Thanks for all the comments on my last post. Writing these posts is fun and a good way for me to relive some of the adventure we’ve had this past year. The other purpose is to jog my memory if I ever am asked about a certain trip or place, and hopefully, I put enough information about roads and hotels that should anyone want to re-create one of these trips (like me!) it can be done.
Just a little more before I get on with the trip report….. Thanks Richard for the note and mentioning our 2013 trip to South America with Keith and Dave (link here: http://advdonnh.com/motoraid-ii/). That trip was the basis of Keith’s book, “The Whole Story” available at Keith’s site: http://www.keithsrides.com/the-whole-story.html and that trip is what really launched Deby and I to feel confident enough to explore Latin America on motorcycles.
We had a reunion of sorts in November at the LeMay Museum in Tacoma. I’m glad to report everyone is doing great. Here is a picture:
From left to right: Jim (Doc), Janice and Dave, Michael, Deby and Donn, Chris, Ann and Keith
Yes, that’s Chris from our 2019 Patagonia trip. So, on with the adventure……..
When good plans just don’t pan out
We usually try to stay closer to home in summer because we live in a great part of the country and have some world class motorcycle riding right out our door. We’ve always wanted to explore Vancouver Island on motorcycles and wanted to get back to British Columbia where we attempted a trip to Bella Coola in 2016 but were turned around by torrential rain and impassable mud (another story not in the blog and best left untold…).
This time would be different…. I had been reading about something called the Vancouver Island Grand Loop ride. The following description is from their website: http://www.vancouverislandgrandloop.com/
The Vancouver Island Grand Loop is the definitive overland adventure motorcycle route circumnavigating Vancouver Island. The VIGL stitches together the best roads Vancouver Island has to offer, including widely popular local favourites and many unique hidden gems. Preference has been given to avoid the main highways in favour of back roads featuring scenic vistas and challenging roads.
The route is approximately 1,700km long, about 50% paved, 50% dirt/gravel. Depending on your pace, it will take 5-8 days to complete. It’s recommended to ride an adventure motorcycle due to the amount of dirt/gravel roads.
But wait, there’s more…. We would ride most of the west side of the loop to Port Hardy and then hop on the BC Ferry system to Prince Rupert and then ride from Prince Rupert back to Vancouver through some of the most scenic parts of British Columbia.
With no reason to hurry we left home around noon on a sunny Monday to avoid the worst of Seattle traffic. We took a roundabout route to the Mukilteo ferry, Whidbey Island and another ferry to Port Townsend before arriving at the final ferry in Port Angeles to Victoria, BC, Canada. The best thing about riding motorcycles onto the ferry system is that the bikes go to the front of the line and board first so there is never a wait.
The ferry to Victoria was a little different, we loaded towards the end and needed to lash down our bikes with ropes they provided. Notice the nice double half hitch knots I used!
With spirits high we checked into a nice downtown hotel (Strathcona Hotel) and went for a walk about the city. The weather was warm and the sunset beautiful.
All this was nice but we were on a motorcycle adventure and were both anxious to explore the first leg of the Vancouver Grand Loop.
We tackled the Stage One, 73 km to Shirley in an easy two hours. Stage two took us along the southwest coast of the island to the very small village of Port Renfrew where we refueled and decided to continue on. Stage three climbed into the mountains of the island interior to Lake Cowichan. On our way we has some nice gravel forest roads.
Suddenly while having lunch at a nice place along the shores of Lake Cowichan the sky opened up and the rain started. Rain? We had a choice to make, take the dirt road which was rated at “moderately challenging” back west to Bamfield or modify our route and cut over to Stage 16 and ride it north towards our destination at the north end of the island. We opted for the paved northerly route and that was pretty much then end of our Grand Loop adventure. The rain continued to come down harder and harder as we rode north through Nanaimo, along Nanoose Bay until we arrived in Courtenay where we stopped at the visitor center for a respite from what had now become a soaking downpour (does it always rain in Canada?).
We asked at the visitor about nearby hotels but they were having a hard time finding somewhere (nice) on short notice during the busy tourist season. Not willing to give up I opened my Booking.com app and found a place nearby called the Wood Mountain Lodge. The visitor center person didn’t know much about the place (strange) so I booked it on the spot with my app. It was about 10 miles in the rain up a steep gravel road to a place called the Forbidden Plateau, hmmmm. We arrive and the place looked deserted from the outside with no other cars in the parking lot. The rain was increasing and we decided we were done for the day and we would stay here no matter what.
We found the front door and were greeted with a sign that shoes were not allowed. Good idea, especially for us, because our boots were full of mud and our riding gear was dripping all over the nicely refinished wood floor. Eventually, someone noticed we were there and a young man greeted us and helped us get checked in. Sure enough we were the only guests the the man and another girl (girlfriend) were exchange students minding the lodge for the summer. They seemed glad to have visitors.
Ummm, this is what it looked like when we were there….
At least it was nice inside!
We had the beautiful lodge to ourselves and took advantage of the time so have a little wine, read some books and get out the maps and decide what to do next while watching the weather app on my phone. I decided to call the BC Ferry company and inquire about the ferry to Prince Rupert. They asked if I had a reservation, what? Evidently that ferry is the only ferry in Canada that doesn’t just let motorcycles load first. They said I could take a chance and ride up and hope for a spot or they would put me on standby and call me tomorrow. I added our names to the standby list but was questioning the logic of riding another 177 miles in the cold rain to only MAYBE get on the ferry.
