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Picnic at Port Alice

PNW Riding Fiction: Part 1

Waking up in the pre-dawn light, I could barely grasp what was happening weather-wise outside. I peeled back the room curtains and noted a sheen on the street. Had it been raining, or was this just the residue of fog? Considering the high today would be 22C (74F), I figured the latter.

I walked out of the motel and loaded the bike up with the items I'd need for the day. Since my ride would be an out-and-back to Port Alice, I left my spare clothes and shower kit in the room. Other items, like an air pump, tire repair kit, spare fuses and bulbs, the Canon DSLR and my other 10 essentials were placed on board with plenty of room to spare.

As the sky began to lighten it was apparent there was not going to be a sunrise today. This is common for Campbell River, which is midway along the backbone of Vancouver Island. While the mainland across the Discovery passage goes by the nickname The Sunshine Coast, it was catch-as-catch-can for this area. But with that high temp in the forecast, at some point the moisture in the air would break up and I was in for a great day of riding.

My bike, a 2006 Yamaha FZ6, was well-suited for this type of touring. Sporting a set of Ventura soft bags in place of a pillion rider, and a 20-liter tank bag up front, I had more than enough space for my gear today. With room to spare, I could peel off a layer of clothing in the afternoon, store it and still have room for shopping.

But there was nowhere to shop between here and Port Alice. Unless you think the convenience store at Woss has some items you needed. Imagine topping off with gas and having a full selection of junk food, fishing supplies and hash/crack pipes all at your disposal. Someone could kill a lot of birds with one stone here, just not this bird.

I waited a while longer to mount the bike. Even though the sun wouldn't make an appearance for a while, I didn't want to leave in the dark. There are benefits to riding out early, and there are drawbacks as well. There would be few Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in the early hours and traffic would be low in general. But there would be plenty of elk and deer popping around getting breakfast.

Deer are very prevalent on Vancouver Island. In the last four days of touring, I'd spotted several every morning. All were alive.

Elk are typically about three times the size of deer. I had yet to see any.

But along the north end of BC 19, signs are everywhere warning motorists about deer and elk hazards. Some actually have distances of caution called out. ‘(Elk graphic) Next 65 km' and before you could reach 30 km, another sign appears – ‘(Elk graphic) Next 54 km'. Basically, four footed jersey barriers are everywhere a large population is not.

From what I saw, the car of choice on the upper reaches of BC 19 and many other roadways along the tentacles to the coast, was a Ford F350 flatbed truck. It can annihilate a deer as good as any White Freight Liner. It's probably one of the only vehicles, outside of a semi, that can withstand a head-on elk hit and walk away slightly wounded, especially if it's adorned with an aftermarket front bumper kit that can double as a pushing device for other vehicles.

But for some reason, a few residents think they can get away safely owning a Smart Car in the upper reaches of Vancouver Island.

And here I was…on a motorcycle.

It was day four of my whirlwind tour of Vancouver Island and the best was yet to come. Through all my research, the road from BC 19 to Port Alice was a smoker, only rivaled by several roads in the inland interior of the province. Getting here took several days, an expensive ferry ride, expensive gas and a few overnight stays at questionable motels. I didn't want to camp on this trip, but I was trying to maintain a low budget nonetheless. I was stoked for this part of my tour.

My rides earlier in the week had been outstanding. Using the Road Worshipers Guide to British Columbia, I had amalgamated routes that included a stunning loop to Port Renfrew, a mix of performance and scenic roads up to Campbell River, and a grand out-and-back to Gold River. Today I was gonna hit the mother-lode of local roads.

But it was going to involve the predominant stretch of BC 19 to get to the excellent stuff. And BC 19 north of Campbell River isn't any throw-away ride itself. It simply requires some discretion.

The BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MTI) has done a monumental job of upgrading nearly every highway in British Columbia. When we think back to the reckless engineering of roads like 99 to Whistler, 4 to Tofino and countless others, we see a progression in engineering worthy of mention. Many of these roads began as First Nations trails, later became gravel logging roads and then were converted to public domain, holding onto their 12%, 13% and 18% grades. Time has a way of working things out and slowly but surely roads have been slightly straightened with 21st century macadam techniques used underneath to lessen the possibility of frost heaves in the winter that will tear a road in two by spring.

And with better quality surfaces and wider radii corners, comes the possibility for higher speeds. That would be good because then we can transport goods faster across these distances. But some will say (just about every local in an area) that the prescribed speeds are too slow for the grade of road in place. And it may seem that way, until one realizes that 100 meters isn't long enough to bring a truck to a halt when a large four-legged native goes motionless in the path of travel.

I had only been on the BC 19 for 10 minutes when the first dead deer appeared off to my right. For the better part of the week, I fully understood why the speed limits are set as they are. The issue was that most others on the road still hadn't figured it out, including a number of locals.

GM/November 2018

-- stay tuned for the next installment in an upcoming issue --

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