Three years ago we rode most of the Kettle Valley Railway, following the old rail bed from Midway to Hope, with a side trip to Osoyoos. The Kettle Valley Railway has another side spur or two, and on this weekend we followed the spur going from Brodie to Merritt and on to Spences Bridge. On the previous trip we had passed through Brodie, but had headed south to Hope, whereas this time we were headed north to Merritt. It must have been a huge job to dismantle the railway, but it is much appreciated by cross country cyclists. The old bridges, tunnels, washouts, old stations and water towers provide an interesting historical addition to the stunning scenery of the Thompson Okanagan.
On this trip we drove up the Coquihalla Highway and got off at exit 250, literally in the middle of nowhere. We unloaded the bikes and got them ready, and then it started raining hard. We waited in the car for a bit, but eventually hopped onto our bikes with full rain gear. The first few kms were a fast descent so we got completely wet (on the outside). The road surface was looser than I had expected, so even though we were technically riding slightly downhill, it felt like a slight uphill for most of the way. I guess the heavily loaded bikes had something to do with it. After about 25km we reached a major washout, where almost 200m of the rail bed were washed away in 1994. To cross this section we pushed our bikes through the loose soil, which was somewhat like soft snow in consistency, so we kept on sliding down. I suspect this section has seen a few more minor washouts since the big one. After the washout we had our lunch by the Coldwater River, a tranquil spot. We followed this river for half the day, and I wondered about the name – surely most rivers in BC are just as cold as this one?
We noticed many colourful birds along the way, yellow, red, blue and black and white, it must be a hot spot for bird watchers. Later we passed an Indian Reservation where we had to leave the rail bed and ride on the road. Reportedly the Indian Reservations along the route do not allow cyclists through. We followed the road into Merritt, and noticed the change in scenery – it was drier, the plants were more desert like, and it had become sunny. We took a short detour to the “center” of town, but aside from some beautiful murals and many logs we didn’t find anything interesting. After an ice cream break we continued along the rail bed, crossing many old bridges and now following the Nicola River. At the next Indian Reservation we tried to continue on the rail bed, but were scared away by some menacing dogs and a locked gate so had to retrace our route back on to the road. We found a nice campsite right by the river, a nice clean spot besides some bones and fur of hunted animals that had probably been butchered there in the past. It was already almost dark – we had gotten a late start so we kept riding until late. As we finished putting up the tent it started raining again, and we found some partial shelter under nearby trees. After tying up our food and smelly products (bear season again) we happily turned in for the night.
We woke up to a beautiful sunny day – the forecast was precise in this case, and we later discovered that it was a rainy weekend in Vancouver, Squamish and the area. After breakfast we continued our ride along the river. The next section on highway #8 was very nice – the rail bed follows the river closely, but the road goes higher so we got some nice views up and down the valley, and there were very few cars on the road. The Nicola River was curiously brown, presumably due to runoff from recent rain and snow melt. The views were very different to what we see on most trips closer to Vancouver – many shades of brown, both in soil and rock, drier vegetation, less trees, and some interesting crumbly rock formations. The next part of the rail bed was overgrown, but in a pleasant way – the greenery had taken over the trail, but it was low and we could easily ride through it. This gave a feeling of riding “cross country”.
We passed an interesting collection of old run down Land Rovers with flowers growing all around them, and also a 100m tunnel, the only one on this section of the railway. On the first day we rode 75km and on the second about 50km, a bit more than we had thought. We arrived to the end of the line, Spences Bridge around 3pm, knowing that we still had to find our way back to our car, more than 100km away. We didn’t see much of Spences Bridge, but it seemed like one of the many town along the railway which had passed their prime. We had a chat with the owner of The Inn at Spences Bridge, the same structure that once housed the Steelhead Inn, which was established in 1862. It is located right beside the end of the railway line. He told us about his water filtering woes – the water the town gets is apparently quite dirty, and he said that in the spring he often has to change filters a few times a week or occasionally a few times a day. We left our bikes and gear with him and went out onto the road to try our luck at hitchhiking. On the way in we had noted several times the few cars that drive down this road, but after only 10 minutes and three or four cars we were picked up. It was a pickup truck, so we asked if we could throw our bikes and gear in the back, and they said no problem, so that saved us a good chunk of time (we had planned to drive back to Spences Bridge to get the bikes).
The people in the car were obviously First Nations, as the locals are called in Canada, and we had a nice chat. The person sitting next to the driver, a muscular guy with a shaven head and tattoos told us he had just been released from jail that day. What a good discussion stopper. I asked him what he was in for, but it was only drug trafficking, so not too bad. He then joked about how dangerous hitchhiking is, and how did we know that they weren’t killers. Indeed.
As a favor to us they went out of their way and dropped us off right by the highway. We locked up our bikes and tried our luck at hitchhiking again. We had a good location, with a traffic light stopping cars where they could see us, a straight stretch of road and a good place for the cars to stop. Over a hundred cars must have passed us by in the next hour. I tried making a sign, but only one car stopped (also First Nations, incidentally) but they were going elsewhere. Most of the cars were going onto the highway, and were half empty, so they could have easily taken us. Paradoxically it was much easier to catch a ride on a deserted side road than it was in a small town. I next tried going to the gas station and asking people in person if they would agree to take us. This is a very effective approach, since you actually get to speak to the people, and they see that you are a normal human being and not the menace to society that they assume most hitchhikers are.
The third car I asked agreed to take us. It was a guy driving from Calgary to Vancouver Island (12 hours or so) and he was in a hurry to catch the 9pm ferry from Horseshoe Bay. That’s quite a drive to do alone. He dropped us off at our exit, where we were happy to find our car still safely parked. We drove back to Merritt to get our gear and take a photo of some of the murals we had seen there, and then got back on the highway to drive back to Vancouver. After a few hundred meters we saw a hitchhiker. He was sitting on his pack by the road, without even sticking out his thumb, and right after a “picking up hitchhikers is illegal sign”. We picked him up, for good karma, but he only wanted to go 3km to the next exit, where he would catch a ride in another direction. God knows why he didn’t just walk those 3kms, he stood no chance of catching a ride right on the fast highway.
We stopped in Vancouver for a nice Ethiopian meal at Fassil near Frasier and Broadway, a hands only meal. On the TV they kept on saying something about Israel and a flotilla, until that got on my nerves and I went to the TV to take a look, and deduced what had happened. It reminded us of being in Israel, where the news is an obsession, TV’s and radios blare out the news continuously throughout the day until it is inescapable.