August 14, 2011
Day 6: The North Island - Victoria, B.C. to Port Hardy, B.C.
I am alive and well and resting quietly on the shores of Hardy Bay, British Columbia, Canada, in the "North Island" section of Vancouver Island.
Miles driven today: 333.0
Miles driven this trip: 1,556.9
Photos captured today: 738
Photos captures this trip: 5,241
Now that I've got my hand-held GPS working, I'm getting some new data from it:
Trip Odometer: 339 Miles
Max Speed: 95.4 mph
Max Elevation: 1,491 feet
The North Island
In the morning, I get up and piddle around. I dig around my suitcase and find an old broken Canon camera strap. Don't need that. Trash.
The voyage I'm on is a truly Spartan adventure. Every precaution is taken to spare weight and space. Every day, I re-evalaute what I'm carrying with me. If I haven't used it yet, the odds are I don't need it. Except for my emergency items, like tools and such.
I bought 3 quarts of oil last night to change my oil. I'd like to put it off a day, but slowly it dawns on me that I can't. I can't put it off a day, because I can't carry around 3 quarts of oil.
So I lug out the tools and change the oil the in the parking lot. Lots of disapproving stares. I do the best I can, but the parking lot looks like the Prince William Sound by the time I'm finished. I estimated it would take me 30 minutes. It took me an hour.
The slum I'm staying at is called the "Robin Hood Hotel". Only in the lobby can I get decent internet access. I'm sitting in the lobby, chatting up Emily the desk clerk.
She's nothing special, and has the personality of brush-on paste.
"Sunshine...why is this hotel called the Robin Hood?"
"Back in the 70's, Disney was supposed to come here to Victoria and build a theme park that was sort of medieval based. So, we changed our name to the "Robin Hood Inn", and the place across the street changed their name also.'
"And then they backed out?"
"They never built the theme park. Probably for the best," she offers, resolvedly.
I change up my website so that it flows better. Upload some photos. Check my email. I'm never good at leaving a hotel. I dunno why, but I'm always afraid I'll leave something behind, and I dilly dally around for a long time.
I check out and drive to an ATM machine and pull out $300 Canadian. They screw you on the exchange rate if you pay in US dollars. I figured this out a long time ago, but it bears repeating. They best thing to do is charge it. They give you a good exchange rate. To get cash, hit up an ATM. Again, good exchange rates and no "fees" like those freaking currency exchangers charge. The money changers are the people Jesus drove out of the temple.
I fiddle around with my new EOS 50D until I get it set up like I want it. I'm very neurotic, of course. I go into all the little arcane settings most people know nothing about and set them all up the way they have to be to keep me from coming unglued.
Now, I'm shooting two identical cameras. I decide I'll sell the 7D, assuming that Canon can repair the stupid thing.
I lube the chain in the parking lot and check out of the hotel. By the time I left, it was basically an EPA super-fund site.
To the "Candadian Tire" store (which I love) to buy some AA batteries for the 2nd GPS. Top off with gas, clean the visor, and I'm rolling North.
Now, I didn't do any research on what road to take, of course. I just put Port Hardy into the GPS and took off. It said it was 310 miles, so I figured, 'good enough.' I got out of town at 1:00 p.m., but still I'd have plenty of time to drive 310 miles.
So I started rolling north and before too long, it turned into this beautiful winding two lane black topped road called Malahat Drive that was about what you'd expect. Scenic. Pleasant. Not necessarily fast, but a beautiful drive by a body of water, looking out over the Something-or-other Peninsula.
For whatever reason, my GPS starts turning itself off. My only assumption is that its no long charging. So, every so often I turn it back on, and every so often, it promptly shuts itself back off. Fairly annoying, but so long as I follow the main road North, I shouldn't need it anyway.
But then, suddenly it turns into a four lane road. So, I roll north for about 150 miles before it dawns on me that this may not be the best road to be on. I'm on Highway 19, and around Union Bay I trade it in for 19A, which follows the coast This is the old road. The winding, two lane road I was looking for. And I follow it north for some time.
But then I see a sign indicating "Port Hardy.....270" or something like that and I'm like...forget that. I'm not following the coast if it doubles the length of the trip. So I head west to pick Highway 19 back up and make some time. I don't go far before I see another sign on Highway 19 that says "Port Hardy.....260". And I pull over and stop.
