Day Eight - Wednesday August 22, 2001
Dark, Wet, and Smelly Barns
Port Hardy BC - Seattle WA
6:30 riding time - 391 miles
View Out Glen Lyons Motel Room, Port Hardy BC, 7AM
|I wave goodbye to Gizmo N of Seattle, just before the deluge starts|
"I'm 50-50 about going on out to Tofino, how about you?", I said to Gizmo as we sat on the side of the exit ramp from Highway 19 to Highway 4, twenty clicks north of Nanaimo. Highway 4 is the out-and-back route to Tofino, over the mountains and out of the brief rain shadow we have enjoyed the past hour-or-so. I really wanted to see Tofino, an exotic place on the remote and stormy west coast of Vancouver Island, so I was in a quandary whether to continue the route as pre-planned or give in to the rain and head home for Seattle.
"I'm 50-50 too, Whiz. I think we can make the 3:15PM ferry if we want to head home. What do you think?" replied Giz. Hmmm....another fence-straddler.
As route-meister, I decided to float a trial balloon - to tip the balance slightly to one side and see if the resulting momentum carried the day. I said, "Well, we're out of the rain now and it looks like we might stay out of it for awhile if we continue south. On the other hand, I'll bet you a dollar to a donut, that it is raining like a SOB over the hill. Maybe we should go for the dry bird in our hand."
Gizmo didn't hesitate for a second. "Works for me, let's roll." And so with this decision, we went from I-wonder-what-is-around-the-bend mode into just-get-the-hell-home mode. It happens on every trip, sometimes a few miles from home, sometimes several days from home. I like to postpone this psychological point as long as possible, because just-get-the-hell-home mode is more work than fun, but it isn't much fun riding in the rain and Tofino is a very wet place.
At the next stoplight, Gizmo was wafting his nose around in the air like he was a bloodhound trying to smell something. I asked him what he was doing and he said, "I'm doing a 'Planet of the Apes' rendition of what it is like to 'smell the barn.'." (Both Gizmo and I have agreed that the best part of that movie was the way the apes where always overtly sniffing each other as they interacted.) Smelling-the-barn is part of the motorcycling touring vernacular for us, the shorthand for just-get-the-hell-home mode.
Rain. Although Giz and I have refined our equipment to the point where we can ride for days in heavy rain in relative dryness (and we both have anti-lock brakes which are a huge benefit in the wet), it still isn't any fun. Even warm and dry, your visibility is poor and have to ride slowly for any margin of safety. Even at lower speeds, you can feel the tires sliding around now and then which is disconcerting and leads to a constant low-level of fatigue-inducing tension.
Gizmo and I both had brief slides about ten miles into the day at the same spot, probably the result of spilled diesel on the pavement and I almost lost the front end on a wet tar strip coming back from BC last year. You're never very far away from tossing the bike into the ditch. No fun.
My hope that we might stay in a rain shadow for the remainder of the trip was short-lived. We encountered showers all the way to the ferry dock at Duke Point south of Nanaimo and rode into a cold, steady, hard rain getting off the ferry at Tsawwassen (try spelling THAT without looking it up) just south of Vancouver.
The worst of it came after Gizmo and I parted ways north of Seattle. It was getting dark, very dark. Coming into Bellevue, there were people pulled over to the side of the freeway because of the heavy rain and I was having to ride at a jogging pace to avoid deep water to keep the bike from hydroplaning. Getting to the exit ramp off I-405 was an adventure in migrating through a herd of sliding cars in a frog-choking downpour. This was, by far, the most dangerous part of the whole trip
With the image of a welcoming family and a warm house, I soldiered on. But what's this? Two blocks from my house I encountered a road block and four power-company trucks. A huge maple tree had fallen near my house in the rainstorm, took out a major power line, and cut power to my neighborhood. The only lights in my house were candles and flashlights. Well, maybe the house wasn't warm but my welcome was. It was good to see the family again.
Power was restored at 3AM, but as of 8PM Thursday evening as I write this, I still don't have phone service. I've tried using Sprint PCS wireless to file this report, but it is just too slow and the connection too intermittent. It will get posted when the Qwest feels good and ready to fix my phones.
The Best and Worst Reasons to Motorcycle Tour in BC
I very much enjoy traveling to British Columbia and interacting with the hardy Canadians who live there. So I thought I'd summarize the best and worst reasons to motorcycle north of the border.
