A work trip to Nelson presented the best opportunity for a bike trip that I’m likely to get this year. I lucked out with the weather being absolutely amazing! Heading out of Coquitlam this afternoon was chilly and I didn’t really feel like I was in the “riding” frame the way I like to be. But we cleared the city and picked up Hwy 3 just past Hope, and the skies cleared off a bit, taking the mental fog with it.
For those of you who may not know, Highway 3 is a well-maintained, curvy highway with beautiful scenery and when traffic is light, it is a joy for a rider. Today, it was freaking awesome. I put some tunes in, squeezed the tank with my knees, leaned in and let Spectre have her way with me. Curvy roads are always fun, but some days just have a little bit of magic and today was one of those days. Rider and bike just a single unit – neither going anywhere without the other’s soul - and we carved the hell out of those curves. It’s an exhilarating feeling and leaves you with a big grin.
Fuelled up in Princeton and continued our curvy adventure to Keremeos, drinking in the loveliness of the scenery. The old Hedley mine demanded a stop as the sun bathed the hillside in light. Even though the mine is no longer operational, that glow would make you believe there’s still gold in them thar hills. As the day continued to wane, the ever-changing light intensified the colours of river, fields, and trees, delivering awe-inspiring vistas over and over. Such peace can be found when one shoves away the “noise” of day-to-day life and remembers to be present in the moment.
Planning to overnight in Oliver, I missed the turn towards Penticton that would have dropped me north of Oliver and instead ended up descending into Osoyoos. This turned out to be a happy mistake. A huge moon was rising over the water and lights of Osoyoos as I came down the hill. My phone camera didn’t capture the huge moon, but it was a sight to behold. I didn’t take a lot of pictures today – just enjoyed the ride, but there’s a couple included below. Can you find the old mine building way up the side of the hill at Hedley?
Arrived in Oliver and am ensconced in the Maple Leaf Motel for the night. I’m tired and ready for sleep. The Maple Leaf Motel is worth the stay if you are looking for clean and economical. Really nice, basic little motel with a good bed and enough pillows to satisfy even me. 😊
Friday, June 26, 2020 marked the day that I have lived as many days as my sister. In honour of this milestone, Spectre and I went for a day ride to continue this adventure we call life. It gave me time to reflect how the definition of adventure has changed over my lifetime, and often without me really understanding those life events as an adventure. Perhaps it is only as we grow older that we appreciate those experiences fully.
Tracey was a vigorous “learner” and threw herself into many adventures designed to gain knowledge and understanding of her world and the world around her. I carry her crystal with me on my adventures as my talisman and my reminder to be open and clear.
My adventure has often been in experiencing “the present” and trying new things. Being able to travel and experience different people and cultures and history has become important to me. At some point in my journey through Canada after her death, I wrote: “The thing about losing someone you love is that the intensity of all of one’s emotions is enhanced. Everything that is beautiful is achingly beautiful; everything that is sad is grievously so; everything that is joyful is sheer delight”. I think it should be a life goal to experience it that way – to give ourselves up to feeling the joy and beauty and grief when they occur, in their turn. Give up regret, learn from your experiences and embrace failures for the opportunities they provide to do better. After all, failure is not a stumbling block – it’s a launchpad for the next adventure!
So I take this opportunity to share some photos from my adventures and look forward to creating new ones. 😊
First 2 photos courtesy of Greg Samborski.
Two years ago today I was on the Top of the World Highway in the Yukon with Night Fury - my CTX 700. It was a goal to be there on my sister's birthday, whom I lost in a car accident 3.5 months before I began a journey through Canada. The loss changed the journey from an adventure to a compulsion and I took ashes with me, leaving some in every province and territory as I rode. Many times I thought I knew where ashes would be left and be surprised that it didn't feel right. She always told me when it was the right place. So the photos here are the 13 locations and the blog links are the stories of those days. Perhaps the photos will inspire someone for their own meaningful journey.
