2017 Ontario to Vancouver Island - Stromtrooper Forum : Suzuki V-Strom Motorcycle Forums
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post #1 of 14 Old 12-19-2018, 08:23 PM Thread Starter
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2017 Ontario to Vancouver Island

2017 Motorcycle Trip – Pembroke, Ontario to Comox, BC:
Day 1: Pembroke to Richard’s Landing, Ontario 603 km
It was one of those “bucket list” things – something I’ve always wanted to do, but never had the time, or the freedom. Raising six children, working full time, and with many other obligations, there had never been a chance to get away. Now, I was retired, and it was time. 2017 was the 150th anniversary of Canada as a nation, and I wanted to celebrate it with a cross Canada motorcycle trip.
The distance from Pembroke, Ontario to Comox, British Columbia is about 4500 km. I laid out a plan, to cover approximately 700 km, give or take 100 km per day. I thought, if I can only hack 600 km per day, the trip would take 8 days. If 500 is my limit, then 9 days. I wanted lots of time to take pictures, and stop often to give my butt a break.
So, on the morning of August 28th, 2017, I said goodbye to my wife Susan, put on my helmet, and swung a leg over my heavily laden 2015 Suzuki 650 V-Strom, “Vivi’, as I would later dub her. I headed west on highway 17, the trans-Canada highway. It was a beautiful clear day, but only 8 degrees Celsius, so I turned on the heated grips, and tucked into the bike.
By 8 am I was on a very quiet stretch of highway by Mattawa, and I was slowly freezing to death! I stopped for a hot coffee while I thawed out a bit. I was wearing light long johns under vented summer riding pants, a t-shirt and light sweater under my three piece Joe Rocket textile jacket.
By North Bay the temperature crept up to 16 degrees. I made a quick photo stop at the high lookout over lake Nipissing. By my first gas stop at Sturgeon Falls, it was 19C and I was finally comfortable. I was making good time, and figured I might reach my destination near Sault Saint Marie by mid afternoon.
But I had forgotten one of the facts of summer travel in Canada – construction season. I got in the first of many lineups to allow alternating strings of traffic through a one lane path. After a few more construction stops, my stomach started to grumble. My butt was ready for a break too.
I lunched in Espanola, at one of those Tim Horton’s / Wendy’s combination restaurants. It was packed, but I was hungry. Not exactly nutritious, but a burger and fries hit the spot.
I was soon within 100 km of my stop for the night, an air BNB in Richards Landing, on a small island just east of Sault Ste Marie. The gas gauge on the V-Strom was showing one bar left, so I gassed up just before crossing onto the island, and soon rolled into the beautiful little town. I found my Airbnb and the key to the house, under a bag in the foyer. The lady of the house wasn’t home, so I unloaded the bike, then strolled down to the waterfront. I had a very satisfying supper and beer at a restaurant looking out over the bay. I called my wife to tell her I had made it alive, and went back to the bnb for a sound sleep.
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post #2 of 14 Old 12-19-2018, 08:27 PM Thread Starter
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Day 2 – Richards Landing to Thunder Bay 750 km

I woke at 6 am, and hit the road early. The landlady had told me by text (I never met her in person) of a truck stop near ‘the Sault’. I rolled through the sleeping town, and over the bridge, barely disturbing three deer browsing beside the road. Half an hour later I filled my belly at the Husky Restaurant, a chain of truck stops across northern Ontario.
It took quite a while to get through Sault St Marie on my way north to Thunder Bay. I had 750 km to cover, so I was anxious to make time. After some very moosey looking stretches through typical northern Ontario forest, the road began to rise and fall. Some of the hills stretched on forever, and combined with sweeping curves. I started to catch glimpses of Lake Superior here and there. It’s hard to believe it’s a freshwater lake – the scale of it is tremendous. In some of the dips the road came close to the lake, nearly at water level. At other times, I was 500 to 1000 feet above the lake, looking over the vast expanse of blue water and islands. It was hard to keep my eyes on the road. After about 2 hours, I reached the south end of Lake Superior Provincial Park. I stopped at a couple of scenic lookouts to take pictures, but the fact is, the entire road is a scenic lookout, and I soon passed by several more lookouts. I did regret not stopping at a couple, recognizing some great missed photo opportunities. But I had a long way to go, and the construction zones were still plentiful. I didn’t want to ride in the dark.
