Motorcycle Touring: Okanagan Valley, Washington - Canada

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Yamaha Motorcycles Street Event - Skagit Powersports


Okanagan Valley

Kelowna or California?

"Why do you want to bring your laptop?" asks my 82 year old mom in California as we discuss my upcoming trip to Canada. The phone conversation revolved around how to carry a laptop on a sport bike, which I eventually solved by heading to Seattle Cycle Center and announcing to Lisa, the accessory queen, "give me the biggest tank bag you've got!" She pointed me in the direction of a Joe Rocket bag that was more the size of a three level condominium.

Months ago I had traded this years week at my Hawaiian property and picked up two weeks anywhere else in the world. The bonus week could only be booked up to 45 days in advance, so I started poking around with the property management people about where to go. Places like Port Townsend, Oregon and even Lake Chelan didn't fit the time constraint and my choices became limited.

Lower British Columbia has some of the greatest riding anywhere in the world, but there's more to the ride than just the ride, isn't there? Perhaps not, but when it came time to leave the sky was full of clouds and one could only hope there was more to this than the rain, which I know I could look forward to for the next nine months, anyway. The idea here was to catch one more gasp of summer before it was gone.

So off I went from Seattle heading east toward Monroe. The skyline was littered with clouds and the weather report the night before indicated that I would be following the jet stream as it lifted northward along my route.  Ce 'est La Vie. I had waterproof clothing on and all my belongings had been packed using 8 gallon plastic trash bags.

I headed east out of Monroe along Highway 2 and no sooner did I leave the city limit than the rain began to come down. Any smart Seattleite knows rainstorms are typically harder in the late summer than winter, and they can also include some hail and icy golf balls at that time of year. The rain was there, luckily the hail was not. By the time I hit Index, I opted to cut out for food at the Index Cafe and see if I might be able to wait it out a bit in hopes the sun might come. No such luck.

Following breakfast, I took off in a mist and headed for Stevens Pass.  Temperatures dropped, but without a thermometer the only indicator I had is that by the time I hit the eastside of the pass my fingers were numb and in a lot of pain.

Leavenworth was a site to see, wondering if I was still alive, or if this was just a dream following my passing. There was a hint of blue sky and the sun showed its face a bit as I headed for Wenatchee.

I've ridden this stretch countless times, but never in cool weather.  I'm used to it being around 105 degrees along this corridor. This must be what it's like to ride this area in say, February?

I headed north up 97 and opted for the easterly route, skirting the Lake Chelan drift. This was new to me and I sailed through orchard after orchard until it became blatantly clear that I was riding along fertile farmland.

It was also obvious that this plain is very similar to riding up Highway 395 on your way from San Bernardino to Mammoth Lakes, with one significant difference - No one had sucked the rivers dry to send water to LA, so this valley was indeed a place that could get warm, but still sustain crops. Probably what the Owens River Valley was like 100 years ago?

And crops there are, as you wind your way up 97 northward to Oroville where you find peaches, pears, apples and other fruit trees dripping with succulent treats that will either be consumed whole, or changed into nectar and other forms of juices. 

As for the riding thus far, it had been cold in the good spots and boring where the weather was better. But for Christ's sakes man, what do you want, paradise all day long? This is probably an excellent stretch for the couple dating on a Harley. For a sport bike it's a bit tedious.  Perhaps the beauty to a boring ride might be that you get a chance to enjoy the scenery around you? Is that so bad? I think not. As I made my way into Oroville it was all too clear how similar the geology of the area rang in my soul as a reminder to traveling the east side of California.

Border Patrols hate me whether I'm coming or going. Whether I have a pony tail or my hair cut to one inch. The border patrol into Canada was no exception. As soon as I answered 'yes' to the dreaded question "Have you been into Canada in the last 12 months?" I was sent over to park on the right, they ran my ID countless times and eventually cleared me when they realized I was not the person they had hoped for.

