Two Cycle Routes in The Okanagan

For four days in June we’d made an escape to one of our favourite campgrounds on the far side of Skaha Lake, across from Penticton in the Okanagan.

sx̌ʷəx̌ʷnitkʷ  Provincial Park, formerly Okanagan Falls in the town of the same name, is now managed and run by the Osoyoos Indian Band. The name means ‘little falls’, and although the falls themselves for which the park is named no longer exist – in the 1950’s they were blasted to make way for a flood control dam – at night we can hear the rushing water of the Okanagan River by the side of the campground. It’s challenging to describe the allure of this spot, jammed as it is between the river and a road just off the highway. It’s small, it has very limited amenities (certainly no showers), there’s little to no privacy for each site. But its compact size is part of the charm; tucked around the corner of the mountainside as it is, the highway noise is eliminated.  The riparian vegetation encourages birds and bats. As so often happens in campgrounds, despite the open tent sites, there’s an unspoken agreement to  preserve the illusion of privacy. A friendly nod as you walk past sites and then eyes are politely averted.

The weather was mercurial during the week we stayed. Thunder and lightning the first night accompanied by cool rain. Perhaps we hadn’t brought enough warm gear? Then the sun broke with a vengeance, the temperature shot straight up to 30c and suddenly the swim gear and sun umbrella for scrubby Skaha Beach didn’t seem to be out of the question anymore. It also meant we needed to tactically time a couple of bike rides, we both cycle better in slightly cooler temperatures.

Holidays to me don’t mean getting up at six or seven in the morning, even though I was the one harassing us to get moving this time, so thank goodness for coffee. And food, ahhh food! I do love it so (I have to segue here and mention a great little compendium of recipes created and put together in a book I bought called Bike. Camp. Cook by a couple who have bike toured a huge amount, who clearly appreciate good food and who wanted to eat well and nutritiously on their trips. I originally stumbled across their book on Kickstarter but they now feature it on their website Going Slowly. They recommend a cooking set that we purchased and it has made our lives so much easier. I’ve followed their recipes for french toast, mango/avocado salsa, baked bananas, feta cheese and zucchini fritters, all so good. I photocopied the recipes I wanted to use, a useful way to save weight).

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Mango and avocado salsa, I added tomatoes.

Fortified by caffeine and french toast we struck off for what was actually a short (one hour) ride, but a pretty one. At the far end of Okanagan Falls we turned onto McLean Creek Road, a popular local cycling circuit. It wound up a couple of steep turns then levelled out into a gently winding route past farms and well tended, prosperous looking ranches before dropping down to the east side of Skaha Lake and so back to the campground. As we started out the sun was already burning (hence the arm protectors), the sky a gorgeous blue.

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Early morning light. Photos by Scott

A day later we woke to a hot but overcast day, the sky an oppressive stony grey. Our circuit this time took us in the opposite direction for a two or three hour ride. We tackled two outrageous hair pin turns on Green Lake Road which runs beside the campground, passes a vineyard or two and turns onto White Lake Road, leading to Twin Lakes Road and thence to Highway 3A and back again. There’s a beauty to this sage-filled landscape that can’t be denied. During most of the time riding out and back to the campground we rarely saw a car, sometimes a motorbike and as there were no fondos on at that time (it’s a popular area for group rides), just a few  cyclists. Once we’d reached the highway we spotted a nearby gas station and stopped outside to drink chocolate milk and stretch. As we relaxed in the shade a red-faced dad, mum, teenage son and daughter, all impressively geared up in matching cycling gear, rolled up, ran inside and emerged with the largest ice creams I think I’ve ever seen. We exchanged ‘hellos’ and route suggestions. People are friendly here anyway, it’s part of what brings us back each year, but I’m nearly always struck by the camaraderie of the cycling world, it’s a lovely thing.

If you like cycling there’s so many more routes to ride nearby, this is just a taster of this beautiful and diverse area, and you can always stop off for a glass of wine at one of the many vineyards. We certainly did.

White Lake Road

White Lake Road

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Four Nights, Three Days and Some Cycle Touring

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Fulford Harbour

We were itching to do some cycling touring, to stretch out our legs and be entirely (or mostly, ferries notwithstanding) self-sufficient. To that end we decided to ride back to a favourite southern gulf island in BC, Salt Spring, and combine it with a visit to our friend in Victoria on Vancouver Island. It was wonderful, around 130kms of moderate riding over the course of four days ( a perfect amount in hot weather and for a more relaxed break) incorporating a gorgeous island, some farm stands to munch local fruits and veggies from, scenic roads to ride, fresh water lakes to swim in, some freezing ocean to dip in, and a leafy city to wander around near the end of the trip.

