"Hey Alex, you're Canadian... What would be a good place for a bike tour in Canada?"
It was with this question that the seeds of our adventure in the Okanagan Plateau in British Colombia were sown.
Briefly, the Kettle Valley Railway is a rails to trails project located between the Kootenay Mountains and the Cascades in Central BC. The original railway was completed in 1915 at the hands of chief engineer Andrew McCulloch and was considered quite the engineering marvel in its day.
Our 200 mile, 3 day route only traversed a small portion of the railway, but if you include the main Kettle Valley Line and all the adjacent and connecting rails to trails routes, one could easily put together a several week trip. The now out of print, "Cycling the Kettle Valley Railway," by Dan and Sandra Langford, is your guide to this great system of trails.
After arriving in Oroville, WA we spent the night in the minivan/camping rig and woke up to bright, sunny skies on the shores of Osoyoos lake.
After breakfast fuel at Eva's Diner and Bakery (great if you like awesome blueberry pancakes, hanging with old men in overalls, and Fox News) we saddled up the steeds and made for the hills.
From the first pedal stroke, the scenery did not disappoint. We meandered from Oroville, across the border to Osoyoos and from there through Inkaneep, Oliver, and on to Okanagan Falls. Part of the route took us on some amazingly beautiful, paved, very small roads through land belonging to the Osyoos Indian Band.
Once we hit Okanagan Falls (or OK falls if you're local) things got interesting. On paper, the gravel road that was to take us from Okanagan falls up to Idleback Lake (70 miles in and our camping spot for the night) looked doable enough. However, in actual fact it turned out to be pretty damn challenging. Put it this way... In a 70 mile route, with the first 40 on relatively flat pavement, and the last 10 down hill on buff gravel, we averaged under 10 MPH on the day. Yeah.
Thankfully, when we arrived at the lake, the scenery did not dissapoint. We slept well.
After a hearty camp breakfast of coffee out of our Ride Nomi mugs and bacon and eggs, we set off to continue. Day 2 started by meeting up with the railway proper about 20 miles in. We intersected the railway just south of McCulloch Station and Hydraulic Lake Reservoir. This part of the trail must be at a bit of a low point because we almost immediately encountered several, very large, very wide, and very deep puddles spanning the entire width of the trail. I think we kept the axles above the water. However, our feet got wet and I spent the next few hours worrying about trench foot.
The highlight of the day, though, was the section of trail through Myra Canyon. This section includes amazing scenery of Kelowna and the valley bottom and involves cycling across no less than 18 historic wooden trestles, and three tunnels carved out of solid rock.
Shortly after this beautiful bit of scenery, we descended into East Kelowna. The descent was mostly paved and incredibly fun, though both of us couldn't help but think that we had to climb back up again to make our camp spot for the evening.
After a resupply in Kelowna and a brief stop for a sink bath at a public park, we began our ascent out of the vally bottom. Incidentally, a sink and some Dr. Bronners is pretty unbelievable when you are as sweaty and smelly as we were.
The first 1000 feet of the 3000 foot climb started easily enough, steep but paved. We mighta paperboy'd a little but whatever. Then we hit the dirt. Then things got hard. Again. I think the last 2000 feet took us about 3 hours. We hiked our bikes more than we actually rode them. Not only was the road steep, it was rocky, rutted, loose, and gnarly. Anna kept muttering something about cyclocross while I just muttered expletives.
Finally, after what seemed like hours (oh wait, it was hours), we met back up with the railway and crusied into Chute Lake. This was after the second flat in two days within 3 miles of our campsite.
Despite the mosquitos, it felt so good to arrive, get camp set up, and have a whiskey ginger. Or two. Woulda been three except the third got spilled. In the tent. We won't say how.
We woke up on the morning of day three to steely skies. It was the first time the weather evenlooked remotely questionable. We started with an easy jaunt down a -2.2%, 25 mile stretchof the buffest gravel you've ever seen. Much easier than yesterday. Right?
After lunch in Penticton, the rain started. And didn't let up. All day. We had already made the decision that day to just knuckle up and ride that last 70 miles back to the car and get home a little early. The rain definitely sealed that deal. No way we were going to set up muddy rain camp.
Even though the riding was much easier the last day, the rain definitely made things challenging. It was just cold and wet enough to be uncomfortable. Oh, and did we mention the third flat within 3 miles of home? However, we perservered and finally arrived back at the car. After a quick shower and some dry clothes and snacks, we were on our way back home.
All in all a great trip. Challenging, but great. Attitudes and morale stayed up, and when they started to fall a bit, one of us would inevitably help buoy the other we back up.
New pieces of kit we tried out on this trip did not disappoint. The Rapha + Apidura seat pack and handlebar pack were functional, stylish, and worked great. One could get out for a fast and light easily with just those two packs. We decided that high volume, low pressure, supple slick tires would be the way to go for the varied terrain of the trip. Each of our bikes were shoed in Soma Supple Vitesse EX tires by Panaracer for Soma. I rode the 700 x 42mm tires which John, at Rivelo PDX was able to order for me. Anna had the 38mm version. Wow. Let us just again confirm the virtues of a high volume, low pressure, high thread count tire for this type of riding.
At the end of the day, this route was 50% gravel, not all of it easy, and passed about 1000 wineries and orchards. So if that's your thing, you can't really go wrong riding around this area. Another good one in the books. Until next time.