Adventures In The Great White North | The Family Road

By Jack Lewis, Photography by Shasta Willson

Ignoring the Multi’s disturbing resemblance to a plague physician’s nose filter, I wished out loud for BMW’s eminently comprehensible, bar-mounted multi-controller. Once Ducati’s engineers geezer-proof their annoying interfaces, they’ll have the ideal basso Boomer bike.

I’d never trade engines, though. The Multi’s mill is strong beer with a smooth aftertaste, a rich and heady “one for the road” that won’t get you a DUI but will surely earn the incautious a file full of high-performance driving awards. It’s rocky below 4000 rpm and the gearing is more Autostrada than Multistrada, but it spins to Twin Heaven and pulls like a Keith Black hemi.

Got us about 36 mpg, which wasn’t bad for Yellowhead Highway’s rapido sections. A diesel Smart Car may do better, but I never want to be that smart.

After bumper stickers, road signs are my favorite found literature. Although Canada’s roadside pictograms include crossing signs for deer, elk, bear, caribou, moose, badger, duck and turtle, the most alarming sign we spied was “RUNAWAY TRUCK CROSSING.”

Don’t wanna hit one of those!

In Valemount, where the strongest and biggest Chinooks surge upstream, I told Smalldaughter not to worry about falling in. They weren’t hungry anymore.

Down-trail, we discovered that Pretty Wife’s sadly overgrossed GS had spiked its sidestand through the hot asphalt. Happily, her double-D Givi rack allowed barely a tip before beaching firmly.

Mt. Robson Provincial Park is a cheapskate’s vacation fantasy. Twenty-one Canadian dollars scored an uncrowded camping area with unlimited showers to blast away road cruft. Seems the hot summer days we’d been awaiting since June had lurked up north all along.

The next day, we infiltrated our primary objective with an easy highway glide to Jasper Parc Nationale. The town of Jasper is a global destination pushing cheesy T-shirts to cheerful Chinese, Japanese, Germans, French, crazed Aussies on battered KLRs and even a couple of misdirected Floridians. Surmounting the northern reach of the Rockies, Jasper showcases so many alpine lakes, glaciers, trees and animals that we had to wonder why they were all shopping in town.

When the loon howled that night, I listened silently. That’s not a sound you wake your sweetie to share. Next morning, though, I shook her awake.

“Psst,” I whispered romantically, “did you hear that? That was an elk bugling!”

“Ernngh,” she gargled, squinching her eyes shut. “Train… brakes…”

Stumbling out to boil up coffee, we couldn’t fail to notice the colossal six-point bull bugling up a cow. Ever-hopeful and perennially clueless in the tradition of young bulls, Spikes drifted mournfully through the trees at a safe distance as we rolled our luggage into the tent to ride light for once.

Lac du Maligne Road offered three reasons to enjoy it at a sightseer’s pace: meandering mega-fauna, oddly graded curves and precious cargo on pillion. There are all kinds of Fast in the Duke, but it would have been a shame to rush heedlessly past the Arctic fox, mountain sheep, timber wolf, a family of bears and that Lycra-licious bicycle tourist jiggling her way downhill.

Another cheapskate’s paradise, Maligne Lake Resort, rented us a long, steady canoe for 30 bucks. Pretty Wife gasped the first time our craft lurched sideways.

“Don’t worry,” I reassured her, “I had ’em mount Givis.”

Our roaring little stove earned its keep that night as we voyageurs destroyed 2/3-lb. hamburgers with all the trimmings—except cheese. Don’t know what Canadians have against cheese, but it sells by the gram like a controlled substance—as contrasted with codeine, available in bulk OTC.

That evening the bull of the woods commenced a bugling frenzy, pushing families out of campsites and marking every bush like a demented Labrador retriever. A young spike in the velvet whispered shy little grunts from the periphery.

Unable to contain himself, Spikes finally let out a squeaky half-bugle, whereupon granddaddy elk promptly charged him. By the time Gramps parked his rack to pant, the young stud had fled 500 meters, barreling through tents and clattering pans off picnic tables.

Next year, li’l Spikes will be too horny to deny.

“Did you fill up the stove bottle?” asked Pretty Wife at our fuel stop the next morning.

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Note to the caption writer: That is a bull elk, not a moose.
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