Adventures In The Great White North | The Family Road

By Jack Lewis, Photography by Shasta Willson

Money or not, it was Smalldaughter’s turn for an adventure. Wordlessly, Pretty Wife threw down the gauntlet.

It looked suspiciously like a Coleman tent.

Two days later we were idling on our bikes, lined up for the Lynden border crossing. At Vancouver BMW-Ducati, the estimable Kelly Anderson swapped in my dirty black Beemer for a starched-white Ducati Multistrada with pre-scuffed panniers. We trimmed it like a Christmas tree with pots, pans and Therm-A-Rest pads. Across the two Givi steamer crates on her Tweety-yellow BMW F650GS, Pretty Wife carried surplus army luggage holding one entire campsite.

“That’s a fat old bag you got there,” Kelly observed.

Pretty Wife patted the L-E-W-I-S stencil on her badonka duffel: “Had his brand on it for years.”

The Trans-Canada bore us north out of Vancouver, across Lion’s Gate Bridge to where Sea to Sky Highway abuts the Strait of Georgia. Nicknamed “Ski and Die,” on a sunny day it formed first a perfect overlook for deep-blue saltwater; later for the curiously turquoise alpine lakes twinkling roadside as we climbed into the hills shadowing Squamish.

Even on the competent Ducati, “Speed to Fly” curves were best schussed at a reasonable clip. Wood-planked bridge decks frequently dumped into 90-degree curves backstopped by sheer rock faces. Also, the dark critter we saw scampering over the road wasn’t a big dog.

It was a small bear.

’Tis as pretty a road as exists, however. I’d always considered Americans who waxed orgasmic over British Columbia’s “super natural” scenery as fey apologists for southern border-huddled socialists, but B.C. is all that and a hardtack biscuit, more Oregon-like than even Idaho and far more worth possessing than any Middle Eastern spider hole.

Fifty-Four Forty or Fight!

Past Pemberton, the 99 transitioned to Duffy Lake Road, serving up sweepers and provincial parks aplenty en route to Lillooet, where we made first camp. Our only specific indulgence for this trip, a Dragonfly stove from Mountain Safety Research that burns anything from nitromethane to rancid suet, whistled cheerfully as we boiled up a bag of pirogues. On premium unleaded, the tiny stove boiled water faster than our kitchen range. If we ever finally conquer one of those pesky Middle Eastern countries, I’m converting the whole house to run on 91 RON.

That night Pretty Wife and I sat up, listening to the Fraser Valley moan in its sleep.

“That’s quite a wind,” she said.

“Train, I think.”

We woke up the next morning to a freight train rumbling across the river—and our stuff blown all over the campground.

After innumerable re-crossings of Cache Creek, we rejoined the Trans-Canada to ease into Kamloops. The big Multi proved a happy traveler, combining a Wee-Strom’s neutral ergonomics with 50 percent more vibration, twice the handling and 3.5 times the horsepower.

’Ware ye well that speed enforcement outside Vancouver (one of the few Canadian cities with an autonomous police force) is performed by Royal Canadian Mounted Police with rigor ranging from casual laxity to “ruin your day,” eh?

Since September 2010, “excessive speed” of 40 kph over the limit earns you a vacation-despoiling, mandatory 7-day impound. For Yankee reference, 40 kph over the 100-kph open-highway speed approximates 85 mph in a 60 zone—or about a millimeter’s rotation of the Mighty Duck’s addictive throttle.

Be careful up there.

Undistinguished but friendly, Kamloops widens the road with the province’s steepest ratio of strip malls to population. Verging toward the interior, tentative “oots” and “ehs” gave way to a fully Scotch-inflected brogue, as distinct from coastal Canadian as Bostonian is from the peached tones of Georgia debs.

Every time we hit a peeled road section, Pretty Wife’s mini-freighter left us for dead. Like so many formidable streetbikes, the Multi can be off-roaded if you’re sufficiently demented. On-highway, its front end arcs with Lasik precision. Off-road, it steers like a universal caster on the end of a pogo stick.

