CMG goes to British Columbia, Part 1

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Welcome to Bear Country - aka BC.
Welcome to Bear Country - aka BC.
Word: Rob Harris, Photos: Richard Seck

This is the first of a two part series on our 2002 trip to British Columbia. Armed with a BMW R1150GS Adventurer and F650GS Dakar, Editor ‘arris and Mr. Seck ride the length of Vancouver Island and then take a ferry back to the mainland, and our return journey to Vancouver.

For now, here’s the first part – Vancouver Island …

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Heading north out of Gold River, we found ourselves on a wide and well maintained gravel road that we had hoped would be a bit more challenging. Then, as if by divine intervention, danger appeared around the next corner in the shape of a pick-up truck full of teenagers.

Judging by the way it was coming towards me – sideways, with wheels locked and driver’s eyes so wide I could see the curvature of his eyeballs – I sensed danger … although not the type that I had originally wished for.

I took immediate avoidance action and went straight for the ditch. The truck just tried to make the corner and took a wide arc, showering me with coarse gravel in its wake.

Okay, this was not exactly what we had planned – or hoped for – on our 2002, ten-day exploration of B.C.’s Vancouver Island and the south-west mainland. But when you have a BMW R1150GS Adventurer and F650GS Dakar, opting to take the gravel road less-traveled seems only sensible. Albeit a tad more dangerous.

But more on that later.

'Arris goes swimming with the seals.
‘Arris goes swimming with the seals.

SWIMMING WITH THE SEALS

Having flown into Vancouver the night before with CMG photographer, Mr. Seck, all we had to do on the first day was get out of bed, start-up the bikes and catch a ferry to Victoria on the Island. From there, a leisurely blast north would see us in Nanaimo with plenty of time to enjoy the first of many side-adventures; swimming with the seals.

Loaded up for exploring.
Loaded up for exploring.

Of course, this all went for a shit when a late start resulted in a missed ferry. We managed to get on the next ferry, but it took us to a lower point of the Island and meant that we had to do a very fast blast north in order to get to Nanaimo’s Ocean Explorers … late.

Still, better late than never, and thankful the seals were still waiting for our appearance. Seal swimming proved to be quite entertaining, although our visit in early August was somewhat compromised by the seasonal invasion of plankton. The resulting murky water not only makes it harder to see the seals, but it makes it harder for the seals to see any nasties such as Orcas – which have a habit of not just swimming with the seals, but eating them as well.

As you can probably understand, it makes them a tad nervous. It would have also made me a tad nervous, had I not heard about it until after the day was done.

Our first day of adventure was capped off with dinner at Nanaimo’s local brew pub– the Longwood. Unfortunately in a moment of madness, we chose to ride there, which severely curtailed the potential beer consumption … a foolish mistake and one I fear I shall regret for the rest of my drinking life.

There's motorcycling gold in them thar hills.
There’s motorcycling gold in them thar hills.

THE LONG WAY TO CAMPBELL RIVER

Although our next day’s destination was a mere 150 km to the north, we opted to cut west across the Island and try out the famed Pacific Highway. This turned out to be a bit of a motorcycle utopia, twisting first through old-growth forest and then through the interior mountains for a good 70 km, until you finally hit flat land again at the west coast and the port of Ucelet.

'Arris rides around the BC wilderness.
‘Arris rides around the BC wilderness.

From here we turned around and did most of the mountain part again (albeit stuck behind heavy tourist traffic) before getting to our first intended dirt-road stretch. Unfortunately it was now exactly 5:45pm, a tad later than anticipated.

Woefully unprepared (no GPS or compass, and a rather basic map) but with the gall of the foolish, we veered off the safety of asphalt and into the unknown network of logging roads that criss-cross the Island.

At this point I should maybe explain the reason why I love to divert off the seemingly sensible option of asphalt and venture forth into the world of gravel & dirt roads.

Basically, the road less travelled is the road where you find the most interesting stuff. Devoid of traffic, McDonalds and anything else semi-civilized for that matter – although I’m not sure McDonalds is a good example – it is a true adventure. There’s wildlife, spectacular views and a real feeling of ‘being there’.

Of course, there’s also danger. Get my adrenaline flowing and I know I’m alive. My senses become acute. I feel, see, smell and hear everything. I am free from the matrix of the modern world and its plastic protective bubble. I have escaped.

