible Sea, published by DC Books here in Montreal. So aside from proofreading and doing final edits on the manuscript, I’ve also been contacting bookstores and other possible venues to organize reading events. The collection explores the theme of flight and, in particular, early human flight.

I wanted to write something positive as a kind of antidote to the state of the world today, and decided to reach back to my childhood heroes, The Wright Brothers, for inspiration. So the opening section is in the voice of Wilbur Wright as he solves “the problem of flight,” as it was then known. The second section tells the stories of other early aeronauts, both legendary and real, from Icarus to Brother Eilmer of Malmsbury, The Flying Monk, to Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier, and John Glenn, orbiting Earth. The third section is an exploration of aerodynamics, musing on the major discoveries of air, beginning with Leonardo da Vinci’s study of streams, to something called The Compressibility Burble that happens at transonic flight. The final section is a celebration of birds, bats, boomerangs, Frisbees and all things that fly into our everyday lives.

So if you are an aviation enthusiast, you will enjoy this book. I’m marketing it to a popular audience since many of these poems are narrative and accessible to any reader, not just those who read poetry. I was inspired by the stories of these courageous men and women who risked their lives in leaps of faith, and if you ride a motorcycle, the closest thing to flight while remaining on the ground, you will connect with these poems. The collection is all of $20 and available through Amazon, Indigo, directly from my publisher, and elsewhere.

So if the blog has been a little quiet lately, it’s because I’ve been busy both with my paid work and in organizing reading events. I’m trying to put together a tour down through The United States to Kitty Hawk on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. As most of you probably know, that’s where the Wrights first flew, and I’d like to visit The Wright Brothers National Memorial there. That would allow me to ride The Blue Ridge Parkway—a bucket list ride of mine—as well as Tail of the Dragon. Then I will head over to Dayton, where the Wrights grew up, to the Dayton Aviation Heritage Museum, and back through Dearborn, Michigan, where Henry Ford has moved the Wright family home and bicycle shop as spectacles in his historical park. If all goes to plans, I’ll be able to combine in a short tour my love of riding with my love of aviation history.

Other than that, it will be a quiet summer in and around Montreal. I have to postpone my plans to tour the East Coast of Canada, including Newfoundland and Labrador, because our new dog, a rescue, still suffers from some vestigial anxiety and doesn’t travel well. He’ll need another year to settle in, so the bookend tour to the west coast one last year will have to wait another year.

What are your plans for the season? April is always an exciting time to be a biker in Canada. And are you doing any mods or restoration work to your bike? Let me know in the comment section below. I’ll be finishing writing up the remainder of last summer’s tour in the coming days, then looking only forward to another exciting season of riding on a bike that, if not new, looks good as new.

Muncho Lake, BC. I’ll be writing up the final segments of last year’s tour in the coming days.

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.

The Prairies

I blast through Manitoba but savour Saskatchewan.

Many thanks to my talented and skilled wife, Marilyn Gillespie, for the retouching of all images used.

Of all the geographical regions in Canada, I was most excited to experience the Prairies. That probably sounds strange to many. Before leaving on this trip, I’d heard others say that prairie roads are flat and straight and mind-numbingly boring. But the Prairies were not only the one Canadian region I hadn’t yet visited in my lifetime, but they are also Big Sky Country, and I’m a Gemini, an air sign, so I like the sky. No wonder I’m also a flight enthusiast.

Provincial Covid restrictions meant I couldn’t stop in Manitoba except for food and gas, and with that in mind, I didn’t even stop in Kenora on my way out for the requisite photo-op with Husky the Muskie. That would have to wait for the return leg of my tour. I hit the highway, brought the bike up to 120 km/hr, activated my Kaoko throttle lock, and didn’t stop for hours on end. It’s not the Prairies that are mind-numbing, but the super-slab highway.

