Map Link (westbound)
I packed up my bike the next morning under another clear blue sky. It would be a good day to travel. Jim, who had ridden with me the previous day, asked if he might ride with Req and I to Devil’s Tower, our first planned stop of our return trip. The three of us headed back towards Deadwood but this time skirting around the west and into the clutches of Spearfish Canyon. There are only twelve miles to the canyon, all of them grossly under marked with ridiculously low speed limits. But those twelve miles are full of curves that just don’t quit. From the left to the right, the bike was constantly in a state of side-to-side movement, racing the clear waters of the Spearfish River. Traffic was remarkably light, due in part to it being mid-morning on the Thursday, and I was hoping that no one coming the other way would tag me for exploring the limits of my sidewalls.
At the end of Spearfish was the dreaded interstate. Less than half an hour of it, but it was unanimous that that was 29 minutes too much. Fortunately the last thirty miles to Devil’s Tower were along blessed two lane roads and more intimate surroundings. The sky, while bright, had a slight haze in the distance. Therefore it was some time before I was able to get my first glimpse of the iconic monument that rises so abruptly and unusual from the ground. But once I saw it, it was hard not to keep my eyes off of it. I had been to this monument once before, four years ago, but it was still amazing to comprehend the incredible natural forces that created this edifice.
Nice car in the Dakotamart parking lot
The owner even left the keys in it for me!
The heat had been increasing and now that we were crawling along the park’s approach road the cooling breeze of movement was no longer doing its job. We stopped at the store at the park’s entrance to adjust gear, get some water and to check out the store. The store clerk didn’t know how much it cost to get into the park but said that cars were $10. I looked at Req and said “I’ll split it with you” and asked him about doubling up on his bike. He was game for it, we locked his Givi’s to my bike and we pulled up to the tollgate on his Strom. Naturally it was only $5 for motorcycles, but just think of all of the Reese’s Cups I can buy with that $5 saved! Jim joined us in the park, on his own bike.
After a casual spiral around the fringes of the tower we reached the parking lot and found a spot among the cars, RVs and other motorcycles. Some gear was shed and we walked to the path that would lead us directly to the base of the monolith. We didn’t bother to walk all the way around the base but instead stood for a while in the shade of a tree watching a speck of a climber attempting to scale to the top of the tower. Enough of being a spectator; it was time for us to do our own climb back on to the bikes and hit the road.
Taking our money at Devil’s Tower
Red rocks along the entrance drive
The view from the back seat
The deer are everywhere
More red rocks with the tower peeking over the top
View from the base
There’s a climber up there…
Jim leads us back out of the park
Views within the park
We left Jim at Devil’s Tower while Req and I continued north. It was a pleasant ride through a varied landscape and the sun peeked through scattered white clouds. Nearing the Montana border I made a pass and expected Req to follow along behind me. When I didn’t seem him right away I assumed that he had stopped for a photo and I kept riding, but at a leisurely pace. I reached the tiny town of Hulett and decided to wait for him here, parking the bike at the curb underneath the welcome shade of a tree. I kept scanning the corner, expecting him to appear at any minute, but was worried when he hadn’t shown up in what I felt was a reasonable amount of time. Req had commented that twice now his bike had died at idle and I was now concerned that he was sitting on the side of the road, waiting for me. I turned my bike around and doubled back through town to seek him out. No sooner had I ridden past the last city block then did I see him heading towards me. It turned out that his tank bag had been open and his birth certificate had flown out while at speed. He had stopped to retrieve it and was fortunate to be able to find it with relative ease. Now we could continue on our way.
We rode back through the town and were soon gaining elevation along a deep valley. Traffic was minimal and I was enjoying the wide open roads when I noticed that my GPS said I was going east. I should be going north. That was odd. I pulled off to the side and informed Req that somewhere back there I had missed the turnoff for Montana. We circled back and rode through town yet again, looking for a sign for where we should turn. I eventually had to ask at the general store, learning that I had overlooked the sign (twice) during my anxious search for Req. Direction now correct, we were once again on our way.
