I'm so made up over being allowed close enough to stroke Bonkers. Now she's gone that far I feel I can actually put her picture on the blog. Unfortunately she's been so badly treated before Nick and Emmah got her it'll take a lot more than a few days to become a friend in any way. But hey, she didn't shy off between each tidbit I fed her just before I left. Mishka on the other hand was all over me, wouldn't leave me as I packed and just waited at the door when I locked up.
Holy rooney (and its no reference to Wayne), Canada at last and it doesn't seem that different. Shops and houses look about the same, scenery is very similar to Washington state and prices are pretty similar. Actually, its similar but on a bigger scale. There are rivers rather than creeks and the lakes are brilliant, bigger than those I saw in Washington.
The people are definitely different, they have a sense of humour. They are also more relaxed, just as friendly but the towns are not as crowded and lack the hustle bustle of many towns and cities in the states.
The roads, well despite the fact I decided not to travel on Route 1 up the coast the tarmac seems to be prefect. Smooth as a babies bum, and cambered in the right direction. Unlike the states they have gone metric, so its back to km. But that's OK I just take the speed signs as if they mean mph. It certainly makes for a quicker ride and distances go much quicker than I'm used to. Well, leaving the main road was the right choice, I followed a minor road (route 18) across to lake Cowichan. Once at a small place called Youbou the road ran out and the route continued as a logging track/forestry trail. 62 miles of loose bumpy shite, what a ride! I loved it, felt confident and cruised through with no real problems. The views were spectacular, I even managed to stop and take a few photo's. I started going about 35 mph and soon was keeping it at a steady 40-45 mph. Strange how each time I meet another vehicle, and overtook it, I got a bit faster. Ended up blatting along at 50 mph and really having fun. Until I nearly lost it, that shook me a bit! Never mind, I've changed my underwear; as if!
Its the sharper bends that pose the problems, and when combined with huge swathes of deep, loose gravel its deadly. I'd got used to the rear end snaking a bit and the front end being twitchy; easy, just give it a bit more throttle. I just managed to keep the bike on the track and slowed down for a while after that. Forty felt quite relaxed as well, and I didn't go above 45 mph until back on the tarmac. Wow, what a great ride!!
Yesterday was a bit of a hack along the long main coastal highway, which I'd been so adament about avoiding as much as possible. The truth of the matter being I'm running out of time to get up north and start the ride through the Rockies. If I don't get a move on I'll be snowed in at some point and I can't be arsed to get in a place for days; unless its by choice. So I got away early from Port Alberni and only stopped for a late brunch. Luckily the route wasn't too boring there were still nice scenic views for much of the way. The road was generally only single carriageway, with enough strtches to pass any other traffic. As I got further north there was vitually no traffic anyway, so I didn't get to play with too many cars. I had my destination in mind, so Route 19 until just before Port Hardy then a detour to Telegraph bay.
This bay was recommended by a park warder from the south end of the Island. She was really impressed with the operation last year, not a great big place and small groups. At least she got the first bit right. Telegraph Bay is a small place, with nothing there but tourism. OK, so it was fairly quiet! Still at the higher end of the tourist chain. On offer were all things involving boats: sport fishing, kayaking, Grizzly tours form the water and Whale watching.
There was only one campsite, so it had to do. Despite feeling niggled over a lack of space for my tent on the pitch it was fine. I even had some wood left over from the last campers. The pegs went in fine, the facilities were nice and people who passed were friendly. But I felt alone, desperately so! And down came the tears, they lasted all the time pitching and sorting out a fire. Still didn't stop as I went to phone Al and lauren, I just needed a friend to talk to, to hear someone voices that meant something to me. Mainly I wanted to be able to talk to Cai, but I can't and won't be able to again. I don't mind grieving, I know it does me good; but I wish I could have some control when. To be able to feel it and put it aside till later, not for the tears to just roll down my where ever I am. It isn't that I'm ashamed either, I just don't want to have to explain what is wrong to any onlookers.
