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Intro: Wild Canada West: BC2015
Inordinate planning length, disappointments and the odd stupendous sight seem to be trademarks of my longer bike adventures of the past few years.
After a minor let down of not being able to get booked up for the Isle of Man TT for 2015, I was told of a newspaper article for a tour company offering bike adventures in Canada of all places. Partner-in-crime, Norrie, set me up nicely and would not let the matter lay until I had read the print so, I downloaded a copy and literally gasped at the photos presented. A quick look at the tour company’s website had me hooked and the rest was simply down to logistics and of course, cost.
This didn’t go down very well initially, since it was winter 2014 and we were not too long back from Italy and World Ducati Week however, a long term interest-free credit card helped ease the negotiations!
Sometimes, shift work does have some advantages, in my case, regular holiday blocks which lined up well with the recommended best touring window for west coast Canada of August. Sadly, Norrie couldn’t get the same days off but I had some extra holidays available to use so, with two weeks in mind I hastily booked the BMW GS1200’s we had decided upon, after some studying of the hire companies array of machines. Both of us having the same bike seemed sensible to trouble-shoot and yes, gentle reader, we did ask if Ducati’s could be made available! Maybe, next time…
It did look as though our plans had stalled when no flights could be found, Air Canada and B.A. flights were either booked for the days we needed or prohibitively expensive. When exactly the brain storm hit of looking on Canadian website for flights, I’m not sure but, it worked. The WestJet Company were due to start flying out of Glasgow to various destinations in May 2015 and it could not have been better timed for us. Flights were duly booked and those and the deposits for the tour paid together, no turning back now, we were off to the ‘big country’.
Sadly, gentle reader that is the end of the good news as far as WestJet were concerned. A month later, I received an email stating our two flight journey had altered to three with the unwelcome addition of Glasgow to Halifax (Nova Scotia) onto the original, Toronto / Vancouver. Nothing could be done, no compensation would be offered and as a good will gesture we were offered preselected seat so that we were guaranteed to sit together. The next disappointment to be unearthed was no hot meals of any type on any of the flights! I worked out we were in the air for 14 hours with only cold food offered apparently, the ‘infrastructure’ would not be in place to allow hot food service before we flew, I detest those types of ‘buzz-phrase’.
Thank goodness the fun of deciding on route variations and learning about the geography of the land was such a welcome distraction. The tour company (cyclebc) have a range of accommodations available over much of Canada it appears, they used to offer guided vacations in the past but this seems to be by request now however, the great knowledge gained by actually riding the roads was evident in the meticulous day notes they produce. All this planning and rekindling my cycling interest in pursuit of a little much needed fitness, worked very much against any motorbike riding time at all, during the first half of 2015. The decision to try a lighter weight set of riding trousers at least got my Ducati out of the garage to blow the cobwebs away and help with the purchase of some Dianese Amsterdam (how appropriate a name from previous tours) textile trousers from Infinity cycles.
Our eventual Full Route - 'J'is the start and finish point.
All my other riding kit I was very happy with but, I did want to take some on-board video of our rides and my eyes were made much more square investigating options on the 'net until, the decision to buy a JVC action cam was made, along with the fun of making that work!
I never thought I’d be glad of leaving my own bike behind. However, I found it time consuming enough trying to plan packing priorities for the limited space we had on the hire bikes, without worrying about bike servicing and the like. Factor into this the late addition of a set of Bluetooth bike-to-bike intercoms and it was astonishing how fast the days were counting down to departure. A trip to a local BMW agency was sweet and sour in that we were at least convinced at making a good bike choice but dismayed at how small one factory pannier was, being quite compromised on space due to the huge single silencer fitted. Norrie to the rescue though, he had not one but two Bags-Connections removable tankbags and in a turn of good fortune the hire company in Vancouver dealt with the same supplier and could source appropriate fittings for the bikes; result.
