Vernon to Nanaimo

The city of Vernon is located in the Okanagan valley. This is a semi-arid area due to its geography. However, when Ingrid and I arrived there it was anything but arid. We were greeted by a thunderstorm and local flooding. Tim Horton’s provided a safe haven for us whilst I got in contact with my friend Matt. One of the downsides of travelling on gravel roads is the difficulty in predicting when you’re going to arrive at a destination. Due to the storm and last-minute change of plans, we’d arrived in Vernon a couple of days before if expected and I hadn’t had a chance to let Matt know until we were there. If I had been in contact I would have known that he had a full house. So for the first ten minutes after Matt came to meet us at Tim Horton’s we spent searching for somewhere for Ingrid and I to stay. Luckily we found a reasonably priced motel which Matt guided us to, almost submerging his car in a flooded section of road.

Next morning, 24th July, it was still raining. During the storm the day before, we had discovered that Ingrid’s bike gear was anything but waterproof. So the first port of call was to find a motorcycle shop to get her rain jacket and trousers to put over her riding gear. By the time we’d find a shop and bought the jacket and trousers it had stopped raining and the sun was out. Still, it was better to have it and not need it than be cold, wet and wishing you’d bought it. With time to kill we headed down to Kelowna, this turned out to be a less than inspired choice. Heavy traffic and rising temperature meant that once we got there we just turned around and headed back to Vernon. On the return journey I opted to take the back roads and old highway. This was a much better choice and we spotted a farmers market store on the side of the road but didn’t have time to stop as we had to get back to Vernon to go out to dinner with Matt and his wife Cheryl. Next morning we headed back to the farmers market to check out their great selection of local fruit, veg and local produce. We grabbed some raspberries and apricots for breakfast. Nom nom nom!

Saturday morning it was time for us to get moving again. The bad weather had passed by and a couple of days without rain meant the trails were drying out nicely. The morning started out on a really nice gravel road along Mabel Lake and the took a logging road over a pretty high pass. The views from this logging road over Shuswap Lake were incredible. However, about 70km along the road we came across a couple of trees that had fallen across the road. When I’d come across trees on the road before they’d either been small enough to ride over or drag out of the way. This time the trees were about four or five feet in diameter. I know the GS is a powerful bike but even he GS would have been about to budge them an inch. There was nothing for it but to turn around and find another way around. Looking back now at Google maps, I can see other forestry roads we could have possibly taken up the other side of Shuswap Lake but these weren’t on my GPS. Instead we took the main roads to Clearwater where we could join the TCAT again. It was evening by the time we got to Clearwater so we went to the KOA campground. Whilst waiting to see if they had space I overcharged the people in front of us with a caravan being told that all spaces were full and they were sent to the nearest provincial park. We were told the same thing, so we quickly jumped back on the bike and raced towards the park. We over took the caravan couple on the way, which was a good riding for us as we managed to claim the last site in the park. I should probably feel bad for queue jumping but how can anyone feel sorry for people with a caravan!

Sunday was an interesting day on the trails. Whoever put together this part of the TCAT wanted riders to have fun the morning ride was logging roads with little trails connecting them together. Some of the connecting trails were almost completely overgrown with forest undergrowth and didn’t look like they’d been used for a long time. Still, we made it to the small town (if you can call it a town) of Likely and stopped for a late lunch. The trails in the morning hadn’t caused any problems so I figured we could probably make it all then way to Wells, a historic gold mining town, only 150km away. Leaving Likely I was following the GPS track for the TCAT. However, we came to a junction where the TCAT track, the trails on the GPS maps didn’t quite match up with what I could actually see in front of me. The main gravel road quick lead away from the TCAT track, the next most obvious trail quickly diverged from the TCAT track as well. The last option seem to match the TCAT track but very quickly became over grown and multiple trees had fallen over the trail. A smaller bike would haven’t had much trouble but my big heavy GS with two people on it was funding it tough going. Back at the junction I was about to hear back to the paved road but the sign for Wells pointing this way, so there must be a way through. I continued up the biggest of the gravel road, hoping to find more signs for Wells. About two miles up the road we came to a bridge across the river, that wasn’t on my GPS maps, that got us back on the TCAT track again. The rest of the trail to Wells was fantastic. It was a historic route over a mountain pass with wonderful views. There were several lodges along the trail and I could easily see myself heading back there one day to explore the area. After another long day, 450km, we checked into a motel in Wells – this may seem like the easy option but by now I was getting truly exhausted and couldn’t face pitching a tent and cooking dinner.

Next morning we set off early and got to Quesnel and stopped at a Tim Horton’s for breakfast. Then it was back on the road and heading south. The route followed down along the Fraser River. The further south we got the hotter it got. When we arrived at Sheep Junction, where the Fraser and Chilcotin rivers meet, we were greeted with a fantastic canyon filled with hoodoos and a steep gravel road down to a bridge across the Chilcotin Riber and back up the other side. Back on top of the plateau we entered the Gang Ranch. This is the second biggest ranch in Canada and at one time was the second biggest ranch in north america. Despite it being a cattle ranch we didn’t see any cow, I guess they were all higher up in the mountains on summer pastures. We did come across a black bear out in the middle of a pasture. It seemed as surprised to see us as we were to see it but it soon made a dash for the nearest stand of trees. There were also lots of signs about keeping on the track, it is private land after all. However, having made through a few big puddles there were a couple more that I had to leave the track to get around. Before long we left the ranch and crossed the Fraser River on the Royal Engineers Bridge. This is quite a remarkable suspension bridge and not for people suffering from vertigo. The road surface is an open grid, so you can see the river raging below as you ride over it. After some more dirt tracks we once again dropped down steep switchbacks to the banks of the Fraser River. This time we crossed it on a Big Bar ferry but had to wait whilst the ferry operator finished his dinner. This was the first ferry I’ve been on the didn’t have an engine, instead it used the power of the river to push it across – a Chinese invention, according to the ferryman. He also said that the n next section of trails should take about three hours to get to Lillooet, he also warned us about the sandy switchbacks climb up from the river. Apparently last year a German guy and his girlfriend on a KTM didn’t take kindly to his warning then promptly dropped the bike on the first corner and have up and went back across on the ferry! Personally, I really didn’t think it was that bad, although it was steep and I took it slow as I really didn’t want to take the quick route back to time river. We made it into Lillooet as the sun was starting to set. Unfortunately the campsite was full and the other Tuesday campsite was closed. So we booked into a motel and, as everything in small town Canada closes by 8pm, we feasted on gas station snacks.

Tuesday, 29th July, we left Lillooet with the aim of getting to Vancouver. The route followed gravel roads up to a hydro-dam then over a very steep mountain pass. Coming down the other side it was so steep I was using first gear engine breaking and still had to use the brakes to stop from running wide in the corners. But that wasn’t the steepest road. The steepest part was on the road that hugged the mountain side along Anderson Lake. At one point it was so steep that I had to kill the engine and use engine breaking without the engine running. Ingrid asked if it would never easier if she got off, I remained silent. It wasn’t until later, when we were safely on the valley floor that I finally said that there was no way she could have gotten off the bike even if she’d wanted to. We stopped in Pemberton for lunch and then hit the highway for Vancouver. We whistled past Whistler and in a surprisingly short time arrived in the outskirts of Vancouver. In the absence of any other plans we headed to the ferry to Vancouver Island. As we arrived at the port a ferry was getting ready to leave so we got tickets and were sent to the front of the queue. Instead of taking all day to get to Vancouver we go ohms ourselves relaxing on a ferry to the island and checking into the Painted Turtle hostel in Nanaimo.

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