Adventures on 2 wheels

Motorcycle Touring And Travel


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Travelling along British Columbia’s Gold Rush Trail

In years past British Columbia’s Fraser Canyon was the main northern route for traffic travelling from the centrally located B.C. city of Kamloops to the Lower Mainland and Vancouver.

Construction of the narrow gravel highway perched on the lip of the cliffs over the Fraser River started in the 1920’s and constant upgrades lasted through the 30’s, 40’s and 50s. Today it is a modern highway with wide smooth asphalt lanes, passing lanes and lots of pullouts were travelers can stop and enjoy the views.

The most spectacular section of the canyon is between Lytton and Yale, here the river plunges between narrow rock faces and the force of the 122,000 cubic ft. per second of water that flows down the river is very evident, a fall into the river at this point would certainly be fatal.

Over the years I have always traveled from the BC interior to Vancouver and Vancouver Island by the faster Coquihalla Highway or the slower more scenic Crows Nest Highway which parallels the US border all the way from Alberta to Vancouver.  I still have memories of travelling from Kamloops to Vancouver via the Fraser Canyon before the Coquihalla was built and feeling like the trip was never going to end. This year with ten free days in July to motorcycle I decided it was time to re-visit the Gold Rush Trail which forms part of the Coastal Mountain Circle Route.

I enjoyed travelling the northern route through the mountains to Jasper and eventually on to Valemont B.C., this route takes me through some of the most impressive wildlife habitat in Western Canada, through Jasper National Park and past the equally impressive Mt. Robson.  The highest peak in the Canadian Rockies is seldom seen in it’s entirety as the top 1/3rd of its 3954 m (12,972 ft) is often shrouded in cloud.  The trickle of water from Mt Robson’s glaciers soon becomes the headwaters of the Fraser River flowing 1378 km to the Pacific Ocean.  Hwy 5 continues southwest to Kamloops and is a great driving road, wide shoulders and open curves make it a favorite for truckers as well as motorcyclists trying to eat up some miles.  The only concern with Hwy 5 is the local wildlife population, lots of black bears and deer and early morning starts need to be done with caution.

Heading northwest from Kamloops will take you to the little village of Cache Creek, located at the junction of the Trans Canada Hwy and Hwy 97, little has changed here over the years, it’s still the main Junction for traffic heading north into British Columbia’s Cariboo country or south to the lower mainland and Vancouver.  Heading south the Trans Canada Hwy follows the Thompson River past Spence’s Bridge, the Thompson soon meets up with the Fraser River at Lytton and the river and highway flow past the little communities of Boston Bar, Spuzzum and Yale.  This is definitely the scenic part of the ride, the canyons narrow and squeeze the river through the narrow passes and the highway drops to run alongside the river then climbs again high over the river, this rise and fall of the highway happens over and over again all the way to Hope where the river and the highway spill out onto the flats of B.C.’s lower mainland.   

Technically speaking Hope is located at the bottom of the Fraser Canyon, in the gold rush days those travelling to the Yukon gold fields would travel by water up the Fraser River until they reached Hope, from that point they would overland north up the Fraser Canyon to the Yukon.  In today’s modern world of automobile transportation Hope is a quick 2 hour drive from Vancouver but is still considered a transition point, the transition from the busy full service Lower Mainland to the more remote, sparsely populated interior of British Columbia.  The interior in places definitely has a more frontier feeling to it, whether it’s riding through the tall stands of pine trees in the Cariboo ranch country or winding your way through the magnificent peaks of the Canadian Rockies there’s something for everyone.  Campsites range from full service to forestry sites with little more than a picnic table and a fire pit. 

There’s roads and scenery to suit every style of motorcyclist, 4 lane highways all the way to gravel tracts, whatever you’re looking for you’ll find it in British Columbia’s interior and especially the Fraser Canyon.   

 


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Summer Solstice is made for riding

Summer Solstice in central Alberta means 17 hours of daylight, whether you’re out for an after work spin or are touring the extra daylight is a bonus.  Over the past number of years I have led a number of riders on three day rides into the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rockies.  By the middle of June we can usually count on warmer weather although at times it can still be quite rainy.

