This summer (2016), Lars and I had a grand adventure on our motorbikes.
Just a quick intro, we’ve been riding since the fall of 2012 when both got our class 6 motorcycle licenses. In the short time we’ve had our licenses, Lars has accumulated more than a couple of bikes, while I have only one. For this trip Lars rode his 2009 KLX 250, and I rode my 2014 XT 250. On our previous motorcycle trips on Vancouver Island, we have been credit card tourers, exploring areas on dirt and logging roads, opting to stay in places with warm showers and comfy beds. This trip was to test the waters of longer duration light motorcycle travel, introducing camping instead of relying on hotels. We were looking for a definitive thumbs up, or down, on this kind of travel.
Over the last year, we needed to gear up for camping as that wasn’t in our recreational repertoire. The list of our gear is at the end of this entry.
Our plan was to do the Washington Backcountry Discovery Route (WABDR), and part of the Trans Canada Adventure Trail, (TCAT) as we travelledto Nakusp B.C., to participate in our first Horizon’s Unlimited Canwest meeting – a gathering of overland travellers that happens annually. This is just a wee write up, including some thoughts, realizations and observations that are inevitable from this kind of trip.
Our trip began and ended in Victoria, B.C., where we live.
For us, riding small bikes on the fast moving highways is not an option. The bikes may be capable of going more than 105kms/hr, but we don’t find it enjoyable. There’s a lot of wind buffeting, noise and vibrations that come from single cylinder bikes… and it becomes more tiring and more stressful, less desirable riding for us. The obvious thing is that it takes more time and planning to cover distances. In order to not be rushed, we ended up skipping the first section of the WABDR and started in Packwood. To get there, Lars plotted on his Garmin Zumo, the route down avoiding the I5 and busy highways, and sticking to secondary highways and country roads. It was a lot of work for him, and it worked out really well for us.
Monday, August 15, 2016
We headed to Washington via on the Sidney-Anacortes ferry. The noon sailing got us into Anacortes around 2:30-3:00, then we headed to Kirkland for the first night.
Day two, was Kirkland to Packwood. We stopped in Issaquah and had lunch. What a nice little town! They have kept a bit of the older feel to the place, including the History Issaquah Shell Station. It’s not a functioning gas station any longer, but you sure can get a sense of how it may have been just keeping that piece of nostalgia for everyone to enjoy. We were only there for an a hour over lunch, but sometimes you just get a nice feeling for a place.
Onwards to Packwood, occasionally stopping for photos along the way. Absolutely stunning views of Mt. Rainier! From the high elevation and passes, eventually we made it down to La Wis Wis, a federal campground near Packwood. La Wis Wis was very nice, clean, with spacious campsites, maybe 75% full. We rode into Packwood, to get some food for dinner and to gas up the bikes. Packwood was HOT! I have no idea what the temps were, but I felt like I was melting. Back to the campsite to have our dinner, getting into this camping/motorcycling adventure.
Wednesday, August 17; Section 2, Packwood to Ellensberg.
Carrying all the gear one possesses on a small motorbike is bound to be met with frustration. Breaking down camp, and fitting all the gear into spots inside panniers, or strapped onto the rack takes time to perfect. It was very frustrating at first, figuring out how to pack stuff; it got better as we moved along.
We rode on Highway 12, past Rimrock lake and lots of beautiful scenery. We turned onto NF 1500, to start the off road portion of the WABDR. It was an exhilarating experience, starting the off road portion of the BDR, not really knowing what to expect. As we ascended the views became apparent. When we got up to Bethel Ridge the views and vistas that we gained from elevation were nothing short of stunning. We were able to see Mt. Rainier, and looking northeast, could see the transition to the high desert plateau in the distance. Un-believeable.
There were a few very challenging sections like the one below. Lars had to bump my bike up it as well as his own – the rocks were sharp, large and the incline was steep. I had to walk it, using my sun umbrella, yes, true. It was also brutally hot, we were in a heat wave. In the towns along the BDR, there were a few 100 degrees fahrenheit days.
