Looking back and sharing our pre-blogging travel adventures has always been one of our primary goals here at HBWT. Travis and I both love history and the nostalgia that comes with looking back in time. However, there was never any urgency to revisit these previous travel experiences, at least not with the hoards of exciting stories we were gathering during our time in Europe, and therefore we looked forward for writing inspiration, not backward. Until now.
The past is wonderfully stable, waiting patiently to be dredged up and used for writing inspiration (or to be thrown back in your opponent’s face during a particularly dirty fight); however, it is also easily overshadowed by the glitz and glamor of the present. This is precisely why I never even considered sharing my experience cycling British Columbia’s Kettle Valley Railway as a teenager until April, when I found myself researching posts for our BC themed A to Z Challenge. Immediately a stream of wonderful memories flooded back. Memories of long days of non-stop cycling, sore legs, and passing out from exhaustion before dark. Memories of tuna fish from the can and Stoned Wheat Thin crackers for lunch, bathing in the freezing waters of a mountain creek, and selfies taken with a disposable camera. Memories of damp tunnels chiseled by hand one hundred years prior, wooden trestles suspended over deep valleys, and the fire that destroyed it all only a few weeks later.
July 2003. My parents have recently separated and my dad is going to take my brother and I on vacation for a week. He bought a book, did the research, and reserved a shuttle to drop us off in the tiny town of Beaverdell, BC – with our bikes and as much gear as we can carry. For four days and four nights we are going to cycle the Kettle Valley Railway.
As teenagers, my brother (15) and I (16) have a very different view of the perfect family vacation. But my dad isn’t the type to be argued with – so it’s four nights of sleeping in a tent, eating re-hydrated dinner pouches, and being completely cut off from the world and our friends back home.
After spending the night in Beaverdell, where we slept in a deserted campsite next to a shallow river, we cycle through grassy farm land for two days before arriving at McCulloch Lake. Due to a stretch of loose powdery sand about two kilometers in length the ride into camp is especially difficult and seems to take forever. With each awkward rotation of the pedals our bikes lurch forward a few inches in the silty sand, making our legs to burn. Tonight we fall asleep before dark.
The third day of our trip takes us through multiple tunnels and across dozens of trestles in Myra Canyon, just outside of the city of Kelowna. While we had seen quite a bit of BC’s natural beauty during the first two days of our trip, day three offers a unique contrast between historical man-made engineering brilliance and some of the area’s best scenery.
I suppose Myra Canyon was always going to be the prettiest day of our trip.
Finally we find ourselves on the final leg of our journey, pedaling into Summerland through vineyard-covered hillsides. We’d made our way from the green farmlands of Beaverdell into the dry, dusty heart of the Okanagan. Reaching our vehicle in Summerland a victory swim in Lake Okanagan and stop at a local fruit stand for fresh produce is necessary before affixing our attention to the road and heading home.
Three weeks later, in August of 2003, lightening sparked a fire in Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park and quickly spread, consuming over 25,000 hectares of forest and park land, forcing the evacuation of more than 27,000 people, and destroying 239 homes on the southern edges of Kelowna. The fire engulfed many portion of the Kettle Valley Railway between McCulloch Lake and Penticton and claimed 12 of Myra Canyon’s 18 trestles. Within days the tall pines, spruce, and fur, beautiful natural scenery, and historic wooden trestles we’d appreciated during our four day cycling adventure were gone.
Four years after they were lost in 2003, Myra Canyon’s trestles were rebuilt and reopened to the public; however, the charred scars of the fire were still evident everywhere. While man was able to rebuild the trestles. it will take Mother Nature longer to put the area back together.
This is one of those stories that only life can write, the timing of our trip and the fire that followed bleeds irony, and in looking back I have realized that it has yet to come full circle. From destruction comes rebirth and it is this rebirth that I have yet to explore. Looking back I have so many wonderful memories of my adventure cycling the Kettle Valley with my dad and brother, and now I am ready to make some new memories with Travis.
Just a few hours from our our hometown, Myra Canyon is easily accessible for day trips. So I’ve added it to our summer “to-do” list. Having never been to Myra Canyon or the Kettle Valley Railway this will be a new adventure for Travis, while for me it will mark both the end of a chapter and the beginning of something new.