Call me a miserable shite if you like, but, the last thing I wanted was to be stuck in a boat with a few dozen tourist plebs crowding round the rail and getting in everyone's way. And thats exactly what I got! The early morning sailing was meant to be the quiet one; WRONG!! Fifty people, whilst friendly enough to talk to, who rushed onto their chosen rail and no way were they moving for anyone. Even when I saw something and lifted up my camara to try and shoot something some pillock instantly jumped in front my lense. AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The naturalist on the boat saw my frustration and had a quiet word. Actually she asked if there were anything she could do to help, "throw half the passengers off" was my reply. She did understand completely, which is why she noticed. Once advised the best place to go the trip improved dramatically. Each time the engines were cut I got up in front the wheel house and had a grandstand view. So I could stop being a grumpy old git, but I do so hate being surrounded by tourists.
So what did I see? You've already seen from the photos so I don't need to tell you. OK, the Stella sea lions have just arrived back into the area, couldn't get a better shot; grrrrrrrrr, tourist blockade! But the rest just got better and better. They get reports by spotter plan where the resident Orca's are. So off we set, to view what I'd been set on seeing. And it wasn't long, despite detouring to look for some Humpback whales. On the way there we happened upon the Orca's; so much for the supposed report. There were two males and half a dozen or so females, we got closer and closer (have to stay 100 yds away though) and loads of photo opportunities. Then it was decided to go see the Humpbacks, as they are less frequently seen. Amazingly there were three together feeding, a sight not seen often. We got to see them surfacing for a lunge feed and their tail sweep as they descended again. And then the Orca's appeared again, close to the Humpbacks. Bloody great, Orca's on one side and Humpbacks on the other, coool! We stayed watching for quite some time, spoilt for choice!
While backing away a report of some Pacific White side Dolphins came in so off we went to investigate , a supposed large group. By buggery it was, a very large group. Hundreds of them and we meet them just as they started our way. The buggers are so hard to get a good shot of, but I did manage a few decent ones. To be honest, like the whales beyond a certain point you missed the best by trying to get decent photos. The dolphins were lined up in groups of four or more riding the same bow wave, only a couple of feet away from the boat. Gorgeous and amazing, it really lifted my spirits. It also brought on the tears! It was excellent but would have been perfect seeing all this with Cai, jeez I do miss him so much!!
Knowing my good friends from home, Creative Recycling, are on the look out for a new truck I thought I'd help them out. Here's one I found on Vancouver Island that could use a bit of very creative recycling. It has plenty of potential and even more character!
Since leaving Port Hardy I've sailed the Inland Passage up to Prince Rupert. There is no where else to go from there except to Terrace on Route 37. Keen to stay off large highways where possible I took a smaller road through New Aiyansh and Nass Camp to Cranberry Junction, where I rejoined the 37. Many hours and a day and a half of riding brought me onto the Alaskan highway (route 1) now I have to follow this East and south until I can find another, smaller, route. One that can provide me with more of a challenge, which will be more fun.
The scenery from Prince Rupert was great, a long, wide sea inlet with a backdrop of mountains, still enhanced with last year's snow. Best of all take a gander at the beauty I saw on the way to Terrace. Isn't it lovely? My first bear sighting, and I got some good photo's, even if the close up is a wee bit out of focus. He was fine with a number of cars stopping and taking photos until one idjeet, with an expensive camera and king dong lense, had to get real close. Shame it wasn't a grizzly!
Its unbelievable the variation you can find in mountains, lakes, trees, snow, mist and clouds. It seems like each bend brings on a whole new vista. Too much to photo or describe, purely there to appreciate.
My first mistake in Canada, not refueling at every available opportunity. On the way to Terrace I had to retrace my route for over twenty miles when I unexpectedly went onto to reserve. Hot damn, at least I've learnt my lesson now! It would appear that I can make it between fuel stops without extra containers. And it brings you into some nice, secluded little communities, this one is the centre of the Naga'a people. The mountain setting around them is stunning, awesome looking rock and gorgeous snow streaked crevices; and I do like snowy crevices!
