2018 Chilcotin Adventure
The summer trip was a success. We had an unbelievable experience exploring some of the remote areas of central and north-central British Columbia. Spending most of the trip away from humanity, traffic and stress. It was certainly an area that I’d go back to do more rides in as the terrain and scenery were amazing.
With many months of planning and communication within our group, we selected a route and timeline that would fit for everyone. Naturally, since I have most of the summer off each year I could have gone farther and spent more time but we came up with a compromise that fit with all riders in our group. A few were reluctant to do the outdoor/camping parts of the trip but later realized that this was one of the most unique parts of the experience.
Day 1 – Calgary to Christina Lake
This was an all highway day and a rather long one at 800+ kilometres. Few stops since I’ve been through the Crowsnest Pass. The weather was sunny and very warm with temperatures up to 35 celsius, which is right at the end of the day in the interior of BC and time to get off the bike before melting into the pavement.
I had never been to Christina Lake and was very impressed with the Provincial Campground – Gladstone Provincial Park. It was quiet, friendly campground staff and close to the lake for walks and swimming. I chatted most of the night with a father and son about riding a motorcycle on a trip and showing them how to pack and prepare for a bike journey like this. Really good company.
A quick rain shower sent me scrambling for my tarp and fly for the tent in the dark (silly me thought I’d try the open air of the top of the tent for stargazing, guess I should be 100% sure there will be no rain). 🙂
Day 2 – Christina Lake to Squamish
Nice warm morning. Still pretty quiet in the campground early in the morning. I quickly packed and had a snack and was off early to try and beat some of the summer heat. The ride along the #3 through southern BC is a really great mix of geography from mountains, prairies, high and low desert then popping out in the lower mainland of the Vancouver area. The variation in climate and scenery really made for an enjoyable day of riding. The Manning Park area is particularly beautiful and I had never been on this part of the road, usually taking the quicker highway Coquihalla when driving or riding in the past.
Having lived in Richmond and the Lower Mainland in the 90s I was amazed to see how far suburbia has reached and is almost solid development all the way to Hope. Traffic in the lower mainland was high but the new measures on the Trans-Canada Highway made for a quick commute to the North Shore and out of the city with very few slowdowns or delays.
The Sea to Sky Highway is a ride that everyone should do at some point. Since the Olympics and the reconstruction of the highway in 2010 the road is perfectly flat, twisty and superb condition and makes for a sporty jaunt up to Squamish.
Squamish is also an area of great development and a busy hub of activity – much so than in the past. A few quick stops for gas, brew and off a bit outside of town for camping. Paradise Valley Campground is a neat little spot nestled in the rainforest just north of Squamish. Great facilities, well-appointed campsites and well-maintained. I appreciated the no electronics, radios or noise mantra of this campground. So many times on trips traveling across Canada and the US perfectly lovely camping areas are ruined by nimrods blasting music or carrying on late into the night. This was absolutely silent.
I arrived and set-up with literally seconds before the deluge of rain began. It’s a rain forest alright. It rained biblically from about 6pm until 7am the next morning. The beauty of the experience was a huge maple that shielded my seat from the rain. I could literally sit below its boughs and have no rain fall on me. I was able to enjoy a couple beer and enjoy the quiet and rustle of the rain until deep into the night.
Day 3 – Squamish to Gun Lake
When I awoke in the morning, I realized that things may going horribly off-plan due to the weather. The rain had been relentless and continued into the morning light. Amazingly, in the rain forest campground there was a good cell-phone signal and I was able to text my group in Vancouver and discuss the day’s plan. Forecasts looked grim and it continued raining right up until the time I had packed all my gear. There’s nothing more disappointing than spending months planning a trip only to find the weather is uncooperative. Well… then it changed. It was cool, foggy and damp but the rain finally let up. I was able to meet the group in Squamish for breakfast and off we went towards Whistler.
We faced threatening clouds but no rain for the remainder of the journey towards Whistler. From which point the day opened up and was absolutely perfect. We had lunch in Pemberton at a farm to table restaurant – The North Arm Farm. What a delicious meal, a chance to sit outside on the patio, and discuss plans for the remainder of the day. Our guide for the morning, David, was unable to join us for the trip after all due to work commitments, so we said our goodbyes and the remaining four decided to take our chances with the weather and try some of the forestry routes that we had planned. Boy, am I glad we did. What an amazing day.
We headed through the Pemberton Meadows, over the Hurley Forest Service Road and ended up in Gold Bar for snacks and drinks before ending the day in closeby Gun Lake Campground. The Hurley Forest Service Road has quite a reputation with locals and online, which I’d have to say was mostly unfounded. ‘I Survived the Hurley’ stickers and t-shirts may be a nice keepsake but the conditions for riding were like most forestry roads in Canada – well maintained, some sharp rocks in graded areas and a few steep and sandy sections that get you clenching your buttcheeks. Otherwise, quite scenic, beautiful and quiet – only three or four other vehicles riding through the pass.
