May 6-7, 2006
Total Miles: 746 miles
A surprise phone call started the whole thing. It was early Saturday morning when I got the phone call from Doug “Hey! Want to go riding?” A silly question indeed – when do I not want to go riding? I quickly threw some things on the GS, geared up and was on my way out the door. We met for breakfast at a nice mid-way point for both of us and then eventually headed east, into the Cascade mountain range. Since we were at the start of Hwy 2, we took it over the Cascades, hoping that the overcast day held a promise of sunshine on the other side. The ride up 2 was quick, with familiar landmarks whizzing by as we worked on keeping our tires rounded and the road in front of us clear of impeding traffic.
When we reached the picturesque town of Leavenworth we stopped for a while, amusing ourselves with watching the tourists while nursing a hot coffee from the local Starbucks. Many, many people stopped to look at our bikes where they were parked along the curb. They looked as though they were ready to head ‘round the world. Ah, we should be so lucky! Eventually we got back on the bikes and kept on going east, towards Wenatchee and their Cherry Blossom festival. I was hoping that most of the traffic would already be in Wenatchee, or at least on I-90, by this time. I think that Doug and I were pretty lucky with the traffic, as it wasn’t heavy at all. And even more beneficial, when we reached 97 we turned out bikes northward, even further from the fray of parades and crowds. We weren’t sure where we were heading, but we knew that it wouldn’t involve a lot of people.
We made a quick stop in Brewster to verify our route, knowing which general direction we thought we wanted to go in. The idea at this point was to ride roads that we had never been on. Doug was in Full Adventure Mode, which is what ultimately led us off Hwy 97 and onto Hwy 155, east bound into essentially nothingness. One of Doug’s highly detailed maps showed a road of some type turning north off 155 and into the wilds of the Colville Reservation. Through a bit of “guesstimation” we found the turn off onto a well-graded gravel road. I smiled as I read the sign “Primitive Road – no warning signs posted”. Ah, this should be fun. I let Doug take the lead, as he always sets a good pace in the dirt and encourages me to push myself more than I would than if I were on my own.
The road gained in elevation and passed through some fairly open pine forests. Occasional views across valleys showed us that we were pretty much alone out here, with nothing but tree-covered hills and swift running rivers. At one point the landscape opened up and we found ourselves among some farm buildings, although none of them appeared to be reserved for human use. This was also the first time we were able to see just how high the water was running at this time of year.
High waters in the fields
Outbuildings along the road
Taking it all in
After a considerable amount of time and passing only one car going the other way, we eventually started to wonder if we were on the road that we thought we were on. Doug stopped at a road that broke off to the right, sure that this was the “intersection” that we were looking for. Not having a good map myself, I leaned over to look at his map. That’s when I noticed the “Dead End” sign on the side road. I pointed it out to Doug and suggested that this might not be the turn he thought it was. We laughed at that and then found the correct turn less than a couple of miles up the road.
At this “T” in the road we knew to turn east again, hoping that the road on the map would be at least as interesting as the one we had just taken. At first I was somewhat disappointed, as the new road was paved and I was still having fun on the gravel roads. But the paved road was twisty and fun and I decided that it was ok. Then the pavement ended and we were back on gravel. It was fairly loose gravel but that didn’t slow Doug down. I don’t know when the road stopped being a “road” and became more of a “path”. Sure, it was still wide enough for a car to pass through, but only one car at a time with not a lot of places to pass if you came upon someone heading towards you. The trees came in close to the road’s edges and pretty soon I felt as though I was in a fairyland forest. That’s when the river surprised us.
We have cow
Looking back along our route
I had been following Doug blissfully along, enjoying being nowhere in particular on such a pleasant day. Then he stopped abruptly and stared ahead of us. The stream coming down the hill from the right was too much for the little drainage tunnel underneath the road and had made its own way over the top before falling off into its original path. The puddle it created by doing this looked like fun, as long as the underwater portions weren’t hiding large rocks or thick, loose gravel that had washed down from upstream. We got off our bikes to scope things out and determined that it wasn’t deep and there wasn’t anything worth worrying about that might get in our way. This would be Doug’s first water crossing and he went ahead to see how things went. They went perfectly. I had parked my bike in readiness to help if his went down, but there was no chance of that. He charged across the water like an angry water buffalo and then turned the bike around to do it again. We took pictures and grinned from ear to ear.