2019 was no exception, I went through my list of Alberta contacts within the (Kawasaki) Concours Owners Group (COG) and found two other riders who were inclined to go for a three day spin into British Columbia’s East Coutenay country, some of the best riding in British Columbia if not Western Canada is located here.

The riders met up at various locations between Edmonton and Cochrane but by the time Cochrane was reached all three riders had ridden in rain to the rendezvous, finally all together, we headed west on the 1A highway to Canmore and Banff National Park.  Even though the riding gear had kept us reasonably dry full rain suits were opted for before we headed west which was great insurance as the rain tapered off as we moved into the mountains and stayed away all the way to our first nights stop in Cranbrook, BC.

The morning of day 2 in Cranbrook looked very promising, a little cloud here and there but mostly sunny and certainly warmer than the day before.  We struck out for Creston and upon arriving there we all decided we needed more coffee, today was meant to be a leisurely day as we only had to make it to Revelstoke, this would give us lots of time to poke around in places like Kaslo, an absolute gem of a place to browse around and kill some time.

Unfortunately one of our rider’s motorcycle decided it had a different agenda and at highway speed just quit running, all the electrics still worked, the engine popped and sputtered but would not run.  After making arrangements to get our riding partner and bike shipped back to Creston the two of us left to continue the journey to Revelstoke, we had around 3 hours of riding ahead of us but were also behind schedule by about the same amount of time so the leisurely day ride became less so and to add to the events of the day the skies opened up again.   We arrived in Revelstoke in the early evening wet and tired and after shedding the wet riding gear something to eat and an adult beverage were in order.

Again, the same as the previous day the sun was out and it looked like a great day of riding was ahead of us, we partook of the “continental” breakfast the motel had available for us and then were on the road.  On a sunny day Roger’s Pass is magical and today was one of those days, traffic was light and we were able to move right along.  The final day of the trip was uneventful with a stop in Golden for a “real” breakfast, Canmore to top fuel tanks and eventually back to Olds, Alberta.  For a short trip this one hits some of the best roads in Western Canada, for those with a short window of opportunity this trip has you on the best roads for the majority of the time.

Maybe next year we can coax some of our COG brethren in the US to venture north of the 49th parallel and join us.

Episode 1:

Episode 2:


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Elk Island National Park

It’s not often I do an article specifically on one of western Canada’s National Parks

but I have had some opportunity this past year to spend time in Elk Island National Park, the park has a diverse Eco system of birds, waterfowl and mammals.

The park was established in 1913 and Elk Island is home to the densest population of ungulates (hoofed mammals) in Canada.  A variety of mammal species including coyote, bison, moose, mule deer, lynx, beaver, elk, white-tailed deer  and porcupine are year-round residents and the park usually receives one or two bear sightings each year.  Elk Island National Park is situated in the Beaver Hills – an area, as the name suggests, abundant in beaver at the turn of the 19th century.  What made the Beaver Hills unique was the aspen thickets which surrounded the prairie and provided forage and protection for the wintering herds of bison and year-round population of elk, moose, and deer. And there was plenty of water.

The Beaver Hills became an important center for much of the commercial hunting, which supplied the fur trade. Beaver were virtually eliminated from the Beaver Hills by the 1830s. As late as 1841 bison were still being obtained in large numbers from the Beaver Hills.  But they were quickly being depleted.  By the late 1860s, the numbers of large ungulates were depleted to the point where the bison were almost eliminated and other large herbivores were very scarce.

Most of the lands in the Beaver Hills remained untouched from the 1870s through the homestead period. The remaining forest resources were viewed by some as a valuable timber resource, by others as a hindrance to settlement. In 1895 fire devastated the area. This prompted the federal government to protect the forest and in 1899 the area was officially designated as ‘The Cooking Lake Forest Reserve.’

Although the forest was protected, the elk and mule deer were not.  Sport hunting and hunting for meat by the settlers posed a threat to wildlife populations.  Those elk which were present in the Beaver Hills were considered one of the last herds in Canada.

