“Wake up” and 4:45 AM are not connected concepts in my mind, unless you’re talking about staggering to the washroom as a matter of necessity. According to BC Ferries, I need to be checked in two hours before the ferry to Port Hardy departs. That means packing the bike, and being at the boat by 5:30. Ridiculous! This “scenic splendor of the inside passage” had better be worth it.
It’s a quiet predawn ride through Prince Rupert to the terminal. The hotspot this morning seems to be the Tim Horton’s, where people’s days are being kick started by double-doubles and chocolate-dips, or maybe that’s just me as I pull over for some non-BC Ferries cuisine.
Ahead of me in the line-up for the tollbooth are a group of five Harley Davidson riders, the leather vests over leather jackets emblazoned with the crest of “Handsome Bastards”. Glancing them over, one can only assume their group name was meant ironically; they’ve obviously never carried the burden of being the beautiful people.
Every time the line moves a car length forwards, the Handsome Bastards fire up the Harley’s blipping the throttles and unleashing a straight pipe cacophony. I cringe every time, not just from the noise, but from the image these Bastards create for motorcycling. I paddle and push the 990 Adventure forwards without starting the engine.
The check-in process is the height of BC Ferries efficiency; show your ID and pay at the booth, show your ticket and ID as you pull into the line up, show your ID and ticket before you pull onto the boat… The boat itself, the Northern Adventure, was pressed into service after the tragic sinking of the Queen of the North.
The choice of a boat full of RVs, from fifth-wheels to motor-homes that only loads at one end seems dubious. Above the car deck that level of attention to detail continues. There are no tables where one can plug in a laptop and enjoy a bit of work or a movie; assumedly you’re supposed to cough up for a stateroom if you want such conveniences. If you’ve forgotten something in your vehicle, pet, grandmother, camera… you’re only allowed down to the car deck to retrieve such items at seeming random 15-minute intervals during the voyage.
The worst offence arises around the views afforded by this vessel. For a boat plying some of the most scenic costal territory the world has to offer, you can’t actually access the front of the boat by deck. Instead you have back decks awash in the throb and vibe of the engines, or a top deck bracketed by the twin diesel spewing spires of the stacks.
I find a sweet-spot, fore on the middle passenger deck set just back from the bridge, and as the sun streams down British Columbia’s Inside Passage undoes all that BC Ferries has done to diminish this trip. There are waterfalls, fjords, crags and spires. More over there is wildlife.
I miss getting a shot of eagles. I miss getting a shot of orcas at play. I miss getting a shot of hump back whales breaching. It’s a small mercy then that I’m shooting motorcycle reviews rather than wildlife documentaries, since you’d only see a splash falling and have narration stating, “There! There! Did you almost see that? That’s the splash of the majestic Orca!”
The BC Ferries cattle call for meals interrupts the flow, a reminder that this is no cruise ship. Line up for a limited-time only lunch, then later for a limited-time dinner, and by line up I mean queue in an endless inefficient service of canteen slop onto a plate. For dinner I retreat to the safety of the special, butter chicken. It is an oily flavorless brown gruel applied thinly over a thoroughly humiliated basmati served with stale pita bread, which seems to be an incompetent understudy to the missing naan.
Better to have repeated lunch, an overpriced skewer of Salmon barbequed and served on baguette. It was insultingly small, but tasty, and most importantly didn’t look like something the bilge-pump rejected after the sewage system backed up.
Apathetic service, a disorganized kitchen, long waits and pathetic food, on an ill-conceived ship – this is British Columbia’s best foot forwards to the world’s travelers. But by the grace of the scenery there would be a mutiny. Best to retreat to the outside decks, watch the coastline steam by, and lose yourself in its unspoiled beauty.
Or you can go inside and watch “XXX – State of the Union” in the TV lounge. It’s an easy choice, then.
Tourism Yukon: http://travelyukon.com