The first water crossing
I took it easy
I went a bit faster this time
A wet and steaming bike
We played around at this point for a bit before moving on, always looking out for deep ruts in the dried mud, fallen trees across the road and more water crossings. It didn’t take us long to find another one, this one longer than the first and full of loose gravel that had washed across. Once again Doug took the opportunity to splash in the water, chuffed at how high the water went over the bike and soaked the outside of his gear.
Doug hits this water-covered section a couple of times
Going back for more
What we didn’t expect was for the river to take over the road itself, but that’s just what happened at one point. We crested a small rise to find that the river didn’t just flow over the surface, but it also flowed on the road itself for about 50’. This appeared more daunting at first glance than it really turned out to be and it didn’t take much to get to the dry road again. There were a couple more spots to cross, but for the most part they were easy and didn’t hold us up.
Surprise! the road has been submerged
Making our way down the “river road”
It didn’t take us long to reach the end of the dirt and we were soon spit out onto Hwy 21 and heading north towards Republic, the only town of any size in the area. We rolled in about an hour before dark and found a place to stay for the night. After refreshing hot showers and clean clothes, we walked the entire length of the main street, taking in the choices that we had for dinner. There weren’t a lot. We ended up eating at a little diner with a bar in the back, squeaking in with 10 minutes to spare before they stopped serving dinner.
The next morning we loaded the bikes back up and continued north, heading for the Canadian border. I saw on our map that there was an “Old Customs Rd” that paralleled a more “modern” route to the Midway crossing and we took it in hopes of finding more adventure. This particular stretch of gravel did not provide it. It was an easy stroll along the river on a wide, well-graded gravel road that abruptly ended when we reached the modern paved road just a couple of miles south of the border. The crossing was simple and we stopped in Midway for breakfast at the “Mom & Me Café”. The skies were already threatening rain and I wondered if the proposed dirt roads we were looking at would be passable. As it was, the rain held off until much later in the day and we (I) enjoyed a huge reduction in the amount of dust I had to ride through.
Just past Rock Creek after the road has climbed up the west side on the 3 there is a small turn off marked “Mt Baldy Ski Area”. This was one of our areas to explore today. The sign said 19km to the ski area, and we followed it almost the entire way there, turning off at the last minute to head back down to Oliver and points beyond. But while we were on these miles of loose and deep gravel we at least had a peaceful and solitary time. Doug stopped where some power line roads met up with the gravel road, at which point I told him that I had to pee. He was going to ride down one of the power line roads and I’d catch up in a bit. When I resumed riding down the trail I came to what appeared to be a dead end, but then I looked up. Way up on the hillside was Doug, he and his bike silhouetted against the gray sky. He had gone from the more mainstream “road” I was on and took the tiny narrow trail to the top of the ridge. I wasn’t sure if he was coming down or if we were going to continue on this trial, so I kicked the bike into gear and started up.
And promptly almost dropped the bike. I still don’t know exactly what happened. There were large, football-sized rocks strewn about. I think I hit one off center, which pushed the bike to one side, which in turn threw my weight back, which then caused me to roll on the throttle even more. I thought I was doomed, but I somehow kept the bike upright and then stopped. Doug couldn’t see any of this because of the angle of the road and the steepness of the slope. I rode the rest of the way to the top without incident and after a brief moment to take in the view and talk about power line trails going on for miles, we went back down the way we came to meet up with the road again.
