amw (amw) wrote,

Vernon → Bear Creek → Chute Lake → ?

I am so proud of myself. I left Kelowna the hard way - straight up the murderous Gillard Creek Forest Service Road. Now i am camped out at Chute Lake, listening to some other campers playing Whitney Houston - I Wanna Dance With Somebody.

Let's rewind to Vernon. After my night in the motel i headed straight for the Okanagan Rail Trail, an old CN sub running between Vernon and Kelowna that got trailified.

The first stretch is easily the most beautiful, it hugs the edge of Kalamalka Lake, which has a fabulous turquoise color. There were a lot of people hiking and riding.

I was thinking that riding a rail trail is like bike touring on easy mode. That thought was soon to be challenged, but at the time it held true. No steep hills. Nice wide trail. No cars. Lots of other cyclists to help you out if you have a problem.

But there is a downside too. You meet fucking bike people. One woman flagged me down and asked me about every piece of gear strapped on my bike, and took photos of it too. I had heard from other bike hobos that this was a thing, but i didn't really believe it. But there it was, an entire conversation about what brand of this or that i had, and did i think it was better than some other brand and bla bla bla. It's so weird because i really am thoroughly uninterested in that stuff. I just bought what was cheap, easily available, solved my problem and preferably not made in China. I don't care about the brands i didn't buy. If something breaks or doesn't work how i want, i'll just get something else.

Sure enough, something was to break. Something important.

The Okanagan Rail Trail has a gap in it, close to Kelowna Airport. I suspect i could've snuck around the barrier and BMXed it, but who knows, maybe i would've ended up on a runway, so i took the official detour onto the fucking highway.

The highway sucks so hard. I don't mind the vehicles so much (although obviously it'd be much nicer if they weren't around), it's the debris on the shoulder that really sucks. Every highway shoulder i have ever been on is festooned with smashed glass, either from people chucking bottles out the window, or from people crashing their vehicle and spraying shards of windscreen everywhere. That's not to mention all the weird bits of metal junk and blown out tires. You kinda need to swerve to avoid completely fucking your tires, but if you swerve you will get run over by a car going a million miles an hour. Highways are truly an abysmal invention. They suck for noise pollution, they suck for urban planning, they suck for scenic drives, and they really really suck for cyclists and hitchhikers.

Please don't throw shit out your car window, folks. Also, don't crash your car. Drive slower. Drive safe.

Anyway, i went up on some curb thing when the shoulder suddenly disappeared, then the curb thing disappeared and my bike went clunk. When i got back on the rail trail i noticed my back tire was really squishy. I pumped it up. Cycled some more. Got squishy again. Fuck.

I took all the shit out my panniers and flipped the bike over, replaced the tube. Cycled about 5 minutes and it's all ba-bump, ba-bump. I was worried i might've bent the wheel, so called a bike store. Thank God i was in the city. I limped to the store i called and they had a look, said the wheel was fine but the tire was fucked. I don't even know how it happened but basically the whole sidewall was ripped up. It's probably been heading that way for a while, and would explain why occasionally i'd get this weird sliding off to one side, but going on the highway must've completely trashed it.

Because i know i have at least one bike nerd reading this, let me get into the setup. I just had the tires that came with the bike, 700c diameter (road bike size) and 38 wide (pretty fat, not like a fat bike, but like an old school mountain bike) with a hybrid road/trail tread. Now i have a Marathon 32 on the back, on the advice of one of the guys there who rode across Canada with a Marathon on the back. It might sound odd to have a skinnier back tire than front tire, but it sort of makes sense because thinner tires go faster, so theoretically it's better to get more speed on your back (drive) tire. Why wide on the front? Because it gives you more grip, which is important because if your front tire slips you're probably bailing, but if your back tire slips it's just a skid you can usually recover from.

Well, that's the theory. In reality i might get a thinner front tire too when that goes. It'll depend what they have in the store.

Anyway, bike nerd shit over. I cycled through to Bear Creek provincial park to camp. That was a whole nother shit because the Kelowna traffic situation is pathetic, there is construction everywhere, nothing is signed properly, and there are millions of speeding cars. Kelowna people say Kamloops stinks, but our stink is from a sawmill, which doesn't stink much at all. Their stink is from traffic, which is much worse. (Kelowna and Kamloops hate each other, by the way.) So with all the confusion i ended up in Casa Loma where i can highly recommend buying a house if you are a millionaire, but i don't recommend biking up there because it is a scenic but hilly dead end.

I eventually got to the provincial park which to be honest was pretty much like a family campsite. Surrounded by RVs and kids playing. I flipped my bike over to fix some gearing that the bike shop fucked up when they "fixed" the derailleur. They had made all the rear gears super smooth, except 1st, which is the hill climbing gear, and the most fucking important one to switch to. I had no idea what i was doing so tightened and loosened shit until it worked again. 7th is a bit flaky now, but if you get up to 7th you're going fast as hell anyway so might as well jump straight to 8th, you know?

So. Slept, woke up, resolved to climb that epic hill out of the city. I mentioned it to the bike shop guys and they said it should be doable. Then i met someone at the campsite who did a bike tour when he was younger and he said it would be tough as hell but totally doable. This is contrary to one of the blogs i read online where the writer said she had to push from the very start and ended up hitching a ride on a truck to get up there. I'm guessing the blogger wasn't really a hardcore cyclist. I'm not either, but figured i better get the practice in because now the border isn't opening i am probably going to have to ride across the Rockies.

