CANADA - JUNE/JULY 2016
We'd had a fab time in Austria so I tentatively asked where to next and dropped a hint for the Rockies. Amazingly the challenge was taken up and a plan hatched which saw myself, Nick and Jill arrive at Heathrow bright and early on 19th June with helmets for hand luggage.
The Ramada Hotel in Downtown Vancouver was our first stop and here I discovered that a single room in Canada means two double beds and a fresh coffee machine - so much space for sorting kit - brilliant. We had a few hours to spare so took a boat trip to Granville Island and had a walk round Sutcliffe Park looking at art galleries, fresh markets and crafts stalls and listening to local musicians.
Downtown Vancouver from Granville Island
Our trip was booked through H C Travel and we arrived at BC Rentals Monday morning to collect 3 brand new bikes - Nick had the new Africa Twin and Jill and I had Vstroms. They came with panniers and top boxes and the lads gave us puncture kits (which were returned unused), pressure gauges and chain lube. They laughed when I asked about spare oil - guess that comes from having a thirsty GS. We escaped the city and rode over Lions Gate Bridge towards the snow-capped mountains.
First stop was Shannon Falls and the Sea to Sky Gondola at Squamish where we walked the suspension bridge and enjoyed lunch with stunning views of lakes and mountains. Next was Brandywine Falls and Daisy Lake - here we were privileged to witness a very relaxed wedding ceremony where they had the waterfall as the backdrop of their photos and we cheered the newlyweds.
Next stop was Whistler Village - lovely twisty roads when I did wonder if we had strayed onto the Stelvio... A fuel stop in Lillooet showed we had played all day for the equivalent of £6 - good result! More curvy roads to the Sandman Hotel at Cache Creek (Gold Area).
It had been a good start on the bikes - the Vstrom was very comfortable and I love riding along rivers, lakes, coasts and twisty mountain roads. Route 99 is highly recommended and other road users were courteous - any slow trucks pulling over. Their road works were something else - inches deep in loose dusty gravel for several k's - that stopped the bikes looking shiny and new! And the size of the vehicles was staggering - mega big boys toys. First day 345 k.
Up early, Fraser Valley and The Packing House at Spences Bridge for coffee - wide open spaces and quiet smooth roads. Nicola Valley, Merritt, past Kamloops and the realisation we are somewhere very new and different with the signs for Indian Reservations and Rodeos. Past Shuswap Lake - an affluent area with water skiers, jet skis and boats. We were earnestly searching for bears - saw plenty of BLOBS (Bear like Objects) but no confirmed sightings.
We had arranged to meet friends at Dreamcycle Motorcycle Museum at Blind Bay (Shuswap) and back to theirs for lunch and to admire the view of the lake from their home. Then, with local guides, we set off for Salmon Arm Pier, Craigellachie where The Last Spike for the railway was driven for the completion of Canadian Pacific Railway in November 1885. We watched a goods train go by with 152 carriages and 3 engines to help it on its way. We all stayed at the Glacier House Resort in Revelstoke - up in the mountains with clear air, snowy peaks and we took over the lounge with our delivered pizza and maps (their restaurant and bar were closed Mon-Wed). 430 k.
Wed morning and time for the girls to name their bikes - Bear and Matt - you just have to bond properly! We had challenged Pauline and Don to find us bears and we set off to Mulvehill Creek Bridge and the quiet roads along the Columbia River looking at Mt McKenzie. We had a James Bond moment as a helicopter checking power lines followed us for a while. Then a real treat - a free ferry across Arrow Lake from Galena Bay to Shelter Bay.
Arrowhead Lake Ferry
Along Arrowhead Lake to Nakusp for first Iced Tea (official holiday drink) - perfect. New Denver, Silverton and Slocan Lake Viewpoint in Kootenay. . Then a fantastic ride of miles of twisties with trees, snow-capped mountains and a wide fast flowing shallow crystal clear river. Am sure you can feel the grin factor! Kaslo to see the Canadian Pacific Paddle Steamer and back the way we came to the ferry... Here was our first sighting of bears. A mum and baby were feeding by the side of the road, shortly afterwards one crossed in front of us and another was spotted in a clearing - so lucky.
465 k by the time we had dined in Revelstoke and returned to our hotel and a 12 hour play day.
Pauline and Don waved us off on Thursday morning - it had been fab to catch up with them again after 7 years. They had been great company (especially Don for Nick who had two chics or old broilers to cope with) and super tour guides (we were going to do Meadows in the Sky Parkway but it was closed due to snow and Plan B turned out to be Plan A+).
