Wednesday, July 25:
Of course, it’s another clear blue sky day as they tend to dawn around here from July through September!
We make our way (about an hour’s drive) back to meet up with the others at Idabel Lake. It’s a gorgeous morning but have a feeling it’s going to get hot today. We will be cycling “the summit” of the trail past McCulloch Lake and on to Myra Canyon – the “jewel of the KVR” and a huge feat for Andrew McCulloch, chief engineer of the KVR which was built from 1910-1914.
The trail hugs this horseshoe shaped canyon with tunnels and 18 trestle bridges that will enable us to get around it.
But, before I get ahead of myself…let me introduce you to the “pack”. Stephannie is one of the other “lone wolves” who inspired me to put this trip together. Newly arrived from Saskatchewan with her husband Marcus, they now manage the beautiful Sandy Beach Resort in Naramata (most of our guests will enjoy at least one night on tour here). She mentioned how much she would love to ride the KVR and that her son and her best friend were coming to visit in July…
Just days before Teresa had called, Frauke from Little Dipper had also mentioned how much she would love to ride one day…and this is really what clinched it.
So we left bikes for them in Penticton to pick up at our working partners Hoodoo Adventures (more on them to come, but they have become fast friends and colleagues – if you are looking for a day trip, with or without a guide, by bike or kayak, please check them out – they also offer shuttles for the KVR and much much more.)
Marcus drove Stephannie to the airport where they picked up son Jake and Kathy, took them up to Myra Canyon Station and they then they cycled about 24 kilometres to Idabel (that’s where we saw them headed yesterday on the 201). And now here we all are – about to embark on a huge trail ride from Idabel all the way to Naramata. We are getting just a weeny bit of help to get started though. Todd from Idabel Lake Resort and my amazing partner are going to give us a little lift to skip the forestry road and start off at McCulloch.
Why not do your biggest ride starting at the namesake of the chief engineer – seems fitting. It will only take 8 kilometres off our day, but it’s a help!
And I’ve already called ahead to Chute Lake (more on that – keep reading – we’ll get there – it’s at about the 50 km mark today).
Here we are, ready to roll from Idabel Lake…okay, not quite ready to roll…the newbies to the pack are found relaxing on the deck chairs soaking in the morning view of the lake – ready to ride I quiz?? um, okay, not just yet!
But they quickly whip themselves into action and we’re off!
Starting the day at McCulloch Station is just the ticket today – we’re met by a four legged wolf pack wanna be who wins us all over immediately! but I think her legs are too short to keep up!
A little later than anticipated, but a lot of laughter later, we’re away.
Teresa and I take the lead and having gotten used to each other’s pace we quickly lose the rest of our pack! oops! but a short stop and we can see, oh wait, actually we can HEAR them long before we see them! I guess we won’t worry about running into any bears today – Stephannie has what one would call a very infectious laugh that was ringing throughout the forest – bet the deer were even perking up their ears and chuckling!
Regrouped and we’re away again. Just a few more kilometres and we catch up with “our family”! yay! and another family group also stopped up – this folk are from Prince George and “Dad” last visited Chute Lake Lodge 25 years ago – and he’s headed back with the family. A very fit looking bunch, they are sporting Banff Marathon jerseys and giant smiles! Obviously having a good time! We all catch up like old friends and then set off in the same direction all at our different paces.
So McCulloch to Myra is along the “summit” of this part of the trail and it’s nice easy going. Of course the other three rode this the opposite direction yesterday so it’s all old news to them! they had STRICT instructions not to even go and peek at the trestles so we are hitting that section together today.
Arriving into the parking area for Myra after you have been cycling the eastern side of the trail is a bit of a shock to the system – people everywhere!! We stop in and chat with Myra Canyon Bike Rentals – these are your go to people if you are wanting to just get a little taste of the trail and ride the trestles as they are right at the trail with options of half and full day bike rentals.
