This is going to be a different kind of road trip for me. I’m going on a group ride with Deeley Harley-Davidson of Canada and a group of Canadian journalists. We’re going to be riding a collection of 2012 Harleys, starting off in Kelowna, British Columbia and dipping down below the border into my home country of the United States. We’ll be staying at BEST WESTERN hotels along the way, both in Canada and in the U.S.
I’m looking forward to the ride. We’ll be riding through some beautiful areas, including one of my favorite spots on Earth, Montana’s Glacier National Park. I’m very excited to return there, as it was the highlight of one of my trips last year.
I’m also a little apprehensive, because this will be a group ride, and I’m used to riding solo. I won’t be planning the route; I’ll just be one of the crowd. You never know how the group dynamic will play out during a trip. A good group of riders who share your riding style and who respect each other’s space can make for a great experience. Conversely, a group of competitive riders can make for an unpleasant, unsafe journey. I don’t know any of the group of seven journalists on this trip. I hope their root Canadian-ness will show them to be polite, considerate riders.
I fly into Kelowna, a beautiful city in the heart of British Columbia. With a population of over 100,000, Kelowna is the biggest city in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia. The city sits on the shores of Lake Okanagan, and boasts a glorious climate and environs. There’s great skiing within an hour’s drive, and fantastic natural beauty all around. In my great ignorance about our neighbor to the north, I had never heard of Kelowna before agreeing to this trip. I’m happy to report that it is an extremely pleasant city.
I arrive at the BEST WESTERN PLUS Kelowna Hotel & Suites, and meet up with the group at the hotel’s restaurant, Ora, for dinner. My apprehension about the ride is immediately dispelled. I can tell just from sharing one delicious meal with my fellow riders that we will get along just fine. They go out of their way to make me, the lone American on the trip, feel at home.
After a good night’s sleep in my elegant room, I meet up in the lobby of the BEST WESTERN PLUS Kelowna Hotel & Suites for breakfast. This hotel has some very nice features, including a big hot breakfast, a modern fitness room and spa, and a salt water pool and hot tub. We’ll be returning here at the end of our trip, and I know a soak in that salt water will feel mighty good.
We load up our gear in the chase vehicle (one of the luxuries of a group ride), and decamp to Kanes Harley-Davidson of Kelowna to meet the Harley-Davidson demo truck. Harley has brought out a selection of touring models and a few Softails for us to ride. There’s a Tri Glide Ultra Classic trike on the truck as well, and a few of the journalists and I lobby to include it on the ride. I can’t wait for my turn on the three-wheeler – I’ve always wanted to try one out.
A group of experienced motorcyclists usually use a formation for their ride. The lead rider takes the left wheel track; the second rider takes the right wheel track, leaving a reasonable following distance. The third rider takes the left wheel track; the fourth rider takes the right, and so on. The last rider is known as the “sweep” or the “drag” rider. Each rider is responsible for keeping the rider in front of them in view, and also for keeping the rider behind them in view in their mirrors. If anyone has to pull off, the following riders pull off as well, and hopefully, the rider in front notices, and pulls off, too. By paying attention to both the riders in front and behind, the group stays together. The sweep rider is the last line of defense, and is responsible for stopping with any rider who needs to stop. That way, no one is left behind to fend for themselves. Ideally, each rider has a printed map of the route. At the very least, the ride leader makes sure that each rider knows where to meet up if the group gets separated. Even with experienced riders, groups can get split up on the road — heavy traffic, stop lights, intersections and mechanical problems can cause the group to splinter. Having a plan before you head out makes everything safer and more practical. A chase vehicle makes things even simpler, because it can act as the sweep and also carry luggage, water, emergency supplies and tools for simple repairs.
One of the Canadian journalists has volunteered to serve as lead rider for this trip, and the chase vehicle will be our sweep. We’re all experienced riders, so we know what to expect on the ride, and what to expect of each other.
I begin the ride on a 2012 Road Glide Custom, the slammed touring bike that features the frame-mounted Road Glide fairing. It is beyond comfortable, and I fall into formation for the ride out of Kelowna.
We head south out of Kelowna on Highway 97, which hugs the shores of Lake Okanagan. The suburbs quickly recede as we cruise down the undulating road, and we’re soon riding down an interesting highway with frequent elevation changes, twists and gentle curves. It’s much hotter than I expected it to be in Canada this time of year — the thermometer on my fairing indicates that temperatures are in the low 90s. The thermometer is still on the Fahrenheit scale, even though all of the Canadians think in Celsius — so they say that it’s in the low 30s. The speedometer and odometer are in kilometers per hour, which throws me for a loop. The Canadians teach me the quick trick to figuring out miles per hour from kilometers per hour (multiply by 6 and drop the zero). It would take me a few weeks to fully acclimate to the metric system, so I don’t really struggle with it on this trip. I follow the posted speed limits, and just trust my sense of what feels like a safe speed.
