Welcome back everyone. Hopefully you read the last article, so you’ll know that in this update, Rach and I are starting our ride across Canada, starting in Vancouver and heading to Newfoundland.
If you didn’t read it, you may also be somewhat confused by the large amount of Christmas decorations on our bikes.
So let’s get to it.
FLEEING THE WARMTH OF VANCOUVER
Leaving Vancouver, we were still trying to come to terms with the warm weather after getting used to -20C in Alaska and the Yukon. Expecting colder temperatures ahead, I was wearing my green one-piece suit (from my winter Arctic trip) over the top of my riding gear. The suit is actually sold for people who work in walk-in meat freezers, but it also works for sub zero biking very well. It doesn’t, however, work very well for +10C, and I was sweating like a nun at a cucumber stall.
Getting across the Rockies offered lots of different routes, but we decided on taking the Crow’s Nest Highway because (being single carriageway) we assumed it would have the least traffic while still giving some awesome scenery.
The route started out fairly flat and mediocre, but luckily it didn’t take long before the hills started appearing once we were past Hope, BC, along with the snow. Back in the Yukon I had fitted a motocross tire to the front of my C90. It was the only tire I could get and had offered it to Rach, but she refused and said she wanted to learn how to ride on ice with no grip.
The snow here was quite wet compared to the stuff we got hit with in the north, which meant Rach embarked on ‘Operation: Accelerated Learning’ with her front road tire. In the previous article you saw how this quickly become ‘Operation: Throw your bike down the road at 40 mph’ but it was always followed by ‘Operation: Laugh a lot”, so she wasn’t too worried.
We were both fine on the snow and the ice, in fact we were having a ball as it’s basically like sliding while off-roading, except you get to do it on the road. However, the slush was being sprayed all over the engine and causing poor little Ninety to misfire. Luckily I carry a large quantity of Duct Tape at all times, so I made an impromptu slush deflector that actually worked quite well.
With my bike now running relatively smoothly, we made it over the mountain range and back to drier roads. However, the jerkiness of my misfiring engine had taken its toll on the drive-train and had somehow pulled the rear axle out of alignment, causing the chain to jump off and get jammed in the wheel.
While I was under the bike hitting it with various hammer shaped rocks, a lovely woman called Jackie stopped to give us a Christmas present near Nelson. She’d seen me struggling at the side of the road, went home (about 10km) and then returned with a selection of cakes. As she gave them to us she said “I’m guessing you’re spending Christmas on the road, so I’ve got you these”.
MEETING THE LOCALS
With the bike fixed and our faith in humanity lifted, we set off once again in search of adventure. We were now hopping from town to town and staying in closed campsites. Camping in winter is fine, but if you put the tent up just before dark at 4:00 PM, there’s only so much cooking you can do to pass the time till you go to bed at 10:00 PM. The solution was to find free camping in towns and then spend the evenings in libraries or cheap restaurants. This was also a good way to meet locals.
One night we decided to treat ourselves to a film at the cinema. The film wasn’t exactly high-class, in fact the main characters were animated penguins, but still, it was a treat. However, when we came out, the owner took us to one side and said our Christmas decorated C90s had cheered her up so much that she gave us a full refund and even some treats for the road.
Now I know this article isn’t all about motorcycles, but for us adventure riders, this is why we ride bikes. It’s not necessarily for the thrill of the road, it’s to properly engage with locals and experience their culture. And it’s why I also wouldn’t adventure on any bike than a beat-up Honda C90. Because nothing encourages people to approach you like an unpretentious bike that’s made up of 90% Duct Tape and zip ties.
We regularly get asked how many miles we do per day on such small bikes. Rach and I calculated that we spend about three hours riding, and at least that talking to people in car parks or at the side of the road. For instance we had lunch the next day in a Ukrainian restaurant. The food took 40 minutes, the conversation with the staff took the same again. And then when it came to paying, they said “The food is on the house, welcome to Canada”.
And so on it went. In fact we were starting to find it very difficult to camp in Canada in winter. Not because of the weather, but because we kept getting dragged out of our tent and into people’s houses.
