Photos and story by Tim Burke
It didn’t take much to talk me into returning to Canada to ride the back roads of British Columbia and Alberta. I had been there a couple times before and the beauty blows my mind – every single time.
I’d be going with my friends Sam Hooper and Gent Welsh. Sam is a Sheriff’s Deputy in Washington and Gent is Active Duty in the Military. They are both highly experienced riders who have years of adventure motorcycling notched on their belt. Me: I work in Airport Management. My life revolves around 2-wheeled vehicles and I always have a camera on me. I take pictures of anything and everything. I try my best to stay out of trouble at whatever destination we happen to end the day at. I’m better at photography.
Day 1 Seattle, Washington to Nelson, British Columbia
The first day was rough – It was a 7am coffee-meet-up in North Bend, WA. The day’s final destination was Nelson, BC and we had about 400 miles of twisty back country roads to cover, a ferry to catch, and a border crossing to get through. I had worked an overnight-double from 2pm-6am so, for me, getting on the road and staying on the road was rough!
The original plan was to take the famous Keller ferry across Lake Roosevelt but we were disappointed to find out the ferry was down for maintenance with no warning! We detoured around via the Coulee Dam, traversed reservation land and crossed the mighty Columbia River on the Inchelium Ferry.
Right before arriving in Nelson, we passed through Castlegar, BC, a gorgeous city at the confluence of the Kootenay and Columbia Rivers. I never forget a good bar. Sam and Gent had been patiently listening to me rave about a little brew pub on the banks of the Columbia so it wasn’t hard to convince them to stop for a thirst quencher at the Lions head Brew Pub. Later that night we would find food and drink, and explore the town of Nelson.
Day 2 Nelson, BC to Fairmont Hot Springs
We fired up the bikes early the next morning. Sam and Gent had no issues with a 6:30 am wake-up time. I, on the other hand, felt like death. I had ended up at some no-name dive bar until the wee hours of the morning; hanging out with strangers who were singing some Garth Brooks karaoke. I survived though, so it all worked out.
We took the bridge out of town and followed the Kootenay River before getting on a free ferry across one of the most beautiful lakes we had ever seen. Nestled between two mountain ranges, the narrow and channeled Kootenay Lake stretched well beyond the horizon. Once on the other side, it was time to leave the asphalt behind. We ascended logging roads up and over the top of Grey Creek Pass.
After descending down out of the mountains, we stopped in the small town of Kimberly, BC where we wolfed down some lunch in an awesome little downtown area that was closed off to vehicle traffic.
From Kimberly, we headed north on Canada Route 95 toward our camping spot in Fairmont Hot Springs. Camp was set up on the banks of a slow-running river that reflected the surrounding peaks perfectly.
After dinner in town, and the disappointment that the actual Hot Springs (the whole purpose of this particular destination) was closed and not operational, we got a campfire going and cracked a few cold beers (Kokanees of course). It took a while, this time of year and this far north for the sun to settle but once it did, the stars wasted no time making themselves known.
Day 3 Fairmont Hot Springs to the Columbia Ice Fields of Alberta
A “scouting mission”, the night prior, helped us plot out a 35 mile, all-dirt road that left the pavement out of Canal Flats, BC, up towards the Banff/Lake Louise area. We started the day out on this absolutely breathtaking road before traveling north on Highway 1 and Highway 93 through Lake Louise and the Ice fields Parkway to the Athabasca Glacier.
Back at camp, ominous clouds rolled in and the crack of thunder made us scramble to ensure our gear was sheltered. Nobody wants to ride in soaking wet clothes the next day.
Right after setting up camp and trading our bulky riding gear for more comfortable hiking clothes, we hustled down to the base of the Glacier where we would hike up the ice. It’s incredible how being in the mountains at the base of an ancient glacier can make you feel so small.
As the storm passed through the mountains, I had this feeling that the lighting conditions were going to become perfect, they always seem to after a storm in the mountains! I threw on the bare minimum gear – Klim jacket, gloves, and my helmet, and hit the road on a photo mission. Gent and Sam hung back at the campground to get the campfire roaring.
The conditions did not disappoint… but do they ever when you’re in the Rocky Mountains.
By the time I got back to camp, I found that Gent and Sam had a camp fire going that kept us warm from about 30 feet away.
Day 4 Columbia Ice Fields (Alberta) to Ainsworth Hot Springs (BC)
Per usual, kickstands were up just after the sunrise. We pulled out of the campground with temperatures hovering at about 39 degrees F (3.8 Celsius).
