Banff – Well, That Was My Intention…
Each year a small group of motorcyclist get together to travel across lower western British Columbia. It’s an informal affair, with riders meeting up in pre-arranged towns but not necessarily riding together to get there. This led to an interesting trip where I spent approximately 200 miles of an almost 3,000 mile “group ride” riding by myself. I didn’t mind, as I was able to see some beautiful country that I would not have otherwise seen.
I’m going to have to give my observations of “The Beauty of Lake Louise” at a later date, as I was unable to get there due to the snow. Yes, snow. That day I rode for 40 miles, the last 10 of those through thick wet snow, watching it accumulate on the trees and grass and eventually the pavement and my visor before I decided that I did not really need to get to Banff that day. I turned around and retraced those same 40 wet miles back to Jasper.
Jimmy always makes sure that I’ve packed everything
Leaving Home Sweet Home
I suppose I should back up. After all, the trip consisted of more than a few hours in the snow. I decided to leave Seattle on Sunday, giving myself Saturday to relax, gather stuff and pack the bike casually, utilizing my new equipment and gear. Sunday was overcast and cool and I didn’t hurry to get on the road. It was to be a fairly dull ride up the 5, crossing the border near Blaine and then rolling through Vancouver. Shortly after Vancouver, near Squamish (Canada’s Outdoor Capitol) it started to rain. It continued to rain as I slogged through construction and traffic, passing by the glorious mountains of Whistler and Pemberton that remained unseen behind grey clouds. Upon reaching Pemberton I had been on the road for over 4 hours and had yet to eat. I knew that it would be at least another hour before reaching the next town and that the road between here and there was rather technical, requiring my full concentration. I searched Pemberton for a likely place to eat and found none. I settled, most unhappily, for McDonalds. It was still raining.
Looking back along the Duffy Lake Road
Its a sad day when Potatoes are restricted
I left Pemberton and as I climbed east through the mountains the clouds slowly started to retreat. The road remained wet and the day cool, but the active precipitation diminished considerably. By the time I had reached Lillooet I had crossed 7 one-lane bridges, 6 of them wooden and wet, and taken the lead from numerous trucks and RVs. The sun came out to celebrate my arrival to the Fraser Canyon. An unfamiliar road beckoned me to the north – the Marble Canyon. Delicately carved through the mountains, the canyon displayed many different hues of rock still glistening from the morning’s rain. The sky remained relatively clear and I could see evidence of many Canadians making the best of the their last long weekend holiday of the summer, with many campgrounds full of vehicles and tents.
Merritt Hotel in Merritt, BC
The interior was “classic”
Sunshine greets me along the 5A
The Marble Canyon eventually spit me back out on 97 just north of Cache Creek. I turned south, recalling that the last time I had taken this road it was in the heat of summer and I was baking inside my gear. It was not something to be repeated today. Passing by Cache Creek and miles of dry scrublands I eventually came to Spences Bridge. I stopped for gas and in doing so I missed the bridge itself and had to backtrack at the south end of town. I was ready for my favorite road in BC: Route 8 from Spences Bridge to Merritt. Would the weather hold for me? No.
While I never rue the running of the 8, it was not with the gusto that I had anticipated and the wet corners kept my throttle hand in check. But no matter what the weather, nothing can dampen the beauty of the valley that I rode through. The road traced the course of the Nicola river, diving down low to follow its banks and then subtly climbing back up to give me a view of the valley. A green snake of trees and shrubs showed the course of the river as it wove its way between the hills, farms and outbuildings dotting the open spaces. Steep rolling hills, stark golden fields, the random cluster of green pines and a lively river all worked together to fill me with a sense of contentment, of being where I ought to be.