A 2.2 meter fence was constructed around the area, which included the area around present day Astotin Lake.  With elk, mule deer, and moose enclosed within its fenced boundaries, Elk Park became the first federally controlled area in Canada to be enclosed as a big game sanctuary.  This marked a new era in conservation in Canada.  Dominion Parks, at this time were recognized informally as ‘wildlife parks’ and ‘scenic parks’.  Elk Island Park, as it was called in 1908, was wildlife park until it became formally designated as a Dominion Park in March 1913.  The National Parks Act, when passed by the Canadian Parliament in 1930, established Elk Island as a national park.  National parks were established, during this time, to provide sanctuary for wildlife – sanctuary from uncontrolled hunting, trapping and loss of habitat.   The act dedicated National Parks to both ‘preservation’ and ‘use’ by the people of Canada.  Protection thus established, tourism followed.

Certainly no one realized what a treasured resource this sanctuary would become.  When Elk Park was established in 1906, it consisted of a 42 square kilometer area surrounding the lake locally known as Island Lake (now known as Astotin Lake). The lake is dotted with small islands-Lamont, Archer, and Elk Island to name a few.  As the name suggests, Lamont Island was named after the local community, Archer Island bears the name of a prominent local physician, and Elk Island was named for the elk, which swam out to the island to calve.

In 1913, the name Elk Island Park was selected.  The Park did have two outstanding features-elk and Island Lake with its sandy beaches and islands. Today, the significance of the name distinguishes the fact that the National Park is an island in many ways – an island of protection for the heritage resources within its boundaries and an island refuge for people seeking to escape from the urban hustle and bustle.  Elk Island National Park is recognized as ‘an island of nature surrounded by a landscape of man.’

The park is entered by passing over a “cattle gate”, the ribbed metal structure dissuades the bison from attempting to get outside the fenced compound, you have now entered the 194 sq. kilometer habitat of the bison where they are free to roam the park at will and travelling on foot within the park must be done with care.

I managed two trips by motorcycle to the park this year and did not see any bison on either trip, in the heat of the summer they tend to stay in the trees away from the parkway which splits the park from north to south.   A return trip in my vehicle after the weather had cooled and the first light snow had fallen produced the results I was looking for, I arrived in the park just as the sun was coming up and the bison were moving from the shelter of the bush to the open sunny areas to graze and warm up.  They did not seem to pay my vehicle much attention, I would sit with the window down and the engine off and let them move past me, once they had all passed I would relocate and let the process happen all over again.  A couple of times one of the big mature bulls wandered past me, close enough that I was glad to be in a vehicle and not sitting on an exposed motorcycle.

It’s about time for another trip to the park, more snow has fallen and the park will look completely different from before but hopefully this time of year the bison are following a fairly predictable daily pattern.

Park statistics gathered from Parks Canada websites.

 


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A Mid Summer Ride, Badlands to Grasslands.

Most summers I get in one trip, usually the first part of July and it usually encompasses riding as many kilometers as possible in the 7 or 8 days I have available.

This year was different, I said goodbye to the work-a-day world earlier in the year and officially retired.  By the time this trip window came around I had already been to Lewiston Idaho with a bunch of friends from the East Kootenays region of British Columbia.

The first 10 days or so of July is my time to ride with the destination loosely chosen only a couple of weeks before I set out.  The final destination, route and nightly stops are fluid and in past years with the amount of forest fire activity I’ve encountered the route could change hourly.

This year because I had lots of time and no hard deadlines to follow I decided to cut the daily distance I traveled and focus more on getting some good photos and video footage.  I really enjoy the Alberta Badlands around Drumheller and Dinosaur Provincial Park and as Drumheller is an easy 3 hour ride from my home I decided to make it my stop for the first night so I would have lots of time to poke around, see the sights and photograph.

With the discovery of dinosaur bones in the badlands Drumheller has made the transition from a coal mining town to a tourist town with relative ease and places like Horse Thief Canyon, the haunted Rosedeer Hotel and the Last Chance Saloon in Wayne are top attractions.

