Trip Report: British Columbia 2018

I recently completed a 5-day motorcycle trip from my home in Oregon through Washington and up into British Columbia. This was my third motorcycle trip to B.C., all completed on The Grey Mule, my 2007 Suzuki V-Strom DL650. The trip total was 1,594 miles in 5 days of riding.

Day 1 Thursday – Sandy, Oregon to Leavenworth, Washington

290 miles

I left the house at 7:45 AM and got gas at the Sandy Chevron. There were small droplets of mist on my face shield and by the time I got to the top of Cherryville I had to pull over and put on my waterproof Aerostich Triple Digit over-gloves. And suddenly the precipitation stopped. I’ll have to remember that technique the next time it rains. I had blue skies by the time I got to Government Camp, so I pulled over and removed the over-gloves.

My next stop was Hood River where I changed into my warm weather gloves and opened the sleeve vents on my Aerostich Darien jacket. I paid $1 at the toll booth and I was riding across that scary, narrow metal bridge across the Columbia River. I wouldn’t be back into Oregon until Monday afternoon.

There was a moderately strong wind blowing through the Gorge, fortunately it was from the west, at my back. Now on the Washington side of the river, I turned north on highway 142 at Lyle and followed the Klickitat River and then east to Goldendale where I stopped and got gas and a snack. The temperature was warming up.

That west wind was now at my left side as I headed north on highway 97. It wasn’t too bad when I rode over Satus Pass. The scars from previous wildfires in that area were dramatic. The temperature continued to climb and got even warmer when I passed through the town of Toppenish.

I used my Garmin Zumo 200 GPS to guide me to Selah, in search of route 821 along the Yakima River, but I got a little misdirected and had to navigate on my own down a side road until I got to 823 and then 821.

Yakima Canyon (route 821) is listed at 45 mph but could easily be 60 mph. The ride through that stretch is well worth the detour.

I stopped at a boat ramp to use the pit toilet outhouse they had there and saw something funny written on the bathroom wall. “FOOK DA MAYWETTAS” it said. I’m not sure what that means but it seems a Scotsman has a strong opinion about what I presume are Mayweathers.

The wind was getting stronger the closer I got to Ellensburg. I gassed up at the Chevron there and ate lunch at the busy McDonalds a few doors down. It was good to get inside out of the heat. By the time I left, the wind was whipping really hard and blew me around rather aggressively.

My GPS guided me onto I-90 for a few miles and then back onto highway 97 north. A few turns and junctions later, I was on my way over Blewett Pass. That’s where I got a speeding ticket (for going 62 mph in a 60 mph zone) back in the summer of 2007, my only ticket on a bike and only the second in my entire driving career; the first was shortly after I turned 16.

Traffic on 97 north to Leavenworth was rather thick and I got stuck behind some trains of cars led by slow pokes who completely ignored the frequent “let them pass” signs and turn-outs for slow drivers.

Leavenworth itself was predictably busy with summer pedestrian traffic. I got into town at 2:40 PM, which was good riding for the day.

I stopped at the 76 station on the west end of town and bought three things: a one liter bottle of water, a 22 ounce bottle of Dru Bru Kolsch beer, and a bag of cookies for a snack later on. Icicle Road was next to the gas station, so it was easy to find with no GPS directions necessary. It follows the Wenatchee River, which is very rugged and filled with many dramatic looking boulders.

There had been a burn recently so the canyon walls were scarred and black.

Eight Mile Campground is the first one I came to. I rode through the whole site once to scope out my spot, which was right next to the camp host and also near the pit toilets. I set up my tent and then walked down to the entrance self-pay station and put $22 in the envelope. That’s a steep price when you consider the only amenities are pit toilets and a drinking fountain that only works when the sun is shining (it’s solar powered for some reason).

My dinner that night was freeze dried beef stroganoff. It wasn’t bad. The book for my reading pleasure was Hiero’s Journey by Sterling E. Lanier.