We’d be retracing our steps from the day earlier but the lighting conditions (from a photographer’s point of view) were entirely different- I knew it would be a completely different experience in the opposite direction. We were again, blown away by the beauty of these mountains.
After a quick fuel stop in Lake Louise and, of course, a jaunt up to the turquoise waters, we were off to find dirt! The Gent Positioning System, as Sam and I kept calling him, had been scouring maps, Google Earth, and using satellite images for weeks prior to seek out unimproved logging and mining roads that would bring us deep into the Canadian Rockies, far from the nearest towns. We knew that traveling hours upon hours away into the Canadian wilderness could mean mechanical issues (or worse, medical emergencies) and were of major concern.
Part of riding in these adventures is the personal responsibility of being prepared. Each one of us carries tools, medical kits, and a GPS emergency beacon for any situation. Bear spray in these parts is also mandatory. Never, ever, go anywhere that you don’t have the ability and means to safely spend the night.
Hours after getting turned around at a washed-out and impassable creek (a river by some people’s definition!) we were back on Canada’s Highway 1, westbound. As we aired up our partially (but purposefully) deflated tires, Gent looked at Sam and me and asked, “So was it worth it… even though it was a dead-end and we couldn’t get past the washout?”
The grins on our faces meant we didn’t have to verbally answer his question.
Although we “ADV riders” seek out dirt, we also ride bikes that allow for highway travel when needed. The next 100+ miles, even though we shared the road with cars and trucks, did not disappoint.
Highway 1 climbs steeply up the grade of Rogers Pass in Canada’s Glacier National Park. The road, in the winter, gets absolutely hammered by snowfall. It is home to the largest avalanche control program in the entire world. On the side of the highway, clearly visible, are 105mm Howitzer cannons that the Highway Department uses to purposefully trigger and control avalanche danger during the winter months. The road passes below 31 snow sheds, which are like tunnels, but designed to allow avalanches to slide over the top of the highway.
After twisting and turning our way across the summit of Rogers Pass, we dropped down into Revelstoke, BC. With a ferry to catch and daylight working against us, we quickly topped off with fuel and headed out of town.
After arriving in Ainsworth Hot Springs, right on the west side of Kootenay Lake, we wasted no time in getting into the hot water. This is a great spot to stop if you’re in the area. There are a few different pools of varying temperatures and even a “cave” that can be walked deep inside of for a pretty unique experience!
The sun had set, the stars came out, and again, it was time for me to get out the camera and tripod. While my buddies relaxed, I hopped on my 2-wheeled tank and drove up the coast to Kaslo, BC, taking pictures along the way.
Driving at night requires some precaution. Bright aftermarket lights and slow speeds are your friends on these dark, animal-filled mountain roads. My forward vision was illuminated by awesome “plug and play” LED headlight bulbs made by Cyclops Adventure Sports in Tukwilla, WA. These lights turn night into day.
Day 5 Ainsworth Hot Springs to Washington State
With thousands more miles on our odometers than what we left with 5 days prior, it was time to start heading back towards the direction of home: Washington.
Gent hit the road early at 6am and rode 8.5 hours back to the east side of the Cascades. He crossed the Canadian/US border with temperatures in the low 30s. By the time he reached the Cascades, he was riding in 100 degree weather! Choose your gear wisely. Choose gear that’s adaptable and comfortable while offering you protection for the type of riding you will be doing.
I wear a Klim Badlands Jacket and Pants when I ride. The gear is 100% Gore-Tex and waterproof but also has numerous zippers and vents, both front and back, that allow for ventilation. Whether driving in the cold or the heat, I do not have to change riding gear.
Sam and I, with an extra day to spare, meandered our way down south, stopping for breakfast in Nelson before crossing the border at Laurier, WA. We cruised west along Washington State Road 20. High desert and very arid: It’s hard to believe that sometimes this place is assigned the same rainy reputation that Puget Sound has! We found dirt between Republic and Wauconda, WA, taking logging roads to the Aeneas Valley. Temperatures quickly rose to 100 degrees as we pushed 80 mph trying to stay cool.
We stopped for a [absolutely necessary] beer in Chellan before bombing over to Leavenworth via Ardenvoir and Chumstick Mountain dirt roads. Sam had arranged for a cabin in Plain, WA through a fellow ADV rider and personal friend.
We woke the next morning and bombed over Stevens Pass for a quick 2.5 hour ride into reality.
Time to get back to the daily grind, pay the taxes and pay the bills!
Until next time! Check out Tim’s Instagram @timburkephoto
or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/timburkephoto