I discovered a few favourite positions on the bike to cover these miles. My favourite and go-to position was right hand on the throttle and left elbow on the tank bag. This “lean-in” look not only made me look distinguished on the bike but also saved my back as well as cut down on wind noise. There was also left hand on the left grip and right arm anywhere but on the throttle, usually dangling down by my side. Even with my throttle lock, I developed tingling in my right hand from the hours of vibration transmitted up through the handlebars, and this position gave it some relief. It’s not just the mind that goes numb on a big thumper with adventure tires. And when my legs needed a stretch, there was the Harley cruiser position. I would lift my legs up and rest them on the little Giant Loop Possibles Pouches strapped horizontally to my crash bars. Those bags became my highway pegs. 6 hours of 5000-rpm riding is not really touring but moving the bike from Point A to Point B, which was exactly the intent of Manitoba’s Covid restrictions.

Halfway to my destination.

The only relief came at Winnipeg on the ring-road, Highway 101. For some reason, my GPS decided that, enough was enough, and it would mercifully divert me, 3/4-way through the ring, off onto Highway 221 and then the 26. What a difference the secondary highway makes! It meant a few stretches of gravel road, but the tank-slapper I received on one section (a result of my bent rim, I would discover later) was preferable to another kilometre of the Trans Canada. I was closer to the land and passing through small towns with history. On one “roadside break,” I discovered this old caboose and wandered back through a field to find more quintessential prairie artifacts.

Shortly before Poplar Point, I noticed a sign stating something like “Celebrating 100 Years of Hockey” and then a historical marker. I naturally had to go explore and arrived at this historic hockey rink.

Soon I was routed back onto the Trans Canada and the rest of the day was more of the same. The only thing that made it bearable was knowing there would be a TV and bed waiting for me just over the Saskatchewan border; I had decided to take a hotel room in Moosomin—a rare luxury when I travel. After a long hot day of highway riding, a cool shower, hamburger, and more mind-numbing TV in bed would be just the thing.

En route to the beer store.

The only time my bike burns oil is at high revs, so after the kind of day of riding it had been, I thought I should check it. Unfortunately, checking the oil level on this bike is not as simple as letting it settle in the sump and pulling the dipstick. That’s because the crafty German engineers gave it a dry sump system, so oil level is a product of a) amount of oil in the bike [duh!], b) temperature of oil, c) ambient temperature, d) temperature of engine, e) altitude, f) lunar cycle, and g) bike’s direction relative to True North. It was hot, and the engine was hot, and so was the oil, so I let the bike sit for a bit while I checked in at the hotel. That only took a few minutes, but when I checked the level, it was missing about 3/4 of a quart! Yipes! I thought that was a lot, and a bit concerning, but I added it nonetheless from the quart I was carrying.

The next morning at my first rest stop I checked it again and now it was high—really high. Damn! I guess the bike did not burn as much oil as I’d thought, or perhaps I waited too long before checking it at the hotel. Guessing aside, I knew I had to get oil out of it now or risk damaging the seals. What was there to do but parking-lot maintenance. Out came the tools and off came the body panels. I was at a gas station with adjoining convenience store, so I ransacked the washroom for paper towels and dug an empty windshield washer fluid container out of a garbage bin, then drained some oil out of the upper holding tank. I did my best guess and took out about half a quart. The level was now within range and I put everything back on the bike and rode on in search of somewhere to deposit the used oil. Fortunately, in these parts, the ubiquitous Co-op gas stations have oil drop-off containers.

Now I was ready to ride, and what a ride it was! I was headed to Grasslands National Park (East Block entrance) and my GPS routed me along Highway 13, which is a different world from the Trans Canada. What a joy finally to be seeing some of Saskatchewan. While passing through Ogema along the 13 I saw a sign for Deep South Pioneer Museum. Always curious to learn something about the history of the places I’m riding through, I decided to take a look. Of course it was closed for the usual reason, but I was able to walk through the grounds and check out some pretty old machines.

