North America | Canada | Southern British Columbia – Think You’re A Train – Cycling the Kettle Valley Railway
The bike has been unloaded from the bus, put back together and loaded up again. I pick up some fresh food for the first few days as there is unlikely to be a store for many miles and head off down the Trans Canada Trail for the Othello Tunnels. The Othello tunnels snake through the mountains and are joined by railway trestles above the Coquihalla Canyon as the river rushes and winds around the steep rocky cliffs. I had been told they were closed in Hope, but went on anyways. They are spectacular and I am now on the Kettle Valley Railway.
The Kettle Valley Railway or KVR, is one of several abandoned railbeds in southern British Columbia, the westernmost province in Canada, and with their low grades designed for trains are ideal for cycling. The KVR takes you off the highways and brings you right into the backcountry in several places, so onward I go and eventually make camp on the first afternoon just a short distance away near Lear.
You might have noticed that both Othello and Lear have a certain familiarity in their names. You see, the engineer who surveyed and helped construct the railway was a fan of a certain English playwrite and I’m sure you know who I’m talking about.
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The following morning, I break camp and head back down to the highway and then up a long steep hill to Portia, the site of a former station on the railway line. Here I cross into the Terasen Pipeline Road which follows the railbed through more of the Coquihalla Canyon.
There is a minor misshap crossing the gate. The bike falls on my leg and the chainwheel makes a nice gash in my shin that should probably have had stitches. Not in the mood to do any sewing, I clean it up with some alcohol swabs, wrap it with some antibiotic cream, and carry on down the path.
Now I’m in the backcountry. I pause for lunch on a ridge with spectacular views, somewhat wary that there might be bears. It’s berry season and the bears throughout the province have been coming down for the tasty food. It’s a pleasant ride with absolutely no cars or trucks and just a few other cyclists passing in the other direction. The railbed and road continues at a gradual climb up to the Coquihalla summit passing a few fallen down trestles and collapsed tunnels. Near the end of the day, a few deer eye me before heading down the slope and crossing the river which is now far below me. A little while later, a few more head up the mountainside in the other direction. Camp on day two is in the Coquihalla Lakes Lodge and Camp – I probably would have been just as happy to rough camp inside the Terasen/Duke Energy lands.
The next morning, I head down the highway again to meet up with the railbed that will bring me to Princeton. A woman is sitting on a concrete roadside barrier and waves me over. She is in her forties or early fifties, has blond hair and is wearing a relaxed fitting white sleveless top and a skirt.
“Oh my god thank god you stopped! Do you have a phone? My boyfriend ran out of gas and he said he’s going to get some and then would pick me up. Now I don’t know where he is!”
I fish out the phone and ask her for the number to dial, then hand her the phone.
“…blah blah blah…you f**ker…blah blah blah…you better come rescue me you f***…blah blah blah” hangs up phone and throws her purse down the hill, hands me the phone, then runds down the embankment leaving her jacket on the concrete roadside barrier.
hmmmm…I re-dial the number. A guy answers and I say “look, I don’t know what you’re situation is, but I’m just letting you know that this is where your girlfirend is” and give him the location. He’s not that interested and seems to want to give me some sort of story and explanation for everything.
I hang up and call the police. The police that answer the phone tell me the location is ‘out of their area’ and take my number saying they will get the appropriate police department to call me back right away. I wait ten minutes checking on the woman who is sitting down the embankment having now retreived her purse. The police do not call back. The woman seems upset, but in no danger. I pack the phone and head off down the road eventually meeting up with the railtrail again at the former Brodie Station which is now just a rangeland field.
I follow a stream until it meanders into a beautiful lake and then again when it meets up with Otter Lake. Here a find a store, pick up some fresh food and make camp at a free solo campsite along the Trans Canada Trail and the KVR. I dive into the lake and relish the cool clear water on my skin. Otter Lake has a few jetskis, but as it gets dark, everything becomes silent except for that classic Canadian moment where some loons call out to each other in the twilight. I sleep well.
The morning is peaceful as I sit by the lake drinking fresh filtered coffee. After breaking camp, I meet some German cyclists on the trail about 20 kms from Princeton. They have had a wonderful journey down from Edmonton through some of the National Parks, getting on and off the railbed since Castlegar. We exchange notes on campsites and trail conditions in each direction, take some pictures and part ways. Soon I’m stopping for another chat with some locals, then again, and again. Some days are like that – just riding and then stopping for a chat that goes on forever, and then another and another.
It’s noon when I stop in Princeton for a huge buffet lunch, then some rough and sometimes sandy trail riding through what I call Ponderosa country. Ponderosa country as I call it, is hot and dry rangeland with grassy ranches dotted with pine trees filling an endless landscape with a big sky that you can almost reach out and touch. Up and down the trail some more, it’s another almost deserted camp for the night at Thirsk Lake.
