Smith chases after parts and Closed on Monday signs while on assignment in British Columbia’s rugged Cariboo.
“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere,” wrote Robert Louis Stevenson. “I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” And while he died (in 1894) before their widespread introduction, I’m sure he would have loved travelling by motorcycle, too.
Indeed, few are the stories that begin with someone sitting at a desk. So when Editor Campbell asked me if I would like to write about George Phillips’s Can-Am Sonic 500 for the August issue I thought I’d turn the trip to Williams Lake, BC into a road ride. That presented an opportunity to visit two towns I knew only from a map of BC’s Cariboo country: Horsefly, and Likely. Between the two is a 50-kilometre logging road that meanders along the western shore of Quesnel Lake. My buddy Bevin Jones and I would tackle the route on dualsport bikes: Bevin’s 650 V-Strom and my ‘94 Cagiva Elefant 900. Of course, I could have talked to George about his Can-Am on the phone, but…
Leaving West Vancouver’s Horseshoe Bay with a gaggle of riders from the British Motorcycle Owners Club, we cruised Highway 99 north to Pemberton, then stormed the twisting Duffy Lake Road over the Coast Range to Lillooet. The two of us then turned north leaving the gaggle to return to YVR.
Cache Creek is the Cariboo’s gateway, set as it is at BC’s primary intersection: Trans-Canada 1 east-west; and highway 97 north-south. The rustic Bear’s Claw Lodge provides basic accommodation and plain but tasty fare, and we rode north next morning fueled with eggs and home fries. Ninety-seven climbs gradually to the Cariboo plateau with an associated temperature drop, trading Cache Creek’s sauna for cloudy skies and cool air. Swaths of pines spread into the distance on either side, hiding fishing lakes and country cabins. The chicken strips on my tires remained unmolested by any serious bends.
But it’s a tire that caused our first hiccup. In a gas station at 150 Mile House, Bevin spotted a construction staple embedded in my tubed front tire. I was carrying an inflator and a patch kit but realized I left tire irons at home. There’s a bike shop in 150 Mile, but this was Monday, and the phone rang unanswered. So I called Williams Lake Honda, 15 minutes up the road. They’re a power equipment store, but they also sell and service ATVs and dirt bikes, so the Elefant would in theory present no problem.
I rolled into the Honda shop with my tire almost flat. Their service guy interrupted his lunch to hoist the Elefant’s front end in the air with a chain (no centre stand), and then swapped out the leaky tube for a new one. I was out of there in less than an hour. But while I was there, I bought a can of chain lube, some oil, and kicked a few tires. I’ve heard all the arguments about why bike stores are closed two days a week; but how can you “sell on Monday” if you’re not open? H-D understands that—and so do the good guys at Williams Lake Honda.
We set off for Horsefly planning to stop at “Fanny’s Flippin’ Burgers,” a food truck recommended by the Honda guys. But that was closed too—Monday again. Now surviving as a resort community, Horsefly was founded during the Cariboo Gold Rush of 1859, and got its name…well, you can guess. The Anvil Pub was closed (Monday…), so we ate at the SOUL Food truck. I learn that SOUL stands for Sustainable, Organic, Unprocessed and Local…though that doesn’t explain why the truck specializes in Caribbean food!
Before August 4, 2014, Quesnel Lake was known as the cleanest deep-water lake in the world. On that day, the wall of the tailings pond at the Mount Polley Mine ruptured, dumping 4.5 million cubic metres of water and slurry containing high levels of selenium, arsenic and other toxic metals into Polley Lake and Quesnel Lake, taking out the Hazeltine Creek Bridge at the same time. We rode right by it.
Bevin and I stumbled across the road to Likely and set off on gravel that quickly turns to dirt, dust and rocks. Within a couple of miles my front fender fractured from the pounding, and I had to duct tape it back in place. The gnarliest section of the trail is near Hazeltine Creek. In replacing the Bridge, heavy equipment has churned the soil into ruts, ridges and washboard. A new concrete bridge spans what had been a narrow creek, now scoured by the spill and debris into a broad gully, with the old iron bridge wedged into its bank.
We ground on, trying to stay out of the dust-filled ruts before finally emerging onto tarmac near Likely. In town, the pub is closed (of course) but the landlord took pity on us and opened up. Refreshed, we strafed exquisitely engineered bends on Likely Road back to Williams Lake.
We checked into the Sandman, shower and strolled through town to a sports bar, and the most bizarre experience of the trip. It was like travelling back to the 40 years: cheesy metal on the sound system; a beer selection that started at Bud and ended at Bud Light; a server whose lights were on but with no one home; and some of the worst food. You’d think, especially in Canada, that it would be impossible to screw up perogies, but they managed, serving them in a pool of used Castrol and topped with orange slime. Most amazing of all—Bevin won $500 on the Keno!
Next morning, I surveyed the damage to the Elefant. A fork seal had blown, coating the front brake disc with oil; the broken fender needed more duct tape; and the swingarm drive-chain slider had gone AWOL. I got to my planned overnight stop in Cache Creek by early afternoon. Bevin decided to head east to visit an aunt in Kamloops. My home in Delta was just four hours away…