Doug Firby, publisher of Troy Media, is part of a group of Canadians who call themselves ConnecTour. Starting on Friday in Kelowna, B.C. (B.C. travel restrictions derailed a planned start in Victoria), they hope to make an 8,000-km journey across the country, discovering how the COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped our lives and our sense of community. More information on the tour is available at ConnecTour.ca.
June 1 – Day 5
Hot and starting to feel fatigued after a vigorous three-hour run from Penticton, the five of us were looking for one of British Columbia’s famous recreation sites to have a picnic as we approached Keremeos on Hwy 3. Although there had been plenty of treed rec sites on the Old Henley Road we had taken as far as we could, none, it seems, existed on the main road.
So, as the searing 35C-plus heat began to wear us down, we sought refuge at an RV park picturesquely situated on the Similkameen River, still churning furiously with the spring runoff.
As we pulled into the Riverside RV Park, we saw a park-like setting with shady trees and a welcoming grassy area. A bearded man wearing a cowboy hat and driving a pickup stopped to see what we were up to. A dog beside him on the front seat peered out, apparently looking for a treat.
“Do you think it’s okay if we have our lunch here?” one of us asked.
“I don’t know,” came the reply as he looked at us quizzically. “I just live here.”
We took a chance and headed to a picnic table down by the riverside. Not 10 minutes in, we saw the same bearded man walk toward us. In his left hand was a large jug of water and in his right hand a bag of ice.
“Sorry about the way I reacted back there,” said Ian as his dog Brewskie sniffed our snacks. “I should have invited you over to my place.”
Such is the kindness of strangers on the ConnecTour trail across Canada. From the park resident who insisted on taking our picture for the local TV station to Chris, the camp manager at Grist Mill just outside of Keremeos, who told us to, “Just set up. We’ll settle up in the morning,” time and again we’ve encountered kindness, friendliness and helpfulness on a scale we didn’t expect and that – quite frankly – leaves us feeling humbled and warm.
Day 5 into our journey of discovery, we’re getting our first faint signs of the pulse of the nation, a country so big and baffling we can’t possibly believe it manages to hold together. And yet, it does because there’s a sense of community and communality that keeps this grand social experiment alive.
It was hard not to be emotional after our first three days on the road. We had gone through what effectively felt like an unplanned boot camp. We started our run at Myra Canyon, near Kelowna, and road the spectacular trestles of the Kettle Valley Railroad (KVR). We soon discovered that, beyond the trestles, the trail quickly degraded into a pathway that was an ordeal for fully-loaded touring bicycles to navigate.
Sections contained 10-to-15-cm rocks that couldn’t be ridden across, and other areas contained massive potholes that spanned the entire path. Three of the four in the group at that point crashed in the next two hours.
By the time we reached Chute Lake, not far from the canyon, we were exhausted and camped at a nearby rec site. The ride into Penticton the next day included expansive lake scenery, and we enjoyed riding into town on the historic KVR pathway where I reconnected with old friends John and Char Singleton.
The afternoon, however, was a grind as we fought our way up the sandy KVR pathway to Summerland and then west to a rec site at Crump Siding. Because the trail, a portion of the Great Trail network in Canada, is multi-use – open to horses and RVs – it’s really not suited to touring bikes. It took a great deal of effort to ride that last few kilometres.
After an evening of camping with my daughter and son-in-law, the group headed towards Princeton, choosing the hard-packed gravel road rather than the unbearable KVR pathway. It was there we were joined by Andrew, the fifth member of the group who had literally jumped through hoops to join us.
He was so joyful to be with us after months of planning, he was near tears.
The group took a day to rest in Princeton, a quaint little on-again-off-again mining town of about 3,000, and that gave myself and Lisa a chance to chat with the town’s mayor, Spencer Coyne. Tuesday to Friday, he’s the mayor. On Mondays, he tends the checkout at The Source, and that’s where we found him.
What to do about the KVR, he admits, is a huge bone of contention in the area. In fact, a previous council that had tried to ban ATVs from using the KVR ended up getting tossed out on its ear in 2018, and that’s when Coyne transitioned from saucy newspaper columnist to head of the local government.
Coyne seems to favour keeping the KVR multi-use, even if that doesn’t satisfy the cyclists.
“It’s been motorized since there was a train there,” he said.
He blames the provincial government for not providing enough money to maintain the trail properly and he says that fuels the conflict.
“It’s always everybody fighting with each other,” he says. “The bikers say the ATVs rip it up, and (ATV riders) blame the horses.
“It’s unfortunate. I’m a big advocate for the KVR.”
The ConnecTour team decides we’re not fans of this portion of The Great Trail, at least not in its current state. We’re sticking to the roads.
Next stop, Osoyoos, on a day that’s forecast to hit 35C. It’ll be an early start for us.
Veteran political commentator Doug Firby is president of Troy Media Digital Solutions and publisher of Troy Media.
- Doug Firby last wrote about...well...this! Planning ConnecTour, which as he mentions above was meant to begin in Victoria.
- Mayor Coyne working at The Source is something Port McNeill Mayor Gaby Wickstrom might relate to - and argued in favour of letting small town mayors and councillors work.
- Two years ago, Bob Price wrote about the rise of tech in the Okanagan - even to the point of trumping tourism.