I stopped for French fries and gas in White River, and then rose up into a beautiful series of long curves in some foggy mountain terrain as I neared the north section of the lake. I reached the beautiful town of Terrace Bay and stopped for a coffee and a butt break. At a coffee shop in a little mall overlooking the lake, I had my first of several interesting encounters.
“Where are ya heading?” said a middle aged man behind me in line. I guess it was obvious from my bike outside that the answer wasn’t ‘across town’.
“British Columbia”, I said.
“Oh, so are we”, he said, indicating his wife was coming too.
“Where are ya coming from?”, he said.
“Pembroke”, I said, “It’s a little town about 100 miles north west of Ottawa.”
“I lived in Pembroke for a few years, back in the mid 70s”, he said. “I taught at the local high school. Champlain High”.
“Oh, I went to Champlain High in the mid 70s.” I had this feeling he looked familiar, though I don’t think I’d taken his class.
“Wow, small world.”
“Yeah, really”, I said. “I’m actually going to Comox, on Vancouver Island. My daughter and grandkids are there. My son-in-law is in the military and got posted there”.
“We’re heading to Comox too! Meeting some friends there and touring the island.”
And so it goes. A couple of questions – where ya heading?, where ya coming from?, and next thing you’re talking to an old high school teacher, or somebody who knows somebody who used to live near you, or has a cousin from there. It made me realize, that Canada is huge, and Canada is small. Great distances, but only a handful of people, relatively speaking, so we all know somebody who knows somebody who knows you.
People were often astounded when I told them I was going on this trip alone. It was like they felt sorry for me, instead of excited at the prospect. But travelling solo doesn’t mean travelling alone. It doesn’t mean days on end not speaking a word to anyone, unless you’re crossing Antarctica. And also, if you really didn't talk to anybody for a couple of days - would it really be that bad? That’s what motorcycling is about. As much as the riding, it’s a chance to clear your head.
About four in the afternoon, I pulled into another Timmies about 100 miles from Thunder Bay for coffee and WiFi. I intended to find a campsite but checked BnB prices just in case. Amazingly, a couple calling themselves “bikers” were offering a room to other “bikers” passing through – for $22. I wasn’t sure if I was actually a “biker”, considering myself more of a ‘motorcyclist’, since “biker” conjures up images of leather vests, burly arms and tattoos, of which I have none. I booked it, and got on the bike.
Near Thunder Bay, I stopped at another scenic lookout, really high above the lake, and exceptionally spectacular. Then I blew past the Terry Fox memorial, instantly regretting it, because I consider him a real Canadian hero. Hell, a world class hero. Some chow at a McDonald’s in Thunder bay staved off impending hunger, and I picked up a couple of beers.
Well, the “bikers” turned out to be “motorcyclists” after all and actually my kind of motorcyclist – Dave with a Goldwing, and Karen with a middleweight Suzuki. They were full of stories of the road. I spent four interesting hours talking with them, with Vivi sheltered safely in their garage, then hit the hay for another early morning start. That night, it rained like hell while I slept, the only rain I got on the entire trip!
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post #3 of 14 Old 12-19-2018, 08:30 PM Thread Starter
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Day 3 Thunder Bay Ontario, to Winnipeg, Manitoba 720 km

I was on my way early on the wet roads, but the rising sun promised another good day, though it was a cool 12C. I wound my way out of Thunder Bay back to highway 17. I’ve known all my life that Ontario is a huge province, but riding it really impacted me. I had ridden hard for two days, and I was still a long way from Manitoba.