We purchase a few more waters and Teresa gets a T-shirt – proceeds go to the Myra Canyon Trestle Restoration Society which was formed after the 2003 Okanagan Mountain Park fires the burnt out 13 of the 18 trestles. That was a terrible year for fires. Last year – 2017 – was extreme for BC and this year we have a few burning in the Okanagan Valley. It is a natural part of the environment for most of BC – so far we have been lucky and although here at Myra we see a very faint haze far below us, we know the trail is clear and we are good to go – and we’re off and running!
We ride this section as a pack…almost…Stephannie??oh there she is….coming up last again! (I can put this in as I know she will laugh and that is good for anyone in her vicinity as they too will no doubt be laughing too just hearing it!)
Obviously this is a very photogenic spot – let’s just go with a series of photos for you here:
Eighteen trestles and two tunnels later – we pause at Ruth Station, the entrance to Myra Canyon on the south/west side and strike up a conversation with a family from England.
Great to see so many people enjoying this amazing feat of Andrew McCulloch preserved and re-built after the fires of 2003.
But the rest of the “pack” are beginning to realize just how many people think “cycling the KVR” is riding this 10 km stretch! there is SO much more! like another 420 kilometres or so!! So just a hint, if you call or email us asking to “ride the KVR”, please keep in mind, when we “ride the KVR” we are riding for 4-6 DAYS, not hours!
Biking out of Myra Bellevue Park we pass the Little White Forestry Road and June Spring Road which is the final bailout direction to Kelowna – here we are about 3000 feet above the valley floor and that bustling tourist town and we’re all quite happy to be up here! On many of our tours though, you can get treated to a luxurious evening in the European styled Myra Canyon Ranch B&B – it’s a very special place and we work closely with owners Rolf and Kathrin who have supported us in many ways over the years. Sorry not to be staying there this time round, but I have a feeling this may just become an annual event…more on that later!
Realizing our “pack” has different paces we agree to meet for lunch at the biggest trestle yet to come – Bellevue Trestle. Teresa and I get a nice pace happening – although I expect the trail to deteriorate immediately after leaving the “provincial park” status of Myra, its actually holding up okay. A few bumps and pot holes but all pretty good until! look out for the sand trap right before Bellevue! yikes! but we crank on through it and onto the bridge.
Wow…I have to take a moment halfway along and step off the planks onto the ties, that yes, you can see right through to the valley bottom way way down there….my first time cycling the KVR this trestle had not yet been planked or railed. I recall very clearly stepping very gingerly from one tie to the next – my very good friend Jose Larose instructing me to tell her step by step my spinach salad recipe which took my mind off just enough to get my height wary brain over that trestle to the other side! Great memory and one I will never forget, which I remind myself is why we push ourselves out of our comfort zones. It is when we do, that life becomes memorable.
Over the trestle we go – LUNCH! yay! no sign of our pack, but we get into our smoked salmon, cream cheese and cucumber sandwiches like we haven’t eaten in days…only to realize that wow there are a LOT of nasty little biting time flies around here!! and then crunch crackle in the bush! hey YO! Yogi? Booboo?? it’s otherwise earily quiet…but whatever it was has moved away, likely because there’s a pack approaching – they might be a LONG ways away yet? but yes, that is our pack coming, echoing up and down the valley?! Hilarious, they have eaten their lunch on the other side of the trestle thinking we were already gone, but off we go and agree to meet up again at our next stop Chute Lake. Estimating about another 18-20 km’s we may be a bit late of my estimated arrival time there of 1-2 pm, considering it is now just after 1! Teresa and I once again, set a pace. This girl can ride!
Once past Gillard Forestry Road we start to run into the conditions I was really, and unfortunately expecting. This road goes down into Kelowna and seems to draw out a lot of ORV’s to the trail, both for accessing forestry roads and trails, getting to Chute Lake, but it cannot help but churn up the natural surface of this trail. Historically this area would once have been under glaciers and being now a semi-arid/desert environment, the terrain is mostly silt and sand.