I headed back across the bridge and along the lakeshore. Halfway down i found a vegan restaurant in some snazzy new development that looked like it had been plopped down from the Chinese production line of condo slash shopping center dual use whatever that nobody can afford. I understand why Kamloops people call Kelowna just a smaller Vancouver because the vibe is very Vancouver. Lots and lots of casual displays of wealth. It was stupidly expensive, but i got a smoothie and a sandwich, saving half for the hill.

The hill was fucking brutal. Gillard Creek logging road is in extremely poor shape, and it has long sections of 5-10% grade, spiking up to 20%. The road surface was really thrashed, with those dirt road "judder bars" (not sure the correct term) and long sections of sand and large rocks where my bike couldn't get any traction at all. It wasn't just my bike. People driving up were in high gear doing their best to not have their cars slide backwards on them. Truly the shittiest road i have seen yet. And it's like 10km long, at least to the turnoff i wanted. Climbs about 650m.

I took a lot of breaks. Three people rode past me on electric powered mountain bikes, the bastards. Most of the cars that went past gave me fist pumps and shouted words of encouragement. I suspect masochists on human powered mountain bikes tackle this hill semi-regularly. There were loads of downhill mountain bike trails heading down inclines even steeper than the road.

One couple was an asshole. Here is what you don't say to a cyclist covered in sweat, paused on the side of the road: "are you going up the hill?" I mean. You fucking think? Everyone else is like "you go, girl", "keep going", "you're doing great". These guys, "you going up the hill?" Fucking clowns. They were driving down too.

Anyway, i made it to the top and turned onto the Kettle Valley Railway, henceforth to be referred to as the KVR. This is an epic rail trail that stretches from Hope (at the bottom of the Fraser Canyon) into the Kootenays. The most well maintained bit is the sub between Penticton and a small town called Midway, at which point you can connect to another rail trail that goes to Castlegar.

Turns out "well maintained" means "not crumbling off the edge of a cliff" but it does not mean "easily rideable". The sandy bits are sandy as fuck, and hard to get a grip. The rocky bits are boulders and railroad ballast, extremely bumpy and potentially treacherous on cheap bike tires. One or two guys zoomed past in ATVs, which were loud, smelly and obnoxious but probably a lot of fun.

But the pain of cycling is so worth it. Holy shit. You feel like a god up there, just silently floating through the wilderness on a little private road of your own, epic cliffside views on one side, mountains and forest on the other. It's awesome.

And that's where i am now. Instead of pushing on to Penticton, i stopped at a rec site next to Chute Lake where i could set up camp and harvest some (weirdly orange/yellow) water.

It's a beautiful spot. No signal. There is some kind of chalet for people who like the wilderness but don't want to camp. Not gonna lie, i asked if they had a spot but they're fully booked and once i got my tent set up in the raggedy ass user-maintained campsite for the common people i couldn't be bothered walking back there to get a (probably very expensive) beer.

It's cold, man. Elevation is like 1200m. I will be wearing longjohns tonight. Then down the hill to Penticton tomorrow, i'll be there for brunch. After that i am thinking of taking a loop to see my friend in the Similkameen, then to Osoyoos (despite the fire) and then riding the whole damn KVR east to the Kootenays. What else can i do? Fuck this closed border shit.


Riding back down to Penticton was a breeze. It took a bit longer than i expected due to the sandy and rocky surfaces where sometimes (especially with a precipitous drop on both sides) i had to be careful not to slide off the trail, but it was all downhill.

I saw a couple of eager gravel riders coming up in the morning. Gravel biking is a new thing where people with road bikes put fat tires on them and then zoom up gravel roads much faster than a mountain biker would. Sort of thing my dad would love, i think.

In a spot of kismet, i met the gear head from Vernon on my way down. She was cycling up with a partner to spend a week on the trail. Of course their bikes and gear were spotless, but i can say from experience now that it only takes a few days for everything to get covered in mud and dust. It was fun to see her again and talk a bit about actually riding bikes instead of what gear to buy.

Coming down into Penticton i felt like i was in Europe. Lots of little vineyards and orchards on the rolling hills, but they're all higgledy piggledy, not blasted out in straight lines like most North American farms. It's very picturesque.

The town is ultra hippie too. That has its upsides and downsides. The upside, i got probably the best vegan burger and poutine i've had, certainly since coming back to Canada. Also, it was sooo easy to buy things in bulk - oats, peanuts, banana chips, anything i wanted, in any amount. The downside? Overhearing conversations where people are (still) whining about masks, complaining that they can't breathe bla bla bla. They're probably not vaccinated either. All these back to nature hippies think if they eat organic they won't get sick, but they are idiots. Despite the fact we share a love for vegan food and bulk barns and having big ol' raves in the wilderness.

I was going to continue down to Okanagan Falls today, but i got a surprise text from N who said he'll be in town today, and that he could take my bike in his van back over the pass to Cawston, where i can camp in his yard. Sweet! He's probably not vaxxed either because fucking hippies are hopeless, but i'll take my chances because the only people i know down here are fruit pickin' hippies and hobos who have little faith in "western" (i.e. evidence based) medicine.

It will be weird to have to socialize for a while, but i want to take the chance to do it before i head really into the unknown, out east where i have no contacts whatsoever until Ontario.

Now i just have 2 hours to kill till N arrives. It's overcast and cold (23C) and i hate it. Where did summer go? Sigh. I think i will go back down to the lakefront. They have a giant peach. This is the nicest town since Enderby. Definitely less pretentious feeling than Kelowna and a bit more cozy than Vernon. Feels like Santa Cruz. I could imagine living here.


Oh good, the sun finally came out.

On the beach, by the giant peach.

No idea where i will be tonight.
Tags: bike, canada fuck yeah, travel

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