Post date: 08-Sep-2016 22:22:10
Stage 9 is easily the most enjoyable, challenging, remote, and beautiful stage of the entire Vancouver Island Grand Loop. For us, it started out cold and damp in the parking lot of the Woss motel. And by the end of the day, the sun had baked us all afternoon, we found an impassible dead end, the bikes took a beating, and we called it quits in Port Hardy. And this was from riding only one stage. We also reunited with one of the riders who we thought was out for good.
Stage 9 can be broken up into 3 sections - Woss to Atluck Lake, Atluck Lake to Devil's Bath Lookout, and Devil's Bath Lookout to Port Alice. The stage starts with an impressive bridge crossing the river that drains out of Woss Lake. Afterwards, we began to climb in elevation which gave way to fantastic vistas of small mountains peaking above the clouds, long stretched-out valleys, and lush green forest roads that were heavily trafficked by logging trucks.
A stop at Atluck Lake is an absolute must-do. The lake is sheltered by hills and mountains on all sides allowing for very little wind to disrupt the glass-smooth water. Backcountry camping is available shorefront on the lake which I will definitely be taking advantage of next time I'm riding through. Also, the road around Atluck Lake will always be remembered as my favourite - it's a twisty dirt road that hugs the wall of a mountain to the right and has an unobstructed view of the beautiful lake to the left.
The road out of Atluck Lake and onward to Devil's Bath Lookout quickly descends into a very slow navigation of paths and trails with large fist sized rocks strewn all over. We also observed a lot of bear poop on the trails every 100 meters or so, but luckily/unfortunately we did not end up seeing any wildlife on this stage.
It's rare that I engage 2WD on my Ural, however there were two long inclines littered with large, unstable rocks that required me to use 2WD in order to make it to the top. The rider on the 1200GS also experienced issues when his rear fender came lose from all of the shaking and became tangled with the rear tire. The damage to the fender was too severe and it ended up being thrown out when we arrived in Port Alice.
Devil's Bath Lookout offers a nice rest from the previous highly technical trail riding. Less than 30 feet from the parking area, you can view a large bowl-like formation in the ground that is filled with water and fallen trees. The roads from this point on to Port Alice are all very easy dirt and gravel, and after riding so slowly on the rocky trails, we found ourselves speeding along at 80-90 km/hr on these relatively well-groomed roads with ease. Until I ran out of gas, that is.
A previous version of the Vancouver Island Grand Loop had indicated that it was possible to ride around the south end of Victoria Lake. However, after riding for 30 minutes on rough dirt and gravel, sneaking our motorcycles under a locked gate, and bushwhacking with the spiders, and coming within 2km of joining a road in good condition, we hung our heads low and admitted defeat. I really don't think it's even possible to hike around the south side of the lake. We had a heck of a lot of fun, though!
Once we arrived in Port Alice, we grabbed a very late lunch at the local grocery store and then made a bee-line to Port Hardy for the evening. We also received good news from the Triumph Tiger rider who had the fork seal issues. Savage Cycles in Victoria was willing to bump up the work and install new fork seals the morning after Dave rode home. Once the work was complete, Dave jumped on his motorcycle and rode from Victoria straight to Port Hardy having only really missed one day of the trip. After swapping stories and celebrating over beers at the pub, we started planning out the next leg of our trip to Cape Scott and back.