Destination Vernon: Riding the Dirt Trails – A Weekend Off

November 1 2008

Dirt Biking on the trails of Vernon BCPeople always ask me, “what are you doing this weekend?”—and I think to myself, a weekend; wouldn’t it be nice to just have a weekend to do regular things like go to a lake, go camping, visit with friends or go riding, just for fun? The concept of the weekend is kind of foreign to me with the ridiculous schedule I’ve been keeping lately.

Usually I’m coaching for the California Superbike School, racing for Slednecks Racing, or writing press releases and articles from bizarre locations like economy seats on airplanes, passenger seats of race vans or rental cars, trackside or from crusty motel rooms. My weekends mostly consist of unloading and loading trailers, riding bikes, racing on various courses, hanging out for 12 hours a day at the track, working, lifting, riding, wrenching, packing, flying or driving… and then doing it all over again.

I haven’t done anything normal over a summer weekend in years, until now.

Labour Day weekend, my husband and I, (we got married in a race themed wedding on September 13th) drove up to Vernon, BC from Vancouver for three days of killer dirtbiking in the trails of the BC interior.

The decision to get outta Dodge was based on a few factors. First and foremost was the Vancouver rain. It had been raining for about a week straight and we were feeling gloomy, bored and extremely restless. Secondly, I had purchased a 2007 Yamaha YZF 250 a few months ago and had only ridden it once. My husband, John Parker, is a die-hard motocross rider that adores dirt tracks. The closest to us are Pemberton (2 hour drive), Sechelt (2.5 hour trip with expensive ferry ride), Mission (1.5 hour drive) or Agassi (2.5 hour drive), and they can be a pain in the arse to get to with traffic and ferry line-ups. Good trail riding areas are not much closer.

We had driven up to Pemberton the previous Saturday, only to arrive and find out that the track was closed for the weekend for repairs. It was a complete waste of a day, waste of an overpriced tank of gas, and the second freakin’ time we had driven all the way up there only to be turned away. We started feeling a little bit trapped by the city and the traffic, the rain and the expense and inconvenience of just trying to go dirtbiking for a few hours.

So, when a friend of ours, Aaron York from Vernon, BC announced that he had purchased a new dirtbike and that there were dozens of killer trails within five minutes of his place, asked us if we would like to come up for the long weekend, stay in his big house, ride and hang out for a few days, we bolted.

We packed up John’s 1997 Dodge Cargo Van (which is literally our portable garage) and hit the road early Friday morning with two dirtbikes and a pair of downhill mountain bikes.

The drive to Vernon from Vancouver takes about 5 hours total and is absolutely beautiful. There are a few different routes you can take and a majority of them are listed in Destination Highway’s BC edition. Many of the scenic routes twist and wind through verdant meadows, rolling hills and characteristic little towns like Merritt, Lytton, Cache Creek, Spences Bridge, Enderby as well as bigger cities like Kelowna, Penticton and Kamloops. Being in a cage for this trip, we chose the most direct route over the Coquihalla Highway (Highway 5) and were pleasantly surprised by the ease of the trip and the beauty of it all.

With the amount of driving we both have done this season from racetrack to racetrack across the US, the five hour drive went by like it was nothing. Entering the sunshine of the interior we enjoyed the view of ragged mountains and sparse white clouds as we moved away from the rainy grey of Vancouver.

As we approached the city of Kelowna, we were surprised at how bustling and busy it was and how congested the traffic was through downtown. John, who despises the crush of bumper-to-bumper cars and stoplights, started getting a little tense. It wasn’t until we emerged on the other side of the city and began entering the sleepy town of Vernon that we noticed a slowing down of our own thoughts and movements and relaxation overcame us, the kind that only comes with escaping a big city and the awareness that you have three days of chillaxin’ and dirtbikin’ ahead.

Back country of BC Vernon is a city of approximately 60,000 people, nestled in between the gorgeous Okanagan and Kalamalka Lakes and surrounded by beautiful meadows and rolling hills. Our gracious hosts, Aaron and Monique took us for a tour of the city and out to dinner before calling it a night.

The next morning we drove about ten minutes along Highway 6 towards Lumby before turning onto a dirt road at the foot of a mountain in the Noble Creek area. There we parked amongst several other trucks parked along the side of the road, already dozens of people deep in the trails on various types of motorized vehicles.

With Aaron being extremely new to dirtbiking and, of course, John and I being from out of town, we literally had no idea where to go. We had been told by a few other riders that there were hundreds of trails that continue for many miles and that if we went up the logging road to kilometre 8 and hung a right by the cattle guard, we would find ourselves on a fun trail and to just follow that for a while, which we did.