Day 2 Friday – Leavenworth, Washington to Hope, British Columbia

334 miles

It was very windy but the temperature was pleasant at my campsite. My new air mattress, the Therma-Rest MondoKing 3D, worked well and is the best comfort sleeping on the ground I’ve ever experienced.

I was awake at 4:30 AM and out of bed by 5:10 AM. There was just enough light for me to break camp without requiring my head lamp. Once my bike was loaded up, I rolled out onto the road at 6:10 AM and headed into Leavenworth looking for a restaurant for breakfast. McDonalds was the only place open, so that sufficed.

My route was southeast back the way I came until I caught highway 97 northbound. The wind was calm and the temperature was mild; a nice morning ride.

At Twisp, I headed west on highway 20, a new road to me. There were several more dramatic burn areas along the way – a frequent theme on this trip.

The town of Winthrop, Washington was very quaint and fun. It reminded me of Leavenworth, but instead of adopting a Bavarian theme, they chose a western theme instead. I also saw lots of people bicycling in the area.

And then scenery cranked up several notches. Highway 20 is amazing as it crosses the northern Washington Cascades mountain range in a east-west direction. The mountains are rugged and dramatic.

I stopped at the Lone Fir campground for a lunch break, just shy of the pass. I ate one of my freeze dried breakfast meals of egg, sausage and hash browns. There were a few mosquitos around, several of which bit me on my head. It made for some itchy times under my helmet later on.

After my meal break, shortly up the road the mountains became much more close, steep and immediate. Very cool!

The road down the west side of the pass was in great shape and had many nice sweeping curves. I relied on my GPS to help me navigate to Sedro-Woolley and then north where I stopped at a Chevron in the community of Nooksak. I had cell service so I called my partner back home and her and I chatted for a bit.

I crossed the border into Canada at Sumas, and was only asked a few questions by the border agent. One was, “Do you have any firearms?” When I said no, the agent then asked, “How long has it been since you had a firearm?” I felt that was rather presumptuous. After answering that question, I was given permission to enter their beautiful country.

Once through the border, I was amazed at the line of cars waiting to get into the U.S. The line was at least a half mile long.

I got onto Canada Highway 1 and headed east. Traffic on 1 was thick, almost like rush hour, and I rode for maybe 10 kilometers [do you see what I did there?] before I could get into upper gears.

The run to the town of Hope was fast, with a 110 km per hour speed limit. I had to use my GPS to find the Coquihalla campground where I intended to stay. It was the only one in the area that has showers. Unfortunately, they were full.

I decided to get a room instead of staying in my tent out in the woods somewhere nearby. The first hotel I stopped at didn’t seem to have a lobby or entrance; I walked all the way around it and couldn’t find the door. The next one looked utterly scary, the kind of place my Dad would describe as “not a good idea to walk across the room barefoot.” The third hotel seemed okay, the Skagit Motel, and fortunately they had a room available. It turned out to be a nice place to stay.

My shower felt good, as there wasn’t any available back at the Eight Mile campground near Leavenworth. It had been a warm ride, and nothing makes you look forward to a cleansing shower more than riding a motorcycle in hot weather. I even washed some of my clothes in the sink and hung them to dry in the bathroom [tip: ExOfficio underwear. Get some.]

I walked three blocks to the 293 Restaurant for dinner. The food was good.

So far on the trip, other than the bit of mist as I was leaving Sandy, it hadn’t rained, although the forecast looked tumultuous. It was also supposed to get hot on the east side of the mountains.

Day 3 Saturday – Hope, BC to Pemberton, BC

269 km / 167 miles

Today was the best ride of the trip so far. The road north from Hope to Lytton, highway 1, is very nice, especially on the southern end. The hills are nice and the road is in great shape.

The scenery dried out by the time I got to Lytton, with small pines and sage brush dominating the area as the road follows the mighty Fraser River. The last time I came that way I was traveling from north to south and the river was swollen and the color of chocolate milk. This time the river was low on its banks but still impressive.

Fortunately, traffic was light. There were some slow drivers but there were many passing lanes available.

