Thursday, May 31, 2012

Vancouver Bloggers Rock & Roll!

The original plan was ambitious, in a modest way.

I was going to be in Vancouver on business, with a weekend layover.  Spend some time with my son and his girlfriend.  Take the Saturday morning; arrange to meet a blogger or two; rent a little 50cc scooter; ride to the meet-up; have a bite; chat; go for a little ride; return the scooter before the cost ran through the roof.  Elegant and understated. A simple little plan.

I knew I had to meet Bob.  We just have too many freaky things in common. Age.  Grey hair.  We ride.  We had red convertible two-seater sports cars. We  are quirky.  Plus other stuff that I won't bore you with.  Then there were the things about Bob I didn't know.  That he was a wizard, for instance.

My first clue came on a Saturday evening in Toronto, of all places, where we were visiting my sister and brother-in-law.  My daughter called me on my cell from home in Montreal .  She sounded the way daughters sound when they find out something weird about you they didn't already know. "Dad? This guy Bob Leong called you from Vancouver? I gave him your cell number".  "Ya, OK, I know who it is, no worries... thanks!"

No sooner did I hang up, and the phone rang. "Dave? It's Bob... Bob Leong." There was a quiet urgency to his voice.  It reminded me of how I imagined Ford Prefect spoke just before the Earth was destroyed by the Vogons in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  I  instinctively thought he was about to say that he was going to be out of town on the fateful weekend, sinking our plans for the meet-up.

"Dave, I know you're at your sister's, I don't want to disturb you...".  "It's fine Bob, no trouble at all"  I said, waiting for the disappointing shoe to drop.  "Dave, I got you a 200cc scooter.  A Kymco Frost.  It's brand new.  My buddy Gary is going to let you have it when you're here.  It's no trouble.  He's happy to do it.  He's the Kymco dealer here in Vancouver.  It won't cost you anything."

The news came fast. Bob doesn't mince words. It was unexpected.  I was caught off-guard. For more than a moment I was speechless. I must have looked like I was feeling.   My wife was watching this and grew concerned "What's wrong?" she mouthed from across the room, as only a wife can do.  I shook my head to re-assure her.  She went back to her chat with my sister.

"Bob, I don't know what to say!" I finally managed.  "No that's good..." Bob said.  "I'll let you get back to your evening, bye now!"  It took some time for the news to sink in.  I re-joined the Saturday night chatter.  "What's up?" my brother-in-law said.  I explained what had just happened.  They didn't seem to comprehend the enormity. "Wow!" I said to myself "Can you imagine...".  I often speak to myself this way when incredibly good things happen unexpectedly.

Now it's that Saturday morning.  I'm in Vancouver.  At the Fairmont Pacific Rim.  Spectacular place, in a spectacular city.  It's 5:55 a.m.  Dawn is already doing it's magic light show with the city.  My iPhone chimes in a text message.  "if u r up, we will start earlier, I will get there around 7:15am".  "I'll be ready" I reply.

I shower, put on my gear and head down to the indoor garage.  I fumble with the seat lock on the Kymco, cursing, wondering why I didn't pay more attention to Gary when he was showing me around the scoot.  My gear stowed, I hit the starter and wind my way out into the morning light.  It's about 7:18.  Bob is there in front of the hotel, waiting patiently.

"Good, we've got a little more time" he says, pulling on his helmet.  "Let's go".  And we're off.

We take the strange tunnel that runs under the hotel and swing east towards Hastings along the docks.  We stop on an overpass to snap some pictures of the skyline.
While we're there, Bob strikes up a conversation with a passing homeless man.  He gives him some change.  "He's not a bum, just down on his luck" he explains to me.  Bob has a heart of gold.

Now we're moving in earnest, along Hastings, then Cambie, over the bridge, and then I think we're headed east.  We must be because we are going to meet Dave Dixon, Sonja Mager, and her husband Roland for breakfast at the White Spot in Coquitlam at 8:45.

We begin to climb.  Bob swings onto a side street and the hill becomes steeper.  Dead end.  No explanation needed, we turn around, get back on track.   Still climbing.  Bob hangs a left onto Burnaby Mountain Parkway and we move on to Centennial Way.  The park road reminds me of Camilien Houde Parkway on Mount Royal back home.  The climb is substantial now, the road nice and twisty.  The Kymco struggles.  Wide open throttle and my very capable Frost is maxed out.  Bob's V-Strom growls and he sails ahead.  We coast into the parking lot at the summit.  Now I get it.  The view!  It doesn't say 'Beautiful British Columbia' on the license plates for nothing.  Vancouver's high-rises loom in the distance.  
Helmets off.  My Kymco clicks and ticks away, discretely trying to dissipate the heat generated by the climb.  It's the only sound.  Well, yes and no.  You'll soon see.

