A weekend with a zero percent chance of precipitation and no social plans seemed a perfect time to introduce DutchBoy to the joys of motorcycle touring before our trip to California. And to really test it we should also ride in the heat, which made a trip through the Okanagan make perfect sense. The plan was to ride to Oroville over the Hope-Princeton on Saturday, spend the night, and return through Winthrop, which is the number 1 Destination Highway in Washington. Of course, things don’t always go as planned.
We went out to my stepfather’s gallery opening on Friday night and spent the night there since it was on the way. In the morning we lazed around and didn’t get on the road until late, which meant taking the straight Highway 1 to Hope. Stopped for gas and lunch before heading up to Manning.
There seems to be no good answer to how to ride with a newbie through the twisties that doesn’t push him to go faster than he ought. I know when I was the slowest, I hated being in front because I felt guilty about holding up the faster people behind me, so that pushed me to ride to my limit or a bit beyond. Me riding in front and trying to modulate my speed to his is also difficult because it’s hard to accurately judge what level he should be at – is he feeling pressured or restricted by the speed I choose? In the end we went with me in front, riding at my pace through the twisties and slowing down in the straights, since I knew that was what I preferred when I was slower than my companions, and this seems to work for DutchBoy as well. I got his promise that he would ride to his level, not mine, and though I trusted that he meant it, I still worried each time until I saw him again because I knew from my own experience that it’s easy to get over-confident when just starting out.
At Manning we took the old side road to the view point and found serious amateur astronomers there with big telescopes. They let us look at the sun and pointed out the flares the size of several Earth’s along the edge of the otherwise unexciting red ball. They were planning to spend the night up there looking at the stars during the new moon. We took the obligatory pictures.
Down the mountain into Princeton the climate changes from coastal forest to interior forest to desert sagebrush with all the attending smells. Then wending alongside the Similkameen River to Keremeos.
In Keremeos we decide – the direct route to Osoyoos or scenic twisty backroad goodness? It wasn’t much of a decision and off to the side roads we go. One wrong turn took us past the Radio Observatory (visitors welcome every day 10-5).
We woke up on time for us, which is about 9:30 on a weekend. We’re not morning people. We cleansed off the sweat of the day before by going for a swim in the still-somewhat-chilly-until-you’re-in-them waters of the Lake Osoyoos. The water felt sweet and cool and amazing – so much better than a pool or even the ocean. It felt like swimming in silk.
There was no one around the water, which surprised me – I remembered it being full of families splashing about and picnicking, but I guess June is still too early. But it still brought back the lazy days we used to spend with our stepmother playing in the water and eating on the shore, back when summer meant two months of idyllic idleness. I remember the summers in Oroville as long days of lazing around, playing in water of the lakes and the river, eating cherries and apricots from the trees, going for walks on the waterline with the family, including the dogs, dancing in thunderstorms, sleeping in the tree house and watching the shooting stars. The childhood that no one has any more.
After the swim we went back to the tent to make coffee/tea and eat a bit. We felt lazy, and wanted to while away the whole day instead of heading home. The campground was still and quiet, the main sounds the muted sounds of grass cutting and the thwick-thwick-thwick-swish of the sprinklers. Most of the campers sat and chatted in their groups, the partiers were mutedly packing up. The day was hot and there was nary a cloud in the sky– we heard later that it reached 40 in the Okanagan. We basked and resisted movement for as long as we could.
In the bathroom the woman at the neighbouring sink mentioned that she had said to her husband when we rode by “I think she’s on a bigger bike than he is!” confirming for me both that people can tell I’m a girl when I’m all covered up and that people are making that connection and it’s making them think a bit. It’s kind of fun to mess with people’s perceptions of how things ought to be between the sexes, and I’m very glad DutchBoy really doesn’t care – I’d hate for him to think he needed to be on a bigger bike just because he’s the guy, regardless of his newbie status. I love the fact that he does what he thinks makes sense without giving a rat’s ass about “gender roles” – the sense of security in who he is makes him seem stronger to me than those who need to hide behind what “ought” to be.
We packed up and got out of there just at one. After a quick brunch gathered from Prince’s, Oroville’s home-grown department store, which hasn’t changed appreciably in 20 years, and a quick conversation with a cruiser rider in a beanie and wife beater who said “well, I have all the leathers and stuff, it’s just too hot” while we melted but felt superior, we headed up for a quick detour to the ghost town of Molson.
The road up to Molson is straight up twisty fun, flipping the bike from side to side, leaning to speed around corners of an eroded hillside of baked brown and sage green as we climb up into the dry back country. I quickly lost DutchBoy, but slowed in the straights until I could see him again behind, with the familiar tendrils of worry creeping in each time until I did.
We played in the Molson for a little while.
Before we came down, during an aborted attempt to go to the museum, I heard DutchBoy’s bike suddenly making an odd mechanical sound. I resolved to check into it at the bottom, and we headed down the same way we came.