All too soon I left the river behind and entered the more urban surroundings of Lower Nicola, if such an outpost of civilization can be considered “urban”. Shortly after Lower Nicola the town of Merritt appeared, bustling with the weekend’s Rodeo and Fair activity. After having spent the day in the chilly and damp weather I had no inclination to pull out my tent and subject myself to further discomfort. I rode directly into downtown and stopped in front of an old hotel, looking very much like the town had been built around it. I was surprised that the room rate was as low as it was and it took very little convincing that a hot shower and warm bed would be the perfect ending to the first day on the road. The room was huge, with every nook and cranny stuffed with mismatched furniture in various stages of disrepair. However, it was clean and it was warm – it would suffice for the night. The bar downstairs had a live cowboy cover band (the songs were all original to me, however) and the hotel’s halls had its fair share of drunk and disorderly patrons. Shouting, slamming doors, and threats – I felt like I was in the Old West of yesteryear. Being in Canada I was confident that no one was going to pull out a gun and shoot through the paper-thin walls. I slept very well that night.
There really was no plan for this trip. I had five days to get from Seattle to Jasper and many pleasant roads to choose from. Under mostly sunny skies, I re-packed the bike and left Merritt behind. Rolling along Douglas Lake on the 5A is another slice of heaven. This Monday morning brought very few drivers out and it was rare that I had to share this stretch of pavement with anyone other than the osprey and the crows. I stretched out the GS’s legs on the dry pavement and reveled in the glory of the sun shining in my face. I consulted my map and chose roads that looked out of the way and in directions I hadn’t been before. Continuing north on the 5 from Kamloops I was presented with the remains of the devastating forest fires that occurred there a couple of years ago. Judging by how close the burned trees stood to existing buildings I could see that it must have been a nerve-wracking time for those who live and work in the area. The road, while appearing as a highway on my road map was instead a pleasant two-lane road through rural Canada, following the Clearwater River and bending around hillsides. Traffic was heavier than I would have liked, and I felt stifled after the clear roads south of Kamloops. I spied a motorcyclist in my mirrors, leapfrogging his way past the traffic and catching up to me. I was surprised to see that it was a cruiser, as he was setting a fairly lively pace. So lively, in fact, that I waved him past me and then attempted to keep up with him. More traffic thwarted my attempts, not to mention that I really wasn’t in the mindset to race, and the lone motorcyclist disappeared around another set of curves.
I did catch up with him eventually, when we both made a stop at Little Fort, where the 24 connects the 5 and 97 north-south routes. I wasn’t pleased with the lunch options at Little Fort so when the other motorcyclist suggested a restaurant at the other end of the 24, I happily took him up on it. On the map, 24 looks like a merry romp through the mountains, passing by occasional lakes and through thick forests. In reality, 24 is fairly dull. Yes, there are some nice bends in the road, and some elevation changes just for kicks, but there’s very little in the way of technical challenges and the scenery wasn’t enough to distract me from the lacklustre road.
I approached the recommended restaurant (American Iron, I believe) and saw the sign in the window that proclaimed the property “For Sale”. I naturally assumed that the restaurant would not be open and continued to sail past. Only after I was beyond the far end of the property did I realize that it was indeed still open. But for whatever reason, it didn’t appeal to me and I felt no desire to turn around, so I continued into Lone Butte and found a cosy family diner. Lunch was simple and relaxed.
The sun was still shining brightly when I left Lone Butte and it wasn’t more than a few miles before I joined up with 97 and turned north. There’s not much to comment on for this section of road, although when I was on it a year ago the heat was oppressive, while today it was chilly despite the sun. It doesn’t take long to ride through 100 Mile House, Wright and 150 Mile House before reaching Williams Lake, where I stopped for fuel and information. I was going to head to Bella Coola but I had heard terrible things about The Hill – an unpaved section of road that winds its way treacherously through the mountains. Some sources lead me to believe that the road was impassable by motorcycle while others merely claimed it to be just another dirt road. I wasn’t terribly concerned about the road itself – deep gravel was the only thing that might get in my way, but I knew I could make it through even that. It was the weather that had me unsure. If it rained, and the road became a slick mire of mud and ooze, then I could be trapped in Bella Coola until either the weather changed or I took a ferry to Vancouver Island. Neither option would be a hardship; it just didn’t meld with my ultimate goal of reaching Jasper on Thursday. I stopped by the Williams Lake Information Centre for the weather forecast and road information. Naturally, it being a holiday, they were closed. Why an Information Centre, whose soul purpose is to provide local information to travelers, would be closed on a holiday – the mostly likely time for people to be traveling – is beyond me. A fellow traveler had pulled up in her car and was also dismayed to find the Centre closed. We both shrugged our shoulders and headed out of the parking lot on our separate ways. If you can’t get information from an Information Centre, where else is there to go? The library! I rode around Williams Lake (not a difficult task) until I found the library. I walked up to the doors – only to find them locked. They are, of course, closed on Mondays. I gave up and threw my fate to the winds – literally. If the weather became inclement then I would simply turn around. Until then, it was full steam ahead to Bella Coola!
