Border Run: Montorcycle Travel in Washington and Canada
(The article Border Run was printed in the August 2012 issue of Rider.)
Story and photos by Ben Getz
Good things come in threes, they say…or is that disasters? Well, maybe it’s not that important, since both descriptions have been applied to my friends and me. One hot August weekend my disparate friends Chuck and Tim and I decided to make a run from Moses Lake, Washington, to some points north across the border in Canada to see how we would be perceived. We did have at least one thing in common—the need to blow out some cobwebs with a getaway from our stressful jobs.
Our departure into the rising sun accentuated the fact that before the trip was over we would ride through three distinctly different topographies. In the flat, grid-like region around our starting point, there are a few scenic gems to be found, and simply rolling past ripened wheat fields has a uniquely beautiful aspect, too. Our first northward turn was up SR 21, which was kind enough to throw in a few corners here and there on very nice pavement. It took us through the German-theme town of Odessa, home to a large and popular Deutschesfest in September…with all of the polka you can stand!
Riding east from Odessa on Duck Lake Road afforded Chuck, on his Ducati, a bit of a chuckle. Then we passed through other tiny farming towns like Harrington on our way to miniscule Edwall via sedate and bucolic back roads. I targeted Edwall as a stop since I had spent many summers there with my maternal grandparents—it was nice to see the town has received an influx of new families. North from there we rode a short but excitingly curvy section of SR 231 until it teed with US 2 and ran east into Reardan.
Breakfast at Reardan’s Red Rooster was quite hearty and the service excellent. Tanks and bellies full, we continued up SR 231 amidst increasing pine groves as the wheat fields tapered off. The road twists and turns often enough to keep riders awake, and soon we were in Springdale looking for a turn toward the west on Hunters/Springdale Road.
Still in decent shape even after a hard winter, this tarmac track is fun to ride at most any speed, and ends far too soon when you hit the binders at Hunters. Tim, on his Kawasaki Vulcan 900, did an admirable job of keeping up with the sportier steeds, and it gave him the sweep position so he could see the turns we missed. Look closely, for example, for the road that heads northeast again off SR 25 along the Cedonia/Addy Road, where more fun apexes among thicker pines and beautiful valley farms are abundant. A lacework of great roads work their way up and down this corridor, and given time we would have traversed more of them.
The temperature climbed like the national debt on this day, so by the time we hit Addy the best choice was to bomb the remaining few miles on US 395 to Colville and get to cool water. If one ever needs to stay here, I recommend Benny’s Colville Inn (with a name like that it has to be good!). Billed as motorcyclist friendly, the late Benny Buchanan enjoyed treating riders to his brand of hospitality and the great amenities of the inn.
Known as Tiger Highway or Pass because of where it ends up in Tiger, Washington (iiiit’s GREAT! Sorry Tony), SR 20 leaps east from the center of Colville, quickly becoming a series of nicely connected 30-40 mph corners that stalk up the surrounding hillsides. Road engineers have thoughtfully interspersed a couple of tree-lined straights so that you can find top gear on occasion (use ’em if you got ’em!).
Steering north again at Tiger/SR 31, we were soon treated to our first dam sighting at Box Canyon near Ione. For some reason we like to take pictures of massive concrete barriers harnessing earth’s most powerful and abundant outflow and turning it into useful power…or maybe we just needed a bathroom break. At any rate, Canada was still the destination, and this is definitely a good way to get there.
As the road cuts through more curvaceous terrain at Metalline Falls, try not to miss the historic brick powerhouse resting at the bottom of a steep gorge. It’s right before you cross another artfully designed bridge over the unusual, north-flowing Pend Oreille River (pronounce it “pon-doe-ray” or risk laughter from the locals). We decided to make one last U.S. stop before the border, winding down a one-lane path to the precipitous Boundary Dam Vista House set high up on the eastern bank of the chasm.
One of Washington’s youngest and smallest dams, it ranks high as far as striking terrain is concerned. The resulting reservoir of brilliant aquamarine provides an ample playground for nearby state park visitors. The Kevin Costner film The Postman was filmed on location here, and much is recognizable from the movie. We have more entertaining things to do, however, like cross the border into Nelway, British Columbia. With our papers in order, we passed muster, then hit a short, pleasant section of BC 6, which joins BC 3—the Crowsnest Highway.
