November 21, 2015
Once again, the time to write escapes us some evenings. It’s day four of the ride down to Monterey California, and it brings with it a stop in Portland, Oregon for a visit with family and for a chance to give my knee a break. I turned thirty-nine this year and things on the ol’ body aren’t quite as good as they were. Like my knee. For some reason it just starts to ache – a throbbing pain that shoots up towards my hip. Still, it’s more funny than serious. Things change as you get older and I’m happy for most of them.
Nita and I are slower. We’re less interested in “fast” and “hurry” and more interested in experiencing the people and places that we visit. Not that there’s anything wrong with fast and hurried – there’s always a time and place. But for now, the trips the thing and we want it to last.
We left Calgary on the sixth of September. The day was served up in glorious fashion with a bright sun and perfect temperatures. Our destination was Kimberley, BC which for some reason had been a place I’d wanted to visit since I’d found out it was billed as the “Bavarian City.” Perhaps it was the childhood memories of Oberau in Austria that elicited some wonderful image of what this place may be. In reality Kimberley is a lovely, sleepy little town this time of year and it’s architecture and Schnitzel do it’s billing justice. After checking in at Chateau Kimberley (we were the only guests), we walked into town for dinner. A recommendation from a store-owner led us to the Pedal & Tap – a great restaurant for some post-ride beers and food. The food was great with plenty of veggie and vegan options, the kids were hip and the venue was nicely designed. Most importantly the staff were super-friendly which made the evening a delight.
The next day we loaded up the bikes and headed for the border just south of Creston BC. At the border, we were through in about five minutes – the toughest question being “has anyone tried to talk you out of getting married?” The guy was awesome. Our route took us on some B roads that led us through wheat fields and left us feeling completely alone in the world. Different from the straight, wheat-lined highways of southern Alberta, these roads swept over and around fields that rolled over the landscape in a sea of gold. We were surrounded by the harvest. The landscape pushed us forward into a barren stretch that revealed a massive coulee and suddenly the wheat was replaced with sage-grass and rocks. We passed through Coulee City and the temperature peaked at around 37ºC as we pulled into the Dry Falls interpretive center for a break in the shade. The view was stunning. Mere moments ago you’d have sworn the land was flat yet here was a valley that stretched for countless miles.
We headed south for a few miles and set up camp under a tree at the base of the valley at the state park and settled in for the night. A lake was within walking distance and once there noticed a shop with paddle boats. Fugghedaboudit! A couple of bucks later Nita and I were out of breath and floating aimlessly in the middle of the lake. It was heaven! The only sounds were those of people enjoying themselves – kids laughing and splashing, dogs swimming and old men fishing while talking-up their previous catches.
After a night in front of the fire we both woke up to the sound of footsteps outside the tent. And not footsteps down the way – footsteps inches away from where our heads were resting. Sitting straight up we both sat quietly waiting to hear which way they were going. Instead, they simply stopped. The coulee offered no obvious animal predators like the bears or cougars we’re used to so we were left thinking that some creep was poking around the campsite. With a sudden flurry of bravery, Nita grabbed a knife and decided to venture out of the tent – with me quickly behind her holding a leatherman :) Apparently I was gonna multi-tool the prowler should it come to that. We stood silent in the darkness looking for a sign when suddenly we saw a man we’d earlier dubbed “Santa Claus” sneak into his trailer. That was it! Santa Claus had been sniffing around our tent and bikes, maybe peering into the tent for kicks, then, when he heard us stir, scampered on the grass for a silent escape to his trailer (which was no doubt lined with centerfolds).
Nita and I were Watson and Holmes – though, as it turned out, we had little to no talent. There was no prowler, no wild animal. Not even a gopher. A flap on the tent blowing in the wind made a sound that was *exactly* like footsteps in gravel. Nita would not have to follow through on her threat of talking to Santa in he morning and we could sleep easy knowing that we weren’t the object of some unwanted curiosity. Laughing, we went back to sleep feeling great relief.
Out on the road again we headed southwest on HWY 17 along Alkalai Lake (for you xmen fans) and deeper into the coulees. The rock faces rushed pass us on the left and the water was a foot below us on the right. The road twisted through the canyon and again we found ourselves completely alone. Cresting the hills we popped out into the beginnings of wine country with the smell of fruit filling our helmets. The workers harvested as we passed and carted their fruit down the road on ATV’s. Starving, we stopped for breakfast in a small town and filled the tanks. Day three was starting to take it’s toll on the Lumix camera. The lens ring that holds the lens cap had fallen off somewhere prior to breakfast and before the day was done the wonderfully large LCD screen would take a fatal blow – cracking the screen wide open.
We managed to stay off of the interstates for the majority of the day and instead rolled through peppermint fields (they exist!), orchards and vineyards. Heading through the mountains on HWY 97 we were met with our first forest fire. The road was partially closed with rangers escorting us through the area. The sides of the road were scorched and plumes of smoke rose in the distance. As we wound our way through the range, massive swaths of land in the valley had been completely consumed and a few miles in the distance the flames rose high above the trees. It was quite amazing to see. Through the range, we rode along the Columbia river – which we first met in BC – and then crossed into Oregon over the Hood River Bridge – which was pretty sweet.
A short jaunt on the 84 got us into Portland just in time for rush hour. Sweet! Still, getting in and seeing Ahmed and Wendy’s smiling faces was awesome. Now for a couple of days off before the push to the coast and the long way south.