We woke the next day to more rain, as hard as the day before. Hmmmm, I asked our hosts if they had room for us one more night and we both had a big laugh. I never heard back from the ferry system and we decided that it was time to get smart and turn around.
The next morning the rain stopped and we anxiously packed up for the ride south… but where? The first order of business was getting off the Forbidden Plateau. All the rain had turned the mountain road into a slick mud track not especially conducive to our motorcycles, especially mine with street tires. There is a crazy technique to riding a motorcycle downhill on muddy roads that involves not going too slow (which can’t be done) and not going too fast, especially in the corners. Sliding is to be expected and not panicking is essential. It’s sad to say that Deby and I have too much experience riding in slippery mud. We pooled our experience and managed to escape the Forbidden Plateau in one piece.
We decided to ride to Nanaimo and take the ferry to Vancouver. The weather looked better to the east and so with no further plans we started riding that direction. The clouds hung heavy in the sky but the scenery was beautiful, even at the local gas station.
Fortunately motorcycles get priority boarding on the Nanaimo ferry so we loaded up first and parked the bikes near the front for the two hour crossing.
As usual, our loaded motorcycles attracted a certain amount of attention from other passengers and a couple of other motorcyclists. Soon we made a small group of new friends and spent the time discussing motorcycling, travelling and some of the best places to visit. When asked where we were going we just looked at each other and said East!
On every motorcycle trip we need to make a decision ahead of time whether we are going to camp or not. We decided to bring our camping gear this time because it looked like lodging might be sparse along our original route. Seeing our excess equipment on the bikes one of the passengers on the ferry recommended we check out the free campground in the small town of Lillooet, BC. Hmmm, that sounded as good as anything else.
I checked the map and it was 250 miles from Vancouver to Lillooet but the route took us along the beautiful Sea to Sky Highway to the ski resort town of Whistler. It’s a great ride starting at sea level and climbing to 2,100 feet in Whistler but the best part was when we left the tourists behind in the ski resort and continued to climb to 4,100 feet at Pemberton Pass just outside the town of (what else… ) Pemberton. It was cool, ok… cold at the pass but the rain mostly held off. We were thankful for our heated liners and grips but as grateful for the beautiful twisty road as it dropped over 2,000 feet into the Frasier river valley.
We learned that BC Hydro maintains a few campgrounds in the province of British Columbia and makes them available for free. Sounds good to me! We pulled into the Seton Lake Campsite and noticed it was rather full for a Thursday. We rode around a while and found one of the last spots, next to the outhouse. Well, I suppose after a certain age being next to the outhouse isn’t too bad and the prevailing wind pushed any odor to the campsite across the road.
We finished dinner and it was starting to get dark when a big BMW 1200GS pulled into the campground with two people on board. We saw them riding around looking for a spot. We had a large campsite and a nice fire going so their second time around I waved them in and asked them to join us.
That is how we met Zevone (Tony) and his wife Romana who were visiting from Slovania! Tony is one of those people who is almost constantly travelling the world on motorcycles. He was on his way from Argentina to Alaska on this trip with Romana joining him for the northern part of the trip.
Of course we had a lot to talk about since we were just in Argentina only a few months before. We spent the night around the fire drinking beer, talking about travels and motorcycles and we drifted into politics. I loved hearing Tony’s view of US politics from a European perspective. It was interesting that he asked about the decline of white people in the US as a percentage of the population. I had to admit it was true but was shocked when he wistfully suggested that maybe someday the white man will be in reservations. Yikes, that gave me something to think about for the next few days riding!
In the morning we gathered for coffee over maps to plan the next leg of the trip. Deby and I had been in the area before (in the rain) and had a few favorite areas. On the ferry the previous day we met someone who told us that the annual meetup of a group called Horizons Unlimited was taking place that weekend in the small town (they all are) of Nakusp.
Horizons Unlimited https://www.horizonsunlimited.com is a group organized by Grant and Susan Johnson for people interested in travelling the world on motorcycles. They have annual rallies at various places around the world. Deby and I went to one of their rallies in California a few years prior and found it interesting but just not as much fun as actually doing the exploring that everyone there was just talking about.
Of course, Tony was familiar with the group and after some deliberation we decided to ride over and see what the Canada rally was about. The fact is, Tony should have been the featured speaker. He is a professional photographer and we were stunned by the beauty of his photos he showed us on his laptop. You can see some of them here: https://www.zvoneseruga.com/
So we hung out for a few days, listened to some travel presentations and probably had the most fun hanging out in the campground spending late nights around the fire discussing global motorcycle traveling while over a few beers.
Deby had fun exploring the shoreline of the Upper Arrow Lake which is really just a wide spot of the same Columbia River that flows through our home state of Washington.
We stayed for the weekend before we decided to part ways with Tony and Romana heading north to Alaska and us heading home. We made plans for Tony and Romana to visit us for a few days on their way back from Alaska.
In total we rode 1,517 miles over eight days. The trip had some unusual twists and turns and was nothing like what we planned. In the end we had some challenging days and some fun days. The best part was the new friends we made along the way.
So, that’s the great Canada trip of 2019. We still want to explore Vancouver Island, get on that ferry to Prince Rupert and prove to ourselves that we can pick a time of year that it’s not always raining in B.C. Canada!
Thanks for following. My next blog post will be about our September trip to Spain and Portugal. It was a blast….