Stu and John’s Escapade North – Destination Inuvik Part One

Story by Stu Seaton// Photos by Stu Seaton
January 1 2009

At fifty-four, I’m starting to encounter some symptoms of what the slippery slope of age is all about. So far the physical stuff is easy; buy a bigger windshield, let practicality reign over fashion and don’t whine. The mental side of things seems to be a tad tougher to solve. It all starts when you wake up and find that thirty years of prime time has blasted past leaving no more than a dusty cloud of memories. I find myself starting to refer to things like the dreaded ‘bucket list’. What didn’t I do that I should’ve/could’ve done? At twenty, I didn’t even know of the term ‘bucket list’.

Motorcycles, and the freedom they represent, have forever been a passionate part of my life. The one thing that I always wanted to do, somewhere along the line, was to take a long adventure ride with my brother John, who now, at the age of sixty-nine can still ride my butt into the ground and not break a sweat. Although we had travelled many miles over the years together, we had never ridden a ‘big one’. That was about to change, thanks to the Mojo team, Honda Canada, BMW Durham, Benton Fry Ford and our families. Our chance to do the big one came on July 1st, and what a ride it was. Grab a whatever and I’ll tell you about it. Feel free to ask questions…

Our goal was to depart on July 1 from Eastern Ontario and wiggle our way up to Inuvik, NT via Vancouver Island, BC by July 18, as we had a date to share some fine single malt Scotch with Inuvik’s Mayor, Derek Lindsay during their fiftieth anniversary celebrations. From there we’d follow our nose and more or less take the long way home – some thirty days in total. We had grand plans of riding as many secondary, to less than secondary routes as we could, subject to the flavour of the day. Our steeds would be the ’08 Honda Varadero and an ’07 BMW R1200 GS Adventure. Not only would this ride be our ‘big one’, it would also be one of the longest and toughest road tests of the new Honda Varadero, something that not every motorcycle magazine does.

Canada Day ’08 opened with brilliant sun and saw us packed with everything we thought we would need. Dreaded camping gear, spares, tire kits, tools, compressor, CO2 inflators, and, well let’s just put it this way, we were riding heavy, just a few kilograms short of maximum load for both bikes. By 06:00 hours we were strapping and re-strapping everything in place and making sure that nothing was amiss. Our indignant Garmin Zumo Ladies were spooling up for some deadly serious guidance. My wife, Bobbie was putting the finishing touches on everything when my extended family, Ron and Jeri wandered over to wish us well. I think that’s when the weight of the ‘ride’ hit us both like an emotional hammer. Saying goodbye is never easy and as we rolled westward we both had some very quiet moments inside our Nolan helmets.

Our first stop would be at Mojo where Glenn, Gwen, Roger and David were gracious enough to be at the office on a long weekend to give us whatever gear we didn’t have and offer a very much appreciated, “Bon Voyage!” Over the years with Mojo, the whole gang have become very near and dear. We felt like we were leaving, twice in one day, actually three times for John as he bid adieu to his own gang prior to landing at my shop. Again, thoughts of the upcoming thirty days snuck up and hit us both hard. More ‘quiet Nolan’ moments followed as we rolled towards Sault Ste Marie. Day one… Okay… Why the heck is this ride playing games with our heads? It’s not like we don’t both travel all over the world on business. Damn. John and I talked about this weird phenomenon a few times as we rode. Was it the unfamiliar, the unknown and the untested? Were we silently drilling it all down to our own insecurities? Can we do this? Do we have the right stuff? Will one of us go down? I muttered to myself: “Daft thoughts! Stupid thoughts! Be gone, all of you!”

Regardless of the unknown, I can tell you, Canada is much bigger in real life than any map indicates and when our majestic backyard flexes her muscles, it’s pretty damned impressive. What looks ‘oh-so-easy’ on paper ain’t necessarily so. Ponderous helmet moments indeed, somehow the ‘Soo’ came out of nowhere. How’d that happen?

It’s much easier to ‘get outta Dodge’ than get out of Ontario. This is one Province that can go from shear boredom to downright exhilaration. It also seems to go on forever.

Flipping the drapes open at the Soo’s Water Tower Inn revealed rain… lots of rain. Mother Nature was obviously in a lousy mood which at the time seemed to reflect mine. Grabbing my Olympia jacket I sloshed over to the front door of the local Timmies to get a couple of real coffees. After dodging four lanes of the Great Northern and the hundred-acre Timmies parking lot, I realized I left all my money in my riding pants. Oh for crying out loud. I slog back to the hotel and settle for Mr. Coffee drip with edible oil products.

