The Bucket List
Prepare for Safe Success
by R. Bruce Thomas
Here we are at the beginning of the last month of 2023 and we've only had a small amount of snow. And it didn't stick around. This nice weather makes me sad as my bike has been parked since October 7, meaning I've missed out on an extended riding season. Occasionally the reality of life gets in the way but talking about riding can help sometimes.
As in previous years we had a service call done in early November to make sure our furnace was in good condition for the upcoming winter months. The walls in our utility room are covered with pictures and maps from our travels over the years. Naturally, once the tech had time to scan the room, the conversation turned to riding.
He confessed that he had never done a big trip but he and his dad were thinking about riding to the Maritimes next summer to experience The Cabot Trail. They both ride small cruisers, so maybe some bigger bikes would be needed. He said the furthest he'd gone is “to the mountains”, which I assumed meant Jasper or Banff – both about 4 hours away. And that he was hurting and couldn't wait to get off his bike.
I told him my first big trip was a 16-day, 5,400 km camping trip to California and back with two buddies, and two of us were on 500cc Honda's. A big bike isn't necessary. A comfortable bike makes travel easier. Then I suggested maybe they might want to start with a smaller bucket than Nova Scotia. You'd hate to get a big bucket halfway full and have to bail on the rest of your plan.
Neils Harbour, NS, at the northeast corner of The Cabot Trail, is about 5,100 km from Edmonton. Throw in the Gaspe Peninsula (you're in the area and I prefer it to Cabot) and you're bumping that up to 5,600 km. Double that and add some detour/sightseeing/fudge factor and you're looking at 11,500 km at least. That's a good trip with lots to see.
If you've got two weeks vacation from work that gives you 16 days total, counting the weekends. In order to do this trip you'd have to average 720 km/day. Every day. Rain or shine. If you can get three weeks off work you'd have 23 days and only have to average 500 km/day. Either way, you're still taking two to three days just to get across Ontario - both ways. There is a lot of empty space across Ontario so planning your overnight stops, whether camping or moteling it, is paramount. Daily distances will vary based on accommodations. Especially if you don't make reservations early.
If you can build up your riding stamina, which should increase the further you ride, your big trip will be less of a burden and more enjoyable. But you don't want to build your riding stamina from scratch while on a big trip. A good way to build stamina is shorter trips closer to home. Shorter trips also give you the chance to test your gear, figure out what other gear you might need, and perfect your packing proficiency. The last thing you want to do while on vacation is to spend time shopping for a better rain suit or an electric jacket liner. Ditto for bike maintenance. How far can your tires go? Your oil? Should you install new brake pads before heading out?
The tech agreed that these all seemed like valid points so I suggested a number of shorter destinations that could be taken as separate, week-long trips, to help prepare them for the Big Trip East.
My favorite 'local curvy road' is Hwy 31A between Kaslo and New Denver in BC's interior. Take a day or two to get there, spend a few days riding the area (Hwy 31A, Hwy 6 from Nelson to Vernon, 31A, 3A from Creston to Kootenay Bay, 31A again and again and....) and sampling the many Hot Springs Resorts in the region, then come back home. Tackling the Icefields Parkway in either direction is an added bonus.
Enjoy the fantastic scenery in Waterton Lakes National Park, slip across the border and revel in the many great views on Going-to-the-Sun Road before heading over Lolo Pass to Kooskia.
Head for Red Lodge, MT and challenge yourself over Beartooth Pass and then the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway.
Go west young man and traverse the North Cascades Highway - aka Washington State Route 20.
Take Hwy 40 from Hinton to Grande Prairie and then catch the Chainsaw Carving Competition in Chetwynd BC.
Last but not least, journey to Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park in southeast Saskatchewan and enjoy the highest elevation in the country between the Rockies and the Torngat Mountains in Newfoundland and Labrador. Visit Fort Walsh, the T-Rex Discovery Centre in Eastend, and The Great Sandhills near Sceptre. Or, just lay back and enjoy the night sky in one of Canada's largest Dark Sky Preserves.
Safely and successfully completing any of these smaller bucket list rides will improve any rider's chances of removing 'crossing the country' from your Big Bucket List. Start planning and preparing now. Objects on the calendar are closer than they may appear!