Day 5 – To Kamloops

Day 5 – To Kamloops

N50º 40.551' W120º 19.910'

2009/07 - Busting Out of California
3 August 2009 in Alessandro, California

This morning, I decided to grab a quick breakfast at a coffee shop. Of course, given that I was staying at the Fairmont in Seattle, this isn’t just any coffee shop. Belle Epicurean is run by a Cordon Bleu-trained pastry chef, and they’ve won a raft of ‘best of Seattle’ awards. A brioche and an egg and ham sandwich on house-made croissants, along with one of the better Americanos I’ve had on this trip, and I’m ready to hit the road. There are really much worse ways to start the day.

They don't actuully valet park motorcycles at the Fairmont. But it would be cool.

They don’t actuully valet park motorcycles at the Fairmont. But it would be cool.

Seattle is unspeakably hot right now. It got all the way to 42ºC last week, and it’s still well over 30ºC today, even though it’s not yet 9:30am. Fortunately, two blocks from my hotel I’m on I-5 and travelling at 70mph. Unfortunately, two blocks from my hotel I’m on I-5. This is the only practical way to get out of the state, but it is a highway unique both for its tedium and its ability to induce terror. The road surface is quite literally a patchwork of every single paving surface known to man, and it’s not uncommon to have seams in the pavement running within the lane you’re in; touch one, and your motorcycle lurches sideways just when you didn’t expect it. Add to this the driving population of an entire metropolis, many of whom clearly woke up on the wrong side of the bed, and driving in Oregon starts to look good.

The Fairmont Olympic in Seattle. It's starting to feel like home.

The Fairmont Olympic in Seattle. It’s starting to feel like home.

Fortunately, it’s not long before I’ll leave the highway and head up towards Abbotsford and the border. Interestingly, though, the GPS thinks it’s a much shorter journey than usual. Shortly outside of Seattle, it thinks I’ll be exiting the highway in just over 20 miles. This isn’t a bad thing, because I need to get some gas, but I somehow remember the highway being longer than that. I check the log of upcoming turns, and sure enough it thinks I’ll be on the Trans Canada Highway in just over 40 miles.  Sceptical I am, but I’m not going to argue with it. It got me on the highway just fine, so it must know where I am.

It's not so much home, though, that Edmonton doesn't beckon.

It’s not so much home, though, that Edmonton doesn’t beckon.

This, of course, is exactly the sort of misguided thinking that has led me from the straight and narrow (or the fun and curvy, in some instances) before. When it prompts me to exit into an empty field, though, I start to question the degree that it has a competent hold on reality. Equally confusing is that the friendly green signs on the side of the road think that Vancouver is 112 miles away. Apparently the GPS has either virtually compressed I-5 into a very short road (no bad thing) or it has arbitrarily expanded the territorial reach of Canada to encompass significant parts of northern Washington State. This would be just fine in my world also (if only because Chateau Ste. Michelle would then be Canadian, and I could order from them) but it would also probably result in an international incident of a scope not seen since that last time we Canadians burnt down the White House. And yes, we did burn down the White House. We had gumption back then.

After the mythical exit, the GPS finally figured itself out and decided that I still had 60 miles to go before my exit. This would all be fine, except that i was already on reserve, and my planned fuel stop just got alot further away. As yet, I haven’t run out of gas, or even come close. On this I pride myself, although I do hear that it’s been a challenge for other motorcyclists of my acquaintance. More than once. Finding a gas station, I also stock up on water (not my last refill of the day) and hit the road once again.

A little caffeinated oasis in Bellingham...

A little caffeinated oasis in Bellingham…

Recognizing that I am about to leave civilization as we know it (in that there are no really good coffee places between the exit towards Abottsford and Kamloops — and yes, there is at least one good coffee place in Kamloops) I pull into Bellingham to find a cup of joe. I’ve only had one thus far,  soI’m nowhere near at quota, and don’t care to consider the consequences should I proceed further. In the old part of the city, I find a little cafe that Dianne and I had discovered a long time ago. Largely frequented by people that likely describe themselves as ‘artistes’, in all probability own more sandals than shoes, and live on a steady diet of granola, it nonetheless makes a fine, fine cup of coffee. And their baked goods are both fresh and incredibly delicious. Opting for a blueberry bundt cake with streusel bottom and an Americano, I sit outside and engage in some active people watching. Four days on the road has let me get very comfortable in my own head (and hopefully let go of some seriously schedule-oriented psychoses, if only temporarily), while at the same time seriously ratcheting up my observation of others. Of course, this has done nothing to reduce the biting sarcasm, but some consider that a feature.