The bridge from Williams Lake
Meadows on the way to Bella Coola
After leaving Williams Lake the road, now Highway 20, dropped down into a steep canyon and rose sharply up the other side. The blue skies were crisp and the sun glistened off the golden fields and shimmering streams. I stopped at one small bridge to take a picture of the impossibly blue water and was pleasantly surprised to find a heron sunning itself on a pile of waterlogged branches. Its wings were stretched out to catch the warm rays of the sun and it repeatedly tucked its long beak in among the feathers, preening in the silence. I mounted the GS again and continued west, following the sun into the mountains. The landscape was a fairly wide open plain with stands of pines interspersed among pastures and fields. Marshy areas gave birth to streams that played lazily in through the tall grass. Livestock was free to roam, and roam they did. Cattle speckled the sides of the road and while causing no trouble, did slow me down considerably. One steer in particular caused me some concern, as his horns looked sharp and he glared at me with contempt. Large enough that I first thought I was looking at a buffalo, he stopped in the road just long enough for me to take his picture before he sauntered off into the weeds. I had been on the road for nine hours when I reached Talta Lake. There’s not a lot there to entice you to stop, except for the words “restaurant” and “motel”. I was still feeling lazy and was always looking for a cheap room to stay in instead of setting up my tent. According to the map, I was half way to Bella Coola from Williams Lake and it was getting too late in the day to keep going considering I didn’t know what lay ahead. I inquired about the price of a room at the Graham Inn and was surprised to find that it was $50. I was on a tight budget (as in “I shouldn’t even be taking this trip”) and I had already spent the first night in an un-budgeted for hotel. I asked if I could set up my tent in the yard, at the back of the parking lot. She seemed surprised, but acquiesced and charged me $7.50 for the space. There was a “common room” that was available for guests who rented rooms from her, complete with a kitchen, couch and television. As she had no other guests that night she said I was free to use the room if I wanted some place to read or watch the telly. I parked the bike on the grass at the edge of a lake, with snow-capped mountains peering at me from the other side. I unpacked my tent and, considering that it was brand new and had never set it up before, it went up very quickly. I set up the rest of the camping stuff and then took my book into the common room to relax on the couch. I stayed on the couch until well after dark before heading to the tent. It was cooling off rapidly and I dressed accordingly. As the evening passed, the coyotes came out and set up a chorus across the lake. They were very loud and persistent, calling and yipping back and forth to each other under the clear night sky. I tossed and turned, as I usually do when camping, but I still managed to get a fair amount of sleep. Or at least I did until I woke up at dawn – where the eastern horizon has a slit of light along its edge, a sure indication of what is to come. I knew at that point that I was cold and would never be able to fall back asleep there in the tent. I unzipped the outer fly and broke the mantle of frost that now coated my tent. Grabbing my pillow and sleeping bag, I quickly scampered across the brittle grass to the common room. I curled up on the couch and proceeded to sleep soundly for another three hours.