Some Canadians touring cyclists from Invermere, BC come over for a chat at breakfast the next morning just after a lone coyote has wandered through the site. They are making their way west to Vancouver, hoping to arrive in a week’s time. Soon, I’m cycling under the flight paths of the Great Horned Owls that inhabit this area on an extended downhill ride for the sunny Okanagan valley where temperatures are hot and the air very dry. In this wine growing heartland, it’s 35 degrees celcius in the shade by early afternoon, so after spending some time checking out the old steam train that runs a small section of the railway as a tourist attraction, I relax and enjoy some cool shade near Lake Skaha.
After the worst of the heat has passed, I continue on the highway now towards my sleeping place for the night in the town of Osoyoos. In the early evening, I come upon two pickup trucks parked on either side of the road and see a man walking toward on the trucks with a knife. He crosses the road and enters an orchard. There is a deer sitting there on the ground. It has been hit by one of the trucks.
The man takes the knife and grabs the deer by the ear, then slices into it’s throat. I know what he is trying to do. The deer has been hit and in almost every instance, they are put down/killed rather than be left to die slowly. The blood spurts out and the man backs away. The deer tries to get up once, twice, three, times and then finally falls. I know the man was trying to be merciful and kill the deer rather than letting it die a slow a painful death, but somehow I don’t think he did it right.
He says to me “the deer is gone. It’s just the nerves reacting”.
I don’t believe him and it is sad to see.
“I called the police” he says. “They were too busy to come”.
The deer expires.
“I have to return this knife”.
We part ways and I find a motel in Osoyoos for the night before tackling Anarchist Summit the next morning. Halfway up the hill, I pick up some Okanagan fruit to help me through the day.
The road is fast today, especially on the downhill and on arrival in Midway, I check out the museum that is Mile Zero of the Kettle Valley Railway. There’s some paraphernalia from the early 1900’s when the railway was first built and an original old caboose. Midway is also the home of some friends and we have a nice visit with some delicious Peach Cobbler and whipped cream. My friend Val who is a nurse, attends to my wound and puts some Golden Seal on it to help draw out any poisons that might be lingering. Unfortunately I can’t stay the night, and carry on to a little old town called Greenwood through some extremely refreshing thundershowers.
It’s another day and a bit up and down before camping at the summit of Farron near some cyclists from Belgium on another railway route called the Columbia and Western Railway line. The following day is a highlight!
The Columbia and Western Railway from Farron down to Castlegar is a sweet sweet downhill through tunnels as long as 816 meters, and over numerous railway trestles. The riding surface is beautiful most of the way and it follows a high edge along the mountains overlooking the beautiful blue Arrow Lake from a place that only those on the railtrail would ever be able to see. I sing some songs to make sure that any bear is aware I’m on my way, and once in a while I actually imagine…er…I actually…I think I’m a train. Chooo! Chooooo!
Just in after this day’s ride, it was time for a little SHAMBHALA!
Day 1 – short easy ride – 28 km; rough camp @ Coquihalla Riverside near Lear;
Day 2 – long slow uphill – 50 km; average speed 11 km/h; climbing 922 m; sleeping at 1054m @ Coquihalla Lakes Campsite;
Day 3 – downhill highway, then up and down and gentle trailride(headwinds last 2 hours and some severe washboard surface) – 78 km; avg. 15.6 km/h; ridetime 5 hours; climbing 312m; sleeping at 750 m @ Otter Lake trailside back country campsite;
Day 4 – gentle down and up riding, some sections difficult – 96 km; avg. 12.5 km/h; ridetime 7 hours 37 minutes; climbing 607 m; sleeping at 1002m @ Thirsk Lake;
Day 5 – quick downhill on KVR and Trans Canada Trail, some dangerous sandy sections, then Hwy 3 – 126 km; avg. 18.6 km/h; max speed 57 km/h; climbing 464m; sleeping at 309m @ Adriatic Inn, Osoyoos; 35 in the shade at 4:30 p.m.
Day 6 – Hwy 3 moderate climbing morning, fast downhill afternoon – 86 km; avg. 14 km/h; max 52.1 km/h; ridetime 6h 10m; climbing 1337m; sleeping at 786m @ Greenwood; low 17 high 40;
Day 7 – Hwy 3 moderate climb, then gentle down, the moderate 3 hour climb to railway line again – 102 km; avg. 13.7 km/h; max 48 km/h; ridetime 7h 27m; climbing 1436m; sleeping at 1218m @ Farron Summit rough campsite
Day 8 – Columbia & Western Railway -beautiful downhill through several tunnels including one 816m long, and many trestles, then tough climb to Bombi Summit, then down Nelson Railway – 92 km; avg. 14.5 km/h; max 54.3 km/h; ridetime 6h 20m; climbing 881m; sleeping at ???m at Erie Lake rough camp near Salmo;
Kettle Valley Railway website:
Or just type in “Cycling”+”Kettle Valley Railway” into Google.