We made our way up Bethel Ridge and there were lots of places to camp as we were in the Wenatchee National Forest. Camping is allowed within 100 feet of all the routes marked in green. It was so hot with no obvious water sources so, we just kept going. We continued on, eventually opting for the easier Alternate Route over Ellensburg Pass, on Wenas Rd and winding up, down and around fenced properties. It was late afternoon at this point, and we were pretty baked. We hadn’t eaten a proper lunch – normally we set up the camp stove and self cater – but it was so hot and dry, we didn’t want to take the chance of setting the trail on fire. We stopped at a bridge near the gates at Wenas Rd, and two riders on KLR’s passed us. Saw their bikes at the parking lot adjacent to our hotel.
Eventually, finally, at last! we got down to Ellensberg, and decided on a hotel for the night. We ate crappy tofu/vegetarian food from our kit; but enjoyed the comfort of showers, air conditioning and no dust. It was a challenging but amazing day.
Another feature of the BDR, during a heat wave, is dust, dust and more dust. I followed too closely, and made the experience less than ideal for myself. Later, once we were a bit more relaxed and familiar with the routine, I would wait a few minutes allowing for the dust to clear. We leapfrogged this way, which made it a much more enjoyable ride. A side note, the zipper on my IICON 1000 Elsinore boots, my right boot failed on the first section; the left joined two days later. Duck tape purchased a couple of days later in Chelan.
Thursday, August 18 Section 3, Ellensburg to Wenatchee
Woke up in Ellensburg, for another awesome day of riding.
We left town on rural country roads, and it was beautiful. Rolling past farmland, in these valleys is a real treat. Again, It was very, very warm, it’s an odd feeling to be travelling at 90kms/hr and feel warm and comfortable. Before we left Victoria, we were monitoring the long term weather forecasts and tried to plan our gear accordingly. I altered up my motocross chest protector, took off the bulky shoulder protectors so they would take up less space, and brought small (kiddie sized) elbow pads as a compromise. Carrying adequate gear to ensure protection for both ends of the temperature spectrum is challenging, as everyone knows! I’m glad I had the option, as the Klim (Traverse) jacket would have been far too hot for the physical motocross-ish riding in this heat.
Back to the ride… we ascended up a beautiful sealed road, gaining altitude, and with it again, some amazing views – of Mt. Rainier, then of Table Mountain before we skirted it.
We rode down twisty dirt roads, with fewer views for a while. We stopped at the view over Devils Gulch, where two other riders, one on a KTM; and another on a KLR, stopped and kind of, sort of ignored us. It was a little bit weird.
We carried on and then stopped for a break and some water with a view of BeeHive Mountain, that’s where I think we were, anyway.
We came down through a state park, and also passed a fully loaded logging truck on a very narrow section of road. I was tucked up on the right side of the road, foot up the embankment as the truck and I shared the narrow road. Considerate driver, weird experience!
It was a very hot day again, and as the day wore on, we were getting a little testy with each other. We stopped at Wenatchee, in another Holiday Inn Express. We didn’t complete this section of the BDR on dirt, but took the road option. Lars’ call, and it was a good one. It felt like it was hotter than 100 degrees Fahrenheit… We washed our clothes, including my kevlar jeans, and they were dry in no time. Normally we like to be outside, but with this heat we just stayed in the hotel, watching the Olympics, staying cool with the air conditioning, while we watched athletes sweat in Rio.
Friday, August 19, Cashmere to Chelan,
We rode from Wenatchee, to the start of the Cashmere section on roads. It was very delightful, going through the acres and acres of apple and pear orchards. Very quiet country roads, twisting and ascending up the hillsides.
Eventually we got into some dirt and started making our way up the mountains again. We rode up to Chumstick Mtn – a feat for me, because there was a short but gnarly section that I managed with no problem. The terrain above this gnarly section was kind of unreal; double track, cliffs on the left side; from a temperate grassy bushland; to above the treeline with a tremendous 360 degree view.
We wound down to Ardenvoir, there was a more direct route, and kind of wished we had taken it… but still, it was very lovely, riding the dirt forested roads there. I love the smell of the pine trees when it’s arid… Reminds me of a trip we made to La Palma in the Canary Islands… At Ardenvoir, we stopped at the General Store, gas station and restaurant, and had a grilled cheese sandwich with fries, with a soft drink and coffee, and filled up the gas tanks.
This was a long day, thinking about the second half of the ride after Ardenvoir!