Southeastern Montana doesn’t have a lot of variety. It’s beautiful but it’s also fairly desolate. Rolling plains stretched out underneath eternal skies, giving both of us time and reason to contemplate why Montana is known as Big Sky Country. At the junction of 112 & 212 I pulled over at the only building, a roadhouse saloon that proudly advertised cheap beer and lousy food. The parking lot was empty and Req gave me a quizzical look when he saw that I was contemplating stopping here for lunch. I looked around some more and reconsidered my choice. I was turning my bike just in time to see Randy and Mary, two friends from the Meet, go speeding by on their bikes. I flew across the grassy median and flogged my GS to chase them, eventually catching up to wave hi.
Their pace was faster than ours and I let them gradually pull away, their two silhouettes eventually cresting one last hill and fading off into the distance. It was just Req and I and it was time for lunch. I spotted a couple of bikes in the parking lot of the diner in Hammond and took that as a good sign and pulled in. A huge puddle from the previous night’s rain was on one side of the parking lot and I aimed the GS directly through the middle of it. It was much deeper than I had anticipated and water was flung up in all directions, completely covering me from head to toe. Req laughed heartily at me and I was smiling when I parked my dripping bike next to his. He had decided not to follow me through the puddle. Obviously his sense of adventure needs to be adjusted.
We decided not to eat here (Jct 59 & 212)
But we did eat here in Broadus, MT
212 snakes through Montana
As close as I want to get to pavement on a ride
Lunch was good, with entertainment being provided by listening to the bikers and the locals alike. This was diehard farming land and the men who came in obviously worked hard to put food on my table. I wanted to convey my appreciation to them for their efforts but didn’t know how to do so without sounding like a fool from the big city. In hindsight I should have just done it.
Back out in the parking lot I was waiting for Req to gear up and decided to take a couple of laps around the parking lot. I headed for more puddles and amused us both by splashing around until he was ready. And much to my disappointment he once again declined to give the puddles a try even though I had demonstrated how harmless they were.
It was time to ride east for a long time. We had no real destination for the night but were once again determined to find a place to camp. Infrequent small towns popped up along the way, giving me insight to the people who lived in this area. One sight in particular caught my eye enough for me to turn around and snap a photo of it. A horse was hitched to an old Amish-type buggy in front of a white-picket fenced house. What was odd about this was that there were three mattresses strapped to the top of this buggy. I chuckled and then raced to catch up to Req further down the road, telling him what he had missed later that night.
We stopped short of I-90 and put on some extra layers, as the weather was cooling off and I was getting uncomfortable. It was back to the interstate but only for a short time until we reached Billings. From there we’d start looking for a place to stay for the night.
I must have retreated into some sort of coma for this section of I-90 because I can’t recall any of it. I just know that Billings is a much bigger and more industrial city than I was expecting. I found a full-size grocery store where we once again stocked up for the evening’s dinner. Under threatening clouds we left Billings behind, climbing up an amazingly high and ancient riverbank. The view of the city was expansive and the road followed the rim of this canyon for some time before darting north and away from the city.
I checked my map on my tank bag and saw three or four towns between here and the next junction and trusted that one of them would have suitable accommodations for us. I was wrong. Each dot on the map represented approximately four buildings, with even the largest dot, Lavina at the junction, offering up nothing more than a general store and a couple of random businesses. Our prospects were looking slim, especially considering that the dots on 12 were even fewer and further between for the next 50 miles. The sun was falling and we were on our own.
The map gave one more glimmer of hope: just twenty minutes away there was a symbol for a campground. We’d be getting in late but at least it was worth a shot. After what seemed to be forever I saw a sign for “fishing access” and realized that this was our chance. I pulled off onto the side road and consulted with Req. Our choices were to take this dirt road to the “fishing access”, not knowing what was there or how far it was. Or we could keep on riding to Harlowton and hope that there was some place to stay there. By now the sun was showing off its evening colors and I knew that we had to make a choice quickly. We chose to look for a motel in town. I found that we were choosing the “adventure of finding a motel” over the “adventure of finding a campsite” amusing and wondered if we would have been better off camping for once. Regardless, it was a few dark miles to Harlowton, made slower not just by the twilight but also by a surprising increase in traffic.
