Bella Coola, British Columbia
This is an archived blog of an epic trip I took back in 2003. It was actually the second time I made this trip. The first time was several years before. The first portion of the blog has been lost in the shuffle, but should I stumble across it I'll most certainly post it here. Enjoy.
Part I - First three-four days of the trip and its log has been lost... The portion from Boise up to the border of British Columbia So how about a photo montage?
Part II - August 26, 2003
Ainsworth hot springs was the next stop when we started heading north again. It’s a mineral hot springs so no sulfur smell and it’s one of the better hot springs I’ve ever been to. The mineral formation stalactites receding into the cave pools inside the mountain are nice and toasty places to soak. The steam gets a little trapped back in the caves so it makes for a good steam room too.
One more ferry crossing today from Galena bay. The ferries are all free across the lakes. Since the highway essentially ends at the water the ferries operate as a continuation of the highway system. And with lakes over a 100 miles long surrounded mostly by sheer mountainsides dropping into the water who wants to go around?
We ended up camping near Adams Lake just outside of Chase (near Kamloops). It was high speed highways from Ainsworth all the way to chase. Not too much in the way of scenery either. In fact it reminded me a great deal of Idaho. We were under evacuation alert all night due to the fire raging just over the mountain side. I guess the bridge over the highway was the only way out and there are a hell of a lot of people back in here. We didn’t roll into camp until dark and had to set up tents under flashlight. It wasn’t all that exciting, but a store just outside of camp provided our refreshments for the evening. I had to fork out 3 forms of ID though as I guess the first two weren’t good enough. Happy Birthday to me.
Part III - August 27, 2003
We planned on eating breakfast in Kamloops this morning. My dad, however, remained true to form and passed completely through Kamloops, and beyond all the businesses on the opposite side of town, before even beginning to look for a place to eat. He was completely shocked at only finding a truck stop instead of bountiful restaurants outside the city limits. He was sure there’d be plenty of places to eat way outside of town. Instead I had to content myself to eating a Sobe and an undated cinnamon roll next to couple of gas pumps. Did I mention our charming view of highway 5?
The forest fires had crossed over the highway several times near Barriere and had destroyed a fair amount of the town. Several of the people were damn lucky as the fire burned up to their property line on all sides and left their yards and house untouched. I imagine there will be a lot of time needed to rebuild for many residents.
Originally we intended to camp near Williams Lake that night but because of good weather and hill closures we decided to press on and make it down into the Bella Coola Valley that night. So we gassed up in Williams Lake, picked up some food, and the ride became almost all business.
The scenery outside of Williams Lake is spectacular. There are a few recent burn areas but the open valleys make for great views of the sunset. We made it to Anaheim lake as the last rays of sun began to go, fueled up again and got ready to drop down the hill.
The hill, isn’t exactly that. It’s essentially a series of switchbacks cutting back and forth across an avalanche chute on the side of a mountain dropping into the Bella Coola Valley. Other than boat, it’s the only way in and out of the valley. It has to be re-cut every year sometimes several times due to slides. The road gets up to a 15 percent slope in spots which, for a main access road, is pretty steep. On bikes it’s not much of a problem. We thought we’d spice things up a bit doing it at night, and after a recent slide. Things definitely got interesting when the road narrowed into a virtual one lane jeep trail amidst the rubble of the recent slide. I was stopped by a couple of guys in a truck. They were monitoring the slide through the night. They told me that as I descended I should not stop for any reason. If anyone thinks they have had a rough day at the office try sitting in a truck in the middle of an avalanche chute all night long to monitor a still volatile landslide. No worries, eh?
Our camping spot was in the first campground at the base of the hill at the end of the valley. And we set up camp in the dark. Again. Luckily we had food this time.
Part IV - August 28, 2003
The Bella Coola Valley is amazing. You’re surrounded on all sides by giant wooded slopes and the tallest peaks in BC. The Bella Coola river winds through the whole valley and is teeming with salmon most of the summer and into the fall.
We took our time getting down the valley as there wasn’t much traffic with the hill closed and the ferry wasn’t leaving until Friday morning.
The waterfalls are worth checking out. One is past the ferry dock and runs past the hydro-electric plant that powers the valley (yeah, I know. Talk about man’s impact on nature). The other, Odegaard Falls, is located about 30 miles away from Bella Coola up an old service road. The road isn’t too bad but I would recommend a 4 wheel drive vehicle. Of course, taking the road at about 60 miles per hour on a motorcycle is a good way to go, too. Speed tends to smooth out the bumps.