Further west along the 13 I saw a sign for Horizon, and from the little bit of research I’d done, I knew there were some dilapidated grain elevators there so decided to make a detour. When driving back out to the 13, I passed this quaint little chapel. They are everywhere in Saskatchewan—spartan clapboard churches that are very different from the heavy stone exteriors and ornate architecture of Quebec churches. I could suggest that’s indicative of the difference between prairie folk and Quebecers . . . but won’t.

So tempted to give this a nudge.

The riding got better once I turned south onto 36 and even better on the 18. By now it was the golden hour, and the twisty road rose and dipped over the amber, grassy hills. Who says Saskatchewan is flat? It seemed like I had the road to myself except for mule deer that scurried away across the barren fields and a coyote that froze and glared as I passed. Was I in heaven? No, actually just in southwest Saskatchewan. I fell in love with this region. It was one of the discoveries of the entire tour and I’m looking forward to going back as soon as I have the chance.

The only thing I didn’t like about Saskatchewan was the gravel used on their secondary roads. They use small brown stones similar in shape, size, and rolling behaviour as marbles. It’s fine as long as you stay in the tire tracks, but if you get into the deeper stuff that collects between those tracks, you are in for a treat. I didn’t have the best tires for this stuff, and it didn’t help that my front wheel had a wobble, so there were a few times when I thought I was going down. In such cases, the old adage “If in doubt, throttle out” was not going to help me. And with the bike fully loaded, getting my weight back did not lighten the front end one bit. I found I just had to clutch in, coast, let the bike go where it wants to go, and hope for the best.

When I arrived at the park, I mentioned my dislike of those stones to the young lady at registration.

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” she said. “When I first moved here, I ended up in the ditch.”

“Oh, you ride too?” I asked.

“No, it was in my car.”

Riding down to the campground in the valley.

But don’t let me put you off visiting the park. It is very remote, as you can see from the photo above, and you get the sensation of what it must have felt like to travel by wagon across the prairies. You are completely exposed, and I could hear the coyotes yelping in the distance at night. The wind is fierce and relentless, so cooking is a challenge, but the badlands are spectacular, especially at sunset. There is a 20 kilometre single-lane loop along the top and I was lucky enough to do it at sunset. It doesn’t get any better than that.

The Badlands at sunset.

The next morning I decided to head on over to the other side of the park. I’d heard that the west entrance at Val Marie is very different so worth a stop. Now what do you do when road signs point one way and Google Maps tells you another? It’s not that I have an abiding faith in modern technology, but I decided to follow my GPS because it showed a route through the park, and I thought it would be much more interesting than going back out to the 13 and riding asphalt.

Crossing the park by dirt. It looks easy enough.

The road looked pretty doable at first and I enjoyed the true adventure riding. Four stags crossed the road in front of me and, one by one, in what seemed slow-motion, leapt the bordering fence and headed majestically across the open countryside. That kind of sighting was the reward, but the cost was more of the infamous gravel and, then worse, sand—deep sand. It’s not fun riding a fully loaded bike through sand, but I was committed now, and to make matters worse, my fuel light was on and I didn’t think I had enough gas to get me back out the other way, even if I wanted to bail. I pursued on and the sand in the valleys turned to two-track dirt on the hills. The road deteriorated further, I was told to turn off that “road,” and I found myself facing a gate. Like I said, adventure riding is about facing each challenge as you encounter it. Now I was in the middle of a vast, remote park; I hadn’t seen a soul in about an hour of riding; I was almost out of gas; and I was facing a closed gate.

I got off the bike and untied the gate, which thankfully wasn’t locked. I swung it open, rode through, stopped, closed and tied it again, then rode on. But as I pulled away, I heard a terrible grating, scratching sound like metal on metal. I’d ridden through barbed wire! Someone had strung barbed wire across the road on the other side of the gate! Clearly I was not where I was supposed to be but had no choice now but to continue. I untangled myself and the bike from the wire and rode on, half expecting to hear gunshots. It was lucky I hadn’t received a puncture from the barbs.