Our adventure ended at the neon lights of the Corral Motel, brilliantly lit up and across the street from a truck stop and casinos. The room was clean and large, panelled in exotically stained particle board with circular florescent tube ceiling lights. This was travelling in style!
You see the strangest things in small towns
Sunset and we’re still riding
Forget camping – here’s the Corral Motel!
Dinner of champions (complete with appropriate reading material)
The next day was a big one: we were going to visit Glacier National Park. I wanted to get on the road early so as to have plenty of time to lollygag through the park and see the sights. A quick fueling in Harlowton set us up for a few hours of riding and we were once again heading east, but only for a little bit. Near the town of White Sulphur Springs route 89 shot off sharply to the north, passing through Lewis and Clark National Forest before joining 87 into Great Falls. It was a good choice. The road kept me entertained as it traced its way up a wide low valley, the hillsides covered in deep pines while a bubbling stream ran along side the pavement, glistening in the bright sunshine. Periodically, houses were set back in the hills, long drives snaking their way out to the road. As we rode north the valley narrowed, eventually closing in tightly, its rocky walls towering on either side of the twisting path. Rapid elevation changes gave an added dimension to this already fun ride and I had the pleasure of leaning the bike over time after time.
A quick stop in the tiny burg of Neihart to secure gas left us empty-handed. Req’s range was less than mine and his tank was getting pretty low. According to the local gentleman spraying weed killer on his lawn, the only two pumps in town were shut down and would not be turned on for another two hours. I double-checked the mileage on my map to the next town, consulted the running odometer on my bike and estimated that we should be able to make it. And if nothing else, we could siphon gas out of my oversize tank and into Req’s (something he was not very keen on resorting to). Back on the bikes and back on 89, it was a quick trip up to 87 and then just a few more miles to Belt, Montana. Those last few miles were a bit nerve-wracking, as I hadn’t calculated them into my mileage. But the turn off to Belt from the main road was a special little treat as it closely followed a deep ravine and dropped quickly to the valley floor below. The one pump in Belt was operational and we both pulled up to it to replenish our supplies. Belt is a cute little town with an historic stone theatre, a rock-faced bank and quaint rusty pick ups trolling down its street. The general store was a veritable zoo of taxidermy animals, poised over the aisles of soup and laundry detergent. More Reese’s were purchased and we took a little break in the parking lot, drinking our water and watching the town go by.
Morning views on Route 12
Heading towards Great Falls, MT
A quick stop in Belt, MT for gas
The gas pump
Refreshed and refueled we got back onto 87 and onto Great Falls. I’ve always wondered about the falls that towns are names after. Just where were the “Great Falls”? Were they even still visible or had they been buried behind dams? I think that it would be an interesting search for these falls someday. I think that perhaps we saw them on our way through the city. In my haste I had read the sign for the bypass for 89 and confused that for the 87 that we should have been on. It was a circuitous route around and through the city, but it was somewhat enlightening nonetheless. And we still managed to find the interstate on the other side, forced to take it for just a few miles before regaining the pleasure of 87 through the countryside.
Ever so faint on the horizon I could see the dark forms of the Rocky Mountains. I was getting closer but it would take a while before they would rise up before me in their glory. Instead I focused on the gently rolling hills around me and the flat, wide marshlands near Eastham Junction. Many birds were taking advantage of the protected area and I had hoped to stop for photos. Unfortunately, taking pictures of birds is usually a patient endeavor, requiring time and persistence. I was short on both. Instead I kept my eyes open for the various species I could recognize and others that simply intrigued me.
It seemed to take a long time to cover the 80 miles to Browning. Perhaps it was the slight monotony of the surroundings, or the idea that Browning would be a lunch stop and I was looking forward to the break. Regardless, it was with slight relief that we reached the outer limits of the city and I pulled off into the first diner parking lot I saw. As a testament to the diner, many locals came through to eat there while we were seated. Lunch was tasty and relaxed and we poured over maps while we ate. I suggested our plan of attack for Glacier National Park, which Req approved of (he’s a really good traveling partner). It was time to hit the road again.
