Hard and Soft – Adventure Riding BC’s Sunshine Coast

Around the Black Bean Roasting Co., in Gibsons, BC, the questioning response from locals is unanimous, “There’s actually a road through there?”

Which answers how this circle tour of British Columbia’s Sunshine coast is different. The Sunshine Coast titillates sportbikers, cruisers and tourers with glorious curves that lie beyond the slow ribbon of brake lights winding from Gibsons to Sechelt, BC. For Vancouverites it’s not new territory; a 40-minute hop from Horseshoe Bay to Langdale by ferry, some traffic minimized by BC Ferry’s first off the boat policy for motorcycles and then wanton corner carving.

So how do you find a fresh take on it?

Easy, rather than hanging a left on the 101 and riding into Gibsons, cue your adventure theme music and head right towards Port Mellon. Then slide past Dalton Creek Road’s “Closed” sign, disregard the incredulity of locals and with an overly optimistic backroads map find your way through.

Fine in theory, but we’re off to a rough start… literally. The first few uphill turns are littered with baby’s head sized rocks and gravel, making “Adventure” the point where my earnest desire to see the unpaved world collides with my fledgling off-road skills.

Overly cautious, I’m not carrying enough speed and engaging the KTM 640 Adventure in an uphill wrestling match as the larger rocks shoving the front around. Within the first kilometer I nearly dump the bike.

Not that the KTM 640 Adventure would notice a drop. Derived from the Austrian firm’s Dakar racing efforts, these bikes are ferociously tough and off-road capable. Long travel suspension, a torque laden 625cc single-cylinder engine, a 28L gas tanks for “miles of smiles” to steal Photographer Glenn Simmons’ tagline (or better than 550km range if you prefer), and the visual presence of a gazelle crossed with an army tank.

And we’ve built our own “mini-army” of these beasts, each of our team settling on the KTM 640 Adventure (discontinued in 2007) as our weapon of choice for off-road shenanigans. Why? Purchase price, availability and hardcore spirit of the bike that makes the 640 Adventure is nigh unstoppable in the right hands.

Mine are not those hands.

A rut grabs the 640’s front tire and down we go in a slow graceless new adventure rider error. Too little gas, too much caution and over-caffeinated jitters “augmenting” my throttle control. Luckily, OWD’s Kevin Miklossy and Glen Simmons encourage me on, up a road steep enough that turning tail doesn’t seem an option.

“You wouldn’t have forgiven yourself if you’d gone back to the pavement,” Kevin says later. He’s right, but not for reasons of machismo or corrupted adventurous spirit. Missing out on these views would have been completely unforgivable. Less than three-kilometers from the pavement and 15 kilometers to “civilization”, the Sunshine Coast offers up pristine wilderness and roads where you never see another soul.

“Supernatural British Columbia”, goes the tourism tagline, because “utterly flabbergastingly scenic and vibrantly engaging with a hint of old-fashioned danger” doesn’t fit on a license plate.

Spills and all, this is the better choice, though there’s traffic too, just not the human variety.

Climbing up and over the northern flank of Mt. Elphinstone to Sechelt, there’s bear sign; a small pile here and there, then a larger one that at a distance you’d mistake for horse droppings. Not being at the food chain’s pointy-end is strong motivation to keep the bikes upright as we grind through cut-out after cut-out. These ditches run across the road to deactivate it and prevent erosion. It’s the unexpected, “big one” that even gives photographer Glenn, who’s taken to offroad like a duck to water, pause. A steep downgrade of jagged rock, a dry stream bed, and sharp uphill which speaks of a bridge that’s packed it in or been ripped out.

Eventually we begin our descent on the Sechelt-Dakota Forestry service road, which opens up like a two-lane highway sweeping through lush coastal forest. Here the 640 gives us a hint of its rally lineage, as we make time to recover from our “short morning off-road leg”, which covered 25kms in 2.5 hours, so we’re late for lunch.

Round a corner and my 640 gets a head start by trying to eat a grouse.