"Let's walk over there" Bob suggests, pointing to a walkway on the other side of the park.  "Oh my!" more descriptive words fail me.  The other side of the lookout yields the most beautiful view of a fjord, still tinged with morning mist.  Far below, out in the expanse of Burrard Inlet sits a large freighter anchored in the middle of the sound.  "Over there, at the top of the fjord, beyond where you can see, we're headed that way" Bob says.  More pictures.
We chat. Bob offers a photographer's wisdom.  I nod my appreciation.  Time to move on.  Breakfast beckons.  I'm getting hungry.

When we get to the White Spot, three Vespa GTs sit waiting.  Two red, one black.
 I know those bikes.  I've seen them many times before, in blogs.  We enter the restaurant.  It only takes a few seconds to spot Dave, Roland and Sonja patiently awaiting our arrival.  Any awkwardness there may be burns off in the first heated eager minutes of conversation and there is a kinship that rises above it.  This is how friendships are born.

We spend too long chatting, getting to know each other.  Soon Bob and Sonja remind us that we have places to go, and things to see.  To see this meeting from a different set of eyes and ears, read Dave's observations in his excellent post by clicking here.

We gear up, saddle up, and Roland takes the lead, with Bob as the sweep, and we're off to Buntzen Lake.  Suburban Coquitlam yields to a more pastoral scene.  Soon we are riding on a ribbon of perfect asphalt snaking our way through a majestic old-growth rain forest.  Moss covers the massive trunks of the soaring pines and cedars and the heady aroma of the forest wafts into my helmet.  The morning sunlight filters through the canopy to dapple the road in splashes of light.  It just doesn't get better than this.

We reach Buntzen lake and park the bikes to stretch our legs and take in the scene as canoeists and kayakers lay out their gear and prepare for a day on the water.
Bob sets up his tripod and gets us organized for a group shot.  Predictably, he takes one normal one, one peculiar one.
Copyright - Bobskoot -
Copyright - Bobskoot -
So refreshing.  I love that man's mind.

Bob looks at his watch.  It's time to leave this little blissful corner of the universe and head off to... Belcarra.  As with everything else I'm experiencing, it's all foreign.  I am like a hitchhiker in the galaxy, I have no clue where I'm headed, and I haven't a care in the world.  This is happiness.

It turns out that I have seen this Belcarra before.  From the top of Burnaby Park.  Belcarra  Regional Park is at the end of the fjord I had seen earlier in the morning.  The freighter I saw from the mountain is out in the distance.  Hasn't moved.  Bob and I can't help wondering what it's doing there.
More pictures.  More memories of a perfect ride.
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No time for lollygagging, time marches on.  Bob feels that our plan for lunch at the Tomahawk will have to be scrubbed. He shares  his concern with me.  As pleasant as this adventure is, he doesn't want to run past the 1:00 o'clock target for lunch and the end of our ride.  I quickly decide to lift the 1:00 p.m. curfew, wipe the Tomahawk off the slate.  The merry wanderers confer and effortlessly agree to set a course for Horseshoe Bay.  There is an expressway leg involved.  The consensus comes quickly: let's do it.

As we wind our way out of Belcarra, we soon return to urban riding.  Traffic.  Lights.  Heat.  Finally Roland leads us onto the freeway.  Roland and Dave have the least experience, but you'd never know it.  It feels good to open the throttle and get up to speed.  Bob and I switch on the GoPro POV cams.  I am at the back of the pack with Bob still sweeping.  I pull out into the passing lane and gun the Frost moving to the front of the pack to get some video of our little band riding at speed.  [Ed: My GoPro was mismanaged by the production staff (yes, that's me) and the card filled up: no useful video of this bit - curses!  Bob saved the day (not surprisingly). Want excellent video of this adventure? See the link to Bob's blog (that's almost as much fun to say as "Bob Loblaw" if there is such a person) below.]

