CMG goes to British Columbia, Part 2

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Words: Rob Harris. Photos: Richard Seck
Lost in the barrens.
Words: Rob Harris. Photos: Richard Seck

If you missed part 1, then click here to see it. If you didn’t, then welcome to part two of our 10 day B.C. adventure. Having traversed Vancouver Island and survived 36 hours on a ferry, we were about to hit the remote mainland town of Bella Coola, where the real fun was just about to begin …

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During the early hours of the next morning, passengers were awoken by the announcement of our impending docking at Bella Coola and we duly arose from Camp CMG and shuffled – weary eyed – out to the front deck. And what an awesome sight!

The high ridge line of the mountains ahead was backlit by a pinkish yellow hue of the rising sun. To our sides, black slabs of coastal mountains towered high above us, plunging at their bases into the dark blue waters of the Burke Channel.

It was an appropriate welcome to the amazing world that we were about to discover.

THE HILL

This is what you go to BC for!
This is what you go to BC for!

Having had such a glorious sunrise welcome to Bella Coola, we wasted no time and headed due east up the valley towards the infamous “Hill” at its head.

It’s hard to find words to do this valley justice. Hemmed in both sides by picture-postcard mountains, a lush plateau of farmland straddles an energetic river, carved up by the perfect paved ribbon of roadway – this is truly a remote oasis.

About half way up we opt to take a side excursion – a dirt single-track trail off to the right and into the mountains. It’s the kind of excursion that we didn’t really have time for, but when else are you going to find yourself with such adventure around you, and two BMWs on which to check it all out?

As the trail started to top out we were greeted with lush alpine meadows, culminating with the majestic view of Purgatory Mountain. And who would have thought that Purgatory would be so beautiful? … mosquitoes aside! From here the trail becomes suddenly rougher, narrower and on a steep descent into the next valley.

Although the temptation to throw caution to the wind was almost overwhelming, we figured that getting lost in an area, sans map – where you would first be swollen into a featureless ball by the swarming mosquitoes and then popped by a gang of black bears – was not a particularly good idea.

Who would have thought that Mount Purgatory would be so awesome?
Who would have thought that Mount Purgatory would be so awesome?

Rejoining the paved road of the Bella Coola valley, the fun eventually switches gear as the valley comes to an end, along with the paved road. This is “the Hill”, an unpaved, single lane in places, twisty mother of a road, climbing 5,000 feet over the Coastal Range of mountains and into the B.C. interior.

Although it’s hard-packed dirt, it would be navigable with a standard road bike, although I’d think twice – maybe three times – before trying it in the wet. It’s basically just a trail carved into the side of the mountain, with a worrying lack of shoulder or barrier to prevent an unfortunate plunge into the abyss below.

Life on the edge.
Life on the edge.

Interestingly some sections went down to single lane, for no other reason than the other half the road had been washed away. Just short of the summit things got even more surreal when we came face to face with a big rig meandering it’s way down the Hill.  And why not? Because it’s madness, that’s why not. It’s a huge truck trying to get down a half washed-out mountain trail.

Luckily we got a glimpse of it ahead of time, allowing us to find a safe pulling over point and avoiding any unnecessary argument over who had the right of way in the middle of a washed out switchback. Did I say that I found this all very thrilling? Breath-taking too.

Once over the mountains you hit the grasslands
Once over the mountains you hit the grasslands

Then, just when you think the party’s over and you’re at the top, the dirt-road swoops up and over an endless series of humps. With each corner perfectly banked, it was a race-track designed for the GS’s and we had no option but to treat it like one. It was simply marvellous.

Eventually the fun takes a step down as we enter the flat grasslands of the Interior Plateau. Although the road straightens out here, it does allow for an increased rate of knots, which we took advantage of until our next turn off.

The big GS was quite the challenge
The big GS was quite the challenge

This happened to be south to the town of Tatla Lake and turned out to be 60 km of deep gravel. Here was a true test of 1150GS faith as its heavy front-end ploughed through the piles of gravel ahead.

I must admit, initially I failed to practice the “power through it” technique, tensed up and tried to dictate every move to the bike.  It didn’t like it.

After a brief pep-talk from the dirt-experienced Mr. Seck, I decided to trust, relax and open the throttle to skip over the loose gravel. Wow, this is fun. The extra knobby tires were right at home and the more speed you allowed, the more comfortable the bike felt. The ABS also meant that you could use the brakes hard – even in deep gravel (although more time was spent with the ABS switching the brakes off than on).