We left this little town, the pavement changed to dirt, and we began to ascend again, along very rutted trails, with lots of water erosion; steep, dusty, loose dirt, sand and rocks and gravel. The roads were very narrow in some spots, to the point of the handlebars brushing the trees. Had to be very attentive of the conditions, a pull on the handlebar in the wrong way would have sent us down, down down.
We stopped on the forest road for a bit of a break at the intersection of 8410 and 8500, ahead of the ascent to Baldy Mtn. on road 8410. It was getting later in the afternoon, perhaps 4:00-5:00, and we still had some riding to do.
Riding that road, it was hard to really know where we were on the route. By zooming out on the GPS, we could see the shape of the road and match it to the enlarged printed Butler maps we had. Still, it was hard to judge distance and make the decisions on where to stay when we were out there. Anyway, we continued up some amazing switchback roads, photos and video:
We hoped to camp at Windy Camp, but could not find it. We ended up rough camping along Slide Ridge, a 4×4 passed us, then Jim and his son Grif stopped by also. He’s a firefighter, taking a weekend camping trip. He was on a KLR, his son on a Suzuki 125. We chatted for a bit, and he had no knowledge of Windy Camp. We were happy in the spot we chose though. It was really wonderful to camp out, figuring out the biology of rough camping; staying clean etc. and then the still night. We heard an owl hoot-hooting away; it was so calm and peaceful. It was really warm too, up at elevation we didn’t really know what to expect. The moon was half full, the sky was magical, with everything so quiet.
Sat & Sun August 20 & 21, Rough Camp to Omak
The ride down to Lake Chelan was lovely. We were high above the west side of the lake, and could see it through the trees as we descended. It was a fairly easy ride, nothing at all like the day before. We thought we might camp at one of the state camping areas around Lake Chelan, but we discovered that it’s a very developed resort area, and the campsite was packed cheek to jowl. It’s one of those resort communities, where it feels like everyone has the expectation of having an awesome time on New Year’s eve. It is not where we wanted to be.
I found this to be a tense time between us, with the stresses of searching for adequate accommodations, and the heat limiting our ability to ride, and camp and be comfortable. We had to figure out where we could stay to get out of the heat, regroup and make sure this was still going to work for us. We stopped in Chelan for gas, and by luck, the gas station was next to the tourist info/economic development office. Ray, the lone staff at the office was incredibly helpful. She made some calls for us, at campsites that were close by. All were full, no options really. So we came up with the plan of going to Omak, to stay at a hotel. Ray called the hotel for us, and confirmed there would be space. These small efforts on her behalf made it so much easier for us. Thanks Ray!
It was a nasty hot ride to Omak, 100+ degrees F, and the little 250’s were working hard, keeping us going at highway speeds of 100+ kms/hr. The road was good, had a bit of traffic on it, but all was at a reasonable pace. My little bike used a bit of oil, so we had to get some in Omak. That was the only “issue” with the bikes the entire trip. Not tooo bad, really.
Another couple of observations:
I found that Lars was often thinking ahead, changing up how the trip could go, eg. going off the BDR trail and staying in the hotels. I was more set in actually just doing the BDR, kind of opposite. When he would ask me what I thought of his idea/plan, he was getting frustrated with me, because I wasn’t able to comment quickly. He was already in the headspace for change; and I wasn’t there yet.
The heat, packing and unpacking the gear, the dust, while part of the deal, was making me a little crazy! Small things that would not be a concern, started to become stressors eg. I carried more of the communal stuff, water, food etc. Each time we stopped and had to access food or drink, I had to unpack and pack. I had brought too much camping food, so it was a struggle to work those zippers. My hands got so dry, the skin on my fingers was prone to cuts, and the strength in my hands just disappeared. For me, and maybe women in general, my hands and wrists got really sore from using the controls on the bike. I know how to manage the bike, but just the constant use, and especially the highway riding was really challenging physically. My wrists were aching a lot during the ride.
Lars had a good outlook on a trip such as the BDR. To use the tracks and map as a guideline to make whatever you want out of the trip. Be flexible, it’s not an athletic event.
Good advice. So we stayed two nights in Omak.
On the Sunday, we did a road trip, to the Grand Coulee Dam. The ride there was quite lovely too, through farmland, and higher passes, desert etc. At the Grand Coulee Dam info centre, we sat through the video, and it was a very informative. Huge mega project, to harness the Columbia River, to irrigate the desert into farm land. Done during the depression, so there was no shortage of workers. Educational portion of the trip complete.
