Motorcycling has its own parameters. When a ride goes well—good
weather, scenic route, food and fuel when you want them and no bone-breaking,
skull-crushing, skin-ripping collisions—almost any destination is
disappointing. You just hate to see a good ride end.
And in Canada, it’s easy to find good rides. Roads, amenities and
scenery are readily available, though, come to think of it, so is weather, so
that can mess things up. So, although the appeal of motorcycling is the
freedom, the best rides come with some basic rules, including:
- Do a bit of planning so you don’t drive into a predictable
- Be kind of prepared in case of an unpredictable storm.
- If things go sour, man up.
The long-term forecast was in my favour last summer when I punched it out of
Kamloops to Victoria on the first leg of a five-day cruise. It was still good
the next day heading west from the cap city to the Sooke pools, then up the
west coast of Vancouver Island ‘til the pavement ends at Port Renfrew.
In a remote and rugged land, the deep harbour draws boaters from across the
oceans as well as plenty of landlubber tree huggers, out to smoke weed and
commune with Mother Nature.
More often than not, Mother Nature around here does all her talking through
clouds, fog, drizzle and merciless rain that can last for months.
Fortunately, that week, she shut up or went north and I didn’t miss
Like all the great pretzel routes in and around Victoria, the road to Port
Renfrew is much better suited to sport bikes than my heavy, low-to-the-ground
cruiser. The tighter curves are scarred from grinding metal off the underside
of bikes like mine. There’s really nothing like having your bike
suddenly redirected toward a rock face at speed.
The twisty, rainforest road runs by parks, beaches and viewpoints, drawing
motorcyclists from far afield. That included two from Michigan who followed
coastal routes all the way from Florida to Port Renfrew. We all ended up back
in Victoria, but as they headed northeast across Canada, I crossed the Juan
de Fuca Strait to Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.
Rolling onto American pavement, I headed west through fishing villages and
lumber towns toward Neah Bay, the most northwestern point in the contiguous
US, a native reservation that shares about 60 per cent of its border with the
beautiful, blue Pacific. Surprisingly, it’s not far from Port Renfrew,
though it feels a world away.
In spite of the sun, I layered up and as I approached the distal,
ocean-exposed point it got cooler and cooler. And so did the
economy—the remoteness and climate had driven people away from the
once-thriving coastal towns and there is no sign of a pending recovery.
Doubling back to historic Port Townsend, I toured the once-rich city’s
restored Victorian architecture before bunking down at the hostel at Fort
Worden State Park, site of an army base built in 1902.
The following morning, in the cool of a seaside dawn, I took the Keystone
ferry to Whidbey Island and the start of Hwy 20, which runs north to the
breathtaking Deception Pass State Park.
The scenic highway includes a bridge far above Deception Pass that offers
breathtaking views of the ocean on one side and the island-studded inlet on
the other. It’s easy to imagine how Deception Pass got its name: it
offered hope to British explorers who rounded Cape Horn and made their way up
the west coast, still seeking the elusive Northwest Passage.
The postcard-perfect cliffs and islands amid the shimmering water so far
below are the epitome of calendar art. Cameras can’t capture its
expansive beauty, its shifts in lighting, the action of the waves against the
rocks, nor the undulating reflections of the billowing cumulus.
Seabirds and sailboats add their own activity. Otherwise, there is little to
distract a viewer from the vast, untouched natural setting. The same currents
that caught early navigators still swirl against the steep outcroppings. With
no development, the forested landscape is essentially the same that they saw,
though they looked way, way up—oblivious that someday, in a world
beyond their imaginations, others would look down from a steel span across
Up through Anacortes and back on the mainland, the weather grew warmer away
from the ocean and deeper into the Skagit Valley. This is one of the things
that carves their way into a motorcyclist’s psyche. The shifting scents
of the ocean—briny waters, wet sand, seaweed in the sun—are
carried on breezes that vary in temperature and intensity, then give way to
the fresh scents of green grass and fir forests. Farther inland, through
North Cascades National Park, down into a valley soaked in sun, the dry air
carries the scents of pine forests, mown hay, dust and crops, cattle and
horses. Then there are apple and cherry orchards; a cool river somewhere out
of sight; and diesel fumes—a warning that there may be a big truck
around the next curve, slowly ascending and blocking the lane.
And eventually, there’s the smell of smoke—smoke that lasts for
kilometres, and then a swarm of grasshoppers, followed later by a second
swarm, flying across the highway in a hurry to get somewhere, anywhere, away
from where they were.
They’re a warning, too. If they’re driven by a forest fire, it
will drive deer in the same direction. But for now, it’s just me versus
the ’hoppers that splatter the windshield, ping off the visor and
speckle my leathers. It’s great sport and the final tally rests at
grasshoppers, zero; motorcycle, 1.5 million.
Hours later and 200 kilometres away, the smoke still lingers as the Tulameen
forest fire grows to the west. By evening, the sky over the Cascade Mountains
is a smoky, blue-grey canvas, punctuated by an eerie devilish-red sun.
And as I headed north to the Canadian border at Oroville, the Goat Herd,
which is a Pontiac GTO club of late ’60s and early ’70s
V8-powered GTOs, roared south, back to Oregon and Colorado. The club had
spent a couple of days in Kamloops at the Hot Night in the City car show and
I was glad to catch a bit of it after all.
The day had started on the Pacific Coast of Washington’s Olympic
Peninsula and ended in Kelowna in time for a late dinner and appropriate
beverages at Rosy’s on the lake.
All in all, a pretty fine day and a perfect ride. V