Mike's Campfire Stories: tales from the twisties...
[From Motorcycle Mountain Momma:] I asked a university friend what riding was like when he rode the BC twisties back in the '80s and '90s. He dug out his journals, and the road stories he shared were pretty cool, so I asked if I could share them on this website.
He said yes.
From his faraway life as a schoolteacher in downtown Toronto with his family of five, he sent the following about life in his youth, careening around mountains and sluffing along the oceansides on his old '77 Kawasaki KZ750, affectionately called the “KayZed”.
On the road to Tofino: it's a very curvy road, considering it's so well-travelled. I used to like leaning into the curves and gunning it, and because there was nobody else around on the road, man, did I ever do that on that road! Down on one of the roads near to Uclulet there was a curve that went up, around to the right, and followed the circle around from the peak back down. I gunned into that, caught what felt like 3 feet of air, then back down, still leaning, and damn good thing I was, because if I'd gained control, I'd have been road pizza.
Boy, though, the feeling of having the road all to yourself, surrounded by huge trees and no sound except your bike under you, till you turn it off. The smell of the open road--kind of sweaty-motor-oily- (if you're maintaining your chain, which you should) pine sappy-tenty, woodsmokey. We've all been there.
One time I pulled over to the side of the road in the middle of nowhere--middle of Vancouver Island, actually--felt lonely and kind of humbled--but scared when I heard wolves in the middle distance. Camping that night just off the side of the road--middle of summer but boy, were my feet ever cold! I heard something running fast around my tent, and panting-snuffling. Scared the heck out of me. Got up and stoked the fire up, and dragged my sleeping bag over to it, where I camped under the stars--with hot rocks in the end of my sleeping bag.
I've just started to re-experience it, now I have to reflect. Sadly, the guy I was traveling with was kind of a dick, so I can't speak to the camaraderie, except for pulling abreast of some other lone traveller and riding a few klicks--or a few hundred--beside them, without speaking, only communicating with turn signals, body language and your bikes--always with your bikes.
Next thing I remember--pulling into Tofino at the end of a long, exhausting day. The first sunny day in about a week, and instead of booking a campsite, I met some Deadheads on Long Beach and ended up camping with them. Camaraderie found.
The road to Comox/Port Hardy: Thinking about motorcycling today on my way home from work on the bicycle got me into some of my old riding habits. Like carving both lanes of the road on the way down a long, shallow grade, with, for the sake of the romance of the road, the sun just going down and some cold beer and thick steaks in the panniers, and friends with a big backyard for your tent at the end of the day's trip.
Seriously, the time I went to Port Hardy, I saw a hitch hiker. A girl! In a miniskirt! In the middle of nowhere! Outside Comox, actually. And cute! From Comox to Port Alberni with this chick on my bike, holding on for dear life (name of Ann, we're still Facebook friends--she was going to Port Hardy to get aboard a salmon boat, though God knows why in a miniskirt--I never had the nerve to ask her, and then it never seemed important enough). From Nimpkish to Port McNeill is a lovely, long, curvy trip that transitions from high, lonesome wilderness to rugged farmlands, lots of friendly people. Dropped her at the port and waited with her in some bar for her friends who were five hours late because of a huge school and record catch.
Ever party with salmon fishermen? Man, when they have a full hold of iced salmon, nobody but they are paying for the drinks! If they like your bike, they may offer you some money for it, or just go out and buy one on spur of the moment. A wild, but surprisingly well-educated lot. They took me down to some market the next day, half-recovered from my hangover, where they bought 5 pounds of fresh prawns and half a dozen baguettes. After that, to the beach where they joked--through my hangover--in fake Aussie accents about "throwing another shrimp on the barbie." Fresh barbecued prawn remains to this day one of the best things I have ever eaten.
The thing about biking on the Island is that the people you meet are so smug about living in God's country that they never go anywhere else, and are therefore pretty damn happy to welcome a stranger to sleep on their front yard, or even in the barn, if it's raining. Though there were more ATV garages than barns, even 20 years ago on 19. And once you're on their lawn, it's a short trip into their kitchen, where they will insist on you having a beer and sharing stories of the open road.
Sky-to-Sea, Vancouver-bound: The way to go is 97 to Cache Creek, then 99, through the Village of Pemberton, past Whistler, and in through West Van. There are some of the most beautiful views in the world.
Hwy. 97 is really something, riding as it seems to, in parts, along the crest of the Coastal Mountains, in forests, out of farmland, through little hamlets, past lakes, over creeks, and always the mountains in the distance. You really slow down a lot and tell yourself that you're enjoying the scenery, but really because of the agoraphobia of being in the open along such high roads. Well, it's not that bad, but parts of it are a lot to take in. Up and down, past lots of mountains, lakes, creeks, historic sites, and the pines. Always the pines on either side of the road.
Kamloops itself was a bit dull. What did I know? Maybe it wasn't. Hot, dry, and lots of suburban housing is mainly what I remember. It is located in a semi-arid climate and has short, mild winters, and long, hot but dry summers. It also had, when I was there, not so much in the way of nightlife. I pushed on after a stay just outside town on, as I found out later, Shuswap land.
From Cache Creek, a left onto 99 past places with exotic names like Pavillion, Fountain Valley and Lillooet, beautiful little blips on the map, each of them, with just enough history and way too much geography. Pemberton came and went. Stopped for gas and late lunch there.