Glen shot past the bird, Kevin likewise, but even as I slow off the wild chicken of suicide is winging towards the Adventure’s front fairing. There’s no missing it, and the grouse hit’s “Scar’s” cowl in a puff of feathers. Intentionally I’ve bought a pre-scratched 640 because the dirt is new to me, so why buy a bike I’d feel bad dropping? Becoming an aviary grim reaper never factored into my reasoning.

The irony then is dinner at the Ruby Lake Resort Restaurant, where Aldo, part of the owning Milanese family, has set up a private bird sanctuary. That’s not the most uncomfortable moment, though.

“Media stars” that we are the restaurant has opened especially for us, which feels initially awkward… until Nadia (the seeming organizational force behind the resort) makes it clear this is just a family dinner and we are to treat it as such. Adding to the homey feel, Aldo’s two sons show up with chicks in hand, his wife pops out to say hello, his father swings through, and the family dog looks longingly on barred from the balcony where we’re dining.

It’s easy to blow by Ruby Lake Resort on a romp through the Sunshine Coast’s sport-bike delectable turns, but don’t because you’re missing one of the best culinary experiences in the area. This isn’t fussy or pretentious dining, Aldo shows up in a Costa Rica T-Shirt and jeans direct from the garden, but simple, fresh and preconception shattering cuisine that feeds the hungry rider’s soul as well as stomach.

I’ve never suffered shell-fish jealousy, but the family style bowl of muscles and prawns in front of us has me contemplating an antihistamine mega-dose in an “allergy be damned” food gamble. Kevin proves the risk would be worth it. An avowed mollusk and crustacean hater, He’s tucked in saying, “15 years ago I worked at a restaurant preparing shell-fish. It put me off them… until now.”

Next, a course of wild meats, simply seasoned with straightforward preparation. Aldo is forthright, “I’m not a chef, I’m a cook. Everything is fresh; everything is natural, and simple. I want people to dig in, get messy, enjoy the food.” It’s a philosophy that extends to the rest of the grounds, Ruby Lake is a resort, but not like others.

There are rooms, but Aldo skips those, instead taking us to see the tents on platforms facing out into the forest and completed with hand-hewn furnishings. “I do the woodworking myself,” says Aldo proudly.

At the heart of this beguiling summer camp for adults is an amphitheater constructed around an old growth tree, the stage only waiting for Puck and the spirits to ask if they give offence.

Throughout the property Aldo’s made use of found wood, creating a space where pretence falls away like unnecessary veneers, as you revel in the tent’s minimalism and evening’s bird song’s complexity. Our accommodations for the evening however lie back to the south at the Rockwater Secret Cove Resort.

The reward of staying at the Rockwater more than equals the effort of the day’s ride. Our cabins are quaint on the outside, and “big city” boutique hotel within.

If you insist on “roughing it”, the Rockwater also offers tenting facilities… with full running, water, raised walkways, Jacuzzi tubes with views overlooking the picturesque cove, heated stone tile floors and Japanese influence design. We can no longer joke that camping is a hotel without room service. Still the real feature of the Rockwater is the weathered coastline and views of the Straight of Georgia.

With the morning comes trepidation. It’s not of the ride, but a breakfast meeting with Kevin Toth, president of the Rockwater. As a team we’re really not sure what to expect, our travel dossier only states that Toth is a motorcycle rider, which leaves a lot of room for interpretation.

This is the sunshine coast though, and you can’t throw a stick without hitting a dirt bike and Toth is an owner of a Yamaha WR450 and an enthusiast. Braced for discussion of hotel business and marketing, instead we’re bench racing past rides and taking Toth’s trail suggestion. Indeed, despite a conflict of schedules Toth nearly convinces himself to joining us for the morning’s ride. Likely it would have been helpful, because five minutes after we leaving the Rockwater Toth spots us on the side of the road debating a trailhead and pulls over to set us back on course.

Our schedule is tight though; we’re due to hop a 12:30 ferry from Earl’s cove to Saltry Bay, and on the boat we’ve 45-minutes to ponder whether constantly rushing is a travel-writing norm, or if it’s motorcycling itself that resists scheduling. How long does 25 kilometers take? Between 15 minutes and 2.5 hours depending on road, weather, wildlife, photo stops and human frailties.

