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BC, the Last Days

Written by Matthew Fox. Posted in Round the World 2013 - ??

August was getting away from us when we hit the road and left Whistler for what is likely to be the last time on this trip, but never say never and who knows what tomorrow will bring. By the time we had cleared up our room it was the early stages of Tuesday afternoon and we still had a 400 km ride to Kelowna to go. We had arranged our first official Couch Surf (via the Couch Surfing website) and were due to spend the next two nights with a chap called Derek before attending the Horizons Unlimited Canada West meeting in Nakusp.

Before we left the Sea to Sky Corridor there was definitely one more thing on the list of must dos: to ride the Duffey Lake Road (the road from Pemberton to Lillooet). After we filled the bikes full of Petrol and ourselves with junk food in Pemberton it was time to ride the “Best Biking Road in BC” according to which ever website we looked it up on. The road gently meanders through the Lillooet river valley for the first 5 km before you arrive at the north edge of Lillooet Lake, the road then quickly climbs from 300 metres above sea level to close to 1200 metres above sea level via a series of incredible switchbacks. The road then follows on for getting close to 100 km past lakes, glaciers and forests where the smell of pine tickles your nasal hairs. As you get close to the end for the road the smell switches from pine the electrostatic smell of warm air as you descend in to the town of Lillooet (which bizarrely is on the Fraser River rather than the Lillooet River).

After Lillooet the flora is much sparser than the lush pine of temperate rainforest that engulfs the coastal mountains and the earth is more sand than rock and for the next 150 km we followed rivers through this sandy landscape: first the Fraser, then the Thompson and finally the Nicola River all the way to Merritt. The latter of these rivers was home to hundreds of ranches and pasturelands. It was past 7.30pm when we left Merritt and we were still 120 km from Kelowna and it was getting dark. It was boring freeway the rest of the way, but what we hadn’t counted on was climbing to 1700 metres above sea level on this section and as it was now dark, the cold bit through our summer riding gear.

It was closer to 10pm than 9pm when we rolled the CCMs into Derek’s garage and he had kindly waited up for us despite having an early start the next day. Not only had he waited up for us but also there was a bottle of a local Zinfandel wine for us to enjoy on his balcony with him before we hit the hay.

On the run down into West Kelowna, where Derek lives, Matt noticed that Lola’s break light had stopped working and so the first job the next morning was to find and remedy this problem. All that had happened was the zip tie securing the cable away from the wheel had snapped and this had caused the cable to rub on the wheel and eventually sever the wire to the brake light. Luckily when Matt had wired up the light back in the Zen Overland workshop in preparation for our trip there was enough slack in the wire to be able to cut out the damaged section and leave enough to repair the connections.

It had only taken an hour to sort Liz’s brake light so we were soon rolling south along the Okanagan Highway on our CCM SR40s passing places with names that gave a warm fuzzy feeling inside such as Peachland and Summerland. We stopped and picked up some fruit at a roadside shack and carried on to Penticton. After a bite to eat in Penticton we headed back towards Kelowna and on the way back we did our best to avoid the rain showers rolling into the valley over the hills. We did, however, catch one and the rain was painful, as it was big droplet kind that stung when it hit the more exposed areas of the body. The great thing was that as we moved away from the rain the air was warm we dried off in no time.

On our way back we had intended to take advantage of being in largest wine growing area north of California by visiting a winery, however, the winery we had been recommended by Derek was closed on Wednesdays and we decided that with the rain showers becoming more and more frequent it was time to head back to Derek’s house, where we enjoyed more wine and the evening sunshine. As Derek was again off to work early in the morning we said our goodbyes that evening.

We left in relatively good time the following morning, but had to stop in Kelowna to repair Matt’s phone screen which had lost a fight with gravity and patch of gravel somewhere along the Duffey Lake Road when he had stopped to take a photo. While this was being done we had breakfast at a nearby IHOP restaurant.

It was then a short ride north on the Okanagan Highway to Vernon where we turned east and headed towards Nakusp on Highway 6. The biggest attack on the senses as we rode through Vernon, which made Matt salivate, was the smell of beer being brewed in the Okanagan Spring Brewery. It wasn’t long after leaving Vernon that we were again in lush green pine forests as we crossed the hills into the Kootenay region. Highway 6 was one of those roads on one of those days that is everything good about motorbikes: brilliant scenery and a nice variety of bends on a cool dry late summer’s day. We arrived at the Needles cable ferry and were chatting to a retired couple while we waited for the boat, they gave us some great pointers on where to continue our journey through the Kootenays after the Horizons Unlimited meeting. The chap had a Yamaha FJR, but was in the car he and his wife had the dog with them and they were en route to their summer house in the area.

It was about 45 minutes from the ferry to the meeting site and we were soon registered with our tent setup. We camped with Robert, Maria and their pet Chihuahua Boo (Liz is however convinced she is called Bella). They had a dual sport Harley Davidson with a sidecar, which drew a lot of interested parties. We also camped with Matt from Australia who had flown in to LA 6 weeks previously bought a BMW R80 GS and was riding it around North America. As usual Roxy and Lola were attention seeking divas and drew a lot of people who had never seen a CCM SR40 before.

