Memories of the Kettle Valley Trail

My Dad, rest his soul, and I spent almost every weekend dirt-biking on our trusty Hondas. We saw such amazing country and had so many wonderful memories. You couldn’t beat dirt-biking for a cheap sport. I had several Hondas over the years, my favorite a 1987 Honda 185 that we bought off George who used to run the off-road adventures. Dad and I modified an old boat trailer by adding ramps using steel door frames and tie down bars.

We could load our bikes in about five minutes. We had a pack of beer in a cooler strapped to the back of the bike. Mum packed us a lunch. Even though we rode miles, one ride being two hundred and fifty kilometers through Douglas Lake ranch, we hardly ever used more than a couple of bucks of gas. It was always a hoot when we stopped and opened the beer, which, of course, exploded after being bounced around on the back of a dirt bike.

We biked everywhere around Kelowna and up behind Peachland, and up in the mountains around Revelstoke. My very first ride, when I got my first bike, was the Kettle. That was back in the days before motorized vehicles were prohibited. At the time most of the trestles were scary as hell, with missing ties everywhere. We had parked at the lot at the end of June Springs road and, after a couple of the smaller trestles, which were scary enough, we came to the huge steel trestle, I think number 5 or 6. We got off our bikes and walked to the start of the bridge. I was amazed at how high we were (I think it’s two hundred feet above the valley) and I was worried about all the broken and missing cross ties. Dad said, naturally, “don’t look down” and told me to just think about it being a normal road, forgetting we were so high and death appeared almost certain. I still remember the moment of panic when I hit that first tie and the bike started lurching up and down as I crossed the next ties. Thankfully most of the missing and broken ties were off to the sides, as I had no clue what to do if they were in my path. You couldn’t turn the wheel or down you would fall between the ties and you would be thrown off like a bucking horse, falling to your untimely demise at the bottom of the canyon. I think that bridge is something like five hundred feet long, but that day it felt like it was miles until I finally reached the safety of the other side. I wanted to get off and kiss the ground. I also had thoughts of killing my father for making me go across, but he couldn’t stop laughing, which took the edge off the moment, that is, until he reminded me we had to go back the same way. I had forgotten that or I may never have gone in the first place.

Over the next ten years or so we never had a “bad” ride. Every one was filled with adventure beyond anything I had ever done, then or since. On one ride, I think up to Jack Pine lake, we were cruising along, Dad in front this time (we took turns eating each other’s dust), when all of a sudden there was the biggest moose I had ever seen, trotting along beside Dad. They were both moving along at a pretty good clip and Dad was looking back at me with a huge smile on his face. All I could think of was what if that moose decided to turn into Dad. He would be just a memory. After a bit the moose did turn, but went off the road, probably as startled as Dad was at the experience.

Don’t remember exactly what year it was, but one day when we went up to bike the Kettle, there were new barriers built and signs saying our days of dirt-biking the Kettle had come to an end. From then on I went up many times but on my mountain bike now. Still a wonderful place to go! As we sat on our beach in Westbank, watching the fire across the lake, I had no idea that I would wake up one morning to learn the trestles were gone. I had worked with the restoration society, adding planking and safety railings, with a great bunch of people. I broke down crying at the thought that it was all gone now. The fire of course went on to destroy 234 homes which was even more tragic. I was so angry when I learned from someone related to a fire-fighter that they had decided to “let it burn” when they first arrived at the initial fire, supposedly because they had been arguing for years to do a controlled burn in Okanagan Mountain park. The investigation that followed was a political white-wash and the truth never came out.

Another horrific experience with the Kettle was a windy day we were biking around number fourteen to eighteen, if I remember right. The wind was so strong that we were getting off our bikes and walking them across the very open and dangerous trestles. As tough as it is to ride across, it’s even more fun trying to push a two hundred and fifty pound dead weight bike up and over all the cross ties. I got about half way across when I sudden strong gust of wind made me think I would be blown off. I had a moment of sheer panic and froze, afraid to move a muscle. I called to Dad, who had gone ahead of me, for help. As soon as he saw me frozen in terror he hollered that he would get across and then come back for me. It seemed to take forever, but he came back, took my bike from me and then coached me to walk across. I wanted to get down on my hands and knees. My hard leather biking boots felt like I would slip and fall any minute. It was not a walk in the park by any means. The following week we learned that a nineteen year-old girl has fallen to her death the following week off that same bridge. She was with her boyfriend, who must have been traumatized for the rest of his life. When we went up again there was a stone monument to her with her picture. It was a difficult and emotional moment for us. Such a tragedy! Naturally I thought about how that could have easily been me.

I know after the fire there was a huge movement to rebuild the trestles. When I left the Okanagan some had been restored and some had bypasses built. I don’t know what the status is today, but in my dreams I hope to get back there one day and again bike the famous Kettle, one of the Okanagan’s least known treasures.