On the outskirts of town, I found another Husky restaurant and did the breakfast and gas thing again. Back on Vivi, I settled into a nice pace, about 105 km/h, in a foggy 14C. The scenery changed as I curved away from the lake, settling into slowly rolling terrain blanketed by spruce trees, lakes and large clear-cuts. True moose country – I expected to see one on the highway at every curve. Like the first morning, I slowly started to chill down, and after three hours, I had to stop to warm up. I pulled into a small restaurant in one of those five building ‘towns’ beside the road in northern Ontario. A loaded Kawasaki Versys was in the dirt parking lot, so I joined a fellow rider from Saskatchewan for a coffee. He was on his way home, and frozen too. His three week tour had taken him to the eastern tip of Newfoundland, and then around PEI and Nova Scotia. His trip was interrupted by a broken chain and a two day wait for a replacement, but overall quite good. He was as amazed at the size of Ontario as I was, and glad to be less than two days from home.
I was ready to go again, but the foggy morning still wouldn’t warm up. After another hour I was chilled again, and stopped in the town of Ignace for gas and more clothes. I put on my heavy long johns and another sweater, then called Susan, because the cell service was getting sketchy in between the widely spaced towns. All good news at home, and it was great to hear her voice.
I was now dressed for the weather, and of course, it started to warm up as I approached Kenora. I was now badly overdressed, so I pulled into town for lunch, gas and a bit of a strip down. Kenora was much larger than the hamlets I’d been passing through for the last three hours, and very scenic, overlooking Lake of the Woods.
I got turned around trying to leave town, but finally reached the highway, more by luck than good management. Vivi was anxious to leave Ontario behind us, and so was I. After a brief photo op at the Manitoba border, we transitioned to highway 1 (same trans-Canada, new name) and bumped up the pace to 120 km/h (110 zone all the way to BC). We had travelled nearly 2000 km, and were almost half way to Vancouver, all in Ontario. Incredible.
After a couple of hours of similar terrain, we burst out of the bush into the flattest, most open farm land I’d ever seen. The road was arrow straight to the horizon. Something else changed. Where Ontario was soggy, wet, soaked by triple our normal allotment of rain, Manitoba was dry as a bone. The grass was brown beside the road. I knew half of BC was on fire, but didn’t realize the drought extended this far east.
Winnipeg eventually appeared on the horizon. I could see the sky scrapers sticking up out of the hay fields half an hour before I got there. The road curved a few times, and then I had a choice to make – bypass it or go in. I needed Wi-fi to find a place for the night, so I went in. (Note to self, “get a cell phone data plan before the next trip”.)
The city was hot, nearly 30C, and I was cooking in my heavy gear, so I found a nice air conditioned Tim Horton’s on the near edge of the city. I booked a campsite at a KOA on the western side of Winnipeg beside highway 1. I picked a really bad time to leave Winnipeg, and ended up riding the entire length of Portage Avenue in hot rush hour traffic. After at least 40 stoplights, I left this very modern western city, and soon found the KOA. For a buck less than my room in Thunder Bay, I got to set up my tent, blow up my air mattress, and sleep outdoors. But I was glad for the chance to try out my gear, and I slept like a baby, with the sound of vehicles on the highway lulling me to sleep.
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post #4 of 14 Old 12-20-2018, 12:30 AM
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Great story! With 4 kids, this trip is a dream of mine too, but it wont happen for another 20+ years

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post #5 of 14 Old 12-20-2018, 11:16 AM Thread Starter
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Day 4 Winnipeg to Caronport Saskatchewan, 750 km.

The next morning, I woke about 7, had a quick shower in the campground centre, and packed up the bike. Tearing down the campsite and packing the bike took about 45 minutes, which is a definite disadvantage to camping. Between that and another round of bacon, eggs and gasoline, I wasn’t on the highway until nine am.