It wasn’t long until we again met up with Dave, the Australian Matt has met at the Squamish Motorcycle Festival and sank a few beers with him and his camping buddies, who had rigged up an awesome network of tarps to provide shelter when the rain came. The rain came shortly afterwards and it hammered down for about half an hour the campsite got very wet. The highlight of the first night was Nevil Stow’s presentation about himself and Ulf from Switzerland on a trip around the world, if Liz hadn’t injured herself last spring we probably would have bumped into them on the road. That night was spent making the contents of beer bottles disappear as we chatted with other adventurers until the early hours.

The rest of the weekend was spent flitting from presentation to presentation and catching up with some for the adventure riders we had met previously at HUBB UK meetings, like Anders and Petra on their BMWs and also Seb and Kim who were travelling through North America in a camper van after riding through the former USSR on Suzuki DRZ400E bikes last year. They both did great presentations on their trips and it was great to catch up with them. We were also able to make some new friends like Nevil Stow and his wife Michelle and also Matt and Fiona, who were just entering the final stages of their trip on two CB250s from South America, they were due to fly back to Austrailia in a few weeks.

We did lament the existence of a central area to congregate and socialize which is where we often spend our time at HUBB UK, whether is around the communal campfire or in the bar area. HU Nakusp was different as the bar area was in the presentation room and the campground had individual fire pits for each camping area, so it didn’t facilitate the bonding process between travellers as much as we had expected.

Nevertheless, it was a great weekend: beers were consumed, bikes were critiqued and adventures were shared. There was also one final positive surprise, we were very flippant about the presentation from the Schwartz family (the owners of Touratech) and were expecting their presentation to be a massive marketing feature for their products; we were surprised when it turned out to be a real positive spin on how they had managed to stay adventurous after starting a family. As much as we think that Touratech sell a lot of stuff that is neither essential or affordable it is worth remembering that this company started as because the Schwartz family wanted better adventure gear for their own travels.

All too soon, however, the weekend was over and the campsite packed up as some sore heads were nursed and people began their journeys back home all over BC and Alberta/ continued their adventures. We only a short hop of just over 200 km to our next stop, Nelson. We took an awesome route through forests and over another beautiful flowing pass full of deep green woodland to the town of Kaslo, were we had a picnic by the lake for lunch and then followed the lakeshore all the way to Nelson, where we camped for the evening in the city campground. It’s on riding days like this one we felt blessed to be able to live a life which is spent exploring one awesome place after another.

We were joined for the evening by Matt and Fiona who had followed a little way behind us along the same route. After a wander around Nelson that evening and some more junk food we got our heads down for a nights rest as we planned big riding day the following day.

We left at around 10am after saying good bye to Matt and Fiona who were staying in Nelson for the day, the plan was to get as close to Banff, as we could so we had most of the following day to see the place. Just pulling out of Nelson Liz was having trouble climbing on her bike, to compensate for her lack of height and flexibility she had been using her left foot peg as a step when getting on her bike, the additional pressure was causing the stand to bow a little meaning that the bike was now starting to topple when she climbed on board. We found this out the hard way when we filled up leaving Nelson, as her bike almost toppled over.

The morning part of the ride was great, we crossed Kootenay Lake and headed south towards Creston along a lovely windy lake side road. The road lapped the shore of the lake following the natural contours of the hillside, adding sunshine to the mix made it another awesome biking day in British Columbia. We were reminded of the vulnerability and space in Canada when we saw a car had come off the road near a small holiday town of Grey Creek, it wasn’t until half an hour later we passed the emergency services going the other way, so it must have been close to an hour before they arrived on the scene, it seemed almost crazy for a first world country.

The afternoon wasn’t as great for riding it was long straight main roads, they weren’t multilane freeways or anything just long straight wide roads. The roads followed a valley between the Kootenay Mountains and the Rocky Mountains and the land was dry a yellow, so this valley appeared to be more of a scrubland than the green forests we were used to. As we headed north, however, beyond Cranbrook towards the Rocky Mountains the flora became greener again and we passed lakes and tourist towns built next to hot springs.

It was getting close to 8pm when we looked for a place to stay and ended up booking into the Super 8 hotel in Invermere. It was way out of budget, but it was easy to get our heads down and ride the last 150 km to Banff the following morning.

The next day was the first of our 3 days within the National Park System, which cost us around $20 per day, so $60 poorer we entered the Kootenay National park, along Highway 93. Highway 93 is a nice road that is wide enough for the big RVs to use it yet windy enough for bikes to lap up every grain of stone used to make the road surface (well at least when they aren’t being held up behind the RVs). There were 2 passes on this route the first is around 1400 metres above sea level and the second: the Vermillion Pass takes you out of British Columbia and into Alberta. That was it we had crossed BC, the province that had been home for most of the last 11 months was now behind us and we were moving on.