I have friends who ride, an informal group with little else in common besides an interest in riding fast, powerful bikes in out-of-the-way places. Remove your rank insignia. In fact, check your rank and social status at the door. In our self-talk, we call ourselves the ‘Usual Suspects.’ It’s a descriptive, if unsatisfying moniker, but we will change that over the next nine days of moto-bliss.
We’re in the mood to ride – far and fast – as though we were exploring a new planet without sufficient oxygen for an extended stay. We are Seattle-ites looking for a new orbit. And what could be a better than Banff, the Aphelion on the other side of a new orbit? Three of us are in and we’ve chosen our immediate future.
On our first day, we rode to a jewel of a British Columbia town called Princeton. The route was easy and the roads good: I-405 and I-5 to Arlington, WA-9 and the Mt. Baker Highway to Sumas where we crossed the border, and HWY-1, 3/3B to Princeton. This short leg of 246 miles gave us a chance to remember our motorcycle skills before we would have to use them in earnest. And we experienced our first day in Purgatory; otherwise know as blinding rain for the last 75 miles.
My gear isn’t exactly what you’d call ‘water proof.’ So I stopped and put on Frog Togs. These are light, cheap, small enough to fit in a tank bag, and truly waterproof. I don’t despise riding in the rain, but I don’t like being cold and wet, either. The perfect solution! Recommended!!
We checked in at the Deer View Motel and checked out the Bambi Memorial Gift Shop. Walking around town we discovered the town Museum and Nick, the 80-year-old town historian. He grew up in England, was an actor there and immigrated to Canada a baker’s dozen years ago. He adopted Princeton and has made quite a study of its history. Boy did we get an earful of the history. When asked, he said the best place to eat in town was Linguini’s. Good enough for Nick, it was good enough for us.
At Linguini’s we met Barbara, the owner, and John, her husband and cook. They took good care of us and we learned that Barbara owned the coffee shop in town, too, and John owned the Dairy Queen. But that’s for another day.
Eyes-open and gear-up came early on our second day. We had breakfast at Barbara’s coffee shop. While we were saddling up, a couple of very cute young girls sauntered out and wanted to talk motorcycles. Did I mention they were very cute girls? Ah, the cruelty! Turns out they were newly ‘out’ lesbians and not that comfortable with it. We chatted bikes for a while. As conversation began to wind down, two other bikers arrived on a BMW R1100S and a Honda Goldwing. They had some road tips for us and we played leapfrog with them all day. Our route today was 291 miles, all on HWY-3/3B to Creston.
Barbara was insistent we stop and see Osoyoos and she encouraged us to visit the Inkameep (my spell-checker is having a heart attack) resort for postcard views of the valley. My daughter had bought some peaches at a roadside stand along the way, which made a great snack overlooking the valley. We ate lunch along the way at Kacama’s Coffee House, maybe in Midway, or maybe it was Greenwood, or – well I don’t really recall. Then we followed the road to Grand Forks.
You know what they say, “When you get to a fork in the road, take it!” It turns out we took the rainy fork at Grand Forks, past Christina Lake, through Rossland, Trail (where I had a near death experience on a snow machine in my youth), Fruitvale, Burnt Flats, and Salmo.
We crossed through the Nancy Green Recreational Area. I guess you have to be a pretty big deal to get a recreational area named for you and she was. Nancy Green was Canada’s top Olympic skier in the 60’s, worked to develop tourism in British Columbia, and was named Canada’s Female Athlete of the Century in 1999. Who knew? She married Al Raine, which brings me back from this little digression to the fact that it’s been raining steadily since Grand Forks.
We crested the Kootenay Summit and dropped down into farmland as we entered Creston. I am sure Creston is home to a passel of wonderful, eccentric, interesting folks. But as of this telling, it’s a place time’s forgotten and my memory can’t seem to resurrect.
Our third day promised the best motorcycle roads in British Columbia: Destination Highway’s DH-1 and DH-5. DH-1 runs from Creston to the Kootenay Bay ferry landing (a.k.a HWY-3A). This was a spectacular road … that’s SPECTACULAR … it was so curvy that even the curves had curves and not even the straightaways were straight. Honestly, for a biker this was Paradise but it got better.
