Although I was sad to leave The Rockies, I was thrilled that we would be pedaling towards warmer weather (maybe a bit too warm). Our goal was to get to Kelowna, but in order to do so we would have to head down Highway 5 South towards Kamloops first. Now that we were out of the national/provincial parks area we would try to “stealth” camp if we could. Our plan was to get to Valemount, pick up some rations and then pedal as far as we could before sundown. That plan was stunted by our very first (drum roll please) flat tire! A sharp screw on the side of the highway had lodged itself between the fender and rear tire of PE’s bike. Fortunately, flat tires are the most common issue to encounter and so we handled it like pros (at least we’d like to think of it that way).
We managed to fix the tire and it was good as new, but the afternoon heat was wearing us down and we were low on water and food. So, we decided to spend the night at a private campground in Valemount instead. The next morning we were off to Blue River and learned about (at that time) a fire further south of where we were headed. We had no idea how many wildfires there were and how bad the situation would get. When we got to Blue River, we had other things to worry about: mosquitoes. For whatever reason, this year, the mosquitoes of Blue River were big in numbers and they were hungry for blood. Needless to stay it was a pretty stressful night because we were stealth camping for the first time as well.
The next morning, we took cover in a gas station and had a slow start. We were trying to see if there were ways to get around the fires but it seemed that the only way was to take Highway 5 South. Thankfully, it was not closed. So, we decided to continue on – at least we would leave the mosquitoes behind. Once we arrived in Vavenby (about 85km from Blue River and 30 km from Clearwater), we started to see the smoke in the skies as well as a change in temperature. We were slightly concerned about our health, but really had nowhere else to go, so we camped out at the nearest rest stop to recharge ourselves for the next day.
Once we got to Clearwater, we got more information about the fires and were assured that we would be fine on Highway 5 South. We were told that the worst part would be in Little Fort as there was a fire nearby and the town was evacuated, but once we reached Barriere, it would be better. Indeed, as we rode towards Little Fort (about 30 km away), the smoke got thicker and it was getting a bit tougher to breathe. Across the North Thompson River we could see a small forest fire growing, which just made us pedal faster. We wanted to get out of the smoke as fast as possible. However, once we reached Barriere, the smoke was still in the sky, obstructing visibility of the landscape. Barriere was fairly small, but had a lovely park area where we dined, showered and slept.
The next day, we were ready for our 50km ride to Kamloops where a Warmshowers host would await our arrival. She was very helpful and texted us directions on how to avoid the highway. Despite the constant hills, we enjoyed biking through farmland which had very little to no traffic. The last time I was in Kamloops, it was covered in snow and so it was interesting to see the city again in the summer. I was dreading the big hills at the end, but thankfully, our lovely host came to relieve us from a huge climb.
Before we knew it, we were heading towards Kelowna. We used a detour which took us a bit south of the Trans-Canada highway before taking Highway 97 South to Kelowna. We slept at a rest stop in Falkland and received two acceptances on Warmshowers in Kelowna. Initially, we would have made a stop somewhere near Vernon, but decided to push it all the way to Kelowna so that we could stay with two hosts instead. The Okanagan sun was very warm and we had to keep ourselves fairly hydrated. Despite the heat, we were getting excited about all the lovely fruits (especially cherries) and vineyards we were passing as we got closer to the heart of the Okanagan.
Kelowna would be the place I would meet my good friend, Janine who had been traveling on her own in the west coast. When she arrived, we were no longer at our host’s house and with all the campgrounds full or too far away, we opted to stealth camp somewhere. Since we were close to some orchards, we thought we could perhaps camp at a cherry orchard and offer to pick cherries in exchange for a place to set up our tents. Fortunately, we did find a place to cherry pick but the conditions for cherry pickers were not great – there was no clean running water or accessible bathrooms. There was however a small convenience store next door where you could buy filtered water and use the bathroom. We were told that we would get paid $5 per box we filled. The next morning, we got up at 5am to start picking (since the heat softens the fruit and makes it difficult to pick) and finished around noon. Together, we filled 11 boxes which sounds pretty good, but really good cherry pickers can fill up at least 10 boxes each. We decided after a morning of labor that this was not how we wanted to spend our time in Kelowna, so we opted to stay at a hostel closer to downtown for the next two days.
It was amazing to think about the kilometers we had already done to get to Kelowna and we thought about cycling to Vancouver, but due to the wildfire risks and our already unpleasant experience biking through the smoke, we opted to hitch a ride with someone to Vancouver. We were fortunate enough to find someone with a bike rack! The Okanagan was beautiful. We ate so many cherries, fresh fruits, veggies and did as many wine tastings as we could. The weather was warm, the landscape was lovely and the people we met were so generous. But, we were now ready to be closer to the ocean to experience the island life.
Out pathway towards the Okanagan:
A look at our elevation profile (using RouteElevation) from Mount Robson to Kelowna:
Start altitude: 820 m
End altitude: 515 m
Minimum altitude: 337 m
Maximum altitude: 911 m