Canadians are awesome.
I’m not sure if you have the Trade’s Descriptions Act over here, but when we called in at Radium hot-springs to have a quick dip, we quickly realized that they need to be renamed the Radium ‘warm-springs’.
However, despite having spent half the day’s budget to get in and have a cool swim, when we asked the lady behind the front desk where the nearest campsite was, her response was to buy us a motel room for the night! No matter how much we told her that we’re perfectly happy camping, she wouldn’t hear it and said it was her duty as a mother, and that she wouldn’t be able to sleep that night if we were in our tent.
So Radium Warm Springs: 0 – Radium Warm Springs Staff: 1.
Still in shock at the kindness of our motel room buyer, we headed into Banff National park. The road here was a nice level layer of ice and snow, so it was easy to ride on, unlike the rutted ice of the north.
We made good time, and despite plenty of stops to admire the scenery, rode through the park in a day and arrived in Canmore, AB on Christmas eve to stay with some friends I’d met on Facebook during this trip.
Rach and I were looking forward to wake up in a house rather than a tent on Christmas day, and we also had some new off-road tyres (courtesy of Gamma Sales) and ice studs (courtesy of Aerostitch – evaluation to come) to fit to the bikes. Although ‘Operation: Accelerated Learning’ had been a success and we hadn’t crashed since leaving Vancouver on road tyres, with the vast distance of the width Canada ahead of us, it was time to fit some proper tyres.
THE ICEFIELDS PARKWAY
With Christmas over, and our new tyres fitted, we were now ready to take a little detour and ride the Icefields Parkway. We’d been told by many people not to miss it as the views are spectacular, so we thought we’d take their advice and give it a go.
We were wild-camping as usual, and at 10:00 AM the next morning we were woken up by the words “Park Warden”. Uh oh. After getting dressed, we crawled out of the tent and started our efforts to avoid a fine.
It turned out that Mike the Warden was actually just thoroughly confused about what two bikes and a tent we doing in the snow in his park. He said in his 30 years working here, he’d never seen bikes in winter. After a long chat, we got away with a warning and told to only camp inside designated campgrounds while inside National Parks from now on.
With our tails between our legs, we rode on.
To be honest, the Icefields Parkway wasn’t proving to be that great. It was alright, but not as good as some of the scenery we’d seen in the Yukon. We’d only ridden half of it though, so as we approached the official campground at the halfway mark (see, we’d listened to Mike the Warden), we hoped that the final 120 km would be better.
And as luck would have it, it got very interesting indeed just before we pulled into the official National park campground – ready to pay our fee and do the right thing, just as Mike the Warden had requested. Except the site was closed and under a metre of snow.
It was now nearly dark, so we were forced to ride up a closed road as far as possible (in order to hide from the Wardens), until the snow got too deep for our tires to push through and we had no choice but to camp exactly where we were stuck. We weren’t quite hidden enough though, so I dug some very large holes and threw the bikes in one of them, and the tent in the other, thus hiding them from any Warden’s view.
In the morning we were very happy that our stealth techniques had paid off, that we took our time packing the tent away, had a cup up tea to celebrate not being discovered, and headed off for the final half of the Parkway.
I’m still not sure if the weather was against us (it was snowing quite heavily), or maybe our expectations were too high, but the Icefields Parkway still didn’t seem overly “spectacular”.
So that brings us to Lake Louise, where I am currently sat typing this article. This first article of our crossing Canada is quite difficult to summarise, but Rach and I have been having a blast so far – the ride has been brilliant and the scenery beautiful.
But the thing that stands out for me personally, are the people. At the start of the trip in July, we kept telling Alaskans how friendly they were, and their response was always “wait till you get to Canada, they’re even friendlier”. And they were right, and still are right. You guys rock.
So from Rach and I, and the two C90’s, thanks for being awesome Canada.
I’ll sign off now with a photo from earlier today, even your traffic cops are friendly. They’re often confused by us, but they are friendly.
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.