PORT McNEILL—Parked amongst the polished chrome and shiny cowlings of a lineup of dozens of Harley-Davidsons Saturday at Marketplace IGA, Chris Hovard’s motorcycle stood out from the crowd.
Then again, it’s unlikely Hovard has ever been accused of blending into the background.
In the midst of a round-the-world trip that began with a camper van in Australia last September, Hovarth found himself on North Vancouver Island with time on his hands and a bike between his legs as the Vancouver Island Harley Owners Group hosted a Show-n-Shine event at the local market.
Never mind that his dusty, road-worked, UK-built Triumph Tiger didn’t exactly blend in with the crowd. The Weymouth, England, handyman was right in the thick of lobbying visitors for votes as best-in-show as the Island club took over the market’s lot for the afternoon.
“I was waiting for the ferry to Prince Rupert, and saw the sign that said the bikers were going to be here,” said Hovard, a 56-year-old handyman and diving enthusiast. “I thought I’d drop by.”
Hovard has dropped in on plenty since departing the UK last autumn for his round-the-world tour. Starting with a camper van in Australia, he toured 22,000 kilometres in that country — “I covered 400 kilometres of the outback one day and didn’t see anything, not a bug, not a beast, not a person,” he said — before trading it in for another van and touring 10,000 more kilometres in New Zealand.
Before leaving New Zealand, he snuck in some diving in Truk Lagoon, then swapped the second van for the Triumph and crated it for shipping to Los Angeles, where he enjoyed an extended conversation with U.S. customs agents before hitting the road for Death Valley, the Sierra Nevada mountain range and the Pacific Coast Highway on his way to the West Coast of Canada.
“I’m just driving around, collecting as many stickers as I can,” the garrulous, bearded Brit said from behind a pair of dark sunglasses on an unseasonably sunny day in Port McNeill.
Hovard, who recently earned part of his income helping construct the sailing venue for the 2012 Summer Olympics, was on his way to Prince Rupert, from which he planned to continue his trip across the prairies and Eastern reaches of Canada before flying back to England from Nova Scotia sometime in June.
A widower of eight years, he said the current trip is something he and his late wife discussed before her death.
“I’ve been riding for more than 40 years,” he said. “I figured, if I don’t do it now, I’ll be too old. It’s been the trip of a lifetime.”
A diving enthusiast, Hovard began the trip in Australia in a van loaded with diving gear, and spent plenty of time in that country’s legendary waters. But, while his Triumph was loaded with camping gear and spare fuel tanks as it sat parked among the sparkling Harleys Saturday in Port McNeill, he admitted he had sold the diving equipment along with the van before departing Australia.
Asked if he had heard about the world-class diving off Vancouver Island, he offered a knowing smile and admitted he rented equipment to dive the waters near Courtenay before rolling north.
Since trading the last van for the bike, he’s not entirely sure how many kilometres he’s traveled. Since the cycle’s odometer is broken, he’s been using a pocket-sized bicycle odometer that indicated he’s clocked an additional 5,000 miles (approx. 8,000 kilometres).
While a UK citizen, Hovard admits he may have a closer connection than many to Vancouver Island. His parents emigrated to Canada and landed in Duncan in the 1950s, and remained three years before returning to England. He was born less than a year later.
“I guess I’d have to sit down and work out the math, but it’s possible I was conceived on Vancouver Island,” he said.