Day 18-21 – Kelowna, BC, Canada to Mackay, ID, USA – 4,981 km
If you have ever undertaken a trip like ours – one that spans many days and a range of country – you will have experienced how the route takes shape in your memory in segments rather than a flow. Maybe this is simply you recognizing the Universe’s ordered narrative, or maybe it is just a byproduct of your mind trying to sort disjointed pieces into an organized catalogue. Either way, I have found each segment is marked in my memory by some particular place or situation or person. There would be nothing extraordinary about this except that on reflection I often find that what marks the memory doesn’t seem particularly memorable for any reason except that it is what stands out in my memory. I don’t know why I think of this now except that, among the many miles of tarmac meandering among rivers and through colorful, autumn countryside, reflecting on this latest segment draws to mind a friendly man, two dogs, and a wagon wheel.
We arrived at Kelowna in the early evening after a long, pleasant stretch along the two-lane road that runs the west side of Okanagan Lake. The principle Highway 97, which runs a similar north-south line only a short ways to the east beside Lake Kalamalka, takes on most of the commuter traffic, while our road traced a mostly quiet, meandering course along the lakeshore. About halfway down the narrow, snaking Okanagan Lake, we crossed William R. Bennett Bridge into Kelowna. The small city is picturesquely nestled between the lakeshore and the surrounding hill country. On these hills are many of the vineyards that make Kelowna the Napa of British Columbia.
Merging onto the bridge, we connected with a rider evidently on his way home from an afternoon jaunt. He was on a BMW R1200GS, which is like the big brother to our smaller BMW enduros. Whenever I see someone on one of these bikes, my first instinct is still to ease back on the throttle in a momentary act of deference. But then, this time, I remembered that we are the ones with the foreign plates and luggage-loaded bikes and thousands of kilometers on our odometers. This made me feel every bit the equal of this rider even though he was on the bigger motorcycle, and, returning his wave, I enjoyed thinking of him as our escort into town.
It was too late for wine tasting when we arrived in Kelowna and, waking the next morning still eager to press on, it resulted that our experience of the British Columbia wine country was visual rather than viticultural. We spent that next day winding south through the mountains on the 33 until eventually we reached the junction with Highway 3 just a few kilometers from the US border. Here we went east and followed the 3 as it snakes among the Rockies in long, isolated stretched punctuated by an occasional town nestled beautifully in a valley by a river. This was how we passed Grand Forks, Castlegar, and Salmo until we finally came to halt for the night in Creston. Creston was another town nestled in a valley among the mountains beside a river and surrounded by farms and fruit orchards. It was a beautiful town and in some ways it seemed the embodiment of everything beautiful that we had seen in British Columbia. In this way, it was an ideal place for our last overnight before crossing back into the United States and beginning the long sweep southward.
The next morning at the border, Jess was first to advance to the booth to speak with the immigration official. I watched as she put her bike into neutral, pressed the engine kill switch, and removed her riding gloves. She handed her documents to the official inside the booth and waited. Then after a pause I watched her head and her hands move in animated fashion as, I assumed, she began to explain our travel situation. This went on for several minutes and I began to grow nervous because we had read a lot about U.S. immigration officials who did not like foreigners entering without an onward or return ticket. Eventually the official returned her documents, waved her through, and I pulled forward.
‘Ok, let’s see if your story matches hers,’ the border official said with a terse smile that was polite but certainly not friendly.
After crossing the border we were in Idaho riding southeast and skipping from Route 1 to Highway 95 and then to Highway 2 until we had slipped across the northeast corner of Idaho and into Montana. Some half hour from the state line we stopped in Libby, Montana for a warm drink and a mid morning snack. I chose the place and it was quickly evident that I chose poorly because it was very cold and I had brought us to a halt at a drive-through café. But we were stopped and cold and plenty ready for a break, so after some grumbling we sat down at a picnic bench and rested outside in the cold, drinking hot chocolate and eating apple muffin tops.
‘Not now,’ Jess said disapprovingly when she saw me holding the camera. ‘It’s cold and you stopped us at a drive-through when we’re on motorcycles! This is why people think I’m always unhappy in the videos – you always film at the wrong times!’
After Libby, we continued weaving southeast on Highway 2, slowing only for a stretch where the road seemed to give way beneath us. It was an area of roadwork where the tarmac was being repaved and the gravel was piled deep so that it was rather like riding through sand. This was our first slog through gravel on the trip and it was good to feel that my bike was mostly surefooted even though we were running road tires that are entirely unsuited for anything but tarmac. Jess skimmed ably through the gravel, occasionally extending her legs to either side when she felt unsteady, but mostly sitting upright and focusing her eyes far ahead to follow a good line.