I did another lap around the parking lot while waiting for Req to get ready, almost dumping the GS in the surprisingly deep and loose gravel in the corner. That would have been embarrassing, to say the least. Req was ready to go and I pulled out on to the main road. I immediately noticed a large SUV (like there is any other kind) that had just pull into the left lane from the other side of the road. My well-honed motorcycling instincts warned me that she’d soon by merging into my lane and sure enough, without so much as a signal or turn of the head she was coming my way. I backed off and with a blast of my horn I went around to her left. She appeared momentarily startled from her phone conversation but quickly resumed her dazed state as she continued drifting over into Req’s path. I watched him avoid her in my mirrors and shook my head visibly at her stupidity, my hatred of cell phone-using drivers reaffirmed once more.
The main arterial through town swung to the left and as I slowly moved through traffic I had the joy of watching a cruiser turn left towards the entrance to a gas station just as a truck was pulling out. The truck surprised the cruiser and he wobbled his bike for a few feet, narrowly avoiding dropping it, before he could regain control and get around the truck. This town was dangerous and I wanted nothing more than to leave it behind me. In my haste to do so I forgot that it was time to get gas.
It was a few miles down the road when I realized what our mileage was and that gas may or may not be available in the next town. I pulled over to check with Req but he assumed that I was a on a picture-taking mission and blew right by me. Surprised, I caught up, passed him and then pulled over again. He blew right by me. So I caught up to him again and on a straight stretched I matched his pace in the next lane over and motioned to the gas tank. He looked vaguely confused and at this point I gave up. If he ran out of gas he could suck on the siphon hose!
North on 89 outside of Great Falls, MT
The Rocky Mountains
The road we were on paralleled the Rocky Mountains as they gained the grandeur commonly associated with Glacier National Park. Light-leafed aspen trees covered the nearby slopes while acres of torched pine forests covered the distant hills with grey skeletons. Traffic was getting thicker and so were the corners, a sad combination. I was enjoying the occasional corner taken at speed but they were few and far between. Finally I pulled over on a gravel turnout just to let traffic get ahead and to give myself a break. It was a beautiful spot to check out and Req and I each took a few photos of the mountains and the wildflowers. The roads weren’t about to clear up as we stood there though, so we got back on the bikes and joined the crowds heading north.
Near the east side of Glacier National Park
Watch where you step!
Recent fires near the park
Bikes hiding in the grass
While coming down a long and fairly open hill I could see a dirt road at the top on the other side. What better way to avoid the crowds than to explore some dirt roads? Req was right behind me as I signaled and took the turn. We flew a mile or so down some well-packed dirt, surrounded by felled trees in the midst of a log salvage project. Those grey skeletons were being harvested before they became unusable. The mess created by such an undertaking was all around us. But then we were also surrounded by unspeakable beauty. Hillsides of wildflowers of every color, snow-capped mountains framed by blue skies, rich green leaves of underbrush recovering in the burn areas.
Not content to just sit there and look at the pretty scenery I suggested to Req that we do some more exploration. Always game for fun (but not necessarily puddles) he agreed and we continued down the packed dirt road. At a “Y” junction I paused, not sure which would be the better choice. The one to the left looked a little rougher and therefore more adventurous so I chose it. I should have chosen the other one.
The surface was heavy, loose dirt that didn’t play well with our street-oriented tires. I plunged on ahead until I came to another “Y”, at which point I thought that turning around would be the best option. Unfortunately in doing so I also dropped my bike. It was one of those silly, low-speed situations where the front wheel caught an especially deep rut and the momentum of the heavy bike just kept going down, down, down until the bike was resting comfortably on its side. I stood up just in time to see Req pulling up on his bike, a grin on his face. He whipped out his camera and then came over to help me pick the beast up. We decided to head back to the pavement and go into the park on proper paved roads.
This road looks like fun!
