Bikepacking Across BC : Boundary / Okanagan

Christina Lake to Phoenix Mountain Ski Area / 50K / 4:45:49 / 1,111m / July 1, 2020

Waking up along the Kettle River in the stunning surrounding of Christina Lake, British Columbia by the Cascade Trestle.

After a soft sleep in the silken sand under the Cascade Trestle near Christina Lake, we decided to link up with the Kettle Valley Railway (KVR) to head west towards Grand Forks and beyond. 

The early summer wildflowers were in full bloom, filling the trail with bright white bulbs and deep purple petals, mesmerizing us as we rolled by along the flat, trodden path. I couldn’t help but feel bad whenever a delicate blossom got caught under the weight of my thick rubber tires, crushed into the dirt. They were so beautiful but had unfortunately picked a frequently pedalled path to grow upon.

The bright white blooms that grow along the portion of the Kettle Valley Railway from Christina Lake to Grand Forks, British Columbia.

A few years back in 2018, Mat and I had traversed the entirety of The Great Trail (formerly, The Trans Canada Trail) throughout British Columbia of which the KVR makes up a large portion of. We had started in Vancouver and headed east, the opposite direction of which we were now, but we still felt it was necessary to switch things up a bit on this trip.

We stopped in Grand Forks for a quick resupply of food, fresh water and a few tall cans of craft beer. While I scouted the aisles of the local grocery store, Mat was keeping an eye on our steel steeds and staring out into the bright blue sky watching the light, puffy clouds wisp by. 

As often happens when you’re standing solo outside a store in a small town with two bikes strapped to the gills with bags and bottles and bear spray, a lonely senior slowed down for a chat. “Where are you off to?” he asked with a toothy grin. 

Mat told him our plans to head west out of town, riding a short stretch on the shoulder of the Crowsnest Highway until we could connect to Gibbs Creek Road and climb our way up to the Phoenix Mountain Ski Hill.

“That’s a great idea!” he exclaimed with enthusiasm unusual for an old-timer. As luck would have it, he used to pedal up the mountain when he was ‘a young chap’. Go figure.

He tipped Mat off about a small rec site up at the summit near the cross-country ski trails along Marshall Lake, mentioning that there was a good little shelter to hide out if and when the rain came, which it would. He shook his hand and wished us good luck.

The perfectly purple pedals that spotted along the extremely well kept Kettle Valley Railway.

We rolled out of town with more than enough sunshine to soak us to the bone as we very slowly made our way up the steep gravel grind. The pitch of Gibbs Creek Road was intense and relentless and most certainly character building, but the scenic viewpoints were ample and rewarding. We were fortunate for the midday heat that helped us dry the drops off our tent after last night’s slumber storm. 

Catching a bit of midday sun is the best case scenario for drying off the dampness and dew from the previous nights sleep.

The old man’s advice was well heeded as we rounded the corner at the top of Phoenix Ski Hill at the exact moment that the clouds parted ways and sent handfuls of dime sized hail showering down upon us. We dashed for the empty undercover and hid in the sanctity of the beat up, brown shelter that suddenly seemed like a luxury hotel. Hiding us away from the elements, we would stay here until the morning sun woke us up. 

Our shelter from the storm at Marshall Lake Rec Site at Phoenix Ski Hill, great advice from our trail angel at the grocery store.

Phoenix Mountain to Beaverdell(ish) / 72K / 4:35:27 / 261m / July 2, 2020

The barrelling descent from Phoenix Mountain down to Greenwood blew our hair back from the top all the way to the bottom. The ride was an absolute riot, making everything about yesterday’s efforts melt away from my mind, leaving us with absolutely no regrets, as per usual.  

From Greenwood, we reconnected back to the Kettle Valley Railway and flowed against the rapid waters of the West Kettle River. Turning north at Rock Creek, where we passed through the scorched remnants of wildfires gone-by, rolling towards the little known town of Beaverdell, British Columbia.

We figured we’d burn one down in honour of the wildfires that have ravaged the Kettle Valley Recreation Area. Worry not, we always butt out and leave no trace.

The Beaverdell General Store had exactly what we needed to limp our way to the next major town and we were blown away by the damn good espresso across the street at the Red Rock Garage & Campground.

Beaverdell(ish) to Kelowna Nordic Club / 81K / 6:14:32 / 667m / July 3, 2020

Continuing north along the KVR is a fun bike ride, far superior to taking the highway, but alas there was not much to write home about. We were feeling the fatigue of the hot, hot, heat by the day’s end and rolled into Hydraulic Lake Campground to check out the sites.

The place was absolutely crawling with humans and although a kind, fellow bike traveller offered us a place to share ground on his site, it was not our sort of scene. We were continuing up the trail when we spotted a sign for the Kelowna Nordic Centre. Having been let on to the goodness that can exist amongst cross country ski trails, we felt compelled to roll in for a peek. 

It’s hard to miss the signs for the Kelowna Nordic Club where we would meander in to find solace for the night.