Fancy some late changes dear reader? A possible mistake first in not realising how diverse a city Vancouver is, as we both agreed on sacrificing a free-day on our first proper day, for a riding day to get us acclimatised to the bikes and riding in Canada. Later in the journey we decided to add a dip down over the border into the USA and instead of a final ‘lazy-day’ in Vancouver, I talked Norrie into a ferry ride to Vancouver Island for a ride down to the State capital: Victoria. All accepted by CycleBC without any qualms or fuss at all.
One week to go, I finally started my holiday block and was buzzing with excitement. For weeks previously, If I wasn’t searching for information on Canada then I was either studying the route, especially on Google street view for the start and end of each day, or watching videos of Canada on the ‘net. There is a fine line I think between preparing oneself for a trip well and tainting the surprise, I’d hoped I got the balance right, reading up on things like plastic bank notes that can stick together when new, right turns on a red light being fine but the signs or lights to prevent the same can be located anywhere and really important stuff like the best local beers and bourbons!
On a very serious note, the massive and uncontrollable forest fires in the northern California areas were causing problems many miles north and into Canada. Firefighters lives had already been taken along with hundreds of thousands of acres of forest, the knock-on effect being road closures from the smog and even a highway we might need, closed down the very day before we left our own, green and pleasant lands.
One day to go came around too quickly, with a long list of 'to do' items for both home and away, only completed on the Friday morning. I had to sacrifice my preferred route of the A68 North as a visit to friends on the outskirts of Newcastle was needed, a poor choice of day as the roadworks that seem to have been built with the A1, in and around the Metro centre caused even more delays than normal. With only a single coffee stop, I pushed on up the motorway but, late, as expected I guess, getting to Glasgow but, spot on time for an excellent meal to be served as soon as I walked in! Over a few beers the evening also passed far too quickly, no time to enjoy the moment. Documents checked, cameras sorted, helmet intercomms installed, with an unnecessary and annoying bluetooth pairing issue delaying plans, by the time I'd completed our online check-in, we were able to enjoy a whole four hours sleep before getting back up again for the airport run!
Poor Norrie had to endure a deluge of personal and work issues that became so critical, at a week before departure, there was a doubt if he would be able to go to Canada at all. Thankfully, all overcome a penalty still remained that he was missing a few items that we were running around to airport to try and get. Luggage tags, luggage locks, batteries and even suntan lotion were all things wanted to settle a flustered traveller before we flew. All were obtained but Norrie's purchase of an oversized bottle of sun-cream did worry me and later, it was to prove, well founded...
Final check-in annoyed me somewhat. Instructions I thought were clear: One piece of hold luggage, 25Kg maximum weight. I'd had to drag an old large suitcase from our loft and rebuild a broken lining to pack all my clothing in a single bag. I was a few grams over and got a 'tut-tut' from the desk clerk, while Norrie used two slightly smaller bags and nothing was said with no extra payment to make, bizarre. Just time to grab a coffee and snack and for us to indulge in some foolishness before flight of buying Scotland caps and flags for us and the bikes to wear!
With the misery of UK security checks out of the way we got to the gate just as the first call was announced. Seats as planned, we were both carrying our helmets as hand luggage which thankfully, didn’t prove a problem at all as they went in the overhead lockers with ease. Clear Saturday morning take-off skies allowed Norrie to point out some landmarks before we headed off, over the water. We were sat with an informative lady called Linda, who happily talked almost non-stop after introducing herself as a minor internet music star. She kept us entertained and did offer some interesting motoring advice, "Don’t trust any Chinese drivers in Canada"!
Speaking of similar, I do wish I hadn't bothered with the cold Chinese chicken wrap I'd ordered. I knew something was wrong from the instant tingling in my lips which felt like cold sores and would trouble me for days to come. Sleep came easily as the initial excitement of travel wore off and the next I knew we were preparing to land in Halifax. A very welcoming place it was too. Water features, wide quiet walkways and welcoming staff made it feel like a holiday arrival now, for these two aliens, anyway. Customs clearance was effortless but it was curious, picking up our hold luggage and carrying them all of fifty feet to another conveyor belt for them to disappear, however, it was deeply worrying for Norrie sadly, as his brand new Ducati tote bag came through with the sides so badly scuffed it was hard to make out the Ducati text.