Today was the main day of riding the prairies, and I was looking forward to the experience. The scenery was not what I’d call spectacular, but it wasn’t dull either. The immense size of the farms, the huge tractors with clouds of dust behind them, and the open sky all contributed to the experience. I was astounded too by the odd feeling of ‘not going anywhere’ you get on that arrow straight highway. I would look down at Vivi’s speedometer, which reads 10% higher than our actual speed. So, I kept it at about 133 to 135 km/h, to sustain about 120 to 125. The road was a blur at my feet, but at the horizon, it looked stationary. I started to play a game, picking a tree or grain silo on the road far ahead, and checking the distance with my odometer when I reached it. I could see easily 8 to 10 km when it was flat or there was a slight rise.
The other amazing thing was how quiet the road was. At times, I was the only one riding on my side of highway 1, for perhaps five to fifteen minutes! I wondered sometimes if I had missed the apocalypse after leaving Winnipeg.
On the other side, heading east, I saw some interesting travellers. There were many RV behemoths, large bus-like hulks pulling 30 foot trailers, or other vehicles hitched to their backsides. Cars and SUVs with roof racks loaded to the hilt. But also bicycles loaded with panniers, obviously doing their own bucket list trip, though it looked quite painful to me. Sharing some two wheeled connection, the bicyclists and I would wave at each other.
As the morning sun rose higher, the wind began to pick up. At first a warm breeze, but by mid-morning more of a 32C gale, quartering in from my left side at 50 to 60 km/h. Combined with my forward speed, I felt like I was riding in a hot hurricane. I entered Saskatchewan and rolled on, leaning left and tucking in to reduce the wind blast. I stopped for lunch in a town I quickly forgot, enjoying the A/C and break from the wind. There I met another adventurer, heading back to Toronto after spending 7 weeks on his BMW GS800. He had been to Inuvik and through northern BC and the North West Territories. Epic trip – it made mine look like a ride around the block!
Before heading back on the road, I looked at the map. I was thinking of trying for Swift Current, but that was a 900 km stretch, and the wind was wearing me down. I found a bnb in a town called Caronport, at 750 km. It seemed to be my magic mileage number.
I soon was looking for another diversion from the relentless wind, with still 300 km to go to Caronport, and saw a sign for a suspension bridge in Woseley Saskatchewan. I pulled off the highway, and puttered through the tiny town, looking for the “famous” bridge. It was over a pond in the town centre, a substantial bridge, apparently built to attract tourists. Two other couples from Ontario had the same idea, and we exchanged information on the bridge and took photos of each other. One of them had a sister in Pembroke, and another had lived there once. Small Canada, big Canada again.
Back on the highway at two kilometres a minute, leaning left but going straight, I pressed on to Regina. An impressive amount of highway construction was happening near there, and I took a break for a quick McDonald’s supper. A couple in their 60s entertained me with tales of living in Saskatchewan, and how dry it had been. Interestingly, they said the deeply drying clay soil was causing buildings to shift this summer – a phenomena they had never heard of before. Kind of the reverse problem we have in Ontario, where the winter frost heaves the wet clay soil in Pembroke, making the roads like motocross tracks in the spring.
Shortly after Regina came Moose Jaw, and then 50 km later, my destination for the night – the small town of Caronport, mainly on the map because of the large bible college there. My accommodations were in a trailer home on a dusty gravel street at the back of the village. No worries, the lady let me park on her lawn in the back yard, and I had a clean room and bathroom.
The day had been long – riding in a strong head wind is tiring, and combined with the relentless heat, I was beat. Nevertheless, I had a walk around the town to loosen up before bed, discovering that there was restaurant in the town.
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post #6 of 14 Old 12-21-2018, 05:44 PM Thread Starter
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Day 6 Caronport to Banff Alberta, 804km.

