I have been on several long-distance motorcycle trips, and I know of the joy and the beauty of the open road. I wish I could say it has always been perfect, but the weather is ever-changing. I also know that we are all different, and the experience and excitement are individual.
Coast-to-coast, 18,000 kilometres and alone in my thoughts—it was life-changing.
Surely, we have all heard that catch phrase of the day, “bucket list.” Coincidentally, during the planning stages for my ride and near my departure date—while I was feeling a bit guilty heading off solo—Barry, who is a close friend of mine, emailed me one of those feel good emails, with a life message. It was titled, The “Back Nine” of Life. I immediately knew I was doing the right thing after reading it.
It’s Her sandbox
Winter is setting in here in Alberta as I recall that great ride in June 2014, and I remember the fact that Mother Nature had indeed been the boss during my trip. (In this story, I will often refer to Mother Nature as Her or She.)
Because of so many great memories, it is difficult to be selective and put a condensed version of this trip onto paper, so to speak. She will show you that She is vast. She is beautiful. Her geography and weather are ever changing, and it can be inhospitable.
The changing weather while on a motorcycle is a big factor to ponder during the planning stages of and during your ride. Talk to your dealer. The right gear will allow you to make the most of the not so nice days and the worst of days at least manageable. Here’s a tip: unless the weather at the start of your day is exceptional, it is wise to start the day off dressed in full riding gear. It is always better to have to stop and disrobe than to get caught unprepared.
After he stopped in at the RidersWest headquarters in Cranbrook, B.C., Wayne Hamm was confronted with this snowy scene. — Wayne Hamm photo
My early entry into the mountains saw ice-covered lakes and sunshine. The mountains can be unpredictable, and I was geared up and it was not unexpected. I hit pouring rain as I climbed the mountain passes, and at one point, the temperature plummeted, it seemed, in a heartbeat. The rain turned to snow, leaving small, slushy snow banks on both sides of the road, forcing me to stop and get off to check the road surface and the temperature. It was cold, but above freezing, and the road was wet. Motorcycle tires are unlike car tires; they require frequent replacement and are not to be taken for granted.
After the snow, wet and cold I experienced in the mountains, I was euphoric as I approached the ferry to Vancouver Island, B.C. Plus, I was treated to sunshine and hot temperatures. Thank you, Mother Nature!
My son-in-law, Kirby, who is from Victoria, and I headed up Island to the coastal town of Tofino. Kirby said it was a must-see. This part of Vancouver Island is a popular area known for its surfing, motorcycle roads, hiking and numerous other outdoor activities. Tofino is also known for its dense rainforests and rain. Overnight, the skies opened up and soaked the tent. She, however, treated us to sunshine and warm temperatures for the return ride back to Victoria.
Not to be outdone by herself, on June 16, 2014, at mid-afternoon, She treated me, my daughter and my new granddaughter to our first earthquake. There had been a smattering of news reports on the radio and TV. The quake had been a mere 11 kilometres away, and initially it was reported that it was a 3.2 downgraded to a 2.4 magnitude shaker. The house rattled and the windows seemed to be buzzing. She definitely has some gusto!
I left Vancouver Island via Nanaimo, bound for the Sea-to-Sky Highway, and She treated me to sunshine and great conditions. I rode northeast for days, baking in the sun, smiling out loud and meandering along on the roads less travelled.
I tented in a campground in northeastern Ontario on Big Nellie Lake near Iroquois Falls. The skies looked grim, and I set up camp under a shelter that protected the campground’s picnic tables. There, the skies opened up and She provided a nasty—however, enjoyable to watch—thunder and lightning storm that postponed my departure and forced me back to my sleeping bag until late morning.
Wayne Hamm crossed the height of land known as the Arctic Watershed on Highway 11 in Ontario. — Wayne Hamm photo
As I headed east through Quebec, though, I was treated to isolated roads and breathtaking scenery, countless lakes, forests in full bloom, idle ski hills in the Laurentian Mountains and views of the St. Lawrence River—with its cargo-laden freighters.
She was considerate of me when I rode through New Brunswick. The skies were sunny and the temperatures soared. The weather was picture-perfect all the way east to the Confederation Bridge, which links mainland New Brunswick to Prince Edward Island. The bridge was truly a marvel as I entered its approach and climbed its grade gradually. I followed its turns, and at one point at a navigation span, it arched upward.
The smell and taste of the salt air and the view of the rich bright red P.E.I. soil as I rode onto the Island reminded me of how great it was to be home! Within moments, the smell of fresh-laid manure on some farmer’s field took me back to when I was a boy who spent several summers on his grandfather’s dairy farm on that beautiful island.
It was refreshing
As planned, Bruce—my 80-years-young stepfather—climbed on the back seat for a tour of Newfoundland. It was refreshing to have someone to share in my adventure. She decided to be different while I was leaving P.E.I. en route to Newfoundland via the Confederation Bridge than when I had first arrived. Heavy fog during the first half of the 12.9-kilometre crossing kept me on alert.