Looking back towards the east
Soggy bogs line the road
Finally dragging myself off the couch, I got dressed and packed up my now-soggy tent. It took me a while to get moving, and most of my stuff was wet from the dew. Eventually I was on the road again, heading west with the sun warming my back. It was going to be another beautiful day. Shortly after leaving Talta Lake I came to a lookout whose view reminded me very much of my trip to Alaska. In fact, a good portion of this road reminded me of the Alaska Highway, with very little in population, acres of trees and snow covered mountains in the distance. After gassing up in Anahim Lake I discovered the end of the pavement. What surprised me was how great the dirt road was! I was flying along, barely even changing my pace from the previous pavement. After a few miles of gently curving roads it started to gain elevation and lose its smoothness. I was surprised to see that there was large earth-moving equipment along the road and the following 10 miles of “construction zone”, which really consisted of a slightly narrower road and chewed up shoulders. After the construction zone the road widened back out and regained its smooth surface. I’m not sure exactly where the road transitioned to “The Hill”, but I knew once I was on it. The signs warned of a narrow road and steep grades ahead – and they weren’t kidding. The Hill was headed up by two brothers because the government refused to do it. The locals split up, with one half starting on the east and the other in the west, each digging until they met in the middle. As I rolled slowly down the dirt-covered track I marveled that this road should even exist, carved into the side of the mountain as it was. I kept my speeds down for multiple reasons: I was in no hurry, it was a beautiful day, the road was narrow (one-lane), the corners were sharp and trucks used this route regularly. The views from the top of The Hill are amazing – steep rugged mountains extending as far as the eye could see and trees coating the slopes right down to the rushing river below. Below. As one local put it, “You’d starve to death before you hit the bottom”. This was a steep road, with few pullouts and no edge protection whatsoever. I could see that the road narrowed considerably not because it wasn’t built wider, but simply because the downhill side was, well, further downhill. After a huge mental build-up of the dangers of The Hill, I have to admit that I was somewhat disappointed in it. Granted, a good rain would have changed my tune in a heartbeat. And there is no doubt that vast improvements have been made since its construction in 1953. But some things are built up to unattainable proportions and unfortunately for me, The Hill was one of them. The descent to the west side of the mountain pass was uneventful, with more but less severe switchbacks until the road finally gave up and dropped to the bottom of the valley and took its position next to the Bella Coola River. From here it was a pleasant stroll through a narrow valley flanked by steep mountain walls. Snowy peaks were a common sight, as were farms and scattered houses. I was surprised to see three white shaggy mountain goats by the side of the road. They quickly ran off into the underbrush at my arrival, but I did see the biggest one stop about 20 yards away and turn to watch me go by.
The end of the pavement
My arrival in Bella Coola was quiet. I deliberately rode past the town and continued the 3km to the Government dock. It was small and tranquil, not exactly a beehive of activity this day. I rode back up to the town, scoped out a likely looking eatery and parked the bike. The food was tasty, the waitress friendly and the locals were interesting to watch. After my meal I was going to walk around the town but I felt like an alien in my ‘stitch and wasn’t dressed “properly” underneath for me to take it off. Instead I hopped back up on the bike and did a 15mph tour of Bella Coola. It’s actually a fairly well appointed town, with some very nice looking shops and interesting stores. Much to my surprise I found a building with “Government Agencies” indicating what was inside – and a “for sale” sign stuck in the front lawn. So its not just American officials who can be bought…
There was no real reason to stay in Bella Coola any longer and I made the 3-hour journey back along the river and climbed The Hill again. Going up was impressive and I stopped for some more photos along the way. It wasn’t long before I was flying along the pavement and came back to Tatla Lake. I stopped there in hopes of skipping the tent entirely that night and just asking for the couch. Unfortunately for me, the Innkeeper had “real guests” that night so I would not be able to slum it in the Common Room. I considered tenting it again and then quickly regained my sanity. It was only 4pm – too early to quit riding for the day where there was no reason to stop. I decided to keep going to Williams Lake. But first I had a tasty dinner and visited with the Innkeeper and her guests. I knew that I’d be late arriving in Williams Lake but had already promised myself a cheap motel room when I got there.
The highway cuts across many mountains
Watch for livestock
There’s not much to see on the return trip on Hwy 20 that hadn’t been seen the first time around. It was an uneventful ride until I was about 20 miles from Williams Lake when I saw flashing lights ahead of me. There was a small motorcycle pulled onto the shoulder and a car parked behind it with emergency flashers on. I slowed as I went by but did not stop. I figured that the car driver had stopped and was giving the motorcyclist help. But then I thought that perhaps the car driver didn’t have the tools or knowledge to help out the motorcyclist. I’m no mechanic, but I do know a basic thing or two, and I had a bag full of tools and supplies. I turned around.
