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A Love/Hate Relationship With the Trail: Naramata, BC to Fruitvale, BC (385km/3879m)

I spent much of my rest day in Naramata agonizing over whether to take the Kettle Valley Rail Trail north towards Kelowna and onwards to Midway, or whether to follow the highway south to Osoyoos. Everyone I’d spoken to who has either ridden the trail or knows someone who has, raves about the beauty of the route. However, my experience of the Kettle Valley Rail Trail on the other side of the Okanagan Valley was sandy rail beds with a variety of obstacles. 

I put out a post on Facebook asking about the condition of the KVR west of where I was staying in Naramata. The responses mirrored my own uncertainty. Some said it was easy; others said it was difficult. Everyone who had done it recently said it was sandy, damaged by ATV tracks, and riddled with deep puddles.

It sounded daunting to me, but I didn’t want to regret not having done it. Moreover, I knew that my cycle tour this summer would not be a common occurrence. I chose to embrace the unknown, regardless of what challenges it would through at me.

Day 6: Naramata to Hydraulic Lake (80km/1190m)

Thursday 20 May 2021

I woke up at 6:30 AM in Naramata on my planned departure day and was pleasantly surprised by the lack of rain throughout the night. I immediately checked the forecast on my phone to see if this was a trend that would carry on throughout the day. It would. 

I packed up my gear and took one more stroll up and down the main street in Naramata before sitting down for a last luxurious breakfast with Kiah, Kaileen, and Courtney. Afterward, I loaded up my bike, gave everyone a big thank-you for their generosity, and started my climb out of Naramata up towards the Kettle Valley Rail Trail. I followed the route Google gave me but was surprised to see the road turn into a gradual trail, and eventually steepen and became more technical.

When I couldn’t continue riding, I gave in to the train and began hiking. I went up and down the latter half of the trail three times, carrying my rear panniers first, then my front panniers, and eventually the bike itself. After an exhausting amount of hauling, I arrived, drenched in sweat, at the KVR with all my belongings. I stopped for a moment to have some food and rehydrate. Then I set off for the renowned tunnels, tressels, and stone ovens. 

The grade all the way up to Chute Lake was steadily 3%. I stopped every so often to examine historic remnants left behind by surveyors and laborers. When I got to Rock Ovens Regional Park, I got off my bike and hiked up a trail for a few minutes to see the stone cooking ovens constructed by the same people who had worked to completed the railway in 1916. 

Afterward, I cycled past forest firefighters and stopped for a moment to confirm that the trail was passable. I was told that there had been a fire near a section of the KVR ahead the night before, but that it was now under control. 

When I got to Chute Lake and saw the resort to my left, it all of the sudden seemed like an appropriate time to stop and warm up with an early afternoon coffee.

With my water topped up and coffee in hand, I was approached by Grady who asked me about my trip. I told him that I was returning to my primary residence in Nelson and then hoping to continue to Montreal if everything lined up. He explained that he had cycled across the country a few years earlier with his daughter to raise money for Parkinson’s disease research. After a few more pleasant exchanges about our trips, he left me to continue on the trail with $20 to buy myself a warm meal. I thanked him for his generosity and continued making my way towards Kelowna.

On this part of the trail, the sand I’d encountered earlier in the day was accompanied by the deep puddles I’d been warned about on Facebook. I changed into my sandals to avoid soaking my cycling cleats and leaned on my bike as I crept around the edge of the puddles that spanned the width of the road. I cautiously place one foot in front of the other disgusted by the thought of submerging a barefoot into the murky brown water.

I ran into the McGrath family on the trail. They were more enthusiastic about my trip than I was at this point in the day. After exchanging information about trail conditions, I continued, looking forward to the scenic tressels in Myra Canyon they’d described. 

On my way there, I encountered rain which quickly turned into hail and coated the ground with white pebbles at a remarkable speed. Trying to avoid getting soaked, I quickly changed into my rain gear. 

Once I was suited up, I pedaled onto the first trestle. The views exceeded my expectations, even with the rain. I wondered, in awe, how long it would have taken to construct these massive wooden structures by hand, and then to reconstruct them after the forest fire that burned them all to the ground in 2003.

Shortly after leaving the iconic canyon, I saw a man with a large backpack off in the distance walking towards me. As I got closer, he raised a hand to wave, and I curiously reciprocated. It was Evan MacLeod, who was on the latter half of his through-hike from Red Deer, Alberta to Duncan, British Columbia along the Great Canadian Trail. He told me that there were spots to camp near Hydraulic Lake and I told him that there were storm shelters in Myra Canyon in case the rain continued. 

An hour and a half later, I reached the lake. It was the latest arrival I’d had on the trip so far—8:00 PM. While I made dinner, I enjoyed a beautifully illuminated sunset sky. And once I hung my food and took notes about the day, I climbed into my tent content and ready for a night of deep, restful sleep.