Luckily, there are destinations that truly understand, like the Old Courthouse Inn in Power River, BC.

After Lilia Cardoso-Gould checks us in, she gives use directions to a local eatery. On the way back from lunch, a dirt biker joins our peloton pulling into the Hotel Parking lot with us.

This is Ian, the co-owner of the Old Courthouse and Lilia’s husband, riding what we’ll provisionally call a Suzuki DR400E. In a list that spells “hardcore” the bike is modified to the dirty nines with redone suspension, a left hand lever for the rear brake, a run flat rear tire, a HID headlight…

Ian has the best opening line of the trip, “So do you want to go to the jumps? Or just the logging roads?”

The rollicking ride transforms Powell River’s environs into a verdant blur as Ian shows us road surfaces from shale, to steep grades, a bit of sand, to fast moving logging roads, to overgrown double track. There is no time for photos, video, or conversation. At points Kevin slows off, looking over at me, eyes wide. The ride is a pure three-hours of off the record transience, the bonus take away of Ian showing us how to jump the cut-outs on decommissioned logging roads.

If you’ve never had a KTM 640 Adventure slightly airborne before, gunning the gas just before a cut-out makes for eye-widening fun, and rapid progress. Just note that it works great on uphill and flat roads, and not so well downhill.

In Lund, mile zero of Highway 101 that stretches southwards through warmer dryer places and finally to it’s terminus in Chile, we coffee while looking out at the easing downpour.

“I’m a good west coast boy, I could just sit and stare at the rain all day. I grew up on Galliano, and started riding when I was seven. We didn’t have any cops on the island, so I never knew you had to have insurance or a license. I used to ride to school, and leave my bike chained up on the fence when I took the water taxi.” It’s a curiously introspective moment for the man who’s just roosted the local trails with wild abandon.

“The great thing about Powell River is that I can go and to pick up groceries [on the bike] and never touch pavement for two hours.” Having attempted to follow the “Mad Innkeeper” I wonder if he just jumped the paved bit.

We make our way through slick trails, where Kevin relieves my angst over dropping “Scar” with a mild highside of his own on a muddy downhill corner. It’s a long way back to dinner downstairs from the Old Courthouse Inn at Manazanita, but it works up our collective appetites.

This is the second time we’re confronted with a restaurant being opened especially for us, saving us from feeling awkward, Manazanita’s Amy Smart has allowed other diners in.

The dinner runs us through a unique and complex combination of grilled asparagus with sardo cheese, beer and cheddar soup (featuring Crannog Red Ale), local prawns with caramelized honey coconut sauce. All the dishes feature local produce including oysters from the Smart’s farm, right down to a flight of fresh rhubarb desserts. The cook is Joy, a transplanted Nova Scotian, who’s on a mission to own her own restaurant and, judging from the meal, she has the chops to do it.

In the morning Lilia helps us free the 640s from the jail under the Old Court House, which now serves as secure bike parking. Hard to get more motorcycle friendly than a hotel that takes you for a damn good ride, then insists on locking up your bikes for security afterwards. Moreover, we’ve all come away stronger and more confident dirt riders thanks to Ian’s guidance. Could you ask more of a stay? A good breakfast maybe?

The Black Bean Roasting Co.
467 Marine Drive,
Gibsons, BC VON 1V1
Tel: 604.886.1716

Ruby Lake Resort Restaurant
Site 20, Comp 25, RR#1,
Madeira Park, BC
Tel: 604.883.2269

Rockwater Secret Cove Resort
Halfmoon Bay, BC
Tel: 604.885.7038

The Old Courthouse Inn
6243 Walnut Street,
Powell River, BC
Tel: 604.483.4000

Manzanita Restaurant at the Old Courthouse Inn
6243 Walnut St
Powell River, BC
Tel: 604.483.2228

Ljubo’s Bakery Café
6275 Marine Avenue,
Powell River, BC V8A 4K6

Villa Marco Polo Inn
1524 Shasta Place
Victoria, BC V8S 1X9
Tel: 1.877.601.1524 (Toll Free)
Tel: 1.250.370.1524 (Local)

BC Ferries
Tel: 1-888-BC FERRY (1-888-223-3779) from anywhere in North America
Tel: 1-250-386-3431 from outside North America

As we load the bikes, Lil calls down from the second story entrance.
“Smell that?” she says nodding at the Bakery across the way, “Those are the apple fritters.”

