It is not often a person gets the opportunity to be a tourist in their own town. When I was first asked by Chamber of Commerce manager Lori Thomas if someone in our group, the Vermilion Trails Society (VTS), could take a travel writer out on to the Kettle Valley Rail Trail, I was not quite sure what to think. Could I find bikes for rent? Was there any part of the trail that was good enough? Would I take them out and it be a disaster?
You see as a four year member of the VTS, I knew that shortfalls of our trail. When it first opened for recreational use, cyclists from other parts of the world would come and bike it. It was in pretty good shape. Then, the motorized vehicles came. The trail which was supposed to be for self-propelled travel is not. The downside to this whole thing is that the trail is being toted as this world class non-motorized trail, but there is no regulation in place to make it such. ATVs and motorbikes use the trail continually. This is the history thus far. The concept or shall we say vision of the Trans Canada Trail does not meet the reality – not by a long shot.
The international cyclists don’t travel through Princeton anymore. Our local bike shop closed its doors. Parts of the trail are so damaged from excessive motorized abuse that it is impossible for any hiker or biker to travel along its path without continually looking down to keep from crashing or falling. It kind of defeats the purpose of travelling such a magnificent trail if you can’t enjoy it and look around as you go.
I have to say that it is not all the motorized vehicles that abuse the trail, but it doesn’t take many to sour the milk. Many ATVers and motorcyclists are considerate, but those that aren’t really do a lot of damage. It is a real catch twenty-two. On our particular day of travel, we passed four motorcyclists. Two who were zipping through the pitch black Princeton Tunnel at a high rate of speed and scared us. We dismounted our bikes and hugged the wall until they were by. The other two motorcyclists and one ATVer we saw were extremely considerate. We also passed three other cyclists.
After finding out that the bike shop guy (Jim) no longer had any bikes for rent, I went on a hunt, made some calls and in the eleventh hour had a friend come through big time for me. (Thanks Lloyd). The good thing about this trip was that last fall my back tire on my own bike got a flat and I finally fixed it, so I too was ready.
After a shopping trip at our nice new grocery store for a variety of nutritious and durable food items I headed to Cowboy Coffee to meet my two eager travellers and Dale Hladun our Junior B hockey team’s coach. “Duner” had thankfully offered to come along and help me with my tour, so I didn’t have to go solo and I have to say it turned out to be a really nice day.
First of all, the sun was shining, imagine that. Then, after much fretting, it turned out that the trail although loosely packed and tough to relax on was still along a beauty of a route. The loose surface made the pedaling much harder. We worked for every kilometer along our way, but stopped to enjoy and drink water…lots of water. Remy Scalza and his girlfriend Stephanie Hummel were both in good shape and athletic, so that was a relief for me. I am not sure that someone who hasn’t done any form of exercise for a while could have made it out as far as we did. I was a definite grind. In fact, the only wipe-out of the day was by me… a mis-pedal in the loose stuff.
Travel writer Scalza and Hummel have travelled much of the world. First as teachers of English as a second language and then, for Remy, as a writer. His travels have taken him to some exotic locales. Scalza has been to South America and Japan, but he has also seen a little bit of heaven closer to home. Scalza spent four days away from his home base in Vancouver travelling the Okanagan Similkameen. On the final day his travels brought him to Princeton. Scalza was commissioned to write an article for Western Living magazine with one of the portions focussing on the Kettle Valley Rail Trail. I think they really enjoyed their afternoon. We biked out from the Bridge of Dreams, through town, past the Weyerhaeuser Roundhouse, Phifer’s Fountain, the Irly Bird mural, through the Princeton tunnel, over the train trellis, along the ochre bluffs and out past the Thomas farm. Our lunch stop was filled with some Princeton history and some great stories by Remy, Stephanie and Duner. Duner gave his spin on why he loved it here and it was neat seeing our world through the eyes of Remy and Stephanie.
The opportunity doesn’t often arise to be a tourist in one’s own town, but when it does, it is easy to fall in love with the place we chose to live all over again. A few new scrapes and an adventure later, the only thing different between this mini-getaway and others is that at the end of the day, home is just a few minutes away. Thanks Remy, Stephanie and Duner for letting me appreciate my hometown all over again.