Sunday, October 14, 2012


Second in a series: 
The Oregon-Idaho-BC-Washington Autumn Tour

The whole point of our October journey to the far north was to enjoy the International Selkirk Loop.  The loop is a scenic highway incorporating farms and fields in Washington and Idaho with mountains and glacial lakes in British Columbia.  Our day started in Spokane as we jetted east on I-90 then north from Coeur d’Alene on US 2/95.  Approaching the border, the rolling prairie gives way to blue mountains and delightful curves. 

Vistas to the north prompt anticipatory salivation and twitchy throttle wrists.  The design was to travel the loop in a counterclockwise direction, tracing the east side of Kootenay Lake for 100 km, crossing the ferry between Kootenay Bay and Balfour and overnighting in historic Nelson, BC.  Idiocy on my part (see below) caused a delay entering BC, forcing a change in plans.

Entering the province around 5:30 PM, we opted to reverse our course, heading west on BC 3.  As dusk fell, so did the temperatures.  The route rose over what was probably a glorious mountain pass with undoubtedly spectacular views north into Canada and south into the States, but in the gathering dark, all I could focus on was the thermometer on the big BMW’s dash flashing 36, then 35, then 34 degrees.  I cursed the irony of taking a scenic route after dark.  A northward jog BC 6 heads us northward through Salmo.  The nicely groomed road banks into and out of increasing levels of gloom.  Lights from farmhouse windows flicker through the spruce and fir.  I think about suicidal elk.  We enter into and pass out of valleys carved by streams we know we flowing based upon the moist coolness that violates our riding gear.  Each exhale clouds our helmet shields; cracking them vents away the moisture but freezes my punk, fleshy American face.

Ninety minutes or so on, a road sign indicates Nelson is but 27 km away.  I do some quick “point 6 multiplication,” estimating our time of arrival to be about 40 minutes.  A second road sign invites us to stay in the historic Ymir Hotel central focus of the little berg bearing the same name.  It would have been interesting to explore that little place in the daylight, but frosted face shields, frozen fingers and all and only a little more than 30 minutes to go, we press on. 

Our thanks for this decision appears in the form of a third sign, perhaps five minutes further down the line cautioning “Road Work – Pavement Removed.”  I slow down and crank up the Krista running lights just installed on the Horse.  They illuminate those terrifying grooves that, on a good day, cause the back tire to dance a wicked jig at speed.  Additional warning signs threaten: “Caution: Guard Rails Removed.”  Cursing more than a visitor to Canada has a right to, I slow further.  Would we ever reach Nelson?

After endless descending curves, the sign for a Best Western glows blue and gold and pure.  Not pausing to check with my riding partner, I find the parking lot, set the Beemer on the side stand and secure a room.  We’d made Nelson.

The lovely hostess there suggests that, “Yes, the BW’s dining is fine, but if you want to do the town, you should try the Library over at the Hume Hotel.”

Warm light pours onto the sidewalk as we hoof it toward the Hume.  Strains of what sound to be Paul Desmond – arguably one of the best sax men ever – waft from an active and cheery indoors.  We enter, are seated, handed a menu and realize that the late Mr. Desmond has come back from heaven to engage in a live performance this Thursday night along with a guitar man, a keyboard man and a snare.  A few morsels into a healthy portion of just-right beef filet and after a couple of sips of a very suitable red, the terror (or just plain stupidity) of the preceding two-and-a-half hours slips into some sort of kismetic balance.

The dawn breaks clear, but the waters of nearby Kootenay Lake kept the temperatures right for continued travel.

The 40 km run to the ferry crossing at Balfour follows the northern rim of an arm of the lake.  Lucky Canadians own homes along this stretch, awakening daily to grand vistas of mountains and water.

The wait for the ferry offers an opportunity to grab coffee, visit with others and find out that we were on the leading edge of Canada’s Thanksgiving weekend.

Our bikes are positioned at the front of the starboard lane.

From atop the ferry’s passenger deck we enjoy great views of the region during our forty-minute crossing.

Once ashore, we travel the sinuous east side of the lake – a ride so reminiscent of a run along the Nevada shore of Lake Tahoe – only one that lasts for 50 miles rather than just 20.  And one with far less traffic.

We pause for portraits of the bikes…

…and a final glance at Kootenay Lake.  A stop in Creston, BC affords us some pretty fair Thai cuisine before we return to the States and a second night in Spokane.


Notes and Resources:

Travel information on the International Selkirk Loop is located at: Allow more time than we did.  Plan better, too.

The Historic Hume Hotel in Nelson, BC is worth a visit.  Details at:

Clearwater Krista lights: These paid for themselves on this trip alone.

Last time I visited Canada there was a screening process to get in.  It went like this:

Border agent: Pronounce a-b-o-u-t.
Me: Aboot.
Agent (seeking clarity): Rhymes with?
Me: Hoot.
Agent: Have a nice day.

Twenty or more years later and a heckuva lot of history has intervened.  Thanks, Osama.  “No, honey, I don’t think I’ll need it,” I’d said to my wife before departing.  “Besides, I don’t think I know where my passport is.”

Arriving at the border, sure enough, the request was made.  My reply was sheepish.  My application denied.  Our planned trip to Nelson, BC appeared scuttled. 

(c) BBC
Attempting entry at a second crossing, apparently my piercing blue Steve McQueen-like eyes did the trick.  That and the fact that the agent realized my loaded BMW GSA could probably leap the fence far more efficiently than McQueen’s Tiger – whether or not it was me or stunt double Bud Ekins actually piloting the thing. 

The truth of my crossing is sworn to secrecy but the lesson is carry your passport or your birth certificate when desirous of entry into Canada.

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press


  1. Those roads can be treacherous at night, as you discovered. Nelson is a great little town (I think the only crime there is parking violations!) and the Hume is a wonderful hotel/restaurant. Glad you enjoyed the run down the east side of Kootenay Lake down to Creston.

    Next trip keep going north past Balfour to Kaslo and then turn left to New Denver for an hour's worth of the best winding road in BC. From New Denver turn south to Castlegar and then lop back into the US.

  2. Sorry that your arrival governed the night ride. Nelson and the area surrounding is amazing and the run from New Denver to Kaslo is fabulous, fast and gorgeous. I prefer going that direction but have gone both.

    You are lucky you didn't encounter any wildlife as the deer run aplenty in that entire area as do the elk and both are lethal. I hope you get a chance to return and spend a few days as I found the area having some of the best riding ever!!