The Lake Superior route to Thunder Bay is a must for anyone on two wheels. Breathtaking rises, smooth corners, good pavement. Okay, so it was raining, no, pouring, but who cares? My mood was lifting as my Olympia jacket, Belstaff pants and Motorrad boots were dry as a bone, Metzeler Tourance tires were sticking like glue and the GS, well–was doing what a GS does so well. John on the other hand had gone from a total grin to a grimace as the Varadero’s weather protection was proving to be less than outstanding. The windshield was pooling water in the centre and when it got heavy enough, or hit the right draft, some pretty darned cold water migrated up the screen and plopped onto the Gears tank bag, from there it journeyed into more sensitive areas. John was beginning to sport some serious monkey butt. To add to the equation, John’s ‘Oscar’ riding suit was turning into a wet rag. Folks, there is a big difference in riding gear which means a huge difference in long haul comfort when it comes to wet, cold and miserable. Had John been in different gear, the Varadero’s weather protection may have been a moot point, however, when we switched bikes I noted that there could be some serious improvement in wind and water protection, with the caveat that they leave everything else alone, ’cause it all works great. Who knows, maybe Cee Bailey or Aeroflow will come up with an aftermarket fix for wind and water. In the foggy 6C haze we saw the ‘Welcome to Thunder Bay’ sign. John’s a frozen prune and the Valhalla Inn comes into view just about the same time as the rain stopped and the sun came out.

This is day two of a thirty day ride, both of us experienced a minor haul in major rain and bear no grudge, we decide to call day two an equipment shake down, the Varadero’s bags were dry, so were my Touratechs, Pelican cases that housed all our electronics were perfect, Nolan helmets with their anti-fog inner shield worked bang on. Olympia, Belstaff and Motorrad outerwear was comfy, warm and dry but John’s ‘Oscar’ outerwear needed some serious help.

The Valhalla produced a way too expensive meal that would have left Chef Ramsay in a dither, but it was good enough for us. After a quick peek at the weather channel we checked out like a couple of old farts Winnipeg was our next stop and Ma Nature graced us with some decent if not downright hot weather. Thunder Bay to the ‘Peg offers the gradual degradation of scenery into universal ‘flat n’ straight’. Somewhere along the way, John had some glitches with the Zumo on the Varadero as it appeared dead as a nit. Once in the ‘Peg we grabbed a good bottle of red, rolled into a Comfort Inn, ordered a pizza and started to diagnose what was what with John’s indignant Lady Garmin. After tracing back wires we find that there’s something goofy in the actual Garmin base so we go into switch mode between the GS and the Varadero. Garmin Ladies are as indignant on battery as they are when hard wired, “Turn left you idiot. You missed your turn, how many times must I tell you to pay attention. Keep this up and you’ll grow up to be a ditch digger. Oh my word. Turn right in 500 metres.”

We are now officially in the prairies and I’ll probably piss off some of our Prairie readers here, but damn, the Perimeter Road has more curves than the whole Province. Good time to crank up some serious numbers. I’m not suggesting that anyone exceed the speed limit but, let’s face it, out here you can watch your dog run away for two days, three if you have binoculars. Why don’t they just take the speed limit signs down and let things roll. The ‘Peg to Regina, SK was simply a yawn and a severe twist on the right hand; it also meant some serious fuel consumption. We were facing a strong west wind and at times I was up to 7.8 L/100Km, so much for fuel economy. I’m pretty sure, although I could be mistaken, but in the wide open spots we may have been running pretty hot, 140 – 150. Maybe more, but to all the Pony Riders out there, that may have just been my imagination. Ahem. Either way, both the Varadero and the GS are more than capable of some very spirited riding, heavy or not. Regina rolled up and we were glad of it, tomorrow would mean some changes in topography.

Mixed skies, chance of rain and 13C, all in all not bad. The one nice thing about the Prairies is that you can wear them out in pretty quick fashion. Alberta was beckoning just about the same time that our riding attitude was about to be seriously reckoned with. John was dealing with the tiny bladder syndrome at the Alberta visitors centre whilst I was stretched out on a picnic table making a call home. “We’re in Alberta and all is okay.” “I thought you guys were going to slow down.” “Well, ya, but it’s the Prairies, you know, flat, straight.” “Okay, when you get back two weeks early don’t complain, slow down, smell the roses or at least notice the vegetation beside the road.” Sage advice. John came back wearing a smile and I asked him why we’re riding like we’re working. “Well, it’s the Prairies. We’ll slow down when things aren’t so damn flat and straight.” Hey, for two workaholics it’s a start. Besides, Calgary is just a few hours that-a-way. Let’s ride, exit, stage left.