British Columbia – Bear Glacier: http://www.exploremynation.ca/british-columbia/yukon-ho
Yukon – Top of the World Highway: http://www.exploremynation.ca/yukon/top-of-the-world-with-tracey
Northwest Territories – Great Slave Lake: http://www.exploremynation.ca/northwest-territories/waterfall-chasing
Alberta – Gregoire Lake: http://www.exploremynation.ca/alberta/last-day-in-alberta
Saskatchewan - Tisdale: http://www.exploremynation.ca/saskatchewan/and-where-you-are-meant-to-be-you-are
Manitoba – Sally’s Beach, Lake Athapapuskow: http://www.exploremynation.ca/manitoba/catching-up-and-getting-spoiled-in-the-land-of-100000-lakes
Nunavut – Iqalugaarjuup Nunanga Park, Rankin Inlet: http://www.exploremynation.ca/nunavut/travelling-the-rankin-inlet-superhighway
Ontario – Kakabeka Falls: http://www.exploremynation.ca/ontario/pretty-peaceful
Quebec – Quebec City: http://www.exploremynation.ca/quebec/a-day-of-history-and-exploration
New Brunswick – Miscou Island: http://www.exploremynation.ca/new-brunswick/miscou-macdonald-miramichi-moncton-a-whole-lotta-ms
Nova Scotia – Cape Breton: http://www.exploremynation.ca/nova-scotiacape-breton/andtheres-murphy
Newfoundland – Lobster Head Cove: http://www.exploremynation.ca/newfoundlandlabrador/road-to-rocky-harbour
Prince Edward Island – New London: http://www.exploremynation.ca/prince-edward-island/a-perfect-day
Last July, I participated in The Pilgrimage, a mindful, motorcycle ride on Vancouver Island organized by Chris Vautour. Chris outdid herself and the majority of people who ever attempt to organize anything by creating an unforgettable experience. The documentary below is the result of video footage and interviews done with participants on that ride. Directed and produced by Lori Lozinski, this short documentary perfectly captures the experience of all who participated in this event. Please click the link below take a few minutes to experience it with us.
So....I guess early March is a wee bit early for road tripping. Monday I made the trip to Kingston, WA to have Rich's Custom seats modify the seriously uncomfortable stock seat on Spectre. I realize as I write this, that I have not introduced Spectre to the followers of Explore My Nation. Spectre is a 2016 Honda Africa Twin, acquired in late November and parked until February 1st when the weather was still cold, but I couldn't stand it anymore and put a plate on her. I still have Night Fury too and am loathe to sell her, but will have to do so at some point, I suppose. :(
Anyway, had the appointment in Washington and the weather was looking like it should be OK, if not great. In actuality, it turned out to be a 5-hour trip in 3-5 degrees and pouring rain. Felt like a popsicle when I arrived at Rich's and was happy to see the apartment over the shop they let people use had a huge jetted tub! Spent 40 minutes in it and gratefully brought my body temperature up to something warmer than a reptile.
With the apartment being over the shop, I was able to work while they created my custom seat. Part of the process is to have you sit on the bike, then they mark the seat and shave it to shape, then have you sit on it again and tweak it. When they are satisfied with the ergonomics, they send you out for a 20-minute test ride, do any further tweaks and then cover it again. Not being sure how long all this would take (turned out to be about 4 hours), I had arranged to stay with a friend in Sequim. We went to Blondie's Plate for dinner and had a great visit. Worked in the morning, then headed for the Port Angeles ferry to Victoria the next afternoon and had a nice sunny day for the ride, and wished I had more time to do the peninsula. A gander in the tourist building on the wharf turned up a cool old little Yamaha bike that needed a picture taken.
A photo shoot had been arranged with Greg Samborski who is doing a "Bike and Rider" project for Thursday. We had decided on Chemainus as a location and of course, it was....you guessed it.....cold and rainy. Did I roll my eyes out loud? We did it anyway, of course, because when you are a rider, sometimes you just have to embrace the inevitable. I'm looking forward to the results of the shoot - at least anything with my helmet on. I'll look like a drowned rat in any with my helmet off and my hair plastered to my head with the rain! Spectre will be the star of the show anyway.
After working the morning, I headed for the ferry amid sunny skies and chilly temps. Had a great conversation with Laird (not sure about that spelling), who was the only other bike on the ferry with his Triumph Street 900 Scrambler. Gorgeous bike! Also got to chat with Shane on the ferry - he and his wife learned to ride a few years ago in Nova Scotia, but two young ones keep him busy now. He recently acquired a bike and is hoping to get out for a few spins before maybe selling it on. Rush hour traffic from the ferry terminal to Coquitlam provided plenty of slow-speed control practice with Spectre and I'm getting a better feel for her balance and performance. Looking forward to the next adventure.
