My wife and I go two-up for two weeks through Canada’s most western province.
In my last post, I crossed the prairies, spending some time in Grasslands National Park, then met up with my wife in Calgary. After a few days there visiting family and friends and watching the Euro final, it was time to load up the bike again and continue the journey westward, but now, instead of riding solo, I had Marilyn riding pillion.
We didn’t know how this would go. She had been on the back of the bike for day trips, but not an extended period like this, and not in the kind of heat we were facing. I had explained to her that motorcycle touring is like Longfellow’s little girl with the golden curl: when she’s good, she’s very, very good, but when she’s bad, she’s horrid. This would be a test of Marilyn’s toughness. We both had mesh jackets, but the heat was oppressive. We also didn’t know how the little 650 would fare fully loaded over some of those Rocky Mountain passes. Would this 16-year-old bike (literally) pull through?
Our first stop was Creston in southern BC, where we had some good friends who recently retired there from Calgary. Creston is in southern BC, so south that the US-Canada border is just over a mountain range. Marilyn lived in Alberta and shot weddings in Calgary and BC for close to twenty years, so she was very familiar with the highways and our options. We decided to take the 93 that follows the Kootenay River. It’s a beautiful highway, and our first opportunity to experience a ride through The Rocky Mountains. As we turned south onto the 93, we pulled off for our first rest stop at The Continental Divide, which had me contemplating another bucket-list ride.
The Continental Divide Trail is a primarily dirt route that runs north-south from the Canadian to the Mexican borders, passing along the spine of the divide through Montana, Idaho, Colorado, and New Mexico, and consisting of approximately 4,500 kilometres of spectacular wilderness. It’s one of the great ADV rides and is part of my retirement plans. But one bucket-list ride at a time. Soon we were back on the highway heading south, with Rocky Mountain peaks looming on the right and the turquoise Kootenay River following us on the left.
We passed through Radium Hot Springs and Fairmont Hot Springs, but neither of us felt much like soaking in thermal waters. Rather, we pulled off at Wasa Rest Area to wet our shirts in the Kootenay River before continuing on, a trick I’ve used several times when even airflow across perspiring skin is not enough to keep you cool. When I climbed back on and went to start the bike again, the instrument panel lit up for an instant and the bike made a kind of choked cough—not quite a crank but more the sound of its intention. I tried again with the same result.
“That’s not good,” I muttered.
“What’s not good?” my passenger replied.
“The bike won’t start.”
This comment elicited the type of silence no husband wants to hear. Then I noticed a warning on my phone, which I’d left on the bike, that it was overheating. I also had a lithium battery in the bike and deduced that the battery in the bike, like the one in the phone, must be overheating.
One thing I like about my bike is that you can bump start it. Just a few days prior, I had been riding with my brother-in-law who has a KTM 390 Adventure. It’s a great bike, but he doesn’t like the slipper clutch on it. The first time he stalled the bike off-roading, he popped the clutch, expecting it to fire up again. But you can’t bump start a bike with a slipper clutch, so if you have battery issues, as I did now, you’re hooped. I say it’s better to learn how to rev-match and downshift properly and stick with a conventional clutch. I suppose there are some who say the same about electric starters, how we have lost the ability to kick-start the bike if necessary.
Meanwhile, our friends in Creston were texting that appetizers were ready. I looked around and noticed that the rest stop had a slight hill at one end, so I pushed the bike up as far as I could and turned it around. Now came the difficult part: asking my wife to push. Remember, it was 33C (91F) in the shade—hot enough to overheat batteries, let alone mere mortals in full riding gear. But she did, to her full credit and glory, and the bike fired up again, and we were back on our way. Marilyn had passed the first test of MTT, Motorcycle Touring Toughness.
What really bugged me about this incident is that I had just put a new battery in the bike specifically for this trip. Anyone who has been following this blog knows the problems I’ve had with the OEM battery, and they always seem to occur while on tour. The battery is above the engine, where a gas tank is on most normal (i.e. non-BMW) bikes, so it gets the full heat rising from the big thumper, and if that were not enough, it’s also next to the oil reservoir of the dry-sump system under the left body panel. To make matters worse, my bike is black, so with a heat source from three sides—engine, oil, and sun—it’s a veritable oven in there that boils the wet cells dry.