As I was packing up the bike, readying to get back to the dirt, a lovely woman from Texas, Michelle, stopped and asked me if I rode “thaaaat dirt bike?” I said we were from BC, she heard, from DC, and came back to clarify. We chatted quite a while, and then wanted her hub to take a pic of us. A super friendly person, which is how most of the people were!
We were back on the road again. To Conconully! Lots of people have been to New York, Paris, Amsterdam. Betcha not so many have stayed in Omak or have been to Conconully, twice!
The final section (6), Conconully to Nitehawk.
It looked pretty amazing as we passed by, a funky little town, in a beautiful setting, at the foot of a lake and reservoir, nestled in the hills and tucked in beside farms.
We rode through Conconully, and into the park. It was definitely cooler, as we began ascending up to the higher passes. In fact, we were to go over the highest pass in the BDR, Lone Frank Pass, at 6700’. Early on in the leg, we met a couple on the road, they were on beefy BMW’s, I think. They were from Winthrop, and had camped at North Fork Ninemile, said it was lovely, so that was our destination for the night.
This was a fun section, not terribly challenging overall. Populated with cows, holy cow! And their poooop! Some video of Lars negotiating past the bovine contingent near the Skull and Crossbones Ridge.
It was also a gorgeous section, air was fresh, some streams here and there. We got to the campsite in the mid afternoon. Once we had set up camp, and had something to eat, we went for a bit of a walk up the hill, to see what we could see. It was quite steep, and very nice, but no vistas as in the previous days. In our camping on this trip, (which was less than we had planned and sort of hoped) this was the coldest night we experienced. I can only guess what the temp was, warm in the sleeping bag, tough to get out of it in the morning.
August 23, We packed up our gear and headed off to Nitehawk and the Canadian border. Onward, to highway 3, substantially more traffic, and back up to highway speeds. Like I mentioned earlier, doable, but not enjoyable.
We stopped in Osoyoos, trying to decide where to stay. As we wanted to get to Nakusp, via the TCAT, and it was still early in the day, we opted not to stay in Osoyoos. We looked at Rock Creek, and gave it a try. We rode on along Hwy 3, and got to Rock Creek Hotel (using this term verrry loosely) and arrived in the afternoon. They were busy, and we couldn’t see “the room” right away. So, we had a meal and a beer. The place is an old hotel – rooming house style, dating back to dirt. Kind of not very clean, to describe the place as rustic would be a compliment. To be honest, I didn’t mind it as much as Lars did. If I hadn’t had a beer, we probably would have left it and found a campsite. It’s right at the junction of the highway, so there was a bit of intermittent highway noise through the night. It was hot and stuffy, but surprisingly we managed to get a reasonable sleep.
Wednesday August 24, woke in Rock Creek, and took the TCAT up to Nakusp; It was a lovely ride along the Kettle river to the junction to the TCAT. We connected with the TCAT at Westbridge, and back to the logging roads again! Some sections were quite steep, with loose dirt and big rocks. Not a lot of views to be seen. We did encounter one grader, “smoothing” out the roads. He was really reasonable, even though Lars couldn’t hear what he was saying! We continued on in our leap frog fashion, and it was a lovely and fun road to travel on, after the graded parts, that is. We continued on, and reach a paved part of the road, then again more dirt.
I believe we were in Granby Park; it was pretty dry and dusty, but we found a spot along the river, to douse our feet and have our lunch. Further on, just after the halfway 150km point (our gas tanks are approx. 300 km capacity), we came across more road work. Folks in a pickup truck who had passed us at the river had to turn back. Luckily, on the bikes, we were able to ride through their excavations, as dusty and tricky as it was. We continued descending, getting to pavement and then to Needles. On the cable ferry and a fast ride from Fauquier to Nakusp. Traffic was moving quick for our little bikes, with few opportunities for ppl to pass us. But they did. I was relieved to get to Nakusp and get off the bike for a few days. We got to the campground around 5:00, and there were quite a few people coming in for the event.
HU August 24, to 28;
Lars and I really didn’t know what to expect from our first Horizons Unlimited meeting. We arrived on Wednesday afternoon and set up shop, getting settled in, oriented with Nakusp, and meeting our neighbours for the event. The conference started on Thursday afternoon, so we went down and sat through some of the 9mm film fest. It was “OK”, the eventual winner was a video I could not stand. Funny that. I was a bit unsure on Thursday, but we slowly got into the swing and headspace of being around so many people, and we started to relax and really enjoy it.