Well, after lots of “should get over to Salt Spring Island sometime” conversations, it finally became a reality. The ferry from the mainland over to Salt Spring was a 3-hour milk-run route, with a stop at Galiano, Mayne and Pender Islands before docking at Long Harbour in the late afternoon. After a quick poke around the little community of Ganges, it was time to check into the cabin at Cusheon Lake Resort.
The resort is a beautiful, peaceful location at the end of the road with several cabins and a couple of chalets on the shores of…..you guessed it!.....Cusheon Lake. 😊 Life is tough in the little one-bedroom cabin with a wood-burning fireplace and view of the lake through the patio doors. There’s a choice of canoes or paddle boards, or sitting out on the pier in a couple of well-placed chairs to enjoy the serenity of the lake. Took a canoe out for a short paddle over the lake and was reminded that canoes are tippy and I’m out of shape…..though managed not to fall overboard after all.
Salt Spring Island, or xʷənen̕əč, is the largest and best-known of the Gulf Islands between the mainland and Vancouver Island. Various Salishan peoples inhabited the island originally and it also became a refuge from racism for African Americans leaving California in the late 1850’s. Also in the late 1850’s Salt Spring Island was the first of the gulf islands to be settled as an agricultural settlement and was named Admiral Island. It had previously been known as Salt Spring due to the hot springs at the north end of the island, and so eventually was renamed back to Salt Spring in 1910.
After a a quiche, a coffee and a strudel at one of the local bakeries, it was time to head over to the Remembrance Day Ceremony at the local cenotaph. A very nice ceremony and very well attended for such a small town. After the ceremondy, a drive around the lower part of the island included some exploring at Ruckle Provincial Park. The park includes the protected historical site of a sheep farm established by Irishman Henry Ruckle in the 1800s. In 1972, the Ruckle family donated the land to BC Parks for the establishment of the provincial park. It is a gorgeous location right on the ocean, with plenty of trails and beautiful scenes. Well worth the visit.
The next stop was the Salt Spring Island Cheese Company, with its wide variety of in-house cheese selections. There’s a tasting counter to make sure you don’t get out the door without buying anything, once you’ve discovered how good they are. Add in some homemade olive tapenade and a quick stop at the grocery store for crackers, and you have the fixings of a fine mid-afternoon snack. Ask me how I know…. 😊
Leaving the cheese factory, we attempted to check out two wineries (which were closed), before fetching up at Salt Spring Island Ales to sample a flight of ales. To me, it all “tastes like beer”, of course, but I did buy a “beer” soap made with hops. Since the hop salve I got at Farmery Brewery in Manitoba has made a big difference to keeping the eczema on my face at bay, I have high hopes that this soap will be good for my dry winter skin.
Feeling like that was enough of a day, we made it back to the cabin to enjoy the spoils from the cheese factory and sit in front of the fire for the evening. I guess now it’s time to turn in to see what adventures can be found tomorrow.
Last weekend, I played hooky for a couple of extra days to participate in The Pilgrimage ride on Vancouver Island. Between 55 and 60 riders participated in this event for women riders and we all had a grand time. The event began with a kick-off party at Wheelies in Victoria the night before. The following morning, we all departed from Island Motorcycle Co in Langford (just north of Victoria, BC) to follow the route planned for us. While it was a large group, it was not a “group” ride where everyone stuck together. We simply all left from one location and ended at another for the night.
The Pilgrimage was the brainchild of Chris, who wanted to invite a group of female riders to experience nature, look within themselves for empowerment, and discover peace, hopefully taking that feeling back with them into their daily lives. Mission accomplished. The ride set the tone and the group of women that came together for it were the most amazing, grounded, and drama-free women I have ever met.
Chris went above and beyond to give us a unique experience and make sure the riders knew what was up. The pragmatic part was taken care of by providing us with a detailed map containing instructions on how to get where we were going, emergency contact information and the times we could reasonably be expected to arrive at each stop. Proceeds from the ride were donated to Victoria’s Women In Need organization – a community cooperative that supports women on their journey to self-sufficiency and wellness.
The spiritual part was begun by Chris offering one of her family traditions – a mugwort smudging for spiritual protection, and to open us to healing, intuition and the experiences awaiting us on our journey.
Along our route were 4 refugios – places of beauty for us to take a break and contemplate. Our contemplation was encouraged with personalized notes to look inward, take in the positive and release what no longer serves us.
