BC Parks

Free trail rides at Manning Park

First night camping is on the musical Similkameen River, in Manning Park‘s Mule Deer campground.

A neighbouring camper who is there with a couple of trail bikes and his family admires the Symba. He tries to give me his phone number in case I want to go trail riding with him when I return to Vancouver.

“Only if your wife comes along,” I offer. He doesn’t give me his phone number.

Symba at Manning Park campsite

Warm lake, cold beer at Texas Creek

East of Grand Forks, the power has gone out. I buy a single can of beer at the liquor store (“It’s still cold!” the cashier tells me shrilly) and aim for Gladstone Provincial Park on warm-water Christina Lake.

The Texas Creek campground is filling up, but Sylvia and son Kuba are delighted to share their site with me. They’re on a getaway holiday from Alberta…

Sylvia and Kuba from Alberta


I go for a swim and lay my bikini on my makeshift washing line, the motorbike’s handlebars. I appreciate the fact that this may be interpreted as provocative and seriously non-macho…

Symba at Texas Creek campground, Gladsone Provincial Park


I bring my comfy chair and cold-ish beer to the lakeshore, and watch a rain shower move over the dusky hill tops surrounding Christina Lake.

Darkness falls on Christina Lake


Deep forest in Valhalla Provincial Park

Mugs of hot coffee and a plate of buttery, pea-filled pyrahi with butter and sour cream at Castlegar’s Dawn’s Early Rising Sunshine Cafe sustain me as I turn the motorbike northwards. I following tiny, winding Pass Creek Road and I am once again delighted to go slow.

I follow the Slocan River north to its source, Slocan Lake. The tiny town is in a grid plan, and heavily forested by stop signs. I doubtfully pull into the Springer Creek RV Park and Campground, but more creek than RV, it turns out to be quiet but eclectic.

On one side of me, a woman called Charlie from northern Saskatchewan is camping with her bearish malmute (one of 5, she tells me) and the dog’s own little companion, a tiny chihuahua. On the other side, a team of 5 skateboarders have arrived in a Dodge Caravan. They slip on matching T-shirts, and head to the local skatepark. They tell me they are touring Western Canada’s skateparks.

The next morning I excitedly enter nearby Valhalla Provincial Park for a moring walk on the Evans/Beatrice lakeside trail…

Evans/Beatrice trail sign with bullet holes


Contrary to what the signpost bullet holes suggest, the trail is deeply peaceful, with a moss-covered carpet and glimpses of Slocan Lake…

Evan/Beatrice forest trail with moss Slocan Lake, view from south


Even though I have been by myself throughout this trip, I feel completely content and grateful for the beauty that I have experienced so far. I can’t believe it’s my own province, my own country.

Miteymiss in Valhalla Park

Happy Hour at Herald Provincial Park

I had high hopes for Sicamous. My British Columbia Road & Recreational Atlas shows that there is a ferry that connects Sicamous to the town of Silver Lake. My intention was to get on that ferry and then gravel it to the hostel at Squilax, where I could sleep in a caboose.

Unfortunately my atlas is showing its age and the ferry no longer exists.

Instead, I brave 45 kilometres of the mighty TransCanada Highway 1 and push the poor Symba to 90 kilometres an hour to stay out of the way of logging trucks and houseboat holidayers. Sometimes, to reduce the line-up behind me, I ride on the shoulder with my blinker on, inviting vehicles to pass me. This also invites some too-close passes.

I arrive at Tappen, and then Herald Provincial Park, shaken and stirred. I need a drink.

I set up my tent, answer some questions about the Symba, and go on the hunt…

Symba at Herald Provincial Park camp site


I love camping near RVers because they are friendly, curious, and well-stocked. Lucky for me, a couple from Alberta has erected a little flag that proclaims “Happy Hour” on their site.

“Can I buy a cold beer from you?” I call over to them from the road.

“No honey, you can come right on over here and have one on us. Are you the one on that little motorbike?” They crack open a President’s Choice can of beer and so for the next two nights we are happy hour pals.

“I could see myself on of those,” she says of the Symba.

“I used to ride one of those!” he says of the Honda Cub.

They tell me about the beautiful trail clear water of Reienecker Creek…

Reienecker Creek, BC


…and the towering Margaret Falls…

Margaret Falls in Herald Provincial Park


And they tell me if I wanted to stay off Highway 1, I should aim for Falkland. It turns out to be good advice—with a shocking result.

Be Prepared!

I’m on the Thompson Valley section of Highway 1, somewhere between Spences Bridge and Lytton.  Doug has run out of gas. Again.

I met Doug back at a scenic lookout in the Nicola Valley. A lanky, semi-retired forester, Doug was riding an older Virago bike packed like the Beverly Hillbillies’ truck.

A tent still in the box, a sleeping bag still in a store bag, a duffel bag, a leather case—all were strapped to the rear area of his seat with 6 or 7 black rubber bungee cords. He had asked if he could ride with me and I said sure so long as he didn’t mind going 60 kilometres an hour.