It doesn't take long before we find the coast and head up Canada's version of the Pacific Coast Highway.  I've done this weeks before in L.A., but now I'm riding.  A Kymco Frost sure beats a Volvo S-60.

We reach our destination.  No one says so, but we know this is the apex.  We've reached the end of a delightful adventure.  All that's left is the ride home.

We settle in for some west coast pub grub on an outdoor terrace (that's the Montreal term, in Toronto it's a patio, I wonder what it is in Horseshoe Bay... oh that's right, it's delightful).
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Our tummies full, we wander across the street to take in the harbour sights and Bob does his group shot magic again.
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Copyright - Bobskoot -
All too soon it's time to saddle up once more and begin the ride back to Vancouver.
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The ride soon becomes an endless sea of cars as we wend our way through North Vancouver.

The treat and silver lining hidden in the unremitting congestion, is the portion of the route over the Lion's Gate bridge.  This is Canada's answer to the Golden Gate.  In some ways I prefer it.  Stanley Park is every bit as much a prize as Sausalito.

Sonja takes the opportunity offered by the bumper-to-bumper ride to snap some shots of us as we make our way to the Fairmont Pacific Rim.  I particularly like the long-arm self portrait shot that's got me in it.  So I stole it to re-post here.
Copyright - Sonja Mager - Find me on the road
And that's how this story ends.  Under the portico at the Fairmont.  One saddle-sore tuckered-out band of two-wheel humans, now fast friends.
See how easy that was.  A modest little adventure that became a very-big-deal thanks to a light touch of wizardly magic courtesy of Bob Leong.  At least that's the way it is for me.

Here's hoping for many more amazing adventures to come.


Bob posted a video compilation on his blog post for this adventure that is the perfect cap for this epic adventure.  You can get there by clicking here.   Thanks Bob, you're the bee's knees!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Friday night madness

On Friday evening, Bob and I returned from our jaunt to Steveston and headed straight to RideAwayMotors where we met up with Bob's scooter friends, whose names I can barely remember, including Gary, Mark, and Andrew.  I am ashamed that I can't summon more names.

What an amazing group.  I have never before had such a warm and friendly welcome.  As a complete stranger, it was very, very touching.

Before there was time to commit all the names to memory, we were saddling up and headed to something called the Richmond Summer Night Market.

I twisted the throttle to the stop and did my level best to keep up, flying over and around the elevated clover leaf at Granville and Marine Drive in a headlong rush that made me feel for fleeting moments that I was really a member of this incredible flying squad.

Bob's friends (Dar mysteriously refers to them as the "RTE Gang") have riding skills that showed me up for the newbie I really am.  If you think you know how to ride, ride with the pros... and try to keep up.  To say that their skills in the mad traffic headed to the night market were amazing is a serious disservice.

At one point, Andrew leaned in at a red light in an effort to coach me on the blocking strategy and group riding objectives.  I think I understood 10% of what I needed to know so as not to embarrass myself.

Bob had sent me a link, but it was impossible to understand this night market phenomenon without experiencing it first hand.

Mind blowing comes close.
Think one part outdoor Asian gourmet feast, one part insane flea market.  You can taste anything here, and buy anything here.

Are we talking standard street meat?  No, no, no, no, no.  The price is reasonable, because the portions are on the small side, so that you get to buy and taste, and buy and taste, and buy and taste.  I had pork dumplings (delicious), corn fresh off the cob (amazing), something called Takoyaki made with octopus (beyond words), and a Taiwan Bun (that was heaven).
Here is how those Takoyaki are prepared. I have never seen any cooking technique quite like this.
My mind and tastebuds were already reeling trying to comprehend this amazing place and my role in it, when Andrew blew me completely away.

You see Andrew and I were among the minority here who didn't have some kind of Asian roots.  Or so I thought.

Andrew took a look at my delicious Taiwan Bun and inquired what I was eating.

I groped in my bewildered mind searching for the name of this incredible delicacy and was very relieved when I finally remembered.

"Taiwan Bun" I said.  It was what Andrew said next that blew my mind.

"......................" he said, in what sounded to my numb brain like perfect Mandarin.  I did a cartoon-like head-swivelling quadruple-take.

"You speak Mandarin?!" I blurted out, incredulous.

Andrew shrugged his shoulders in an unassuming way and said "Yeah, I spent two-and-a-half years teaching English in Taiwan".

"And how did you learn Mandarin?" I said.

"Just picked it up on my own" came the very genuine and casual response.  Now I was well and truly humbled.