It was a good thing that I did, as the driver was with the motorcyclist and she had nothing to offer in the way of assistance other than a ride somewhere else, abandoning the bike by the side of the road. The rider, still dressed in his ancient helmet and gear, was poking around on the bike when I pulled up. He thanked me for stopping and explained the situation. I didn’t understand why the bike failed but the rider seemed confident that if we refilled his engine with oil (of which it had none) then all would be well. Pulling out my spare quart, he poured half of it into the old Honda’s engine. With a smile he hit the starter and much to my surprise the bike fired right off. I repacked my bike as he and his chase car thanked me and headed towards Williams Lake. It didn’t take long for me to overtake the small Honda, but it seemed to be chugging along just fine. I gave a wave as I passed him and finished the ride through the darkening landscape.
The next morning was Wednesday. I had two days to get to Jasper, something I could very well do that day if I chose to. I would have wandered through tiny back roads all the way there, but the trouble was that there weren’t any tiny back roads. British Columbia only has so many roads, and my choices were limited in how to get to Jasper from this point. After packing the bike (I had pulled my tent out to dry in the motel room) I gave the Visitors Centre another try. This time they were open so I went in to inquire about my two route options for traveling to Jasper and which might be the better one. The clouds had moved back in and I could tell that today would not be a day for idyllic sightseeing, so I chose the road with the least amount of people I would likely see. I pulled out of Williams Lake and headed north on the 97. Straight north, following a major transportation artery for a couple of hours was not my cup of tea, so I was happy to take the turn off for the eastbound portion of the Yellowhead Highway. This is not a spectacular road by any means. There are great lengths of few turns and the scenery is beautiful but not awe-inspiring. It was desolate. It was quite. It was peaceful. I loved it.
I rode for hours seeing very little along the way. Nothing but the glimpse of rocky crags playing peak-a-boo with the clouds, or observing the changing colours of the leaves that speckled the hillsides. I loved the remoteness and the untouched beauty.
There was also nowhere to eat. As usual, I left in the morning without eating and it was now well past 3pm and I still hadn’t stopped. I was thankful, then, to come into McBride and find it a decently sized town. I came across an empty café; the only two occupants were the owners who were amusing themselves with a card game at one of the tables. Their dog had taken up residence under another one of the tables and I had the rest of the place to myself. The couple didn’t let my appearance disrupt their game and I encouraged them to take their time. Eventually the wife won and they both got up to prepare the sandwich that I had ordered between hands. I considered staying the night in McBride, just a couple of short hours away from Jasper. But again, it was too early to stop and I considered staying at a hostel that I knew about in Jasper. I made my decision to take my chances on getting a bed at the hostel and once again turned the bike east on the Yellowhead.
Along the Yellowhead Highway
Moose Lake near Jasper
Scenery near Jasper
Wildlife giving a show
From here the road became much more dramatic and the scenery, while still partially hidden by clouds, was promising that there was a lot to see on a clear day. As it was, I appreciated the low overcast skies for the depth and drama that they added to the scene. Wisps of clouds dragged along as the mountains reached up to grab them with their coat of finger-like trees. Yes, its always a good day to ride.
I pulled into Jasper relatively early – around 6:30 – and secured a bunk at the hostel for myself for the night. Dusk fell quickly with the low clouds and I was inclined to stay inside, read my book and enjoy listening to the many languages being spoken around me. “Lights out” was at 11pm, which was plenty late for me and I slept like a baby.
