"Ho-hum," a friend of mine remarked, tongue-in-cheek, as we stood looking across British Columbia's vast Shuswap Lake, "just more mountains, forests, rivers and lakes." Well, for once, he was right. Southern BC is mostly forests, rivers, lakes and mountains. And as motorcyclists know, these geographical features usually indicate something other than the breathtaking vistas - great riding roads!
I love ferries. If I'm on one, it means I'm on a road trip of some sort. And there's always room for a motorcycle. So I'm a happy guy as I idle the Commando past the long line of caged commuters to the Fort Langley Ferry's loading ramp, just in time to roll aboard. My river crossing means I'll ride rambling Highway 7 east through the Fraser Valley from Vancouver instead of the bustling Trans-Canada.
The Fraser River's fertile delta spreads across a 50-mile gap in the Coast Range on the Pacific, and the mountains squeeze closer together on each side as I roll inland across flat fields of corn and berry bushes. To the south, Mt. Baker's 10,000-foot gleaming white hulk is unusually free of cloud - a good omen for this tour.
I'm following the Gold Rush Trail. As in many other parts of North America, prospectors opened up the interior of British Columbia, though fur traders of the Hudson Bay Company had already established a number of fortress outposts. Early gold diggers followed the Fraser River north on a trail "utterly impassable for any animal but a man, a goat, or a dog," according to a contemporary report, to the goldfields 300-odd miles north.
Thankfully, the road is now paved and a little wider, because my 1974 Norton Commando is no mountain goat. The 850cc version replaced the 750 in 1974, allowing the engine to develop lazier power and thus keep the EPA's noise police at bay. It makes for a reliable, durable machine that still easily maintains highway speeds, and can embarrass more modern machinery in the bends. My plan is to take three days to ride to and around BC's southern interior: the high plateau known as the Cariboo.
The aptly named town of Hope was, for many hopeful prospectors, the start of the trek north. The Fraser River - named for Simon Fraser, a North West Company explorer who traced its route to the Pacific - turns west after flowing south down the center of the province. I'm tracing it upstream. My route is the Trans-Canada, Highway 1; but it's no longer the "main" road. In the 1980s, a new highway, the Coquihalla, established a more direct, though less scenic, route through the Cascades, while Hwy 1 faithfully follows the river valleys.