When I learn that I’m being loaned some brand-new Indian Scouts and tasked with writing an article, I’m both overjoyed and terrified. Having recently sold my street bikes to pay for my never-ending dirt bike repairs, I’m excited to get back out onto the road with some good friends to go camping; but at the same time, I’m a bit terrified about writing about the road trip, as it’s so easy to fall into cliches. With only 48 hours, our rough plan is to head out east from Vancouver, B.C. as far as we can get in a day and find a spot to camp, or as it turns out, a cabin to crash at. In the morning before we head out, we chat over coffee about a few different places we all want to try to get to, and after a quick phone call, we decide to head to Tulameen, a small town northwest of Princeton that none of us have ever been to before.
Having ridden a Scout just once previously, I’m very excited to get the chance to put some miles on this 100 horsepower machine again. Last year, we had one of the new Indian Scouts on the bench at the shop I work at, Rising Sun Motorcycles. We were tasked with making it more capable of handling a large jump for an upcoming film production. We didn’t go quite as far as the Roland Sands built Indian FTR750 that was used by Travis Pastrana to jump Caesar’s Palace, but with a few suspension changes and some MX foot-pegs that Scout would surely fly. Indian has been winning almost every professional flat track race over the last two seasons and it’s easy to understand why when you twist the throttle on these bikes.
Mitch Kirilo, Cody Zeek and myself pull into Sea to Sky Motorsports in Langley and see three fresh bikes lined up and glistening in the hazy morning light. We have a quick match of Rock Paper Scissors to decide who gets which bike, even though we will eventually try out each one in turn. After signing our lives away on the dealer insurance forms we load up our gear and hit the road.
Our first stop is in Chilliwack at the Vintage in the Valley Bike Show. Pulling up, we park next to hundreds of other motorcycle enthusiasts keen on checking out one of the best collections of vintage motorcycles in the lower mainland. We don’t want to stay too long as there are twisting highways calling our names, but a bike show of this calibre keeps most people there all day. As I’m drooling over the vintage race bikes that probably cost more than I’ll make in the next 10 years combined, I hear on the loudspeakers that legendary racer Steve Baker would be firing up a four cylinder, 750cc two stroke race bike, so I hustle over to willingly cause tinnitus and smell the sweet aroma of pre-mix. A few weeks earlier I was racing with the Vancouver Flat Track Club down in America at Hannegan Speedway, and we had the chance to watch Steve Baker take this bike around the track during the intermission. I don’t quite know how to explain the looks on the spectators and fellow competitors face as this 65-year-old fellow was blasting wheelies down the straightaways and hucking it into corners with grace and finesse that surely comes from having raced motorcycles longer than I’ve been alive.
We run around the rest of the show to catch some of the gems before throwing our helmets back on and hitting the highway heading east. Planning this trip is seemingly difficult since the entire province is burning and now blanketed in smoke from over 600 wildfires, so initially we aren’t sure where we can get to. We head out past Manning Park on the Crowsnest Highway towards Tulameen, where the highways are a dream to ride as many sections have been recently repaved and are fast and twisty following rivers up towards the Interior. The distant blazing fires, the smoke-covered mountains and the thick smell of campfire is ever present. And the beautiful lookouts are all obscured behind the haze. Just before you pull into the lodge at Manning Park, the road up to the Cascade Lookout is well worth the short detour. It reminds me of the videos I’ve seen of the Pikes Peak Hill Climb. There are several sketchy corners and minimal guardrails between the road and the cliffs below, and there are also dozens of very friendly chipmunks waiting for you at the top.
Stopping only for gas and snacks, we cruise towards Princeton on a beautiful winding highway beside cold glacial rivers. It’s the kind of ride that leaves your face sore from smiling the whole way. We pull into an Irish pub off the highway, where we are confronted by a toothless and well-weathered man who asks, “What year are those bikes?” and continues to prod us, adding anecdotal stories that date him. He comes so close that I can smell the cheap beer and cigarettes on his breath as he tells me, “I’m not sure that I like your shirt,” which is strange because usually my cacti-themed “Hawaiian” shirt gets all the compliments. I don’t like his shirt either.
We get back on the bikes and head out on the Old Princeton/Summerland Highway. On the way out, we spot an old jet fighter perched atop a pole on the side of the road. I show my dad the photos when we get back home and he identifies it as an old Canadair CT-133 jet that was used in the Canadian Air Force as a trainer aircraft.
We get back onto the bikes and ride down the old highway about half-an-hour further, before pulling onto a small dirt road to find an old wooden bridge on the KVR, or Kettle Valley Railroad. First built in 1915, the KVR was a subsidiary of the Canadian Pacific Railway and it connected many of the small towns throughout the province before being converted into a multi-use trail that is widely popular among dual sport riders and cyclists. After a quick photo op, we head back down the dirt road and onto Coalmont Road, which parallels the Tulameen River as it twists its way to what is essentially the end of the line and the end of cell phone reception. It’s the last small town before a vast expanse of wilderness. As the last place for provisions, the General Store in Tulameen is a one-stop shop providing the town with gas, groceries, alcohol, camping and fishing gear. It also has a hardware section and a small but delightful restaurant tucked in the back corner.
We manage to wrangle crashing at our good friend’s cabin for the night. Trying to find a cabin you’ve never been to at night is not advisable, as your maps app might take you down a so-called shortcut that’s actually a dirt road that isn’t exactly cruiser friendly. Turns out we could have taken the pavement all the way there and it probably wouldn’t have taken any longer. After a dozen wrong turns, we finally arrive at my friend Steve’s place, whose last name I’ll leave out in case his neighbour reads the bit about their cabin. Unfortunately, we missed Steve’s 40 th birthday party by one day, which almost certainly guarantees that we’ll never be invited back. I’m pretty sure I just invited myself there in the first place, calling him last minute to ask, so I doubt I’ll ever be invited back again. We make a futile attempt at playing Scrabble that reinforces my hatred of board games before passing out on the couch. The cabin sits on a lot that used to be three times as big, but over the years the lot was split up and now on one side of this humble single story rancher is a towering unfinished modern mega cabin that resembles, in Steve’s own words “a piece of dog shit.” It’s also the reason I’m withholding Steve’s last name. I give him a cheeky 1 ½ star review in his guestbook and leave him a few Lucky Lagers, which apparently he hates, before we pack up the bikes. Back on the road we head up to Merritt on the 5A Highway, prior to rushing back down the Coquihalla towards Vancouver to drop the bikes back at the dealership in time.
To me, little towns like Tulameen are sacred and should be preserved, so I’m almost tempted to not write about this place, to keep it a secret; but others need to explore this patch of paradise too. From secret watering holes to natural hot springs and the highly territorial surf spots; sometimes places need to be left unpublished and searched out the old fashion way. I experienced this locals-only mentality first hand a few years back when I asked a dirt biker where the spot I had seen him post a photo of was, only to be responded to with, “Well I can’t really tell you, you’ve got to find it for yourself.” I was so mad that he wouldn’t tell me that I spent the next day out in the woods looking for it and after many wrong turns and dead ends, I found the spot. I remember standing there with a smug sense of satisfaction, knowing that I too wouldn’t tell anyone how to get there. Maybe some spots are better left untouched and offline, away from the double-tapping social media addicts and left to be discovered the hard way. Or maybe we all need to accept that living within the reaches of a sprawling city will inevitably lead to your sacred spot being packed with a lineup of people waiting to have their Instagram picture taken. Let’s hope not.
Words and photos by Matt Savage