After an hour or so of riding, we stop at Tickleberry’s Ice Cream in Okanagan Falls. In this heat, this local landmark is a welcome respite. I try out a handful of the freshly-made kettle corn, and opt for cold water over the homemade ice cream, because I know that there will be plenty of culinary temptation along the route on this trip. There always is on a group ride.
One of the other riders coaxes me to switch bikes, so I give up the Road Glide Custom for a perch on the Softail Deluxe, one with a beautiful two-tone black and white paint job and no windscreen. The ride is completely different from the Touring platform to the Softail. Where the Touring bike has great directional stability, the Softail steers a little more quickly, but is a little less eager to swallow up the bumps in the road. I settle in to the saddle, and get into the Softail groove.
We ride into what has been described as the Canadian desert (technically semi-arid shrub-steppe) and the Osoyoos Indian Reserve. The heat remains intense, and the landscape is not unlike what I have seen in the Desert Southwest of the United States. I have heard that this is the only part of Canada where you can find scorpions in the wild, and that rattlesnakes are plentiful. I’ll stay on the bike, thank you.
As we approach Osoyoos Lake, we encounter more and more road construction. There’s even a stretch where the asphalt has been scraped from the road surface, leaving grooved cement and gravel. The Softail blithely ignores the tough conditions, skirting over the surface with nimble grace. I have to keep reminding myself to practice smooth inputs, to keep up a good pace, and to keep a light grip on the handlebars. Any tension will be transmitted to the front wheel, and the ride will get squirmy. I manage to maintain my composure, and soon the roads are smooth and black again.
We cross Osoyoos Lake on the Crowsnest Highway, and continue east on Highway 3. Leaving the lake behind, we begin to gain elevation, and the roads get more interesting and more challenging. The group is starting to gel now, and we ride in smooth formation.
We stop for lunch at the Gold Pan Cafe in Rock Creek, a wide spot in the road with some very interesting history. In 1859, two US soldiers discovered gold in Rock Creek, setting off the Rock Creek Gold Rush of 1860. Within months, a town of 5,000 had sprung up. Just as quickly, the gold vein dried up, and the town was virtually abandoned. Today, Rock Creek survives as a tiny village, sustained by through traffic and the nearby Mt. Baldy Ski Area. Lunch is way better than we have any right to expect, and we all want to adopt our waitress and take her home with us.
After lunch, I swap bikes again, and wind up on the Road King. No sacrifice there. The Road King is the elemental touring bike, with a removable windshield and a set of lockable hard saddlebags. As much as I love an Electra Glide, I will probably wind up buying a Road King as my next personal ride. It can do everything without a fuss, and it looks classic and great doing it.
The ride gets really fun as we leave Rock Creek. As we have gained elevation, temperatures have moderated into the 70s (or the 20s, for the Canadians). We’re now on mountain roads, with switchbacks, curves and great views. We’re traveling through pine forests, and occasionally break through to clearings that give miles of visibility.
Along Highway 3, we pass through several interesting little towns. We don’t stop — that’s part of the group ride dynamic that’s different than riding solo. I might have sacrificed distance for opportunity if I had been on my own, and stopped in Greenwood in the Kootenay Boundary Region. The town advertises itself as “the smallest city in Canada,” and promises a rich heritage of culture, mining and architecture. Greenwood was also where over 1,200 Canadians of Japanese descent were relocated for interment during World War II, and many decided to stay there after the war was over. I suspect that Greenwood is a city worth exploring for a few hours.
But we ride on. We climb into the mountains, finally reaching the town of Roseland, where we pick up Highway 3B. The final half-hour of riding from Roseland into Trail is all downhill, a wild route with tight curves, stunning vistas and an intoxicating ride. It is one of the most memorable stretches of road I’ve ever scrubbed with rubber.
After that dramatic ride, we finally arrive at the BEST WESTERN PLUS Columbia River Hotel in Trail. Twilight is descending as we pull into the parking lot. We park the bikes, check into our rooms, and meet up for dinner at the hotel’s Peppercorn Steakhouse. I can’t resist the evening’s special – a 6-ounce filet mignon with garlic prawns. Beef two nights in a row – I’d better be careful, or this could become a trend.
I’m looking forward to a good night’s rest. Tomorrow, we cross the border into the United States.
Kilometers traveled: 370 (230 miles)
NEXT: TRAIL, BC TO KALISPELL, MT