A drink and a decent WARM bite to eat were obvious next priorities as this was the longest stopover of the journey to Vancouver. A leisurely look around the airport shops led to our first taste of Canadian ice cream, the small kiosk having a Tardis like array of flavours available. Just as we arrived at the security gate we heard the first call for our flight and hurried through with our hand luggage, a familiar routine already for us, Norrie had to take his belt and metal heeled boots off, I had to take out and open my notebook for electronic inspection. Sadly, the guards took issue with our helmet intercomms. Going to different scanners to save time might have been a mistake but, my while my explanation was accepted quickly, Norrie was still being questioned, while I was caught up in another issue. Last minute at home, I'd dropped a multi-tool into my hand luggage in case of bike problems, completely forgetting that the tool also contained a very sharp blade and scissors - Glasgow were happy with this but not Halifax security. I either left it behind or tried to get it into my hold luggage, (that was long gone) so it is on permanent holiday in Nova Scotia now, the guards finally being happy we really were riding bikes after seeing our deposit paperwork.
I wish that was the worst of our problems but it didn’t even come close. We heard no announcements in the security area and became alarmed at the lack of any passengers, anywhere on the walkways to our gate. We decided to start running down the aisles but at the gate we were greeted by the unbelievable sight of our plane, backing away gracefully from the stand!
Too shocked to be angry, I think I felt all my energy drain away at that point knowing we were essentially only a third into our journey. "Don’t worry" said the clerk in what seemed to me a feeble parody of the hitchhiker’s guide book cover. "The plane is full but we can get you on the next flight in 30 minutes", this seemed beyond my comprehension, apparently, late as we were, but without any final calls, known to be on a connecting flight meant our seats could be sold to make WestJet a little more money. Best of all, OUR luggage was on the flight that had just departed for Toronto.
In compensation we were given ‘plus’ seats which are a little wider with more leg room and apparently, complementary food and drink but, only when the attendants bring the trolleys around. Needless to say, a whisky was almost a medicinal requirement at that point. Being our shortest flight at a mere 2 hours 30 minutes, I can hardly remember it now, but, I made sure not to have any of the cold foods offered, sticking with snacks and drinks only.
Despite a quote I’d heard of “its always a happy day when ours tickets show YYZ”, the latter being the airport code for Toronto, the location didn’t always have a good reputation with customers and certainly left a bitter taste in our mouths, partly our fault but most, definitely not. After disembarking, we knew we had cleared the port-of-entry already and thought we would have to collect our luggage as this was supposed to be our first change of aircraft. After finding the correct carousel we waited a stressed 40 mins for most of the luggage to be collected from the flight we were ‘supposed’ to be on. The WestJet rep couldn’t understand it but a helpful baggage assistant, worked it out instantly after checking our itinerary. Our baggage was automatically taken to the next flight, no intervention needed! So we tried to return to boarding area we came from but security would not allow that, so we had to move ‘on’ to the entrance lobby. The WestJet desk, at the other end of the building had this happen many times before (surprise, surprise) and allowed us though their gate without any delay. To say we were both somewhat stressed by this time is something of an understatement, we didn’t even want any food or drink, I simply wanted to be on our last flight and away. Sadly, because we had effectively been through the check-in procedure we had to go through security clearance again. Any guesses at the security breech this time dear reader?
Norries sun-cream would be the correct answer.
Even though, it was in a Boots-the–Chemist hermetically sealed bag, stamped from Glasgow, that wasn’t good enough for Toronto. An end of shift guard, chastised Norrie for having an oversized lotion and said it would have to be removed from its bag and scanned. Now, I have no idea what the scanning was meant to do, I only saw the bar code being read and the item didn’t exist on the guard’s system. Next step was analysis of the contents, which it turned out couldn’t be attempted as the necessary machine was broken! Sadly, Norrie was beyond his threshold at this point and called for the supervisor, who simply laughed and walked away, when Norrie said a few choice words (to the guard, who promptly disappeared) and then came to tell me of the problems. I said to simply leave the lotion with them but Norrie was then ushered over to a group of guards, it appears the lotion was confiscated anyway AND Norrie was required to go and check in AGAIN, followed by another security scanning at a different desk, unbelievable!!