Just when things couldn’t have looked worse, my GPS announced, “In 8 kilometres, turn left.” Ugh! But it’s always darkest before the dawn, and just when I thought I was riding myself into serious trouble, there was another chapel in the middle of nowhere—a good sign—and then the road got better and resembled more a road, and before I knew it I was back out on the 18 again. It was asphalt from here on.

I popped out at McCord and filled up at the local gas station there. Across the street were these old pumps next to a local museum which was . . . well, you know.

There is a Visitor Information Centre at the West Block and I learned some interesting information about the region. For example, I discovered that they get an average annual rainfall of only 30-35 cm, half of it in the summer in thunderstorms in June and July, and about a third in snowfall. This really is a desert climate! I also discovered that rattlesnakes are common and that you can hike up the nearby Eagle Butte. Normally those two clauses would be incompatible but I had adventure riding boots on so decided to do it, just for the view. A sign at the trailhead said the buzzing sound you often hear along the trail are rattlesnakes, but the grasshoppers in this region make a similar buzzing sound by slapping their wings together in flight, just to mess with you. The whole experience—climbing a desert mountain mid-summer wearing adventure boots amid rattlesnakes and flying, buzzing insects—is highly recommended. Once at the top, the view was worth it all, but not captured very well by the camera.

From the summit of Eagle Butte, looking west.

By now it was mid-morning. I wanted to stay and explore this fascinating geography some more but still had seven hours of riding to get to my destination, Calgary. Marilyn had reserved an AirBNB for us and I was looking forward to seeing her and sleeping in a bed. I hit the highway again and before long I was at the provincial border.

Goodbye Prairies. Hello Rockies.

Now I had a few days to rest the body, do laundry, eat and drink well, and socialize with friends and family before we would hit the road together on the next leg of the trip.

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.

Guelph to Chutes Provincial Park

After a few days visiting family in Guelph, I start out on July 1, Canada Day.

With my sisters and brother-in-law. //Photo credit: Sue Bushell

After the stressful days of preparing the bike and packing, I was happy to have a few days to unwind with family before setting off. As the day of departure approached, so did the expected trepidation of leaving my comfort zone. The main thing that I was concerned about was finding accommodations as I headed across the country. In order to keep my schedule flexible, I don’t like making reservations, and I’d heard that campgrounds were full as people flock to the great outdoors post-lockdown. I had visions of struggling in the fading light to find a safe and affordable spot to stop each night.

Final tinkering, delaying, before leaving Guelph. //photo credit: Sue Bushell

There were other concerns too, but here’s the thing I’ve discovered from doing these trips: once I’m on the road, all anxiety and concern dissolve as I face each challenge in turn. A trip of almost 20,000 kilometres breaks down into a series of distinct tasks in the moment: “Okay, now I have to get to that road . . . now I have to find gas . . . now I have to solve this mechanical issue . . . now find a campground,” etc. You deal with one thing at a time, and it’s not actually all that stressful.

The immediate concern as I left Guelph was a bounce in my front wheel. I’d had the balancing double-checked by BMW before leaving Montreal and they said it was fine, but I could still feel vibration at 110-120 km/hr—annoyingly right in my cruising speed. I pulled into Two Wheel Motorsport off Highway 6 to see if they had any ideas.

“What tire pressure are you running?” someone there asked.

“About 31 psi,” I replied. The normal pressure on the front is 28.5 but I was fully loaded. He thought it was a little high and to drop it a pound or two. Unfortunately, that didn’t fix the problem which, I would find out much later in the trip, was actually a bent rim. [Note to self: don’t attempt any rocky hill climbs just before leaving on a major tour.]

I continued north on Highway 6 and started zig-zagging my way toward the 400. It was warm and sunny, the countryside north of Guelph is beautiful, and aside from the wheel issue, the bike was running great. It was sinking in that I was finally doing this—what I had been thinking of doing for years.