We had a pizza at the pub in Hagensborg which was pretty darn good. I’m still kicking myself for not introducing myself to the girl they had in the kitchen. Like I said, the women are more beautiful up here. I wonder what it takes to become a citizen...
Finally we had a nightcap at the home of the Forisek family. They’re the owners of the Bella Coola Motel, and makers of some of the best wine I’ve ever had. They’ve spent a great number of years in the valley and offer up a nice spot to check out for a night or more. The campground even has a shower available and water temperature is not a concern there. Christian, the son of the family, is heading up some web design for a few businesses in the valley. For a self-taught 20 year old in a small town in BC he does a pretty darn good job. He did all of the work for the Motel’s webpage which can be checked out here: http://www.bellacoolavalley.com
The economy in the valley is struggling a bit with troubles in the lumber industry. But with natural beauty and great fishing it’s amazing tourism isn’t booming here. Because it should be. If the hill scares you then check out some of the trips that BC ferries offers through there.
Part V - August 29, 2003
The campground managed to fill up a good deal last night. Good business for the motel owner. They’re so dependent on the ferry for business and support in a lot of these towns. Most of the arrivals in the campground were from the ferry coming in. It sits in the harbor for the night before we board it in the morning.
8:00 rolls around and we’re first in line. One of the benefits of being on a motorcycle. We’re usually the first on and off a ferry. Choice parking as long as you bring some tie downs. The plan is a 24 hour voyage. We’re to leave Bella Coola for Ocean Falls, dock for 3 hours, move on to Shearwater and then down to Port Hardy on the top of Vancouver Island. Other than a little time on the open sea it should be a pretty damn good trip.
We pick up some coffee from some young entrepreneurs at the head of the car line up. It was a nice chance to wake up before heading down to board the ferry. Once on board we took a stroll around to see what’s where. I’m pretty sure it’s the same boat as last time. A couple of decks for viewing, a galley, and some plush recliners in the room up front. Even a little gift shop for those who never seem to have enough t-shirts.
There are maybe 50 people on board this time. It makes for what’s possibly a 1:1 crew ratio. Pretty personable bunch, too. The whole trip is very people-oriented. It’s a nice deviation from the Ferries through Puget Sound that always seem to run themselves as a crew is often never to be found. But this feels damn near a cruise to me (although I’ve never been on one myself, I can make an educated guess). A fair share of the line’s attention is put toward tourism of the area. We take a 30-minute detour to view the most spectacular falls of the inlets. It cascades through the timber miraculously flourishing on the steep glacially carved walls. Another detour brings the boat close to the monument to Sir Alexander McKinzie, the first European to reach the Canadian coastline from the interior. It is my understanding that while his route was never used (although it is a hikeable trail) again the information documented along the way was invaluable.
Finally we reach the pinnacle of my trip: Ocean Falls. I’ve found I have a strange obsession with this place. It’s essentially an abandoned city, created and owned by a paper mill that shut down in ‘81.
The town was once home to a thriving community and at one time, the fourth largest hotel on the entire west coast. Now few residents live in the “downtown” area and most reside in a residential community in a neighboring valley built by the mill in the 1950’s. Perhaps 20% of the original buildings still exist. The rest were bull-dozed by the mill in the mid ‘80’s. Full demolition was planned but a handful of residents refused to leave and so the mill cut their losses and bailed out. Now deciduous trees marks the areas where houses once existed. This trip we were fortunate to meet up with a group of travelers who were once residents of the town. An elderly couple, the husband worked in the mill itself, and their three daughters (one of which was actually born in Ocean Falls). I can only dream of what they saw as they pointed to groves of aspens and argued over where their friend’s house used to be, or what street we were standing on. A big problem with Ocean Falls is that most of the roads were plank ways and now few wooden structures still remain.
I took the initiative, faked illiteracy, and pushed past the doors marked “Keep Out” to wander through some of the old apartment buildings. Time and vandalism have taken their respective tolls on the buildings. Few walls remain undamaged in most of the buildings, but the gloomy interiors are ideal for photography on a well lit day. Think of a post-apocalyptic town and you’ll begin to get the right idea.
On my way back to the ferry to change batteries in my camera I picked up a book called Rain People: the Story of Ocean Falls from a “sales-trailer” of sorts. Any additional research is a good thing.
A few other things to note about Ocean Falls is the lake above the hydro-electric dam is worth diving into if your bring your suit along. There’s a nice little dock to jump off of, or cast a line if you’re the fishing type. Also things are beginning to look up for the town as the BC government has now set up a fish hatchery there thus providing a few jobs and a little more draw.
