Friends, Bikes, and the Okanagan
With their original plans to circumnavigate the southern section of Okanagan Lake derailed, Kristian Manietta and Matthew Clark tried to make the most of a smokey situation. Find a reflection from Kristian and a beautiful gallery of photos taken by Matthew here…
I reached out to Matt to see if he had a window of opportunity for a little bikepacking adventure with our busy schedules of juggling family life and work. We found a weekend that fit and went about creating a route in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley that would tick all the requirements of a good adventure.
What we got was great views, a mix of fun and not so fun gravel, unrelenting sections of sand, some trails and climbs that would have been better on a mountain bike, some ever so nice reprieve on paved roads, and a lot of time to talk about life, the past, the present, and the future.
Oh, and some good ol’ suffering.
While I’d previously done a solo bikepacking trip a few years back on a hardtail mountain bike, this was Matt’s first rodeo. For all intents and purposes, we were newbies. With everything I needed thrown in a big rubbermaid tub, I put my bike on the rack and left Whistler en route to Penticton. Thankfully, I stopped in Squamish to check out the new gravel bike shop and picked up the only Anything Cage they had that I could put on my fork, just in case.
As I followed the Sea 2 Sky, the normally beautiful Howe Sound was starting to get blotted out by smoke from the US fires and it only got worse covering the mountains through Chilliwack. I got to Hope and it started to clear and I thought all would be good. Once Matt’s boys were in bed, we got to packing everything for our 7:00 AM departure. With the Tetris of bag packing out of the way, we relooked at the route and decided to make a slight adjustment due to a potential for a 100-kilometre stretch on gravel without a water source. That ended up being a blessing, as on day one we found out just how far off Google Maps was on distance.
Rolling out of Matt’s and into a cool but still morning, there was smoke but it wasn’t bad, which gave a layered look to the views of Okanagan Lake. We hoped it wouldn’t get worse. It was a nice cruise on the KVR through Naramata and through the first photo worthy tunnel towards our first stop at Chute Lake. Our route had just the right amount of incline that allowed us to keep ticking along at a steady pace with the usual early adventure banter.
Until we hit the sand.
I’ve done enough adventures and challenges to know that the best thing to do was smile and laugh at the situation. After what seemed like ages wrestling our steeds through the sand and rocky terrain we rolled into Chute Lake. As good a place as any to have breakfast. Matt ordered the full meal, but my being celiac gave me somewhat limited options and I went for the healthy smoothie. But there was also coffee, and it’s always good to have coffee. Bellies full, we headed towards Myra Canyon and the spectacular trestles.
When we ate at Chute lake we thought it wouldn’t be long before were we stuffing ourselves with burritos in Kelowna. Sometimes the paths are much longer than you anticipate, so we took a short break at one of the storm shelters along the KVR to eat some more. Happiness came in the form of a cookie I picked up in Squamish that was more akin to a meal.
After 18 Trestle bridges we were on the descent towards Kelowna and our first bit of paved road reprieve. I love off-road, but it damn feels good to have some smooth rolling for a bit, and burritos were calling. With a burrito bowl and some Mexican cola in the belly it was time to get to our next portion of gravel, but not without a stint on Highway 97. We massively lucked out and skipped the highway sections of West Kelowna and West Bench after finding some singletrack along Lake Okanagan.
After a short but hectic stretch of highway we pulled off at Antlers Beach in search of the historic Fur Brigade Trail, a trading route used by First Nations for thousands of years, then by Europeans in the early 1800s to move furs, and later by gold miners heading for the Cariboo. The trail provided the suffering on under geared, fully laden rigs. If you decide to do this trail, I’d recommend a mountain bike. We are both strong but had to hike-a-bike a couple of short sections.
From the top we cruised nice gravel roads past Garnet Lake and headed towards Summerland and our gas station oasis. We were late. Much later and not nearly as far as we thought we’d be. Stops add time, as does taking photos, but it was here we realized at 160 kilometres in, we were nowhere near our intended destination of Chain Lake.
Google maps was way off.
We fueled up on all bikepacking requirements at the gas station oasis, enjoying Coke slurpees, Mars bars, and peanut M&M’s while quickly checking in with our families. Decisions needed to be made quickly as we were running out of light. Where to camp was the most obvious and pressing question. We knew a river ran alongside the TCT (Trans Canada Trail) and we’d just find whatever seemed to be the first reasonable place. With brain freeze from the slurpees, we pointed our trusty bikes in the direction of the TCT and raced the fading light. Not long after getting on the trail we saw a picnic table, a bench, and off in the near distance a porta potty. There was some flat ground off the trail to pitch the tent and the river not far off. Around 175km in, this was as good as it’d get.
We got set up, boiled water for our food, and were fully stoked on our find and our serenity. It didn’t last long. Across the river we saw the headlights of a car and a motorbike roll up to what we thought was an abandoned RV. Being a light sleeper, I was less than thrilled when they started the generator.
Such is life.
We got up at first light to get an early start. We could taste the smoke in the air. Not long after, Matt got a text from his wife saying the levels were pretty bad. We knew we were about 40 kilometres off yesterday’s distance and it would need to be a massive day. The question was… was it worth it? Reality set in that 200 kilometres in worsening conditions wasn’t worth it to our lungs. This made for a leisurely pack up and two AeroPress coffees each. Life is good.
Instead of just heading straight toward Matt’s place we decided to do a loop to see a bit more of the Trans Canada Trail, then pass back where we started and take another gravel road up towards Apex Mountain in the aims of getting something achieved but risking ourselves or our lungs. We were saddened as we continued for 20 kilometres in our original direction as the trail was stunning. Deep down, we knew we were going to miss an absolutely epic day.
All in all, it was the type of day that leaves you absolutely shattered but with a wide toothed smile at the same time. It’s a feeling many of us live for. As we climbed along our new route the conditions got worse and when we hit Green Mountain Road the smart decision was to take the paved road down into Penticton to have coffee and lunch, then head home.
“Good decisions come from experience. Experience comes from making bad decisions.” -Mark Twain.
It was an adventure cut short, but time well spent, making circles with circles with a good friend discussing life and what’s really important.
It’s time to get busy living.
About Kristian Manietta
Kristian Manietta is coach to endurance athletes around the globe, living the dream in Whistler, British Columbia. He loves being behind all types of handlebars for the adventures they bring with friends and family, but nothing fills his soul more than ripping trails with his nine-year-old son. Follow him on Instagram @kristianmanietta.