I’m reluctant to give details of the Gun Lake Campground since it is such a gem. A tiny little spot on the lake, only six campsites and complete beauty and silence. Only three of the six sites were used and the view of the lake and surrounding mountains are stunning. Those reluctant to camp would soon find their way and we had an enjoyable and perfectly still and quiet night on the lake. The only sounds were loons in the middle of the night and morning at sunrise.
Day 4 – Gun Lake, Lillooet and West Pavillion Rd to Fraser River Campsite near Gang Ranch
One of my favorite riding days of all time. The morning started out with a quick trip back to D’arcy for gas and out the Highline Rd and Lillooet Pioneer. Wow! What a road – well-maintained gravel turned into perfect twisty sport-touring-like pavement for over 100 kilometres all the way to Lillooet. This is truly a secret gem of a dual sport road in BC.
Stopping in Lillooet at A&W for lunch and a rest before heading off-road again and into the Chilcotin. I thought as a joke I’d tie a 4L water jug to the back of my luggage rack and thought there was no way to survive an off-road riding day. I have to say, contrary to the bickering and bitching about the Africa Twin suspension, the bike performed flawlessly on the route and the water survived.
We journeyed up the West Pavillion Rd with beautiful exposed views of the Fraser River and valley below. It is not well-travelled and we saw only a few vehicles along the way. We had a quick chat with a fella that had taken his Austrian-made six wheel drive vehicle from Vancouver Island to Tutoyuktuk by himself. Really rad looking machine.
The descent into the Fraser valley to Big Bar Ferry is certainly and epic one. With fully loaded bikes, inexperienced riders and 23% incline it made for a few ‘interesting’ moments. One of our riders made it and this became the beginning of the end for hills along the trip for him, in general, leading to detours and alternate routes. I had read online that getting off the ferry across the river leads to deep sand and that to successfully make it without incident meant ‘gunning’ it out as straight and quickly as possible. Needless to say the sand consumed one of our riders almost instantly. 🙂
We spent the remainder of the day riding north in search of campgrounds. Some that were listed on the Backroads Map were mysteriously not there. Ugh! By the day’s end and with dwindling light and energy we were running out of options. Scott had had a pannier mount point break and we had a delay with a separated group and repairs to his bike (this stuff happens). We initially were going to camp just off the side of the road past the bridge towards Gang Ranch. After talking to a few locals and a tour company operator, we were able to find a choice spot right along the Fraser River with the hoodoos across from us and be only one of two campers in the area. Choice! One could only dream of such an interesting spot for camping.
Day 5 – Gang Ranch to Bella Coola
Well, I always try to start the day with a full tank of gas. Should have. Said I should have. But, I didn’t. We headed off along a two track through Gang Ranch, which is a ‘road’ that leads through pasture land, foothills and light forest. Quite a nice ride and remote – not a soul around for the entire morning. When we arrive back on the forest route we were making good time across the gravel road towards Lee’s Corner our first stop of the day. We ended up in the midst of a herd of cattle of several hundred (narration by Gary NSFW). Part way through we connected with the cowboys that were collecting the herd and they ‘herded’ us through the group. It was an absolutely unique moment being a part of the cattle drive and being in the middle of the herd on our bikes.
You know that gas part. Well, my Africa Twin has a range of about 380 kilometres. I had quickly reach and passed that range flashing on empty. With only three kilometres left to the highway and at the crossing of the Chilcotin River I ran out of gas. Luckily, we traveled with a group prepared with extra gas. And we figured the last few kilometres would be easy to the next gas station. Except… the gas station at Lee’s Corner is now gone. Oops! Apparently, it burned to the ground (now twice) in forest fires over the last two summers – talk about bad luck. We had enough gas for everyone to make it to Anahim Reserve and stopped for one of the best hot dog/smokies I’ve every eaten.
The rest of the day almost to Bella Coola was a mix of highway and well-groomed gravel. Quick commute westward until – ‘the Hill’ aka one of the most treacherous roads in Canada, North America?! Well, it was. It was beginning to rain, the road was under construction, and they decided that to ‘improve’ the road they would put about 2-3 inches of loose gravel. The road has precarious and precipitous drops and winds along with serious exposure down into the valley. Scott, after his Big Bar experience, decided this wasn’t for him and headed back up the road for the night to Nimpo Lake. We soldiered on with lots of ‘holy F’ moments but successfully navigated the road. This is one highway that has a reputation that is warranted – it is steep, slippery and exposed. The whole hill is a 10-20 kph ride and any error would certainly upset your day/ride/life.
We stayed in a cabin off the highway at the Nutsatsum River Lodges. Wow! What a spot. We had a quaint cabin in the woods all to ourselves. Enjoyed drinks and company into the night. Hospitality and comfort second to none and absolutely beautiful surroundings.
