Castlegar to Midway: Cycling the Columbia and Western Railway

Gili and I are last minute people. If you ask us on Friday what our plans for the weekend are, we will probably say we’re not sure yet. Sometimes close to midnight we’ll decide where we are heading for the weekend. The plans might change completely on Saturday morning. This trip was different – we had set our minds on it for quite a while and planned it for the Canada day long weekend. Well, it wasn’t exactly a long weekend, since the holiday itself was on Tuesday. But that was even better we thought, no one will notice if we disappear for Monday as well, and then we will have a four day weekend.

The starting point at Castlegar

The previous year we rode for eleven days from Midway to Hope through Osoyoos on the beautiful Kettle Valley Railway. We had so much fun and, despite the challenges in parts, it was one of my best experiences. Riding from Castlegar to Midway on the Columbia and Western Railway seemed like a natural continuation to our previous trip. This time we started further east and our finish line was the exact same point where we had started out on the Kettle Valley Railway ride. I was very excited.

We left Vancouver Friday evening after Gili had discovered a problem with our brakes and worked for an hour to fix it when we were all packed and ready to go. We drove into the night and at around 2am stopped on a dark side road not far from Osoyoos, took the bikes out of the car, pulled down the back seats and slept for a few hours. Early in the morning we put the bikes back in and drove away like we were never there.

We reached the sleepy town of Castlegar on a hot Saturday morning. Everything was closed and there was no one on the streets. We weren’t sure where it was safe to leave our car. The museum was where we had planned to start, and the guidebook’s recommendation was to leave the car there. We wanted to ask someone at the museum, but it was closed. In the end we saw a pawn shop opposite the museum, the only shop that was open. The two nice ladies at the shop ensured us that it was safe to leave the car there and pointed us to the beginning of the trail. After a few other arrangements we were all ready to go at around 11:00am.

Arrow Lake

The first day was mainly moderate uphill. We passed Arrow Lake and many bridges and some tunnels. At lunchtime we ate two large mangoes we had carried from Vancouver. After lunch we passed the longest tunnel on the railway. It was 900 meters and we couldn’t see any light until we were almost at the other side of the tunnel, due to a curve at the end of the tunnel. We rode with our headlamps but it was still a bit scary. We camped close to the huge Poulson Bridge on Highway #3, but there is actually no access from where we were to the road. It was a bit strange to be so close to the main road, but completely surrounded by nature.

On the second day it got really hot, around 38 degrees Celsius. Apparently it was the first time in the year it had gotten so hot in this region and it was for sure the hottest few days we had experienced in Canada. We had to carry our bikes for a short section to cross a new landslide that had happened in the previous long weekend in May, which was also warmer than usual.

Washout

Just as we were feeling we were ready for a swim, we saw Christina Lake from above. The lake was still a few kilometers down so we left the railway at this point and found a path that took us down to the small town of Christina Lake. We rode to the first beach we saw and went in even though it was inside a campground. Quickly after we arrived we were sent away since it was a private beach. We were told that Christina Lake has only one public beach and all the rest are private. We rode for a few more kilometers and we were more than ready for a swim when we found the small and crowded public beach. Despite being so eager to dive in, the water was too cold! It took me a few good minutes till I was ready to dip my whole body inside. We treated ourselves to an ice cream from the local ice cream parlor and then rode uphill till we were on the railway again.

After crossing a long bridge over the Kettle River we stopped for a short break and noticed a baby deer and mom galloping in the field in front of us. They gave us a magnificent show. Then we took a little side trip to see beautiful Cascade Falls. We had a long lunch break there and rested under the shaded trees.

The Kettle River

We continued riding in the extreme heat. We couldn’t bear the thought that we were riding in the heat and that just beneath us was the cold Kettle River. So we hid our bikes on the side of the road and bushwhacked through the forest to our own private and abandoned beach on the river. The water was cold and very refreshing.

As we were approaching the town of Grand Forks we noticed that there were deer all around us. The town seemed to be a bit overwhelmed by the heat. We passed through the campground but decided to give a little push and ride a little more now that the evening had set in and it was a bit cooler.

Camping somewhere after Grand Forks

We rode till we decided it was enough for the day and pitched our tent. Then huge fat mosquitoes tried to eat us alive. When we tried putting on long sleeved shirts to protect our skin a little, it was just too hot and unbearable. We didn’t even enjoy the “Ritter Sport Marzipan” which is my favorite chocolate bar because it was all melted and the mosquitoes just kept on biting us.

Enjoying the intense heat (up to 38c)

We woke up early to start riding before it would get too hot, but it was already hot at 7:00 am. Riding fast we barely noticed a bear that was on the trail right in front of us. Strangely enough he also didn’t notice us even though we stopped just a few meters in front of him. After making a bit of noise he ran into the forest.

We reached a tunnel which was very cool inside and I just lay down there for a few minutes. On the outside an artist had painted flags from all over the world. From there we just had to push a little bit more till Midway. We stopped for lunch under a bridge over a river and again couldn’t resist the cold water.

Flags of the World (by Arno Henning)

We reached Midway around 3pm after riding 180km and crashed under the nearest tree outside of the Kettle Valley Railway Museum. This was the exact same point where we had started our ride the year before. When we could start thinking again we rode to a nice campsite, left the bikes there, hidden in the tent and hitchhiked back to Castlegar to pick up the car.

Arriving to Midway - We loved this tree

It took us four rides to get there and in each ride the car got bigger and took us a bit farther. The first ride was a convertible and the driver was from New Zealand. His legs were badly sunburned but he didn’t seem to mind it at all. He took us to Grand Forks and there we waited a while till a girl with an old car smelling of cigarettes stopped and took us to Christina Lake. The next ride was an air conditioned suburban. The guy showed us a black banana that he had intended to eat, but after leaving it in the car all day it got completely cooked. He took us till the road split and he continued on to Trail. We didn’t wait long till a huge truck stopped for us. The driver was an older guy spending nights and days in his truck driving from Chilliwack to Nelson and back. He had a microwave and a bed inside. He dropped us off at the exit for Castlegar where we had a bit of trouble finding the place where we had parked the car. We ate two large pizzas and after that were ready to drive back to Midway. We arrived back to our tent very late and crashed.

We picked 23 pounds to take back to Vancouver

The next day we stopped to visit friends from Osooyos who had helped us out last year while we were riding the Kettle Valley Railway. Osooyos was preparing for the Canada Day parade and almost all the streets were blocked. We waited till our friends finished work and in the meantime we picked 23 pounds of cherries. Then we went for a swim in Osooyos Lake which wasn’t cold for a change and of course very refreshing. After lunch with our friends we headed back to Vancouver and despite the holiday there wasn’t a lot of traffic. It was a hot weekend but very satisfying and a great opener for the summer.

More photos

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