I got up early, eager to make Banff by sundown, and hit the highway right away. It was a sunny 18C, perfect riding conditions. I was alone on the highway, with the rising sun behind me. About 7 am, I started looking for a place to eat, but the towns are few and far between. I passed through a large area with salt flats near the highway, which I thought was snow at first. After 150 km, I rolled into Swift Current and stopped at a breakfast buffet. It was the Friday of Labour Day weekend, and the place was packed. At $20 it was double the price of my usual breakfast, though I had a real stomach full. I hit the road again, and was surprised that the flat prairie gave way to grassy rolling hills. The highway began to curve here and there – a nice change from the last couple of days of pin straight riding. The road became busier, though still very quiet compared to home. There appeared to be no police on the road.
About 11:30 am, I reached the Alberta border rest stop and took a short break. I could easily make Calgary today, but I wanted to push on to Banff. My friend has a place there, and I could either camp nearby or stay at his place, I thought. But, that was another 450 km – a good long afternoon ride. The heat and wind were really starting to pick up again, as well.
Refuelled and refreshed, I hit the road again, towards Medicine Hat. The road started changing back to flatter land, soon dotted by oil derricks and large cattle ranches.
Past Medicine Hat, was 300 km of flat carpet prairie to Calgary. I stopped halfway there, in Brooks Alberta, for gas, coffee and a muffin. The temperature was again a steamy 32C, with a strong west wind beating on me constantly. The air conditioning at a local Tim Horton’s was a welcome relief. I checked the distance to Banff. It was still 330 km, and it was now about 3 pm. I texted my friend Mark, asking if he could recommend a campsite near him, telling him I’d check my messages on the other side of Calgary. Back on the road with Vivi showing 135 km/h on the dash, the brown prairie flashed by. Amazingly, Ontario had had one of the wettest summers on record – triple our usual amount of rain. In contrast, the entire west was bone dry, brown, and dusty.
About 5 pm, I was nearing Calgary, and decided to try and find the northern ring road around Calgary. What I didn’t think through very clearly was that it was Friday evening of the September long weekend. Half the people of Calgary were heading for the mountains! The traffic was extremely heavy. Coming out the far side, I climbed off the prairie into the foothills – just me and thousands of SUVs and RVs. About 20 km out of the city, I stopped to check my phone. Mark had checked some websites and there wasn’t a camping spot available within 100 km of Banff! Of course not, I thought. Just when I was thinking about heading back into Calgary to find a motel room, Mark called. “I don’t have a second bed”, he said, but you are welcome to put a sleeping bag on my living room floor. “Right on!”, I said. “I’ll be there in an hour.”
Finally, about 7 pm, 13 hours after I left Caronport, I pulled into Banff, and Mark guided me to some underground parking in the motel he manages. Total distance, 804 km. I was beat, from the heat, the wind, the distance, and the accumulated days of travel.
After jettisoning my gear, Mark took me on a tour of the motel, the town, and the area. We saw two elk, and some of the most spectacular mountain scenery this ‘valley boy’ had ever seen. A great meal and some beers capped the day, and I slept like a log.
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post #7 of 14 Old 12-21-2018, 05:50 PM Thread Starter
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Oops - most of my photos didn't make it up. (or down?)
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post #8 of 14 Old 12-21-2018, 06:01 PM Thread Starter
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Day 7 – Banff Alberta, to Chase, BC, 438 km.

I said goodbye to my tour guide and friend at 08:30, expecting a shortish day of riding in the most scenic stretch of the trip. “You’ll never get anywhere near Lake Louise”, Mark predicted. I decided to try anyway. As I approached Lake Louise, a cow moose posed just off the road, with tourists taking photos less than 20 yards away. Bizarre, I thought. The parking lots appeared to be full, but then an attendant pointed at me - “Put her right over there, by that dumpster”. I was less than 200 meters from the lake! Perfect. I got off, walked over, and stood with a throng of tourists, taking photos of this most photogenic of lakes. Appeased, I went back to the bike and carried on.
Riding in the Rockies, every bend and rise in the road brought a new “wow” inside my helmet. I pulled off several times for photos, wondering if I could even cover 400 km in one day here. A few of the long ascents and descents were memorable. The sheer rock walls rising above me at Kicking Horse Pass was one. Certainly not a place to have brake trouble in a truck or RV.