Blasting up the logging road was good practice for both Aaron and I who are more accustomed to sportbike riding than riding in the dirt, but it wasn’t long before we found the cattle guard and turned onto an awesome single track trail. About medium difficulty for my skill level, the trail went through thick trees, over roots and around tight corners with some steep hills and rutted corners. Having little experience riding trails, I found parts of the ride pretty difficult, but was surprised that I was able to muster through most of it, albeit not very gracefully.

Because most dirtbikes are so tall and because I’m not, I thought that I would have way more difficulty kick-starting my bike if I crashed or stalled it. However, John had softened up the suspension for my weight and had taken my seat in to be altered, and I was always able to find a part of the trail that was raised a bit so my left foot could touch and I was high enough to be able to get a good kick.

When I stalled or got stuck on the occasional nasty root, Mr. Pro Rider John Parker would yell from behind me, “Wait there, I’ll start it for you and I’ll ride it through this hard part.” I yelled back through gritted teeth, “I’ll do it myself!” (Which just so happens to be the first sentence that ever came out of my mouth as a kid). I squinted my eyes, looked up the hill, kick-started my bike and with legs flailing, powered up and through the tough part of the trail.

Coming out of the first short portion of the trail we emerged in a wide open area underneath power lines that had windy trails carved throughout the middle and rolling paths along the sides. We also saw a few fluorescent pink arrows pointing towards the entrance of another single-track trail that disappeared into the depths of the forest so we decided to follow the signs.

Apparently, a Can Am racecourse was marked out for a hare scramble the following day so we simply followed the pink markers and found ourselves blasting through an awesome trail that had all sorts of fun elements—loose shale inclines, hard packed dirt switchbacks, wide muddy puddle ridden sections, steep hills with names like “elevator shaft”, fast sections through open logged areas and beautiful sections that bordered Bardolph Lake.

There were also a lot of cows. Several times we came zooming out of a skinny trail into a wider area where dozens of cows stood lazily staring. Something about the cows was pretty unnerving to me and when one started walking towards me I freaked out and zipped away yelling, “them cows could run at me and knock me over easily and then step on me!” So, the guys had fun teasing me about the “killer cows.”

Both Aaron and I were pretty darned slow the first day and after doing only one loop that seemed to take forever, we rode back down the logging road and called it a day.

We spent the following morning checking out Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park and the lakeside beaches, and afterwards headed back to the trails. This time we decided to hang a left at one part of the logging road and try our hand at some different types of trails. We found a wide open area with a few small jumps and a couple of banked corners where John tried to coach Aaron and I on proper jumping and cornering techniques. Dirt/motocross riding has elements that are completely opposite to sportbike/road riding so it was hard for Aaron and I to get concepts like sitting up close to the gas tank, pushing the bike underneath and leaning away from the bike instead of leaning with it. We also found some dustier rocky trails that ran alongside steep drop-offs that I wasn’t too fond of riding on. It’s one thing to crash and fall into a tree or bush, but it’s another thing to crash and slide 50 feet down a long embankment or off the edge of a cliff. No thank you.

On Monday morning we headed back to the trails as John and I wanted to get a fairly early start on the drive home and decided to run the marked course again, mostly for the convenience of knowing where we were and where we should go, but also because it was somewhat familiar.

It was pretty amazing how much better we were the second time around and our speed picked up three-fold even though the difficulty of the course had risen because of the amount of people that must have raced on the trail the day before. The dirt was looser, deeper ruts in the corners and there were big rocks and boulders marring the trails in a few places.

The hardest parts for me were the steep downhills and the super tight areas where you have to use all the controls at once, front brake, rear brake, feather the clutch, roll on the gas, shift. The other hard part I faced was fatigue. Without having much experience riding in the trails, I was using a lot more muscles than required and my arms were getting pumped up to the point of feeling like rocks and Jello at the same time. There were a few moments where my hands stopped working completely and I stalled out because I didn’t have the hand strength to pull in the clutch, or I launched myself into the bushes when my right hand gave a jerk on the throttle instead of a smooth roll on.

We called it a day after the first loop so that no one would get hurt from riding tired.

Overall, it was an absolutely awesome three days of riding in the wilderness and exploring new terrain. Vernon charmed both John and I and impressed us with the scenery and the multitude of activities available in such a small area. The dirtbiking was outstanding and we met a lot of really nice people that were also enjoying the fun adventurous trails. The mountain biking too was impressive with trails in Kalamalka Lake Park and also down Silver Star Mountain, which enjoys a killer winter ski/snowboard season.

There are also dozens of world class golf courses in the area, beautiful roads for riding and as John found out, motocross tracks in nearby Kelowna and Kamloops. We had a blast in sunny Vernon and I enjoyed my first normal weekend in a long time.

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