August 23rd, 2021

on the res

okanagan picture post

Here are some pictures of getting through the southbound Okanagan leg of my tour.

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After my break in the Similkameen, i am going to drive along highway 3 to Osoyoos and US border - my original destination and a bucket list spot for me. Unfortunately the Nk'mip Creek fire is still raging in Osoyoos, and the US border is not open, so fuck my life, but i'm going to go there anyway just to say that i did. Then back north to the KVR.
on the res

Cawston → Osoyoos

Where is Cawston and how did i get there? Well, it's a tiny little farming community just downriver from Keremeos in the Similkameen valley. I met up with N in Penticton and we went out for Indian food. Then we chucked my bike in his van and he took me over the pass to the valley. It was dark when we headed over, so waking up was a really pleasant surprise.

I already detailed my lazy Sunday morning and afternoon in a previous post, but after i wrote that post, sitting on a bench, basking in the sun, next to the river, i still had to head home for bratwurst.

I found another old rail trail that cut right in between the orchards. It was mostly large, smooth river stones - a very bumpy ride, but seemingly less dangerous than the jagged rocks on the KVR - and overgrown grass. There were several points where the vines had arched over the trail, so it was like riding through a cathedral of grapes. Really fun and novel experience.

Back at the house, N was blasting tunes and we sat down for a sausage and salad in the backyard, a great little BBQ zone under two walnut trees with old car seats around the table.

But it got better. N is organizing a small festival in the area, a bit of techno music, a bit of meditation, an optimistic fusion of hippie and raver aesthetics without going full psytrance. As well as organizing the festival, he will also be performing live - he is collaborating with M to do an ambient/drone/chill set, and i went over to M's place to watch them practice.

M lives in a shipping container on another farm. Inside the shipping container is a bed, a small kitchen, and a stupid amount of music equipment, including a modular synthesizer. So he sat there playing with knobs and cables like a mad scientist while N pulled up Ableton and triggered sound effects and mixed in "healing tones"... and then set up the mic and did goddamn throat singing and played bansuri flute, looping the samples and overlaying it into a massive, fat, world music-y ambient soundscape. It was epic. He even got me to jam along on a guitar with every string tuned to D.

After practice we had some chai and chatted some more, then i retreated to my tent in the yard. The wind was howling down the canyon - it was tipping over unsecured farm equipment and sending hats flying. My little tent shook and rattled but it kept me safe and warm.

Riding out of the Similkameen to Osoyoos on highway 3 was... fuck. Incredible. It is exactly the kind of ride i want to do. It's exactly the North America i think of when i close my eyes and think about North America. Rugged, bare, rocky peaks rising from endless hills of yellow grass and sagebrush scrub. Black highway, yellow lines. It's so pure and beautiful. After the past couple weeks of going through claustrophobic trees and ponds and all that dirty, ugly, messy undergrowth, just to be able to see for miles, this clean and perfect scenery, with so much space to breathe, God i wish it went on for longer than 30-40km stretches in Canada.

But it doesn't. After a shallow but long and hard climb due to the intense winds sheering through the pass, i popped out at Osoyoos where the first thing i saw was a taco stand, so i got tacos.

I don't know what i was expecting from Osoyoos. I think i was expecting a kind of shabby wild west town with tumbleweed flying across the road and biker gangs and meth heads. It's not that at all. The valley is way, way greener than i imagined. It's not a desert at all. Everything has been irrigated and cultivated and it looks pretty much the same as all the rest of the Okanagan, which was really disappointing to me. How can you destroy the desert like that?

Aside from the orchards and vineyards, the town is almost entirely resorts and caravan parks. And i'm talking oldskool caravan parks, like where caravans are literally parked side-by-side on gravel or tarmac with no trees or any space between them. It looks like a fucking refugee camp, but i guess a lot of people must enjoy holidaying like that because there it is.