We crossed the “longest free ferry in North America.” I am accustomed to paying for ferry crossings and the fact that this was free was icing on the cake.
We turned north to Kaslo on a great road. I was following about a half mile back from my daughter, who’s a better rider than me. I had the opportunity to turn right at Kaslo, which would have been a mistake. I turned left in an unexpectedly correct navigational decision. Good thing to, because left put us on Destination Highway-5.
News flash – DH-5 has recently been repaved! DH-1 lost it. DH-5 is now NUMBER ONE in British Columbia, at least in my book. This road was so good that when we arrived in New Denver my daughter jumped off her bike, did the happy dance, and declared, “That was the best road in my entire life!” A pair of bikers pulled up on Harley’s and with a droll ‘Harley’ sense of humor, one commented, “I guess she liked it.”
We had lunch in New Denver and struck up a conversation with a local couple. Turns out he was a restaurateur and had founded, worked in, and been fired from some of the best restaurants in Banff. He had some dining ideas for us.
We rolled north, across another free ferry, nearly running out of gas as we entered Revelstoke. And we rode the rest of the way to Roger’s Pass in rain mixed with heavy traffic. Rain and traffic, shaken not stirred, not my favorite cocktail but not truly evil either.
We checked into the Inn at Roger’s Pass. This is a grand lodge not unlike the Overlook in Stephen King’s The Shining and my daughter has been channeling Steven King ever since we arrived (“redruM redruM.”) This is a beautiful place, but it was not an especially beautiful time of year and not especially beautiful weather. I want to come back. But until then – eat, sleep, eat, and depart.
Our Fourth Day is dedicated to the notion of the road less traveled. Rather than blast directly into Banff, we dropped down to Radium Hot Springs. HWY-95 from Golden to Radium is an easy beginner-ride along the headwaters of the Columbia River. Lots of wildlife! Lots of scenery! Pleasant weather! Can a ride get better?
As we enter Radium we found a park for a quick picnic lunch. We had our almonds, our fruit, our yada yada yada. But we also had the chance to play in a neat playground. Hijinks ensue. Hmm … spell-check doesn’t understand hijinks.
If the road to Radium was good, the road back to Banff was terrific! There was very good pavement, very good engineering, very good and long sightlines. Incredible scenery. Very Fast! Very very fast!! As in no-speed-tax-collector, triple-digit fast!!! Not the most challenging roads we experienced, but some of the most pleasant and the most relaxingly fun by a good measure!
Day Four - Six
When we got to Banff, we rented a car to get us off the bikes for a couple of days. Next day, we drove to Lake Louise and hiked to the Teahouse at the Plain of Six Glaciers. Eight miles. 385 m elevation gain. I took to calling it the Teahouse at the Pain of Six Glaciers. There is no way in except the route we hiked. So they bring in one shipment of supplies at the beginning of the season by helicopter. After that, it’s all packed in once a week by the staff. There’s no electricity. Hot food is cooked over stoves burning refuse – paper cups, paper plates, paper napkins and such. Next day we drove to the Ice field Parkway, most of the way to Jasper and hiked up to the glaciers there. Beautiful mountain scenery everywhere!
And it was back in Banff that we came up with the phrase ‘Les Canards Sauvages.’ We have been trying to coin a name for our little motorcycle gang. We were trying out various names on the Belgian proprietor. Since we ride Ducatis (Ducs for short) I asked him how to say Wild Ducks in French. “Les Canards Sauvages,” he responded. We all liked the way it sounded. It may stick.
This is the midpoint of our trip, the Aphelion of our new orbit, and time to head home. We reprised Golden, Rogers Pass, Revelstoke, and the Galena Ferry and spent the night in Nakusp.
The Galena Ferry was an interesting reminder about depending on the kindness of others. Northbound a few days ago, we ran into a long long line at the terminal. While waiting for the ferry we chatted up one of the ferry workers managing the line of vehicles. He was a biker so we had some things in common. As our conversation ended we observed that, “If there is just a little space left on the ferry … say not quite enough for a car … our three bikes would fit nicely.” As they finished loading the ferry, he waved us forward and our bikes did indeed, “just fit.” Fast forward … on our way home our bikes again occupied the position of honor as the last three vehicles on board. Living right!