So part of my prep for the tour was to buy an Anti-Gravity lithium-ion battery, and it wasn’t cheap. Unfortunately, what I later discovered in talking with their tech support is that there is a thermal sensor in those batteries, and I guess the extreme heat on this particular bike was tripping the sensor and shutting down the battery. To add insult to injury, I have a battery jump pack, and the bike has remote jumper terminals under the seat, so it would have been easy to jumper the bike, but the battery pack was sitting safely in my workshop at home. Doh! I was so confident in the new battery that I had decided to not pack the power bank. I would regret that decision more than once on this tour.
Back on the road, we decided to not risk turning off the bike until our destination. Thankfully we had enough gas to get us there and the remainder of the ride was without drama. The cold beer upon our arrival never tasted better.
After a few days in Creston, it was time to continue on to more friends in New Denver. Now there are a few ways to get there, but again, my back-seat navigator knew the best: the 3A up the east side of Kootenay Lake, a ferry across the lake at Kootenay Bay to Balfour, the 31 up the west shore, and the spectacular 31A from Kaslo to New Denver, the latter listed as one of the Top 10 rides in Canada. This is without doubt some of the best riding I’ve ever done, not just for the twisty roads but also for the incredible views. It just doesn’t get much better than this.
I am now 58 years old, so retirement is not as far off as it once was. We plan to retire in BC, and part of this trip was to get a feel for the place—familiar to Marilyn but new to me—and scout possible locations. I immediately got a good vibe about Kaslo during our brief stop. Okay, you don’t make such a decision over a coffee break, but there was much to admire in that little town. For starters, it’s equidistant from friends in Creston and New Denver. I noticed that there were a lot of kayaks on top of vehicles, so I figured Kaslo has a healthy, recreation culture. I also noticed that they had managed to maintain the old architecture of their buildings, and the aesthetics of a place is important to me. And speaking of aesthetics, Kaslo is surrounded by mountains, is on a lake, and is just the right size: big enough for a strip of stores for your essential needs, but small enough for passerby to say hello in greeting. We lingered a bit, and Marilyn wandered down to the water and along a path to where a paddleboat was docked. Then we hopped on the bike and went for a spin around the neighbourhood to take a look at the houses, and I stopped to talk with a guy who was selling a classic Triumph T120 parked on his driveway. Hmm . . . Another seed planted in plans for the future?
The 31A from Kaslo from New Denver is famous, unfortunately not all for the right reasons. Apparently some idiot who shall remain nameless posted a video of himself doing that 46K stretch of road in something like 8 minutes. Now it’s “a thing,” in the parlance of GenZ’s, to do it as fast . . . or kill yourself trying. We happen to know the paramedic in the area and she has the unpleasant task of scraping bodies off the road, so to speak. And if that were not tragic enough, you can tell from the inconsistent points of view from the helmet cam footage that the infamous video has been edited. Folks, enjoy the ride, but don’t be an idiot. If you want to ride like that, rent some time at the track, but don’t do it on public roads where you put your and others’ lives in danger.
Once in New Denver, we stopped at The Apple Tree Sandwich Shop for lunch, where I noticed this ad posted inside on a wall. You couldn’t get away with this kind of thing these days, and it shows just how times have changed in half a century. Where ads like this were previously attacked as sexist, today they are posted as interior decor, the double-meaning more amusing than anything else because the sexism is recognized by all but the most unenlightened.
Will the same be said of current marketing in the not-so-distant future?
Will some of the stereotypes surrounding motorcycles and bikers also become transparent to a general public? Not as long as we still have idiots who try to ride from Kaslo to New Denver in 8 minutes.
More friends welcomed us in New Denver, but before dinner we had enough time to check out the Nikkei Memorial Internment Centre. This National Historic Site is “dedicated to telling the story of over 22,000 Japanese Canadians who were forcibly relocated during World War II . . . [and] contains original buildings, period artifacts and interpretive displays as well as the Heiwa Teien Peace Garden, designed by the renowned Japanese Canadian gardener, Tomomichi (Roy) Sumi” (Nikkei). We took a stroll through the buildings and garden, then went down to the shoreline to wade into the water in the afternoon heat.
The Centre is a moving and reflective place that asks more questions than it answers, but perhaps that’s the primary purpose of sites devoted to remembering our more shameful historical events. The country is now deep in a period of reflective questioning and healing of other shameful events, and we later would see the signs of the Orange Summer wherever we went.
