The Canadian Tail

Our first motorcycle came new in a crate, a 1985 1200A Gold Wing. In the spring of 1986, we began our motorcycling adventures after both my wife, Anne, and I took Canada Safety Council training; me the driver, Anne the professional co-rider. Back then we loved the riding experience – we loved the scenery and we loved the opportunity to be part of the Gold Wing family. We are now Life Members of GWRRA, with that same Gold Wing!

We continue to ride and show the vintage 1200A. People approach us to look at what they consider to be a shiny new motorcycle and are surprised to hear it is a 1985! We learned how to keep it looking new, including the original saddle. The Wing has only Honda accessories on it, other than a Markland hitch and two flagpoles. Even though we are both 71, we are like a couple of kids every spring looking forward to those first rides.

We are also what Anne calls shunpikers, avoiding turnpikes. Traveling paved roads less ridden is our passion. While both of us like the soft growl of the 1200 motor when carving turns, and we do have some scratches on the foot peg knobs, we love that the world unfolds as we travel. When riding from the Grand Canyon to the West Coast, then up Highway 101, we consciously avoided travel on super slabs. Retiring from the oil patch in 1998 and moving to Okanagan, Canada, we knew that we had one of the best motorcycling roads right out our door – the Westside Road of British Columbia on the shores of Okanagan Lake. The lake is nestled between the Monashee and Cascade mountain ranges and the scenery and history are spectacular. The road is an excellent drive and is secretively known by motorcyclists for its curves and elevation changes.

Anne and I share the passion for this road with other motorcyclists because it is not a straight, major highway. The view along the route of Okanagan Lake is stunning. Westside Road is the only continuous paved road between Kelowna and Vernon on which you can see the northern half of Okanagan Lake. There are no municipalities along the road other than a small part of West Kelowna at the south end. It is curvy – there are 330 curves in the 67 km (41 mile) length of road. Elevation changes occur from lake level to 185m (610 feet) above lake level over many ups and downs. Bear Creek and Fintry, two major Provincial Parks with campgrounds off the Westside Road, take reservations. Fintry is a historical park, complete with a restored manor house and round barn, plus staircases leading up to waterfalls. Fintry is expanding the number of campsites. Both are situated on Okanagan Lake with beaches and picnic grounds.

The west side of Okanagan Lake between Kelowna and Vernon was traversed by the Hudson’s Bay Fur Brigade trail until the late 1800s when the lake itself became a highway using mostly Canadian Pacific White Queen sternwheelers. Large graceful boats plied the waters until 1935. Their demise came about because the railroad built on the other side of the lake, away from the lake itself between Kelowna and Vernon. After the sternwheelers left, the west side of Okanagan Lake between Vernon and Kelowna became a bit of a backwater, albeit a scenic one. Portions of Westside Road were started in the early 1900s, with one 3 km (1.8 mile) scenic narrow portion between Jenny Creek and Pine Point built by depression relief camp men. This portion of road has “ditches,” which are “cliff up” on the west side and “cliff down to the lake” on the east side. Since the mid-1960s some far spaced subdivisions have sprouted up off the road. In the 1970s, the entire road was paved. On the recommendation of our Provincial MLA 12 years ago, I helped form the Westside Road Improvement Committee to advise the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI) on improving this road. Over the first 10 years, $10 million was spent doing some of that. The MOTI did all the planning necessary to improve the rest of the road when they got the money, including 3 kilometers, which remained a great concern.

For two years running, what the media called “Kelowna’s Westside Road” was voted the worst road in B.C. in a BCAA poll, first for its condition, second for what people considered unsafe stretches – specifically the 3 kilometer portion noted above. Tourism Kelowna shared our view that this road was a hidden gem and first offered, then gave their effective support to the committee to help get Provincial money for these planned improvements.

In 2014, our new MLA, the Province’s Premier, saw the beauty of this road and its potential and got the MOTI $45 million to improve the road over its entire route. The 3 km stretch is the primary focus for this money. The wonderful part of all this is that the road will remain a curvy, hilly drive, but far safer. The first kilometer of the 3 km stretch is being improved now and should be finished by the fall of 2015. The next 2 kms of the narrow stretch and the rest of the improvements for the entire road should take an additional three-four years.

Lake Okanagan Resort is situated on this road and has excellent dining facilities overlooking the lake. There is a coffee shop further along at the La Casa resort community, and gas station and grocery store in the northern part at Little Kingdom. At the southern end of Westside Road is West Kelowna/Westbank along with a famous floating bridge, which goes over to the east side of Okanagan Lake to Kelowna. These three places have facilities, restaurants, shopping centers, hotels, motels, golf courses, beaches and municipal and regional parks along with many wineries including tours. God did His very best in forming the Okanagan Valley!

One day coming back north on Highway 97 through the Westbank First Nation (WFN) at Westbank, taking the Westside Road south exit to the right off Highway 97, I was admiring a First Nation sculpture on the retaining wall of one of the WFN shopping Centers – a rendition of the Ogopogo. This legendary lake monster is thought to be a large, snakelike creature with a ferocious head – like a dragon. Then I remembered the famous Tail of the Dragon at Deals Gap in the Appalachians in the U.S. As I rode the Wing along Westside Road, carving out corners, climbing up and going down the hills, and watching the beautiful scenery along with black bears, deer, California Bighorn Sheep, osprey and eagles along the route, the name Tail of the Ogopogo came to mind. Tourism Kelowna enthusiastically supports this idea as the unofficial name of this beautiful and historic road (The CAO’s husband is a Harley driver!).

Westside Road is very driveable and beautiful even as it is being improved. It is closed at the 3 km stretch between 9:30-11:30 a.m. and 12:30-2:30 p.m. Monday to Friday for blasting. The excellent ride will only improve. The road is well signed and in B.C. you can call 1-844-371-3824 to check on the status at any time. There is good cell coverage all along the road.

Westside Road begins at Highway 97 in the north and ends at Highway 97 in the south. Highway 97 is 3,280 kms (2,038 miles) in length, 30 percent, which is the Alaska Highway. Highway 97 begins at the junction of Interstate 5 in Weed, California, and goes north to Watson Lake in the Yukon. It is the perfect shunpike! Going to or coming back from Alaska, you can travel 97 through the cities of Vernon, Lake Country and Kelowna bypassing the Westside Road. While 97 is four lanes through these municipalities, it is longer, and while the speed limits are higher, it still takes 70 minutes to travel 97 between the junctions of Westside Road. Traveling on the Westside Road takes 60 minutes from either end. Both of these times are, of course, subject to traffic conditions.

Staying in Kelowna or the other cities, taking in the sites and amenities, then taking a circle trip along Westside Road is another fabulous ride with some spectacular scenery as well. Anne and I take that circle trip at least weekly. We live halfway along the Westside Road; go shopping down to Kelowna, then up to Vernon on 97, then back home. The speed limits combine some four lane 100 kph (62 mph) driving on parts of 97 with 60-70 kph (38-44 mph) with some slower curves and a switchback on Westside Road. For us on the 1200A, it is the best of both worlds, with the ride on the Westside Road being the best part.

Anne and I, along with many other motorcyclists, invite you to come and enjoy the Tail of the Ogopogo on Westside Road. If you have ridden the U.S. Tail of the Dragon, we would love to hear from you how the rides compare.

Like what you've read? Share it!