Grant Bay to the USA

After finishing the TCAT on Grant Bay, we made our way back to the backpackers hostel at Port Hardy. From that point on there were no more plans as to where to go and when to get there, other than we had a hotel booking in Seattle on the 6th August and that Ingrid would be flying home from Las Vegas on 19th August. For now on, when arriving at a junction I wouldn’t have a line on my GPS telling me which way to go, it would all be up to me and whether I was feeling in a left or a right kind of mood.

Back at the hostel, we got chatting with the owner and mentioned that one of the activities on Ingrids “must do in Canada” list was to whale watching but that we hadn’t had the time so far to do it and didn’t think we could get on a trip at such short notice, as we were leaving the area the next day. Quite unexpectedly, she got out her mobile phone and started dialing the number of a friend that runs a whale watching boat out of the next town. Amazingly they had space on the trip they were running the following morning. Next morning we were running a bit late (we’re not early starters in the morning) but made it to the boat in time. The trip started out in fog but that soon cleared and we caught up with a female Orca whale with its calf. They were just cruising along in a sleeping pattern and weren’t bothered about us in the slightest. We were also joined by a dolphin that was hanging out with the Orcas.

Back on dry land we continued our way south down Vancouver Island, heading for Nanaimo and the Painted Turtle hostel that we’d previously staying in when we’d first arrived on the island. Heading north on the logging roads had been fun but the twisty paved road south was just a different kind of fun. Twisty mountain roads through forests. Unfortunately we saw a sight no biker likes to see. A Harley rider had pushed it too had and had overshot a corner launching his bike into the trees. Emergency services were already on the scene, so there was no point stopping, but I did drop my speed after that. Hopefully it looked worse than it was and that the rider had his own guardian angel looking after him!

From Nanaimo we continued south the next day towards Victoria. On the way we took full advantage of being in control of the route by stopping at a falconry centre we’d spotted on our first day on the island. It’s my dream to one day be able to keep a falcon but until then I visit responsible centres whenever I can, and the one south of Nanaimo seemed pretty go to me.

In Victoria we stayed at the HI Hostel. I’ve found that the hostels in Canada really are very good. Sure, you have to share rooms (although most have private rooms if you want to pay more) but they are great places to meet people – unlike motels which seem to isolate people. When you’ve been travelling on your own meeting people to talk to is important and it’s so much easier to get talking to fellow travellers. I’m not really a city person but both Nanaimo and Victoria were cities without the frenetic activity that normally results. I might even go so far as to say I actually enjoyed being in them! We stayed in Victoria a couple of days to check out the city and surrounding area. We took a day trip out to Sooke, west of Victoria, a neat little coastal town that was significant in the early days of logging industry.

On the other side of Victoria we visited Butchart Gardens, these are incredible gardens on a private estate that is open to the public. Purely by chance we got there late in the afternoon, after a walk around the garden and dinner in the cafe we happened to be in time for an open air concert in the garden. The concert finished after sunset, which gave us the chance to walk around the Japanese section of the garden after sunset. The Japanese garden is beautiful in daylight but after sunset it’s incredible.

The final day in Victoria we took in the waterfront and the Royal BC Museum. The museum had a special viking display and a film in their IMAX cinema about the vikings, so I could see how my ancestors beat all the other European explorers across the Atlantic. Whilst down at the waterfront and with the plan being to head to the USA the next day, I figured I’d see if it was possible to for us to take the ferry from Victoria to the Olympic peninsula. This would mean entering the USA by water, which normally requires a pre-approved ESTA that we didn’t have. Unfortunately the US border control agents that should have been stationed at the port in Victoria were proving elusive and so we gave up on that idea. We did meet some other adventure bikes that were about to board a ferry to the USA. They were fully kitted out in Touratech gear and their bikes were covered in Touratech stickers…. I wonder who they were being sponsored by? They were on their way south through the Americas and were sending back articles for the Touratech magazine.

Without the ESTAs and having been unable to speak to the US border agents, Ingrid and I took the ferry from Swartz Bay to Tsawwassen on the mainland the next day. Before long we were at the Peace Arch border crossing to the USA. After the trouble I’d had getting my bike into Canada at the start of the trip, I was a little nervous about entering the USA. I also thought they’d give me a grilling as to why I’d entered the USA for a couple of hours a month before only to surrender my visa-waiver when I left. Much to my surprise we were pretty much waved straight through. We had to go into the bunker-esque building to complete the visa-waiver form but they didn’t even seem to care about the bike. When I asked if it needed to be register the bike as being temporarily imported they said no, I could bring it in on my visa-waiver. They weren’t even bothered in seeing the EPA approval letter that I’d had to get at the last-minute. In fact, it was so easy to enter the USA that for the next week I constantly waiting to be pulled over by the police for riding an illegal vehicle.

And that was it, we had just entered our second country in North America and the next part of the adventure was well and truly under way.

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