The first of these stops was the Sheringham Lighthouse, located in Shirley, BC. This area of the Juan de Fuca Strait was known as “The Graveyard of the Pacific”, and so the lighthouse was constructed to guide ships safely through the strait and help shipwrecked mariners to shore. A short trail runs from the parking lot down to the lighthouse to reward you with the picturesque lighthouse set against a breathtaking view. The lighthouse was completely decommissioned in 2010 and the site is currently maintained by the Sheringham Point Lighthouse Preservation Society. All riders were presented with a small collection of blossoms. Our task at this refugio was to stroll down to the lighthouse and consider what we ought to let go of from our life and scatter the blossoms to the wind and ocean.
Making our way back up the path, it was a short trip to the 2nd refugio at French Beach. French Beach is a beautiful location with a wide expanse of round, tumbled stones, driftwood, and the peace of trees and ocean. Here we were given a small, biodegradable bottle with a piece of paper in it and invited to send a message to the world with that which we want to call into our life. Taking a moment to think about what should go out to the world on this tiny piece of paper gives one pause to consider what is really important in life and those things that are simply superfluous. For me, much of this was reinforced with the loss of my sister, Tracey, last year. I thought of her here and felt my heart beat a little harder as I called her memory and energy to mind.
An hour more along the road and it was time for lunch at the 3rd refugio – Bridgemans West Coast Eatery in Port Renfrew. Set on the edge of the ocean, it was a beautiful place to refuel both body and mind. The parking lot was reserved for us and it was quite the collection of motorbikes assembled as their owners had a break and lunch! I don’t know what the regular daily patrons thought about 55+ women bikers descending on their local haunt, but I also noticed that it didn't concern any of us very much! 😊
With every one re-fuelled, including bikes, riders set off again in ones and twos and threes, for the 4th refugio. Our next visit was to the Harris Creek Sitka Spruce along the Pacific Marine Road to Lake Cowichan. At this stop, we were presented with a small bottle of water, with instructions NOT to drink it, but to carry it with us to the last stop. Another personal message also awaited us, with an invitation to take some time to connect with nature and open ourselves to its wisdom. A feeling of peace descends on you the moment you set foot on the short trail to the Sitka spruce. The 200-year old tree itself is awe-inspiring, at 80+ meters wide and so tall you can’t see the top. Gazing up its massive trunk, with the light filtering through its moss-covered branches, a sense of sagacity and peace overcomes you. One can’t help but gain perspective over the insignificant things we allow to upset our daily lives.
Being the last rider out of the lot at each stop, (that was my teeny, tiny little contribution – to sweep the group and try to ensure no one was left behind), I often felt like I had the beautiful, curvy Pacific Marine Hwy to myself. Being the last to arrive at the Sanctuary, I was soon infected with the feeling of comraderie and accomplishment from the group. Here, we were handed a final package and asked to water the huge maple sheltering our site with our little bottle of water, and give thought to our journey.
Our campsite was set out in the trees with a river nearby to cool off in, a campfire circle to bond in and a large open facility for tents and bikes. Not being overburdened with a love of tent camping, I was grateful to have booked a bunk in the bunkhouse. After dinner, we were all called to the campfire and welcomed by Kathryn – an elder from the local band – and her daughter, wishing us good fortune and companionship.
Chris had assembled guitars and a karaoke machine, along with enough cider and beer to get us goofed but not stupid, and the festivities began! Chris had assembled a dizzying array of door prizes, which she handed out under varying criteria – name drawn, citizenship, and trivia questions. I think my favourite was the t-shirts and Canada headbands she gave to the Americans in the group, then making them go around the circle and shake hands and say “Sorry” to everyone. 😊
We played campfire games, sang a couple of campfire songs, did a whole lot of karaoke, and generally laughed, bonded and got silly. Some of the bleary eyes next morning gave testament to the shenanigans of the night before, but everyone was up, looking for coffee and packing up camp. Chris had arranged for the Red Arrow Brewery in Duncan to open early for us to descend on them for breakfast.
The Red Arrow Brewery is full of character. The food truck outside made great breakfast sandwiches and while the details escape me, I think I’m correct in saying the building houses a replica of an old Harley Davidson motorcycle shop that was eventually sold to the brewery. They have kept the nostalgia of the old shop in their décor, making it a unique and tasty way to end our pilgrimage! No one was in a hurry to “eat and run”, but eventually we all parted and went our various ways.
