Victoria, B.C. | Shakedown Highway

Victoria is Ours

By : Jack Lewis, Photography by Shasta Willson

The grass smokes different on the other side of the mountain. Shift your angle of view and familiar tableaux metamorphose, wondrous as desmodromic heads on a Harley. Traveling cane strapped across the luggage, Pretty Wife and I pointed our Germanic bike noses north for a trial run to Victoria, B.C.

Whidbey Island’s salt air limned our surroundings with a freshet of the exotic—we’re going places, this is different—even to blue clapboard suburbia, firs and pines and deer-crossing signs.

If you can live and travel through this charmscape of water, sky and trees without profound gratitude, you’re not paying attention. Could it really be my turn to be in the world this way? Having taken my turn to be other things in other places, I appreciated this journey in ways my 20-year-old self couldn’t imagine, flogging a clapped-out Yamaha RD400 to Orcas Island for a tenting date and cursing every mile between for an obstacle. Given a choice, I’d do every one of those miles again—this time with the girl by my side.

So that worked out.

Queuing for the Anacortes ferry, we chatted with a Deutsch couple on a Harley Ultra. The tall, blonde pilot smiled at my BMW R1200S. She keeps an R100 Mystic in her garage back home, but felt she should sample a Harley in the States. Pretty Wife and I promised a reciprocal BMW rental should we ever tour Germany together.

Call it an Axis of Fairness.

Derek met us at the Sydney ferry terminal on his Suzuki DL1000 V-Strom. Among all forms of wealth, communities of friendship are the richest. Derek led us through hills rolling along the big water, past egg stands and berry farms, skipping the wineries because he presses his own.

Six-hundred pounds of grapes and two or three Moto Guzzis pass under Derek’s hand and eye every year, keeping his cellar and garage both busy and full. Home-stewed lamb curry proved the perfect foil for tasting cabernet, merlot and shiraz that you can’t buy. Though we’d tank-bagged duty-free single-malt to sample with our host, we didn’t get that far. Two ibuprofens for my gimpy leg and one for my swollen head, and we slept like the dead.

Cross a border and things become subtly different enough that you immediately note the familiar ways that “they” are just like “us.” Victoria doesn’t come across like the old joke (“Canadians are like Americans—with the spark plugs removed”), but seems just a bit neater and somehow quieter. They are us without the hard neon glitter and inflatable orange boobs.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

Next morning, we dropped our bags in the

garage and joined Derek on Vancouver Island’s Port Renfrew loop, famous among visiting riders for its fabulous highways and among locals for its far better back routes. Wherever you travel in the world, two things are important: Go on a weekday when the good people of the world are busy at work, and go with someone who knows the blue roads.

As we toddled out through town traffic, my inner kvetcher ran his anxious litany like discordant piano scales.

Wish I’d taken a leak. It’s too damn cold. My ankle hurts. My feet are hot. Dammit, is that a pinched nerve in my shoulder? My God, the traffic…

Then the cars cleared away, the road opened up like the Red Sea when Moses mixed the boards, and all I could think about was the good bike under me and sweet life swirling by. Pain and anxiety peel away in the wind when you ride the world’s best wheelchair.

Attacking curves enough to test my fading Metzelers, Pretty Wife was grinning every time I looked. Bursting out of the woods onto the West Coast Road, we rode along the Strait of Juan de Fuca under a searing blue sky. Does the sky reflect the water? Is it the other way around?

All alone on the coast near the mouth of the Jordan River perches a fish & chips stand. Three hours of energetic riding on coffee and a slice of toast meant that I gazed at that stand like a badly wintered cougar at a baby peccary. I may actually have whimpered into my helmet, but Derek and Pretty Wife were soldiering on for Port Renfrew and I hate to be the first guy to whine out loud.

There’s not much “there” there, other than a few delightful locals and a generous smattering of real estate offices. Apparently, there’s a hot market in Canadian vacation property, but we had secured financing only for lunch. Over mediocre sandwiches, we compared notes and realized that each of us had wanted to stop at the fish shack.

That’s the problem with riding in full-face helmets: They’re fine for peripheral vision, but murder on your ESP.

Our waitress, a paragon of 40ish figure-holding whose dirndl-supported smile easily compensated for her listless sammiches, warned us that the only gas in Port Renfrew came strained through the gritty filter of an old Shell truck parked at the fuel dock.

Forewarned is ungassed. We headed up Harris Creek Road for Lake Cowichan and a real gas station. Three minutes out of our lunch stop, my fuel light flashed yellow and I started short-shifting egregiously, apexing like a downhill bicyclist. Black Betty makes terrific torque off the bottom, but man does not live on torque alone. I require torque and ibuprofen.

Cabernet sauvignon doesn’t hurt, either.

With Derek packing for a moto-camping trip to the States the next day, we felt like overgrown exchange students. We shared a last dinner of wine-fueled geopolitical solutions, then rode up-island to Sidney the next morning. Filing through the ferry line, we found boat seats near a Triumph Speed Triple rider. He was starting a loop through the Methow Valley of Central Washington.

Conversations with Canadian motorcyclists make it easy to understand why we share the world’s longest unfortified border, but impossible to comprehend why it gets harder and harder to cross.

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By : Jack Lewis
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