With two weeks left in August and plans to be in Saskatchewan by the last of those, Aaron and I were looking for a final summer adventure. Lucky for us, James and Verena threw together plans to cycle the Columbia & Western Railway Trail, a spur off the Kettle Valley Rail Trail, and invited us to join them. After a frantic two days of packing for a bike tour, long road trip, family visiting and a wedding, we were off to meet them in Nelson.
The trail started by the Keenleyside Dam in Castlegar. For the first kilometre or so, you ride between the old rails but after that, it’s just a rail bed with a surface of varying condition.
We were on loaded touring bikes with beefed-up tires (I can’t remember the thickness, but thicker than my usual tires). I was worried the fatter tires still wouldn’t be sufficient for the reported loose gravel and sand sections. The first day was quite hard, but it got better further along the trail and as I became used to controlling a loaded bike again. Things became especially fun and easy at kilometre 50, when we reached the trail summit and started the gradual descent to Grand Forks.
On the way we rode by views like this:
Over old railway bridges:
(A woman we met told us that back in the day the bridges did not have railings. They’re so wide, I’m sure it’d be fine but still…eep!)
There were a few sections reclaimed by the elements. The trail once crossed here:
A good reason to check the Kettle Valley Rail Trail website for any washout or landslide notices beforehand. Luckily, a new path was created on the left. But without the friendly rail-grade, we had to portage our bikes and panniers down and back up the path’s very slopes.
We went through tunnels, as one should on a rail trail, including this kilometer-long tunnel…with a curve at the end…blocking out ALL LIGHT…for almost a kilometer. It was spooky.
Bring your headlamp.
Did I mention that James and Verena heroically brought 1-year-old Cassia along? She provided hours of entertainment with her smiles, giggles and five word vocabulary.
The five of us:
That photo was taken by Roy (I think that was his name…) who we at our first camp spot, next to the trail in a clearing where there was once a station. This wasn’t his first time on these rail trails and I was envious of his suspension and BOB trailer set up.
The second night we camped by a rambling creek and the third, next to the Kettle River:
A bit of a hike down the staircase with all the gear but worth the perfect campsite, a swim in the river and the silkiest sand I’ve ever set foot on in BC.
We ate delicious food, including a curry-off one evening. Aaron introduced me to the joys of his dehydrator and we (pre)made a lamb curry using this guy’s recipe. I highly recommend not using the 40 chiles he calls for. He must have had a very mild variety. I only used 4 small chiles and it was still pushing the limits of too spicy for me.
The dal that James made was incredible. I would have eaten seconds but that would’ve involved fighting Cassia for a share. We were all surprised at how much she loved it and her parents are quite happy that she already has a taste for curry.
On the fourth day of riding, we left the forests and entered a dryer, more desert-like climate as we transitioned from the Kootenays to the Okanagan.
Our end-point was in Grand Forks, not terribly far from Castlegar. Sadly, it was only a short trip, but the good thing is that we still have hundreds more kilometres of the rail trail to explore.