I certainly picked the correct route, it wasn't long before my second bear sighting, and this one was mine alone. I passed before noticing him, so turned back round and approached really slow, getting about ten metres away. Luckily I got my photos before some yippies in a VW screamed to a stop right next to him and scared him away. But hey, I saw two more that day and three the day after. No chances of more photos, they didn't hang around long enough. The more you get into the wilderness the more afraid of humans or vehicles they become. Good news as I'm about to camp in the wilds alone.
My choice of route proved doubly appreciated when I hit the wilderness road (means unsurfaced and not maintained)from Nass Camp and Cranberry Junction. This was windy, very pot holed and muddy gravel, added up equals enormous fun and a massive boost of confidence. I was more than happy riding at 40-50 mph, hell it was great! The pot holes proved no problem, stand on the foot pegs and open it up. The bike damn flew over them, very impressed with it's performance on trails. So much so I nearly lost it when I looked at the speedo and saw it reading 60 mph, I didn't slow down, there was no need to I felt totally in control. It paved the way for anxiety free tackling of rougher surfaces. The road pictured here was yesterday's 30 miles stint on muddy packed earth. I didn't bother going less than 60 mph; shit if I go over I'll only slide, worse is a broken bone or two, as long as there's no big rig around. Me and the bike got covered in crud, and I'm still minging, so its a hotel tonight to get clean.
It was my intention to blast out a 400 mile ride yesterday but I seemed reluctant to hit town and be out the wilds. A few times I tried tracks off the road, but they always turned out to private property. So I thought bugger it, ride to town; then for some inexplicable reason I tried another track. I followed it for nigh on a mile, hey presto! It came out by a gorgeous lake, room to park and even a deserted log cabin. How good was that? OK, so the windows were put through and it was full of rat shit; but hey, it was more aesthetically pleasing than the rat infested loggers cabin I found to stay in the night before. It took me an hour to clean it reasonable enough for my domestic satisfaction, there was even a dry fold down sofa, which I put my sleep mat on and slept as sweet as a babe.
apart from the freezing temperature the hide away was ideal. A lake who's water had barely a ripple, surrounded by trees and mountains and the only sound was the water running out and down the fast flowing creek. Oh, such tranquility! I could have been the only person alive for all I could see or hear. Near dusk I got a fire going and just stood around mesmerised, watching the fish jump. Then I noticed something swimming over the far side of the lake, a couple of minutes later it appeared over my side. It was right in the reflection of the water and it was too dark to see clearly, I'm sure it was too small to be an otter. Then it dived and I never saw it again, any one know any other creatures it could be? It was definitely at least 9 inches or so long with fur, I got a dark picture of it which I'll keep and try to uncover the mystery.
All these things are amazing and really make me feel alive, as does the biting cold of riding hour after hour. But the nature and wildlife make me miss Cai so much. I still find it hard to believe he's gone, still can't imagine a life worth living without him. Every day is filled with thoughts of him, and punctuated with tears of my loss. But they're not desperate, and I do bring him to mind in a positive light. I bring him into my heart and feel the tremendous love I have for him.
Route 1 from Watson Lake only took me to Contact creek, from there it was south on Highway 97; for two days. The map shows the Rockies starting around Watson, it was another hundred miles before they really came into view. They got me really excited, it was after all, what we originally planned to come here for. They are absolutely gob smacking, spectacular, awesome, and every other word you can come up with. It seems impossible to describe all the subtle differences when faced with wall to wall mountains, but different they were.
I could easily tell the direction of the prevailing wind. A series of gently sloping outcrops were completely devoid of vegetation, yet the steep, craggy, leeward side bristled with conifers. Behind them was an upturned cone, crumpled and scrunched to form a multitude of ridges running down all sides. There were numerous cwms lined up one after the other, it looked like someone had come along and scooped out the rock as if it were ice cream. Snow filled gulley's abound, still there since last winter; many looking almost like molars, cracked and broken, exposed to the cold. My favourite was the rounded breast, its pert nipple pointing skyward. Yesterday was a glorious day for the sheer magnitude of rock, also magnificent for the wildlife.