We had made arrangements to meet John’s daughter and grandkids in Calgary for dinner and after a few screwed up turns that had my indignant Garmin Lady on the verge of a vapour attack, we hooked up with the gang, after which we stuffed our faces, had hugs all around and fired up for Canmore. I knew that we’d be arriving in Canmore well after dark and I also knew that this stretch of road was pretty lively at night with life altering critters. I moved 110 watts of BMW lighting down a few degrees and went on high alert. John and I kept our distance in case one or the other had to make a sudden move. The combination of BMW standard lighting and the pain of forking out some 700 odd bucks for optional lowers all came together on a night like this. Oh yeah, they chop one whopping big hole in the night. The Varadero’s lighting was just bang on too. With the addition of some good adjustable lower lights it would be perfect.

Canmore showed up and we checked into a ‘livin’ big’ hotel. Although it was a good ride, I was disappointed that I couldn’t show John what it was like to pass the Three Sisters in daylight. To me that view is just absolutely inspiring, it’s like a preview for a really good movie… “Ladies and Gentlemen, please look to your left. This is what you are about to experience… these rocks will alter your life.”

The next morning I awoke while John was still sawing logs, I tiptoed over to the window to have a peek out, guess what? Our hotel window faced the Three Sisters. Bam! I blasted the room with sunlight and John bounced out of bed with a ‘what the…” look, and then he saw them. “We rode under them last night.” I said. John was silent. He just stood there and absorbed the beginnings of the Rockies. In his boxers. What a sight. “Let’s go”, he said. I couldn’t agree more.

From Canmore we had our fill of slab and wanted to get on the lesser roads, or in this particular case – as lesser as you can get and still hit Banff. Let’s face it, Banff is a must see if you’re that close anyway. We peel off onto #93 and come face to face with hordes of cages, motor homes and a guy in a Toyota from Toronto, who was hopelessly lost. I think he took an extended left on the way to Ottawa. John and I looked at each other and simultaneously say “screw this”. It was like trying to absorb nature at Yonge and Bloor. We head south to Radium and another let down. When someone says ‘Radium hot springs’, what does your mind conjure up? How about a beautiful naturally flowing river with pockets of geo-thermally heated mineral water and maybe even some umbrella girls? Nope. Try two concrete pools with life guards. Sorry, Radium may be neat to some, that was obvious as the parking lot was full, but I’d rather flop around in something way less manicured. Park, quick picture and we’re outta here.

The Crowsnest Highway was calling, yeah, now we’re talkin’. We head down to #3, twisties, drop offs and some pretty cool vistas. This is more like it! There’s a place called Yahk on the Crowsnest where we somehow end up buying a bottle of mediocre Ontario red wine. Kid you not, Ontario – way, way back there… Oakanagan Valley, right here… Hey I’m no snob but jeeze, the Okanagan produces some very decent wines. John tucks the bottle in his top bag and we head for the Salmo Pass.

This would be the first of many passes for John and at 1781 metres, I knew the weather could be just about anything. This time the Salmo Pass offered a balmy 16C at the little pastoral Summit Lake. We pulled over and just sat for a while on a picnic table. This was a good place to be right now, somehow the mental gremlins were leaving one by one, and both of us seemed to take on a new attitude beside that little lake. Yup, this was the right place for both of us to linger for a bit. Castlegar wasn’t far off. After finding a roll-right-up-to-the-room-door motel and a cook that was really happy to see us, even though the kitchen was closed, he had some decent leftovers handy and that capped the day off as being damn near perfect. The Rockies, what can one say? They’re one mind altering pile of rocks.

The Crowsnest Highway continued to capture us as we tested some tire limits through switchbacks, drop offs and mind blowing vistas. If you want a ride to remember, go play on the Crowsnest, it’s worth every klick.

Towards Osoyoos a bunch of sportbikes passed us like a shot, dragging pegs and yippie-kiyaying as they descended into one of Canada’s few desert regions. The riders also scared the crap out of a bunch of cage drivers on a crazy blind corner pass. Startled cage drivers in real close proximity to bikes at speed is never a good combination. We caught up with the group about twenty minutes later at a rest area where I put my Grampa hat on and asked them to reflect on their performance. I thought I’d get some push back, but one of the ‘twenty-something’ riders was straight up by saying that it was a seriously dumb move. “Sorry, we’ll tone things down”, which they did. Damn, it was like looking at a time mirror, especially when I rode my Ducati 860 GTS. We need more good tracks in Canada.

