Yesterday morning i woke up to the depressing news that the White Rock Lake wildfire, which has been threatening some outlying communities of Kamloops, has jumped the highway and completely shut off the direct route to Vernon (at the top of Okanagan Valley). It's not a huge problem for me because i would be avoiding that route anyway (i am going to try to stick to rural roads), but then this morning i woke up to the news that both Chase (the next small village along the river) and Vernon are now in evacuation alert. That is, keep your go bag packed and stay tuned.
Motels here are booked full. Also yesterday i met up with a hobo who has been hitching and hopping freight all the way from out past Toronto. We hung out and had a few drinks, then she tried to get into a shelter, but they were full too. So i invited her back here so she could take a shower and sleep on the living room floor, which is a lot more luxurious than a train yard. She was planning to go down to the Okanagan to pick fruit, but after riding the train through Salmon Arm and seeing the fire in the sky she got a bit worried.
But then, despite all the bad news, today the wind picked up... which is very bad news for the fire crews, but it's good news for my mental health because it blew away almost all of the smoke in town, and for the first time in weeks i have been able to open the windows and breathe relatively fresh air. When M left to go thrifting and see if she could find a spot in a nearby shelter, i loaded up my bike completely and went for a short (20km) ride up to the CN yard and through some of the less busy roads on the rez then back home. Despite having a bit of a hangover, just being able to go outside and breathe and see the sun... holy shit, it was like i died and went to heaven.
No doubt the increased wind will cause the fires to spread even worse. Sparks Lake fire (on the west side of town) is still raging, the ranchers and indigenous communities have all had to evacuate. Lytton Creek (where the whole village burned down) is still going. Tremont Creek (also on the west side of town) is massive. Interior BC is fire fucking central. The one goddamn place where there is no fire is Kelowna, and there they're having an epic COVID-19 outbreak instead.
Anyway, i just texted with my friend N who has been living and working on a farm down in the Similkameen for over a year and asked him about the smoke situation down there. He said he actually was up in Canmore (Alberta/Rocky Mountains) for a few days, and just drove back down through Salmon Arm etc and saw the same apocalyptic visions that M had seen. But then he got past Kelowna and headed into his little valley and it was beautiful and smoke free. He also relayed the news that there is still plenty of fruit-pickin' available, in spite of the fires. So i passed that info back to M (who has managed to check into a shelter for tonight) so hopefully she'll be able to hitch through the smoke and find some work down there.
Hearing the news has improved my mood somewhat too, because Osoyoos (one of my Canadian bucket list destinations and my first real "goal" for this bike tour) is just one valley over from Similkameen... I mean, the Nk'mip Creek fire is another massive one, and it's burning just a few km from Osoyoos, but if the next valley over is clear then at least there is some hope for things settling down a bit in the next few weeks.
My immediate concern is going into communities that have an evacuation alert. I don't want to put extra pressure on communities that might need to evacuate on drop of a hat, so i'm really hoping that Chase and Vernon get the alert lifted by next week.
For people who want to follow along at home, my super-vague, kinda-sorta plan is to go from Kamloops to Chase on day one, which is a little town that has a paid campsite in it, but if there's no room in the campsite it's a small enough town i might be able to camp out back of a church or something. Then follow a gravel road up into the hills and into Turtle Valley, which has a few ranches and a provincial recreation area and campsites near the end. Then down the hill to Salmon Arm, where perhaps it'd be good to get a motel. Then south through Enderby, Armstrong, Vernon and into the Okanagan.
Who knows though, eh. I just have to take it day-by-day.
All i have left to do on my list is finish up a tiny bit of paid work, which i have procrastinated on all week, get a UPS box (virtual address services located in places where i can't talk to the people face-to-face just seem too shady to me), pick up my stupid new contact lenses which i won't wear anyway but i already paid for them, have a goodbye dinner/drinks with the roommates and that's it. Pending wildfire developments, i should be out ahead of next weekend.
It all seems a lot less scary when i can see a few patches of blue sky through the smoke.
Testing out my final frivolous purchase, another bit of gear to combat the elements.