I stopped in Lillooet and got gas, then used my GPS to find a Subway restaurant for lunch. A guy on a BMW 1200GS was in the parking lot putting his helmet on when I pulled in. By his accent as we chatted, I would have guessed he was from Australia or maybe New Zealand.

This was my first time riding highway 99 from east (Lillooet) to west (Pemberton). I recall saying, “Holy shit!” out loud inside my helmet. The road climbs an 11% grade into a narrow canyon between high mountains on either side and gets better with every mile.

The mountains were almost violent in their closeness and severity. When I had ridden 99 before, it was from west to east and it was raining, so the bulk of the scenery during that trip was shrouded and hidden by clouds. I can say this highway rivals Going to the Sun Road through Glacier National Park, and the road itself is much more fun to ride and a lot faster. In fact, I think highway 99 might be my favorite motorcycling road of all time.

The only really slow RV that refused to pull over and let others pass had a Washington license plate. Boo!

My day started by waking up at 6 AM, which was a late wake-up for me. I subconsciously knew I had a short ride ahead of me so I wasn’t in a hurry to leave. I got dressed and walked four blocks to the Blue Moose coffee shop, but despite Google claiming they were open at 6 AM, their sign and gated entrance declared they wouldn’t open until 7 AM.

I walked back to my motel room and hung out until 7 AM, then made the trip again. The place was busy but I had no trouble getting a table to eat my bacon, egg and cheese scone and drink my decaf mocha.

An older gentleman sat by himself enjoying his beverage in silence. When he got up to leave, he began speaking in a very loud and angry voice, “That’s my f%cking garbage!” He repeated this a few times as he walked toward the door, and kept saying it once outside. He walked straight across the street without looking either way and continued across the park on the other side, repeating his loud comment. I got the impression he does this on a regular basis, because when he began his verbal tirade, none of the staff looked up or acknowledged it was happening.

The clothes I washed the night before weren’t quite dry yet so I used the hair dryer to finish the job. I took my time packing and loading the bike.

Let’s jump ahead in the story to when I arrived in Pemberton just before 1 PM. I rode into the very busy Husky gas station and topped off my tank, then continued further west down highway 99 to the Nairn Falls campground. It was full!

Back in Pemberton proper, I found my way to the Pemberton Hotel where I had stayed a few years ago back during my first visit to the area. I got the last room available, but unfortunately it was directly above the pub downstairs. I figured it would be better than sleeping in a hot tent outdoors (it was fairly warm in Pemberton) so I accepted the room.

Also unfortunately, they wouldn’t allow me to check in until 4 PM, so I had to find somewhere to kill several hours of time, preferably in the shade.

I rode back to the same gas station and hung out in the attached McDonalds. Their air conditioning was excellent, but it was a very busy place and I didn’t want to occupy my booth for too long, freeing it up for other customers.

Back on the bike, I wandered around town a little bit until I remembered a large covered barn-like park structure near my hotel. I parked the bike outside and went into the shade with my book and sat at a picnic table.

The “Downtown Community Barn” as it was called sat directly opposite a busy liquor store. Although many customers bought beer, none seemed to buy it in bottles. Everyone came out carrying cases or flats of beer in the can. Lots of beer, in fact!

I eventually got on my bike and swung around the back side of the barn and parked it in the shade next to my picnic table. I doubt it was legal or appropriate, but no one seemed to mind and it certainly wasn’t in the way.

At 4 PM, I checked into my room. It took four trips to get everything off my bike and carried up to my second-floor interior room. Thankfully the unit had both air conditioning and a shower. The room I stayed in a few years prior had neither.

Dinner was at The Pony, “across the railroad tracks and through the gap in the fence” as the front desk clerk described the restaurant situated about 100 meters away. My beer was great as was the Caesar salad and bison meatballs on pasta.