I rode up to the Osoyoos Indian Band reserve to see the Nk'Mip Desert Cultural Centre, but it was closed for COVID reasons, i think. There is a small strip of desert the way it originally was that you can get to without going into gated-off land, so i had a bike through there and took some photos, but it's a vanishingly small strip. A big chunk of the rez - much bigger than on the Tk'emlúps reserve - is given over to an RV park and several hotels and gated communities for people who want to live or holiday in the middle of a golf course and a vineyard. More power to the Osoyoos Band, i guess, makin' that money. It's just sad that preserving the nature doesn't make as much money. I'd pay money to hike the desert, but i know i wouldn't pay nearly as much as some Chinese tourist coming to play golf and drink wine.

So, dejected, i went back down the hill to sẁiẁs provinical park to camp. And it was full. For fuck's sake. At this point i decided to just embrace the naff 70sness of it all and go get a campsite with a fucking cabana.

And it turned out that was the best decision i made in Osoyoos. I spent almost an hour talking to the campsite owner A and her husband G. I set up my tent next to a caravan and opposite some other tents. Everyone has a private cabana which has a picnic table and a cold water tap and a power outlet and (optionally, if you want to plug it in) a fridge to keep your beers cool.

I just got back from sitting on the beach and drinking a beer. The wind is howling so hard that there are whitecaps on the lake and waves are rolling in like the sea in fast forward. Seagulls are just floating and gliding in place, like silent helicopters. I dug my feet into the sand and let the sun shine on my face and felt the water spray onto me. And it felt awesome. I know it's just like being at a resort on the Med, but for fuck's sakes, a part of me is still British, and enjoying sitting at a resort on the Med is in our blood. I wish i had some fish'n'chips.

Now i am back in my tent typing this, safe in the knowledge i can recharge my electronics in my own private cabana. Cabanas are the best. I want a cabana to camp next to wherever i am.

Anyway, talking to the campsite owner husband, he did some bike touring when he was younger, and ironman triathlons too. He said i shouldn't bother going back up to the KVR because it would be boring to see the same leg again. I did miss the most famous and touristic part, which is the Myra Canyon trestles, but although i would kinda love to cycle over railroad trestles and take photos of canyons, i can also imagine being up there with a ton of people who got bused up from Kelowna and rented a bike to pedal back and forth for a few km taking selfies and, yeah, probably won't be as cool as i hope.

The interesting thing about the KVR is that it does this massive loop north, east, then south, just to get to the same place that you can get to anyway by cycling over the mountain right next to Osoyoos. That is Anarchist Mountain, and it's apparently one of the most brutal road bike climbs in Canada. It's like 6% all the way, for 20km. But when you get to the top you just zip down the other side and you're in the Kootenays, no need for a 5 day trip along the Kettle River.

And, i have to say, it is a little bit tempting to take on that challenge. I know it's more than i am able to handle, but i also know i'll be pushing myself to the limit. And G was right, i would be repeating myself for at least one day going from Penticton to Chute Lake in the other direction. Not to mention i feel like i closed the chapter on my Okanagan experience. Going up through Oliver and Okanagan Falls like i planned, i'm sure it's very beautiful, but it might just be more of the same. Vineyards. Orchards. Tourists.

Blasting up Anarchist would be cool anyway because, fucking, anarchism, right? Ⓐ But also it would be such an achievement to get to the top, and a great practice for going over the Rockies, which will also be a road climb.

On the other hand, no wild camping. No close encounters with man-eating critters. No bumpity bump over sand and gravel. And maybe i'll miss some of those wide shots of trees that y'all love. (Although, by all accounts, the Kootenays has even more fucking trees, so i'll be suffering and you'll be enjoying those photos the whole way to Alberta.)

I dunno. I need to sleep on it. Maybe i should go sit in my cabana and meditate.

I have a cabana, you guys. I never had a cabana before. It's so exciting.

Anyway, since i have wifi here and i feel like Osoyoos was anyway the intended endpoint of my first leg out of Kamloops, i want to post this now instead of chaining together a few more days. Where will i go next? Who knows!