There were many entreaties by the participants for Chris to make this an annual event, but I may make myself unpopular by saying I’m not sure it should be. Sometimes, when something is “annual”, the special quality of it is lost. People become immune to the intent and charm. Instead, perhaps someone else should pick up the baton and organize a visit to a place that is meaningful to them. Or perhaps I’m just in awe of Chris’s accomplishment and cower from the time and energy it takes to hold a candle to this event. From the organization of creating and signing the route, the personal messages for every single participant, the camp activities, the t-shirts designed and produced by Aileen Penner, door prizes, sponsors, the photography and videography (perhaps we should be worried…?) to the final wrap up – every detail was addressed and then some. Many, many of Chris’ friends volunteered their help at the refugios and the camp, from time to donations and though I may not know or remember your names, thank you for making this such a memorable event.
Ultimately, I am restored to see the fellowship among women riders that has blossomed and will continue to grow under the influence of The Pilgrimage. The photos and stories posted by various participants demonstrate the success of this time spent together. Well done, all. You rock!!
P.S. Thanks so very much to Christina Jan Zen and Renae Green Richardson for letting me poach some of their photos from the weekend! Big XO!
Feeling a bit tired from all the wandering today and may be challenged to write an interesting story this evening, but I’ll give it a shot. Actually, I’m one day behind the actual activities so this is yesterday’s wanderings, which will make it even more challenging to remember all that took place.
Besides bald eagles and sandhill cranes and a variety of other birds, the most prominent wildlife on the island is the Sitka black-tailed deer. The deer were introduced to Haida Gwaii for hunting in 1898 and, with no natural predators, have thrived….to say the least. It is common to see several foraging along the side of the road in a short distance. They are much less “twitchy” than the white-tailed deer we’re used to on the prairies – they just kind of raise their heads and watch you roll by. Not that I’d stake my life on it, mind you. The deer are, as one might imagine, rather a problem now and a program of eradication has begun to allow the vegetation to recover. Sheesh – you’d think they would have thought about that when they introduced them way back when. What part of “no natural predators” did you not understand? Of course, for the average tourist, it’s kind of cool to see them and they stand still for photographs very nicely.
Today’s direction was south from Port Clements, to see if agates could be found on the beach and maybe check out some of the local art if anything was open on a Sunday. Timing departure for low tide, we arrived at the beach at Tlell where we expected to pick agates. The tide was indeed waaayyy out – I figure it was a kilometer to the ocean from the beach head. With a calm wind and the sun making an appearance, it was a very enjoyable hour beachcombing for agates. Didn’t find any, but using the binoculars to peruse the beach, we did spot the shipwreck we had heard about a couple more kilometers down the beach. Only the hull of the boat still exists and I imagine with the right light, it would make quite the picturesque scene. It was a bit further than could be walked before the tide was back in. We were surprised to see how far in it had come in the short time we were there.
Toodling down the road again, we found the turnoff for the Crystal Cabin. This was begun many years ago by a man who was into the energies and properties of stones and started the business. When he died, his daughters continued. Outside of the Crystal Cabin is the Tlell Stone Circle. This is a circle of different rocks, mounted in welded formations to represent 62 million years of Haida Gwaii geological history. The display includes thunder eggs, rare fossils, ancient wood and island crystals. According to the Haida Gwaii visitor’s guide (which has become my go-to source these days), the creator, Dutes Dutheil, aligned the circle energetically with a Gwaii Haanas vortex which connects Haida Gwaii with other power spots such as the Egyptian pyramids, Canmore Banff, and Mauna Kea in Hawaii. My Tracey would have loved the Crystal Cabin and its stone circle!
The Crystal Cabin itself is full of stones and jewellery and carvings from local artists. Despite my protestations of not wanting stuff, I got sucked in by a small bear carved from rhyolite with a striking fire opal in its structure. Sigh. Damn stones.
Even though the museum wasn’t open in Skidegate, we had determined to go down there and see if we could spot any whales. Apparently, a pod had been through over the past few days. The girl at the Crystal Cabin told us of the Anvil Trail along the way and so that was added to the route.