As the afternoon heat reached its zenith, we rode into Castlegar with only a little shadowy respite from the sun provided by the tightly surrounding Kootenay Mountains. After a relaxing dinner at a local Greek restaurant, we found that Castlegar is a pretty quiet town on the weekends (too quiet!), and decided to try and get an early start for day two in country two.
Tim, Chuck and I all like to ride a hundred miles or so before breakfast, so we put the rising sun to our backs and struck out again on BC 3 over Bonanza Pass, always a fun ride in the past. This time…not so much. Though surely much needed, we encountered miles of delays from major resurfacing and spent most of the time in snail’s-pace traffic. At least the view was nice!
Stopping briefly at comely Christina Lake to let the traffic clear and get some cooler air, we continued west to the next town of size, Grand Forks, which sounded like a good place to eat, and it was! We had a great breakfast at the Grand Forks Hotel in this Russian-influenced town before continuing to our next decision point. At Rock Creek we had the option to head north to Kelowna on 33 for a 150-mile round-trip of curvy road pleasure, or to just roll the last few, still entertaining miles to Osoyoos. With two hours already lost and the 95-degree heat taking its toll, we opted to take the short way to the shade and a cool swimming pool in Osoyoos.
This lakeside community is a jewel of the Thompson Okanagan region, and the recognized hottest spot in Canada. Located in its heart is the Westridge Inn, a haven for motorcyclists and travelers of all kinds. Cozy rooms with bike-easy access, a great pool and picnic area, and an onsite brew pub and eatery make it an all-access port-of-call. Many other activities can be found this time each year in the vicinity. The Peach Festival in Penticton and a popular Blues Festival in Kelowna, for example, can make them memorable destinations.
After a late night of telling lies and reminiscing, we three amigos headed southbound out of B.C. on the third day, back into the USA and Oroville, Washington. Striking out from the center of “Goldville,” the path leads west down Loomis/Oroville Road following increasingly entertaining asphalt as it twitches along above the scenic, tree-lined Similkameen River. There was a lot of activity in this steep, rocky gorge, since it was gold “season” and scores of dredge operators were trying to strike it rich. Local geologists estimate that only 5 percent of the gold has been removed, even with the huge rush of the 1840s and the fact that this route was part of the famed Pacific Northwest Trail, which guided thousands to the West Coast. The steep canyon walls are still marked by the gaping holes of long-abandoned mines.
Winding our way through the aptly named Many Lakes region, a number of small landlocked bodies of blue peeked out from between the orchard-covered flats and sagebrush-covered hills. Our journey stopped briefly on the shores of the region’s largest lake, Palmer, while the Loomis/Oroville Road turned south and transformed into “Old 97”—sometimes referred to as Highway 7. Much preferred over traveling the boring interstate, 7 South does not disappoint, as nicely paced corners threw themselves at us amidst more orchards, hay fields, and yes, buffalo grazing near our elbows as we neared Tonasket.
I think I would have liked the Okanagan Chief Tonasket after whom this town is named. On his final settlement, not far from this route, Tonasket built and maintained a one-mile-long racetrack! It’s likely he raced only horses, but if it were still there you know what might have become of it—Washington’s own version of The Springfield Mile, or better yet, “Tonasket-Seca”!
Back in Washington’s dry sagebrush belt, we sought to eke out a few more twists and turns by following US 97 as far as its westerly junction with SR 20 and wolf-like leap over Loup Loup Pass. Nicely wooded in contrast to much of the terrain, it comes complete with enough turns to entertain. At Twisp, we drained the trip south down SR 153, which imitates the serpentine flow of the Methow River to rejoin US 97 as it drew us close to beautiful Lake Chelan and vicinity.
Skirting that summer tourist Mecca, we crossed over the Beebe Bridge to enjoy one last curvaceous stretch, the macadam gem of McNeil Canyon, which twists out of the river valley onto the Mansfield plateau. All too soon we were once again rolling in formation down arrow-straight roads framed by wheat stubble and ancient basaltic remains of long dead volcanoes. Only a few miles from home we realized our main goal had been accomplished, and we all felt refreshed, recharged…and eager to start planning the next ride.
Benny’s Colville Inn