I’m lying on the bed enjoying the soft cool evening breeze, the mistress elegantly poised on the pillow beside me eyeing me up for some fun. Mags was off doing her yoga and I’d picked her up in a casual walk through the local park. She is in a playful mood tonight with a gleam of something wicked in her eye. She moves slightly to take me in her embrace, gently nuzzling up to my ear, teasing me with a line of ever so soft kisses. Moving down to my neck she does her thing, humming sweetly as she sets to work… Later, I walk into the room and Maggie is waiting for me. “What on earth is that on your neck????” I reach to my neck and feel the lump; my first Canadian love-bite, round, red and swollen. Bloody mosquitos! To make matters worse our baggage arrived with Vancouver with a customs label telling us it had been opened for inspection and something called an ‘LAB’ removed & destroyed. Well I now know that ‘LAB’ stands for ‘Lead-Acid-Battery’ and it took us a few days to realise what was missing; Mozgrim! Our mini, death-to-all-mosquitos, quest-weapon, electrocution-bat that we bought in Thailand and one of the best bits of travel kit ever! It transformed the horror of being wakened in the night by the buzzing of a mozzie in your ear to sheer joy of hunting it down with a deadly weapon and the satisfying sizzle as the little swine gets fried. Now we are about to traverse the vastness of Canada at the peak of the mosquito season and we are weaponless.
So here’s a wee game for you… Take a glass of wine and set yourself down in a comfy chair, then throw the wine up in the air and try to catch it all back in the glass without spilling any of it over your lap… We got to play this game involuntarily on the Air New Zealand flight from Auckland to Vancouver when our Boeing 777 hit a patch of ‘CAT’ (Clear-Air Turbulence). We’d just eaten dinner and the crew came round with the wine refills. We smiled like Cheshire cats and were just about to lick to top of the cream when the plane suddenly dropped from under us. This left the wine suspended in mid-air and us desperately trying to recapture it before it ended up all over the place. The ‘fasten seat-belts’ sign pinged on and the aircrew hurriedly shuffled the food trolleys to a secure location as the plane took convulsions as we hit more air pockets. To make matters worse, the airhostess who came on over the tannoy to explain what was happening sounded decidedly nervy and afraid! I’d hate to have seen what it all looked like from the outside as the plane hit these evil elevators in the sky. Luckily it only lasted about twenty minutes; twenty very silent minutes, when you could have heard a pin drop, as 300 passengers (and at least one airhostess) sweated the turbulence, trusting that the design engineers at Boeing had got their calculations correct and the plane would withstand this terrific buffeting. On the plus side we managed to quaff the wine between plummets with very little spillage.
We landed in Vancouver before we took off, having departed Auckland at 8pm on Sunday evening and landed at 2pm earlier that same afternoon due to having crossed the International Date Line and gone back in time. Vancouver is one of those nodal cities that has featured prominently in our travels. It was our first ever landfall on the North American landmass way back in 1992 when we flew a Honda Goldwing here from London and rode coast-to-coast via the Grand Canyon, flying home from Toronto. In 2006 it was the city where our Pan-American trip ended as we packed and shipped the two BMW’s home, having accomplished our ride from Chile to Alaska. Now the same BMW’s would arrive from New Zealand and it would be the jump off for the last leg of our round-the-world trip.
We suffered some pretty bad jet lag for the first few days and luckily we hadn’t much to do, as the bikes were not due to arrive until later in the week. We watched them on an online maritime tracker as they progressed from Auckland to Fiji, to Hawaii and now to Vancouver. Having left New Zealand in the early days of the antipodean winter, it was a delight to land in spring with warmer temperatures and decent weather on the forecast. You can imagine our delight when the single budget room we’d booked on Air BnB turned out to be a small apartment, complete with kitchen and access to laundry facilities, a real bonus on the road. It was located in a tree-lined avenue off Victoria Drive in the east of the city, a mainly Chinese suburb full of friendly and very welcoming people. The main drag was lined with a superb selection of Asian grocery stores granting us access to a medley of amazing ingredients at what seemed ridiculously low prices after our stint in New Zealand, where we reckoned grocery shopping was about 20 – 30% more expensive than anywhere we’ve ever been. We mooched the streets of Downtown and enjoyed revisiting the waterfront, and harbour areas. It was a delight too to reacquaint ourselves with the culinary oasis that is Granville Market. Good to catch up with a few friends too – Mike and Shannon Mills travelled up from Seattle to see us and we had a nice dinner with Taff Thatcher and his wife Sharon.
Sadly, on this visit we encountered a darker side to Vancouver. The No.20 bus into Downtown took us along a main east-west thoroughfare called Hastings Street, a place deserving the moniker of ‘Desolation Row’ if ever there was one. Here the pavements were lined with the human detritus of Canadian society; homeless tramps, winos and beggars, druggies and down & outs… young and old, male and female all of them living on the street. For several minutes we traversed through maybe a mile or more of scabrid ranks of these grey, rejected people. We were stunned and shocked by the numbers, more than we have ever seen in one place in any city. The bus fell silent as the procession continued on through to Downtown and back to the rest of the world. These vignettes were complete with snapshots of action too… drugs being dealt; small coin exchanged for small wads of paper wrapped misery… people burning resinous substances on little pieces of foil for a fix… lost souls curled up in fetal positions or sat haunched on the pavement rocking back and forth, red-rimmed eyes glazed, fixed in chemically induced thousand-yard stares. Some help is there. Along the phalanx of grimy facades, where every door and window was secured with metal bars and monster locks, we picked out missions, churches and charities trying to help but it looked like small lifeboat relief in an ocean of misery. Chatting to locals it seemed like a repeat of an old story in Western Society these days with a mix of ludicrous property prices and rents in the city forcing young people onto the streets with no prospects and little hope. We learned too that the government has closed down institutions releasing inmates for a dose of ‘care in the community’, which mostly isn’t there but, hey-ho, someone has saved a few dollars. The vulnerable fall prey to dealers in misery and places like Hasting Street surely thrive. Then, only a few blocks away, we enter a glass and concrete jungle of swank high-rises in streets prowled by Lamborghinis and Ferraris and the other side of Vancouver. The imbalance is phenomenal to behold.
