Friday, 24 August 2007

Lynden, Washington and Beyond!


On the way to the border, I did something I rarely do - I took advantage of the fact that I was on a scooter. The line up for the border was moving very slowly. Then I saw two motorcyclists zip by on the shoulder. The ‘ah-hah’ moment came and I scooted after them, rejoining the line-up at the duty free store. I’m so ba-a-a-d.

As I approached the border, the sun disappeared and, like a portent of doom, a dense fog descended. The border guard checked my passport and grilled me, asking the usual questions plus some I hadn’t heard before: What is your job? Are you meeting anyone? and my personal favourite, Where are you eating lunch? I thought of asking him for a recommendation but he didn’t appear to have a sense of humour. The US border is not so fun to go across these days.


The fog had risen a bit by the time I arrived in Lynden, teeth chattering. Lynden is a lovely town, famous for tulips and a pioneer museum. There’s a Dutch connection so there are plenty of windmills, Dutch themed stores and streets, and pictures of characters in traditional Dutch garb.

There were plenty of American flags - something I noticed the whole time I was in the US. Canadians show their flag for about a week around July first and then back into the cupboard it goes. The prevalence of American flags just seems so darned patriotic - something, as a Canadian, I don’t get worked up about except, maybe, at an international hockey tournament.

Stopped at the Sidewalk Cafe for brunch. It was in a small mall with lots of Dutch features including big clog shoes and flags from different parts of the Netherlands.

The breakfast I ordered was the typical eggs and bacon special. I think it’s safe to say that what I’ve heard about American servings is true. It was a very generous serving - four pieces of bacon and a mountain of fried country potatoes - but the problem was that it tasted absolutely fantastic! I snarfled up the bacon which was perfectly cooked and had to make a conscious effort to hold back on the fried potatoes!

Samson Winery

As I left breakfast, my optimism rose - the fog and clouds had cleared and it was a beautiful day. I left Lynden in search of the Samson Winery.

It was a very nice ride as I had found some quiet back roads. Unfortunately the winery (“Open every day in the summer”) was closed.

Nooksack River Casino

Sighing, I hopped back on and headed south to the Nooksack River Casino. It was a busier ride but traffic seemed fine. I went into the casino and discovered it smelled strongly of smoke but was quite popular. I spent my obligatory $5 on the nickel slots and left soon after as nothing seemed to hold my interest.

Return home

I took a more direct route home, stopping at the border. I was asked three quick questions, didn’t have to show any ID, and zipped back into good ol’ Canada. As my daughter says, the Canadian border is so much more chill than the US border.

Almost home, on the Albion ferry, I was chatting with another motorcyclist and spoke almost apologetically about the fact that I managed to have a good time riding on only 50ccs. He looked at me and said, “Hey, a ride’s a ride.”

How true.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

New Westminster Quay

This month marks the one year anniversary of my purchase of my LX50. When I bought it, it had 78 kms on it. The other day, the numbers lined up nicely to show all fours. Mind you, the number 4 in Japan has the same meaning as death - oh well...

Looking back over the year I have had a great time on my Vespa and I still have that same excitement when I open the garage door and start out for a ride. It had been both fun and economical and I am glad that I have joined the ranks of other scooter riders.

Yesterday, I went to New Westminster again and I thought I’d check out New Westminster Quay. As I remember, it was a public market with lots of interesting stores. When the girls were small, we used to go there, stock up on a picnic lunch, walk along the boardwalk (it lies along the Fraser River) to a playground and have a picnic lunch / playtime at the park. I have great memories of this thriving market, much like Granville Island. As the kids got older, we just started going to different places and spent less and less time there.

Fast forward eight or nine years to present day. I walked into the market at lunch time and there were only three or four people in the whole market! Many of the stores on the main floor were closed. I went upstairs with the thought of getting something from the food court but the entire food court was behind barricade fencing. Only two or three stores were even open. It was deserted, barely hanging on.

I’m not sure why this happened to the market. The biggest difference is there is now a big Casino boat in front of the Quay that does draw a number of people but the gamblers are probably only there for one thing. Vancouver certainly gets in share of tourists so I’m not sure why New Westminster is doing so poorly - or at least why the Quay is doing poorly.

Just for interest’s sake, I went to the Way Back Machine and checked the Quay website from 1998, about when we went regularly. Back then, the website listed 65 shops and services. The current website lists 25. That’s a pretty amazing drop. Compare today with 1998.

After a last look around (and a quick trip to the Casino where I won $20 on the 25¢ slots) I wistfully got back on my scoot and rode away from New West Quay - probably for the last time.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Zero Avenue

Today was another glorious summer day.

I decided to go south of the Fraser River, similar to my ride to Glen Valley, but this time continued south towards the US.

My first stop was Bradner. Bradner is one of those little communities that have been around forever but are now part of a larger town or district (in this case, Abbotsford). I took a photo of the general store - and there isn’t much else. There’s a school a couple of other rural looking stores, a police station, and a bunch of houses.

I discovered that the village of Bradner was founded in 1910 and was named after one of the first settlers. Apparently, it is known as the daffodil centre of the Fraser Valley and has hosted a flower show since 1928.

I continued south, taking a detour at the Lotusland Winery. Lotusland is one of the nicknames for the Vancouver area and describes the relaxed, laid back, attitude of many people here as well as the temperate climate. Some say the name also has to do with our fairly liberal drug policies.

Anyway, I liked the name a lot - so I tried a couple of the wines. The rosé was a bit harsh - it definitely had a raw tinge to it. After nibbling frantically on a cracker, I tried the pinot noir. It was a lot better (although I think that, in comparison to the rosé, anything would have tasted better) and I bought a bottle. That night, the bottle was OK, just nothing to write home about. Still, the wine is organic and I am pleased that the wine industry is responding to public demand for organic and eco-friendly wines.