In Nakusp, I walked around town scouting for a restaurant while my daughter and son-in-law checked out the hot springs. Lots of folks recommended “The Leland” so we ate there. Nakusp natives aren’t a very discriminating lot but the food allowed us to keep body and soul together. We turned in anticipating our longest day of the trip.
Nakusp to Lillooet – this was our Penultimate Day. Earlier in our trip we experienced Paradise, and Purgatory … today it’s time for the Inferno.
I slept poorly last night worrying. I was worried about this day’s ride and our destination. When we started the trip, Lillooet had been evacuated because of forest fires in the area. We weren’t sure there would be a motel or even a town left when we got there. But according to the desk clerk as we were leaving Nakusp, all was clear so we kept to our planned route and headed out.
It was cool and pleasant as we set out. We crossed another ferry at Fauquier (unpredictably, pronounced far-qwar) and rode some fabulous roads for a couple of hours. As we rode, the temperature was getting hotter and hotter. By the time we got to Kamloops, it was 98 degrees and we were seriously hot. We stopped at a Safeway and luxuriated in air-conditioned splendor for a while. Leaving Kamloops, the road winds up over a pass near Cache Creek. As we crested the pass, it was much cooler; the sun was low in the sky and the road good. There is life after hell.
We rolled into Lillooet and found our hotel, which had not burned down. In the lobby we ran into a helicopter pilot for one of the smoke jumper teams. We talked Ducatis for a while and I agreed to trade him a ride on my machine for a ride on his. He agreed instantly, but in the end it never happened.
We had dinner at a just-okay Greek place across the street. The town was fine, with an added bonus; it was filled with firefighters (funny watching my daughter admire the eye candy when she didn’t know I was watching.) As we walked around town after dinner, I was impressed with huge pieces of jade decorating street corners. By huge, I suppose these weighed a thousand pounds more or less. Some were partly polished, some mostly natural. Very cool! I wonder what they’d cost as a piece of industrial stone?
We had breakfast at a coffee place boasting the only espresso machine for 85 miles in any direction.
The Ultimate Day and the Ultimate Cruelty! Leaving Lillooet headed toward Pemberton, we road a spectacularly situated road but it had badly broken pavement, stretches of gravel, and plenty of construction delays, … in short it was slow and no fun at all … until …
Yep, and here’s the cruel until. About halfway to Pemberton, we discovered beautiful, black, pristine new asphalt pavement. Our speeds came up; our enjoyment came up; until we made the cruel discovery that the Province saved a little too much money by narrowing the pavement. They cut a few corners, so to speak. In fact, on the corners, wide trucks were kicking gravel onto the beautiful new pavement, and in just the places you really don’t want gravel … leaned over in a tight, fast, corner.
The next cruelty came between Whistler and Vancouver. As you may know, the 2010 Winter Olympics were held at Whistler BC. The road was essentially rebuilt to handle the traffic. It too, was smooth, black, well engineered, but it was restricted to one lane more or less the entire distance to Vancouver while they finished up striping and such. So we blasted down this brilliant new highway at the astonishing speed of about 35 mph.
We reasoned that the border crossing at Linden would be quicker than at Blain or the Peace Arch. As we rolled toward the border, we were unprepared for the Ultimate Cruelty of the day. A display sign informed us the wait at the border was 70 minutes. We rolled up to the back of the line and shut off our machines. Over the next couple of hours, we pushed our 400 plus pound bikes about a half-mile, one car length at a time in the blazing hot sun.
It’s been 18 months since this trip and today it feels as fresh, as fun, as cruel, and as beautiful as our days of riding.
People ask me why I own a fast bike. I own it because trips like this are the second most fun thing you can do siting down. I own it because it creates joy in my life – meeting folks I’ve liked – bonding with my kids, originally members of ‘the Usual suspects’ and now – ‘Les Canards Sauvages.’