When explorer David Thompson of the Northwest Company was mapping the Columbia River in 1811, he liked nothing better at the end of a hard day's travel than to relax in one of the many hot springs lining his route in what was later to become British Columbia.
Actually, I have no idea whether Thompson tarried at any of the mineral springs, but given the cool nights in the Kootenay Mountains, it seems pretty likely he and his party would have taken advantage of a hot alfresco bath. Much of BC's interior is dotted with natural springs heated by subterranean magma, and I plan to sample some of them.
On a sunny Saturday in July, I meet up with my traveling companions, Steve (Moto Guzzi 1100 Sport), Jim (MV Agusta Brutale), Geoff (BMW R1200GS), and Dougie (K1200RS) at the Chevron station on the Trans-Canada in Langley, BC. I'm riding my classic 1982 Laverda 1200 Mirage. We'll follow Canada One as far as Hope, a former supply post for the Yukon gold-rushers, and then we'll switch to the Crowsnest Highway 3 as far as the fruit market town of Keremeos before turning north and over Green Mountain Road to Penticton on 97. Taking Westside Road, we'll avoid the strip-mall stop-and-go traffic of Kelowna before we turn east again in Vernon on Highway 6 through the Monashee Mountains to Fauquier on the Arrow Lakes, and the small resort town of Nakusp.
These are some of my favorite roads, but we're not the only ones traveling them. In Hope, we meet another group of riders heading into the BC interior for the weekend and form a loose convoy for the ride through Manning Provincial Park on 3. The park is located in the northern extremes of the Cascade Range, a rolling landscape of alpine meadows surrounded by dense forest. For most of the 80-mile ride through the park, we're able to pass the lumbering RVs with ease, but on the run down into Princeton, the road makes a series of steep downhill turns, and passing is strictly verboten. Log trucks join the melee, and progress is halting.
We're following the Similkameen River as it churns and splashes down into Princeton. Across a rickety bridge is the old road to Hedley, and we're soon speeding along a rollicking chip-sealed two-laner while the four-wheelers lumber along the new road on the opposite bank. Hedley, once a thriving nickel-mining town, now cashes in on that heritage with mine tours and tourist trinkets. Green Mountain Road allows us to leave the traffic behind, with the narrow track meandering along verdant valleys of tall grass and shade trees toward the Apex Mountain Ski Resort before turning east across the Penticton Indian Band's territory. It's a perfect Saturday afternoon ramble under blue skies spotted with fluffy clouds.
Highway 97 swings along Okanagan Lake, a vast ripple-free indigo mirror. In Westbank, we turn north staying on the lake's western shore. Westside Road, which deeks around the crenellated shoreline and swoops over towering headlands, is just the road for an older, slower, and more staid steed like my Laverda. Too much speed here, and you risk overcooking a blind bend or rear-ending a dawdling car.
From Vernon into the Monashees, 6 crosses a vast prairie of grain fields and rangeland before winding into evergreen forest. Near the 4,000-foot summit there's a spectacular series of tight curves guaranteed to put a smile on the most saturnine biker's mug. I stop to snap Jim as he heels the MV through the twisties on the ragged edge of his tires. There's a break in the road at an isthmus between the two Arrow Lakes where a cable ferry growls across the narrow waterway. On the far side is the excellent Mushroom Addition Restaurant where the burgers come with (optional) wild pine mushrooms and chanterelles harvested in the forest. The charming lakeside spa resort of Nakusp is a quick 50-mile sprint along the North Arrow Lake.
Annoyingly, though, Nakusp Hot Springs is closed for repair. Undaunted, we decide on getting wet on the inside instead, and head for the Picardo Restaurant for beers and pizza.
Between Nakusp and Ainsworth Hot Springs are some superb roads, so next morning we ride south under morning sunshine along Slocan Lake. A thin haze clings to the azure surface, while dense evergreen forest rises on the opposite bank, a mile or more away. Slocan is perhaps the most beautiful of BC's lakes, a vast, sparkling sapphire in a setting of deep green. In New Denver, 31A winds into the Kootenay Mountains below Kokanee Glacier, taking a shortcut to Kootenay Lake. In recent years, the surface of this curvaceous and largely untraveled road had deteriorated greatly from frost heaves and subsidence, but we're delighted to find it fixed with smooth, fresh tarmac. Dougie and Jim sprint away to test the new surface's adhesion, while I take an easier pace on the Laverda.