Self-serve propane in Port McNeil
Scenery: We've raved about it in these reports again and again. It is, in my opinion, bar none, the most beautiful spot on the planet.
Better fuel diversity: In BC, you can get your dead dinosaur juices in a wider variety of forms. Most stations carry four grades of gasoline, diesel, marked gas, and even self-serve propane. When we move to hydrogen-powered cars, I'm sure BC will be at the forefront.
The exchange rate: It may be temporary, so US travelers should take advantage while they can. With the current 50% exchange, Giz and I paid about $4.50 US for most of our full-deal breakfasts and many of our hotel rooms were under $60 US a night. About the only thing that is more expensive is gas at about $2 US/gallon, but motorcycles don't use enough to make this much of a consideration.
The people: With one exception, we found all the people in BC friendly, accommodating, and cheerful. For some strange reason, they seem to genuinely like us being there. The one exception was an irate pickup truck driver who cussed out a construction flagman for making him late to work. That's it. The lowest redneck factor of anyplace I've ever been, despite the ubiquitous country music that plays virtually everywhere north of Vancouver.
Metrification: As an engineer, I'll take meters, liters, and pascals over feet, quarts, and inches of mercury any day. It is ridiculous that the US doesn't move out of the dark ages and adapt the system.
Dart matches on TV: I'll let the picture to the right speak for itself. Great fun.
The accents: The people in British Columbia talk like the English, but with wonderful cheery overtones and great enunciation that makes understanding effortless. It is especially becoming on the BC woman. It makes conversations feel like you are a kid at a tea-party. I love it.
BC drivers: On this trip, I didn't see a single bone-headed move and we had zero close calls. None. If you approach from the rear to pass, most drivers move to the right to give you a better sight line for passing. I get the impression that BC drivers look at our motorcycles and silently are saying, "Wow, that looks fun, have at it guys." This is in stark contrast with the attitudes of US drivers, many of whom have the attitude, "Damn motorcycles, why should you get to enjoy driving and go faster than me?". The BC attitude is much more European, where motorcycles are respected for their low fuel costs, ability to squeeze into tight places, and minimal traffic impact.
Colorful Town-Specific Drinking Customs: You've heard about being Hyderized. During the Queen of the North ferry run, we heard about a custom that makes Hyderization look pretty tame. There is a town on the Al-Can (Dawson Creek? Fort St. John? I forget) where they plunk a honest-to-god human toe in your drink and the toe must touch your lips as you consume the drink. The toe sits in a jar of alcohol (not sure what kind), is passed from drink to drink, and is used exclusively for this purpose. Supposedly, it belonged to a trapper who had to hack it off himself or risk gangrene. The original toe has been lost, but they have a ready supply from the local morgue to keep the custom going. I'm sure someone will pipe up with more precise details - no this is not a contest. If Gizmo and I do the Al-Can some day, we'll give you the details firsthand, perhaps firstlip.
Bears: They're just so cute.
Logging: I hear logging in most of the western US is almost at a standstill, but this certainly doesn't seem to be the case in BC. Logging trucks and mills are everywhere, wood debris litters the roads and waterways, and it is a rare hillside or mountain view that isn't pock-marked with huge clear-cuts, stumps, and logging roads. I completely understand how important wood products are to our lifestyle and to the local BC economies, but that doesn't make it any less disconcerting to watch the countryside being ravaged to fill our Sunday newspapers with ads and to make Pampers.
The border: I think we've got the steely-eyed, curt, yes-no, no-more-info-than-asked border interrogation routine down pat, but it is never fun to have to wait in line, especially in the rain. It took us about 35-minutes to get across the border at Blaine and I had to keep starting and stopping my air-cooled engine to keep it from overheating. And I've seen worse, much worse.
Limited travel schedule window: It gets cold up there, so you really need to travel via motorcycle in the summer. Unfortunately, this is when everyone else takes their vacation. I'm going to try September next time and hope that an early winter doesn't set in.