Well, it was fun for a little bit
Req showing me how not to drop a bike
Fortunately the gift shop at St Mary’s Lake sells gas. Of course they also know that they have a corner on the market and charged us a pretty penny for the privilege of filling our tanks. They also had jacked up prices on other “tourist necessities”, such as charging $90 for a memory card that we saw later that day in Canada for only $10. I still bought some stickers for my bike and then we headed into the park.
Going to the Sun Highway was not open all the way. In fact, we got the short end of the stick because coming in from the east the road was only open for nine miles, but had we come in from the west we would have had 17 blissful miles of amazing scenery and vistas. The weather was perfect, too. As it was, we rode up as far as we could and then turned around and rode back down. What else could we do?
Having seen as much as Glacier as we were going to see we set off northward again, looking for a nice cabin or place to pitch our tents before the end of the day. We rolled north past the town of Babb, which must have been very small, as I don’t recall seeing it, and then jumped off the main road to take 17 up and over the northern end of the park and into Canada. It was another stretch of road with a ridiculously low speed limit that I conveniently ignored until I caught up to a couple of cruisers. They were doing the speed limit and not wanting to appear too much of a jerk, I hung out behind them instead of blasting by. I should have just blasted by. Their pace was fine if you wanted to inspect the flowers on the side of the road but it was almost torture to see these corners wasted under my tires. Instead of languishing behind them any longer I chose to stop for some photos, letting them get far ahead while I secured some memories to relive at a later time. It worked. I got a couple of shots and by the time Req and I reached the border the guard was just finishing with the other bikers.
Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park
The guard was very congenial and walked to where we sat on our bikes instead of asking us to move up to the line. He asked the requisite questions while I swatted at mosquitoes hovering around my head. He seemed satisfied with our answers and motioned us to move ahead. I did so and was surprised when I looked back and saw that he was still talking with Req. It turned out that the guard was thinking of getting a Strom and wanted to know what Req thought of his. This tickled Req to no end!
From the border we made a quick descent to Waterton Park but decided not to check out the village. I had been there before and quite honestly the only thing I can remember is that there were deer in the yards of the houses. Instead we’d keep heading north/west and shoot for a cheap motel. We had unanimously agreed that the mosquitoes were to thick and we weren’t going to deal with them. We really are wusses, aren’t we?
Some time after we left Glacier National Park, the sunshine left us. The clouds had moved in and they looked dark and threatening, another reason not to camp. We traveled along 3, nothing truly remarkable occurring for many miles. A quick stop at Pincher Station for a break was enjoyed and while I was inside and Req waited outside, a heavy burst of rain blew through and soaked everything in sight, including Req.
Checking the map I could see that the town of Fernie was just an hour down the road. It was already getting late but Req said that he didn’t mind riding further to stay there. I had heard other people comment on the charm of the town and I had always been curious to see it. This would be a great opportunity.
When ride east to west, lower British Columbia appears to be one big mountain. No sooner do you cross a pass and think “well, that was fun” then another mountain range would loom ahead. This makes for interesting riding and scenery, for what can be days on end. We had dropped elevation rapidly from Waterton and even more coming into Pincher Station but now it was time to regain some of the ground. The highway is now a blur in my mind but I do recall high cloud-covered peaks, heavily forested mountainsides and fast flowing rivers. And then we reached Fernie.
Heading out of the park and towards Canada
Coming up to Waterton National Park
The helpful billboards on the approach to Fernie informed us that the cheapest place to be had was The Grand for $19.95 a night, complete with active train tracks across the parking lot. We found another likely looking place but the fact that it was locked up tight made it unlikely that we would get a room. We tried two other places, one who’s “Vacancy” sign referred to RV spaces available while the other place was closed for remodeling. Our choices were getting slim. It looked like we were going to have to bite the bullet and get a room in The Lodge, undoubtedly the town’s most expensive accommodations. As luck would have it, I saw one more option just as we were pulling into The Lodge’s parking lot. It was the Same Sun Lodge – a hostel that catered to young adventures traveling through the area. The price was right and the room was comfortable. It would be perfect.