When there is naturally a lot of moisture in the ground it remains hard packed. But once temperatures soar into the 30’s, anywhere that is exposed from shade of rock and trees, becomes very soft and sandy. Combine that with vehicles accessing the area and you have…”the beach”. If you have ever tried to ride your bike on a beach, you will know what I”m talking about!
This is very likely the most challenging section of the entire KVR between Midway and Penticton. So, come ride the KVR! and come prepared. Best to ride this earlier in the day than mid afternoon for the heat as much of it is exposed and prepare to be challenged. And remember, riding east to west on this section is a huge help as you have at least some downhill momentum to carry you through.
You may also prepare to pen a note (write an email) and you can send it along to Trails BC. This is a non-profit society whose vision it was to create the non-motorized TransCanada Trail (now Great Trail). They are a non-government society who are more than happy to collate information/feedback from cyclists and challenge the Ministry with their responsibility for this heritage trail. The BC government purchased the KVR for the intention of multi use, non-motorized use. We would like to see that promise upheld. I referred yesterday to TOTA’s involvement and hopefully some positive resolution for all users. (See Day 2 for more on that – enough politics here for now – we’re supposed to be biking!)
I am so impressed with Teresa (non-mountain biker) and her tenacity. This trail will not get her down – throw an obstacle at her and she hammers it…And so we crank on through the sand, savouring every little section of shade and hardpack – looking for the line, riding high on the side – more sand, or dropping down into the midst of the trail for sand and rock – we debate the merits (?) of either but hammer on!!
I see signs of closing in on Chute Lake, and sure enough, like a beacon guiding weary travelers, there it is beside us. I can taste pie….Doreen’s pie…bike the sand if only for the pie….
Doreen is owner and proprietor of Chute Lake Lodge along with her husband Gary. This place is really an institution for the trail. Open the door and you open the door to the past.
Step in and step into a time gone by. Doreen has chopped the wood, lit the woodstove, made the pastry and the giant rhubarb pie to perfection. We peruse the photos of the railway and parties and picnics held at Chute Lake in the early 1900’s. Fantastic.
Even more fantastic, we sit out on the porch with a cool breeze blowing eating rhubarb pie. Feeling a little guilty knowing the rest of our pack are still slogging through the sand…definitely not a happy place! but along come the “Marathon” family and they arrive grinning and no doubt happy to be here too! They troop inside and see the place that “Dad” has been telling them about for so many years – finally here! And they are camping here tonight, heading down to Penticton tomorrow.
We plan to continue on from here….not sure about the rest of the pack – they may take a slightly different route and we will call in our hero on call for that!
And here they come! woohoo!! Jake out front, Kathy, ah yes, and here comes Stephannie!! red hair glowing like her cheeks in the heat, she lets a few choice words peal through the air about sand on a biking trail…! I know now I have a “pack member” of a different sort – one hard and fast on my side for instigating BC Rec Sites & Trails, or someone, anyone! to give a little bit of a helping hand and taking some pride in this great heritage trail.
Never more than a phone call away (from a Payphone outside the Lodge – no reception here!) is our helping hand Kurt with Naramata Taxi. He’ll be straight up, and yes, room for 5, as word is, the trail is closed for fire fighting equipment working on the Okanagan Mountain Park fire.
Now, let me tell you, just how difficult it can be to find any official information on trail closures. I’m going to leave this one out for now, but if you ever wonder why we don’t post or update trail closures for you on our website, please believe me when I say it is *#$@ near impossible to figure out. Just ask Doreen. Ask Lyndie and Mike, our amazing working partners and owners of Hoodoo Adventures in Penticton who have been even more amazing keeping us updated along the way helping me out with the “behind the scenes” info and updates – thank you! They actually just were up at Chute Lake this morning and Mike rode down earlier – as that is the only way for us to really know, is to just go find out for ourselves.
So, at this stage, late afternoon, 50 km’s behind us it’s a bit daunting to head down not knowing who or what to believe. But I think Teresa is going with or without me…remember that bit about obstacles in her way? Okay! I”m coming! ride on Lone Wolves!!