I have been in the south central part of Alberta many times but have never traveled farther into the southeast corner of the province, into an area know as the Cypress Hills.  This area is a bit of an anomaly, it’s located in a dead flat part of the province yet rears up to an elevation similar to that of Banff located west of Calgary just into the Canadian Rockies.  Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park is located just 40 minutes southeast of the city of Medicine Hat and straddles the Alberta/Saskatchewan border with historic Fort Walsh located on the Saskatchewan side.  As soon as you leave the Trans Canada highway east of the “Hat” and head south towards the US border you can tell you’re climbing.  The road is a narrow two lane ribbon of pretty good asphalt that twists and turns but never stops climbing and the top of each subsequent high spot gives a view of the prairie that goes all the way to the horizon.  The small town of Elkwater in the park is located on Elkwater Lake and the majority of the campsites in the park are located in the high meadows and trees above the lake and town site.  For the people that live in any of the nearby prairie cities, the park provides the opportunity to experience camping in a parkland setting without having to make the 4-5 hour drive west to the foothills and mountains.

In past years trips across Alberta had always been made using the Trans Canada highway which from the Saskatchewan border angled northwest to Calgary and eventually entering the Rockies at Canmore and Banff, the Crowsnest highway from Medicine Hat to Fernie via Lethbridge was never chosen because it funneled traffic over the less developed and slower mountain passes leading to British Columbia’s lower mainland.  This was the route I chose to make my way west into southern British Columbia, the prairie part of the route took me through places like Seven Persons, Bow Island and Taber, all names I recognized but towns I had never visited.

Once I reached Fernie I was back in my own backyard, my annual summer travels usually took me through Fernie and Cranbrook at least once a summer and sometimes more than that.  I kept moving west and visiting some of my favorite little towns and riding some of my favorite routes.  After 3 or 4 days of poking around in southern B.C. I eventually made my way west as far as this trip was going to take me and spent a night in Hope, B.C.  Hope sits at the junctions of the Trans Canada highway #1, the Coquihaila #5 and the Crowsnest Highway #3 and to westbound travelers it is unofficially known as the point where the B.C. interior ends and the lower mainland starts.  In years past the route to the interior consisted of either travelling highway #1 or the equally slow #3, it was the addition of highway #5, a four lane toll road that turned the Kelowna to Vancouver drive into a short 4 hour affair.  Most of the interior bound traffic chooses the speedy Coquihaila and this takes a lot of pressure off the slower but more scenic routes to the interior.

Many years ago most travelers used the #1 highway as it followed the Fraser River to the lower mainland, from the highway there are some stunning vistas of the gorges the Fraser River has cut in the rock and continues to squeeze through, while you’re in the canyon you cannot escape the ever present sound of fast rushing water.  The most spectacular part of the Fraser Canyon is from Spence’s Bridge to Hope, the route is lined with lots of little towns all offering a unique take on life in the canyon.

As I visit some of my favorite locations, sometimes after many many years, I realize that in the short term change is a constant, but in the long run…nothing changes, for some people, life’s traditions have not changed in decades.

 

 


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Mexico’s one of my favorite places to ride!

After a hiatus of almost 2 years it was great to be back in Mexico,

And specifically back in Puerto Vallarta again.  My first riding adventure two years ago was with a new company called Bike Mexico, over the past two years their stable of motorcycles has grown dramatically and for this trip I was eyeing a new Suzuki 650 V-Strom that they had just recently acquired.  Our past trip had taken us south of Puerto Vallarta along miles of rutted gravel roads until we finally reached some of the most desolate beaches and unspoiled beaches that I have ever seen, it was quite amazing that these beaches were within 150 km of Puerto Vallarta.

On this trip we were heading in the opposite direction, north into the mountains that surround Puerto Vallarta, and after climbing to an altitude of 6000 feet we would eventually arrived at the old mining town of San Sebastian, at one time San Sebastian had a population of almost 20,000 people, today is home to about 250 residents.

In the old days San Sebastian was the bustling metropolis and Puerto Vallarta was just a small tiny fishing village that served as a port to offload goods that would be packed on mule trains and led up through the hills to San Sebastian. The mule trains packed merchandise and goods up to San Sebastian, and silver back down to the coast.