There were all sorts of riders, with the exception of cruisers… Lots of two up riders, a few trikes, loads of the big BMW GS crowd and all the gear and big tents that go with. Not many smaller bikes like ours, but lots of mid-sized DR 400’s, 650’s, and of course, KLR’s.
Met awesome folks, Ken & Chris, and Richard from the first night; met unusual people, like Lee, didn’t meet the less than social BMW GS guys; did meet more interesting people like Alex from Ukraine who had an atypical stereo setup, and the older gentlemen who did the Continental divide, twice.
I went to a women’s session on Saturday AM which was nice to meet other travellers. After, I tried the obstacle course, and later the keyhole challenge and slow race. I won the keyhole, or shared it with enduro Daan, the HUMM guy. I was feeling pretty happy with the unexpected win. People were really supportive of me too, and that was really nice. I didn’t know there were prizes, and I won a $100 gift cert for Touratech Canada! We’ll see what I can put it towards. Thanks Horizons Unlimited and Touratech Canada!
Honda Canada was offering demo rides, I tried a 500 & NCS 750; Lars the 500 and Africa Twin. Loads of fun.
We didn’t get to a lot of sessions, we sat in on Susan Johnson’s two part session on how it all began, and quite a few of the sessions I would have seen were on at the same time. Some of the presenters weren’t great, and some were. That’s how it goes with volunteers presenters, and kudos to all who do.
It was a really awesome experience, the Canwest Hub; meeting Ken and Chris was a highlight for us; just super nice guys, and a real connection with them. We shared the mornings and nights around the picnic table, chatting and laughing, and enjoying all those things that a common interest brings. It was really interesting how organically connections and friendships happen. We found it a wonderful opportunity to meet new people, and fortunate to come away with some new friends.
Sunday, August 28, Pack up day at HU Can West.
We four had breakfast together at Nick’s place, said our goodbye’s to Chris. Ken, Lars and I travelled down to Osoyoos together, on a dirt road going past the Christian Valley. Destination for us was Osoyoos, and we stayed two nights, at Sahara Courtyard inn.
On the way down, a bunch of jerks on crotch rockets burned past us sooo fast, if we were going the speed limit, they must have been going in excess of 150-200+kms/hr. Passing everything, in oncoming lanes, and around corners. Probably 6-8 of them. Jerks.
August 30, We left Osoyoos and it was a lovely ride to the border at Oroville. Again, an easy border crossing. It seems so intimidating at first, but they quickly break down their formalities once they see that Lars and I are a couple. I wonder if they think I look like a funny little man in my masculine gear. I’m too much of a tomboy to ever pinkify it. The immigration officer was strongly suggesting we take the Loomis-Oroville road back to Conconully. We did, and it was wonderful! It was a beautiful gravel road, with amazing scenery. Blue Lake (wish I had taken a photo of that) and then through the burned area from 2015. My vocabulary doesn’t possess enough adjectives to be able to describe how it looked, and how it felt to ride through there. We eventually rode along the river back to Conconully, gorgeous! It was neat to ride section 6 from this side. We stayed at the Conconully State Park, in one of the basic but awesome cabins.
Later in the afternoon, after some food and getting settled, we rode half of section 5 BDR, but this time with the bikes not loaded. It was a nice change. We went up the steep hill at Ruby, which was pretty insane! Steep, rutted, I thought we were done with that stuff! But it wasn’t long. Then fairly easy riding – dusty, and sandy, but really nice roads. We took highway 20 back, and at Okonogan, head back to Conconully. That too, was a nice quiet series of country and dirt roads back. Very satisfying! Back to our rustic cabin – #5; and used the facilities and warm showers til we were content.
Had dinner at the Sit’inBull…
And, it’s a weapons free zone, didn’t ya know.
August 31, rode from Conconully to Burlington over highway 20. (Highway 20 follows the Skagit River… now I know)
Photos are of the passes, west of Winthrop the road was amazing. It’s closed in the winter, and I can see why. Crossing the Cascades, gains a lot of elevation. It was still warm, traffic was light. We stopped at Diablo Dam for some photos, and chatted with some folks who were doing a ride across the states. 30 days, supported. The next day was their end point in Bellingham. I have ridden bicycles a lot… but have no desire to cross the country. Good on them.