I crossed into British Columbia, with scenery so beautiful it was hard to keep my eyes on the road. Soon, one of the problems with this hot dry summer emerged – forest fires. BC was having its worst forest fire season on record. Between Golden and Revelstoke, the air got hazy, then choked with smoke. At one point I could see fires burning on adjacent slopes, and in a valley to my right. I was nearly gagging in my helmet. Just when I was about to turn back, the air cleared considerably. I literally breathed a sigh of relief.
I stopped for lunch in Revelstoke , and checked googlemaps. I had about 160 km to go. It was sufferingly hot, 34C on Vivi’s dashboard. After about an hour, I came close to Shuswap Lake, a giant body of water that stretches through the mountain valleys from Chase to Seymour Arm, BC. I stopped at a very scenic lookout, and soaked my T-Shirt in water. Pressing on, I was soon in the little town of Chase, where my brother Peter and his wife Linda live. Their home was a welcome sight, and a relief from both the heat and the smoky air that surrounded the area again.
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post #9 of 14 Old 12-22-2018, 11:53 AM Thread Starter
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Day 8 – Rest day in Chase, 0 km

I spent the day visiting with my brother and sister-in-law, touring around the area in their car, and generally taking it easy. It was great not to have to travel for a change. However, by evening, I was getting itchy feet again.

A couple of comments on Vivi's performance so far. I was very impressed with how comfortable she was on this long trip. I had a 1985 Goldwing GL1200 before this, and the V-Strom was every bit as comfortable to me. Mind you, I did a few things to make it fit my 6'3" frame a little better. I put a footpeg lowering kit on it, a Givi Airflow windscreen, fork brace, and and Airsoft seat cushion. All of these things helped immensely. The little 650 engine is amazing both on fuel, and in it's ability to run 70 or 80 mph all day long. At higher speeds, loaded down, the gas mileage does drop quickly.
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post #10 of 14 Old 12-23-2018, 05:16 PM Thread Starter
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Day 9 – Chase, BC to Bowen Island, BC, 437 km.

Up early again, I said goodbye and was at speed in the cool morning air. The smoke had cleared and the sun was rising fast. Soon I turned south onto the Coquihalla Highway, #5, heading for a rendezvous with my sister Cynthia, who was riding from Vancouver to meet me in Hope, BC. Highway 5, like many BC highways, has a 120 km/hr speed limit, so I turned up the wick a bit, pushing Vivi to an indicated 140 km/hr. I was amazed at the little engine’s ability to maintain these speeds. The mountains began to change from heavy forested towering spires to smoother, lower mountains, with huge open valleys and rivers between the peaks. By 10 am, I was in Hope and met my sister at a Tim Horton’s. After a short lunch, we mounted up, for the busy ride through Vancouver and over to the ferry to Bowen Island.
Cynthia set a brisk pace on her BMW GT800, and I followed. The traffic got heavier as we neared the City. Soon, we were in heavy bumper to bumper traffic, moving at a pretty good speed. I was a little nervous, not being used to such heavy traffic back home. We reached Horseshoe bay in North Vancouver in time to catch the 1330h ferry to Bowen Island, which is only a 20 minute trip across the bay. Boarding a ferry on my motorcycle was a first, though it turned out to be easy. Motorcycles enjoy ‘first on, first off’ service, due to the parking spots at the front of the ferry. We had a brief chat with several other riders, then it was time to mount up and ride to my sister’s place. The road was incredibly twisty on the small island. Within half an hour, the bikes were parked in her garage, and I was enjoying a beer and the spectacular view off the deck of her cliff-side home. It was 30C, highly unusual for Vancouver, so we put on our bathing suits and walked down to the ocean for a quick and refreshing dip in the Pacific ocean. (Only four weeks earlier, I had swam at a beach on Prince Edward Island, on the other side of Canada, about 6000 km away)
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