As I enjoyed my meal, I noticed the various languages I heard spoken by other diners around me. I heard what sounded like Portuguese, French, German, and what I think was likely Swedish or Norwegian as well as yet another European-sounding language I couldn’t identify. I mentally remarked that it was an experience very unlikely to occur within my United States, at least not without a lot of jeers and negative looks from closed-minded xenophobic locals.

Thinking ahead to the next day’s destination, I phoned the Super 8 hotel in Osoyoos, BC and reserved what the clerk said was their last room available. The Best Western I called just prior to that had no vacancy at all. Again, the ‘last room available’ was the repeated theme of my trip so far.

Day 4 Sunday – Pemberton, BC to Osoyoos, BC

463 km / 287 miles

I didn’t sleep very well, but I had better conditions than I would have had in a tent. I had air conditioning and a shower and Wifi, which were nice.

The pub downstairs did indeed make some noise, with the repetitive thump-thump of music heard from 9 PM right until they closed at 2 AM. Ear plugs really didn’t help much, but most of the noise I dealt with was actually from my air conditioner.

Breakfast ended up being at McDonalds, the same place where I ate lunch the day before. One restaurant next to my hotel was closed for the entire day and the coffee shop and bakery next to the railroad tracks wasn’t open until 8 AM.

I pulled out of town at 6:40 AM. There was dew on my bike seat so I used a hotel washrag to dry it off before loading up the Grey Mule.

It was an absolutely beautiful morning to depart. The sun was hitting the mountain tops and mist was floating through the willows of the valley floor. Visibility was an issue when the rising sun peeked into the valley and hit me straight on. I took things slow for that reason, and because of the risk of deer or bear in the road.

The air warmed up as I ascended the steep (13% grade!) road east bound. The views all the way to Lillooet on highway 99 did not disappoint. I trailed behind a van with Alberta plates for several miles but eventually overtook it, having the rest of that amazing road to myself.

I did not stop in Lillooet, choosing to continue south to the small town of Lytton before I stopped for gas. Other than to put directions into my GPS, I didn’t stop again until I broke for lunch at the Dairy Queen in Princeton.

The Chevron in Princeton was very busy, with a dozen bikes or more there and half that many cars. I chatted with another rider, maybe my age, riding a nineties-era Honda 600 sport bike. He recommended I explore a road leading up to the viewpoint just to the east of Osoyoos.

The road leading to Princeton (highway 5A) passes through some beautiful aspen groves and bogs that would make for excellent moose sightings. Alas, I saw none (I still haven’t seen a moose in the wild, or even at the mall for that matter). The highway also passes by a series of lakes in a line at the bottom of a forested valley. Numerous paddle-boarders were seen on the water, along with many expensive-looking homes on the water’s edge.

As I rode through the fertile wine and orchard valley of Keremeos, I saw firsthand the wildfires burning on the hills on the western side of the valley. Several helicopters picked up huge canvas buckets of water from the river below and rose up to dump them on the hillside. Seeing them rise and fall and fly around reminded me of wasps building a nest or bees flying around their hive.

Fortunately my route wasn’t affected by the fires and there wasn’t much smoke to contend with, either, as I rode through.

The warming remainder of my ride into Osoyoos went without incident or note. I gassed up at the Shell station in town, and pulled into the Super 8 just a few hundred meters away. Fortunately I was able to check in even though I arrived at 1:30 in the afternoon. After having a nice chat with the desk clerk, I parked around back and unloaded my bike.

The air conditioning in my room never felt so good, as it was already 32 degrees outside (that’s 92 degrees to us ‘Mericans). My nap was nice, too. The temperature peaked at 93 hazy degrees by the time I walked across the busy street to get dinner at the A&W. At this point of the trip I was feeling rather tired of fast food.

My shower after dinner was nice, and the lack of cleanliness is one of the biggest drawbacks to camping on a trip like this. It’s hard to reset and recharge your batteries when you’ve sweated all day and never get a respite from it.

The forecast showed heat in the low to mid 90’s the next day. I knew I’d need to rely on all of my hot weather riding tricks to get through it.