We meandered our way up the Kellis Creek Forest Service Road, which lo and behold, led us right to a little log cabin in the middle of the woods. We pitched our tent in the tall, wild grasses and laid ourselves down for the night. 

Kelowna Nordic Club to Penticton / 108K / 7:01:16 / 193m / July 4, 2020

The thought of hitting the Myra Canyon Trestles on a sunny Saturday morning in the middle of summer is enough to get any bike traveller that is trying to avoid tourist traps shaking in their shoes. We decided the only plan of action was to rise early, beat the weekend warriors and success would be ours. It worked!

The Myra Canyon trestles along the Kettle Valley Railway are stunning, scening and well worth a visit, especially on weekdays and early mornings.

On the other side of the super scenic stretch of repurposed wooden train trestles, we found ourselves dodging massive mud puddles from some apparently very wet late spring weather. We would edge the mucky waters, toeing ourselves along the prickly bushes, attempting to stay warm and dry.

Other people, like this guy from Castlegar, didn’t give a single fuck if he got wet. 

This guy gave the least amount of fucks as anyone who was on the KVR between Myra Canyon and Chute Lake that day. He is prepping to shoot a selfie video where he shows his family exactly where he is. Knee deep in the brown stuff.

All I had been thinking about since we left Greenwood was the fat, juicy, bacon draped burger and crisp, salty french fries that we would no doubt order once we hit the Chute Lake Lodge a sweaty thirty kilometres past the Myra Canyon. 

Nothing could be more mouth-wateringly momentous than rolling up on a gigantic log cabin that houses a traditional Canadiana pub, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, as we had two years ago when we rode this stretch in the opposite direction. We had no idea it was there, it just appeared out of nowhere, one of those moments when the sky breaks open and the angels sing in harmony and sunbeams that smell like bacon radiate down from above. 

Except this time, we knew it was there, we hoped it was there, hell, we prayed it was still there. “I heard it’s closed for a private function,” said another puddle jumper who was braving the battle with his incredibly upbeat ten year old daughter.

I tried to pretend I wasn’t crushed by the news, so I just shrugged him off. My burning desire for that delicious pile of meat wasn’t going to get crushed that easy. Hell, I’d break into that kitchen and cook it myself if I had to.

You can imagine my incredible elation when we rolled upon the god-send that is Chute Lake Lodge and saw a big, bold sandwich board sign that said ‘Burger & Beer, $15’! There was a private function, but the new owners knew better than to crush the souls of all the cyclists who had worked so hard to get there.

And the beer, oh the beer! that crisp, cold, delicious craft beer!

I was too busy smashing burgers and beers (and they even made us fries) to catch a good shot until we were leaving Chute Lake Lodge, fed, watered and happy as two pigs in poo.

Not only do I highly recommend the Chute Lake Lodge, but the ride along the other side of the KVR is spectacular. Winding through the far-reaching vineyards and rolling hills of Naramata, overlooking the expansive deep blue waters of Lake Okanagan and sailing down the side hills and switchbacks into Penticton will leave you wishing you could spend every day of your life bike travelling. It’s so fun and flowy and smooth and each section has been carved out with care.

Rolling down the KVR from Chute Lake down into Penticton, British Columbia is full of super scenic vistas of the Okanagan Vally and Lake Okanagan, (home of the Ogopogo) and amazing incredibly fun sections of trail.

Penticton to Link Lake  / 64.56K / 5:12:57 / 895m / July 5, 2020

We woke up halfway between Penticton and Summerland, on a beautiful bench staring out into the breathtaking beauty that is beholden in the Okanagan Valley.

Along The Great Trail between Penticton and Summerland, looking out over the spectacular Okanagan Lake, searching for the Ogopogo Monster itself. We never saw it.

Our plan was to meet my brother at the Beanery for breakfast in Summerland with his lovely partner Lana, before continuing up and over the next burst of gravel grinding towards the historic town of Bankier.

As we rolled over the Trout Creek Trestle, a lovely local out walking his dog gave us the backroads route to breakfast, saving our legs some unnecessary climbing that Google Maps had tried to push on us. We had a beautiful breaky with the fam, filled up on fresh fruit, loads of bacon and eggs and just enough caffeine to get us jittering. It was time to ride on.

It’s a good push up and out of town, but the newly resurfaced trails are well worth the effort and we remarked numerous times about how much we enjoyed the climb because of it.

However, like all good things that come to an end, so too does the pleasant experience of riding along the rail bed. It’s a shared, multi-use trail and while I have nothing against such a thing, it has left the railway ride rough, chewed up, full of little whoops and at some point, more trouble that it seemed worth.

We dodged off onto the Princeton-Summerland Road, a super fun, dirt option that parallels the KVR from – you guessed it – Princeton to Summerland. I felt a twinge of guilt for leaving the trail behind, but it faded fast once I was making miles on the loose gravel road.

We rolled on past Osprey Lake and made our way into the Link Lake Rec Site, setting up shop a stones throw from the water and apparently, right next to the best place for beginner dirt bikers to practice hill climbing on the soft, silty sand.

Up Next : Bikepacking Across BC : Fraser Valley & the Cariboo-Chilcotins

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