The Anvil Trail turned out to be a gem as well. A shady, forested walk, the trail is well marked with arrows and markers to help you stay on track. It’s a good thing too – there are many opportunities to go astray if you aren’t paying attention. The walk is a study in forest succession, beginning with an area of early forest succession, marked by a dense population of Sitka spruce saplings and western hemlock. The closed canopy doesn’t allow much light to reach the forest floor, and frankly, it looks more dead than alive, with a bed of needles and little greenery. Carrying along the trail, there was plenty of insect life and I graciously cleared the trail of cobwebs for anyone who was to come behind me! Noticing some striking black and yellow centipedes, I stopped to take a look and there were a whole bunch of them writhing around in a little built up bunch of needles and soil in the middle of the path. I assume there were “rituals” going on, but took a couple of pictures anyway. After all, it’s not like they’re going to go viral as an adult video. As we walked the trail, we began to see a lot of these little episodes. Wondering out loud at the wisdom of the centipedes, creating their little orgy pits in the middle of the trail, Peter’s comment was “Yeah. Get a room”. 😊 But I digress….
The next stage of forest we passed through was, as one might imagine, in the middle succession stage, where the trees have become taller, a natural thinning has occurred and more light is reaching the forest floor. Enter more evidence of greenery – ferns, thick moss, and shrub undergrowth. At this point, the trail was approaching the Tlell River. A little rest stop was in order to walk along a fallen tree trunk and admire the pretty scene. Thought the water is not tempting to drink, being brackish and brown, it makes a picturesque contrast to the intense green of the forest around it. It was while descending to the river that we noticed a red-headed woodpecker banging away on a big spruce. I got out the camera with the good zoom lens and had just caught him in my sight nicely when he scooted around the other side of the tree. We played this "round-the-Sitka-spruce" game a couple of times, but I waited him out and finally got a reasonable shot, though it is not in the nature of a woodpecker to sit still for long.
Starting to feel the grumblings of hunger, we took the shorter trail back and, lo and behold, passed through the mature forest. After a huge forest fire in the 1800s, this part is fully recovered and in mid-to-late succession, characterized by large Sitka spruce, western hemlock and cedar. We made our way through the peaceful and fragrant forest, carefully following the markers and trying to avoid the humps of writhing centipedes as we went. A quick stop at the Crowsnest Café and Country Store for a bite to eat and we still had time to get over to Skidegate for whale spotting.
Behind the Haida Cultural Centre, there is a bench overlooking the inlet between Sandspit and Skidegate. Upon arrival, there was quite a chittering of birds on the rocks below. Striking birds with black bodies, white wing feathers and the brightest orange webbed feet! Turned out to be guillemots and a very entertaining crew. Whether it was mating rituals or males competing, we weren’t sure but there was a good deal of calling, flapping and carrying on, in and out of the water. During one of these episodes, we were watching two of them having it out in the water and all of a sudden, the ones on the rocks flew to the water. A split second later, they all dived as a bald eagle came swooping over the water, making a big circle and clearly hoping for a quick lunch. Miraculously, I had my phone on video and caught the event. After an hour of watching guillemots, seeing the ferry crossing the inlet and waving at a couple of kayakers, we gave up on the whales and went for our reservation at the Haida House for dinner.
We have been dismayed at the lack of interesting food on Haida Gwaii. Having expected a plethora of fresh seafood and being confronted with pub food, burgers and fish and chips, we were looking forward to dinner at the Haida House, which the locals said is where you go for a “nice meal, but expensive”. In truth, it was no more expensive than anywhere in the city and the meal was indeed delicious. Somewhere along the road in the morning we had remembered that it was an anniversary and the Haida House brought my dessert with a little chocolate “Happy Anniversary on it”. It’s almost like they know me…. 😊
Full to the brim, we headed back to Port Clements. The owners of the guest house had invited us over for a beach party they were having and we headed over there to say hi. Met a bunch of locals and had a good time yakking and enjoying the company. Great bunch of folks who all love where they live.
Well, so much for having nothing to drag out of my tired brain.....apparently I just can't help myself. Still a couple more blogs to go for this little junket, so if you have been entertained at all, stay tuned for Day 4 tomorrow!
There’s no denying the evidence of ancient civilization of Haida Gwaii. Archaeologists have discovered spear points and butchering tools dating back 12,500 years. In Haida mythology, the Raven is one of the most powerful creatures. Legend has it that Rose Spit, on the northern tip of Naikoon Provincial Park, is where the Haida people originated. The Raven was lonely, and one day, heard noise coming from a clamshell. Looking inside, he saw tiny little creatures hiding within. He convinced them to come out and join him in the world and these became the first Haida people.