Shortly after leaving Ocean Falls the crew fired up the BBQ and prepared a deluxe dinner of salmon or steak, grilled to perfection. A little CCR on the boombox, sunshine on the deck, and Osprey overhead made for what’s likely the best meal of the trip. It makes me think of how underrated atmosphere is in restaurants.
Next stop was Shearwater. One of the largest and certainly fastest ship repair facilities on the West Coast. It’s also home to an abandoned Army/Naval base and one hell of a Fisherman’s pub. Having only an hour at dock (and not wanting to meddle with a government property) we headed straight for the pub. It’s no mom and pop shop either. With a full menu, several beers on tap, a full bar, two pool tables, and more than ample seating room it’s one hell of a nice place to grab a drink with the old man. We got a nice table overlooking the water and busied ourselves pooling 9 bucks in Canadian change to pay for the beers. Never mind all the American currency we had on us. We’re such bastards. Two beers would have been perfect but instead we headed back to the boat to claim space in the sleeping lounge. I took the proper precautions in preparation for the open sea with a Dramamine tablet (notorious for knocking me on my ass) and laid back in a recliner. I don’t recall much after that.
Part VI - August 30, 2003
I woke up to the rocking of the boat as we hit the open sea at about 5:00 am. I guess we made one more stop in the middle of the night to pick up more passengers because I’m not surrounded by sleeping bodies (an interesting way to wake up to say the least). The ferry slowly made its way through the fog before docking at Port Hardy on the top of Vancouver Island.
I made the executive decision that after 24 hours of R&R and few opportunities to visit home that we should dead head straight for Boise. We fueled up and hit the Vancouver Island highways. There’s a lot of scenery to see on V.I., but we skipped it like dicks. Stick to the coastal roads for the good stuff. Karma got its revenge as we vibrated ourselves silly on knobby tires at 70+ (over a hundred if you’re a kanuck). We made it into Victoria about 30 minutes after the previous ferry sailed for Port Angeles. So now we had 3.5 hours to wander the streets before the next and last ferry of the day set sail.
The ferry itself took short time to board but a hell of a long time to actually set sail. I won’t complain too much though as it gave us time to laugh at the drunken pirates who took it upon themselves to fire on the ferry. They seemed to disappear pretty quickly though when the police boats started making the rounds.
Cruising through the harbor in Victoria is something else for sure. Damn beautiful views of condos way out of my price range. Oh, wait, I’m poor. ALL condos are out of my price range. There was a little rolling action once we hit the channel. It made for something to laugh about as people stumbled back and forth like so many frat boys after the bars let out.
One small problem we did encounter was Port Angeles was all booked up. We ultimately had to crash at my dad’s friend’s house. Luckily we had the connections and he had the comfy floor. So thanks to him for letting our rank selves take up the floor space for a night with absolutely no notice.
Part VII - August 31, 2003
We had breakfast with my dad’s friend, Don, at a place called Joyce’s. Good ol’ fashioned down home cooking for sure. Perfect for a day entailing well over 500 miles on a bike straight down the interstate. Don is a spectacular individual. One who has devoted his life to helping others at home and abroad. He loves the outdoors, his quiet neighborhood, and Harley’s. Look in the dictionary under superman and I believe they’re got a photo of Don... Well maybe only in certain issues, but keep your eyes peeled. You’ll find it.
Shortly after getting out on the road we almost died. It was probably a pretty good preview of death anyway as a large sedan began passing us at 70 mph. The catch was we were on a highway with traffic lined up as far as the eye could see so there was no where to pass to. Just as he pulled up next to us the driver must have hit the realization that oncoming traffic was likely doing the same speed and in hopes of avoiding a head on he cut back in. Into us. It’s nice that motorcycles seem like unthreatening things on highways, similar to elderly bicyclists. Fortunately, no paint was exchanged and we were able to get into the bike lane, and out of harm’s way. We sent several suggestive gestures to the driver and he did a damn good job of coming nowhere near us again until we pulled off the highway about 120 miles down the road.
The rest of the day was pretty uneventful. Our only focus was getting to Boise that night and not fall asleep while riding in the process. We made stops in Ellensburg, Yakima, and a few spots in Oregon amongst a few misc. rest stops. Eastern WA and Oregon don’t contain the most scenic of America’s Highways so we cruised on through.
We made it home by 1:00 am after spending the whole day traveling and took little time crashing out.