Back on Highway 1, I realize he’s no longer behind me. I double back and find him looking forlorn as trucks blast past. I have a spare can of gas strapped to the front of my bike, so I add enough fuel to his tank that he can make it to nearby Skihist Provincial Park.

At the park, I pitch my tent, pour myself a mug of wine, grab my camp chair, and take in the great view of the Thompson River, the CN train tracks, and the setting sun…

Overlook of Thompson river and railway tracks


When I return to camp, Doug is still trying to assemble his tent. He has the pieces all laid out like a Meccano set. The instructions are in his hand, and the box is nearby.

“How are doing?” I ask. “Do you need a hand?” I take a look at the box. “Did you know this tent is a beach tent?”

I show him the photo of the tall, open-walled tent on the package—it says Sun Shade. “It’s the kind you would use on the beach.”

“Oh really? I picked it because it’s long. It should fit my new sleeping bag.” He pulls one of a plastic Canadian Tire bag. His other gear is scattered around him as if the Virago had belched it from his back seat.

“I used to be a Boy Scout you know,” he says, “A long time ago. I’m not familiar with these new kinds of tents, so it’s taking a while…”

Over the next few hours I offer Doug support, wine, and a hot dinner and  as he continues to organize his gear…
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He’s from Penticton, BC, and spontaneously decided to take his ’83 Virago for a road trip to Barkerville.

He’s run out of gas twice in three days because he doesn’t have an oil filter. He’s piled gear on the seat because the bike doesn’t have a rack. And he’s only just bought some camping gear that day because a motel stay in Merritt was “too pricey.” And—with exception of two boiled eggs in a plastic carton—he doesn’t have food, a stove, or utensils.

“How can I thank you for that gas top-up earlier?” he asks after dinner. “I could have been at the side of the highway for a long time if you didn’t turn around.”

“How about a hot cup of coffee delivered to my tent in the morning?” I joke. “I’d call it even after that!”

The next morning, I hear Doug try to start his Virago. He turns the key, the bike sputters, and then there is silence except for the sound of the bike silently rolling away from the camp site in neutral gear. Then I hear the bike sputter again, further away. This repeats for about 30 minutes, until the bike is far away enough that I can’t say if the bike has started or not.

Forty five minutes later Doug motors into camp.

“Did you find a gas station nearby to fill up your tank?” I query.

“Yep,” he replies, “There’s one about 15 kilometres from here. And I’ve got your coffee.”

He reaches inside his thick leather jacket and pulls out one, then another cup. “At the gas station we figured a soda cup would be stronger than the Styrofoam ones—if one of those busts, well, that could be a disaster.”

We bring our coffees into a clearing where the morning sun warms a comfortable-looking log. I tell Doug that many times a “Travel Angel” had helped me in my own adventures. “Thanks,” I say, toasting him. “For allowing me be an travel angel this time.”

The Duffey Lake Road on a C90?!

I fill up on cheap gas in the town of Lytton, and psych myself for the upcoming day. I will ride northwest along the Fraser River Canyon’s Highway 12, then pivot southwest in Lillooet to join the twisting Highway 99.

I have seen the Fraser Canyon from a slow-moving train, the Rocky Mountaineer (read the story in my blog, “Is that a FOLDING bike?”).

This time I will see it on a slow-moving motorcycle. It’s as windy and revealing I expected, with patches of road-tearing rockfalls and off-cambre curves to keep it interesting.

Symba motorbike on roadside near Lilloet, BC


I stop for lunch in the town of Lillooet, then cautiously ease my way onto 99—Duffey Lake Road. It’s a technical roadway designed for bikers on 1200cc bikes. I will be riding it on a fraction of the displacement, just 100cc.

Destination Highways describes the Duffey’s south-to-north route this way:

“The power of this challenging road is obvious from the moment you embark upon the long, corkscrew climb out of the Pemberton Valley. As you venture into the spectacular mountains of the Cayoosh Range, the barrage of curves is intense. They don’t let up when you pass along the dramatic shoreline of Duffey Lake, or even in the final section where you’ll be awestruck by the spectacular, winding canyon descent to the town of Lillooet…”

I am riding from the north. I get quickly distracted by Seton Lake…

Seton Lake on Duffey Lake Road


I kick the bike into fourth gear, then third as the switch-back climb gets steeper. Now and then I kick it into second gear and steer the bike along the road shoulder—if there is one.

The bike seems to losing its courage. It won’t respond to my twists on the throttle, it won’t recover on the flats, and it is sounding throaty. It’s not the Little Engine That Could I-know-I-can whine that I’ve become accustomed to on this trip.

I’ve got 80 kilometers to go, and cars and trucks pile up behind me. When I’m not pulled over to let them pass, I’m propelling the bike into its deep, blind hairpins through sheer mental power.

Dropping into the Cayoosh Creek valley, I pass a few forestry camp sites. Worn as I am, it’s too early to stop and the air is cold and drafty. I cross Cayoosh Creek over and over again, and happily emerge at Duffey Lake, where I intend to camp at Duffey Lake Provincial Park

Northern edge of Duffey Lake


However, there is no camping in the park. I stop again at Joffre Lakes Provincial Park, but there is no camping there either.