If you have the chance to visit the Memorial, you should. It’s well done. What I appreciated the most was that the artifacts and facts were presented without any political commentary, so you are free to interpret the events and draw your own conclusions. I never got the sense I was being “sold” a particular political narrative, or that blame and shame were being delivered. The over-riding feeling I walked away with was sadness, tragedy, and the massive costs of war. I found the displays of the children’s bedrooms the most moving, and tried to imagine what life would have been like at “The Orchard” internment camp, how a child would process those events, and how a parent might try to explain them. And I couldn’t help wondering if or how things would be different today if circumstances were similar. Which of course they are. As we enter the third year of another kind of war, there are plenty of reports of anti-Asian sentiment. Maybe times haven’t changed that much in certain respects over the previous decades.
The next day we were headed to Penticton, the Myrtle Beach of the North, for a change of pace. Our friend Brian was hosting us, and we were texting him throughout the day as we monitored news reports of a large forest fire threatening the area. You’re supposed to ride away from wildfires, not toward them. But he reassured us that the fires were “nowhere near,” which meant the other side of the mountain.
Our route took us over the Blueberry-Paulson Summit on Highway 3 between Castlegar and Christina Lake. At 1535 metres high, the Bonanza Pass would be Bigby’s first real challenge. The engine is the heart of any bike, and the Rotax engine on this little machine is a good one. Only once did it falter, and that, I have to add, was my fault. We were climbing and climbing and it was doing so well we were passing vehicles, so I got a little over-confident and pushed it too hard. At 120 km/hr in 5th at one of the steepest sections, the temperature light came on. I slowed, put it in 4th, kept the revs up at 5,000 rpm, and the bike was happy. We never had any other issues riding through the Rockies as long as I kept to this formula. If you have a 650GS and have to climb mountains fully loaded in heat, remember: 4th gear, 5,000 rpm.
One MTT test passed, we rode on towards another. As we descended, the heat climbed. It reached its peak, so to speak, in Osoyoos, a desert border town whose tagline is “Canada’s Warmest Welcome.” The town was blanketed in smoke blowing down from fires to the north, so now we had to deal with not only heat exhaustion but also asphyxiation. But there’s nothing a Tim Horton’s Iced Capp can’t fix.
After a brief break for us all, we pushed on up the 97 north into Penticton. Upon arrival at Brian’s place mid-afternoon, I went to move the bike, having realized I should have parked it further up the drive and in a more discrete location, but it did the same thing as before—the choked cough—which was testament to how hot it was. What was there to do but push the bike to its new spot and then go to the beach, which I understand is how most Pentictonites deal with life’s worst problems, like mechanical failure and climate change. We went for a swim, ate Indian food, and bought ice-cream. The day’s stress demanded all three.
As we walked along the beach taking in, uh, a different kind of interpretive display, a helicopter made regular passes overhead, swinging its Bambie Bucket en route to the fire location. It was the most surreal juxtaposition of events: on one side of the mountain, a massive forest fire eating its way through the wilderness; and on this side, bikini-clad girls playing volleyball (perhaps there were some boys playing too) while hot rods cruised the strip. The smoke of weed and forest fire battled for dominance in our olfactory senses. Penticton was a fun place to visit, but I don’t think I’ll be retiring there.
Our final leg out to Vancouver and the Pacific Ocean took us over Allison Pass into Hope—more great riding but now of a different kind. Where the Bonanza Pass was relatively straight, this section of Highway 3 is twisty and required my full attention. As we descended down to a hairpin turn, chatting about something or other and going a bit too fast, Marilyn tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Hey, it says 20 km/hr. You’re making me nervous, dude!” Those signs are suggested speeds for the trucks, of course, but I appreciated the warning. It only takes one lapse of attention on a road like this for things literally to go sideways.
I’d like to say that arriving at the Pacific Ocean was climactic, epiphanous, and moving. In fact, we dallied a little too long over dinner in Chilliwack, or maybe it was Abbotsford, I can’t remember, and missed by minutes our ferry to Bowan Island, our destination for the day. So our first sight of the Pacific was from the ferry terminal while we waited 45 minutes for the next departure—a rather anti-climactic ending to an epic ride across the country for me and over The Rockies for Marilyn.
Never mind. Whatever sour mood that had descended on us from our bad luck at the terminal was washed away by the sea once on the island. Our good friend, Joanne, who owns Cocoa West Chocolatier on the island, had rented sea kayaks for us, so the climax came in a paddle along the shore at dusk.
If you are ever near Bowan Island, make sure you get out to Cocoa West. The organic chocolate is worth the swim, and the accompanying suite is tasteful too.
Next up: we explore Bowan Island, head back to the mainland for a few days, then cross to Vancouver Island.