Day 7: Hydraulic Lake to Boundary Creek Provincial Park (136km/335m)

Friday 21 May 2021

In the morning, I discovered that it had rained during the night as I daringly crept out of the warm bubble underneath my sleeping bag. I had at least another day on the trail to get to Midway, the terminus of the KVR. It would be slow, but what remained was all downhill.

Once I packed up camp, I set off on the trail once again, hoping for smoother and harder-packed terrain than what I’d traversed the previous day. I planned to make it to Beaverdale, the first town on the KVR since Naramata, by lunch so that I could refill my water at a convenience store. The expectations I had for the town were met when I arrived at 1:00: It was small, about 300 people in size, and generated most of its income from people passing through. 

When I came out of the general store, I found a food truck and coffee nearby and treated myself to a warm meal. As I sat there waiting for it to be prepared, I met Bryan, a property manager who moved to Beaverdale from Kelowna after retiring. He confirmed my suspicion that there was an unusually low number of cyclists on the trail for this time of year. 

Once I finished eating, I cycled back to where I’d left the KVR and turned south to continue on my way to Midway. I rode quietly as I digested. When the trail rose above flat surroundings, I admired the scenery and noticed a brown bump sticking up out of the bushes. As I got closer, I noticed it was furry. All of a sudden remembering I was in bear country, I yelled “Hey!” and watched the brown bear raise its head and run off into the woods. For the next twenty minutes, I sang loudly and rode quickly, until I felt like I’d put a safe distance between us.

Shortly after my bear encounter, I met Julian, the only other bikepacker I saw on the trail. He was backtracking to Kelowna after being turned around by snow at higher elevations. We exchanged motivations for traveling by bike, then went our seperate ways.

The next substantial town I rode into was Westbridge. As I approached, I read a sign telling me I would be riding the trail at my own risk and that it was very possible that a tree or branch would fall on me. When I rounded the corner, I saw how scorched the landscape had been left after the 2015 wildfire that impacted the community there. I stopped to write about the trail conditions in a Great Canadian Trail logbook, then continued south to Rock Creek. 

Once I passed what remained from the forest fires, I entered agricultural land, and my day proceeded in thirty-minute intervals of riding interrupted by the need to open and close cattle gates. The countryside where the farmers resided was beautiful, though. 

I arrived in Midway expecting to eat at a restaurant and spend the night at the municipal campground after a 125-kilometer day on the trail. I cycled around town to scope it out, but I couldn’t bring myself to dine in luxury and camp around so many other people—not yet. Having just come back from two days in the, somewhat, remote wilderness, I felt the need to re-acclimatize to civilization. So, instead, I decided to ride another ten kilometers to Boundary Creek Provincial Park where I suspected there would be fewer people. I was right. I set up camp, enjoyed a simple warm meal prepared on my camping stove, and slept well with only the slight whirr of the creek next to me. 

Day 8: Boundary Creek Provincial Park to Nancy Greene Provincial Park (115km/1665m)

Saturday 22 May 2021

Although I’d planned on cycling the Great Canadian Trail through most of British Columbia, I returned to the road after Midway. Cycling the trail was almost twice as slow and demanded my sustained attention while I tried to keep my bike up-right as the front wheel bounced through potholes and veered off in one direction or the other in loose gravel. 

In the morning, I packed up camp, looking forward to a coffee at Deadwood Junction in Greenwood—a stop we never missed, commuting between Nelson and Vancouver when I was a kid. When I got there I ordered a large coffee, an everything bagel, and a piece of carrot cake. I was delighted when the barista gave me two ‘small’ pieces instead of just one. Sitting there, I journaled and spoke to my family. Then I set out for Christina Lake.

As I came into Grand Forks, I noticed two backpackers, Chad and Mikey, on the other side of the road and pulled over to introduce myself—not that I could have given them a ride. They explained that they were both hitchhiking west from eastern Canada and had only met in Banff. After giving me some tips about food and camping spots in Christina Lake, they went back to trying to get a ride, and I returned to my side of the road. 

I arrived at Christina Lake at around 1:00 and stopped at the fish and chips place that matched Chad and Mikey’s description. While I was there I noticed two bikepackers and immediately went over to talk to them. They were doing a trail loop from Nelson. I was envious, and while I ate my food I was forced to admit to myself that I missed the trail even though it had been difficult.

After my meal, I jumped in the Lake before starting up the Paulson Pass to Nancy Greene Lake at the summit where I was told I would be able to camp. The climb was grueling. Unlike my ascent over Allison Pass between Hope and Princeton, there were steep pitches, and the afternoon sun beat down on me. Carefully evaluating the amount of water I had left, I proceeded. 

As the evening approached I made it to the Junction where the Paulson Pass meets the Blueberry Pass to Castlegar and the Strawberry Pass to Trail. I turned off and found a spot to camp near the lake. Once I set everything up, I walked over to the manual pump to fill up my water and asked some RV campers if they knew what the forecast was. They told me “sun for two days straight.” Half an hour later it started to downpour, and I hid out in my dry tent until I fell asleep.