It's now 5:30 p.m. I've driven 150 miles already. And now the sign says I have to go 260 more. This sucks. This sucks in a big way. This was one of my biggest fears...that I'd not make it up to the north end of the island before dark, for whatever reason. And I've got to be in line at the ferry at 5:30 a.m. If I miss the ferry, I'm stuck on the north end of Vancouver Island for two days.
If I still have to go 260 miles, I'm royally screwed. How could this have happened? How could this be? My mouth goes dry. I'm so fvcked. I take off both cameras and stow them into the suitcase. If I'm going to drive 260 miles before dark, I'm going to have to go 90 mph the whole time, so I won't be doing any more photography.
I pee in the woods on the side of the road and think. How? How did this happen? How could the island be so much larger than I calculated. Then it hits me. It's not 260 miles. It's 260 kilometers. I drive back down the interstate to see the sign again. It doesn't say "Miles" or "Kilometers" It says "Port Hardy...260" But it's clearly 260 km, not 260 miles.
Wow. That was a close one. So, the good news is, I'm on track. I climb back on my bike and head north, laughing at my own stupidity.
Now, as I'm going north, on Highway 19, you should know that this road is about like the Audubon. I ran up it topped out. The fastest I could ever get the bike to go was right at 95. Mph. Not Kph. And, while running 95 mph, I was passed by an SUV. As in, overtaken. So, think about that. The highest posted speed limit I ever saw on the island was 110 km/hr. I figured that, if I was stopped, I'd claim ignorance and say I thought the speed limit was 110 mph, so I should be good.
At one point, it sort of threatened a hint of rain. And some drops fell onto my visor and stuck there. That would suck, I figured. I've been lucky so far, and not been rained on. But it's not like I have any real rain gear. I have my "Dri Ducks", but these are suited for bicyclists. Not motorcyclists. I bought it at a sporting goods store in San Francisco for like $40.
Now, the scenery changes. Mid-island, the land was mostly flat. Now that I've finally made it to the North Island, there are mountains all around me. Amazing, stunning, snow-covered mountains. You think I'm making this up, but I'm not. Suddenly, I feel like I'm in Jasper National Park in the Canadian Rockies. That's honestly the closest thing I've ever seen to the North Island. Jasper.
I pull over and stop and start shooting like mad. I'm like...seriously? WTF? I had no idea? No clue. No inkling. No one ever told me "Hey, Rob...you need to see the North Island section of Vancouver Island". They never did. Fvck them.
You just can't know what this view is like. There are not words. Now, finally, the trip makes sense to me. This was what I'd hoped to find. Honestly, I can tell you now...Victoria and the Mid-Island were a big disappointment to me. They're nothing worth traveling to see, in my opinion. But this. Oh this. Oh my. Who knew? Who knew?
I stop and blow through a lot of photos with both cameras and both lenses. Life is good. The trip seems like it might be worthwhile after all.
After I've driven about 160 miles, the road changes back to a 2 lane road. After I've driven about 170 miles, it starts to rain. I have my "Dri Ducks" on, but I'm not really prepared to drive in the rain, per se. I stop, and put both cameras in my Filson suitcase, but it's a canvas bag. It's not waterproof, of course. I mean, it's not made for scuba diving or anything.
I put both of the cameras in the bag that's balanced between my knees on the gas tank, and I open that throttle up. Now, when I say I open it up, I mean, I hold it wide open and start shifting around on the bike to try to improve the aerodynamics. I should be able to make it go 100, I figure. But in this rain, I can only get the bike to go 95, but that's what I do. After a few miles, the rain lets up, and I think the worst is past. But then it starts again. It rains on me on and off for about an hour and a half. Sometimes, it rains hard.
By the time I get to Port Hardy, I'm cold and wet.
Now, when I made the ferry reservation, they told me that there were no rooms in Port Hardy. So, I knew when I came up here that we may have a problem. However, it's not like there's an alternative. If I have to be at the ferry at 5:30 a.m., then I have to spend the night in Port Hardy. And if I have to sleep under an overpass in Port Hardy, then so be it.
I roll into town, wet and cold. The rain has let up for now. I roll up to a little sleezebag motel I find, and I slosh off the bike and wade into the lobby, cold, wet. Feet squishing in aquarium boots. I want to lay down and die.
In my mind's eye, I imagine her telling me that there are no rooms. I sit down on the couch in the lobby and tell her to call the cops because I'm not leaving.
But instead, she tells me she has two rooms left and I'm like "Oh dear God I'll take one." And I'm in. I have a place to spend the night in Port Hardy.