Motorcycling on asphalt unto itself delivers some of this elixir, but you’re inevitably only half way there. Gas, food and lodging are seldom far away on the paved highway. However, on the dirt there’s always the chance that instead of a late meal and overpriced hotel room, there’s no meal, no hotel – just you, a bike and the unknown darkness around you. Your gold Visa card ain’t worth shit out here. It’s the great equalizer and I love it.

Richard and Rob check in to the Rustic Motel.
Richard and Robert get a warm welcome at the Rustic Motel.

The trick, of course, is not to have this actually happen, just to know that it can.

I’m happy to report that it was a spectacular ride (although relatively uneventful), and we eventually rejoined the main highway in search of the rather worrisome sounding Rustic Motel. It turns out that the Rustic Motel wasn’t that rustic after all – they even had a “welcome Richard and Robert” sign out the front; although it had a certain romantic  connotation to it.

A further surprise upon our post-midnight arrival was a welcome package from the local tourist board inviting us out for a sea and air tour of the Discovery Islands. I thought that was very nice of them, the only trouble being that we were expected to be there by 9 am the next morning!

Bugger, after a long day like today, this was getting to be tough going, and I started thinking about the benefits of a more conventional holiday, with beaches, ladies and drinks with umbrellas in them.

Look what jumped in the boat? Err, not quite.
Look what jumped in the boat? Err, not quite. A fine BC salmon.

RIPPLING ROCKS

The Vancouver Island Air & Sea tour consists of a boat tour of the Discovery Islands, stopping at a rather schmancy lodge for lunch. From there they fly you back in a prop-engined seaplane/Smarties tube.

Bears, up close and personal.
“Just how tame are those things?”

Well that sounds all fine and dandy, but it’s probably a good time to explain a little bit about the geography of the area and what makes it interesting, and therefore worthy of this trip. Firstly, get out a map of Vancouver Island. See Campbell River? Between it and the mainland are fractured masses of small islands, each separated by channels no larger than a well-sized river.

However, this is seawater, and as such is subject to the twice-daily rising and lowering of the tides. Now you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to be able to imagine what happens when the large mass of the Pacific Ocean decides to rise and fall though a series of small channels no bigger than a well-sized river.

The result is a large surge, whipping up a series of equally large whirlpools, changing direction with each tide. Throw a group of tourists into a small boat and go frolicking around in this stuff and you have the recipe for a good day out – or headline news – depending on the state of the boat. Thankfully the boat proved to be sea-worthy and the trip proved to be an entertaining distraction. Even the flight back was a blast, although I now know what a Smartie feels like.

"Where's the clutch?"
“Where’s the clutch?”

GOING WEST

Now, side trips had proven to be fun and all, but this was after all, supposed to be a motorcycle trip. With this in mind, for our last day on Vancouver Island, we decided to do an almost repeat performance of a couple of days ago and divert due west along a paved road to Gold River. From there we could take a dirt road north, which would dump us out quite close to Port Hardy at the northern tip of the Island – and the launching point for our ferry back to the mainland.

That's a logging road!
That’s a logging road!

The road proved to be spectacular, and far more fun than the Pacific Highway thanks to there being an almost complete absence of traffic – probably because there’s nothing much to see (or do) at Gold River. Mr. Seck took the lead and took off.

Now there’s a certain look he gets in his eyes – like a junky that’s about to shoot-up – whenever he’s getting into a groove on a fast bike. This resultant groove cannot seemingly be broken by anything except for the end of the good road. Mr. Seck had that junkie look again. After a few minutes, I felt like I’d just shot up for the first time.

But the fun and games had only just started, as we diverted into the bush and the start of the gravel road north, only to come face to face with that out-of-control pick-up full of teenagers I mentioned at the beginning. Upon returning to the main highway, we decided that more of such adventure was in order and promptly hit the next dirt diversion that we found on the map.

Although we were lost within minutes, for once we’d been making pretty good time and besides, the tight gnarly dirt track was simply gorgeous. Then I saw it. About 100 feet ahead stood a large black bear. It didn’t move, so I decided not to either. Now I don’t quite know what you should do in the event of encountering a bear. If you’re in a car, I guess you just roll up the windows and honk the horn. Hit reverse if necessary.