Bob managed to snap a picture a precious few minutes after that remarkable exchange.
Copyright - Bobskoot -
Copyright - Bobskoot -
 Bob capped the evening's festivities at the night market by introducing me to his wife who had driven to the market to meet him.

Later on, in his inimitable, devilishly humorous way, he gently coaxed me into posing holding up some some wild off-the-wall underwear from one of the flea-market stalls.

I think I'd better post that here, for fear of what Bob will do with it on his blog.
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Copyright - Bobskoot -
He purchased an iPhone case for himself that allows you to take pictures with your phone and convince others you are using an expensive vintage Leica, and he presented me with a shocking pink iPhone cable that nearly matches his trademark pink Crocs.
 "When you use this you will always think of me" he said, after offering me the unusual gift.

Thanks Bob, you know I always will.  [EDIT: to see the evening's festivities from Bob's perspective, click here.]

It was getting late.  We returned to the bikes to set off for home, or so I thought.  By now I should have known better.  Bob simply refuses to waste any time.

You see, somewhere in Richmond, there is a second night market.  Bob wanted to have a look for himself.  These markets only opened for the season the previous weekend and this new market was somewhat of an unknown.

We parked the bikes on a side road leading to the market.  The location of this second night market was on the shore of a body of water.  Bob and Andrew and I chatted while Andrew smoked a cigarette and Bob and I snapped some pictures.

Andrew mentioned that he had to get going.  Bob and I climbed on our bikes and set out once more.

Bob said that we had to stop by his house on the way back to the hotel.  Bob insisted on escorting me all the way back to the hotel.  I was still not quite wise to Bob's ways.

We parked outside his house and Bob asked me to wait while he went to get something.  A few moments later, he came out bearing gifts for me.

Bob had some great Vespa swag left over which he very kindly gave me along with a flashlight that I might use on my two-wheeled travels (I never asked, but I suspect that Bob was a boy scout, because like me, he is a firm believer in preparedness).  Then he proceeded to bungee strap a cardboard box to my bike saying I should open it at the hotel.  I did later on.  I won't say what was in the box, suffice to say that it will decorate my office when I get it home.

At this point in the day, I confess that I was getting tired.  Mercifully there is not much traffic left at 10:45 p.m. on a Friday night in Vancouver so we made light work of the trip towards the waterfront.

But wait, why spoil a jaunt to the waterfront by failing to take a breather on Granville Island.

We parked the bikes by the water at the public market courtyard, hard by the Granville street bridge that towers overhead.  This is a really pretty spot.  Bob snapped some pictures of us using his tripod, remote control for the camera and a long exposure to capture the scene.  Like in the early days of photography, we had to be very still not to spoil the shot.
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Copyright - Bobskoot -
We then sat on the bench and chatted about this and that for a good half hour before setting out once more for the hotel, that by now was only a few minutes away.

I thanked Bob for the most incredible evening I have had in recent memory and we parted after making plans to meet at the hotel at the crack of dawn on Saturday morning.

Stay tuned, there is still so much to share.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Bob's favorite haunts

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Copyright - Bobskoot -
Bob proved himself to be the consummate host I knew he would be.

Having already made plans worthy of a seasoned travel guide, all carefully mapped out to make the most of my too-short visit, Bob relentlessy, yet ever so gently squeezed more time into the plan, and managed to fit more fun in.

I would soon learn that the key to Bob's planning was to send me text messages suggesting I meet up with him earlier than originally planned.

On Friday, the plan was to meet up at RideAwayMotors and then ride to the Richmond Summer Night Market.

Bob managed to squeeze more time into our tight budget by leaving work early, and suggesting that I meet him at his home rather than him meeting me at the hotel.

Getting there was a piece of cake.  Bob suggested a route that was both direct, and safe, making use of intersections with priority left turns.  Very thoughtful.

After giving me a tour of the massive renovation underway in his back yard, we set out heading south on Granville.  We went past Richmond and were soon headed west.  Bob was using that extra time he worked into the budget to show me some scenery.

Once we got closer to the water, the landscape went from totally alien to strangely familiar.  We were headed to Steveston.

I felt like I was somehow magically transported into one after another of Bob's blog posts.