But a pretty, caffeinated oasis.. You get why the hippies liike it.

But a pretty, caffeinated oasis.. You get why the hippies liike it.

The border crossing is amazingly straightforward. Just as I arrive, another guard comes on duty, and I’m the third vehicle in. Not that Abbotsford is slow, but this reduces my five minute wait down to two. In fact, I spend more time talking to the customs agent than I do in line. Apparently there is something deeply suspicious about crossing the border with a motorcycle. There seems to be a deep and abiding anxiety that motorcyclists have secretly had hundreds of dollars of modifications done to their bikes. Or they assume that you are trying to smuggle the whole bike in. Having brought a bike into Canada, I cannot imagine how one would pull that off. Importing a bike is not expensive ($40 bucks administration fee, plus GST) but it is time consuming and involves a stupid amount of paperwork. By the time I brought Alessandro into the country, I had a half-inch file of paperwork. Eventually, however, I am granted permission to re-enter my country. It’s good to be home.

The inappropriately named Dry Lake on Highway 5A.

The inappropriately named Dry Lake on Highway 5A.

To get away from a multi-lane marathon to Kamloops, I decide to take Highway 3 to Princeton, and then 5A up to Merritt. Overall, this turns out to be a really good call. The traffic heading in the opposite direction is astonishingly busy, but I encounter very little going in my direction, and none that I can’t pass quickly. I have now done Highway 3 three times, on three different motorcycles. I have also moved past my initial experience of target fixation (encountered on my first ride, where I desperately stared at the car door that I didn’t want my motorcycle to become an integral part of, which is really not a good strategy). Despite its relative lack of maintenance (since the Coquihalla opened, it is no longer the primary means of travelling from Vancouver to the east, and it shows) this is a tremendously fun highway. It hugs the mountain sides, with enough bends and elevation changes to keep life very, very interesting. This, of course, is why the Coquihalla is as popular as it is today; if you’re in a car it probably is nowhere near as fun as if you’re on a bike. On a bike, however, it is the very essence of fun. More roads should be this way, if only the RV drivers promised to stay off them.

You have to wonder if they think this stuff through...

You have to wonder if they think this stuff through…

The last two hours are defined by three factors: the monotony of just driving, the feeling of standing still (despite travelling 20kmh more than the speed limit) and the smell of smoke. Judging by the newspapers and the BC government web site, most of the province is currently on fire. This seems like a rather extreme means of dealing with the pine beetle problem. In actual fact, it’s probably being exacerbated by the pine beetle problem, with so much dead wood in the forests. While I experienced fog in California, what I get in BC is denser and not comprised of water vapour. Apparently there are quite literally hundreds of forest fires in the province, and many of them are left to burn unchecked simply because crews cannot keep up. Checking the BC web site, it’s hard to tell where fires aren’t, and with the weather so hot and dry conditions are ripe for continued problems.

Looks like fog, smells like hickory.

Looks like fog, smells like hickory.

So far, the route I’m planning to take comes into proximity to only one fire at Brookmere, and it’s the impact of this that I think I was experiencing as I entered Merritt, but traversing the province requires some thought. Unfortunately, it’s likely to get worse before it gets better — pulling into Kamloops, the temperature was 35ºC and a strong, hot wind was blowing. One can only hope the weather changes so that the fire crews can get a break. The province has already accepted help from other provinces, and putting out an international call for assistance is currently being considered.

Where there is smoke, there's fire. I don't see the fire, but it's out there somewhere...

Where there is smoke, there’s fire. I don’t see the fire, but it’s out there somewhere…

Tomorrow, I head for home. Another long day, but at the end of it awaits a cold martini and my lovely wife. I anticipate pleasant dreams.

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