But on a bike, there’s no shell around you, not even a reverse. I don’t think that the bear was aware that fifty feet away was simply a shiny chunk of metal, adorned with a soft fleshy morsel, under a toughish semi-armoured outer layer. A bit like a lobster on a plate I guess; only without the defensive claws. We sat a while and looked at each other, although he obviously failed to make the lobster comparison and thankfully decided that he’d wasted enough time and jogged off down the hill. This stirred up mixed emotions, as I was quite awed by our brief encounter, yet somewhat happy to be still in one piece.

Alas, we emerged from our side-tour and back onto highway 19 not more than 5 miles from where we left it. Although not exactly progressive, it had been wonderful and still left us with plenty of time to get to Port Hardy where our ferry to Bella Coola awaited.

Captain 'Arris takes the helm.
Captain ‘Arris takes the helm.

36 HOURS IN A TIN CELL

I must admit, I was quite excited at the prospect of spending the next 36 hours on a B.C. Ferries boat, chugging up the beautiful British Columbia coastline, visiting local communities to drop off supplies and pick up the next batch of explorers. There was something romantic, almost pioneer-like about it. There was also no choice. The road ends at Port Hardy, so unless you want to go back the way you came, a ferry ride up the coast and back to the mainland is the only option.

Sunride in Bella Coola.
Sunrise in Bella Coola.

Since our particular ferry came sans berths, a civilized – yet hurried – hoard of passengers quickly swamped the decks and galleys to stake their claims to whatever seemed like the most comfortable location for a couple of nights. A city of tents sprang up on the decks, while the more experienced passengers bagged the plush reclining chairs in the lounge. This left us novices speed walking around aimlessly, feeling like the last two in a sad game of musical chairs.

Salvation eventually came in the form of a long padded bench in the cafeteria, which soon became Camp Harris – protected by a pair of scuffed motorcycle helmets and stinky boots. By the middle of the next day I had grown quite fond of my new abode and bohemian lifestyle. Passengers and crew all proved very friendly and accommodating, even going so far as to invite us up to the bridge for a mini-tour of how such a vehicle actually works. It seemed like a good idea at the time; I would pretend to be steering the ship whilst the rest of the crew would look alarmed and try to stop me.

It would make the perfect picture – and indeed it did (see above) – although with the unnoticed return of the Captain during the height of silliness, the party mood was quickly dampened. There was no option but to leave quickly and we thought it wise to make ourselves scarce for the rest of the voyage.

In Part two of our B.C. adventure, we hit the mainland and tackle the infamous “Hill” just out of Bella Coola.


THANK YOUS

To the BC Tourist Board for helping to organize the trip and to BMW Canada for getting us the bikes and getting them out there! Also a bug thank you to BC Ferries for getting us between the islands and for being such good sports. A list of all the places we stayed and ate at are as follows:

Vancouver Airport Conference Resort
Ramada Plaza/Park Plaza
10251 St. Edwards Dr.
Richmond, BC
V6X 2M9
Tel: 866 482 8444
Web: www.vacr.bc.ca

Tourism Nanaimo
2290 Bowen Road
Nanaimo BC,
V9T 3K7
800-663-7337
www.tourismnanaimo.com

Ocean Explorers Diving – Snorkel with the Seals 

3 hour water adventure which will bring you up close and personal with resident seals of Snake Island in Nanaimo’s harbour. Ocean Explorers will provide all the necessary equipment and suits.

1956 Zorkin Rd
Nanaimo, BC,
V9S 5T9
Phone: 250-753-2055
www.oceanexplorersdiving.com

The Longwood Brew Pub
Nanaimo’s only brew pub. Hand-crafted ales and lagers are served in-house.
5775 Turner Road
Nanaimo, BC,
V9T 6L8
Phone: 250-729-8225
www.longwoodbrewpub.com/main.htm

Harbourview Days Inn
809 Island Hwy South
Nanaimo, BC,
V9R 5K1
Phone: 250-754-8171
www.nanaimohotel.com

Rustic Motel

2140 North Island Hwy
Campbell River, BC
V9W 2G7
Phone: (250) 286-6295
Fax: (250) 286-9692
www.bctravel.com/ni/rusticmotel.html

Vancouver Island Air & Sea
Box 727,
Campbell River, BC,
V9W 6J3
Toll free (Canada) 1-877-331-2433
1-250-287-2433
www.vancouverislandair.com


GALLERY

Check out all the pics that go with this story! Click on the main sized pic to transition to the next or just press play to show in a slideshow.

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