Saturday, 8 October 2016

Gray Creek Pass

The sign was clear - WARNING - High clearance vehicles only.  Road not maintained. Road narrow and steep for 56km.  I only had the word of one biker that it was passable and it seemed my GPS and google maps were refusing to accept any liability, opting to ignore the obvious track that lay before me.  I was however, feeling lucky, and to top it off there was a rainbow over the entrance, inviting me to come and play. How bad could it be when there were rainbows showing the way?

Gray Creek Pass turned out to be my favourite ride so far in British Columbia. This is not said lightly when you consider the world-class riding to be found here. It had all the ingredients for a good ride. The air of anticipation, dirt without the gravel, picturesque scenery that enveloped me as I rode deeper into the forest carpeted mountains, and a small dirt bike named Rhonda! Once again, I had been warned of  grizzly bears being commonly present on this trail due to the abundance of huckleberries. I had my camera ready at all times in the hope that today would be my day. It did also cross my mind that if I got a puncture on route, I would have to do some pretty fast tyre changing with eyes behind my back! I decided if that happened,  I would change the tyre with my helmet and jacket still on! That way it would be harder for an angry bear to pierce my skin!

I often laugh at myself when riding these remote roads. When you ride alone it's hard not to imagine the worst-case scenarios. The tragedy would be if I let it stop me, but the imagination is a powerful thing and perhaps this adds a little bit of spice to these rides. Of course, there are real dangers and it would be foolish not to consider them, but most journeys end well and the chances are your mind has led you down a path that will never see the light of day. My advice to anyone taking on remote solo rides would be to cover yourself against obvious possible scenarios  - take spare food, water, shelter, first aid, tools, inner tubes and cable ties. In places like BC, keep your bear spray handy. Assume that no-one will be passing by to rescue you anytime soon and do your best to cover your own ass! If you can, let someone know where you are going and when you might be expected back into the land of communication. It's common sense I guess.

I did not get a puncture. I did not see a bear! I did, however, lose all sense of reality and danger and rode faster and faster along the trails. I couldn't stop smiling and shouting 'Yeeeehaaaaa' as we rode like hooligans through our own patch of wilderness that day.  Sometimes I would have to stop and kill the engine, just so I could listen to the silence. It really was golden. 'Not bad, eh Rhonda?' I'd say as I soaked in the atmosphere and surveyed the miles of colourful landscape around us,  before turning her over and setting off again. I was disappointed when, eventually, I saw the road and knew it was over.

The disappointment soon faded. The roads around Kootenay lake are perfect biking roads. They are
quiet, twisty and smooth in contrast to the dirt I had just ridden. I could see I was going to have some fun in this area too! I was heading for Kaslo, a place I had visited during my recovery time. I had not made the bike journey last time due to complications with my back (we had quickly discovered I wasn't ready to ride) and so had been put in the car. I had been grateful for the back-up of my friends then, but had vowed to come back and finish exploring by bike just as soon as I could. Before Kaslo though, I was keen to ride down the lake on this stretch of road. It was too special to miss and, fortunately for me, I had a very special lady waiting to host me in Creston.

Barb and I had never met. She was the friend of a friend and had invited me to stay if I happened to come her way. She had heard that I had a thing for devilled eggs and had prepared some especially for my arrival. I soon learned that Barb was a tough old bird with a rich and interesting history. She reminded me of my late grandmother in some ways. Her sense of adventure and energy for life was still strong at an age where most have settled into their comfy spot on the great couch of life. Barb and I quickly became friends and one night soon became two as we whittled away hours sharing life stories and drinking rum. Barb was my kind of lady!

That morning I placed my deer whistle on Rhonda (a gift from Barb to keep me safe), accepted a
packed lunch gratefully (including some left over devilled eggs), and turned Rhonda back up the road towards Kaslo. I had one quick stop to make though, before crossing the lake by ferry from Balfour. I wanted to check out the glass house I had heard about. This was not any glass! This house was made up of 600,000 embalming fluid bottles! I doubt there is another like it! A retired funeral director built it as his retirement home in the fifties. He had collected all the bottles that he and his funeral director friends had used over the years and built himself a home! It takes 3 bottles to embalm one body and so I guess this house represents 200,000 dead bodies?

Finally I made it to Kaslo. A small, old silver town with a population of 1000, that I had fallen in love with last time I was here. That night I decided to stealth camp by the lake so I could use the money I saved to buy myself a pizza and a glass of wine from the rather special little pizzeria I had appreciated on my last visit. Pleased with myself for the idea, I set up camp once it started getting dark and raced over to claim my reward. It was closed!

The next day I headed over to Toad Rock, a bikers' campground (anyone is welcome - not just bikers!) I had heard about on my travels. Mary, her overgrown pig named, Happy and her 5 dogs were there to greet me. When I asked her how much to pitch the tent, she informed me that she had had a good summer and to take a cabin and pay me whatever I could afford. The cabin was basic, with no electricity or heating, but it was a step up from the tent with a large and extremely comfortable bed, an abundance of blankets, pillows, and even a hot water bottle. The nights were pretty bitter now and so I was grateful to be off the ground. I spent a happy two nights here before moving on to a couchsurfing host in the town itself. When I left, Mary refused any money at all. We were to swap stickers and no more! She has run this camp ground for 40 years and I had enjoyed my time with her and her animals. This place had an old fashioned biker feel with a welcome to match. The character of the place and the people here are priceless.

The last few days I have been riding as much as possible and enjoying the surroundings. Everywhere
is beautiful here! The riding really is outstanding and plentiful. I would love to live here. What a great way of life.

I have now been here 6 days and I think I have just about met everyone in town! The people are so friendly and I have been invited for Thanksgiving with a family in town. I can't wait. This will be a new experience for me and I feel extremely honoured to have been invited.

Soon I will have to leave before the passes become laden with snow. It will be with a heavy heart that I say goodbye, but who knows what the future holds!


  1. Toad Rock is a great place and Mary is wonderful.

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