Hope, BC was our next port of call and we spent the time getting there just casually cruising, enjoying some warm temps and the surrounding scenery that was just right. Both the bikes were working amazingly and John was gloating over the fact that his Varadero was consuming about two bucks less than my GS at fuel stops. Let me tell you, he can be completely insufferable at times and each fuel stop would turn into major drama usually involving everyone within earshot, “See! $2.12 difference, Oh brother, there is something seeeeeeriously wrong with your GS! $2.12 that’s huge man!” Of course he’s slopping fuel all over my bike and being ever-so-careful filling the Varadero. I was planning on pitching a litre or two from my reserve can into my GS while he’s doing the tiny bladder thing just to screw him up.

In Hope, John found some real Kokanee beer while I tried to figure out why my computer is being a complete jerk. Sitting outside of our motel room, I was all wired up and silently cussing out Mr. Gates when two Grandma dynamites rolled in from California – older versions of Thelma and Louise, minus the Thunderbird. We start yakking, whereupon Thelma dresses me down for having such a dirty windshield and Louise presents us with a bag of fresh apricots. They were on a round about trip to Alaska and thoroughly enjoying Canada. I cleaned my windshield just to keep Thelma happy. Apricots and beer, not bad. My computer was still being an idiot.

John takes a run at brushing bugs out of the oil cooler on the GS and the radiator on the Varadero as we had collected some serious insect carnage. Leave it to John to pack a ‘bug only’ toothbrush, even if it did look vaguely familiar to mine. John goes through a complete inspection of everything. Neither bike has used a drop of oil and the O-ring sealed chain on the Varadero looked like it hadn’t seen a kilometre worth of use. We were enjoying both bikes and they weren’t demanding very much tinkering. Aside from being anal on tire pressures and making sure liquid levels were good, life was turning out to be way too simple. Hit the starter button and ride until your eyes can’t handle another mind-blowing mountain view. Life’s tough.

From Hope it was a simple run through the blight of urban sprawl to the Tsawwassen – Swartz Bay ferry dock. BC Ferries are always a mobile bike rally and the whole process is remarkably simple; pay a modest fee for the crossing, shoot down the first lane in front of all the cages while trying to keep a straight face, gab with all the other bikers while you wait for the load-up signal and then ride on ahead of everyone else. At the other end motorcycles ride off first too. You just have to like that. If you’re unsure of what goes where, you need not worry. Someone will point out how to use the stabilizing chocks and in the process probably invite you to join them for dinner, stay at their place, offer some bang-on suggestions of where and what to see. Typical of the fabulous two wheeled fraternity of riders. Something we as riders should all embrace and celebrate.

On this particular run we meet up with Masaki Nishiolea who is a true adventure rider’s rider. Rolling up to the front of lane one, Masaki dismounts off a rolling billboard of stickers from literally all over the world. Underneath all the stickers is what looks to be a Honda sporting a Japanese license plate.

Masaki is an elementary school teacher in Japan who takes a one or two year teaching contract, lives in a ultra modest shoe box and saves his dough for his next adventure ride. He proudly shows me where a reindeer poked a hole in his left pannier while he was in Norway. Before we disembarked on Vancouver Island, Masaki had at least three weeks of ‘come-to-my-place’ offers. We also had the offer extended to us of some V.I.P. treatment at the Victoria Carlton Hotel by Michael Gailbraith who just happens to handle security at the hotel and escorted us to secure indoor parking for our bikes. The hotel was ‘next to everything’ and had a staff that couldn’t do enough for us. Thanks Mike, you can bet a Victoria microbrewery we’ll be back!

So far we’ve been on slab or next to slab from Ontario to Vancouver Island and even though we had the plan to hit the west coast in quick time, it was now time to really slow down and absorb what will turn out to be some of the most fabulous times anyone can spend on two wheels. The weight of the trip has pretty much disappeared from our radar, we’re beginning to shed our uptight Ontario induced workaholic lifestyle and take things as they come. Little things have made it easier, like finding where everything sits best on the bikes; that always takes some fooling around to get just right. The camaraderie of other riders never fails to amaze and inspire us. The Honda Varadero and BMW GS Adventure are both awesome machines that inspire confidence. By now we were completely comfortable riding heavy and in some pretty wet conditions, although we didn’t know that the term ‘wet and cold’ would soon elevate itself to a whole new meaning.

John and my ‘left coast’ kids, Mack and Katie, tink some old Victoria microbrewery glasses together and catch up with each other. John and I look forward to the Mile 0 start of our northern leg like a pair of giddy kids. Now there are no more fears and no more gremlins, we had shed them one by one along the Crowsnest. It is what it is, as long as we continue to put safe riding at the top of our list and watch each others ‘six’, we would continue to experience something that will truly turn out to be life altering.

The chances we take, the memories we make… It’s all about the ride… MMM

Be sure to check our March/April issue for the continuing installment of Stu and John’s escapade north to Inuvik for a wee dram of single malt.

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