Story and Photos by Ron Keys
The roar of my Street Glide echoes off the rock wall, cut into the steep landscape, where Grouse Mountain’s snowy peaks reach up beyond the clouds. I glance furtively left through tree branches denuded by shortening days and catch glimpses of Burrard Inlet far below and the cargo-laden ships that slowly ply its blue waters. Ahead, the majestic Lion’s Gate Bridge and Stanley Park, landmarks only Vancouver can claim as its own.
I’m here for the Annual Canadian Motorcycle Hall of Fame Banquet, but my itinerary also includes a ride around the picturesque city and British Columbia’s strikingly beautiful Sunshine Coast. Although it’s November, I dare to ride up the coastal highway, across to Vancouver Island and back on a bike loaned to me by the good folks at Deeley Harley-Davidson. I ride alone; my west-coast friends are wise enough not to join me on such a chilly venture. The thermometer hovers around 10°C, but yesterday’s rain has dried, so I have a window of opportunity. Typical weather for coastal B.C. in November is rain and more rain, so my wet-weather riding gear is safely tucked in my saddlebag, just in case. The weather gods, however, seem to be riding pillion with me today.
At Horseshoe Bay, just north of Vancouver — close to the end of the world’s longest transcontinental highway — I stop to buy a CirclePac Pass, which allows me to ride all four ferries between the mainland and the island. Akin to Moby Dick, the ferry’s gargantuan mouth opens wide and I ride carefully into its steel bowels, where my boots vibrate as mammoth diesel engines rumble below. The ferry closes and my lone trek begins.
From the viewing decks, I enjoy the grandiose view of coastal B.C. and Bowen Island for the forty-minute crossing. The puffy, low-lying clouds, driven deep into fjords by the prevailing westerly winds, ascend over stately, verdant peaks. Volcanic islands punctuate the calm, blue water like massive green cones erupting from the ocean’s floor. I see the Sea-to-Sky Highway, clinging to the mountainside and meandering northward to Whistler, home of the recent winter Olympics.
Langdale — named after Robinson Langdale, who settled here in 1893 — appears as we glide past Keats Island, a haven of safety for many during the Vietnam debacle decades ago. The Sunshine Coast is rife with the homes of American transplants who fell in love with the area and never left. The land value has increased substantially since then, and though many still tread about in the humble garb of gumboots and long raincoats, that does not reflect their bank accounts. The starboard view features a partial rainbow emerging from Howe Sound — an omen of fair weather, I hope.
Upon arrival, I am first to rumble back onto solid ground and then putter slowly along Marine Drive, noticing rugged shoreline peeking through conifer trees. An aquatic rooftop sculpture comes vaguely into view, and I strain to see that it is a human form, lying prostrate with hands and feet pedalling to rotate a propeller. This is one of the aesthetic eccentricities characterizing the area where peace and love remains the mantra of the old hippy population. I carry on, enriched and delighted by this and other sights, straight into the town of Gibsons.
Gibsons’ rich history — not the least of which was its long-running TV appearance as the backdrop for the Canadian classic, The Beachcombers — began when it was named after George Gibson, who moved here from Ontario in 1886. Here, he beached his homemade sloop, the Swamp Angel, claimed 160 acres for himself and his son, and settled into the terrain. His wife, Charlotte, and daughters joined him shortly after the family home was built. George still watches over the harbour, honoured posthumously by his tall, bronzed likeness in Pioneer Square, which stands on the site of his first homestead and directly over his remains. The harbour — stuffed to capacity with all manner of fishing, sailing and powerboats — is the foreground for the pristine homes clinging to rocky outcrops high above the water. Across the street sits Molly’s Reach Restaurant, the very one frequented by The Beachcombers characters, where my imagination grabs hold for a second and I swear I see Nick and Relic stroll by. Of course they can’t, but the thought breaks my hypnotic state, freeing me to wander around the town square, a rare jewel secreted away along the B.C. coastline.