Hot and starting to feel fatigue after a vigorous three-hour run from Penticton, the five of us were looking for one of B.C.’s famous rec sites to have a picnic as we approached Keremeos on Highway 3. Although there had been plenty of treed rec sites on the Old Hedley Road we had taken as far as we could, none, it seems, existed on the main road.
So, as the searing 35-plus degree heat began to wear us down, we sought refuge at an RV park picturesquely situated on the Similkameen River, still churning furiously with the spring runoff.
As we pulled into the Riverside RV Park, we saw a park-like setting with shady trees and a welcoming grassy area. A bearded man wearing a cowboy hat and driving a black Frontier pickup stopped to see what we were up to. A dog beside him on the front seat peered out, apparently looking for a treat.
“Do you think it’s OK if we have our lunch here?” one of us asked.
“I don’t know,” came the reply as he looked at us quizzically. “I just live here.”
We took a chance and headed to a picnic table down by the riverside. Not 10 minutes in, we saw the same bearded man walked towards us. In his left hand was a large jug of water, and in his right hand a bag of ice.
“Sorry about the way I reacted back there,” said Ian as his dog Brewskie sniffed our snacks. “I should have invited you over to my place.”
Such is the kindness of strangers on the ConnecTour trail across Canada. From the park resident who insisted on taking our picture for the local TV station to Chris, the campground manager at 1877 Grist Mill just outside of Keremeos, who told us to, “Just set up. We’ll settle up in the morning,” time and again we have encountered kindness, friendliness and helpfulness on a scale we didn’t expect and that – quite frankly – leaves us feeling humbled and warm.
Day 5 into our journey of discovery, we are getting our first faint signs on the pulse of the nation, a country so big and baffling we can’t possibly believe it manages to hold together. And yet it does because there is a sense of community and communality that keeps this grand social experiment alive.
It’s hard to not be emotional after our first three days on the road. We had gone through what effectively felt like an unplanned boot camp. We started our run at Myra Canyon, near Kelowna, and rode the spectacular trestles of the Kettle Valley Railroad (KVR). We soon discovered that beyond the trestles, the trail quickly degraded into a pathway that was an ordeal for fully loaded touring bicycles to navigate.
Sections contained 10-15 cm rocks that could not be ridden across, and other areas contained massive potholes that spanned the entire path. Three of the four in the group at that point crashed in the next two hours.
By the time we reached Chute Lake not far from the canyon, we were exhausted and camped at a nearby rec site. The ride into Penticton the next day contained expansive scenery of the lake, and we enjoyed riding into town on the historic KVR pathway where Doug reconnected with old friends, John and Char Singleton.
The afternoon, however, was a grind as we fought our way up the sandy KVR pathway to Summerland, and then west to a rec site at Crump Siding. Because the trail, a portion of the Great Trail network in Canada, is multi-use – open to horses and RVs – it is really not suitable to touring bikes. It took a great deal of effort to ride that last few kilometres.
After an evening of camping with Doug’s daughter and son-in-law, the group headed towards Princeton, choosing the hard-packed gravel road rather than the unbearable KVR pathway. It was there we were joined by Andrew, the fifth member of the group who had literally jumped through hoops to join us.
He was so joyful to be with us after months of planning, he was near tears.
The group took a day to rest in Princeton, a quaint little on-again-off-again mining town of about 3,000, and that gave Doug and Lisa a chance to chat with the town’s mayor, Spencer Coyne. Tuesdays to Friday, he’s the mayor. On Mondays, he tends the checkout at The Source, and that’s where we found him.
What to do about the KVR, he admits, is a huge bone of contention in the area. In fact, a previous council that had tried to ban ATVs from using the KVR ended up getting tossed out on its ear in 2018, and that’s when Spencer made the transition from saucy newspaper columnist to head of the local government.
Coyne seems to favour keeping the KVR multi-use, even if that doesn’t satisfy the cyclists.
“It’s been motorized since there was a train there,” he said.
He blames the provincial government for not providing enough money to maintain the trail properly, and he says that fuels the conflict.
“It’s always everybody fighting with each other,” he says. “The bikers say the ATVs rip it up, and they blame the horses.
“It’s unfortunate. I’m a big advocate for the KVR.”
The ConnecTour team decides we are not fans of this portion of The Great Trail, at least not in its current state. We’re sticking to the roads.
Next stop, Osoyoos on a day that’s forecast to hit 35. It’ll be an early start for us.