As I was passing along Highway 26, I spotted a MiG 17 mounted at the side of the road. I pulled a U-turn—the first of many on the tour—and turned into the Edenvale Aerodrome. There, I saw not only the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17 but a Canadair CT-114 Tutor used by the RCAF Snowbirds. It was July 1st, Canada Day, and the museum was closed, but little did I know that the only replica Avro Arrow is now housed at Edenvale. A return visit and tour is definitely in the near future.

MiG 17 and CT-144 Tutor at Edenvale Aerodrome in Stayner, Ontario.

Yes, I’m an aviation as well as motorcycle enthusiast. It seems I’m not alone in being passionate about both. I figure that’s because riding is about as close to flying as you can get without actually leaving the ground. When riding, you get the sensation of wind and speed and the pull of all three planes in each sweeping turn. In fact, I’m so crazy about flight that I’ve written a collection of poems about it, due to be published by DC Books next spring. Invisible Sea is a collection on the theme of flight, especially early human flight, with the title poem a long serial poem examining aerodynamics. Details on the launch and availability to follow.

After stretching my legs and having a snack, I pressed on, up the 400, through Sudbury, and over the top of Georgian Bay. Now I was in familiar territory from my Northern Ontario adventures. I would have loved to detour down the 6 from Espanola to Manitoulin Island, one of my favourite places to visit, but with 3,000 kilometres still to cover in 6 days, I had to keep heading west. (I was supposed to meet my wife in Calgary on the 7th, and I know better than to keep her waiting.)

As I was passing through Massey, about 30K west of Espanola, I spotted a sign for Chutes Provincial Park. It was about the right time of day to start looking for a campsite, and I was pleased with the distance I’d covered. I pulled in late afternoon, hoping they had a site. This was my first real test and what I had been most stressed about.

“I’m hoping you have a campsite for tonight,” I said to the young lady in the kiosk. “I don’t have a reservation.”

“We’re full,” she replied, and then, “Let me check with the Warden.”

In a minute he showed up, and it turned out there was a spot for me. This would not be the last time on the tour that I would literally get the last spot in the campground.

I set up camp, had a quick dinner, then went for a walk around the campground. I figured with a name like Chutes Prov. Park, there had to be some waterfalls somewhere. The park contains the Seven Sisters Rapids and a hiking trail that follows the river.

Seven Sisters Rapids at Chutes Provincial Park

I followed the trail and it led me to a lookout at the base of the falls just as the sun was beginning to drop below the trees in the west.

That night I slept in my tent like a king, and in the morning, when I woke, I had that uncanny experience whereby for a moment or two you don’t know where you are and what you are doing. When the answers to those questions finally came to me, lying in my sleeping bag, I just smiled.

Route Day 1

Starting Out

The most difficult part of any trip is leaving.

Imagine a trip across Canada by motorcycle. Imagine the problems you could face: dangerous wildlife, inclement weather, mechanical problems, security issues, fatigue . . . I faced all of these, but I can honestly say that the hardest part of the entire trip was leaving. Specifically, the biggest challenge came the weekend before my departure.

I had decided to change my clutch plates and water pump. The plates were the originals, with over 100,000K on them, and the water pump, which on my bike fails every 40,000-60,000K, had about 35,000 on it, so I didn’t want to risk it. I ordered all the parts at the beginning of June. I didn’t expect them to be in stock—they rarely are for my old bike—but two weeks to ship from Germany still left me plenty of time to do the required work before my July 1st departure.

I waited . . . and waited . . . and started bugging BMW sometime around mid-June. And waited . . . Perhaps because of Covid and the resulting supply change issues, or perhaps the shipping was slower than usual, but I actually got the new clutch springs and gaskets on the Friday before my Monday departure.

My wife, Marilyn, was stressed; I, concerned. Marilyn’s flight was booked so I was committed to getting to Calgary on the 7th for our leg of the trip together. I’ve had the clutch cover off this bike a few times, and knowing how to do a job is 3/4 of the job. It’s not difficult when you know what you’re doing. Everything was going pretty smoothly, which is something because there is almost inevitably a snag, until I went to put the clutch cover back on.