Amazing views along the way, and at the Diablo dam! But the weather changed, at Newhalem, where we stopped at some sort of electrical facility … it began to rain. We headed out, on the hopes that it would stop, but it did not. It rained and rained. It’s been a long time since we’ve had to deal with that, but we managed OK. Lars doesn’t seem to get cold, but I was very appreciative of those heated grips! We got gas at MarbleMount, and just kept riding, past little towns like Concrete… We headed to Sedrow Wooley, and Lars got the coordinates for a Holiday Inn express. Bingo to Burlington, where there was one, and that’s where we stayed. It’s a less than desirable area, but heck, we needed to stop. We walked to Hagens grocery store, not a nice walk btw; and picked up beer, a hard lemonade, and takeaway food for dinner. Watched a bit of TV, prepping for going home.
September 1, short ride from Burlington to Anacortes; killed some time there, up to Mt. Erie for a foggy view, riding around the island, walking in the town a bit; Lovely spot. Took the 2:50 ferry home; was raining like crazy in Sidney; got a bit wet and we were home at 5:30 or so.
Total trip distance about 2,600 km
Link to trip photos: WABDR & HU photos
Thoughts on the ride –
- I was thankful for all the dirt riding kms I had accumulated, from the years of logging roads, some off road training, but especially from the dirt and single track riding at Chris Stokes’ Dirt Bike Adventures on Vancouver Island. I’m sure my technique wasn’t pretty some of the time, but I felt confident enough to manage most of the terrain, and had the ability to just get it done.
- I was surprised at the physical strains from riding. Backends aside, I found it tough for my hands too – the hot, dry, dust, and the controls. Hands/thumbs, wrists were pretty sore a lot of the time.
- We shared the load of course, I carried the tent, and more of the communal stuff like food, cutlery and water. Lars carried the tools, which thankfully were only needed for maintenance, not emergencies! Upon reflection, I carried too much food. Next time, eat at the towns along the way, or pick up food as we go. Better to have less stuff, but the capacity to carry a bit more if needed. Easier to maintain sanity.
The bikes –
They held up really well. Lars is pretty vigilant about checking tire pressure, cleaning the chains, checking the oil etc. My bike probably should have started the trip with a fresh air filter, as it was pretty bunged up when we got back.
On gearing up – good gear is a necessity, in order to stay warm, dry, and get good rest. We’re not interested in a sufferfest. We are hoping to do more extended travel in the coming years, so it didn’t make sense to get gear that wasn’t going to last, or allow us to sleep well and be comfortable. Our gear isn’t ultralite, as that wasn’t required, but it is good quality. No regrets on our decision there. The tent and camp stove were second hand, the rest was purchased new.
- 3.5 person Mountain Hardware Optic tent, with footprint. Great size, has pretty good vestibules for our gear.
- Each have:
- Exped Downmat 9 LW
- Exped Dreamwalker 650 sleeping bags (Exped gear is heart stoppingly expensive, but it was so very worth it!)
- Hellinox collapsible chairs
- Cheap ground tarp, to use as a door mat at the entrance to the tent;
- Camp stove; white gas,
This is Lars’ domain, and he is very detail oriented, carrying everything that is necessary, with no extras. Will get that list posted, sooner or later.
- I have a Lumix point and shoot, and carried a spare battery – no charger for this trip;
- We each have a phone; mine has a plan in Canada. We didn’t have or need coverage in the states. Phones doubled as reading devices;
- No Spot or emergency locator;
- Weego charger for electronics, and for the bikes if needed;
- Communication: Cardo radios, old, but work fine for us. We charged them in hotels, or off the bike battery and adaptor.
So, that’s the ride from a newbie-camping, small bike, light travel, dirt-road seeking couple.
If you made it to the end of this entry, I applaud you! I mentioned that we were looking for a definitive thumbs up or down, with motorcycle camping. Have to say, it’s a thumbs up. We really enjoyed (and continue to enjoy) the benefits of this slow form of travel. I’m writing this in fall 2017, and we did a similar trip in August, and are planning a longish trip on bigger bikes, next spring. Stay tuned!