There is always a problem. Forest fires in the Rockies. One thing about living in BC or Alberta is the forest fires are as random as they come and could be flare up anywhere at any time. One decided to flare up in the David Thompson area by Nordegg and the road was closed. Change of route of change of plans or the Universe telling me to go another way. Saturday came and I loaded up the bike and headed out. I rode down highway 2 towards Calgary and when the highway heading west by Pigeon Lake up on me I headed west anyway towards Rocky Mountain House, the edge of the fire. I have no idea why I would do that, adventure I guess. I love how the Prairies of mid central Alberta starts to turn into rolling pine covered hills as you approach the Rockies. The roads lose their straightness and turn to dips and turns, brilliant riding. After a stop at a ghost house I couldn’t resist I arrived at Rocky Mountain House to check on the status of the highway. Instead of riding away and around from the forest fire I rode into the heart of it. By some odd twist of fate the highway which was closed for the last two days was open to let limited vehicles through. I got on my bike and away I went. I rode right into a 6500 hectare forest fire. I got to Nordegg without too much fuss and the smoke was lingering but not too bad. I pulled into the hamlet of Nordegg to take a break and the smoke started rolling in. It became thick, very thick. The riding became difficult for the last 90 kilometres to Saskatchewan River Crossing (now where near Saskatchewan). The fire roared along the side of the highway and the smoke was extremely thick. Breathing became difficult and my eyes watered to the point of blindness. My lungs started to burn despite my neck tube placed up over my nose and mouth. I never stopped to get it wet but I should of. Finally the parking lot of the gas stop slash diner slash gift shop showed up and I pulled in. I needed a break from the smoke but it didn’t look like I was going to get it. The fire was all along the east side of the valley. I had a $16 dollar hot dog and had the pleasure of filling up my fuel tank with $1.95/L which meant to fill my stomach and the bikes stomach it cost me $33 dollars. Oh well, adventure.... Heading north now I continued down hwy 93 to the Bow Parkway and out of the smoke. I came to the Johnston Canyon Cabins and decided that after 585kms, 250 of them in eye stinging, lung busting smoke I would stop. I checked into a single cabin built in 1927 and felt right at home in the perfect overnight lodge for a Ghost Rider.
The Versys proved to be great over the Alberta slab and I was dying to get into the BC curves. After my long ride I hiked up to the waterfalls in the canyon and enjoyed the cool spray of the falls. The hike was wonderful after my dinner at the dinner at the cabins and just what I needed to have a good night sleep. I didn’t sleep....the cabin was sweltering and the shower was so week it felt like I was bathing in the mists of the waterfalls. I needed breakfast, well lunch by this time and loaded up the bike and backtracked slightly to Banff for a bite to eat. I got caught up in the flow of Banff and ended up staying there until 2pm. I decided that Kamloops would be my destination for the day. It’s a long way from Banff but why not. I jumped on the bike and away I went. I headed to Golden and Revelstoke then on my way to Salmon Arm. It turned out to be an incredible ride. The traffic was heavy but I carved my way through the canyons and tunnels. I passed the slow moving trucks and just enjoyed my time on the bike. I stopped in Field and photographed a beautiful abandoned CP Rail Telegraph building. It is beautiful. It had the medical green interior with brick outside and windows for taking tickets or orders. The forest had started its attack and the trees had overgrown the yard. I spent too much time there then headed back out. The ride out of the Rockies is just as beautiful as the ride into the Rockies. BC is just one mountain range after another. The roads wind their way through the valley bottoms which makes for really enjoyable riding.
As I left the Rockies the temperature started to increase even though the day was getting later. The heat was starting to take its toll and I was getting tired. I got to Salmon Arm and started the loop around Shushwap Lake and got some reprieve from the heat as the mountains blocked the sun for a while. I came to the small hamlet of Chase and the sun was back on. I chased the river to Kamloops with my jacket wide open in 40C heat. By 9:30 I was at the Accent Inn. What a long beautiful day of riding. I witnessed the world change under my wheels from Rocky Mountains to interior BC. The landscape started its change from pine trees to cedars and ferns to lodge pole pines and desert. I chased the glacier fed tumbling rivers out of the Rockies to the slow moving tea colored rivers of the interior. Through the East Kootenays to the north Okanagan across the Shushwap and up to the southern tip of the Cariboo. Life was brilliant on that day. I went to the liquor store and the Save On Foods for a beer and to replenish my snacks. I promptly fell asleep after an exhausting day and lack of sleep from the night before. The cool room and hot shower was just what I needed. I went to sleep dreaming about getting back on the bike and what the next day may hold. There is something about riding on long trips. The first little while you are tired of being on the bike and your body has to adapt to the stresses the bike puts on it. Once you adapt, being off it feels like you are missing something and eventually after a few days the bike feels apart of you. Waking up and getting back on was a few hours away and the most incredible day of riding was about to happen.