Day 9: Nancy Greene Provincial Park to Fruitvale, BC (54km/689)

Sunday 23 May 2021

When I woke up, the fact that the rain had stopped put me in a better mood, but I was feeling the cumulative fatigue from the days prior. I hit the snooze button several times before I decided to get up, leave the warmth of my sleeping bag and relieve my bladder. 

I left the park and turned right, expecting the 30 kilometers into Rossland to all be downhill. Then I saw the Strawberry Pass Summit sign with “1607m” next to the name, and I remembered the small descent I’d made at the end of the previous day. I climbed slowly in an attempt to allow my legs a warm-up. Luckily, it wasn’t nearly as long as the climb up from Christina Lake, and the pitch of the highway soon reversed, allowing me to cruise downhill into Rossland. 

As had become my routine after what I deemed to be a long day, I stopped at the best-reviewed coffee shop I could find on Google Maps. Rossland is a big mountain biking community and people asked about my bike and my journey. Proud of how far I’d come and how quickly I’d done it, I enthusiastically answered all their questions. 

The couple sitting behind me, Chris and Glen, must’ve overheard me because as soon as the technical questions died down, Chris told me how easy it had been to book vaccination appointments for her boys. They assumed a parental role for a few minutes, suggesting that I inquire about getting vaccinated while I was home in the Kootenays. I appreciated the sentiment and called in to see what was possible. 

“It would be great to be able to get immunized against COVID while I was on my rest day,” I thought to myself, especially since I planned on continuing to cross much of the rest of the country after arriving in Nelson. I was able to book an appointment in Trail two days later. Satisfied by how things were working out, I continued on to Laura’s who had kindly offered to host me for three nights and organize a ride to the vaccination clinic while I was staying with her. 

When I arrived, I was greeted warmly, shown the guest bedroom where I could sleep, and offered a warm shower. It had been eight nights since I’d slept in a bed and I was very excited about the luxurious living situation I was about to be treated to. 

I unpacked my gear and washed my bike. Getting ready to shower, I checked to see what eight six-hour days had done for my abs. I was stunned by what I saw. There it was—another one of my major concerns for the trip: a deer tick that had bitten my stomach. With my shirt already off, I rushed \ to get my tick removal tweezers and burst into the kitchen and asked Laura and Randy, in a somewhat panicked tone, what they knew about tick disposal. I must have caught them off guard because, amidst my irrational fear of dying from Lymes disease, I noticed that neither of them wanted to look at me. Laura told me to burn it. I went outside, removed it, incinerate it, marked the tick bite to track any rashes that might occur, and proceeded to take my shower. I scoured every part of my body to see if any others had latched on. When I got out, I apologized for alarming them with my shirtless panic, and Randy offered to check my back.

That evening we had a wonderful dinner with Laura’s family and celebrated her son, Joshua’s birthday. I slept well in the comfort of the guest bed, which I was no longer accustomed to.

Day 10: Rest Day in Fruitvale, BC

Monday 24 May 2021

My body naturally woke up at 7:00 AM, my usual wake-up time, but I rolled over in the comfortable bed I was laying in and allowed myself to sleep in. When I got up, Laura offered me coffee, and I stretched my sore muscles and meditated. Then I sat out in the carport planning this blog post and sipping my coffee. 

Laura’s family came over for brunch, and I spent the rest of the day catching up on blog posts and socializing.

Day 11: Getting Vaccinated Against COVID-19 in Trail, BC

Tuesday 25 May 2021

My second rest day started similarly to the first with a sleep-in, but was dedicated to getting Vaccinated against COVID in Trail and recovering from any soreness or fatigue. I used my spare time to re-organize my gear and finish the writing I wanted to get done. Laura fed me more warm meals and I enjoyed a last night in the guest room.

I was apprehensive at first to take the Kettle Valley Rail Trail, knowing it would be longer and more challenging than the road. However, being five days into my trip I felt ready to embrace the adventure I’d set out to have. I knew that even if it took longer and was more challenging, I had the time and energy. So, I went for it, and I’m glad I did. I’m not sure how the rest of my trip will shape up but I can only assume that the KVR will be one of the most memorable sections.

Gratitudes

I’d like to express my thanks, during the second stage of my trip, to

  • Grady, who generously handed me $20 outside of Chute Lake Lodge to buy myself a warm meal,
  • Laura and her family, who generously hosted me with a guest room and delicious food for three days in Fruitvale, 
  • and, of course, all my friends and family for their sustained support.

Statistics

  • Total Distance: 911km
  • Total Elevation: 8188m
  • Wild Animals: Black Bear (×1), Brown Bear (×1), Deer Tick (×1)
  • Warm Showers: 3

One Comment

  • Kendra Jones McGrath says:

    Simon we were so excited to see someone who had completed the section of the trail we were about to embark on! As you know also had patchy information about the KVR from Myra Canyon to Chute Lake and were questioning our parenting choices of hauling our 9 and 12 year old boys out into it. Having run into you just completing it we all felt a little lighter. We safely completed our bike trip (eventually ending in Penticton) and we hope yours continues safely as well.

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