The Okanagan Feast, Gravel Edition


Bikepacking With the Credit Card

I can’t believe it’s been over two years since I updated this blog. When I last posted, it was about a trip to the Chilcotins that ended in a crash and a torn ACL in my right knee that required surgery. The injury was in September 2020 and surgery was the following April. In mid-June, feeling bored and restless, I snuck out for an overnighter near Kamloops. I ended up pushing up much harder on day one than intended because I didn’t want to set up camp in the rain, but fortunately there were no lasting effects from that effort. The knee held up just fine.

While my recovery was smooth, I had a rough start to summer. I wasn’t doing well at work and some mental health issues came to a head (one day I will write about this). That’s when I met Kenzie and things turned around. Our first date was a success and our second date somehow involved a three-night camping trip north of Revelstoke. Our relationship progressed quickly and we decided to go on a bikepacking trip together in late September.

Canoeing on the Kinbasket with Kenzie and Briggs.

The route I planned was a modification of the Okanagan Feast on Bikepack Canada, which is a loop from Kelowna to Penticton and back, and connects a lot of singletrack in the region. I changed it to get rid of most of the single track and incorporate the Myra Canyon Trestles. We’d travel 180 km over three days, stay at hotels along the way, and enjoy the many drinking establishments along the way. We booked our first night at the rustic Chute Lake Lodge and the second night at the Bowmont Motel in Penticton.

We left Revelstoke on a sunny Thursday morning and drove to Kelowna, stopping at Sutherland’s bakery in Enderby for their amazing doughnuts along the way. We parked on the top level of a downtown parkade, loaded up our bikes, and hit the road. It was beautiful day and the sky was nearly cloudless. Considering we’d been hiking in the snow a week earlier, the unseasonably warm weather was welcome. I missed the turn onto the path out of town, which added a few kilometres, but we eventually made it onto the Mission Creek trail and eased our way out of the city. The trail started off as a wide, flat gravel path and slowly got windier, narrower, and hillier as it left Kelowna and snaked into Mission Canyon. There was some hike-a-bike to escape the canyon and eventually we found ourselves sneaking through a golf course and turning onto the Myra Forest Service Road.

Up next was an 8.5 km climb with 640 m of elevation gain to reach the trestles. My experiences in South America have immunized me to big climbs—anything less than 1,000m in one go seems reasonable, and under 1,500m is tolerable. For Kenzie, it was a bit of a different story. This was her first bikepacking trip ever, and it was probably a little excessive. I justified it by the fact she has run ultramarathons, so she should be good at suffering. And while I probably didn’t win any boyfriend points, I was right about her ability to suffer. I pedaled, she pushed, but we both made it in due time.

The Myra Canyon Trestles were worth the effort. They were initially built over a century ago and they must have been a marvelous work of engineering at the time. The ones you ride over today were built this century after most of the originals were burned down in a 2003 wildfire. The views down the canyon and out over the canyon were stunning. We took our time pedaling around the canyon, stopping to take lots of pictures. From the trestles, it was a cruisy ride to Chute Lake Lodge, where we enjoyed a well-earned burgers and beer for dinner, and a comfy bed for the night. Somewhat surprisingly, I was more tired than Kenzie, and she let me know it.

Day two

We took our time getting going the next morning. This was going to the fun day. We would coast downhill to Penticton, and spend the day mostly drinking and eating. Our first stop was the Legend Distillery for lunch and cocktails on their beautiful, sunny lawn. Stop two was the Elephant Island Winery, where we sampled several of their wines and walked out with a bottle of their delicious black currant variety. Stop three was the Petite Abeille Cidery, where we picked up a few more bottles to take home. Fortunately, I had my panniers with me and we had packed light, so I had plenty of room for the extra weight. Next, we headed to our motel in Penticton to shower before sampling a few of the many local breweries in town. First was the Cannery, then Neighbourhood Brewing for dinner.

It was quite the day.

