Monday, August 3, 2009

Up Sunshine Coast - Top of Vancouver Island & Down

July 30, 2009

Bombing down Hwy 1 provided no relief from the heat. In fact the pavement radiates and seems to boil our blood. We made it to the ferry with little hydration left to spare. The air conditioned ferry and ice helped to renew us and we were off again, seeking shade and curves. Whenever the bike rounds the corner in Sechelt that runs through town and then end up along the shore, I remember why I love being on the Sunshine Coast. Riding beside the ocean, waves crashing and the wind blowing pulls me out of the rut of life and helps me to see the extraordinary.
For me the ride is a symphony of nature. The ocean, the shores, islands so close you could paddle, and every now and then a little town seeming to eek out a living from logging or fishing. The road winds through the towns giving us a glimpse of their peace. Boats and trucks are in abundance, stores and gas stations limited. Each community has a personality, outgoing or shy, competitive or retiring. Sechelt runs along with shore with a million dollar view from almost every vantage point. Up the road, Powell River is more of a working town. A pub and ferry industrialize the view. There are no breathtaking homes on this shoreline. A few cheap hotels, restaurants and the aforementioned pub that is 3 stories high greet visitors. We have a favourite little Mexican restaurant La Casita on the main street. It is little and unassuming. Vines and plants are woven in the posts and the sign is small and unreadable. The owners have capitalized on a 10 foot somewhat obstructed view of the ocean and have placed a few of the tables facing the view – which means the road instead of facing your dinner companion. It seems a bit awkward, but it works. The food is good and the view rivals any four star restaurant.

On the way back, Ken had to stop a drool over this old shovelhead.

We camped at Kent’s Beach about 20 minutes before Powell River. This campsite has an amazing beach with lots of driftwood to lean against, clear water and hot showers for a dollar. The camp was very family oriented and quiet by ten in the evening – which worked great for us. The heat of the day had caught up to us and we had more riding the next day. Kent’s also has some great cabins to rent and we highly recommend it. Kids were playing on a log in the water as parents read. It was perfectly serene.

July 31

We packed up camp – picked up coffees and got to the ferry in time to drink them and load to Comox. From Comox we traveled north to Campbell River, Port McNeill, and finally Port Hardy for lunch. Campbell River is a pretty big town with lots of charm. It has a wonderful sea walk that is divided, presumably for riders and walkers. Dotted along the way are large, unique wood carvings. Suddenly you come upon a display of eagles, bears, whales, indigenous animals and marine life carved, sanded and polished to a honey and cinnamon glean. Not one could ever fit on the bike. .

The road there is full beautiful curves and great pavement. Passing cars is easy and the it was not too busy. For the middle of the day we are lucky. The scenery is the same yet different. Thick groves of trees, peeks of the ocean and islands, and every now and then a house or sign break things up. The “Lucky Logger” sign caught Ken’s attention but on our return trip there was no kitchy bar but a regular looking pub that we decide to skip.

The next stop was Port McNeill with a sign espousing home of Willie Mitchell at the entrance. It is a quaint little town on the water. Fishing boats and a grassy area line the shore with many benches to enjoy the view. Prawns and fish are hocked at the dock and my mouth is salivating at the prospect of fresh seafood.
We decide to press on to Port Hardy as this is the northern most part of our journey. This port town has its own flavour. Running at the 50th parallel there was no evidence of its historical importance. Our waitress at the Sportster Pub tells us that there is great diving in the area and there is a lot to do when you are old enough to get around. She grew up there, and has rooted herself back in the small town as it affords her the luxury of travel in the winter and owning a house and a townhouse for revenue. From parallel 50 we head a little southwest to our destination for the night. Port Alice. Port Alice is a one industry town. It is a pulp mill that extracts cellulose from trees for food products. The mill has been around since 1917 and gone through many bankruptcies and upheavals. It has burned down, the town was moved in the 1950’s and yet it is still there on the most beautiful inlet with a view that I have never imagined was possible. We went out to the plant though and had the feeling that we wouldn’t really want to live in a town that had a road sign that said
“Do not stop and breathe in the fumes” Hard to avoid on a bike – and much harder to avoid if you are one of the 300 employees I imagine. The town has a thousand people, mostly supported by the mill. There is a tiny town center with a store reminiscent of the 1970’s Safeway. Hardly any selection, half an aisle for bread, “Wonderbread” and only a few loaves of whole wheat. The produce section was a little corner offering apples, bananas, iceberg lettuce, carrots and celery, potatoes and onions and little more was there. Life must be a lot simpler without all the choice. We headed to our B&B, the Inlet, which was by no means small townish. It would rival a B&B at Whistler. We had first class bedding, immaculately clean, a spectacular view and a large kitchen and sitting area. It was the best $75 on accommodation we have spent. Breakfast alone was great. Coffee, orange juice, fresh cranberry walnut muffins and lemon apricot scones with a fruit salad and scrambled eggs with thyme. Bonnie sure knows her combinations and hats off to them for the most unique and great meals on our trip. Again, exhausted we rolled into bed and watched a movie while we enjoyed the sounds of a thunder and lighting storm and the rain that followed. We were glad to be warm and dry and especially not to be camping.