Now it was Thursday, the day I was to meet my friends in Jasper. I wasn’t expecting any of them until that afternoon or evening so I had the entire day to myself and some pretty uncooperative weather to spend it in. I thought about heading south on the Icefields Parkway and marvel at the massive glaciers and mountains and waterfalls but I rationalised that that was tomorrow’s planned ride, and why should I ride it twice when there were other roads to explore? So I rolled slowly through Jasper and out the other side, following the Yellowhead yet again in search of adventure and beauty. I found some rain and some mountain sheep, but not a heck of a lot of adventure. I did see a massive bull Caribou very close to the side of the road, his rack an impressive size like I’ve never seen before. I was rather disappointed with how the road was going and was in the process of turning around to go back to Jasper when I saw a 2-up motorcycle going in that direction. Intuition told me that they were part of the group that I was to meet, so I followed them to the next turn off, where they had pulled over. Sure enough, it was a couple from New Brunswick who had shipped their bike out for the meet. We rode into Jasper together and found our hotel. After checking in, the New Brunswick couple decided to check out Mt Robson, a spot that I had passed on my way to Jasper the previous afternoon. I declined to join them and instead spent the afternoon reading my book while sitting in the park across the street from the hotel. The clouds were thinning and the sun that did come through was warm and inviting. The other motorcyclists who were to meet in Jasper eventually showed up and after a bit of disorganization we eventually made plans for dinner. After a delicious meal and excellent conversation we headed to our rooms in preparation for heading south to Banff the next morning. This was to be one of the most “non-planned” rides I had ever been on, with riders constantly joining or leaving the group at various points along the route. I don’t think one person made it through the entire originally planned route, but those who did come along had a great time.
After a fairly quick breakfast and another disorganized attempt to leave together, we finally headed south on the Icefields Parkway. I could see that that I should have taken advantage of the “good” weather the previous day, as today’s weather consisted of very low clouds which, as we gained elevation, turned to rain. Visibility was good – if you didn’t want to see anything but the road in front of you. I stopped once to wipe the fog off of my visor, waving the rest of the group on. I wouldn’t be long and at the speeds they were going at it would be easy to catch up. I was back on the road in no time and rolled on the throttle in an attempt to find the group. I was surprised when I didn’t see them right away, so I just kept pressing onward, despite the rain and the beginnings of snowflakes. I passed by Sunwaptha, a small cluster of buildings by the side of the road, and was surprised to see one of the bikes from my group out front. I circled back and found the rider standing by his bike, getting ready to gear up. He said that he had been further down the road but it had started to snow in earnest. He wasn’t too keen on riding in those conditions and chose to return to Jasper for the night. I said that I was going to try and catch the rest of the group and would let them know of his plans so that they would not worry about his absence. I put my soggy gloves back on and returned to the road. It didn’t take long for the snow to thicken and start to fall faster. It started to accumulate on the trees, and then the grass and pretty soon it was stacking up on the side of the road. It was coating my visor and I was constantly fighting between wiping off the snow and letting in fresh air to clear the fog off the inside. I scanned the road for my friends but did not see them. This didn’t surprise me, as I really couldn’t see much at all at this point. I saw a motorcyclist heading the other way and wondered if he had come from Banff or if he was a refugee from the snow. There was no way for me to know if the road would get worse before it got better and I was concerned that I had passed my friends along some pullout and simply didn’t see them.
This uncertainty led me to question whether or not I should continue. Just then I came upon two Goldwings being loaded into a trailer at the side of the road. I pulled off in front of the truck and pondered my options. They say discretion is the better part of valor, so I exhibited discretion and turned around. I had traveled maybe 10 miles through the snow before retreating, and now had to travel 10 more miles just to get out of the snow and back into the safety of the rain. I stopped at Sunwaptha in case the crew had also turned around and were waiting for me, but there was no sign of them. I waited with a mug of hot chocolate, chatting with some other motorcyclists who were also debating what step to take next. I finally gave up, put my gear back on and climbed on the GS. Back to Jasper it would be.
The rain let up as I reached Jasper, filling me with doubt that I had made the right decision and wondering if the conditions were really that bad. Knowing that they were, I stopped by the hotel to see if anyone was there. I waited around for a bit, and posted to the group’s website so that they would know where I was if they thought to check the Internet. I had no cell phone numbers, so I couldn’t even call anyone. As I sat on a bench I saw an unfamiliar motorcyclist pull up. I went over to talk with him and found that the snow also inconvenienced him and his riding plans. I mentioned that I would probably stay at the hostel and he thought that sounded like a grand idea. It was only 2:30 when we arrived at the hostel and we were lucky – we were given the last two beds available for the night. After unpacking some gear we rode back into town and secured the makings of a tasty dinner to prepare in the hostel’s well-appointed kitchen. After our meal we settled down to a night of fun with the other guests of the hostel, playing games and telling stories until it was time once again for “lights out”.