It doesn't do to be complacent about Bears, yet I got within twenty five feet of one, then even closer to another. Their eyesight is not too good, move slowly and carefully and its possible to get reasonably close without scaring them away. It was delightful to finish off my memory card with a 30 second video of one feeding, oblivious of my presence; being upwind of him. So many delights to report, a trio of Daal sheep had decided to come down lower than generally seen and present themselves especially for me. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought Caribou were meant to go about in sodding great herds. I saw one, on its own, not that big and very skittish.Didn't like the noise of my bike, but that gets cut as soon as I see 'owt now. So I managed a photo of that too. A lone Bison was unperturbed by me or the bike, just stayed munching, giving me only a cursory glance to let me know It'd seen me. Lastly, this morning I had the pleasure of seeing a Beaver dam. No damn Beaver though, and I'd have liked to see a nice beaver.
Its a real shame the first experience of the Rockies was cut short, the road swung back away from them, heading to Fort Nelson, a dreary shit hole that didn't impress me at all. Neither did the day's riding today, a long way with a tantalising glimpse of the hills, always looking as if I'd swing back to them, alas the road would sweep the other way. So the day was spent cloud gazing as I pottered along at 70 mph. .A decision's been made, no need to rush, best to conserve fuel. So although there were only clouds to stare at it was fine. Actually reminded me of being in Tobago with Cai just before sunset, two enormous clouds in the shape of Ogres, made angry by the redness of the setting sun. Although he was only four then, its a memory he carried all his life, only recently we talked about it.
Tedium doesn't begin to explain the ride from Fort Nelson to Fort St John on route 97. A straight road and very little to look at, I hardly even had to stay awake (Actually been finding it hard to do so, maybe its a slow diminishing of my energy levels; maybe have a couple of days rest soon). This river view was one of the only worthwhile things to look at. So by the time I made it to town I felt deflated. No way was I about to spend another night in a crap town, and Fort St John looked no better than Nelson. I took a side trip through Hudson's Hope, round Route 29, taking me into and along Peace valley. AT Chetwynd route 97 was rejoined and taken all the way down to Prince George. I was back on track, heading towards the mountains; then, at last, the Rockies loomed large, right in front of me.Oh, such joy; a whoopin' and a hollerin' I most certainly was. I'd been in a seriously awful mood for the last two days, frustrated and angry. I nearly kicked in a campsite's roadside advertising board, just because they refused to allow bikers in. Peace valley did its job on me, the anger went, just leaving me flat and grumpy. A shame I didn't get a grip and enjoy the valley more, its proposed to flood it all for a another hydro-electric dam. At least being refused made me seek out an independent campsite. Very serene, I camped out by the river, pepper spray to hand, ready for any Grizzly sneaking up on me.
Feeling a grumpy bore can't be good to maintain, ask any ex of mine, and luckily I snapped out of it; even before the mountains re-appeared. The good folk of Hudson's Hope helped me out there, very nice and friendly, good to meet and feed off some of their pleasure of life. I even let the kind Welsh woman, from the museum, take my picture with her pride and joy. So thanx, and here it is in all its splendour!
I know its their job, but everyone I've meet at the Visitor Centres have been so friendly; not just helpful. Its been clear they enjoy what they're doing. Certainly no sign of surliness which seems common in places in the UK, though not necessarily in tourist offices specifically(before I upset someone else), the public service industry as a whole. At Chetwynd it was the Visitor Centre who organise the annual chainsaw carving competition. Some of the work was not really my ideal style, too may bears on trees, but well made all the same. This Indian I was impressed with, it stands about eight feet tall. The detail is something else, contestants spend about 30 hours on them over four days.
It was after Chetwynd the road turned very twisty, I could have soiled my underwear with delight. It followed a river meandering down the valley with a backdrop of the Rockies, lovely sweeping bends taken at full tilt. For days I've kept my speed to 70mph to conserve fuel, not when faced with such beautiful windy roads. They're much too frilling, I just had to open the bike up; it is such a delight to ride that way, who am I to deprive it of its natural prowess, swooping round the lumpy tarmac.
