Zunoquad Squad Cycles the Kettle Valley Railroad Trail (1)

May 20

Lionel’s condo on 8th St. in Vancouver was the first assembly point. Steven was picked up by Ian at the Airport’s South Terminal after his one day visit to Lund, Peter arrived from Sequim where he’d just moved his mother from New York City to a nursing home, Murray arrived by Ferry from Nanaimo and Rob drove in from Burnaby. Gear was packed into Rob’s Honda and Peters Tracker. The rainy Spring made the Fraser Valley vibrant green, swelled the muddy river and produced dozens of spectacular waterfalls. Along the Hope-Princeton highway through Manning Park trees were just coming into light green leaf. Steven and Peter stopped at an unnamed serpentine canyon to admire the cascade.

Two carloads reunited at the Cedars Motel in Princeton, where gear and food were distributed. A Greek Taverna in this unprepossessing town served up dinners and beer excellent by any standard. We were joined at the table by Gregory Archambault who was biking solo all the way across Canada during a five month leave from his transportation company in Quebec. After dinner our group agreed to start out at the eastern end of the preplanned route and head back toward Princeton.

May 21

At Backroads Bikeshop we rented bikes and panniers from Jim Harrison, as prearranged by Lionel, and met up with Andy, who’d driven from Edmonton in his red sportster, and with John, whose Mom drove him down from Kelowna. She brought us fresh grapes, wide smiles and grandmotherly blessings, and took our picture in front of the trailer being loaded by Neil Allison, our driver. On the way to our starting point through the beautiful Similkameen Valley, Neil was a bottomless source of local information. Steven recognized his name as that of the founder of Princeton, from whom he was directly descended by way of one native wife. We passed through exploding Osoyoos and its vast outlying subdivisions, a sign of the real estate boom in this border region, over a pass to the quiet Kettle Valley. Eager to get on the bikes, we decided to start at Rock Creek and Neil unloaded us at the Gold Pan café, where we paid him $50 each and ate borscht for lunch.

After a short shakedown in the parking lot to get used to the unfamiliar 35 pound loads that made the bikes rear backward, we crossed the lovely Kettle River and followed an untraveled road upstream looking for the railroad trail, while enjoying the smooth pavement. Two rare mountain bluebirds sitting on a fence as we passed provided an auspicious portent. But as the road ascended away from the river at a much steeper slope than the three percent maximum of a railroad right of way it became evident that we had already lost the trail. Some pressed on, others doubled back, and another group left the road, crossing fences and barriers, heading for the river. Robert went off on his own and Andy went looking for him. After an hour of somewhat anxious waiting, our swarm reassembled, and we continued confidently up the slightly sloping dirt path that bordered and then recrossed the river on a refurbished old railroad bridge.

Though one could occasionally hear the traffic on highway 33, the trail passed idyllically along the meandering river and through undisturbed farmland and forest, meadow and outcrop. After several kilometers the valley split and our branch narrowed. The surface occasionally softened, slowing travel and requiring more effort, but then hardened again, the slight grade hardly noticeable as the momentum of the loaded bikes carried us forward. At times the trail felt like a tunnel through woods on either side, then opened suddenly to broad vistas of mountain and valley as we left and returned to the riverbank. At one opening, at the base of the forested mountainside, we saw a brightly painted caboose and a sign, “Rest Stop for Cyclists.” We pulled up to it and found a shelter with picnic tables and a hammock. As we leaned our bikes on railings conveniently placed to support the panniers, an ATV barreled down the hillside toward us driven by a spry old man carrying several gallon containers of water.

His gray T-shirt said, “At 85, I’m Deaf, Blind and Cranky.” But though unsmiling, he was extremely friendly. Paul Lautard welcomed us to “Rhone,” a former stop on the old railway and led us into the caboose, which it turned out on closer look, was a simulated caboose build out of wood with painted wheels. It was neatly outfitted with bunks and cooking facilities and displays about the KVR, on which he’d worked as a carpenter. Outside he showed us his museum collection of railroad equipment and explained the uses of the switch, the jack, and the different gauge rails. In front of the memorial he’d built, he paid tribute to the relatives and townspeople who served in WWII. For all this hospitality, he’d take no payment, but he told us we could stay overnight at the Little Dipper campsite up the trail owned by his nephew.

We were greeted there by George and his wife Frauke, in front of an immense new log mansion surrounded by antique cabins, a well preserved old car, and more museum displays about local logging and forest management. All the logs and lumber at this establishment was harvested on their woodlot and cut on their mill. The cost for camping was fifteen dollars. “Each?” asked John. “No, for all of you,” he answered.

The campground also had racks for packed bikes, a children’s playground made of old tires and culvert and RV sites on the bank of the rushing river, but we had the place to ourselves. John cooked the dinner out of ingredients he’d brought: brown rice and dried vegetables, supplemented by envelops of ginger, pickled cabbage and other exotics. It started to rain and we all sat snug at a picnic bench under a roofed canopy and then crashed in our tents before it got dark.

The wiki for this excursion can be found here. The Flickr Photoset is here.

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