The ride along Nova Scotia’s north coast on Highway 6 with views of P.E.I. off in the distance was stunning. She dished out sunshine and hot temperatures as we crossed the Canso Causeway onto Cape Breton Island and all the way up and down Kelly’s Mountain to the ferry at North Sydney.
The ferry crossing on the MV Atlantic Vision to Newfoundland was a 16-hour night crossing. The views of the Atlantic Ocean from outside the ship on the passenger decks, prior to darkness, were windy and memorable.
The weather is not always kind to a motorcyclist. Shown here are cloudy skies above a sand bar in Caribou, Nova Scotia. — Wayne Hamm photo
Cape Spear, Newfoundland, is reportedly the most easterly tract of land in Canada. When we arrived at Cape Spear, She treated us to sunshine, hot temperatures, huge icebergs off in the distance and the sight and sounds of whales breaking water, as whale-watching boats floated nearby.
After Cape Spear, we hugged the coastline as often as we could—many times within spitting distance of the Atlantic Ocean. At Twillingate, Newfoundland, we saw icebergs that were so close we could see and hear them breaking up and watch the pieces splashing into the ocean. She was kind to us with perfect summer conditions for all but two hours of the entire five days we were on the island of Newfoundland.
On our last day heading southwest out of the Codroy Valley to the ferry at Channel-Port aux Basques, the skies opened up and we were battered with disturbing cross winds. I could feel the driving rain seeping inside my jacket from around my neck. We were both drenched when we arrived at the ferry terminal.
I chatted with a local inside the terminal about the storm, and he explained the severe crosswinds we encountered are called wreckhouse winds. He explained that the crosswinds could have been much worse. They have been known to reach 200 kilometres per hour and have blown large trucks off the road.
Once aboard, the dry, warm car ferry was more than appreciated for our night crossing.
Our ride back to P.E.I. was warm with sunny conditions. To change it up, rather than cross the Confederation Bridge, we boarded another car ferry at Caribou, Nova Scotia, for a short 45-minute sailing northwest to Wood Islands, Prince Edward Island. Bruce and I spent most of the ferry ride outside on the passenger decks where She treated us to wonderful views in summer conditions.
Highs and lows on the ride home
It was mid-August when I was finally heading back west to Alberta. She was being nice again as I rode across the Confederation Bridge for the third time in a few short weeks, but I was pre-occupied and wasn’t really appreciating it at that moment. After leaving a family gathering and celebrating two 80th birthdays for my mother and Bruce, I realize I had been in a bit of a funk. My motorcycle and the views from that bridge were uplifting, and I got excited for the ride home and didn’t give the weather a second thought.
The ride towards Quebec was picture-perfect as I sat back and drank it all in. I pitched my tent and enjoyed a relaxing evening in Cabano, Quebec. I didn’t expect such a grim weather forecast early the next morning. What did I do to tick Her off?
The necessary route home unfortunately revealed heavy rainfall warnings from Environment Canada for both Quebec and Ontario. I was optimistic as I neared Quebec City, but the skies still opened up and it poured rain. The August temperatures dropped from the mid-20s to 9 C. I literally had a dark cloud hanging over my head. The three and a half days of cold, off-and-on-again rain dictated motels every evening. I had learned from my drenching in Newfoundland, so I hunkered down near the windshield and made sure all my gear was tucked in and cinched up as tightly as possible.
News reports on some local radio stations reported record rainfalls of 86 millimetres. During the deluge, I decided to take the shortest way home. After Ontario, I headed west through the prairies, and the rain finally let up near Foam Lake, Saskatchewan.
She and Foam Lake treated me to warmth and sunshine again. I had been a mere 800 kilometres to home, and after a long day in the saddle, I arrived home with a huge sigh of relief and a great sense of accomplishment.
What I learned about Mother Nature
As I travelled coast-to-coast over the course of seven weeks, the weather was bound to change. Mother Nature merely served up what She had to offer. At Her worst and at Her finest, the responsibility to appreciate Her and to enjoy and not begrudge Her was mine.
Some of Her attributes that I experienced firsthand included: the beautiful scenery; the fresh falling snow; the towering forests; the wildlife; the plummeting temperatures; the 31 C temperatures; the smells of nature; the peaceful solitude while tenting with Her; the huge dragonflies and hordes of mosquitoes; the refreshing fog; the snow on the mountaintops; hundreds of lakes; the pouring rain; the alarming wind gusts; the friendliness of strangers; and the sounds of nature.
What I would do differently
While I was heading home, reflecting on the journey, I knew what I needed to do differently on the next adventure.
A few days after arriving home, I was excited to go into my motorcycle dealer—Riverside Honda & Ski-doo in St. Albert, Alberta—to share my adventure. Tony Viveiros and I sat down and chatted at length about the dos and don’ts of such a trip. Interestingly enough, before I could bring it up, Tony asked me, "What would you do differently?" I simply said, “A trip like that needed to be shared with my wife or a friend, either on the back of my ride or on their own bike.”
California’s Alcatraz Island is next on my bucket list.