The original plan a year ago was to hoard my vacation days and do an epic trip around the National Parks of the U.S. That didn’t quite work out this year, although it’s still on my bucket list. Instead, Scott and I decided to stay somewhat local, and explore our beautiful province in more detail. I had only really been to Vancouver Island for random weekend getaways, to Victoria, Tofino, etc. and I knew there was so much more to see.
So, we headed to Vancouver Island with our two Honda dual sports on a Friday a few weeks ago – I’m on the 1985 XR600R / XL600R and Scott is on the 1994 XR650L. A neighbour had recommended Sombrio beach for our first night, which is on the southern coastline after a nice windy road past Sooke. There’s a short steep gravel road, then a minor hike down to the beach. Due to a promise of an epic meteor shower there were many campers, but all quite civil. One elderly fisherman even had an excess of sea bass, fried it up and fed a whole lot of us.
While the clouds deterred any celestial sightings, it was a pretty idyllic first night. We then cruised along a backroad to Cowichan Lake and found our way along a rugged road to Nixon Creek campsite. We were offered the “hike in” campspot, and encouraged to ride our bike in the few metres to the spot right on the lake. The only downer was when I tried to exit the site the next morning I managed to get my foot caught on a tree root and dumped my bike. I was pinned to the ground with the full weight of the bike on my ankle. It was brutal!
Scott soon came to the rescue, but it took me a moment to convince myself that I hadn’t broken any bones. I felt foolish and relieved simultaneously. The next section of the roadtrip was a backroad we hadn’t planned on taking, but couldn’t resist since it meant not returning to the main highway. I struggled a bit trying to shift gears with my throbbing foot, but forged on.
The backroad took us to Nitinat, where we were lucky to find a gas station (with gas – apparently they rarely had it for sale) and detailed directions from the friendly locals. From there we blasted up a logging road to Port Alberni. Most of the way we were completely alone, but the last few km we encountered a few trucks that just coated us in dust and filth. I actually didn’t mind, and took a few comedy photos.
From there, it was an easy ride on highway 4 heading west. I vaguely remembered a cool campspot on Kennedy Lake with a turn-off just before the Information Centre. A dude was wheeling his dirtbike off the highway (possibly a backcountry mishap?), so we stopped and asked him and his buddies. After another stretch of gravel, I found the parking-spot in the woods and entrance to a beautiful forested boardwalk, with massive trees, that led to a sandy beach.
This spot would have been the dreamiest, except for a crew of drunk teens learning how to cut wood with their chainsaw all night. I didn’t think alcohol and chainsaws were a great mix, but who am I to talk? It was hard to complain since the spot was free.
We felt obliged to do a drive-by of Tofino, stopping for tasty donuts and coffee, but the place was so packed out that we didn’t stay long. The fog was taking its sweet time to burn off as well. Instead we decided to head back to the east coast of the island, ride up the lovely 19A Oceanside route to Campbell River, and beyond.
I experienced a bit of a flashback, remembering the time I took the ferry to Nanaimo after work, and rode alone at night to Miracle Beach near Campbell River as a beginner rider. I ran out of gas on a deserted highway, got spooked by deer, and eventually seized the engine by the end of the weekend. Sigh!
Once in Campbell River we poked around town, and devoured a delicious and unexpected Thai dinner before motoring over to Strathcona Provincial Park. It was early evening and the beautiful highway 28 was all ours! The drive along Campbell Lake was amazing, and we came upon the Buttle Lake site in no time. I really enjoy having a balance of backroads and windy side roads, especially when there is no traffic!
The Strathcona Provincial Park is amazing and huge! We camped another night further down the Westmin Mine Road at Ralph’s Creek and accomplished a few short hikes to Myra Falls and Karst Creek. Ralph’s Creek alone was wonderful, since our spot was right on the gushing water with a big tree trunk jutting over it, perfect for a reading perch. We cleaned ourselves up in the frigid refreshing waters, and prepared ourselves for another backroad ride.
Gold River marks a bit of a turn-around in the flow of our trip. I was struggling to kick-over my bike, blaming my bruised ankle, and allowing Scott to take the lead. But even he couldn’t bring it to life without some sweat and effort. We were in the Information Centre parking-lot in Gold River, kicking and kicking. I had no luck bump starting it down a decent hill, and was feeling pretty choked up. It was also getting stinking hot. It sputtered to life, so we went to the grocery store and cafe for a break, and the bike just got worse when we tried to leave.
At one point, a young trucker stops with legs like tree trunks, and manages to kick it over by switching the gas to the “Off” position, suggesting we had flooded the bike. We had done this trick on and off, but were grateful that it finally worked. I decided to ignore my uneasiness, and we charged ahead to the backroad for Woss.
We didn’t get far because a bridge was being repaired for the day, but the construction happened to be paces away from the Muchalat Lake campsite, so we simply chilled out after our frustrating morning. The next day, my bike seemed co-operative and this time Scott received a dose of trouble and adrenaline!
This section was pretty well managed for a backroad, and we’re humming along when Scott suddenly seizes up and I see gas just gushing out of his bike. He remembered to hit the kill switch, and I quickly hustle over to help. The weird thing was that the gas leak seemed to be coming from his rear bike tire? We soon realize that the bungy cord that had held our spare gas can had snapped, and the thing had weasled out of the mesh bungy cords and wedged itself under the back tire!
The only thing to do was hack the gas can to pieces with our mini saw, since it was lodged almost up into the air-filter case. Scott was so lucky! The case had some minor cracks, but everything was fine. We simply continued on our way, and gave thanks.
In no time we are in Woss, chatted up a nice couple doing an epic bicycle tour, and another motorcycle rider coming down from Alaska. I had heard that Schoen Lake was one of the most beautiful provincial parks on the Island, but a bit of a gamble since there are only 9 campspots. We went for it, as it was only another 13km of backroad, and totally worth it.
Schoen Lake is so picturesque with mountains for a backdrop and small, clean lake surrounded by forest. The highlight this time was encountering a herd of Elk on the road. Scott was convinced that the bull was a giant Spirit Animal… it was just so massive and graceful, with a gigantic set of antlers, and followed by seven more equally impressive beasts.
We tried to stay awake to see the full moon rise from behind the mountains, but our cozy tent and sleeping bags beckoned. In the morning my bike continued to be a nuisance, taking some 30 or 40 kicks before co-operating. Our ultimate goal was to get up to Port Hardy and take the 17 hour ferry to Bella Coola, stay a few days, and then meander our way home. But, this was not to be.
The weird thing was that my motorbike would run like a dream once it got over its stage fright to ignite. Scott and I were going through it as best we could. I replaced the spark plug, and observed a tiny, intermittent spark. We drained the carbs, made sure the lines were clean, checked and topped off the oil, etc. And yet it still acted up.
We had a few days to occupy before our trek to Bella Coola, so we went to Port McNeill to do a side-trip to Malcolm Island. We loaded up on groceries and supplies in Port McNeill, checked the internet at a cafe, killed some time, and prepared to load the 4:40 ferry but the ticket lady was adamant that they couldn’t squeeze us on, and to wait 2 more hours.
I was tempted to pass on the island and do some other backroads, like the Port Alice loop and find some random camping, but Scott felt we would be disappointed if we gave up. So, we waited around, got in the line-up and my bike pulled some real comedy by taking forever to kick over, just barely getting onto the ferry. I have ferry anxiety, since I’m always on a kickstart motorbike but when we went to depart onto Malcolm Island, it suddenly decided to respond and I’m grateful. We were about to meet some of the most kind, hilarious and generous people… See Part 2!