Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Text: Robert Smith • Photography: Robert Smith, James Bush

The sign is up for "Free Beer: Tomorrow" in the pub where Steve, Jim and I sit planning our Vancouver Island tour. And it seems that the gratification of good old West Coast sunshine will be delayed another day, too. The forecast promises the weekend will be fine, but we're not convinced. Those same weather wizards failed to predict the showers that have been falling all week.

A murky, cloud-filled sky is just brightening in the pre-dawn as I roll into the ferry terminal at Tsawwassen, British Columbia. The 7:00am sailing to Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island will be full for cars, but they can always squeeze on some extra motorcycles, and I'm at the front of the line. Motorcycles get boarding priority on BC Ferries and when hearing the familiar throbbing of a couple of boxer engines, I turn to watch Steve pull up on his R100GS PD with Jim behind on a R1200GS Adventure and Jim's son Matt rounding out our crew aboard his 620 Monster. Deeley Harley-Davidson in Vancouver has kindly loaned me a XB12XT Ulysses, the versatile sport-touring derivative of the Buell Thunderstorm range. Every time I ride it, I'm more impressed with its touring capabilities, and I'm looking forward to trying its gravel-road manners.

The crossing will take around 1½ hours, so after we've parked on the M.V. Spirit of Vancouver Island and blocked our bikes' wheels, we head straight for the Coastal Café and "All Aboard" breakfasts - eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns and toast. We're planning a longish ride today, so taking on fuel is important! The ferry snakes through narrow channels between BC's Southern Gulf Islands (part of the same chain encompassing Washington State's San Juan Islands) before gliding into the harbor at Swartz Bay. It's a complicated docking procedure - the huge vessel appears to overshoot its berth before gently drifting backward and sideways against the dock pilings. Two hydraulic ramps are lowered to meet the vehicle decks, and unloading begins.

Port Renfrew

We turn on to West Saanich Road and ramble past neat country gardens, through an Indian Reserve, past a floatplane base and a military dockyard before turning toward Prospect Lake and into the tall trees. Ocean mist is closing in, coating my visor and slicking the streets. We stop to get into our rain pants. Mine, of course, are safely stored at home in my garage. Oh well…

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the July/August 2009 back issue.