Archives – Zabel Bourbeau in the wild Canadian West on BMW’s 40th anniversary R 1250 GS! – Part 1: Preparation and take-off…

By Text and photos: Zabel Bourbeau Posted on

*This article was published in Vol. 51 No. 8 of Cycle Canada digital magazine.

Ever since I have been riding a motorcycle, short and long trips on my bike have always been a passion. I feel that travelling this way really combines all the ingredients needed to fully enjoy that fine human-machine symbiosis, and I love it.

For almost two years now, the pandemic has put a brake on my travel options, and I had to concentrate on local destinations, though I must say this allowed me to discover lovely new regions I did not know in Québec and in Ontario.

But the need to travel further never left me, so I tried to see the situation as an ideal occasion to discover new regions of Canada. However, in reality, occasions do not “come on their own”. I believe we’re masters of our happiness and our choices, so I should rather say that I “decided” to do this substantial project while the planets were aligned. Ha! Ha! Ha! My plan was to leave St-Eustache, Québec, and ride to Tofino, on Vancouver Island, at the very western tip of British Columbia. That’s a 10,000 km trip back-and-forth. So in order to enjoy the experience, I decided to take one full month off for this solitary road trip.

Preparing for a journey like this one is not that different from any other motorcycle trip: you always have to think of taking everything while taking as few things as possible! Indeed, whether you leave for three days, one week or one month, the “technical” preparation is almost the same… The main difference is the mental preparation. You have to be fully aware of what’s awaiting you. I had to prepare mentally to ride long days (between 800 and 850 km each day for five days to reach the region of Calgary, and pretty much the same on the way back), be psychologically ready to “live” the road, be prepared to face extreme temperatures (from freezing to more than 30 degrees Celsius) or ride into freezing rain, for example… I knew I would have to concentrate on short-term objectives in order to stay motivated all along the way, plan my lodging (the distance between towns with services are sometimes very far apart from one another), and then let go and improvise…

I took a few months to get ready for this trip. I prepared a list of places and roads I wanted to see and decided I would walk at least one hour a day on a local natural site. I like to go off the beaten paths, it makes my days even more enjoyable. Of course, I ordered roadmaps of all the provinces I was to cross, from the CAA (they are free for members). I absolutely LOVE paper maps. They allow you to have a global outlook of a region, to pick scenic roads, and to know where you are when there’s no cellular signal! And believe me, when riding across such a BIG country, you do go through many “unconnected” regions, sometimes for entire days!

40th Anniversary BMW R 1250 GS

To undertake and live this great journey, BMW Motorrad Canada offered me to ride the “40 Years GS” Edition of the R 1250 GS. I rode this bumblebee-coloured bike previously (see Cycle Canada, Vol. 50, No. 6) and I loved it. But the seat was a little on the high side for me (I could only touch ground with the tip of my feet), so I asked for a lowered seat. I also asked for a GPS. And I knew the standard heated seat and grips would certainly be welcome for colder days.

On Thursday, August 19 2021, Benoit from Gabriel BMW Moto delivered the bike at my place. That’s when the euphoria started! This is real now, the BMW R 1250 GS will be my official partner for this wonderful adventure!

The next day is for final preparations. I connect my heated vest wires to the battery and I set the GPS. I also make sure my luggage and stuff easily fit inside the panniers (surprise, I have room left! I am used to travelling light, so that will leave space for my cowboy hat! Hiiii Haaaa!!). I then have a close look at the electronic dashboard to get used to the numerous functions. And then I AM READY!

To make this kind of trip a success, equipment is particularly important. You need clothing to face any surprises Mother Nature may throw at you: waterproof boots, good gloves, helmet, jacket, pants, heated vest… Before heading West, you have to know that the Rocky Mountains offer a wide variety of magnificent landscapes and… of temperatures. On higher altitude roads, it’s not unusual to end up riding into the cold rain clouds hanging in there… I will be wearing a brand new, highly versatile, Scorpion modular helmet and a fluorescent green Scott Storm DP jacket. This jacket will protect me from the rain, thanks to its DRYOspere fabric. It’s highly visible and will adapt to different weather conditions with its breathable windproof shell and removable lining.

So comes Saturday, August 21, 2021. At 6:15 in the morning, I’m leaving home! I love to ride at the crack of dawn, the weather is calm, the light is superb and the roads are traffic free. My plan is to sleep in Iron Bridge tonight. I take highway 50 to Ottawa and then roads 417 and 17 (the Trans-Canada Highway). I feel lucky because the latter has been under construction all summer and today I am riding on a brand new black asphalt carpet. On these Ontario roads, there are nice rest areas with toilets, picnic tables and garbage cans, always in nice bucolic settings. Often times, they are by a waterbody where you can enjoy a fine rest. I take a break at the Meilleurs Bay Picnic area.

When I reach lake Nipissing, I take a deep breath: that’s it, this is the place where I suddenly feel that I am at the real starting point of my journey! I’m entering INTO my trip and I feel a euphoria that makes me smile. I keep riding, go through Sudbury and then reach Lake Huron and the road to Iron Bridge. I wanted to go back to a motel where I stayed in 2011, on my way back from the Sturgis Rally in South Dakota. Yes, I sometimes turn nostalgic and want to go back to places where I spent great moments…

The BMW R 1250 GS responds wonderfully! It is comfortable and fun to ride. I am really happy that I had the lower seat installed. I feel much more at ease at stops and for low-speed manoeuvres.

When travelling, I really like to savour a local beer at the end of the day. Brewers and beer crafters show incredible imagination (!!!) and artistic talent! Today, I am enjoying a Juicy Ass (!!!), a refreshing IPA brewed by the Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery in Barrie, Ontario!

I am now all set for the night. Tomorrow, I will have to leave the motel before sunrise for a reason that is out of my control; what I had anticipated has occurred…

To be continued… In the next issue: from Ontario to Alberta.

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