This story is one of many little gems uncovered in a day of discovery. Having heard about Masset Harbour Day, we headed north to participate in the Lions Club pancake breakfast. There, at the entrance to Masset, is a big sign indicating Mile 0 of Highway 16. Seeing it there gave me the itch to come back with Fury and start at Mile 0 of Highway 16 and ride the Yellowhead all the way to its end at the Junction of the Trans Canada in Manitoba. A future endeavour, to be sure. The main road on Haida Gwaii are good pavement, for the most part and lots of nice curves. Across the road from the Mile 0 sign, was the hitchhiker’s thumb that Kelly had told me about the evening before, so had to stop and take a photo with that, too. 😊
The pancake breakfast was like old home week, sitting and eating amongst the elderly, the young and a lively bunch of babies and toddlers. Could have been Small Town Anywhere, Canada. After breakfast, we toured the town on foot, admiring the gorgeous murals painted all over town buildings. The maritime museum was closed, but peeping through the windows showed a nice collection of marine culture as well as some European and Indigenous displays. Carrying on down the street, we met Ellis and a couple of his buddies. Friendly locals, they gentlemen are some of the crew maintaining the parks on Haida Gwaii. After having a chat with Ellis, it was time to pick up a couple of sandwiches from the Island Sunrise Café. Ham and swiss on homemade brown bread would fill the chinks later in the day.
The tide tables are a critical part of planning the day on Haida Gwaii. Some events require a high tide and some a low and it is important to plan activities accordingly. Having been told about the “blowhole” at Tow Hill and the agate picking at “north beach”, we headed north after breakfast. Of the 26 or so kms of road between Masset and Tow Hill, about half of it is well-maintained gravel. It is a drive of green, peaceful loveliness, earning its name of Fairytale Road.
Parking and packing up the sandwiches, we headed up the trail to Tow Hill. Presented with an easy boardwalk trail through beautiful forest, it didn’t take long to arrive at the beach base of Tow Hill. Tow Hill rears up in a steep cliff face created by lava cooling in the throat of a volcano. The surrounding lava flow cooled in a combination of weirdly shaped rock formations and what looks like the vertebra of huge sea monsters or dinosaurs. The dark volcanic rock shore is like an alien landscape.
It was while marvelling at this wonder that we met Kevin, from Germany. Kevin had been travelling Vancouver Island, Haida Gwaii and Vancouver for a couple of weeks and loving everything he saw. He told of his encounter with a black bear on a trail which gave him a good adrenaline jolt and made him question the wisdom of travelling alone, and of seeing grey whales so close he could almost touch them, rubbing up against the rocks where he was watching them. After a nice chat, it was down to the beach. The tide and waves weren’t coming in strong enough to make the blowhole “blow”, though it was apparent where it was as the water could be seen rushing in and being sucked down again. It was a windy day, but the sun made an appearance and we enjoyed our sandwiches out there on the alien landscape while the tide was out. The tidal pools were interesting, but didn’t have the variety of sea life that could be seen in Botany Bay on Vancouver Island.
Leaving the beach area, it seemed foolish not to climb to the top of Tow Hill for the view. At least it seemed foolish until we began the climb…. In truth, it was not that arduous, as the boardwalk and stairs continued. It was, however, a steady climb 900 meters to the top and I realized then and there just how out of shape I have become! Close to the top is a viewpoint of Rose Spit, as aforementioned in the Haida legend. A little further up, is the peak of Tow Hill with a panoramic view of the ocean and island. Very beautiful and worth taking the time to catch your breath and try to forget that what goes up must go down. The down was easier than the up though, and the trail branches off to a sort of short cut back to the parking lot. Hoping back in the car, we drove a little further down the road where we found the end of the road and Hiellan Longhouse Village. The beach is beautiful here, as is the surrounding campground and cabins. Wandering the beach and soaking up the sun was a welcome treat after the exertions of the trail. By this time, the chance to look for agates at Agate Beach has passed, with high tide having arrived during the afternoon’s adventures.
Making a brief stop at what was labelled as a wildlife sanctuary turned out to be a road that ended at the quaint Masset cemetery. The graves did not appear to be dug into the ground, but appeared as heaped hillocks. It felt more like a nature walk than a cemetery and I couldn't help but think how Tracey would have loved it.
Another brief stop on the way back was a viewing platform at a roadside pullout, where we could watch the sandhill cranes picking away at whatever they were finding in the field. Dozens of them and they did not seem to care one bit that they were being watched.