Saturday morning arrived and I toyed with the idea that the snow had passed and I could make the run down to Banff. Looking out the window quickly dispelled that thought, as the clouds were still hanging low and the snow line on the nearby mountain had not risen to higher elevations overnight. I packed up the GS and decided to retreat and head west over the Yellowhead the way I came in two days previous. I think I made the right decision, although it was hard to convince myself that the slightly higher cloud cover wasn’t being repeated down the Parkway. I beat it back past Mt Robson, along Moose Lake and through more “cloud enhanced dramatic landscape” then I care to see again anytime soon. I had altered my plans yet again. The group that I had lost track of were supposed to be heading south this day to Glacier National Park, and then north to Nelson on the day after that. I knew that there was no way I’d ever make it to Glacier in time to meet up with them for the ride into Nelson, so I chose to head directly to Nelson and spend a quiet day there while waiting for them to show up.
The first half of the day went well: the clouds parted for a good portion of the ride and the roads were dry and fairly open. There was minimal traffic and very little to slow me down. The scenery was pleasant and the roads were relaxing. Unfortunately, I didn’t want relaxing roads. I want twisties and sweepers and curves: pavement that would keep the tires round and a smile on my face. I cursed the vacationers who didn’t pull completely off the road while they ogled a good-size black bear in the underbrush. But as I kept going south, the road became more interesting. I was re-entering the land to the north of Kamloops where the forest fire left its devastating mark. This time there were wisps of clouds, caught in the spindly tops of dead pines. Heavy clouds sank into valleys and gave me the unique view of looking down upon them for once. The sun kept poking its head through and taunting me with the prospect of true warmth. Instead, I stopped to find warmth in the form of lunch. This time I had found a generic roadside restaurant somewhere near Clearwater. Lunch was standard restaurant fare and while I lingered over the local newspaper I wasn’t very long off the road. The day was passing and I still had a long way to get to Nelson.
I gassed up in Kamloops and made my plan of attack for the rest of the day: I would get to Vernon and see how I felt. The road outside of Kamloops is quite built up until the turn off for Vernon. Then it’s nothing but pristine back roads, winding through gentle hills and scenic farmland. The clouds were heavy to the east – the direction I was headed in – but I figured that it wouldn’t do any good to worry about them. I reached Vernon in no time and stopped by the Visitors Centre to rest. I had been on the road for 5 hours with only a 30 minute lunch break tossed in there. I checked on the weather conditions to the east and found exactly what I expected: rain. But the temperatures would not drop low enough to threaten snow so I decided to continue on. Some of BC’s best roads lie to the east of Vernon and at any other time I would have relished the opportunity to rail through them. Heavy traffic kept me company on the way out of Vernon and didn’t thin out until the rain joined me. It rained steadily for the next four hours as I negotiated tight corners, climbed mountains, waited in ferry lines and blasted through open farmland. I stopped in Nakusp, a mere 30 miles from Nelson, because not only had the rains had not let up; it was also getting darker and colder. I asked at a couple of motels for room rates but when given the price, I couldn’t give in to the thought of paying for a hot shower and warm bed when I knew that the same thing waited for me at a friend’s house less than 30 minutes away. I got back on the bike and rode some more. I took a road I had never been on before – the 6 between New Denver and South Slocan. I would like to take this route again, in the daylight and with dry roads. It gave the appearances of being a stellar road, with great lake views and interesting curves. I was not to fully experience either of those tonight, as the darkness was kept at bay only by my headlights, and the wet pavement gave my throttle hand caution. Eventually I rolled into Nelson, full of uncertainty. My friend Norm had invited me to stay with him but he didn’t expect me until the next night. Not to mention that I had only been to his house once before and I was relying on my memory to find his house again. I did find it, with very little trouble, but was dismayed to find that he was not home. But being the considerate friend that he is (or forgetful, either one works for me) he left his door unlocked. I let myself in, deliberated for a goodly amount of time as to what I should do and then made my decision: I took a hot shower. I snuggled up on the couch and read my book until Norm came home a little bit later, not terribly surprised to find me there. We talked for a while and then, quite tired, I retired for the night.