We unloaded our bikes and walked across the street to The Curry Bowl, where a delicious hot meal filled our bellies. Returning to the hostel I visited in the common room for a little bit before heading back to the room. We settled in for the night and I enjoyed the heavy featherbed comforter on my bunk. It was a very peaceful night’s sleep.
Site of the Frank Slide along Canada’s Hwy 3
I’m not changing these tires
Req dares the truck to take him
Shelter in Fernie, BC at the local hostel
In stark contrast to the previous evening, Fernie was in full view the next morning. The clouds had blown away and the sun was lighting up the surrounding peaks. Ski runs were etched in green on almost every mountain surface, a testament to the winter mecca that this place must become. A kayaking tour was about to depart and crowds of people were in the lobby waiting to board the bus. By the time I was taking my second load down to the motorcycle almost everyone was gone. A few people lingered out front, or hurried from nearby restaurants to take their seats. The hostel was almost empty and soon we would be leaving as well.
Backtracking to the north end of town we found gas pumps and a Tim Horton’s, Canada’s answer to Dunkin Donuts with “always fresh!” coffee. This made Req happy. After waiting in the crowded establishment for our donuts and coffee, we sat down to eat before pushing off for our next to last day on the road. The weather was cooperating, unlike the last time we came through on our way to Custer. The next few hours were a repeat in reverse of our second day on the road. I am happy to say that the weather was much more cooperative this time through, however, and I was able to enjoy the roads and scenery even more so. Instead of taking 3A along Kootenay Lake we stayed south and crossed over Salmo Pass, where I was surprised at the lack of snow at the summit. It was 200 miles from Fernie to Castlegar and by the time we rolled into town I figured that we might as well get lunch while we were there. I called Jim to see if he could join us, but the last-minute notice wasn’t sufficient and Req and I ate alone at the Black Rooster.
Fabulous views in the morning
Req discovers Tim Hortons
Riding along the Crowsnest Highway
Riding along the Crowsnest Highway
Req climbs Salmo Pass
Emergency shelter at the Pass
Lake at the summit
Creston , BC
Lunch in Creston at the Black Rooster
After lunch we went north but not to Nelson. Instead we went west towards Slocan and eventually Needles ferry. The weather was ominous to the east of us and I hoped that it was a local storm, even though the cloud cover didn’t leave much blue sky exposed. Probably not more than half an hour into this stretch of road Req pulled off into a turnout. It was time to take a break. His concentration was there and he wasn’t comfortable with his riding. Not in any hurry I said that we could sit there as long as he liked and we both took a seat on the grass overlooking Slocan Lake. I watched the wind dance across the surface of the lake and the rain fall on the distant slopes. A crack of thunder roiled overhead and I once again wondered about the storm clouds. As I sat there listening to the wind in the trees I heard another sound: motorcycles. About a dozen various make of sport bikes zipped by us, heading south and waving as they went by. Despite the threat of rain, it really was a good day to be riding. We hadn’t rested more than ten minutes when the rain began to fall. It fell gently but neither of us trusted it to remain that way. We put our gear back on and hit the pavement again.
I forgot how far it really is from New Denver to Nakusp to Fauquier. Its not a bad ride by any means, but I knew that my riding partner was tired and I was kept thinking “We’ll take a break before getting on the ferry”, feeling very self-conscious about how long it was taking to get to the ferry. But eventually we arrived at the little store that services the community of Fauquier and we parked the bikes. The sun was out again, playing in a small space between heavy dark clouds. It felt good to lie in the warmth of the sunshine on a grassy hill, listening to the thunder as it rolled around in the mountains. Eventually we got up, purchased some cold drinks and headed down to the ferry. There were half a dozen cars in line but true to BC motorcycle rules, I led us past them all and we sat at the head of the line, waiting for our signal to board.
It’s a short ferry crossing and soon I was climbing up the other side of the lake, anticipating the road I knew was waiting for me. This was a new road for Req, but for me this was like greeting an old friend. I knew where the tight stuff was, which corners I’d have to really slow down for and where I could open it up and put on some speed. The clouds continued to play angrily above us but they kept their spitballs to themselves for a while longer.