Playing on the power line trails
Steeper and slipperier than it looks
As we neared the Mt Baldy Ski Area it snowed lightly on us and I was glad that we were going to start heading downhill toward Oliver and the Okanogan Valley. It didn’t take us too long to descend and the last few miles were paved and twisty, marred only by the remnants sand from the winter’s maintenance. We were hoping for another “shortcut” to get to Keremeos on our way to Hedley, but weren’t sure how to get there from where we were. I showed the cashier at the local gas stop the map I had and she gave us quick and easy directions. That should have been my first clue that they were wrong. She ended up sending us down to the highway (97) and into Osoyoos. A bit out of our way, but still a pleasant excuse to ride through the Similkimeen Valley again. We reached the outskirts of Hedley and another potential road of adventure. I had seen pictures of this amazing dirt road cut into the side the hill above Hedley, zigzagging its way up like a snake out of a basket. Doug suggested that we “check it out” to which I agreed, although I didn’t relish coming back down. The road was in fairly good shape, was very narrow and wound its way along the subtle ridges of the hill so that you never could see very far ahead. Doug was very far ahead of me at this point and by the time I caught up to him it was only because he decided to go exploring on an even smaller, more rutted trail. I declined to follow him and said that I’d wait at the next bend, where there was a lovely view of the valley. As I sat there, admiring the view, I watched Doug struggle mightily with his GS, the rear wheel spinning out in the rocks and barely enough room to do a 10 point turn around. I got back on the GS and rode down to see if he needed help, but just as I pulled up it appeared that he was getting extricated fine by himself. That’s when a local small tour bus came along. I flagged him down and he looked at me, then at Doug across the way, and then back to me. I asked him where this road went at which point he turned to his “copilot” and said something. He looked back at me, with a look that said “what are these fools doing?” and politely informed me of the road’s end point, as well as some areas that it passed through on its way. I thanked him, he shook his head oh-so-slightly and the Mascot Gold Mine Tour bus trundled on.
Looking across from above Hedley
A twisty road brings us up quickly
Doug got back on to the main road and joined me at the lookout I had retreated to. Just then a small car came by. The driver stopped to ask us if a bus had just gone by. I answered the affirmative and judging from the kid in the passenger seat, I could only guess that they had missed the bus down below and were now trying to catch up to it. We saw a few more cars while were there, which was very surprising and somewhat disturbing, knowing how narrow and blind some of the corners were. At this point we had to make a decision. I had to reach Seattle that night, and Doug was going to continue to ride on his own. He really wanted to follow the Hedley-Nickle Plate Rd (as I learned it was called) to its terminus (Penticton) ) but didn’t have enough gas. I had to go back down the mountain anyway so as to continue west on the 3. We both retreated back to pavement and stopped in Hedley to fill up and have a small treat. Doug decided to go back up and head for Penticton and I would follow the 3 west to Abbotsford before heading south to Seattle. We said our good byes and took off into opposite directions from the tiny gas station.
The roads were wide open as I reached Princeton and I was making good time. However, just after Princeton I came upon a very recent serious accident and the RCMP had the road narrowed down to one lane. I had to wait in line, and when the line was released I was then stuck behind a long row of cars and trucks. One, a semi, was going exceedingly slow (about 35mph) and there were no places to pass. Then, as if to keep my own speeds in check, it started to rain. But this time it wasn’t a gentle rain that decorated my visor. It was a downpour and it continued all the way to Hope. I eventually passed the semi, and a few other cars along the way, all the while enjoying a good, solid rain. A few snowflakes graced the air as I crossed through Manning Park, but those quickly changed back to rain as I descended.
For once I didn’t stop at Hope, instead pushing onward to the border crossing at Abbotsford. The border guard was very friendly and admired the muddy bike, asking me if I was coming down from Alaska. I wish! He welcomed me back to the States and I was on my way. It didn’t take long to get back on the 5, and fortunately it was late enough in the day that traffic was light. Unfortunately, the rain started again as the sun went down. It would be a long slog home in the dark and the rain, dealing with the problems that come with sharing the road with cell-phone using idiots. I pulled into the garage around 9:30 that night, happy to be home with my kitties once again.
The end of the story (stop sign of the Osoyoos Indian Band)