A major panic just before the bikes arrived!… We checked in New Zealand before shipping and had lined up some motorcycle insurance cover for our time in Canada through a US based company called Dairyland who have been underwriting insurance policies for foreign travellers and their vehicles for years. We’ve all had a flurry of these emails over data protection and what information organisations hold about you, following new Euro GDPR legislation. It seems that Dairyland looked at their systems with respect to the legislation and decided that compliance was all too complicated so they simply pulled out of the market! For two weeks we emailed, phoned and visited insurance companies but no one was interested unless we were US or Canadian residents. Eventually we walked in to a local broker near the corner of the street where our Air BnB was located and a delightful lady called Prem sorted it all out for us, arranging BC registration and insurance cover for a reasonable price.
Then the bikes finally arrived, thankfully all in one piece and it was time to get back on the road… We had already explored the west of Canada during our Pan-American trip (see www.panamericanadventure.com) so our plan was to head up to Whistler before heading across the mountains towards Banff and from there set off to cross the vast plains of Canada to reach the Great Lakes, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia. The road out from Vancouver to Whistler and beyond is known as the ‘Sea-to-Sky Highway’ and what a beautiful starter for any country as it hugs the Pacific coastline before turning into a twisting ramp, ascending some 1500m to Canadian Valhalla with lofty white peaks all around. While we were waiting we had two invites to stay with complete strangers on opposite sides of Canada. Jeff and Lois Gunn live in Kelowna, BC and Judy Bull is in Barrie, Ontario and they have all been following our progress via the website and extended these rather kind invitations to sample some great Canadian hospitality. Kelowna was on our way to Banff and we had a lovely weekend with Jeff and Lois, who took us to sample some of the local wineries in the Okanangan Valley. They are simply keen travellers themselves and were happy to open their house to us for a night in exchange for a few tales from the road.
We spent a few days at beautiful Banff in the same Tunnel Mountain campsite we’d used on the Pan-American and we felt a moment of nostalgia as we crossed tracks with that previous journey. We hiked down into the Bow River valley, set in an amphitheatre of humungous granite walls, on a path that eventually threaded back around into town. The landscape was so vast we felt like a pair of leprechauns entering an arena built for giants. From Banff we left the mountains to start the ride across Canada on Highway 1, the Trans Canadian Highway. We skirted Calgary, still up at 1000m altitude, so cool enough to warrant riding in all our cold climate clothing. The plains slope down to around 200m as we reached the Great Lakes via one-night stops in Medicine Hat, Regina, Winnipeg and Thunder Bay. The landscape varied between grassy fields and the odd yellow field of rapeseed, all of it flat and exceedingly monotonous. As we approached Winnipeg the weather livened things up in the form of vast thunder cells that draped across our horizon like a drab bullfighters cloak. One minute we’d be charging straight for a great grey curtain of rain and the next the road would veer away and Olé!; we’d evade a good soaking only to turn back into it all 5 minutes later in a rather entertaining game of hide and seek. We did escape the rain that day but the weather had its revenge early next morning. 4:30am… both of us fast asleep in the tent… two things happened within a split second of each other. First someone sneaked into the tent and detonated an billion lumens of camera flash right into our eyes. A split second later, there was a god-almighty thunderclap right over the tent that jolted us bolt upright with hearts racing as we’d no idea what had happened… Then spit, splat, splosh as a deluge of a downpour commenced to the soundtrack and special effects of a most vicious thunder and lightning storm.
On the road to Thunder Bay we left the prairies and entered a smashed green landscape of pine forest and little Prussian Blue lakes that sparkled in the sun. We stopped at a chip van in Kenora “World Famous since 1957” according to the sign. 1957 was probably the last time they changed the oil in their fryer, as the chips on offer were decidedly soggy and brown. At Thunder Bay we finally reached Lake Superior and took a few days to explore the area. We visited nearby Kakabeka Falls, a mighty deluge of clear brown water like the issue from a huge soda stream. There is something serene and magical about the rush of a huge volume of water pouring out and over a precipice. We read the legend of Greenmantle, daughter of a local Ojibwa Chief, much renowned for her beauty. She was captured by rival Sioux Indians and taken off to their camp where she was forced to betray the location of her own tribe. She offered to betray her people and led the Sioux in a surprise canoe raid down the Kaministiquia River. Then as the Sioux readied for their attack, she sped off down the river. Furious and angry they chased her only to paddle themselves into faster waters. At the last minute Greenmantle averted her own canoe to the river bank and watched as the enemy raiders entered the falls… She then ran to sound the alarm but the invaders were all but destroyed by the mighty cataract of the Kakabeka. A footnote gave a different ending where Greenmantle herself was killed going over the falls although the outcome for the poor Sioux was just the same. Legend says her spirit can still be seen as a bright and beautiful rainbow at the lip of the falls, while down below in the violent maelstrom of churning waters, the death cries of the Sioux can be clearly heard.
For all the ennui of the roads in this part of the trip it has been magical. The Canadians are wonderful hosts and the daily routine of breaking camp, riding all day, finding a site for the next night and a warm and tasty supper to end the day has been a delight. I’ve been visited too by different mistresses every night… Occasionally just the one, but mostly in groups as they nibble and tease and leave me covered in lumps… Canada Eh?
The photogallery for this post may be accessed by clicking the following link: Canadian Love Bite