Highway 1 today with lots of stops first being the Giant Cedars Nature Trail - a circular wooded walk. Then Rogers Pass Museum with educational films on bear behaviour and avalanche control. Past Kicking Horse Pass and to Golden for our first Tim Hortons...can see why everyone recommends it.... a huge choice of fresh naughty delights at bargain prices. Someone stole an hour of our day today (another time zone crossed - BC to Alberta) and also the sunshine so we abandoned the sightseeing and headed direct to Lake Louise. 245 k
The weather had improved next morning so Nick checked the bikes and we resumed our schedule - Natural Bridge being the first stop on Kicking Horse River in Yoho National Park. The roar of the water was awesome and you could see how the water had carved its way through. We passed the Great Divide Lodge which made me smile following the Brexit Result.
Natural Bridge, Kicking Horse River
On to Emerald Lake watching the fish jumping and then Takakkaw Falls, Two Rivers Meet (Kicking Horse and Yoho) and the Upper Spiral Tunnel where we were lucky enough to see a train go in and come out whilst still going in. Back to Lake Louise which was heaving with tourists so we took the wiggly route to Moraine Lake in Banff National Park and the Valley of Ten Peaks for lunch taking in the views.
We took the 1A Bow Valley Road to see our 5th bear stroll across the road in front of us. Riding into Banff the town felt welcoming, clean and friendly and that is how it turned out. We stayed at the Mount Royal Hotel in the middle of town and had dinner at Wild Bills on Caribou Corner relaxing to live country music (here you are safe to admit you like it). 196 k.
Saturday started well with one of my favourite songs playing in the breakfast bar and a walk to see Bow Falls. The town had beautiful art galleries with pictures of local wildlife and scenery. After lunch in the sun we rode past Lake Minnewanka, the Three Sisters, Canmore and to Kananaskis and the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park.
Back to enjoy the hotel facilities and 229 k's.
Jasper was our destination for Sunday along the stunning Icefields Parkway. We had purchased National Park Passes before we left which meant it was easy to enter the beautiful parks and we were supporting their upkeep. We stopped at Mosquito Creek, past Helen Lake and Bow Glacier and stopped at Bow Summit. You really cannot describe the beauty - you need to be there. And we kept checking the mirrors for amazing views too. We walked to Peyto Lake and what a wow moment - the water was a vivid bright turquoise.
Back on the highway past Rocky Mountain House to the Crossing at Saskatchewan for lunch and passing Athabascha Glacier. As I rode along I hoped my darling John would have been proud of me - we talked of doing this route many years ago and studied books together - it felt good to be here with special friends that knew and loved him too. They made it all happen and my holiday plan was simple - just keep up with the bike in front :-)
A short stop at Tangle Creek then to Sunwapta Falls. Despite the signage promising all sorts of wildlife would be hiding behind the trees keen to cross in front of us we saw nothing but this was probably because being a Sunday the Park was quite busy. One section was called Endless Chain and that is how it was - mountains and trees every which way - stunning. The temperature varied from 13 to 25. Athabasca Falls were beautiful and then to Lobstick Lodge in Jasper watching the setting sun. 302 k.
Monday was a very early start for our scheduled boat trip and our reward was sightings of Caribou and Elk. We were on the Spirit Island Cruise on Maligne Lake and what a day! One range of mountains had been given to our Queen and were named for her - sadly she has yet to visit them. The water changed colour as our boat cruised up the lake - this was due to the Islands and Glaciers.
Nick and I then failed to resist the urge to take a red canadian canoe for a paddle on the waters before heading off to Pyramid Lake. Temperatures today ranged between 6 and 30. 111 k.
Tuesday and someone very kindly gave us our hour back as we headed to Mount Robson National Park back in BC.
We stopped for photos along the way and a local welfare checked us - everyone was friendly and helpful. We passed Tum Tum Creek and when it hit 33 degrees we stopped at Clearwater before a lovely twisty road to Helmcken's Falls in Wells Gray Park. On the way I spotted a photo opportunity at Mushbowl Falls and then we looked down Third Canyon on our way to the Ace Western Hotel Clearwater. 423 k.
Mushbowl Falls Bridge
Breakfast was taken watching our first roundabout - they go for 4 way stop streets so a flowery circle in the road is a rare sight. Despite the high temperatures there was still snow on the mountains as we headed past Little Fort and on to Highway 24 to 100 Mile House via Peacful Cove, Eagle Island and Lone Butte. The roads were quiet and fun. Along Lac Le Hache to Williams Lake which is in the Heart of the Cariboo District and we stopped at the Discovery Centre to read about Rick Hansen who wheelchaired around the world for spinal cord injury research. His motto was Anything is Possible and his hopes are that one day the only place you will see a wheelchair is in a museum. He is inspirational - having spent a few months in one the thought of going a few miles was daunting nevermind a mega challenge like his. A picnic lunch at Mcleese Lake and on to Quesnel and following the Fraser River to the Sandman Hotel in Prince George. The scenery had changed by the end of the day to no snow and rolling hills. 481 k.
