Penticton to Kaleden to Okanagan Falls: all trail, all lovely
As I prepared to shove off from the west side of Skaha beach, I was delighted to run into the much rumoured Gorgeous Georgia’s ice cream bike. It had proved to be elusive, though I’d had my eyes peeled since arriving in Penticton.
I am a food zealot. My holy grail is artfully delicious, local, seasonal and organically grown. With a shift away from cow’s milk, proclivities like ice cream can be a challenge. Luckily, it’s a rising trend to focus on natural yummies with a wider variety of fresh ingredients than yesteryear.
To kick off the southern leg of the tour, I treated myself to a natural, fresh fruit blueberry-peach popsicle.
What’s remarkable about this bike ride is how rich the experiential variety is in such a short distance. Views, terrains, climates (with unique flora/fauna), trails, foods, wines, beers and ciders. It’s only about 150 kilometres from Kelowna to Osoyoos with over half on beautiful and well-maintained trails.
Penticton to OK Falls is completely trail, lakeside the entire way, with just a few tricky, sandy bits. It’s completely level, while the nearby highway climbs to Mars and drops back in the same, short distance.
This is the brilliance of the international trend to turn old railways into bike paths. Trains don’t like to climb any more than cyclists do.
The next sign of civilization…. am I in Banbury? What’s a Banbury? I’ve never heard of Banbury. Soooo I’m a gonna just tiptoe out of here before they figure out my cultural affiliations. Because the only thing I can say in my defence is that I’m not a guru. Yet.
Along the trail, I met a number of deer. They abound and many farmers are driven to build ten foot fencing to keep them out of the orchards. I stopped to chat with a farmer who is rebelliously fenceless, with deer grazing down his orchard rows. He said that he enjoys being visited by his four-legged friends and they don’t take more than he can give. Nice fella.
Ahh Kaleden. Time for a nap. Every town has a beach, it seems, no matter how small. And every beach I’ve seen is lovely, with grass and sand and clean washrooms.
Okanagan Falls is just a stone’s throw from Kaleden, so after nap time, I soon found myself gliding along a beautiful wooden bridge, complete with the summer scene of young people throwing themselves off of it.
I didn’t take a picture of the young people, just in case their parents see it and find out that they’ve been lied to, yet again, and all the admonishing can’t overtake the dark draw of natural selection.
Okanagan Falls is lovely along the waterfront, with the bike path continuing for a spell and then, sadly, ending. This is the point in the journey where I switch to highway 3A (which is, essentially, highway 97, I don’t know why they did that) for the rest of the ride.
While in Okanagan Falls, if you want a haircut that’s OK, you can stop at the barber shop pictured below. Is it just me, or is the shop name just a tad discouraging? OK is a frequent abbreviation for Okanagan, but I’m not quite sure it’s working for these guys.
Okanagan Falls to Oliver
From OK Falls to Oliver is an easy 21km.
Even if there wasn’t a huge sign letting you know that you were in the wine capital of Canada, you’d have enough clues to figure it out. Clues such as:
Get the idea? Undulating waves of green vines roll into the horizon’s every direction.
Recognize this wine label? You’ve seen it in a zillion restaurants and liquor stores. It’s perfectly acceptable wine.
Recognize this label? No, you don’t. You’ve never seen it anywhere.
Now it’s time to talk about one very important contributor to good adventures: an open mind. I stopped at some big operations on this wine ride. And some very small ones – and let me say this – size doesn’t matter. [Wow, I have definitely never said that before.]
One large winery knocked my socks off the last time I was there, which was about four years ago. The wine is expensive. This time, there wasn’t anything I really wanted to buy, even at a lesser price. It’s not poor wine, I just wasn’t feeling it. This is a great mystery of one’s relationship with wine. It’s a living, moving target. Not just the terroir, the season, the wine-maker…but all of that in concert, together with your changing taste. Keep an open mind for adventure. There are wineries popping up constantly with wildly different personalities and who knows what they are capable of? I’d wager that they, themselves, hardly know at first.