The irony is that once I had made that mental leap of faith I embraced it 110%, finding myself doing ridiculous corner approach speeds, braking hard, leaning into it with foot out and then accelerating hard out the exit. The 1150’s massive torque sliding out the rear with a nice rooster tail and majestic slingshot out the other side. Lovely. With the GS1150 mastered, the rest of the day’s ride was uneventful except when I managed to lose Mr. Seck.

In order to avoid him having to eat my dust, we agreed that he should slip back and then I’d stop every 15 minutes or so to check that he was still there. When he failed to appear, I turned around and scanned the road’s edges back to his last known location – checking the ditches for any evidence of a spectacular leap to his death.

Staying in a lodge surrounded by such beauty helped to forget about the perils of riding with Mr Seck
Staying in a lodge surrounded by such beauty helped to forget about the perils of riding with Mr Seck

He was not to be found, so I went to our night’s accommodation, where I’d be able to seek some help. As I rolled into our accommodation for the night, the Chilko Lake Resort – fraught with the loss of my colleague – I found a rather relaxed Mr. Seck. Turns out that he had indeed being following me until he came to a turn-off where he assumed the resort was located.

Not one to delay getting a nice cold beer, he decided to cut the leader loose and make his own way. Realizing he had erred, he returned to the main road and carried on to the resort … while I was back checking the ditches for his mortal remains.I wasn’t particularly thrilled, considering that he seemed quite willing to abandon me for the sake of a cold beer and a warm room. I, on the other hand, had spent the last hour and a half in search of my dear comrade.

But I digress. For us, right here, right now, all that mattered was to find the resort’s bar. We were soon joined by the Chilko Lake Resort’s owner, Wolfgang, a German with a surprisingly good sense of humour and a generosity that included buying us several rounds of beer. Wolfgang had been put in charge of resurrecting the resort, and it seems that he was doing a stellar job, especially on the hospitality front.Hell, I’d even forgotten all about Mr. Seck’s disgraceful behaviour.

The only appropriate response when one finds a massive puddle in the trail.
The only appropriate response when one finds a massive puddle in the trail.

LOST LUGGAGE ON THE WAY TO THE RANCH

The ride out of Chilko Lake was one of the toughest of the trip, with a gnarly, deep rutted narrow trail through the woods. It was more like a trail to a private cabin, than the local highway out of there. It was excellent.

Familiarity of both bikes had at last bred the requisite amount of contempt from both Mr. Seck and myself, and we threw the bikes mercilessly from rut to rut as fast as our adrenaline would allow us to go. By now I was feeling totally at home on the big GS and was happily launching it out of dry stream beds with a satisfying thump as the bike came back to earth on the other side. Then I noticed one of the bags had fallen off.

BC's backroads are simply spectacular.
BC’s backroads are simply spectacular.

Trying to turn the Adventurer around in a narrow, deeply rutted dirt road is not as easy as you might think, and once it goes off balance all you can do is to try and ease its fall as best you can, while trying to avoid a hernia yourself. Having succeeded in doing this, I now had to try and right the beast, which simply couldn’t be done alone in these conditions.

This is why you should always do this kind of thing with a travel companion – even one that would leave you to die for the sake of a cold beer and a warm room. After getting help from Mr. Seck to right the beast, we went in search of the lost bag, which we eventually found at the side of the road.

It was looking the worse for wear, with all the mounting points broken off by its fall. There was no choice but to repack the contents as best we could and leave the bag at the side of the road in the hopes that some good soul would dispose of it properly.

By the time we’d hit our half way mark it was already late afternoon. With this in mind we decided to take the paved highway and a brisk 140 km/h clip, to the town of Riske Creek, from where we could rejoin the world of gravel and head south along the Fraser valley.

Here the scenery was simply amazing, yet very different from what we had experienced so far. We were now riding through a mass of small hills, farmland and exposed, eroding cliffs.  A new beauty was around ever corner – including a whole valley vista accentuated by a cloud of dust, whipped up at the valley’s head from an open gravel pit.

The Fraser River makes for some dramatic scenes.
The Fraser River makes for some dramatic scenes.

Within an hour the sun started to set. This would usually be cause for concern and building anxiety, but now we were altogether nearer to civilization and the bright fire-orange hue that inflamed the spectacular landscape around us was priceless. It was a shame that we had to finish such an amazing ride in the dark. Black mountain ridges contrasted against a starry night’s sky, letting us know that we were in the middle of some gorgeous scenery that we just couldn’t see.

Once again we pulled in late to our night’s accommodation – the Big Bar Guest Ranch – although thankfully not too late to catch the owner before she turned in for the night. This meant that we not only got a room but more importantly access to the beer fridge.