It was not Smalldaughter’s problem. She was on a motorcycle trip, which was most of what mattered, and the Multi pillows a pillion better than my irascible semi-sport. She also liked the look, bizarrely microcephalic front wheel or no.

“It’s cute,” she pronounced, “with its beak thing.”

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.

“Nah,” I shrugged, “I’ll fill it this afternoon.”

At #3 among the top-100 North American destinations, Icefields Parkway ranks as the most overrated motorcycle road in the world. While it features approximately 23 miles of astonishing geography, the road itself is engineered for giant-slaloming RVs, not the overlord Multistrada. Quadrupling suggested cornering limits two-up with full bags without grazing a peg made me feel like the biggest, baddest bull elk that ever bugled.

We made for Radium Hot Springs, southwest of Banff. Between Lake Louise and Castle Junction, the 93 joined our old friend the Trans-Canada and our 90-kph road of gentle sweepers segued into a deadly boring, bowstring-straight 70-kph suburban street. Loud pipes save lives on the Trans-Can: They keep you awake!

Hot springs aren’t exactly refreshing at 35 degrees C. We ground on through the swelter to Wasa Lake Provincial Park before falling into the cool waters of the warmest lake in B.C.

Cranbrook offered a grimy jolt of pseudo-civilization, 6 lbs. of sodium-lit border town in a 4-lb. bag, but it quickly faded into the vast, vibrating blind spot of the Ducati’s mirrors. Along Crow’s Nest Highway we soaked up scenery equivalent to any world-class way from Lolo Pass to Passo dello Stelvio. When the Nest dropped into a bottomland of moose swamps and fruit orchards, we broke to canoe across the Creston Valley Wildlife Area.

Some families vacation with tour buses and cruise ships. We’re a motorcycling and canoeing family, I reckon.

In terms of charm, Creston is everything Cranbrook ain’t. Farmland ran right to the edge of a townful of pleasant restaurants and wineries, Columbia Brewery dispatched kegs of Kokanee Gold across the Canadian West, and we couldn’t throw a rock without hitting a fruit stand, coffee shop or state-endorsed artisanal outlet.

At Christina Lake, we pitched our defiant little Coleman amongst a fleet of mortgaged aluminum spacecraft. Our most expensive overnight at $32.50 plus a “Loonie” (metal dollar) for each shower, it at least offered a tiny swimming pool, clean flush toilets and water on the pad.

Sleep came hard when a nearby pavilion elected to party loudly until 0230. Breaking camp just after sunrise, I never felt less guilty about the Duc’s authoritative morning crack-a-boom. Early to bed and early to rise makes a man wheelie through the campground.


There’s very little better than riding west with early sun on your back. Dripping hot by the time we rattled down the Penticton grade toward Lake Osoyoos like motorized pachinko balls, we gassed again and climbed into the Okanagon with a will.

We were nearly done. In seven 270-mile days, Smalldaughter had never once complained about jumping back on my bike to bore through cold mornings and hot afternoons. She didn’t stint at sleeping on the ground or eating lumpy grub out of a tin pot. Put a pea under this princess’ mattress and she won’t wake up puling about it. She’ll find out who put it there and strain his peas for him.

Remounted on my own bike, I diverted into Bellingham to play ditch-‘n’-chase southbound along Chuckanut Drive, which ranks high on any sane list of the 100 best places to ride.

“Where do you want to go next year?” I asked Smalldaughter at a sunny pullout overlooking Samish Bay, closing my eyes and muttering “khamsa fi ainek” against the evil eye of Mickey Mouse.

“Glacier National Park,” she said, “on moto-psychos!”

That’s my little cheapling. Gasoline for two bikes over 1900 miles at Canadian socialism rates: $412. MSR Dragonfly stove (and emergency fuel supply): $139. Commercial clothes-washer for filthy sleeping bags: $6. Recycled bungee cords and old rope: fully amortized.

Camping memories to last a lifetime? You do the math. MC

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