I drive across the street to top off with gas. They've got some crazy 94 octane gas, so I go for that one. The higher, the better. I always buy the most expensive gas because, I need to go as far as possible on a tank. I'm not worried about running out of money. I'm seriously concerned about running out of gas.
So I top it off and then I set off to find the ferry. If' I've got to be there at 5:30 a.m., I don't want to be driving around in the dark looking for it.
It's about five miles from the hotel, and I find some woman in a guard shack. The ferry security people are always really bossy. They act like they're freaking border patrol for whatever reason. Always this is the way. I dunno why. Basically, I see them as Barny Fife at a dock, but they see themselves as some sort of Special Forces hybrid...somewhere between the Navy Seals and the TSA. They're bossy and shouting orders at me. No one else is around. I'm like, "Look. Settle down. You're not intimidating me or anyone else. All I want to know is if you have my reservation for tomorrow."
"Do you have your reservation number?"
"Of course not. Do I look like a ventriloquist to you?"
This confuses the little mental dwarf.
"What's your last name."
She types in my name and it comes up in the system.
"Yep. You're good. Show up here tomorrow at 5:15 a.m. and you have a cabin also."
Yes! I paid extra for a private cabin with a view for a 14 hour cruise. Score!
Update: This was supposed to be the end of my post. I go to a local watering hole. Grab a bite to eat, pound a few brews. Write. Play with photos. Update the website. You get the picture. But after I've eaten my Fish and Chips and pounded two beers, who shows up at my table but Scott and Wanda.
Scott and Wanda
OK. Now, get this. Yesterday, I was hanging out 310 miles from here in the quaint Victorian town of Victoria. I went down to Fisherman's Wharf to get some fish and chips, because Bud threatened that I should do this lest he strangle me. So, I order my fish and chips, and look for a table. They're all taken. But there are two other bike riders sitting at one table, with basically the same hats as me. Same brand, anyway.
"MInd if I join y'all?" I ask, and I sit down.
They're mildly tolerable, and I sit with them and pretend to like them, all the while, knowing that deep down inside, they're just Canadians and we'll kill them all when the we get the signal.
But...where were we?
Oh yes. These two horrible Canadians, Wanda and Scott, were trying to steal my lunch money while I was eating my fish and chips. Eventually, I ran them off. But, at is turns out, they live on an island in the "Mid Island " section of Vancouver Island. I don't pretend to know which one, as it doesn't matter. They are, after all, just Canadians.
So, I keep my hand on my wallet. Try not to make any sudden moves, and eventually they leave. Fair enough.
So, fast forward a day. I'm now 310 miles north of there in the little town of Port Hardy and in walk these two (Scott and Wanda).. And I'm like cracking up.
"How did y'all find me here?" I asked, incredulously.
"We saw your moped outside," Wand replied.
"Dammit Woman. I told you it's not a moped," I countered.
"Just because you took the pedals off doesn't mean it's not a moped."
"I told you, woman. It didn't come with any pedals."
"Was it like a dealer option that year?"
And this is how it went. I was so glad to see them, of course. They've been across Canada and back on a BMW GS1200. The two of them are like peas in a pod. Grinning like possums eating yellow jackets. As cool as the other side of the pillow, these two are. And, is this not the best thing about the road? To run into people, meet them, and then wish them farewell, never knowing if your paths will cross again, and then running into them again?
It's just fantastic. Better than a double rainbow. I found out later that they drove around town, saw my bike and came inside. Wanda called it a "moped", but Scott had to point out to her that, although it looks like a moped, because it lacks pedals, it's technically a dirt bike.
They brought Mike with them, a guy who, along with his pet Marshmallow named "Cujo" has trained the local bears to eat out of dumpsters,
So, we sat there and pounded some beers together. It was just brilliant. I even explained to them that the beer I was drinking was from B.C.
They just laughed. Like, they live in British Columbia. They don't need me explaining the beer hierarchy to them. Classic. I'm dumb beyond words. But these two were cool enough to pop in and say hello. Just really made my night to have someone driving around a town in a foreign country looking for me and then popping in for a beer on the road. It doesn't get any better than this I think. :)
Posted by Rob Kiser on August 14, 2011 at 2:08 AM
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Tracked on August 26, 2011 6:12 PM
The pictures are wondrous. What views! Happy trails! xoxoxo
Posted by: sl on August 14, 2011 at 8:07 AM