At Kalispell we merged onto Highway 93 south and then we crossed the Flathead River and continued south on the 35 along the east shore of Flathead Lake. Below the lake we reconnected with Highway 93 and continued until we reached Missoula at the junction of the 93 and the I-90. The next day, after a brief tour through Missoula’s historic downtown, we continued on the 93 as it follows the upstream course of the Bitterroot River. Most of the morning it was a lackluster slog because the highway follows a straight course through a valley between two sections of the Bitterroot National Forest. But shortly before the junction with the 43, the highway enters the mountain country of the national forest and winds along the Lewis and Clark Trail.
In the middle of this lovely, meandering stretch of highway just across the state line into Idaho, we took a break, which, in retrospect, might have been the paragon for all the rest stops we had taken during the trek through cold weather country. We pulled over at a gravelly turnoff overlooking the river and I dismounted. After I removed my gloves, helmet, and earphones, I turned to see that Jessica had dismounted but hadn’t removed any of her riding gear.
‘It’s too much hassle to take the helmet on and off and then replace the earphones and tuck the balaclava and the sunglasses and all that,’ she explained when I asked why she hadn’t made herself more comfortable.
‘Ok, but you know this is a rest stop and we’re gonna stay a while, right?’
‘Sure, love, I’m fine and we’ll rest a while,’ she said. ‘But really it’s too cold even to take off my gloves.’
I stood gazing down at the river, snacking on a granola bar, as I searched for the distinctive form of a trout.
‘I think this is the river from the Robert Redford movie, except it took place downstream near Missoula,’ I said without breaking my scan of the river.
After a few minutes I heard a rustling and then a crunching coming from behind me. I turned around to see Jessica working a granola bar out of its wrapper with her hands still in her riding gloves. Then I watched somewhat in awe as she raised the pieces of granola to where the raised visor allowed access to her face inside the helmet. She brought the granola close to her face at around her nose and then dropped it in small pieces between her face and the helmet and caught it – mostly – in her mouth.
‘I don’t know what’s funnier,’ I said after watching her carry out several rounds of this bizarre feeding process, ‘that you can’t be bothered to remove your helmet to eat or that you’ve concocted such a precise, intricate way to shovel food into your face without taking the helmet off.’
‘It’s cold and I’m hungry,’ she said dismissing my laughter with a sharp hand gesture, ‘and my way is working just fine!’
‘You know you have crumbs all over the cheek pads of your helmet, right?’ I said.
As she was finishing her granola bar, I set off walking into the bushes.
‘Where are you going?’ she called out after me.
‘To pee,’ I said.
‘No,’ she said.
‘What no?’ I said.
‘No, don’t pee,’ she said.
‘Why not? It doesn’t matter if someone sees me,’ I said.
‘No, you’re not allowed,’ she said.
‘Why not?’ I said.
‘Because I have to pee too,’ she said.
‘I’ll get the toilet paper out of my pannier,’ I said, starting back toward my bike.
‘No, it’s too cold to do it here,’ she said.
‘Ok, well then I’m going to go,’ I said.
‘No, just wait and we’ll both go when we get to the next town,’ she said.
‘Wait, so because you won’t go pee, I can’t go either?’ I said.
‘Yes, that’s it,’ she said.
‘So, we have to be miserable and uncomfortable not peeing together?’ I said.
‘It’s the only fair way,’ she said.
After relieving my bladder, we were back on the highway and continuing through the mountains and then back into a valley and then into another meandering stretch through the mountains. In the afternoon we began ascending until suddenly we were surrounded by snow and the temperature reading on my display indicated that the temperature was near freezing. Here we reached Willow Creek Summit where the highway exceeds 2,100 meters in elevation and passes near Borah Peak, which is Idaho’s highest mountain. After the summit we descended out of the extreme cold but by the time we reached the small town of Mackay about 50 kilometers south we were chilled to the bone, hungry, and completely exhausted.
Mackay ran the length of just a few blocks along the highway and, when we reached the end of the town and looked out on another long stretch of tarmac through the fading daylight, we doubled back and pulled into the Wagon Wheel Motel. Two enthusiastic dog greeted us at the motel office and, excited by this, Jess knelt down to be smothered in slobbery kisses. The man who owned the motel with his wife chatted amiably as we completed the registration and payment. He was very friendly without being overbearing and I would have liked to continue talking with him because he struck me as someone you wanted to ask about themselves and how they came to be where they were. But be were just too cold, hungry, and exhausted to hang about for a chat. So we took the room key, quickly unloaded our luggage from the bikes, and then scurried over to the only restaurant in town that stayed open on a Sunday evening.