The next day, Sunday, was spent in leisure, as I did not expect the Banff contingent to make it into Nelson any time soon. Norm and I wandered around the charming downtown district of Nelson for a while and then walked to the Hume Inn, where the group I was supposed to be with had reservations for the night. Norm and I found a new member of the group who had ridden up from Glacier. It turns out that Glacier was getting its fair share of snow and Going to the Sun road was closed with 5” of snow. I wondered what route the Banff people had taken seeing as they weren’t in Nelson yet. What I didn’t know is that all but the New Brunswick couple had headed home, and this couple was already in Nelson but at a different motel. It was all very confusing. There were some group members who showed up that day to join in for the last two days of riding but they slipped off for a quick ride while there was still daylight and the rain was holding off. Finally, around 7pm, those who were in Nelson for the Banff Run met for dinner and enjoyed a great time around the table, telling stories and finding out where each other was from and what route they took to get there. The evening didn’t last very late as the riding conditions had taken a lot of out the riders. Each headed back to where they were staying that night with plans to meet up early the next day and catch breakfast on the road. Part of the group had a lot of miles to cover so they planned on meeting even earlier and just heading straight back to their homes. That left three bikes to finish the Banff Run from Nelson.
Monday morning was wet, with a continuous rain that washed off the pavement. Our little trio geared up in front of the Hume and I led us south out of Nelson, toward the 3 and hopefully, sunnier skies. The first hour or so remained wet, but the scenery around the Kootenays is spectacular no matter what the weather holds. The clouds were nestled low in the valleys or drifted casually in the treetops. Shades of grey kept us company as we rolled up over the mountains and dropped down into valleys. Traffic was enough to be a bother but there was always enough room for our three bikes to get around the backups. I led a brisk pace and was pleased to notice that while the road surface was still wet, it was residual and the sky was lightening up the further west we headed.
To my great pleasure the road surface dried out for long stretches and I was able to actually put a little bit of throttle into the corners. I wasn’t sure of the others’ preferences for speed so I didn’t push too hard, but I did manage to have some fun. As the Crowsnest Highway approached Osoyoos, the clouds moved back in and drizzled periodically, just enough to keep the speeds down and the gloves damp. What is normally an amazing view from Anarchist Pass was instead a veiled wall of grey. I could see the clouds pouring their contents into the valley to the north – the direction we were heading – and sighed softly inside my helmet. Would the rain ever stop?
After a dramatic drop into the Okanogan Valley we stopped for lunch. I had made up my mind that I was going to cut off the last day of the Banff Run and simply head home. I was mere minutes from the border to the south, it was raining like hell to the north and I was ready to see my cats. I bid adieu to my friends, made a quick stop at a local winery to pick up a present for my cat sitter and, glutton for punishment that I am, headed west into the mountains instead of south down the sun-filled valley. I really enjoy riding the 3 across southern BC and that day was no exception. I stopped once for fuel and talked to some cruisers who had just come from the rain – which was no surprise seeing it was raining in just about any direction I looked. Mind you, not every mile I covered was wet, but it seemed that the majority of them were. However that just made the sunshine and occasional blue skies all that much more precious as I wove my way through the peaks and valleys. There was almost no traffic to speak of and eventually the mountains gave up their hold on the land and the road straightened out. I was riding through the fertile farmland on the outskirts of Vancouver, chasing the now visible sun to the horizon and thinking about a very long and hot shower. But before that shower could be a reality I still had to travel another two hours on the interstate in fortunately very light traffic. It had been another long day in the saddle, but I finally reached my door in the cool darkness, happy to be home once again and already thinking about the next trip.
Looking north from Osoyoos