GOLD BRIDGE FLAT

The road out of this area was not as dramatic as the one coming in, but things soon improved as we once again hit the Coastal Mountains and found ourselves zigzagging up a rocky mountain side. On the other side, we saw our first pavement in a while (better known as Highway 99, or more romantically, the Sea-to-Sky highway).

A few less horsepower than the GS.
A few less horsepower than the GS.

This takes you directly to Vancouver, and although famed for its twisty passage back to sea level, it was also strewn with cars – an unwelcome reminder of our return to civilization. Our escape was found at the town of Lilloet, where the map showed a road shooting off in a wide northerly arc along the side of Carpenter Lake.

It then hits a “closed in winter” connecting road that drops you back to Highway 99, just north of the resort town of Whistler. Any dirt road junkie knows that “closed in winter” equates to one of the purest forms of their drug. It’s a must-do.

So that is what we did. The road is actually quite civilized to start, and even paved for the first 15 Km or so, before it turns to gravel (albeit hard packed and accessible) and then back to pavement again. In fact, the road is very respectable all the way to Gold Bridge, and I dare say, quite accessible by most street-bikes.

BC_tire_fix_bg
‘Arris tries to work out how to instal a plug to fix the puncture.

That said, forget the street-bike after Gold Bridge. The initial finer gravel quickly grew into small rocks and the Adventurer became more at home. In fact it just seemed to ride better and better by the minute.

Wow, I’d finally mastered this bike! I just became one with it – sliding majestically around every corner, kicking out the back just perfectly every time. But then it all started to get weird. Sliding just a little too much in the corner and getting progressively looser and more vague. Then it started doing this in a straight line.

Oh no, puncture!

This was bad. Moments before I’d waved Richard passed, and the chances of him thinking about the safety of his companion had already been established. It was now 6:30 pm, the sun had already gone behind a big mountain and I could almost feel the glare of bear eyes on my back. Oh dear.

Stay calm Harris, BMW have a damn good puncture kit on all their bikes – you’ll be back on the road in no time. Having the first two of three repair plugs break off was not encouraging. In fact it was downright nerve-racking. However, there was a saving grace. Mr. Seck had returned, and within 10 minutes to boot. It was reassuring to have him back, especially since I figured that in the event of a bear attack, I could probably out-run him.

Back in Vancouver safe and sound
Back in Vancouver safe and sound

I finally got one of the plugs to go in and emptied the supplied CO2 cartridges into the tire to reinflate it. Initially, every rear slide was a nerve-racking event, as I kept on high alert for any signs that the last slide was a little more pronounced than the one before, indicating that the fix … wasn’t.

Civilization was finally reached as the dirt trail rejoined the Sea-to-Sky and we were soon flipping through the mountainous curves of one of B.C.’s most spectacular paved roads. Trouble was, it was now pitch black, I was absolutely knackered and the curves were only proving to be an unwanted late night work-out.Shame really, but keeping my helmet shield up ensured enough of a cool wind blast on my face to keep me awake till we finally rolled into the sea level town of Squamish.

Here was a bed for the night at the Howe Sound Brewing Company (a local micro-brewery) that was to be the ultimate end of our day’s experience … had it not just closed the bar.

SHORT RUN TO VANCOUVER

Although we’d effectively missed the mountain part of Highway 99 the night before, the last section into Vancouver hugs the mountain side, as it drops off into the water of the Georgia Straights to our right.

Of course, its beauty and location so close to the metropolis of Vancouver means that it’s pretty heavy with traffic, but with views like this, who needs speed? The rear tire finally let go again in Vancouver city centre, but there were now fix-o-flats available everywhere, and a couple of cans were enough to get the bike back to the Vancouver Airport Conference Resort and the end of our adventure.

In total we’d covered just over 2,500 km (not including the ferry ride) over the last nine days. Not a massive distance, but B.C. is not a place to just blast on through. If you ever make it out there you can have a lot of fun by just sticking to asphalt, but the most spectacular scenery – and real feel for the landscape around us – was to be found off-road. And you don’t have to be an expert dirt rider to get there either – just a GS-like bike and a thirst for some adventure.


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! A list of all the places we stayed is here:

Chilko Lake Resort
Chilko Lake Road
Chilko Lake, BC.
Phone: 250-481-3333
www.chilkolake.com

Big Bar Guest Ranch
Jesmond Road,
Clinton, BC.
Phone: 250-459-2333
www.bigbarranch.com

Howe Sound Inn & Brewing Company
37801 Cleveland Avenue
Squamish, BC.
V0N 3G0
Phone: 604-892-2603
www.howesound.com

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


GALLERY

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