Friday, 7 October 2016

Best BC bike roads

Peachland to Marysville
As I parked my dusty motorbike and wearily sat down in the coffee shop for a much needed Americano, I was approached by a man in his late fifties wearing a baseball cap and looking like he was trying too hard to be hip in a scruffy ‘aloof’ kind of way. ‘Where are you from?’ he asked in a voice that boomed across the cafe. For some reason I answered in decibels that appeared to match his - which surprised me just as much as the guy on the next table 'I’m from the UK’, I said. 'Oh RESPECT!', he replied and proceeded to grab my hand and reach in for what I initially thought was a kiss! Thankfully he stopped before I could react with a swift move and stern voice (the one I usually keep for naughty dogs and drunk men).  He lined up his nose with mine and looked me expectantly in the eyes, just inches away, holding that pose for what seemed like an eternity. I clearly looked confused. He pulled away with a disappointed look and said ‘You don’t do the nose touching? Which island are you from - North or South?' 'Um I’m from North Wales not New Zealand’, I said apologetically. ‘I’m afraid we don’t do the nose touching thing there!' 

I had arrived in the small and extremely friendly town of Fernie! 

Just 10 days previously, armed with bear spray, a BC back roads map and my tent, I headed out into the wilds of the Canadian Rockies in search of dirt roads and grizzly bears. My budget was a strict $50 a day and in a country where camping is often as much as $30, it was going to be a challenge to say the least! 

A soggy camp in Clearwater
I had been told by many Canadians that the Icefield Parkway was a ‘must ride’ here in Canada and so first I would ride to Clearwater and camp before crossing the border into Alberta to go see for myself. As I rode north along the forest trails and climbed higher into the Rockies, I wondered if I had left it too late. The weather was unpredictable and by the time I had reached Jasper the night time temperatures were reaching -5. This is the coldest I have ever camped that I can recall. It wasn't too unpleasant with a decent North Face sleeping bag and thick socks, but the mornings were bitter. I snuggled back into my sleeping bag with my quickly cooling coffee and decided any further attempts to get up would have to be postponed until the sun arrived over the surrounding trees. The bear hunting could wait.

Contemplating in Marysville
Returning to Canada was a big decision for me, but the last two weeks have been a blast. I have been feeling stronger by the day. All the hard work back home had
paid off and once I got the wheels turning and the blood pumping, I found the remaining aches and pains became much less noticeable. There are times when you have to listen to your body and stop (boy did I learn that the hard way), and there are times when you have to beat yourself into submission (or perhaps gently persuade?). Knowing which is which is the important bit.

Icefield Parkway
The parkway (highway 93) climbs to about 2000 meters and is lined with ancient glaziers, waterfalls and rock spiers. There is no wonder it's one of Canada's national treasures. My hands froze but the sun soon warmed me as I stopped for photos at every corner where a fresh view would hijack my senses and force me into an admiring gaze once more. There was no denying the beauty of this area. The roads were good too and there are often bears to be seen here. Not for me of course! Only mountain goats and sheep!

Being bear aware
Camping in British Columbia has the added excitement of bears and cougars to consider. Every evening I carefully placed my kitchen bag in a tree and huddled into my tent, half expecting to find it torn to shreds in the morning. Nothing! One night I had just got cosy and then remembered I had beef jerky in my tank bag (which was now with me in the tent). Keeping food in the tent is a big no-no in bear country so I quickly showed it the door and put it on Rhonda. It was me or her!

I didn't camp in Canmore as I met so many lovely people there! Here I found my first warm bed and a slow-cooked curry at fellow Welshman and biker Ian's house. We talked bikes and rugby most of the evening and the next day I moved on to meet Claire and her partner Jesse. Claire is British and the daughter of a biking friend of a friend in the UK! Actually it was her dad who had offered the bed for the night but the young couple, who had moved here a year ago from Australia, proved to be warm and willing hosts. From here I went hiking up to grass lake, checked out the pretty little town of Canmore and shared a beer on the river's edge, calling to elk (you have to bugle loudly), in the hope that we would get some communication going! Our calls were answered but from a long way off. My hopes for a closer viewing of these beautiful beasts were dashed by the passing cars that scared off one male elk as he made his approach in the distance. Still - the beer was good and the company was great!

Beer and bugling in Canmore
Canmore turned out to be a great social event for me. I could not leave without visiting Nevil and
Michelle Stow. These guys have an open house for the many bikers that pass through here every summer. I was no exception and stayed for 2 nights along with Jason Spafford (one half of the biking duo Two Wheeled Nomads) who was resting up while his partner Lisa had gone to meet her mum for a couple of weeks. A house full of British bikers can only lead to one thing - food, sharing of stories and beer! Jason and I spent the next day visiting the sled dogs owned by the company Mad Dogs and Englishmen. Manchester lad Russell has worked with these dogs for 20 years and his love for them and the sport shone through as he proudly introduced them all to us one at a time. Each dog just as special as the last. He has 90 of them! It was a very special and educational day.
 I felt so at home here that I could have easily stayed longer but the weather was turning and I wanted to get further south once more.

The 40 from Canmore to Fernie
There are miles of forest roads and trails in BC and so every opportunity I got, I would leave the
black stuff and get on the gravel or the dirt. From Canmore I took the 40 which is two thirds well-graded gravel, and occupied only by hunter camps and the odd unsuspecting deer. It was a road well worth riding and the colours of the changing leaves added to the magic as I wound my way south towards the one-horse town of Fernie. Here I stayed for two nights in the empty Raging Elk Hostel. Once a busy coal mining community encircled by the Rockies and nestled in the beautiful Elk Valley, this town turned to adventure tourism to save itself from becoming another one of British Columbia's ghost towns. Whist Fernie refuses to die, despite a disastrous fire in 1904 which levelled most of the town, the neighbouring village of Coal Creek did not survive. During the 1950s residents left the town due to the closure of the mine. In 1902 an explosion in one of the shafts had left 128 dead in one of the worst mining disasters in Canadian history. Some parts of the town remain in the form of ruins, but most have been overtaken by forest.

Perfect evening
From Fernie I rode the now familiar-looking trails, just a short ride to Marysville. I camped out once more and spent a lovely evening in the woods. Just me and Rhonda and our campfire. It was the perfect evening and it was warm at last! The hostel was fine but this was the life!

The next day I was in for a treat. I had been told by a biker from the Okanagan that there was a pass over the mountains between Marysville and Gray Creek on the edge of  Kootenay Lake. He had said that it was a dirt road and was only passable for a few months of the year due to the conditions. It  sounded like a challenge and Rhonda and I were really up for challenges right now. I packed up early and hit the road once more in search of my daily dose of adventure........

Bear trap in Jasper campground



Marysville camping

Best of BC

Mad Dogs and Englishmen

Crazy eyes

New recruits

Keeping warm

Icefield Parway

Icefield Parkway

On route to Fernie


  1. The icefields parkway is a gem. So I just arrived back in Chiang Mai and had a bit of a giggle as I saw your sticker on the restroom door at Rider's Corner! The Steph is EVERYWHERE!

  2. Inspiring as ever. Thanks for sharing your journey

  3. great scenery....I was wondering if your path would x Lisa and Jason's at some point. I have enjoyed following all of you for some time now! Hope you are warm and dry...

  4. great scenery....I was wondering if your path would x Lisa and Jason's at some point. I have enjoyed following all of you for some time now! Hope you are warm and dry...

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