From Prince George I've followed route 16, towards Jasper, which I should reach today. This is written in McBride, a typical old styled American railroad town (despite being in Canada. Shhh, don't tell them that's how I described it.) I loved the converted station house, gorgeous food and people. Even the graffiti on passing trains is artistic, rather than autistic. This rail old railway carriage looks like its being lived in now, just as well, I'd have squatted it. The surrounding mountains are truly amazing , all topped with snow. With that observation, winter really is nipping at my heels, I'm going to have to head straight down south, without detours for visits. Bummer, I wanted to see friends again on the way south.
As a point of interest, this is not a Polar Bear: its a white, Black Bear! Often referred to as "Ghost Bears", people are very lucky to see one. They are found mainly in one region of Canada, which you can look up on the Internet, coz I've forgotten. But just let me get close enough to a black bear with my bottle of peroxide!
From Canal Flats on Highway 95 I took a forest/logging trail to White Swan Lake, and camped the night. Following morning (Monday that is) I decided to follow the track for about 100 km, making it a total of 125 km; supposedly. I rode at an average of 40 mph for 90 minutes, a bit slower for another hour, and then a sign said another 100 km. As my trip meter got broke I didn't know how far it actual was. I can only say over 100 miles, and leave it at that! I came out at Galloway, and headed down to the US border.
The track was quite varied in the quality of surface I was riding on, at best it was loose and dry gravel, and at it's worst it was ball breaking. I was going confidently at 40-50 mph with a big grin on my face, the ride was great; even when faced with bottomless chasms. Well actually, seeing my front wheel skimming along, an inch from the edge of a massive drop did slow me down for a wee while. But not for long, despite feeling the twitches and slight slipping of the tyres, the bike held it's course; point it where you want to go and open the throttle, easy. Well almost; coming round a bend I was suddenly faced with huge trenches covering the entire width of the road, running along the road for a good twenty metres. Miraculously I managed to keep the bike out the ruts, maintaining control on a narrow band of dirt and emerging unscathed. Phew! I seriously worried about the cleanliness of my thermals after that, but was pleased with how I tackled the problem and sped off. Oh, boy! Maybe I should have reassessed the track at that point. Neither the troughs or the horrendous drops were a match for the fearsome boulder field I was to come across though.
Oh, boy! Why can't I have more foresight. Why can't I see round bends? And why isn't the bike indestructible? Within a few hundred yards of the rutted death trap a section of large cobbles appeared on the left side of the track. No sweat, there was plenty of space to the right, and it was fairly well compacted. Simple, ease off a touch for the bend and swing round on the right, right? WRONG! Find myself faced with a long stretch of boulders filling two thirds of the track, my two thirds of it! Before I could do anything I was being bounced all over the place, struggling to keep control of the bike. Despite the best efforts of the boulder field, I managed to aim the bike towards the flattish side. I was stood on the pegs for more control, struggling with motorcycle epilepsy and trying to knock it down a gear for proper traction. Too much for me: Boulder field 1 - 0 Les. Down and out for the count, both me and the bike, me underneath to break the bike's fall. Due to the rather large nature of the boulders it was relatively easy to extract myself. Free and unhurt was a relief, being unable to move the bike more than an inch was not. God, when did it become that heavy? Probably by falling into a slight ditch, leaving the handlebars lower than the wheels. I tried from a few different angles, no chance at all. Being dressed in full thermal regalia I instantly broke into a profuse sweat. This was definitely going to more than a quick lift, so off came helmet, gloves and all the top layers. When did it suddenly get so hot? Tried maneuvering it into a better position, no joy! Found a length of timber to lever up one end, it broke! Found a stronger piece, risked snapping the lower portion of the nose fairing; nearly done it. OK, try again from a better position. Nearer, get my knee under the tank, swear loudly and heave; crap, not quite! Make a support out of large flat bounders to wedge the lever, then I won't have to lift as much, hhheeeaaave. Double shite, pile of boulders are in the way! At this point I can see petrol leaking out he tank, not a good sight, don't want to lose too much and get stranded. It's obvious I've got to sort this out without any help, had been immediately. I know it took long enough to decide but there is no alternative now, off comes all the luggage, which reveals an even steadier flow of fuel from the rear fuel overflow. This could be crucial now, if I lose too much fuel I've got a long walk, at least 40-50 miles. With renewed vigour and half a litre of water I give all the grunt I can muster, f*** you b******, get the f*** up aaaaaaahhhhhh!!!! Yes, yes, yes, phew! How relieved can one man be? Believe me, VERY! It nearly fell over the other way though, that caused me a seizure. But all's well that ends well!