"I know this winding road..." I thought silently in the intimacy of my helmet.  And I did know it, because I had seen it on Bob's blog.  I found myself following Bob on his Suzuki V-Strom along a stretch of road I had previously seen from the perspective of Bob's GoPro camera.  So weird.  So cool. So wonderful.  Quite literally wonder full.

Our first stop was the strange little community that sits on a tiny tidal inlet off Dyke Road.

This place is so charming that it seems unreal, as if it was built by a Hollywood production company for a movie set.
After taking in this idyllic scene and snapping a bunch of pictures, it was time to shove off and move on, to the Steveston harbour.

We parked our bikes on the pier to take in the view.
This is where we met Aimé Groleau.  It seems to be my fate, no matter where I go, no matter how seemingly remote the place may be, that the first person I meet is a Quebecker.  Today proved to be true to form.  Aimé stopped to admire Bob's Suzuki.  He was walking his dogs.

Turns out that Aimé was at one time a Canadian champion dirt bike racer.  Number three in the country.  He's a retired steeplejack from Gatineau , the town on the Quebec side of the river opposite Ottawa.
Chatting is nice. We hadn't even scratched the surface of picturesque Steveston, but Bob soon reminded me that there places to go, and people to see.

We said our farewells to Aimé, fired up the bikes and headed on down the road, bound for RideAwayMotors and the evening's festivities.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Intro to paradise

Copyright - Bobskoot -
Copyright - Bobskoot -
I don't usually have trouble writing a post.  I have something I think is worth sharing, I write it down as it comes to me, and that's it.  Done.  Well it's done after some fussing over spelling and photo placement, and boring stuff like that.  But it's not by any means hard.

This time I have to admit I'm struggling.  Writer's block? No.

The problem is that the past two days have been so fantastic, so chock-a-block full of incredible experiences, that I don't know quite where to begin, and how to convey them, in a way that does them justice.

I guess I'll just dive in and see where the pieces fall.

First I need to provide some context.  I'm here in Vancouver on business for the Canadian Society of Corporate Secretaries.  Friday evening and Saturday morning were business-free.

As you can see when you read this blog, bloggers are like birds-of-a-feather.  They share similar passions and they lend each other moral support.  You can't help but learn a lot about your fellow bloggers.  Eventually, you begin trading e-mail, then phone calls, and before you know it, you are friends.  My wife says they are pen-pals.  I suppose that's as good an explanation as any.

There aren't that many scooter and motorcycle bloggers in the known universe.  There are certainly hundreds.  Maybe a thousand or two.  But in the grand scheme of humanity, these people are like the equivalent of a small town, at most.

The problem is that they are peppered all over the world.

Vancouver is home to Bobskoot, Dave Dixon, and Sonja.  Bellingham Washington, just a hop, skip and jump over the border is where Orin O'Neill lives, and Dar calls Victoria home.

Months ago, knowing I was going to be in Vancouver, we started plotting a get-together.

In the end, Bobskoot, Dave Dixon, Sonja and her husband Roland and I were able to spend some time getting to know each other better, and sharing some of the best riding experiences in the world.  I know that sounds like more exaggeration, but I'll let you judge for yourselves as I struggle to share those experiences with you.

Be warned, it's going to take some time, because there's just way too much for one blog post.  Heck, I'm just wrapping up the introduction and I think that this is where this post needs to conclude.

There's that, plus the fact that I still have two Los Angeles posts that I haven't finished yet.

It's important to me that I do my very best to document these incredible experiences here.  The reason is that going out on a limb, as I did, to do something unconventional like commuting on a scooter, and blogging about it, has opened up a world of new experiences for me that is literally unspeakably rich, and almost unwritably rich, if that's even a word.

I had to borrow the opening and closing shots for this post from Bob, because only Bob is resourceful enough to carry a tripod concealed on his V-Strom, and to be obsessed enough to have a remote control for his Canon.

I'll end this post with the photo that shows how it all ended.  Sonja, Roland, Bob and Dave very gallantly escorted me miles out of their way, through bumper-to-bumper traffic, over the Lion's Gate Bridge, all the way to my temporary home at the Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel.

That's where the magic ended, and the incredible memories begin.
So there you have it.  The beginning, and the end. 

Over the coming weeks I will do my best to convey what happened in the middle of this remarkable adventure.

Thank you Bob, Sonja, Dave and Roland for the experiences of a lifetime.  A truly priceless gift.
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Copyright - Bobskoot -

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The copyright in all text and photographs, except as noted, belongs to David Masse.