I find myself in a stark contrast of landscape—rolling hills of pale, dry grasses looking down on freshwater lakes. This is BC’s Okanagan Valley. To be honest, I never knew this existed in Canada: a place rife with cacti and rattlesnakes, where people make their livings growing fruit and making wine.
I was drawn to the Okanagan for the Kettle Valley Railway (KVR). A subsidiary of the Canadian Pacific Railway, the KVR opened in 1915 and operated in some places until 1989. Today, it is a multi-use trail which links several communities in the region, through mountain and canyons. It is a popular route for cyclists, as the average grade is about 2.2 per cent. A highlight near the city of Kelowna, Okanagan’s primary city, is the Myra Canyon.
The canyon is a vast sea of green forest, expanding to views of the mountainous hills and, in the distance, the city. The steep ridges and cliffs are connected at points by wooden trestles. For someone who considers heights to be less than appetizing, the experience of crossing them can produce mixed feelings. But, there comes a time when you’ve just got to suck it up and appreciate. The original trestles were destroyed in the Okanagan Mountain Park Fire in 2003, to be rebuilt between 2003 to 2008.
Cycling the entire KVR will take you from Penticton to Midway (or vice versa) in a near loop, passing the Myra Canyon trestles along the way. While I don’t go the whole route from start to finish, I do manage to get some more cycling in around Penticton, Naramata, and Osoyoos to the south.
This part of the province produces 95 per cent of British Columbia’s wine, and you can tell by the extensive fields of vineyards throughout. The climate seems to favour red varietals, though a staggering variety and unique selection can be found without much effort.
The Okanagan is Canada’s Florida, a land of retirees and recreational visitors. Osoyoos Lake is the “warmest freshwater lake in Canada,” according to the town of Osoyoos (population 4850) and the BC Parks System. People here seem relaxed: drinking wine, eating fresh fruit, lying on sandy beaches, taking in heat and sun. This attitude spreads, and I easily embrace it, knowing that soon I’ll return to the summer snows in Edmonton.