Almost a shame I didn't move it onto safer, more even ground before reloading. Not to worry, it get out the boulders with no more fuss and I was on my way. That's enough excitement for one day. Though riding another hour before a sign declaring another 100 km to the highway could have caused distress, if I hadn't thoroughly enjoyed getting out the predicament alone.
The rest of the ride out was uneventful, in comparison. There were a few minor wheel slides and twitchy moments with the handle bars, but hey, all in a good days ride, right? Reaching Montana gave way to more open countryside and some lovely pastoral landscapes. Loads of gorgeous lakes and rivers, slightly more windy roads and a more relaxed pace. My Back tyre has no grip left at all in the centre, so I'm taking it easy until I get a new one.
From McBride it was Route 16 right on down to Jasper. A night's camp in cold conditions saw me fit for the next leg, expected to be one of the highlights! Highway 93, all the way through the glacial fields and on into the Montana. Like so many of the Canadian roads they promised nothing of excitement in the road itself, fairly straight and monotonous, depending almost solely on the surrounding countryside for relief from terminal boredom. Many people had talked about this section of road, from Jasper to Banff, as a not to be missed journey. From what I'd seen coming towards jasper, and from the town itself, it showed a lot of promise.
I was utterly awestruck, capable of only making noises to the effect of Waaaaa and sshhhiiii-iiiitte. Speed was kept at no more than 60 mph, yes it was that good, with constant stops. I couldn't believe it took me over an hour and a half to cover 50 miles. It got the the point where it had to force myself to continue riding; otherwise I would never have left the park. I just wanted to photograph everything, from every angle. The views to one side would have me totally mesmerised, then I'd glance round and be swept away by how phenomenal the formations were on that side.
Amazing layered rock, most of what I could see; a big variation in the colour though. One series would be sandy coloured, obviously sedimentary, whilst others would be multi-hued and veined with snow. From the angle of layers it was easy to see from where, and in what direction, the original push on the earth's crust was. Even two peaks joined by a ridge had contorted differently, one receiving loads more upthrust along one edge; the other had risen fairly equally.
The immensity was something else, how easy it was to feel small and insignificant. Shown here is one mountain a few miles beyond what can be seen of the road. The distance between the ranges on each side of the road wasn't that far, this is meant to be one of the longest glacial troughs there are. Called the Columbian Ice fields, nothing to do with that country, it carries on much further than I followed it for.
Obviously the glacial field was highlighted for the glaciers themselves. To be honest I didn't stop at the largest, or supposed, most spectacular. These were heaving with people and bus tours! And I don't just mean buses carrying them to the glacier, they were special designed buses for trips over the glacier. As I didn't think they'd let me have a go on the bike, I only had a cursory look and carried on.
Far more interesting was the way the glaciers flowed down the mountainsides. Some looked almost like cream flowing out a jug, it gathered on successive ledges as it descended, to flow even thicker to the next ledge. There were many like this, such a shame they couldn't all be closely observed with no time restrictions. With light flurries of snow, on such a bright sunny day, I really can't shake the feeling of needing to head south. Anyway, the only way to take in very much would be to walk the whole route. A whole stack of memory cards would be useful as well, I've got through so much already.
The whole day was exception, spent in a mountain wonderland, absolutely spectacular. My head state was much improved before this, afterwards....head state, what's that? But I have kept Cai very much in mind, positively! Yep, I even speak to him; shame he doesn't answer, but if it makes me feel good, then so be it. More importantly is opening up my heart and feeling the love I'll always hold for him. I can even write that without crying, at the moment anyway. I'm sure it hasn't suddenly gone, never to return!
As you can see, I've decided my old lid was too loose, allowing too much wind noise, after many attempts I finally found another I'm happy with. So I've got a nice shiney helmet!
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