It must have been the early 80’s, I’d say 1980 or 1981 and my parents took me up to Wells BC. My uncle was posted as an RCMP officer up there and since my mom and sister were close each summer we either visited them or they visited us. Wells is a small little town about 3kms from Barkerville and is the only active real town in the area...so if Wells is a real town then what is Barkerville...we’ll get to that. For now I’ll tell you that Barkerville is the next day’s destination and what a ride I had to get there.
I left Kamloops nice and early. This was going to be a long day, it was already hot and I had a long way to go. To head north out of Kamloops there are two ways you can go. Due north is highway 97 and that runs from the US border in Osoyoos to Dawson Creek in the far north east corner of British Columbia. The other route is highway 5 that runs north east and will take you right back to Jasper Alberta if you stay on it long enough. Having lived in BC most of my life and lived a life on the road for my job I had been up 97 many times. I had also been up 5 many times as well but there was something less busy about 5. I also wanted to go across the pass on highway 24 back to 97 at 100 Mile House. I road along the North Thompson River following its peaceful meandering flow northwards towards Little Fort where I would head west again. It made me think of Egypt and the pictures of the Nile valley you see in your Grandma’s National Geographic magazines that she keeps in the magazine rack by the lounger. Mountain sides the color of khaki pants but a valley bottom rich with trees and planted fields. Just outside of Barrier I stopped at a lovely little roadside antique store. I wandered through the treasures of the past admiring their collection. Being on the bike there was not much I could buy but the lady who worked the counter struck up a conversation with me. We talked about how the whole store and everything in it was destroyed in the 2003 forest fire. The owners lost everything and rebuilt from the ground up. This store was their collection from 2003 to now. The lady minding the store was a friend and looked after things while the owners were out picking, what a life adventure.
I rode on to Little Fort and the junction to highway 24 which is a little single land highway over the mountains. After a Gatorade at the gas station slash auto center slash liquor store slash hair salon slash post office I was on my way over the mountain. The ride was beautiful. The pass is a wonderful pine covered mountain with birch trees interspersed. There are lakes at the top and creeks spidering out and heading back down the mountain via the valleys. At the top of the MacKenzie Summit there is the Opax Mountain Resort Cafe. I had to stop. It’s a little cabin at the summit of this mountain where there is nothing for 80kms in any direction. I pulled the bike in and walked in. There was no one there but me and the owner. They own a fishing lodge just down the way on the same property. I ordered a chocolate chip mint ice cream cone and we talked for a while. On one of the walls there was a giant map of BC and Alberta. I was explaining to her where i had ridden from and how. She wasn’t familiar with route so I went to that huge map and started looking for the highways. They weren’t on the map! In my stupor I looked for a date. The map was published in 1956! We had a good laugh about that and she told me that the cabin has been a tea house for over 100 years. The ranchers would run their cattle over the pass between Little Fort and 100 Mile House and stop at the summit for a bite to eat and a coffee. My ice cream done and a smile on my face from the conversation and meeting another special person on my trip I jumped on the bike and headed back down the pass. If you can believe it another forest fire was burning and blowing another day of smoke my way as I headed down into 100 Mile House and headed north on 97 to 150 Mile House where I was going to head north east to the small town of Likely on the southern tip of Quesnel Lake. At 108 Mile House (yes there is a 100, 108 and 150 Mile House. They are small little communities that came into existence as people built roadhouses at those mile markers for the miners and ranchers heading north to the Caribou gold rush during the mid 1800’s. I was literally following the trail of miners streaming out of San Francisco to get the heart of the gold rush. I was heading to exactly where those miners 100+ years ago where going, Barkerville, the living museum town that is still operating as it did since 1862.