Our riding party today would consist of five bikes and we were keen to get going, after a short spin around the residential area surrounding Bike Mexico’s garage to get a feel for the bikes we headed out. Our first, but not last encounter with cobblestone happened right after leaving Bike Mexico’s garage, there’s no way to leave their facility and get to the highway heading north out of town without riding on cobblestone.  Once on the asphalt our group of five bikes traveled as one and we efficiently moved our way through traffic north past the cruise ship docks and the airport and finally the turn off to San Sebastian. Once on the highway to San Sebastian we quickly left the suburbs of Puerto Vallarta behind and moved out into farm country. Riding through farm country was short-lived and it was replaced with bush on both sides of the road and a road that was consistently turning and climbing.  On the outskirts of San Sebastian we stopped at a coffee plantation and casually toured the premises, this was the only coffee plantation in the area with a coffee bean dryer and not only were they drying their own produce but were contract drying for all the other plantations in the area.

San Sebastian is small and well preserved, the town flows around the central square and the church which in the early days acted as a fortress in case of attacks by bandits, the walls were extremely thick with rifle ports built in at key vantage points.  Flowing through the entire town was a river of well maintained cobblestone roads and alleyways, with the white stucco buildings and the tile roofs you really felt like you had stepped back into old Mexico.

After departing San Sebastian we headed back down the highway we had come up on but with a side stop in the little town of Mascota, this little town was an unexpected surprise, unlike San Sebastian which depended on tourism to stay alive Mascota was a thriving little gem in the mountains, there were lots of restaurants and shops to try out, the church spire could be seen above all the other buildings and sat on the edge of a beautifully cared for central square and gardens.  We sampled the fare at one of the local restaurants, an open buffet with lots to choose from and some of the nicest BBQ pork ribs I have ever tasted.

As early afternoon became mid afternoon it was time to start the journey back to Puerto Vallarta but a fuel stop was necessary for some of the bikes with the smaller gas tanks, the V-Strom was proving extremely fuel efficient as my gas gauge had barely moved off the full mark, waiting for the other bikes to fuel up I noticed the outside temperature gauge on my bike showed we were sitting in a balmy 33 degrees of heat…in full riding gear, it was time to get moving and get some air passing through our vented jackets.

Except for the construction detour on the way back which routed us onto a barely passable gravel road where we forded the creek the trip back into Puerto Vallarta was pleasant and uneventful.  Another great ride with Bike-Mexico is in the books and as they continue to offer different bikes to ride and an ever increasing list of rides of different lengths and destinations I’ll have to keep coming back and checking off a different ride every year, what a great bucket list to work away on.

 


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The Nicest 130 km You’ll Ever Ride!

The nicest 130 kilometers you’ll ever ride resides on British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast. 

The Sunshine coast is located north of Vancouver on the B.C. mainland but is accessible only by ferry, either from Horseshoe Bay or the Comox ferry terminal located on Vancouver Island.  This short scenic piece of highway is anchored by the Langdale ferry terminal and nearby Gibsons Landing on the south and Powell River on the north.

Settling of the coast began in the 1880’s. Fishing and logging were the main occupations along with some small-scale farming.  The establishment of logging camps in the Powell River area in the 1880’s was a precursor to the future of the coast.   When  a car ferry service to the coast started in 1951 they started using the term “Sunshine Coast” to promote the whole area and the name quickly caught on.  The Sunshine Coast remains sheltered from the open Pacific but can still experience annual rainfall of approximately 100cm (40in.) per year with most of the rain falling in the winter months.

Today the Sunshine Coast is home to approximately 50,000 residents with Gibsons Landing, Sechelt and Powell River being the three main commercial areas.  Gibsons and Sechelt are one short ferry crossing away from Horseshoe Bay and Vancouver and therefore see most of the daily tourist traffic and have experienced most of the growth on the Sunshine Coast.  Many things have changed on the “Coast” over the past 20 years but the one thing that hasn’t changed is the wharf area in Gibsons Landing, the popular TV show the Beachcombers was filmed there from 1972 to 1990 and still holds the record for the longest running Canadian TV show.  Gibsons has done an amazing job of promoting the history of the TV show and developing the entire area around Mollie’s Reach into the top tourist spot on the Sunshine Coast.  After its days as the main set for the Beachcombers, Mollie’s Reach sat idle and empty for five years but today it operates as a fully functioning restaurant.  This area of Gibsons is definitely a must see and is worthy of an afternoon of poking around and exploring the shops and restaurants.