I then continued south until I reached Zero Avenue. This road runs parallel to the US border - literally inches from the border. On one side of the border is Canadian road, Zero Avenue. On the other side of the border is the US road (West or East Boundary Road) that runs parallel to the border. In the middle is a ditch about six inches / 15 cm deep with some bushes in it. In the above photo, Canada is on the right and the US is on the left. There’s no red line, no lasers, no barbed wire, just some bushes in a ditch. Lots of houses have the border as the end of their back yard!

I took a quick photo of one of several metal markers. I was careful when I took my photos that I didn't stray across where I thought the line was. I was tempted to creep around the marker to take a photos of the words “United States” on the other side, but something stopped me from taking a chance. With my luck, a rookie border guard with something to prove would spot me and chase me down, even on my Vespa!

It’s been said that Canada and the US have the world’s longest undefended border. Post 9/11, it’s nice to see that this part of the border hasn’t changed a lot. There are few steel towers on the US side that apparently have high powered cameras and I’m sure there are some other measures that people aren’t aware of. Still, it is heartening to see that, as two countries, we can still trust each other, at least along Zero Avenue.

Sunday, 5 August 2007

Saturna Island

As promised, I’ve included a whole raft of photos from our recent trip to Saturna Island.

Saturna Island is one of the Gulf Islands that are between the Lower Mainland (where Vancouver is) and Vancouver Island (a large island with several cities including a favourite tourist destination, Victoria). The islands continue into the US but are called the San Juan Islands in the States.

I have been to several of the other Gulf Islands, but not to Saturna before. Our company from Scotland invited us to stay with them as they had booked a house for a week.

The house we stayed at (the water-colour was done by our friend Cindy) was very nice - and lots of room for eight people. It is called Pacific Paradise and was only a few minutes walk to the beach.

One of the wonderful things about Saturna was the wildlife. There was a flock of wild turkeys on the road on the few occasions that we used the car.

The sundeck out the back of the house was a great place to relax, have a drink, read, and look at wildlife. There were deer coming through regularly - sometimes up to five at a time, nibbling on the grass. They were not nearly as skittish as most of the deer I have seen.

I spent the early mornings walking down to the cliffs near the house and casting my line.

There were some holes in the rocks that caught several of my lures but I did manage to catch a couple of red snappers and hooked into a couple of monsters that I wasn’t able to land. The snappers were a bit small so I chucked them back into the sea to grow a little more.

I have no photos of this but the best part of fishing was when I had reeled in on the last day. As I was collecting my tackle, a pod of orcas swam by, not 10 metres from the cliff I was standing on. Amazing!

On one of the days, we hiked up Brown Ridge which is right on the top of the island. The views were breathtaking.

The trail was actually a mountain goat path so it was definitely single file!

After our hike, we went to the Saturna Winery. They had some nice wines with their pinot noir being the one that is available in liquor stores.

We also discovered a great rosé and a super light red that are both perfect for sipping while the barbecue is on.

There was some nice views from the outdoor patio where we were eating. While we were leaving, the kids managed to find a big flat rock to launch themselves onto.

During the last day we were on the island, we spent a few hours at the beach.

The water was, well, bracing, but there were only fifteen or so other people there. We also went over to where the cliffs were to find some more orcas. While we didn’t see any, there were some otters and seals that were very entertaining.

Alas, our trip was over that afternoon as we headed out and caught the ferry back to the mainland. As the island receded from view, I thought, this would be a great place to take my Vespa!

Wednesday, 1 August 2007


Todays' blog entry is a bit short - I'm actually going through my photos of Saturna Island for a bit of a travel blog but something happened to me today which really made me, well, pissed off.

I was riding on a fairly quiet road - it's an arterial route but not tons of traffic- a two lane road with a solid yellow line down the middle. I was going up a hilly part at around 35 km in a 50 km zone and I noticed a black pick-up truck right behind me.

Now, at this point, I guess I could have avoided any problems and pulled over. But my feeling is, my 50 cc scoot is licensed and insured as a regular vehicle and maybe the guy behind me needed to be a bit patient and stop tailgating me. Besides, I knew that as soon as I reached the top of the hill, I would pick up speed and be back to 50 kms again.

As I approached the crest of the hill I looked in my mirror again and the black truck seemed pretty darned close. I went over the crest and went down the other side.

When I was about half the way dow the hill (and going at the speed limit) the truck pulled into the left lane around me - but there was a car coming the other way! He roared by me, just clearing my Vespa, and swerved back into the lane in front of me in the nick of time.

If that wasn't enough, after about 30 metres, the truck turns left off the road! He saved about 8 seconds in his day by passing me! Plus, he managed to both anger and terrify me and lord knows how the other driver was feeling. And for what?!

And it gets better...

We have a roundabout in or neighbourhood - it's by a park and it's there to slow down traffic at the intersection. Roundabouts are not all that common here so there are signs telling people how to enter them, how to turn, and that vehicles entering the round about have to yield to people who are already going around it. Pretty clear, right?

Well, I am already in the round about and signalling left. A white van enters the intersection just as I am about to turn in front of him. I blast my horn (although my horn really only makes a pathetic 'meep' sound) and slam on the brakes so he doesn't hit me. He merrily goes though and doesn't even slow down.

The thing that really got me about the two incidents is that they both happened close to my house! People in my own neighbourhood driving like jerks!

OK, rant over - stay tuned for pics of Saturna Island.