Touring British Columbia - A Case of Canada

Communing With Glaciers On A Tour Of British Columbia

With forest fires raging in my home state of Idaho, a leisurely ride through the Canadian Rockies beckoned to me like a tall, cool glass of water. It was August and time to escape the 100-degree heat in Boise, along with the smoke covering the city like a veil.

The Suzuki Boulevard C50T I'd lined up was perfect for the trip: It's comfortable and relaxing to ride. My husband, Lynn, on the other hand, rolled out his '82 Suzuki GS1100 streetbike. Mine takes the curves better, but his classic gets all the attention when we stop (something about it being an inline four-cylinder that accelerates like a rocket).

My three-week return date seemed months away. I planned a loop that wound from Idaho into Montana and on to Canada via Glacier-Watertown International Peace Park. From there my husband and I would journey north along the Continental Divide on the Columbia Icefields Parkway from the mountain town of Banff to Jasper. It would be cool in both senses of the word.

Leaving Idaho this way is like playing a game of "follow the rivers"-first the Payette along Idaho 55, then the Salmon via U.S. 95 and, last but not least, Idaho 12, surely one of the primo motorcycle roads in the country. We savored its many tight and sweeping turns along the Lochsa and Clearwater Rivers before crossing the Continental Divide at 5233-foot-high Lolo Pass on the Montana border.

This being one of the worst fire seasons of recent years, haze dogged us to Hot Springs, Montana, where a room awaited at Symes Hot Springs. It's a stately old resort hotel-full of character but no air conditioning. Fortunately members of the Velocette Owners Club of North America staying there for the group's annual gathering tipped us off about asking for a floor fan at check-in. We were lucky to stumble on the VOCNA, as its annual meeting place typically is a well-kept secret. And the floor fan was a nice plus.

Lynn kept his U.S. National Parks pass in his jacket pocket as we rode north toward Glacier National Park the next day. This was my first visit, and I put the Boulevard in low gear to climb historic Going-to-the-Sun Road over 6646-foot-high Logan Pass. This 50-mile-long road carved into the side of near-vertical cliffs is an engineering masterpiece offering views of spectacular mountains and (sadly) melting glaciers. We waved to passengers touring in the historic red Jammer coaches, named because their gears used to jam on the mountain roads. Now restored, the 33 coaches run on propane. A fun ride-if I wanted to get off my bike.

At dusk we checked into Glacier Park Lodge, a grand hotel built by the Great Northern Railroad, which invested in hotels and ranches to lure tourists to the Northwest. Massive 800-year-old tree trunks in the lobby give this hotel its nickname, the "Big Tree Lodge." Hundreds of firefighters were staying there, and the evening's entertainment turned out to be watching flames from a nearby fire leaping into the sky. Fortunately the winds turned before the flare-up spread, and we called it a night.

With passports in hand we easily crossed the border into Canada's adjoining Waterton Park. The mountains and buttes along the way are glorious, and riding on the uncrowded asphalt ain't bad, either. We stopped to view another great railroad hotel in the region, Waterton's Prince of Wales. Perched on a promontory overlooking seven-mile-long Waterton Lake, it reminded me of a Swiss dollhouse.

Our goal that day was Banff, about 300 miles away, so we didn't linger. Riding north took us through Alberta's wide-open prairie country, but while the sun was shining near the start of Alberta 22, black clouds ahead spelled trouble. We barely had time to get out the rain gear before the hail started pelting us. We hunkered down for the long wet ride, and by the time we entered Banff National Park via the Trans-Canada Highway it was nearly dark.

I had heard much about Banff and was excited to tour it the next day. The best part was visiting the famous "Castle in the Rockies"-historic Banff Springs Hotel. Other than that, Banff struck me as a true resort town: lots of visitors and expensive name-brand retailers. We enjoyed a generous breakfast at the Coyote Caf and then gladly said adieu. But our next stop, Lake Louise, was also packed with tourists. Much more fun was Moraine Lake, a beautiful jewel in a glacial basin outside Lake Louise. We parked the bikes in front of our room at Moraine Lake Lodge, enjoyed afternoon tea in the library and then canoed the length of the lake to a small waterfall. It was our favorite stay of the trip.

In the past a trip over the Canadian Rockies spelled trouble for trains, which needed to summit the Continental Divide at a nearby 4.5 percent grade known as The Big Hill. Eventually the Canadian Pacific Railway built the two Spiral Tunnels, which allowed the trains to curl over (or under) themselves, thus reducing the steep grade to 2.2 percent. We made a quick detour west on the Trans-Canada to watch a train do just that and then doubled back to the Icefields Parkway. This beautiful road parallels the Continental Divide through Banff and Jasper National Parks. Riding its length under high peaks holding glaciers in giant bowls was 143 miles of pure pleasure. We stopped to gaze at the massive Athabasca Glacier, part of the Columbia Icefields and the most-visited glacier in North America. The day ended at road's end-in Jasper, a pleasant resort town catering to park visitors.

At almost 13,000 feet, Mount Robson-just west of Jasper-is the highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies. Although its snowy cap is often obscured by clouds, we lucked out the next day when the sun lit up its peak as we rode by on Canada 16. We turned south at B.C. 5, which winds along the Yellowhead and Thompson Rivers. I lazed along through the scenery, thinking deep thoughts, none of which I remember now. In Blue River a Harley stop-off called the Log Inn served us two of its tasty "Mother of All Burgers" along with the requisite biker-bar ambience. We made it to Kamloops, a commercial hub of about 85,000 people, in time for dinner with a cousin I hadn't seen in 50 years. Naturally we had a lot of catching up to do.

From Kamloops, two-lane roads curve through forests and woods and along narrow lakes nestled between the ranges of British Columbia's Kootenay Rockies. Few cars bothered us as we rode east on B.C. 6 through the Monashee Mountains and then hitched a ride across Arrow Lake on the Canadian ferry system to the Valley of Hot Springs. With Arrow Lake to our left, we passed dozens of osprey nests on the way to Halcyon Hot Springs, where we enjoyed "taking the waters" in pools above the lake.

We spent the rest of our Canada sojourn exploring this region of British Columbia. It was here that Canada relocated 22,000 Japanese citizens during WWII in 10 pitiful internment camps. What remains of the facility at New Denver is now the Nikkei Internment Memorial Center, where visitors can learn about this massive uprooting and how internees lived. It's a moving and highly worthwhile stop.

Near the end of the trip as I soaked more cares away at Ainsworth Hot Springs resort on Kootenay Lake near Nelson, I mentally revised the lyrics of an old Joni Mitchell song. "Oh Canada, I could drink a case of you, and you'd still be on my mind."

**Top Left: Getting tight with a Jammer outside of Glacier National Park. Opposite: The stately Prince of Wales Hotel surveys Waterton Lake.**