We were stuck behind cars for some of the fun bits, but for the last, twistiest fun bit, we escaped them. Again, I quickly outpaced DutchBoy, but started to get a sinking feeling in my gut when I couldn’t see him shortly behind me when the road straightened. I stopped and waited. I really got worried when a car came down next – the car stopped to tell me he was OK, but didn’t say anything about going down, so I wondered if he’d just stopped to adjust something. When the next car came to tell me he was OK, I started to worry more and headed back up. Sure enough, there he was, looking dusty but otherwise fine. I pulled around. The bike looked dusty, but fine on the left side, and it was a left hand corner, so what had happened?
After I parked I saw the rash and broken turn signal on the right side. It turns out that he’d taken a bad line through the corner, ended up off the road on the gravel, tried to get back on the road but failed, made the conscious conclusion that he was going down and had pushed the bike away from him and fallen. Having played goal in field hockey, he knew how to fall, so was entirely unhurt except for a skinned area on his forearm not even the size of a loonie from an encounter with the handlebars. Wearing all the gear even in the heat had certainly been a good thing.
Looking at the damage to the bike we could see that we wouldn’t be riding home. The handlebars were askew. However, it was rideable and we were out of cell phone range, so we cleaned the gravel out of the bike and DutchBoy limped it down with me following.
Riding behind DutchBoy it became clear what had been making the noise earlier – the chain was loose and slapping against itself. I was almost glad there was something wrong with the bike other than the chain because I feel like I ought to know how to fix a chain, even though I’ve only really ridden belt drive machines (my time on the Ninja being very short before I managed to crash it twice).
We got to the gas station in Oroville and confirmed that there wasn’t a bike mechanic in town. Looking at the Destinations Highway map we saw the nearest Kawi dealer in Westbank and a plan started to form. We would limp it across the border and then call BCAA (our local CAA/AAA) and get towed to Westbank, which unlike Vancouver, was within the 160 km allowed with our package. I have relatives there, so we would be able to leave our camping gear there and then I would double DutchBoy back so we could both make work Monday morning.
But before that, damned if I was going to come to Oroville and not take a look around. So, I loaded a still slightly shocked DutchBoy on the back and took him on the abbreviated tour of the high school and my dad’s old house. Not much about the town seemed changed, but the house had been improved and gentrified with a nice manicured garden out front and an attached garage. I was happy to see that the tree house had been refurbished and hoped children still slept there to watch the stars. But two other important places had been destroyed – the graveyard had lost its border of tall shade-giving trees and with them it’s sense of peace and welcome and the water line had been completely dismantled. Progress?
Of course, after a while slogging it out with cars addicted to the speed limit along Highway 97, I couldn’t resist taking the call of the side roads and had a lovely spin along the route we’d come down the night before.
After I turned back onto Highway 97 I thought I saw something go flying out the back, but looked behind in the mirrors and saw nothing missing. An optical illusion I thought. I rode mostly patiently through the congestion and lights of Penticton back onto the highway and opened her up, only to glance in the mirrors and see the dismaying sight of my top box lid opening and closing in the breeze. Pulled over, realized I’d left it open with the key in it in Osoyoos and was relieved that I was only missing my sarong and one flip flop. Minor losses, but I felt so stupid that I had to go ride back through Penticton and back, just in case I could find them and salvage my self-respect. But no joy. My sarong and flip flop had joined that mystifying roadside debris that always seems to tell a sad but unknown story.
Now worried that I wasn’t going to be able to catch the tow truck I raced into Westbank and found that they had just arrived at the shop, which was enclosed behind a locked fence. The BCAA driver arranged to store the bike at the BCAA shop and tow it over in the morning and then dropped DutchBoy at my relatives. We had juice and conversation and rearranged belongings, and by the time we got on the road it was just after 10 pm, and we were facing a four-hour ride through the mountains to get home.
Luckily the road we were taking is new and has our modern disregard for things like geography built in. It starts out after Westbank in a slope up that seems to take forever and goes straight up the side of the mountain range – 24 km of incline I found later, at least parts of it 6%. We passed almost everyone on the way up, but by the end I was maxing out the throttle to maintain 130 kmh. At the top we seemed to draw even with the surrounding peaks and could still see the dull red of sunset over the next range. I couldn’t help but start humming “I’m on top of the world, looking down on creation” as I kept a close eye out for deer. The light wasn’t quite gone – it was more of a warm velvet with a hint of purple than a full black.
Back down the hill into Merritt and into the town to find gas just at 11 pm, making it on time for the SuperSave gas, PowerBar and energy drink, but not their bathrooms. Further into town through the flying sawdust and machinery noises of the sawmill, working at night to reduce the risk of fire to the 7-Eleven to watch the locals walk by, including the woman staggering home and calling out insults to all and sundry.
Back on the road and up and over the Coquihalla toll road, getting passed by speeding truckers and fighting tiredness until I plugged in my vest at the tollbooth, which seemed to get me over the wall and into endurance mode. Now no hint of light in the skies except the stars – the new moon the astronomers cherished.
Felt relieved to get down into Hope and civilization, where it’s harder to fall asleep without noticing. Stopped again to stretch and pee and made it home somewhat after two, crashing into bed until the alarm went off at 7 to send us to work again. I drove in, coffee in hand.
Map of the trip: