A father and son play hooky from school for a trip to B.C. and a day ride on Vancouver Island
Story and Photos by Tim King
My son, Max, and I are two up on a BMW F800 touring bike, making our way out of Sooke on Vancouver Island’s south coast. It’s our last big stop after leaving behind Victoria’s morning rush hour and heading into the wild. The road has fallen in line with the rocky coast of the Pacific Ocean, and I’m bending the bike left and right around constant corners, seldom able to see more than a few dozen metres down the road. From the steep hillside, a deer pops over the barrier onto the road right in front of us. The BMW seamlessly comes to a stop two metres in front of an animal that’s all eyes. She tears off into the forest and we close our mouths. Looking around for the inevitable follow-up deer, I spot it next to the barrier eyeing us up. Pulling away slowly, I decide to ease off a bit and keep it under 80. You don’t need to be going breakneck speeds to enjoy this road.
I’m supposed to be at work as a teacher; instead I find myself playing hooky with my son over 4000 km away from home on a cool but beautifully sunny Friday morning at the end of May with a rented motorcycle and 300 km of astonishing roads in front of us. Sometimes life offers up nice surprises.
Change Is Good, Comparatively Speaking
I’ve been riding for just over a year, and this BMW F800 is only the second road bike I’ve ever ridden. My 650 cc Kawasaki Ninja is back at home and I’m amazed at how different two machines that do the same job can be. The BMW is a bigger bike, and with larger seats, it’s much more comfortable, according to my trusty passenger, and feels like a more mature bike in every sense. Redline is a sane 8000 rpm, and with all that comfort, it’s easy to ride for a long time, even two up. Other than the weird left-hand/right-hand turn signal switches, it’s a smooth transition from the Ninja (one of the reasons I chose it).
Working our way down this increasingly empty coastal road, we stumble across the small town of Shirley and Shirley Delicious café. The technician at Cycle BC – where we picked up the bike –told us that the temperature can drop 10 degrees on the coast, and he wasn’t wrong. After warming up with a hot coffee and the best sausage roll I’ve ever had, we bump into another BMW rider who’s in his seventies. After some affable Teutonic chat (I don’t tell him I actually own a Kawasaki), we are back on the long and winding road.
From Shirley, we wind our way northwest up the quiet coast. The east coast faces Vancouver and is as busy as anywhere in Canada, but the west coast faces the endless Pacific and remains largely unpopulated. We see only a couple of other vehicles as we chase the tail of this amazing road clinging to the side of mountains and edged by ocean. The switchbacks that lead down to single-lane bridges over mountain rivers look more like a path found in Scandinavian fjords than Canadian back roads.
We stop and stretch about 40 minutes into the ride at a scenic lookout, which along with many provincial parks dot the route. As we clear the strait between Vancouver Island and Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula and begin to face the Pacific, tsunami warning signs with escape routes appear. You really get a sense of being on the edge of the world here. The edge of North America, the edge of the former British Empire, facing half a world of ocean.
Seashells by the Sea Shore
A few buildings scattered among the trees mark the town of Port Renfrew, which seems more of an idea than an actual place. We pass through it in moments and find ourselves on a rough paved road into Juan de Fuca Provincial Park, where we hope to find Botanical Beach. Max and I strip off the bike gear, stow it in the big Givi tail box and head down the trail. The tide is out and an amazing beach full of tidal pools awaits us.
We warm up on the long walk down to the shore, soon finding ourselves clambering over black stone jutting into the ocean. The sea life is prodigious, with massive strings of clams, crabs and a million creatures crawling on the rocks. The smell of salt and sharp, clean air is magical; we’re the only people here.
A couple of hours pass by while we wander around the rocks, but I’ve only rented the bike for the day and the sun’s position shows it’s way past noon. I figure we should…