I have to say, I don’t bikepack like this. I usually go solo, follow routes that are harder than necessary, and suffer unnecessarily. But this was a great day. I had company, it was easy, we didn’t have to rush, and we spoiled ourselves. Even our motel room was way better than expected and we were given a suite at no extra charge. The only downside was the awful beer I bought from Neighbourhood Brewing to go. I generally like their beers, but the Fruityish is terrible. Sorry Neighbourhood.

Day three

I wasn’t too hungover when I woke up the next morning. Probably the pacing and ample water did me in. Our plan today was to follow the rail trail to Summerland, stop for breakfast, take some backroads to Peachland, get on the highway for a brief spell, then take a mix of trails and city streets to the bridge to Kelowna.

First up was 20 km of rail trail, which was hot and dusty, but it was over soon enough and we saw a few horses along the way. In Summerland, we continued the theme of indulgence by stopping for a hearty breakfast at Country Café. I forget what I ordered, but it was a perfect cyclists breakfast. To get out of town, we headed up the Garnet Valley Road, a pleasant, paved road that rolled past a number of tranquil hobby farms before turning to dirt.

The next stretch was a little tougher, as the road got progressively rougher as it climbed higher. Eventually we reached a beautiful viewpoint over Okanagan Lake and the start of the Fur Brigade Trail—which we delighted in saying over and over again (try it). There, a family of ATVers was admiring the view so we didn’t dally much. Instead, hit the trail, which was a steep, double-track full of rocky switchbacks. I was able to ride it, barely, but Kenzie was content in walking down. I don’t blame her. I was squeezing the brakes the whole time and mostly in survival mode, biking more out of principal than fun.

The trail dropped us onto a dirt road and then into Peachland. Rather than ride the highway through town, we followed some steep residential roads upwards, before descending to the beach for a snack break. We stayed on the side roads as far as possible until we couldn’t avoid the highway any further. So up we went on Highway 97, hugging the concrete barrier as traffic roared past at 100 km/h. It was the type of riding I strive to avoid, but sometimes its inevitable. I tolerated it, Kenzie not so much.

We eventually reached a turnoff where the route showed we could drop into Goats Peak Regional Park and follow a trail into Westbank. The maps didn’t show any trail, but there were a few tracks on the heatmap, so we decided to take the plunge. We descended to the park and onto a wide trail. We found ourselves hopping a low barrier and following a steep singletrack along a steep sidehill. Fortunately, it all worked out and we popped along a fence next to a large orchard.

Westbank/West Kelowna is a strange city because it’s basically a long highway strip mall surrounded by suburban sub-divisions interspersed with wineries. But our mission to avoid Highway 97 was a success. After navigating residential roads and dirt paths, we popped out at the entrance to the William R. Bennett Bridge and found our way into Kelowna on the bike path by late-afternoon.

It was a really fun day on the bike, with a great mix of trails, quiet country roads, and dirt roads. The only bad part was that short section of Highway 97. We rewarded ourselves with ice cream and hit the road home.

Final Thoughts

This is a great bikepacking route, with a fantastic mix of single-track, double-track, rail trail, dirt roads, and paved roads, and almost no highway riding. The climb to Myra Canyon is the biggest challenge, but for the most part it isn’t too difficult if you’re a moderately fit cyclist. The version on Bikepack Canada is great if you want to ride lots of singletrack, but this version is much more suited for those set up for dirt road touring. The route is best suited to bikes with at least 2” tires because of a few sandy sections, but gravel tires with narrower rubber are fine for most of it.

I like the way we broke it up, because it meant we got to have two longer days surrounding one casual one where we enjoyed what the South Okanagan is best for—sun and alcohol. A strong rider could do it in two days, but then you’d be missing out on half the point of the ride.

If you don’t want to splurge on hotels, there’s free camping at Chute Lake and several RV-oriented campgrounds in Penticton. Parking in Kelowna was $12 for three days.

Note: These are strictly my views. I’m 99% sure Kenzie had fun too. At the very least it didn’t scare her off bikepacking.

Categories: bicycle touring, bikepackingTags: , , , , , , , ,

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