Later on that week, I had occasion to ride the bike down Grouse Mountain just after sunrise, at high speeds with the engine off, the visor up, and the wind blowing in, my heart bursting out of my chest with the joy of being young, out west, and best of all, on a bike. Moments before that, still out from the night before, watching the sun rise over English Bay and all the moored ships looking like bath toys on the iron-grey sea metal was a sight I will never forget till the end of my days.
But pulling into Vancouver was a bit anticlimactic because of my mood. I still have the pic somewhere of me poised with my bike beside the sign that says, "West Vancouver,' but it was raining and I was wet and depressed. My friend had ditched me for a girl he met at the tourist booth up near Whistler, which was just being developed back then. I knew nobody, and West Van is not the place to meet people, especially not people of my sort, i.e. tattooed punks.
So I followed the signs to Vancouver Downtown, over the Lionsgate Bridge to Historic Gastown, which is where I parked my bike. It stopped raining. Hadn't been raining in Gastown at all, actually, which is not all that uncommon for Vancouver; rain in North Van and sun in Gastown. Was just going to go into some restaurant to have the expensive, tourist pasta special, when I spied a group of punks panhandling the tourists.
Having stowed my raingear in the panniers, and locked them, stupid thing to do near Hastings and Main (Pigeon Park if you know the place) I went and asked these citizens if they could direct me to a place to eat. Sure, they said, just give us a couple of minutes. They walked away a bit, behind some buildings, to a place I found out later is called, "Blood Alley," and scored. All of a sudden they were pretty mellow.
They took me past the steam clock, and the statue of Gassy Jack, and I don't care WHAT you say, I will never believe he was “named just for his gassy stories.” (Hint: clock that operates on air pressure) We went for a walk, got talking and they took me to some dollar-a-plate all-you-can-eat spaghetti place in the sleaziest, most run-down area I had ever been in. Ragu on over-boiled, No-Name spaghetti with my new junkie friends. Punks offered me to stay with them in their squat or somesuch, but I declined and went to a hotel with secure parking, a place where I could bring my panniers and helmet up and get my head together over some nice, light fiction and hotel porn. Hey, I'm not proud of it, but it's the fact.
Did I already mention I was in heaven? That was later in the week, but started at the moment I was eating Ragu at the greasy spoon with the squatters, when I stopped thinking of the predicament and started thinking of the situation and its possibilities. It was that moment I decided I could live here, which I eventually did, 2 years later, for 6 months on a working holiday.
Of note: later, on another trip, my friend motioned for me to stop. Told me to look on the left of the highway, where there was a ridge of mountains a couple of km long "The Seven Sisters." Just gorgeous. I even counted them: there are eleven!
On the right, near Squamish: "The Chief," a big rockface that my friend told me looked like an Indian Chief. I couldn't see it. Later I looked at the photos and wondered how I could have missed it--looks like the head of a cigar store Indian.
And Whistler, the alpine village still being built, but even way back then in the summer, full of douchebag guys and their gold-digging girlfriends with too much makeup, too high heels and too big boobs, too loud laughs, too short skirts, and, well...too much in general.
The Lions Peaks--two large, looming mountain peaks that lurk behind Grouse and Cypress Mountains. According to a fanciful tale the locals tell with a twinkle in their eyes, the lions will spring to life if Vancouver is ever threatened, and pounce on the enemy. You can climb up the back of them from Horseshoe Bay. It's a walk up of about 3 hours, but toward the top, very rough, very open and not for the faint of heart. I could only make it two thirds of the way due to my fear of heights. They call that walk "Unnecessary Mountain."
Blues at the Yale used to be great, and so did the Commodore Ballroom, a venue built on rubber tires so it bounces when people dance. Saw a few good acts there. The Town Pump in Vancity, where I saw so many great acts in the summer of 1990 while I was working out West, including - along with a dozen others - Nirvana and Havana 3AM. Hanging out in the middle of the Lionsgate Bridge for the view of Mount Baker, hundreds of miles to the south. And getting drunk and straddling the lions, after having ridden our bicycles from home to there, and onto Stanley Park where we did midnight rides on the seawall and skinny-dipped at high tide. Sounds kind of cool, but it was just livin' back then. It was what made minimum wage bearable.
And Stanley Park, which you have to go through on your way from downtown to the Lionsgate Bridge, takes you to North Van and Grouse and Cypress Mountains. Friends had a wilderness cabin halfway up Cypress Mountain, 15 minutes from their house to a 1 hour hike-in. There was always a white Christmas there, even if not in the rest of North Van, so they spent Christmas there every year.
And the punks--3 years after the trip, when I was a Toronto bike courier, a guy comes up to me and says, very circumspectly, "Hey, did you pass through Vancouver a few years ago?"
I looked and said, "Ye--es..."
He said, "Mike, it's Jim!"
Jim had taken me in when I thought the money was a bit tight to be staying in a hotel at $29.00 a night. He lived in a converted convent and his room had been a nun's cell. I had to sleep with my head in his closet and my feet from the knees down under his bed. Ah, youth... I'm still friends with Jim, who's still in Toronto after 20 years. And he wasn't a junkie, either. Just a kid looking for cool friends.
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