This is the most difficult part of the job. You have to turn the actuator so the splines are facing backwards to engage with the splines of the rod inside the cover, then carefully maneuver the cover on without either moving the actuator, which is on a bearing, or damaging the paper gasket, which has to line up on all the tabs on the crankcase. Since it would take at least two weeks to get anything new from Germany, there was no room for error.

Note what he says at 10:19

There’s a certain amount of tapping, knocking, shoving, wiggling, rocking, and general coercion that is required to get the cover on. It was not cooperating but one final thump with the heel of my hand and it snapped into place. I was home free! Then I noticed that the actuator was loose. It was more than loose: it wobbled. It was f’d! I’d f’d the bearing and it was an uncommon one that would be difficult, if not impossible, to find in Montreal.

There’s little that can overwhelm me, but this did. It put me flat on my back, literally. I’d been working on the bike in the backyard outside the shed and I lay back on the grass and gazed up into the sky, either to admonish or to plea to whichever god was messing with me. It was one of those moments when you can’t even think of your next move. You just have to breathe for a bit and let your emotions settle. The only other time I’ve been incapacitated like this in recent memory was when I broke a bolt trying to get a starter motor out from our old car. It was in the most inaccessible place on the engine and I knew, as I thought now, that I’d be set back weeks. I thought I’d ruined the entire holiday.

I’d been thinking of this trip since my teens, preparing for it since I bought the bike in 2015, and waiting an entire year when Covid kiboshed it last summer. Now everything hinged on whether I could get the bike running again, and I had 24 hours to do it.

What could I do but take the cover off and have a look. I managed to do that without damaging the paper gasket and saw that the bearing was okay; it had just been pushed out of the casing. I took everything up to my little workshop and drove the bearing back in. It was easy, actually. It must be a pretty loose fit, perhaps for hack mechanics like me; instead of damaging the splines, which clearly hadn’t lined up, it pushes out of the casing. I was back in business but still on a tight deadline.

More wrangling and I got the cover back on, this time with the splines aligned. I attached the clutch cable but a pull of the lever indicated now another problem. There was a ton of play! The clutch was not disengaging. Had I missed a clutch plate? Bought the wrong plates, which were not OEM? Was the clutch cable rerouted incorrectly? I put out an SOS on my user forum and went to bed. I had a pretty fitful sleep that night.

In the light of morning with a cooler head, I saw that I could tighten up all that free play with the adjuster on the lever. I had to back it out a lot, but there were still enough threads holding it firm. I was surprised that there was so much difference in height between the OEM stack and the aftermarket plates. If any adjustment were needed, I was expecting it to be tighter, not looser, as the old plates were worn. At any rate, the clutch seemed to be working now, and at 9 p.m., on the night before my departure, I took the bike for a test ride. To my great relief, everything was working well. I’d done a lot of other work leading up to this job, so maybe I’m not such a hack after all.

With the bike finally ready, “all” I had to do is pack. Marilyn was trying to stay out of it but couldn’t believe that I’d left packing for a six-week trip to the last minute. Fortunately, I’ve done this several times and pretty much know what I’m taking and how it all goes on the bike. The only snag was when I went to pack my top bag. I’d wanted to take my Mosko Scout 25L Duffle Bag but quickly discovered that my sleeping bag takes up about 1/2 of it, so I’d have to use my big Firstgear Torrent 70L Duffle. Damn! It extends out over my panniers and partially blocks me from opening them with the bag on. I think either a smaller down-filled sleeping bag or a midsize duffle or both is on my Christmas wish list this year. In the end, the only things I forgot were a wool toque and my down vest, which Marilyn was able to bring on the plane with her.

Final adjustments

It was a late night to bed and a late start in the morning, but at around noon, my wife and son met me on the driveway to see me off. As the bike was warming up, I cranked up the preload on my rear shock and tightened a few straps. I took out my pocket digital recorder and noted the mileage on the odometer. After final hugs and photos, I pulled out of the driveway and was off. The dream was becoming a reality.

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