Text: Robert Smith • Photography: Robert Smith
Here we are in Castlegar, Nelson can't be very far.
Climbing out of Castlegar on Highway 3, the view of British Columbia below is so captivating that I pull over to fully appreciate it. The Columbia River glistens in the afternoon sun like the chrome on the 2009 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Classic I'm riding. Dark stands of evergreens and bald clearcuts line the valley like a patchwork quilt, while the stubby outline of the city, its airstrip and sturdy bridge lie beyond. It's late September, and though the air is cool and fresh, the afternoon sun beams down from a cloudless azure sky as I begin the Selkirk Loop in Kootenay Country.
Thirty miles northeast is the Victorian town of Nelson, the regional seat of government. Nelson lacks land flat enough for a commercial airstrip, so Castlegar is Nelson's staging point. Hence the rhyming couplet above that the locals are fond of repeating. Except for much of the winter, the Columbia's humidity generates fog that lingers for days, trapped between the mountains.
My route to Nelson will take me through the hamlet of Salmo, once a railroad whistle-stop called "Salmon's Siding." I park under the splendid wooden verandah of the Salmo Hotel, first opened in 1865 - though the building on the site dates from 1912, four previous wooden structures each in the same spot had burned down. Here I connect with the International Selkirk Loop, where the Crowsnest Highway (one of three major routes through the Canadian Rockies) pauses before pushing on over the 7,000-foot Kootenay Pass.
In Norse mythology, Odin and his brothers created the world out of the body of Ymir, leader of a race of frost-giants. Why the tiny town of Ymir just north of Salmo bears his name is lost in time, but the town is famous for other reasons. The story goes that the hotel owners, hosts of an annual biker rally, branded the floor of the saloon with the Harley-Davidson bar-and-shield logo. Apparently, the Motor Company's lawyers were not amused.
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