The research I did at the outset was great, but I would never have discovered one of my new favourites if I had just hit the things people already knew about. Platinum Bench‘s wine was absofuckinglutely delicious. They only started in 2012 and they weren’t even vintners before that. The point I’m making is that it’s good to make plans…and then throw them out the window. The planning helps, and the crazy unplanned left turns are critical. I only stopped because I had heard that they had a top-quality baker on the property and I had pedaled myself into being famished. (Do not go on a wine-tasting tour with an empty stomach!)
Road 13 was another unplanned stop, which I only made because I liked their slogan: “It’s all about the dirt”. As a proponent of permaculture and organics, I passionately share this view. I paid a $10 fee to have a premium tasting experience. This means being led to a separate lounge with a stunning view and taking a seat at a table where artisan breads and water were waiting to clear the palate as needed. I made the specific request to teach me as much as possible about wine, about the local terroir and about the wine business. They did not disappoint and I learned more from that one tasting than all others combined.
The view from Road 13’s tasting lounge:
Hey, cider haters
I was once part of your club. Let yourself try the new generation of ciders. There is a booming surge of cider makers everywhere and these days, and these next gen brews are rarely sugary. I have now tried five cider companies in the valley and they are all quite different. Some have natural bubbles from bottle fermentation and most have had carbonation added. Some have clear, fresh apple flavour and some are subtle and indistinct. Many have an interesting twist on the flavour, with ginger, cherry or other creative twists.
Bike tourists get a bonus note: I carried a naturally fermented cider along 30km of rough dirt road and it did not explode upon opening! That alone makes it my new pack choice over beer.
Osoyoos – snakes, cacti, Elvis and gelato
I suspect that the tourism promoters of Osoyoos might prefer a different headline. I could add pumpkins and squashes.
Coming into Osoyoos, there were, well, really a lot of pumpkins.
At one point, I was starting to worry about having to dodge them while riding, since they had started to crawl out onto the road.
The local officials also warned about other things crossing the road, but I think the squashes were traveling faster.
The only other thing I saw actually trying to cross the road was a snake. It did not go well.
Sorry about that. I hope you weren’t too alarmed by seeing a large, dead snake with a tire-sized flat spot.
This is a good segue into something very cool about this last leg of the ride. From Oliver to Osoyoos comes a true shift in the feeling of the land. And with a shift in the climate and landscape comes flora and fauna rarely seen in Canada. Here we enter bona fide desert. Rattle snakes are not uncommon; rock climbers have learned to close their backpacks while climbing. Just last week, one local man was lucky to notice from a distance that a rattler was preparing to crawl into the cozy den of his open pack.
Hiking off-trail? You really do need to watch out for cacti, along with the rattlers.
Osoyoos was a beautiful and relaxing way to wind up the ride. It’s a small town, but its done up very prettily with nice beaches, walking paths, parks and fountains.
If you happen to be an Elvis Presley fan, boy are you in luck! There is a store here just for you.
But, best of all, Roberto’s Gelato gives away a FREE GELATO to touring cyclists when they pull up off the highway!!!!!!!!! [I rarely use exclamation points. This allows me to use more of them when it really counts.]
What an awesome guy!
Also, he makes a blackberry-wine sorbetto with merlot. Yes please! Hey, do you know the difference between ice cream and gelato? Ice cream has more fat, but also more air. Gelato has less fat, but the flavour and richness is denser because it’s not frothed up.
Now, it’s the last stop. Any further south and I’d be in the US. Osoyoos is a border town.
The Osoyoos Indian Band has some pretty spectacular holdings here. The Nk’Mip winery, resort and campground are quite lovely. The campground, right on the shore of Osoyoos lake, is the perfect way sit back in the quiet evening and contemplate what a rich, interesting ride it has been. Would I do it again? Absolutely. Next year. Every year.