It’s unfair to damn something with faint praise, so we’ll just call Ljubo’s apple fritters in Power River the best. We can’t estimate the amount of butter used in them, beyond all of it. They make a great take-out breakfast as our Austrian tractors clatter through town and onto BC Ferries for the crossing from Powel River to Comox on Vancouver Island.

Riding down island, we’re motivated to abandon an adventure route for the road by a chance to hang out with Simon Pavey thanks to Don Hatton of Duncan Motorsports.

Simon Pavey is one of adventure motorcycling’s “it” men. He’s the gent who Ewan McGreggor and Charley Boorman went to for training before riding around to world on massively overloaded BMW R1150GS Adventures. Pavey was also the mainstay of the TV series Race To Dakar, after Mr. Boorman injured out in a race where merely completing is enough to make you motorcycling royalty, in our eyes at least.

So a little pavement? We’ll suffer that to hang out with Simon, wife Linley and Don, three champions of adventure motorcycling who are great company to boot.

To be honest we’re star struck.

After throwing a leg over Don’s truly bent Dakar race bike, covertly trying on Simon’s Race to Dakar helmet, and a motorcycling fanboy moment of having Simon sign our 640 Adventures, transforming them into the limited run Simon Pavey edition, it’s time for us to continue down island.

How do you top an afternoon of hanging out with Adventure Motorcycling royalty? The Zanzibar room at Villa Marco Polo would be it, consider it joining the mile-high club in a steam-punk version of a dirigible while drinking a nice Rothschild. With no provocation at all we settled into the library for a glass of complimentary Amarone, to discuss the day’s events, and whether it was Colonel Mustard in the Library with the BMW or Mr. Green in the kitchen with the Ducati.

Sure the BMW set will find it comfortably upscale, but we’re on KTM’s, we bleed orange, we find it… comfortably upscale – once I realize my Tech3 boots aren’t going to eat into the hardwood floor while clumping luggage up stairs to the room. After that we’re simply concerned the classy clientele won’t enjoy our upstart company. We needn’t have worried.

Over a four-course breakfast, featuring fresh made croissants, fresh juice, eggs Florentine, and orange-ginger pancakes we were peppered with questions.
“What route did you take here?” The long way of course.
“Have you met the guys from Longway Round?” Only two after this trip, the not really famous guy.
“What’s the fastest you’ve ridden?” On an open road, I can’t say in print.
“Where was best restaurant on your trip?” We hate to play favorites, but Ruby Lake Resort took the prize.
“What’s your next adventure?” The Arctic Circle.

The conversation flows, as all the guests at the table discuss our travels, destinations and preferred means. It’s a fitting dénouement, as we relive the best and most challenging moments of this ride with our dining companions. Occasionally you forget that even a small adventure ride is out of the ordinary in the eyes of travelers who are tied to the pavement, and when you do, then all the guests in the B&B coming out front to see you off is a heady reminder.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. jobark says:

    Great write up.I spent a year living in BC and traveled some of those roads.Fantastic scenery, and I lost count of the number of ferry rides I took. After my first bone chilling,teeth chattering ride,I was amazed at how many seasons of weather Canadians can experiances in a single hour. Just travelling from Victoria to Port Renfrew I think I past through 3 micro climates. A trip to Marks workwear solved the problem. I kitted myself out with some heavy duty, industrial weather protective clothing.From then on my riding experiances improved 100% and I enjoyed many weeks of exploring throughout BC.


    1. Yep, good warm gear, regardless of the origin makes a huge difference. Glad you enjoyed the piece and the micro-climates.


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