Speed limits: Most posted speed limits in BC are 5-10% lower than speed limits in the states for equivalent roads. Given the generally lower traffic levels and low population density in the boondocks, these limits don't make any sense to me. I wonder if the safety-crats made sure all limits were "rounded down" during metrification. Some were truly absurd: 90 kph (56 mph) for straight, flat, wide-open two-lane roads in areas where you were lucky to see another car every fifteen minutes, 80 kph (50 mph) for four-lane divided highways on Vancouver Island, and 30 kph (19 mph) through most towns, even in very remote areas. There were even a few 15 kph (9 mph) zones! I admire the infinite patience of the locals who generally stick pretty close to these limits. Mitigating factor: I got stopped once near Terrace and the cop was friendly and let me go with only a verbal "request" to go a little slower. On the Kootenays trips last year, we pretty much let it rip in the back woods and never saw a cop. (Note to anyone going to Prince Rupert : We must have seen six or eight cop cars in the space of the twenty miles coming into PR. And thanks to Dan Hytry for contributing the photograph above which fortunately was not taken during this trip.)
RVs: Sorry all you subscribers to Motorhome and Trailer Life, this trip honed my dislike for these land barges to a fine edge. I understand why they are so popular, but there are just too damn many clogging the roads in the summer and their percentage of total traffic is higher in BC than in the states. I've considered getting a little one for my family vacations, but this trip stiffened my resolve - no RV for me. Maybe a snappy little Eurovan when I'm too old to tent. Less is more.
Two monies: I never have gotten the hang of having two kinds of coinage in my pocket at one time, so I always return with a pocket full of worthless change that sits around for a few days on my desk before disappearing somewhere never to return. An insidious Canadian trip tax. And to get a GST refund for hotel charges you have to fill out forms and mail in receipts. There is lots of talk about the Canadians adapting our money, but I vote for the other way around - the Canadian money is prettier and the loonies and toonies are neat-looking coins and just the ticket for vending machines. Gizmo avoids the whole dual money problem by not carrying any Canadian money - he bums money from me or uses a credit card for everything, no matter how small the purchase. Smart feller, at least while he has me around. I'm sure Visa is happy about this too.
All-in-all the good reasons outweigh the bad about 100-1. Travel BC.
Final Contest (#10)
We always try and wrap up with a final numeric challenge, so here goes.
Gizmo likes gadgets and I have a few as well. Most of our gadgets have been mentioned in these reports and they all have batteries. So here is the challenge:
How many separate batteries were Gizmo and I carrying on this particular trip?
Your total should include every separate battery, both disposable and rechargeable, small or large, and include any batteries that might be "embedded" in vehicles, gadgets, and any carried as spares. For example, if you think one of us is carrying a flashlight with two AA batteries and has two spare batteries, then this would contribute four batteries to the total. Neither of us bought or threw away a battery on the trip, so the number was constant.
Gizmo will publish the final Epilogue and final contest winner in the next 36-hours or so, so mail your entries to him ASAP.
Thanks for traveling with us. I've enjoyed your company. Drive safe.
- Whizmo (Mark)
Other Contest Wraps
Contest #9: What's a Fog Nozzle?
This was a low-key contest, but several folks recognized this as a challenge and responded. And besides, if we count this as Contest #9, then the last one will be #10, and that just seems appropriate in our decimally designed culture.
The Brady Family in Wading River checked in with this answer 2 hours and 20 minutes after we posted Day 7:
A "Fog Nozzle" is a hose tip which puts out a fog of fire fighting water rather than the usual stream as one sees in films of firefighting. The fog nozzle put a wider (but finer- thus "fog") spray out which covers more area in front of the firefighting team and thus allow them to move forward behind literally a curtain of water which douses entire areas in front of the firefighting team. Hallways and corridors are quite effectively covered by this apparatus. It is not utilized in a large fire but is quite effective on smaller fires and smoldering fires. It also allows a firefighting team with a larger stream hose to advance safely behind this team to fight larger fires encountered.
Now that is what I call an answer borne of experience, rather than from a search engine. Well done!
Other Virtual Vacationeers checking in with reasonably correct answers included Adam Bellin (who included a link on where to buy them, thanks Adam), Jonathan Cluts (who uncovered a raging debate at Firefighters.com concerning Fog Nozzles - see the poll at the left. It's not a real poll, just a facsimile. If you really, really want to vote in this poll, you need to go to http://firefighting.about.com/library/bldebatepoll.htm?once=true), and Steve Dolan, who points out that when used with flammable liquids, do not spread the burning flammable liquid. Makes sense.
Thanks for playing along. Contest #10 is the final contest, and Google won't help you on this one!