Taking a break before the rain moves in
Riding along #6 towards New Denver, BC
Clouds and rain threaten
Crossing Lower Arrow Lake at Needles
Near Angel Falls I stopped for a photo, letting Req take the lead for a while. It took me a while to catch up to him but when I did it was just in time: we were coming up to Spruce Grove, a place worth stopping for! Spruce Grove is a wide spot in the middle of the mountains: a gravel parking lot, three buildings and the best darn homemade cinnamon rolls made this side of the Pacific. So you can imagine my disappointment when I pulled into the lot to see the “Closed until further notice” sign in the window. What was the world coming to? Req and I took this time to put on some warmer gear and generally re-group before continuing on towards the night’s destination. No, the last night of the trip would not entail camping either. Why start now?
No yum here: the Spruce Grove Bakery is closed
I hope things settle quickly!
Looking east near Angel Falls on #6
Another look, this time of the road – yum!
Coming into Cherryville, BC
The closer we got to Vernon, our stop for the night, the more it rained. It started out gentle, almost caressing my visor as I made my way through the low valley just east of Vernon. But then it got a little harder when we stopped in Lumby for gas. By the time we rolled into Vernon it was an outright drizzle that showed no signs of letting up. I know very little of Vernon other than where the motels are and where the steakhouse is. I picked a motel and we pulled up to its office. The desk clerk found us a room and we pulled the bikes around to the door. A quick unloading in the drizzle, a change of clothes and then we were ready for a night out on the town! Or at least a steak dinner. The walk to Earl’s Steakhouse was longer than I remembered and Req teased me about my repeated “its just another couple of blocks”. But it was worth the walk and it was with a full belly I walked back to the motel.
Another rainy night suggests a motel room
The world’s smallest bed
Our last day on the road. By the end of today I would be home in Seattle and surrounded by kitties. But the adventure wasn’t over. I had suggested to Req one final shot at some dirt roads, this one I had been on before and trusted that it wouldn’t throw my bike down. The rain had stopped even though the clouds still hung around and I did wonder about the condition of the road after a night’s worth of rain. I told Req that we could go to the start of the road and if he didn’t like the looks of it, there were alternative and paved ways to get where we were going. Agreeable as always, he said yes and we loaded up the bikes and headed north to 97 and Douglas Lake Rd.
I hadn’t taken Douglas Lake Rd from the east before and I was cautious in my concern to not miss the turnoff. Fortunately my memory didn’t fail me and I recognized the road that I had come out on and I turned off the main road on to a quiet and easy paved side road. This meandered pleasantly through farmland for a couple of miles before a “Road Narrows” sign was posted. The road lost its fog lines. A few miles later another “Road Narrows” sign was posted and now the center stripe was missing. Another “Road Narrows” sign heralded not only a narrow road but now a road without pavement. One more “Road Narrows” sign left us on a dirt surface just over one lane wide with a narrow rushing river on one side and crumbling rock walls on the other. I stopped and checked that this was ok with Req. He was a little concerned about riding in the mud but was still game to experience it. What a trooper! I led the way around corners, over sections of repaired road where the repair consisted of a load of gravel dumped and spread around, and through piles of rock that had washed down from the uphill side in the recent rains. Req took this all in stride behind me and I even caught him riding through a puddle once.
The road eventually came out of the narrow canyon and moved up into the rolling hills of BC farm country. The surface smoothed out slightly and the corners straightened out a bit. Speeds picked up as we rode by an abandoned log cabin, free-range horses (we slowed down for them), a fishing resort on the lake and the Indian community of Douglas Lake. Having been on the southern junction out of Douglas Lake but not the more direct western one, I chose the latter for two reasons: it was something new and it would be faster. Neither of us wanted to pull up to our homes at midnight so we thought it better to limit our play time.
Unfortunately the western route was almost completely paved over. I say this with a tinge of regret as I had been looking forward to as much dirt as possible, but at the same time, it was some wonderful pavement! It curled around the rolling hills and dropped down into copses of trees and brush, eventually spitting us out on 5A on the shores of Nicola Lake.