We did our special of stealth parking in the quiet back streets of Tswwassen itself and belted up the causeway (about 7kms on a bike route) to the ferry terminal and rolled onto one of the frequent ferries that makes its way across the Georgia Strait to Swartz Bay. I love being the first on and first off the ferry and the fact that you’re saving about $160 when you don’t take a car (insanity! When did it become so expensive to travel by ferry to nearby islands, and on the same note, when did BC Parks get so expensive? Salt Spring is still bearable at $20 a night for a tent site, with no showers, but most now seem to be up to $30 or more, and don’t get me started on the private campgrounds. No wonder more people want to wild camp where they can, it’s something we might have to look into. End of Rant). Once at Swartz, we rolled our bikes over to the connecting ferry for Salt Spring, which deposits you roughly twenty-five minutes later at Fulford Harbour on the island. In the summer you can take a direct ferry to Salt Spring or a meandering one which stops in at Galiano, Mayne and Pender Islands en route and takes about 3 hours. Both latter choices dock at Long Harbour, the main ferry terminal at the other end of the island to Fulford. It takes us about two hours to ride from Long Harbour to reach the campground we stay at on the island. If you want a longer ride it’s a great route.

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local apples

If you ever do this trip I recommend that you immediately head to the Salt Spring Mercantile Store in Fulford village which is about a minutes walk from the harbour entrance (Fulford is tiny) and pick up several of the house-made Giant Cookies. They. Are. Amazing. We bought nine of them over three days. A bit cheekily I asked if the recipe might be available. It’s not, naturally, but they were so reasonably priced I would’ve happily bought dozens more. At the Mercantile, one of those lovely and increasingly rare local grocery stores that stocks a bit of everything, you can buy the basics like milk and bread, coffee and more exotic fare like in-house spanakopitas, gluten-free quiches and, of course, cookies.

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Ruckle Park farm

It’s then about a 9 or 10km ride to Ruckle Provincial Park. It doesn’t sound much, and it isn’t but……there is no straight bit of road. It’s all hills and corners, which is why it’s so special really. The first hill out of Fulford is a bit brutal, there’s no getting around it. We felt every pedal turn as we pushed up the first steep corner out of the village with our panniers laden with tent, sleeping bag, food, tent pads etc. (Why is it that when you pack you need as much for three or four days as you do for ten or fourteen? It’s a mystery I’ve never been able to solve. It’s probably because we take a lot of food.) A car passed me as I toiled up the steep corner and a woman yelled out the car ‘you got it!’. I nearly rode into the ditch in surprise but it made me laugh. After that it’s rolling hill after rolling hill as you pass farms stands, a couple of lakes, pastures and orchards. It’s pretty idyllic, as is Ruckle Park. The park was first homesteaded in 1872 by Irish immigrant Henry Ruckle and his descendants have farmed the property since. The Ruckle family donated their land to BC Parks in 1972 but still operate an ‘active farm’ area of the park. Sheep wander around spacious fields whilst turkeys stalk freely across the road you ride in on.

I love the campground, you’ll have to forgive me for waxing poetic about it once again in this post. Some tent sites are tucked away in the woods, others occupy spots close to the shore, all have plenty of space. It was as peaceful as ever. I caught the tail end of the Perseid meteor shower one evening as several fireballs streaked through the sky, one leaving a distinct vapour trail. Another night two owls flew across the campground, landed in a nearby tree and hooted away for a while before taking off again. I realized it’s been years since I’ve heard owls. Deer, rabbits, raccoons (pack away your food!) and apparently mink (I’ve yet to see one) abound. We read books, wandered around the shoreline and rode back along the road to one of the lakes for a swim in significantly warmer water than the ocean.

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evening in the campground

Considerably lighter after we’d eaten most of our food, we headed back to the ferry for the Victoria leg of the trip. Sixty or so kilometers round trip on the Lochside Trail after a convivial evening in the city spent wandering around tree-lined streets whilst we talked and caught up on life with our friend. Not a bad way to spend three days.

 

Cycling For Pastries

Rain, rain rain…….it’s been virtually constant and chilly too lately with windy gusts that make holing up inside with a good book and a coffee/tea/glass of wine (take your pick) more appealing on days off than getting out for a ride or run or just a walk. It’s not the way to lose a couple of extra winter pounds though so when finally a momentary lull in the daily downpours and a hint of sunshine lurking behind heavy clouds broke out we were enticed to run the bikes out into the chilly air and take off for a ride.

There’s a decent route to take in Vancouver for a good enough workout and some vistas of the mighty Fraser River (the longest river in BC and the 10th longest river in Canada for those who like to know those kind of things). We cycled to SW Marine Drive – a busy road but with a wide, mostly debris free cycle lane that distantly follows the shoreline of the river as it flows into the Georgia Strait – and headed west, ducking off at one point to enjoy a view over the  water.

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Carrying on the road will ultimately take you to the beginnings of the campus of UBC (University of British Columbia) perched on the peninsula that is home to Pacific Spirit Regional Park. There you can either wend and weave your way past the university  buildings or circumvent the campus and fly down a steepish portion of road (now NW Marine Drive) adjacent to the sea until it spits you out to sea level where you ride past several beaches – almost deserted now except for a few  joggers, dog walkers or cyclists like ourselves – en route to perhaps a coffee in any one of several nearby neighbourhoods, there to enjoy a guilt-free pastry – an hours ride allows for that!

Cherry blossom and even magnolias are starting to show, and as some warmer air and sunlight hit the trees a faint perfumed scent could be discerned coming for the burgeoning flowers. But then the rain returned to remind us that winter is still with us as we shivered our way home. Spring and renewed energy will return but only when it’s ready. Like many good things, sometimes you just have to wait patiently.

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Canelé pastry – a little burst of sunshine