I was sure our entire holiday was under some horrific curse by this time. After 20 minutes waiting, I went to get a bottle of water for the pain killers I needed to take, it took another 20 minutes for Norrie to finally appear. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so angry before so I thought I’d better buy us some beer to try and calm down. 13 hours we had been on the go already and we were frazzled, for the want of a better term. The flight was then late taking off, we were back to standard seats and I’m afraid we both needed a stiff drink during our final 5 hour trip to Vancouver.
Even now, nearly three months after the event, upon typing this, I can still connect with my own frustration with the final insult of one of Norrie’s cases disappearing! My large case appeared quickly on the carousel, followed by Norrie’s standard case but NOT, his Ducati bag. It was 9.30pm local time now and we had been awake for 20 hours on only 4 hours of sleep. All the help desks were either closed or deserted, as travellers drifted away into the night, we were, eventually, the only two left standing.
I walked to the other end of the collection terminal, looking for help and the local staff said to try the damaged luggage area which was… right next to where Norrie was still waiting for me. I’m afraid gentle reader that I lose the timeline around this point, I was told to wait in various areas and was eventually taken to an oversized baggage area where (surprise, surprise) there was Norrie’s, much smaller than a standard suitcase, Ducati bag – but (surprise, surprise), it was smashed to pieces, broken handle, base and dented top, it had been badly misused and of course, no one was available to record a complaint.
I wonder what it is about the human condition to think that a terrible situation could only improve? Norrie was actually in remarkably good spirits, nothing was missing and we were in one, very much tested piece.
Vancouver city was impressive, the little we saw of it through the windows of our silent Toyota Prius on our way ‘uptown’. It was 11pm by the time we arrived at the hotel, I was surprised how quiet the roads were with few cars or people visible. Check in was easy and we were allowed into the breakfast area to grab a coffee and some snacks after being told the only bars were closed already or too far to walk. It didn’t really matter, back in the room, I remember unpacking a few dress clothes and hopping in the shower to try and wash a nightmare start away to a dream vacation, well, it was certainly going to be unforgettable.
01 Hyper Falco / 93 - 900ss Ducati (944cc)
My Ducati Alter-ego = Iconic944ss
My Ducati Alter-ego = Iconic944ss
Day 1) Sunday, Sunday – old school cool
It really did feel like I’d been though some sort of bad dream, until I laid in bed and motivated myself with the small matter of going to get some gleaming motorbikes to ride. Breakfast was interesting with a variety of visitors present and learning unfamiliar routines like trying making a giant waffle that I didn’t get chance to – yet. Back upstairs to get some bike gear for riding the BMW’s back again, we only paused to take some area photo’s from the top floor gym that had a full set of windows, in place of a wall. Five blocks turned out to be a little further than I thought to walk to the cycle hire base but, surprisingly busy and still full of lessons to be learned, flashing red lights suspended over crossroads and contactless buttons for crossing the road being just two of them. CycleBC operate their Vancouver branch out of a large basement unit that is filled to capacity with pedal and motor bikes. Mike, the store manager greeted us and was already working on the red and blue GS1200’s that we had requested, great they looked too, in my head I’d already named them ‘loonie and toonie’ after the popular names for the Canadian one & two dollar coins.
Mike was already working on the bikes fitting the tankbag mounting rings for us, sadly, they didn’t quite work but Mike didn’t want to give up on them so, we completed the paperwork and the briefing for essential information before wandering back to the main street to ‘Cartems Donuterie’ for some great homemade donuts and coffee to keep us fuelled. The server for the day asked us to take a seat and even brought a roadmap over to us as he took such interest in our route and pointing out places of interest, being a keen cyclist himself. They even gave us some locally grown tea to take with us for the journey.
Back at the hire shop there was double trouble, not only would the tank bags not work on either bike, the prospect of having only a single Satnav between was made worse when no unit had been returned as planned and no spare Satnav was available until tomorrow!