Day 6 – Bella Coola to Prince George
Back up the hill, which was equally challenging as the clay, gravel and muck mix of the road combined with light rain made it slick. Back across to Nimpo Lake (not to be confused with Nympho Lake – boy wouldn’t that be a story). The day was a commute with a stop in Williams Lake and largely uneventful. Not a lot to see on this route and a very long day with about 12-13 hours on the bikes just to get there. When traveling in a group you’re bound to get on each other’s nerves and there were some tensions through the day but all were resolved by the time we arrived at our hotel in Prince George. I hate to speak ill of people’s home but Prince George is the geographic centre of BC kinda like there is a geographic centre in your backside, if you know what I mean. I’ve been there on several trips and it really is ‘just a place to stay on the way to somewhere else’. PG if you’re listening it could be a new motto for your sign. Difficult to find anything open at night in the heart of the town short of one pub, which actually turned out to be where we ate and drank both ways on our journey.
Day 7 – Prince George to Gingolx
I’d done some reading about a little village on Nisga’a Nation but really had no inkling as to what it would really be like – this was our day’s end. The highway north and west from PG is largely uneventful until reaching Smithers then the beauty of the west coast range of mountains presents itself. The ride from Smithers through to Terrace is beautiful. After long days of riding our group was a bit weary. Scott elected to stay in Terrace and not forge on – his first long tour and he did a great job riding as far as he had. The other three of us headed out from Terrace to Gingolx. Another hidden gem of highway – zero traffic, perfect pavement and scenery. It travels through a lava field, snowcapped mountains and damp and scenic forest before it plops you out in the little village at the end of the road.
We stayed at Lavinia’s B&B. I can’t say enough about the kindness and hospitality of our hosts. I’ve never stayed in a B&B before, so this was a real eye-opener. I had text her during the day saying we were running behind and that we might not make it anywhere near a normal dinner time. She said it was no problem and they’d be waiting for us with a warm meal. Well, what a meal it was. It was like a huge family thanksgiving feast complete with local salmon. I learned a lot about the west coast first nations, the Nisga’a, and enjoyed our quick day exploring and walking around in the misty coastal town. A place I’d certainly like to visit again.
Day 8 & 9 – Gingolx to Stewart and Hyder, AK
We’d chatted with Lavinia and her brother-in-law about backroads ways to get across to the Cassiar Highway. They mentioned the Cranberry Cutoff/Nass Forest Service Road, which turned out to be the route I had originally planned for our group. I thought, and according to GoogleMaps, that it was a service highway. Well, it isn’t, but, it is an excellent dual sport road that cuts across to just north of Kitwanga and allows you to avoid going back through Terrace and across to the highway. It was a good bumpy, sandy, gritty road, which was fun to ride and pops you out on the highway north of Kitwanga and about half way to Meziadin Junction. One of our party, Gary, had an ‘off’ and ended up in a gully down the side of the road. I was leading and lost track of them in my rear view (which happens a lot when riding in a group), so I stopped had a pop, contacted home on my GPS communicator and waited. And waited… I headed back just in time for them pulling the bike to the road. Luckily no one was injured, only a small amount of scrapes to the bike, and we were able to continue on our way. A brief encounter with a large black bear on the trail was interesting but he relented back into the brush and let us pass. From there smooth sailing with a bit of construction on the highway and across to Stewart, BC. We stayed at the Ripley Creek Inn in a recovered and renovated building from days gone by. It gave us a chance to have a place to enjoy each other’s company, visit the town and a trip up to the Salmon Glacier. The Inn has taken old dilapidated buildings from the 1800-early 1900s and turned them into modern suites on the inside while leaving the outside similar to their original form. A pretty unique place to stay.
We had a chance to ride up to the Salmon Glacier (my third time up there) on the road. Scott elected to enjoy the day in town and check out the bear viewing station (no salmon yet, and no bears this time). The road takes you from sea level up several thousand feet to the viewpoint of the Salmon Glacier. It’s truly an amazing place and one that never gets old. We chatted with a couple overlanding in a decked out Toyota Landcruiser machine. A gentleman, who I’d seen before up there, who has been on the viewpoint selling art and post cards every summer for 20+ years and lives in a tent up there.
We descended back to our base camp and had meals and drinks together. Viewed some GoPro footage and photos of our trip and began to contemplate our return back to our home, civilization and our every day lives over the next two days.
Day 10 & 11 – Civilization
Back to PG (centre of said place in between backside). Last meal and drinks as a group. We had been on day rides together and short stays together in the past, but really came to bond as a group over this journey. Morning packing and returns to Washington, Vancouver/Burnaby, Bowen Island and me, to Calgary.
Side Notes and Stats
Roughly 6,500 kilometres in 10 days. About 1/4 on forestry routes. Lots of laughs. Quite a few beers and drinks. Good times and good memories of a successful journey.
Honda’s fork seals on the AT are suspect. Leaked like sieves and had to be replaced upon my return. Pain in the butt and fork oil on me, boots, bike, brakes, etc.
Mitas E12 tires – wow! Awesome. Best offroad rear tire I’ve had. Reasonable longevity – lasted about 7,500 kilometres total with enough meat on it to still be ridden on the road.
Michelin Anakee Wild – best offroad and 50/50 tire I’ve had (still going months later as I write this approaching 9,000 kilometres for the front tire)
Riding in a group – fun, can be tough with personalities, really turned out to be a positive experience
LoneRider MotoBags Panniers – Aces! Great kit. Great customer service. Truly useful and utilitarian luggage for adventure riding.