Northward into Canada, Osoyo is your first taste of the sweet life here. But looking around you realize that this area shares the same geological textures as the US area you just came from. Well, imagine that, just because we changed countries doesn't have much bearing on looks despite the boundaries. Indeed, in the US below they call this the Okanogan Valley, and here they call it the same, with a slight change in the spelling, Okanagan. After all, it's the Okanagan River that rules this domain and it was here before governments decided on who owned what.

The bike at this point was running smooth, but ahead it's all too obvious there's a nasty rainstorm area and the wind is now blowing enough to bend the apple tree branches way down. And I'm amazed. This sport bike creature with no fairing is handling the wind in a way I would never expect. As if it weren't there. If that three level Joe Rocket tank bag contraption wasn't on board I'd have an even better grasp of the machine, and I'd also be able to read the speedometer. But what the hell, I'm in Canada now, speed is no concern, expect maybe for me, as I might want to return again, and knowing how frisky they get at the border crossing I better keep my nose clean.

Something has changed, though. Yes, there are apples, pears and peaches grown here, but someone in Canada about 30 years ago decided that Canada better grow grapes like all good first world countries, and hence I pass a sign that says 'Okanagan Valley - Canada's only desert'. Desert my butt, there's evergreen trees everywhere, but grapes are all of the sudden in the agricultural picture here, too. Now it seems I've left the eastern side of California and entered into Napa/Sonoma. The further north I ride, the more I feel I'm in California. Good thing I packed my Birkenstocks.

Around Penticton someone had the bright idea to dam up the Okanagan River, thus creating the 90 mile long Okanagan Lake. Very nice. The rest of 97 hugs the west side of the lake until you reach Westbank just prior to entering Kelowna. But don't let the name fool you, this is not the Gazza strip.

Arriving in Kelowna it becomes painfully obvious we are not in a cosmopolitan area of Canada, like Vancouver. Here they still pronounce the word 'out' as 'oot' ( as in boot or loot) and it's comforting to know you've entered the Twilight Zone or a Bob & Doug McKenzie record and gotten away from it all. I won't go into the details of my accommodations, but trading my place in Hawaii for an RV park that has a few apartments that use reclaimed lake water was more like entering a third world retirement community, and not what I had expected.

The wine growing thing rears its head once again the following day as I search for things to do in lieu of the bad weather. Turns out Kelowna/Okanogan Valley plays host to about 90 wineries, so it's time to venture out and see if they can top other bizzarro wine growing regions such as Maui's upcountry (where they grow the world's most despicable wine).  

Okanogan Valley wines are delicious indeed. What they do is blend together decent grapes with some of Europe's flavors that have long been forgotten by US Wine makers. When was the last time a US winery made a respectable Rose for instance? That's a flavor we've all been trained to imagine is soda pop. Remember when we were led into Sav's and Chards through things like White Zinfindel?) But the Grey Monk winery turns out one of the finest Rose's in the world, and it is only one of three wineries left in the America's to create the flavor because they grow the right fruit. 

By Monday the sky begins to clear and a chill sets in, but I've been couped up all weekend and need to get out and ride. I head south from Kelowna to Highway 3 through White Pass. It's cold, dang cold.  An hour and a half into the ride I'm seriously thinking of going back, but instead I continue my trek to Nelson. The air warms up and it's Canadian riding at its best. Another mountain pass with some awesome twisties and sweepers and I reach my loop destination of Nelson, just 5 hours later. A bite of lunch, another tank of gas, and I hit the road heading northward to a cable ferry some three hours away which will take me to the northwest sector of the ride. The road from the ferry landing to next big town is fantastic and I'm into my 11th hour of riding for the day. This is the point I reach a Zen moment with the machine. Some riders know this feeling, others have yet to experience it. It's when you, the machine, and the road become one. Life is perfect and there is sanctuary in riding the motorcycle like you've never known. A sweet Canadian sunset and I return to Kelowna.  Prime Rib and a glass of wine, this has been a great day.

The return trip to Seattle consisted of utilizing SR 20 through Winthrop. Many know this as the upper portion of the Cascade Loop . The weather stayed sunny until I reached Diablo Dam where once again the rain set in and it was - just another day in Puget Sound.

PT/October 00

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