Day 5 Monday – Osoyoos, BC to Sandy, Oregon

440 miles

The last day of my trip is what could be referred to as a “porno ride”: hot, long and hard. Forgive the juvenile humor, but the description fits.

I was on the bike at 5:50 AM and had no problems crossing the border back into the U.S.

Once again, I didn’t get much sleep. The air conditioning was one of those units that’s quiet for several minutes and then kicks on in a noisy fashion. This pattern of noise and silence keeps you from falling asleep very easily, and often prevents you from getting that deep regenerative sleep you need.

I was out of bed at 4:52 AM. My initial breakfast to get me going was a Clif Bar that I ate while I finished packing and loaded up my bike. My proper breakfast was at Shannon’s Café in Tonasket. I had eaten lunch there during a previous trip and enjoyed the food. Several local farmers where having breakfast there as well. I stood out like a sore thumb but fortunately I didn’t get any judgmental stares. The service and food were nice.

My ‘fastest’ route by GPS took me on SR17 past the Chief Joseph Dam, through the middle of nowhere, and into the center of nowhere town of Ephrata, where I stopped for gas.

After using the restroom, I was outside putting my helmet on when a couple pulled up in a Toyota FJ Cruiser. A toothless man got out of the passenger side and eyed my bike for several seconds before saying, “I sure wish I could go with you.” He went inside and after coming back out, pressed his thumb on this forehead and jokingly taunted, “I hope a bug hits you right here!” I smiled and said, “Many already have.”

I mounted my bike and began to back it out when I noticed the man back in his truck saluting me several times with a big smile on his face. I saluted back, then rode away.

I didn’t stop again until the Chevron in Goldendale, Washington. By this point, I was very hot and feeling quite knackered. I had a headache and my brain felt like it was vibrating. I was also getting hungry. I snacked inside the air conditioned mini-mart on a corn dog and chocolate milk.

The Columbia River was calm when I crossed at Biggs Junction, and for the first time I could actually smell the water.

To escape the heat of I-84, I turned south on highway 35 at Hood River and gained elevation to get into some cooler air. I rode up and around Government Camp rather than the faster route of 84 into Troutdale and then backtracking to Sandy.

I got home at 2:25 PM, and had been on the road almost continuously since 5:50 that morning. The ride was very hot and long and I was utterly spent.

Final Notes

I apologize for not posting any pictures from this trip. I carried my phone in a waterproof case and the lens over the camera made all my pictures come out very dark and blurry — basically unusable. I also have a bad habit of riding through the scenery enjoying the ride, rather than stopping and photographing it.

The highlight of the trip had to be highway 99 between Pemberton and Lillooet, BC. The scenery and road condition make it a riding experience above anything else I’ve ever experienced.

The low point of the trip was that very long, hot last day of the ride. It was a lot of straight, fast riding with little to look at. The smells of the agricultural communities I passed through were interesting, however, often changing by the second.

Finally, I intended to camp every night of this trip under the pretense of saving money, but in hindsight I am glad it didn’t work out that way. Because of the heat and lack of showers — everywhere I stayed was experiencing very warm conditions — sleep would have been elusive and my ability to recover and renew my endurance for the following day’s ride would have been compromised. Thinking about this, it is my view that we can endure crappy conditions based on the inverse of our ability to recover from the experience. Maybe I’m just getting too old for sleeping under the stars, at least more than one or two nights in a row.

Ride to Hyder, Alaska

I just got back from a ride to Hyder, Alaska via central Washington and British Columbia. I’ll post a detailed ride report, but I’ll summarize here.

1. I’ve never met a Canadian I didn’t like, and this trip proved them to be very friendly people.

2. I didn’t see a single piece of litter or graffiti in B.C. anywhere.

3. I saw three different bears, one of which was brick red — the rare Cinnamon Bear! — but saw no moose.

4. My Garmin Zumo 220 GPS randomly resets itself; I’m unsure why.

5. The dual towns of Stewart, BC and Hyder, AK provide amazing scenery and are very much worth the trip.

6. I’m tired; that was a long trip.