I am waiting at the border between the U.S. and Canada, mentally patting myself on the back. For one thing, despite the fact that I am in the Pacific Northwest, it is warm, the sky is blue and there is no rain in the forecast. For another, there is only one car between Customs and me. Most people crossover at Blaine, where there is often a two- or three-hour crawl toward the border. I chose to cross at Oroville, on State Route 97, where there is a five-minute wait. The day has started well.
Route 97 is one of my favorite routes. It starts in the wonderfully named Weed, California (“just rolling through” T-shirts are for sale in town). On the way north through Central Oregon and Washington State, you pass through pleasant scenery and interesting small towns. Cross the border into Canada, and pleasant becomes spectacular. You ride through the foothills of the Canadian Rockies, skirting past clear blue lakes and wooded hillsides. The roads are interesting, the air is clean and the sky is (often) blue. This part of Canada is temperate, with spring, summer and fall temperatures averaging between 60 and 80 degrees and there’s a lot less rain than in the Vancouver area further west. It is a good place to ride a motorcycle, and there are a lot of local riders, with probably the highest percentage of women riders I have seen anywhere. It is also a good place to head on vacation with a motorcycle, so—here I am.
I answer the border guard’s questions, show my passport, and am off to Osoyoos to change my greenbacks into colorful Canadian currency. South central British Columbia is Canada’s fruit basket, and there are fruit stands everywhere. Many sell East Indian snacks, since quite a few Indian farmers have settled here. Pakoras are very tasty.
Route 97 continues into Canada and heads north toward Summerland, Peachland and Kelowna. The well-paved road is lined with farms and fruit orchards on the left and Okanagan Lake on the right. At this point, there is an interruption in the general good mood and air of wellbeing. The area around Kelowna is, unbeknownst to me, Tahoe North. And like California’s Lake Tahoe area in summer, there are traffic jams of tourists. Stop and go. Arggh.
Merridy McDonald, who lives in the area and rides a Yamaha V Star 650 Classic, says that the population around Kelowna goes to almost a million people in the summer, drawn, like the hordes around Lake Tahoe, by the lakes and pretty scenery. Merridy puts her bike away at Halloween and starts riding again in May. In between is the Canadian winter, an event to be respected. Environment Canada and Weather Underground have excellent weather reports, and checking the weather regularly is a very good idea, especially during months before/after winter, when weather is more variable.
She suggests avoiding the crush on Highway 97 and taking Highway 33 through Beaverdell instead. I came home by this route and, aside from making sure you fill-up before you turn onto this road (no gas stations), thought it a much better alternative. Big sweepers, nice mountain scenery and, best of all, no traffic.
Even on Highway 87, the traffic goes from California-like to tolerable a mile out of Kelowna, and the mood is once again brightening. I remind myself I am on vacation, the sky is blue, there is nice scenery and I am not on a timetable. Life is good. I turn onto Highway 6 East toward the little town of Lumby, where I have reservations for a few days, unpack and go for a wander around town. For no reason whatsoever, I stop in the little motorcycle and small engine shop, and Serendipity, my vacation pixie sprite, shows up. The proprietor has maps of fun places to go on a motorcycle! The maps are produced by the local tourism agency, which actually encourages riders to show up in their vicinity. “Here, why don’t you take this map—it’s free and I get more all the time. If you like old bikes, you HAVE to see Dreamcycle, it’s a really cool motorcycle museum.”
Serendipity is my friend out on the road. Serendipity is the reason why I don’t make definite plans when I am out touring. I never know what she will show me around the next corner or down that road to the right. Pleasant surprises happen, and if I over-plan, I can’t take advantage of them. And Serendipity will be sad.
The next morning, I am up and heading north and west toward the Trans-Canada Highway. The road skirts Shuswap Lake. The name means “The Gathering People” in the language of the First Nations people, many of whom still live in the area. People come to fish, waterski and hike in summer, cross-country ski in winter and try the local wine year-round. The Shuswap area is probably the most northern commercial grape-growing area in the world. Interest in winemaking from the local grapes is increasing, as are opportunities to taste the finished product. Not having figured out how to imbibe and ride legally, let alone safely, I continue onward toward Dreamcycle.
Just north of the lake, Dreamcycle Motorcycle Museum is one man’s hobby grown large. After a great deal of searching, Mark Lane found a vacant building in an excellent location, fixed it up, and moved in his extensive and eclectic collection of motorcycles from all periods and many different countries. The bikes on display range from a pre-World War I Pierce 4-cylinder to racers from the 1980s. Among other rarities, Mark has a number of bikes, some one of a kind, on loan from the Canadian Harley-Davidson mechanic school. Although many of the bikes are old school, the museum is not immune to modern technology. When you pay your entry fee, Mark hands you a recorder with buttons and a headset. Each of the nicely restored bikes on display has a placard in front of it with a number. Key in the number of the bike you are interested in, and you can listen to the history of that bike. There is also a gift shop and a café, with excellent baked goods.
After leaving Dreamcycle, if you turn back toward the lake and take a side road (yes, it is paved), you will shortly come to Margaret Falls, well worth the easy quarter-mile walk from the parking lot. There is a cave behind the waterfall, and adventurous people who have remembered to take their swim gear can climb in.
At this point, I am more interested in food than adventure, and head back toward Highway 97. Merridy says that the Riverfront Pub & Grill, on Highway 97A, is a good place to replenish the inner person and Joe Schmuck’s Roadhouse, with outdoor tables, is also a good spot. It is located on the Trans-Canada Highway, which is more of a four-lane road through this area. The Roadhouse, in Sicamous, is on the other side of Shuswap Lake and features decent food and drink at reasonable prices.
Another local rider, Nadine Stewart, who rides a Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R (“my favorite bike”) as well as a ZX-12R, suggests the area around Mara Lake on Highway 97A toward Sicamous and Magna Bay on the north side of Shuswap Lake as good places to go, with great scenery and fun roads. “I have traveled to Washington, Idaho and Montana, but my favorite places to ride are the roads around Shuswap. We even have a Canadian version of The Dragon’s Tail. Take Highway 6 from Vernon East through Cherryville to the ferry at Needles. Absolutely gorgeous.”
One of the nice things about this area is the number of loop roads. It is fairly easy to plan out a route that will bring you back to your starting point without having to turn around. One scenic short loop starts in Enderby, heads up 97A through Mara Lake, turns left at Sicamous toward Shuswap Lake and returns you to Enderby through the outskirts of Salmon Arm. A longer loop starts in the same spot, but goes through Salmon Arm, past the Dreamcycle museum, and heads west to the junction with 97. It’s all pretty, except for the gas stations, which are as ugly as they are everywhere and are spotted around at reasonable intervals.
Too soon it is time to pack up and head home so I can pay for it all. After a pleasant run down Highway 33, I turn east. The road skirts the border. I cross over at Christina Lake, which intersects with State Route 395 South through Washington State and it’s back in the USA.
Good-bye, Shuswap. A week of relaxation and pretty roads is just what I needed. I’ll be back soon.