Testing out the dirt roads after a night of rain
No shortage of moisture around here
Frequent rocks were dodged on the road surface
Riding through the Douglas Lake Ranch
Req’s a trooper!
Abandoned cabin on the ranch
The lake before Douglas Lake
It was a quick ride into Merritt where we had lunch at the Merritt Hotel and scoped out the rest of our day. There were two options: ride south to Penticton and then west to Hope, or ride west to Spences Bridge and then south to Hope. Either way got us home, but I had a couple of reasons for going through Spences Bridge. The first one was the weather: the Fraser River (south of Spences Bridge) is almost always warm and dry, something that Req and I hadn’t seen a lot of in the last couple of days. The other reason was Hwy 8, the route between Merritt and Spences Bridge, my favorite Canadian road. Req was easy to convince that we needed to go slightly out of our way in order to get home and we were soon on our way.
I never stop on the road between Merritt and Spences Bridge because I’m always having too much fun to slow down. But this would be a different day. I wanted to get pictures of this route, a glimpse at what makes my soul sing as I round each bend in the road, always sure of the pavement, of the corners, of the view. Req and I both stopped about a third of the way through and I was grinning from ear to ear as I relished the road I had just traveled and anticipated the road that was waiting for me ahead. It wasn’t soon enough to put the cameras away and return to the road. Req led and set a good pace, leading us almost all the way into Spences Bridge. But I stole the lead from him before we got there so that I could take us across the original bridge and to the gas station. And once again I misjudged and took the wrong turn, completely missing the gas station. Instead of turning around I figured that we’d simply fill up at Lytton, just a few miles down the road, which is what we did.
Lunch in Merritt, BC
Views along #8 to Spences Bridge
The Strom hiding in the weeds again
I love this road
Waiting to finish up the best road in BC
The Fraser River was full of muddy, rushing water and rubber rafts full of people floating on top. It was also full of wind, which didn’t bother me too much on my German tank but apparently buffeted Req around considerably. The gas stop was brief and windy and I mentioned to Req that I had been down this road a number of times but never stopped at Hell’s Gate and would he mind stopping now? He had never even heard of it and was game to check it out as well, so off we went, coursing down the canyon road.
Hell’s Gate Air Tram is somewhat of a gimmicky way of making money from the tourists. For a low, low fee ($15.00) you get in this little pod and are run down a cable over a very narrow section of the river. Granted there is some interesting historical facts about this particular section (only one paddle wheeler was ever able to make it through the narrows) but for me the most amazing part of this stop was Bob.
Bob is from Ottawa, ON and is riding to Victoria to visit his mother. What is remarkable about Bob is that he’s doing this on a moped that can reach a maximum speed of 30mph. I cannot fathom riding across the prairies of Saskatchewan and Manitoba, no doubt against some serious headwinds, at 30mph. Go Bob!
After Bob took off on his little moped Req and I followed suit, passing him as he toodled along the side of the road looking very happy and content. Req and I had other plans, including going a lot faster than 30mph. We finished off the southern end of the Fraser River with gusto and pulled into Hope for a final “pre-border crossing” stop. The winds had not died down and now we were in that southern weather system I had been leery of back in Merritt. It was time to get home.
This is Bob. He’s from Ottawa, ON. At 30mph max
Hell’s Canyon sign
Visiting the gorge
We were too cheap to pay for the ride
The road from Hope to Abbotsford is verging on interstate and it was all I could do not to count down the exits to ours. It finally came and a mile or two later we were at the border. The guard was nice and welcomed me to the States in Spanish, at which we both laughed. Req followed me through quickly and we decided to stick to 9 for as long as possible before hitting I-5 and home. We did pretty good, getting as far as Sedro Wooley before the increasing rains encouraged us to just hit the highway and get it over with. The two of us played in traffic until Req’s exit and then I made my way home alone, passing through Seattle with surprisingly little congestion. Nine days and almost 3,800 miles later I was home.
Hope, BC – windy and rainy; time to go home