North: The KTM Summer of Adventure – 19: Port Hardy to Nanaimo, BC


Is that a bloodstain on the carpet? Last night when the Ferry docked in Port Hardy, at the northern end of Vancouver Island, I found myself casting around for a hotel room, the Thunderbird Inn seemed to fit the bill. The lady at the front desk, congenial, plump and bespectacled, seemed only too willing to cut me a deal on the room.

“It has a hole in the window, “ she explained, “most people don’t like that.” There was indeed, more a thrown stone than gunshot pattern. I put the stain out of my mind, slip on my riding boots, and clomp off to the washroom. Better put my feet into the odiferous devil I know, than on the carpeted devil I don’t.

This is the last day, the final jump; Port Hardy to Nanaimo where I’m to deliver the 990 Adventure, nicknamed Indestructible Sam, to the area KTM Sales Representative. After three weeks of riding, the tally will be over 7,500kms. We’ve surpassed thorough testing a long time ago. Indeed most long-term press bikes don’t accumulate that sort of mileage and many people ride less in the course of a season, making this ride a long term relationship.


As with any separation, I’m awash in a mix of emotions. I’ve bonded with this bike through the slow growth of a relationship that has revealed its complexities. I will miss it. I’m still stung by the Dempster’s rebuff, and even now would drop everything to try again – proper knobby tires pre-ordered into Whitehorse Honda as a precaution. I’m feeling awed at the peak moments of the ride; Kluane, Dawson City, Telegraph Creek, Stewart… I want this last day to be a good one.

Riding out of Port Hardy, it is more “Aug-tober” more than August with cool mist, cooler air, and overcast skies. I refuse to put on my heated vest, maybe in another 10 kilometers the weather will break.

One hundred and fifty kilometers later my optimism is rewarded, cresting a summit the sun breaks through, a wave of warmth washes over me from the valley bellow, and the day turns on a dime. Two rest stops later I’m shucking the extra layers and into summer riding.

There is a tempting web-work of dirt spanning Vancouver Island, but on this final leg I’m happy enough to stick to the road. North has become its cardinal opposite, South, and we are charging along that bearing. I’m ready for a rest, but also primed to see more of our country.

7,500km without the need for a passport, hundreds of sights missed and hundreds seen, in the face of those metrics the selection of media I can offer up seems paltry. Words, photos and video are a faint echo of the experience inciting me to thoughts of what I’d do different next time.

The Cable Cookhouse in Sayward, BC is one of the trip’s final discoveries. Pushing inwards from the main drag on a whim I find the café, wrapped in old logging cables, serving up Breakfast Robustus Loggerianus. Composed of a solid omelet and overstuffed, home made hash-browns, slabs of toast and home made preserves, the meal negates the need for lunch and possibly dinner.

In the parking lot, a retired German couple are waiting patiently by the KTM.

“We saw you on the ferry. My husband he rides a bike also. Where have you been riding?” The woman is mature, white haired, dignified and acting as translator.
“I’m just finishing riding to the Yukon and back, almost 7,500kms now.” There is a translation and the husband smiles.
“You do this for a vacation?”
“Well sort of, it’s not just a vacation. I film and write about it and review motorcycles.”
“Like Ewan McGregor! You have a very good job.” I couldn’t agree more on the latter; despite the hardscrabble lack of income writing is work, pleasure, honour and passion rolled into one.
“My husband is jealous of the roads here. There are so few people.” Funny, after some of the places I’d been I thought it rather busy here.

Before I set off, the husband comes over to me. The bottom of his fist lands on the left breast-plate of my Alpinestars Bionic jacket; an almost grandfatherly expression of friendly solidarity between riders, respect and well wishes for the road.

Adventure isn’t a solitary exploit; what gives trips like this value isn’t a purely internal recollection but the sharing. That sharing can take place along the way or retrospectively, through media or simply around a glass of wine with friends, in the middle of no-where with other motorcyclists on the edge of the road or retellings over Sunday morning coffee…

Adventure is in the eyes of the traveler and their audience of friends. I may smart from not making the Arctic Circle, but that was an audacious goal considering my level of preparation. To others this may be a Sunday ride. Telegraph creek could be a weekend bimble or the destination of a lifetime. It’s all relative.

What’s certain is this editorial flight of fancy, a lark of a story rooted in a lack of preparedness, was a “dry run”.
Even dropping off the KTM there is talk of what could be done to the 990 Adventure to make it more suitable to a true attempt for the Arctic Circle; knobby tires, metal hand guards, bigger hard cases, and, dare we say it, rider training… All that has to wait for another year though, the window of weather has closed and my schedule has just been filled for the next month.

You see I was talking with Buell the other day, and jokingly asked about taking a Ulysses across Canada. I expected them to laugh it off to be honest. Instead it seems I’m about to ride across the country. Now the route’s a bit convoluted already, but if you have any suggestions for must see destinations and roads I’d love to hear about them.
Neil Johnston

Thanks to:
Tourism Yukon:

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