My ride through this beautiful part of British Columbia started at the north end of the highway at Powell River after exiting the ferry from Comox on Vancouver Island.  Powell River is still the hub for natural resource extraction on this part of the B.C. coast and doesn’t have the touristy feeling that the rest of the coast has, that being said it has experienced its own residential growth spurt fueled by people looking to remove themselves from the hustle and bustle and crime of Vancouver and the lower mainland.

The trip down the coast was punctuated with glimpses of bays and inlets on one side and steep mountain slopes covered by tall stands of old growth forest, everything was lush and green with the ever-present tang of salt water in the air.  The road rolled from right to left, one turn after another on virtually perfect asphalt, traffic was non-existent on this day and I quickly fell into a rhythm that allowed me to enjoy the performance qualities my bike had to offer.

 

I definitely have an attraction to the ocean, I don’t know what it is but there is a draw there for me that is hard at times to ignore, the smell of the ocean, the moisture laden air, the tides and beaches, a lifestyle that seems simpler and less complicated.  As time goes on and I get older these places will no longer be destinations to ride through but places to stop, spend a few days and absorb all the ocean side ambiance they have to offer.

 

 


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Ucluelet, The Overlooked Gem On Vancouver Island’s West Coast

It’s not uncommon as you travel around a country that you find some small towns have a little something that other towns don’t seem to have, a certain feel to them that makes you want to stop and have a look around.

Ucluelet on Vancouver Island’s west coast is one of those little towns.  In the past it was mainly known as the location of a Dept of Fisheries station and not much else but that has all changed. Ucluelet is a bustling little tourist destination complete with shops, a few restaurants and a couple of nice motels.

I had used the small village of Coombs as my anchor point on this trip and decided to make a day run over to Ucluelet and Tofino, as usual the trip over the pass to the west side of the island was most enjoyable, good asphalt, sunny skies and not a lot of traffic. On past trips I would hit the “T” intersection at the end of the highway and have to make a decision, right to Tofino, or left to Ucluelet, over the past twenty years it had always been right to Tofino but after hearing a lot of talk lately about Ucluelet I decided my first stop would be Ucluelet and not Tofino.

Only eight kilometers from the highway T intersection I quickly started to see the signs of a small town, at first a lumber yard, then a gas station, then the main street.  Make no mistake, Ucluelet is the smaller cousin to Tofino but you can enjoy many of the same outdoor adventures as in Tofino.  After cruising up and down many of the streets I parked the bike on a side street and set off on foot to really explore some of the shops and restaurants.  On foot I quickly discovered how hilly Ucluelet is, every street that runs down to the waterfront does so at quite an incline which was most noticeable on the hike back up.

All the shops I visited were quite busy, Zoe’s bakery had a line up out the door and after having a cup of coffee and a muffin there it was easy to see why, good coffee and fresh made muffins, how can you go wrong?  For curios the Crows Nest was one of those stores that once you got inside and started looking around it was hard to get out of there, I purchased a ball cap and T-Shirt for myself and a necklace for my wife and could have spent a lot more, I’m really attracted to native art of any type and the Crow’s Nest had lots of it.

I walked down to the government wharf which was quite busy, fishing nets were spread out on the wharf for what looked like repairs and the local tour guide was busy taking whale watchers out for tours, there was a steady stream of red survival suit clad tourists moving back and forth from the zodiac that was specially outfitted to take whale seekers out to the areas that the whales most frequented and the company’s office.

There was a general sense of busyness to Ucluelet, traffic moved up and down the main street, motel parking lots were full and sidewalks were busy, even the local church was undergoing an extensive facelift.

I did venture up the highway to Tofino before I headed back across the island and that’s always an enjoyable way to spend some time but I must admit Ucluelet was just a small town with some interesting shops and what was noticeable was the lack of that “tourist trap” feeling that a lot of places have acquired.  I will definitely not make the trip across the island again without making sure Ucluelet is on the schedule for a visit.