The seat height on my bike was a little higher than I was used to but it was wonderfully easy to handle, just as well as my concentration was fully occupied with traffic laws, the first major left turn being at lights was a particular worry but, common sense prevailed. We wanted to go back to the hotel to find parking arrangements and grab a few drinks and snack bars from a nearby outlet, while deciding on a revised route for the afternoon. I had two locations in mind for our test ride, Cypress Mountain and Capilano Lake, both being to the north, on the other side of Vancouver bay.
The intercoms were a god send as I could tell Norrie which direction I was thinking of heading in and for us to point out any issues to each other. Our route would take us through the very centre of the city, through the delightful looking Stanley Park and over Lions gate bridge. The temperature was in the high 20’s already and the locals were gridlocking the area to get to the park, being warned against ‘lane-splitting’ (filtering as we know it, which is illegal in British Columbia), we were good boys, in the main and sat with the traffic. The beachfront housing on the north shore was almost as lovely as it looked expensive, we know because I took an early wrong turn after the bridge and ran us along Marine Drive, west but we really didn’t care as it was such a pleasant ride, slow going but good roads and a scenic view of the bay and various marinas.
Thirsty work this enjoying one’s self so I stopped us overlooking a popular spot called the Whyte-Islet, some photo’s and a check of a free map from the hotel showed us we were going to have to abandon one destination due to the time taken. Cypress Mountain was nearby and offered excellent views so we headed there next and after a brief highway blast, sharing it with many cyclists, we let the bikes cool at the view point over the bay. In the UK I would have expected a burger or ice cream van at the least but, not here, refreshingly clean and unspoiled, visitors were left to simply enjoy the view and nature.
Top to bottom:
TL - Birds eye Vancouver
TR - hotel eye Vancouver
ML - Vancouvers Finest
MR - Loonie and Toonie
BL - Cypress Mountain Outlook
BR - Best sign of the day
Chatting with some cyclists who had been riding all day long so far, informed us the view was too obscured by trees further up the road so we spent even more time, chilling out even though the temperature had me taking off a layer of clothing. The return ride was much easier, as we dropped straight on highway 99 to take us right back into the city. Norrie was very impressed with the mirrored and giant skyscrapers in the commerce sector and within a few kilometres (don’t worry, dear reader all other distance references will be non-Canadian) we had passed, more marinas, stadia and science areas, a city well worth a visit.
I was pleasantly pleased at not taking any detours on our return to the hotel, the bikes safely stored in the underground parking, food, once again became a priority after only snacking for so long. The desk clerk recommended, Martini’s restaurant, 5 blocks west, a slightly run down area but plenty of people were out, taking the air. The restaurant had customers sitting outside, sipping on drinks as the light faded away, that seemed like a great idea and inside we were offered ‘tasters’ of the locally brewed ales, the ‘analogue 78 kolsch’ was such a favourite, I can’t honestly remember how many we had! Memories of the American styled bar are fading now, we felt we deserved pasta dishes of some type but I don’t recollect which but it (and the service) were so good I left a sizable tip, especially as our server informed us on traffic law and that the red suspended flashing light over a road indicated to vehicles that it was pedestrian controlled. The return walk took us a little longer but did include our first visit to a ‘Tim Hortons’ coffee shop we had been advised to check out. ‘Timmies’ appears to be the Canadian preferred stop, over Starbucks but, I wasn’t convinced, I did however, nearly wet myself when Norrie asked for all the coffee options, he face was a gem, watching it fall further and further as the myriad choices continued.
A final apology is necessary gentle reader, as I have no idea what time we finally staggered into the hotel, sometime around midnight is my best guess, we had only ridden 50 miles that day but, overcome more obstacles and ridden safely for the first time in Canada through a major city, without incident and loved it! Even over the cranky air-con unit, a contented sleep came easily, my drowsy images of the day crowned with riding by the sea and the blue water, converging with sky in the distance.
Time to put the past behind and make some great memories…
01 Hyper Falco / 93 - 900ss Ducati (944cc)
My Ducati Alter-ego = Iconic944ss
My Ducati Alter-ego = Iconic944ss