Aug 1
Leaving Port Alice in the mist of the morning we headed north in order to reach our final destination south. The roads in the morning without traffic look far different. The pavement seemed to idly wind through the trees. The rhythm of the road was rarely broken by a slower vehicle. I enjoyed the change of scenery and then the periodic “I have never seen that before” delight that would register. Ken was in his groove and testing the new tires. He didn’t think I would notice that at 170k the bike shakes a little more. I noticed! We stopped in Sayward, a little off the beaten path. You have to wait at a one way bridge and then meander into town through acreages neatly arranged, and some with vehicles askew. The town again was five stores wide and the most remarkable shoreline is cluttered by a huge industrial mill. We stopped at the farmers market on the way out of town. Stretched our legs and continued on our way. It was now getting hot and we had a ways to go.

This trip we also did our usual stops – Coombs to see the “Goats on the Roof” and the great market. Something is always going on in Coombs and there are usually hundreds of cars parked along the road – which is more than their population. Qualicum Beach is a retiring community that plays music through the streets, has a lovely art gallery, and even the grocery store looks part of the scenery.

Our next stop was Chemainus and it is a town you don’t want to miss. Chemainus is the town of murals. Buildings are painted with historical pictures, information and some just the artists depiction of the town. Water Wheel Park in the city centre has a great bandstand with huge log benches inviting for entertainers and audience. Beneath the park is a whole section of town we had not seen before. quaint stores with old fashioned signs and gingerbread facia lined streets. Candy stores and restaurants all looked so inviting. A free walking tour – follow the yellow footprints, and lots to read on the sides of buildings and signs are dotted throughout. Chemainus has a proud history and a sign lets us know that it is located on the 49th parallel.

After Chemainus we enjoyed the scenery of the Cowichan Valley and Shawnigan Lake. Ideally shaded for the time of day, and not too busy with sightseers we were able to enjoy some twists with a little more cool than earlier. I have to confess that although I know better I could not keep my jacket on earlier. I was melting and so I donned sunscreen and allowed myself to ride in a tank top. Now I won’t tell that to my instructor for the motorcycle lessons because I know that on the scale of things that is probably a dumb thing to do….but at the time the option would have been to quit riding for me. After the view of Shawnigan Lake we then were in back roads throughout the southern part of the island…winding up at Brentwood Bay and a remarkable sun shining on the water. Ken has a knack for finding the road less traveled and although his continual glances at the map sometimes make me nervous, for the most part we seem to get to exactly where we were going. Our final meal for the trip was at a local grocery store outside of Sidney where I enjoyed the most scrumptious dolmades for $1.80….Now I know am a cheap date – not just being vegetarian but also trying to find something that I really want. The dolmades were freshly made and definitely ranks as one of my favourite meals on the entire trip. I can’t help this frugality. It isn’t even something I purposed…it just happened that way.

This was the first trip of the last several that we didn’t have any close calls with drivers. It was also the first trip that my butt got a little sore and despite Ken’s efforts at trying to have regular breaks, I physically found the heat more tiring and hard to handle. I think I prefer the uncertainty of a cloudy day to heat that dries your eyes and boils the blood in your veins.

The ferry home I finally had the opportunity to read and to do a crossword puzzle. I recently decided to stop getting the paper daily as I found that it seemed my mission was to finish the crossword before my day would start. A few mornings that meant getting dressed after 9:30 and trying to quickly tidy up so it looked as though I had stayed home to get something done. Ken helped with some of the clues and before the trip was over I felt like I had accomplished something with my brain.

I love the view from behind. I love my iPod and listening to Pointed Sticks, Led Zeppelin, and one of my personal favourites Thee Spivies. I put the music on shuffle and find that it is in harmony with the twists and turns of the road. I couldn’t have choreographed it better. So now we are just planning our next ride…….

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