“Hey!” Shouts one of a couple of young guys sitting next to dual-sport bikes in the Joffre parking lot, “Is that a Honda C90? Your bike is so cool!” I pull off my helmet, tell him it’s a Symba, and when he sees me he can barely contain himself.

“Did you just ride the DUFFEY LAKE ROAD on that THAT bike?!” he shouts. “And you’re a girl, on your own, on this C90, on the Duffey? THAT IS SO COOL!”

I feel pumped up, but I’m still worried about my bike’s performance, and the sun is getting low. I ask him about a place to camp, and he gives me directions to a nearby forestry site on Lillooet Lake.

As I pull out of the parking lot I can still hear him raving about the Honda C90 to his buddy…


(This is a Honda C90):

Red and white Honda C90, circa 1988

Symba’s trial by gravel

After a 85-kilometre workout on the Duffey Lake Road, I am ready for a break at the end of the day. I do not get one.

Instead, Lillooet River Road road takes on three personalities: a gravel road with resounding washboard ridges; a dusty road with deep, loose gravel; and a boulder road with sharp, embedded pieces of rock.

I slowly coax the loaded Symba along in second gear, sensitive to its tired engine and worn rubber. I remind myself that I am not punishing the bike, but rather allowing it to prove itself—to manifest its destiny as the world’s most popular motorized vehicle…

Honda Cub in Amercian Motorcyclist


I ride this road, rock by rock, for 4.97 kilometres. Frayed, I wave down a passing truck to ask how much further the recreation site is. Which one, they ask. The closest one, I respond. The driver points ahead.

I ride .03 kilometres farther, and then pull into the Strawberry Point recreation site.

I unload the bike, lock its front wheel to the park sign, and do three portages to get my bags, gear, and extra gas can from the parking lot down to the camp site. It’s worth it…

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After the sky darkens with night, the moon emerges from behind Mount Brew. It pushes and pulls the calm lake water against the shore like a tide. The rhythmic sound lulls me to sleep. When I wake in the middle of the night, the moon is gone and the water is quiet

A blue sky and bright sun transform my morning coffee ritual into a meditation on solitude, beauty, and serenity…
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I pack the bike, get back on the gravel road, and the Pemberton Valley convinces me to extend my return journey by one more day…

Symba on Lillooet River Road


A hard-miler’s final few miles

The bike is behaving better. I realize the reason I was experiencing power failure on the Duffey Lake Road yesterday is because…it’s a 100cc motorscooter on the DUFFEY LAKE ROAD, for chrissake. Hairpin turns. 12 percent grades. For 85 kilometres.

Today, Highway 99 between Mount Currie and Pemberton villages is a smooth, slow ride canopied by yellow leaves. South of Pemberton, Highway 1 becomes the Sea To Sky Highway, an unfortunate four-lane speedway through craggy mountains, green lakes, and boulder-strewn rivers. The highway dissects the resort town of Whistler, and I am not in the mood for urban culture just yet.

I continue south and pull into Cal-Cheak Recreation Site.

The site is large and near the Cheakamus River. Wary of bears after having reading the warning notices, I pitch my tent in a clearing near another site…
Campsite with Symba and tent at Cal-cheak forestry site


Visitors are usually told to put their food in their vehicle, but campers on bicycles and motorcycles are at a disadvantage. I usually ask a neighbouring family to store my food for me. However, this campground has bear-proof food caches…

Bear-proof food cache at Cal-Cheak forestry site


The next day, I step on the nearby Sea To Sky Trail to walk the 5 kilometres to Brandywine Falls Provincial Park

Brandywine falls


At the park’s vehicle entrance, I discover it is the weekend of the annual Whistler GranFondo mass bicycle ride. Thousands of cyclists are pedalling the 160-kilometre road from Vancouver to Whistler and they are slowing traffic—perfect!

I had been worried about riding the fast and aggressive Sea To Sky Highway to Vancouver. That stretch is famous for “weekend warriors” racing to and from Whistler at dangerous speeds. But today, an entire lane is blocked for the cyclists! The department of transportation has covered the usual 100kph speed limit signs with 60-kilometres-per-hour signs!

That is my speed sweet spot.

I walk back to camp, snagging a nutrition bar from one of the cyclists’ rest stations along the road. I hurriedly pack camp, pack the bike, and steer it onto the number 99. I cruise along at a comfortable 60.

As usual cars and trucks back up behind me, but this highway has plenty of passing lanes. I stop in the village of Brackendale for lunch, then enjoy a Saturday-afternoon roll back into Vancouver.

When I pull in to my East Vancouver address, I check my odometer. It was 7,291 when I left and it now reads 9,397. More than 2000 kilometres in 3 weeks on a 100cc vintage-style bike.

The trip didn’t seem that hard to me, but Mickey says I am a Hard Miler.  Maybe you just need to be a little hard-headed.

Map of the route