Thursday and our destination was Smithers, Vanderhof for coffee and we had a brilliant flying display by two bald eagles. Road signs offered us chicken racing - we were really in the outback! Fraser Lake was a beautiful dark blue and Burns Lake provided another excuse for a leg stretch. An interesting stop at Houston Visitor Centre to admire the stuffed grizzly and then on through Telkwa with more snow capped mountains - The Hudson Bay Range. Arriving at the Sandman Inn we had done 383k and chose the steakhouse with mountain views.
Friday 1st July was Canada Day and Public Holiday. We weren't sure what to expect but everything was open to take our dollars. First stop Moricetown Canyon on the Yellowhead Highway Trans Canada 16. On to Terrace and wiggling along the Skeena River we were treated to our last bear sighting - he or she sat very cutely in the wild flowers and long grass by the roadside. The River was vast and we decided that folk in that area go fishing on Canada Day as we didn't see much else - there were BBQ's along the waters edge and on the islands. We arrived at the Crest Hotel in Prince Rupert early which gave time for a stroll along the waterfront before dinner watching the eagles. 358 k.
View from Balcony, Crest Hotel, Prince Rupert
Saturday was the very long boat journey along the Inside Passage to Port Hardy. We were up at 0430 and serenaded in the queue for the ferry by Red Red Wine from a Harley - they love showing off their stereo systems! The Northern Expedition left on time and we had 15 hours of moving scenery despite the rain - Butedale, Boat Bluff, Bella Bella - waterfalls and hills and trees - lots of trees! Just 12 k as we pulled into the Glen Lyon Inn at nearly midnight.
Breakfast was enjoyed watching a dozen bald eagles at close range and a seaplane. Our view of the estuary was lovely but we could have stayed a few nights in this relaxing place but our agenda was calling and we rode off following the Nimpkish River to Woss where some local bikers recommended Sayward at Kelsey Bay. So glad we followed their advice. We arrived at Painters Lodge at Campbell River to be delighted by huge rooms overlooking the water, an outdoor pool and dinner on the terrace watching seals, canada geese and eagles. There was a free boat trip to their sister lodge across the water on Quadra Island so we enjoyed this treat watching the sunset. 264 k.
Sunset at Campbell River
As we hadn't seen Whales we decided to take an early Whale and Wildlife Experience and by 0800 we were kitted up in bright red onesies ready for 3 hours of Discovery Channel in the Zodiac. We had a wonderful time - fantastic scenery, changing waters from flat calm to 3 foot waves, mountains, islands, seals, eagles, harbour porpoise, deer and yes, 2 humpbacks, known locally as KC and Ariel. We were so lucky. 70 miles of smiles. After lunch we took a ride to Gold River - bends galore and very quiet - enjoying a cuppa in a craft shop discussing Brexit with the owner. 188 k.
Tuesday and after breakfast watching a sea otter, eagles, a heron and sea planes we found the 19A with no help from the sat nav. A lovely road along the river with plenty of entertainment - wood carvings, totem poles, beautiful waterside houses - to Courtenay. Brief stop at Qualicum Beach and to Port Alberni - a pretty but very busy town. Past Kennedy Lake in the Pacific Rim National Park to the Tin Wis Resort in Tofino for a paddle in the chilly waters. Tin Wis means Calm Waters - odd that we were looking at Tsunami Escape Route signs! 287 k.
This was another place we could have spent more time at - we were right on the beach and woke to the gentle sound of the waves. We had a ride into Tofino just to see it and then took the only road out - Kennedy Lake looked even more spectacular going East. Port Alberni and then a detour to Englishmans Falls in the Provincial Park of the same name. Ladysmith next - a pretty town and the last roundabout we saw - that averaged out at one a week on our trip. Into Victoria and sadly the traffic we were promised materialised but the bikes were fine - no problems with the heat and they had behaved brilliantly in the high altitude too. Good to see Trans Canada Highway signs and not to be caught by the speed traps (were we good or lucky?) We arrived at the Best Western to all be given free upgrades...did we look that wrecked??? Bikes secured in a nearby car park and off to the Irish Pub as recommended by the hotel staff. 353 k.
Thursday morning was a quick walk round Victoria before heading to Swartz Bay and the ferry to Tsawwassen Bay on Vancouver. The ferry ride was about 90 mins and the traffic into the big city tough after so many lovely miles on quiet roads in wonderful scenery. They don't filter out there but we returned the bikes on time and unscathed. We did it!! 90 k today and a total of 5162 k 3207 miles.
The End of the Road - Returning the Bikes to Cycle BC Rentals
Our friends missed us so much they met us at the bike shop and took us to our last hotel - The Sylvia - and heard all about our travels over dinner. And Friday morning they took us to the local BMW Dealership and then on a tour of Stanley Park before depositing us safely at the airport. Along with the wildlife mentioned we saw horned sheep, American robins, yellow butterflies, black squirrels, vole, gopher, chipmunks and a Clark's nutcracker. Food and fuel were cheaper than the UK but accommodation quite expensive especially if you're not sharing. It was truly a wonderful adventure - if you're thinking of it then our advice is Just Do It!