Just around the first bend we see a coyote nonchalantly making it’s way along the road – close enough even for an antiquated Iphone 4 photo (and apologies about the quality of photos folks, I do have a real camera, and a newer phone, they just didn’t make it on this tour! Check back for Teresa’s photos for the real goods!)
Earlier this spring there was a huge washout just below Chute Lake and I am anticipating to ride, or walk alongside, a creek bed, as we did in late May. But, lo and behold! This section has been repaired – whoopee!! it actually washed out last year too and was “repaired”, but without proper drainage it washed out again…not really a surprise…nevertheless at this stage of the ride I am DELIGHTED to cruise down this sweet section.
I warn Teresa it is not likely to last…sure enough, as the creek washed out the trail, it swept the sandy surface downstream (now on the trail) and as it lost momentum, dropped the sand on the trail. Here we go! but at least the grade below Chute Lake is at the steepest and with downhill speed, plenty of whooping and hooting, we weave and wiggle and wobble and grind our way through once again…until we can’t.
We hit a sand trap big and deep enough to swallow a small truck. Bogged down in about 5-6 inches of silty gravely sand we admit defeat. Cross training kicks in and we go for a little walk!
Not long though and we’re back on and now flying downhill – whoopee!! this is what you ride the hard bits for – the reward of coasting, cruising, running downhill!
Adra tunnel comes up pretty quick and we leave the bypass around this now closed section to wander into it as far as we can see – not far! it is cool, black, and dripping….Bats? asks Teresa? um, maybe? I reply…we venture in until we really can’t see anymore, then make our way back out to the light. It would be amazing to see this incredible tunnel reopened. There was a valiant effort to raise funds at one time to do so, but it proved too costly. The design of this tunnel was actually based on the Spiral Tunnels of Field, BC.
We take it easy on the bypass, it is steeper than the regular rail grade and rocky, and dare I say a bit sandy too? go easy here!
A sharp right hand turn at the bottom back onto the rail grade and the next stop is to see some of the Rock Ovens. These were built by railway workers, mainly Italian, for baking bread and still stand and would be ready to use today. A little engineering and relic of the past from the railway workers who came from around the world.
Teresa points out a remarkable Ponderosa Pine – in our route notes we have the pines as a feature along this section and this pine she spies is in perfect light.
Away we go again, feeling a bit like the horse to the barn I am! we pick up the pace and stop only for water. We also see helicopters now and the smoke of the fire on the hillside. We pick up the pace a bit more! Glenfir Station, where the trail had been closed, was indeed all open and we barrelled on through especially when we came alongside a partially filled monsoon bucket on the trail with a giant fire hose snaking along – sorry, no photo here, we thought it prudent not to stop should a helicopter be heading in for that bucket….!
Now really feeling the length of the day, the bumps and the sand, it’s like a dream come true when we reach the Little Tunnel. This area is now resurfaced from here to Penticton. Amazing views, even with some smokey haze, this valley is truly stunning.
Coasting downhill now, we finally turn off the trail at Arawana Station high above Naramata and bomb down quiet, curving paved roads, past vineyards and wineries, down and down we go. Wind our way through the quiet village of Naramata to the lakeshore and Teresa’s home for the night – Sandy Beach Resort. And lo and behold, there’s Jake and Stephannie and Kathy, pack reunited after a long, hot and yes, truly remarkable day.
Stephannie and her husband Marcus once again are the in house managers at Sandy Beach and it is an absolutely beautiful place to unwind. We recommend an additional night’s stay here on most of our tours and leave you here to explore a full day armed with maps highlighting our favourite local wineries, all accessible by a 4-5 kilometre walk through the vineyards and village. Finish your layover day with relaxing by the beach, swimming or canoeing – there is even a pool and hot tub here for the cooler days of early June and into September.
While most of our tours will finish with a short ride from Naramata into Penticton, this, once again, is not the usual tour!
Please check back for the finale of the Lone Wolf Tour as Teresa and I lope together southwards tomorrow.