Somewhere along the way, we were told of a “fish fry” at the Masset Legion, to round off Harbour Day. This sounded a fine idea to replenish the fuel tank, so we headed back to Masset. It turned out to be a fish “bake”, which was even better. Huge fillets of salmon, smothered in mayo and dill and lemon and baked to perfection. Add a baked potato, some coleslaw and a Sailor Jerry’s rum and coke and the world was a fine place once again. Plonking down at a table, we had a nice visit with a couple of women who had been camping up at Agate Beach and kayaking here and there around the island. They had come up by vehicle on the ferry from Vancouver Island and were planning to meander back along Hwy 16 to the Rockies before heading home.
Having arrived back at Smillie’s Guesthouse, it was time to spend some time writing yesterday’s blog before trying to catch the sunset. Peter caught the sunset picture of the day (included here) and had a conversation with Lorette, one of the owners of Smillie’s, which resulted in an invitation to a beach party a couple of doors down for the next day. All in all, a successful day. I hope you will join me for tomorrow’s story!
Hello everyone. Long time no post. After a few weeks of hectic work schedule, it was with enthusiasm that I checked out of work early on Friday to spend an extended May long weekend on Haida Gwaii.
Arriving by plane and renting a car, we travelled the short distance to Port Clements (pronounced cle-MENTS) to Smillie’s Guesthouse. This is located on the Masset Inlet, steps from the water. Port Clements is more or less smack in the middle of the Graham Island portion of Haida Gwaii. This makes it a fairly ideal location for exploring in either direction.
Known as Canada’s archipelago, according to the Visitor’s Guide, Haida Gwaii is home to flora and fauna unique from the mainland due to the glaciers missing a portion of the island during the last ice age. Discoveries of new species and subspecies on the islands are a regular occurrence.
The Haida Gwaii Visitor Guide also reveals that it was a fur trader by the name of George Dixon who dubbed the islands the Queen Charlotte Islands in 1787 upon his discovery of them. The following colonial practices reduced the Haida population from tens of thousands to 600 by 1900. In 2010, the Haida Nation officially returned the name Queen Charlotte Islands to the crown and gave the islands their name of Haida Gwaii - Islands of the People. They have since been actively engaged in reclaiming their culture, language, and art.
Haida Gwaii is comprised of more than 400 islands between 50 and 130 kms off the coast of mainland British Columbia. There are a variety of ways to access it via ferry and air. The two main islands are Moresby, to the south, and Graham to the north. The southernmost tip of the Haida Gwaii is the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, which is accessible only by seaplane or boat. Unfortunately, May long weekend is a little early for most tour companies. Fishing, crabbing, kayaking, hiking are key activities on the islands.
The attendant at the car rental kiosk told the story of a beached whale that could be seen on the way up to Port Clements. It apparently washed ashore only the day before and she advised a stop at the Crowsnest store and ask directions. Having done so, it took only 5 minutes of back tracking to find the site. It was a young grey whale, that marine biologists suspect had died from parasites. The beach was deserted and it was possible to walk right up to the poor beast. While sad to see its demise, it was also fascinating to see the creature up close, its baleen exposed and the size of it, despite its young age.
Finally finishing up in Port Clements, the owner of the guest house suggested the Yakoun River Pub was open for dinner until 8:00 p.m. Since it was already almost 7 p.m., we skedaddled over there to grab food. A few folks came and went and before leaving, I approached a table and asked the people there what a person should consider that isn’t in the tourist guide. Kelly, Sarah, Jean and Angela were very friendly and we had quite the home-town chat. Always on the alert for funny and interesting stories, I made note of Kelly’s comment that the only traffic light on the island is at the ferry junction and it only changes when the ferry comes in. She also told me to be sure to take my photo at the “hitchhiker’s thumb” up at Masset where Mile 0 of Highway 16. There is a lot of hitchhiking on the islands and due to its sparse population, the odds are pretty high that a hitchhiker will know the person that is picking them up! Kelly said Tow Hill was a must-see and there were a couple of lovely trails right in Port Clements. Jean and Angela confirmed that the Golden Spruce Trail was beautiful and Agate Beach was a great place to go beachcombing. Lorette, from the guest house also said that Masset Harbour Day was happening on Saturday and was worth checking out.
So with something of a plan in mind, it was time to retire in the peaceful environment of Port Clements, and hope to rise in good time to go exploring. I'm a day behind in telling my stories, but stay tuned for more Haida Gwaii adventures.
Hi. My name is Alyson. In 2018, I started this blog as I completed a 27,000 km motorcycle trip through every province and territory of Canada.