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Summer Road Trip-Return To An Old Favorite

Kettle River float-summer road trip

The car came up fast on our right side. He slowed to our speed and looked over at us, gesturing. His hand made an exaggerated flapping motion. The driver mouthed something unintelligible. Heather shouted, “What!?” The driver called back, Your trailer door is open!” Crap! Again?! Is this to be our summer road trip to hell?

We’re on our way home from our summer road trip to the Kettle River Recreation Area. The temperature outside the car is a bracing 33 Celsius. For my American friends, that’s hotter than Satan’s house cat. We’ve left behind 36 degrees in Kelowna, so this feels almost refreshing.

Our little vacation consisted of 5 days, with 2 being mostly full travel days. But three days in Kettle River, with wonderful weather, was just about perfect. Granted, I’d love to spend a week there, but we’ve got other camping trips planned for our summer. So 3 full days of camping and floating on the river will do.

Rock Creek Wildfire

As I mentioned in my previous post, it’s been 8 years since we’ve been to Kettle River. At the end of our last time there, a huge wildfire blew in just after we left. For more detail on that, check out this news story from CBC back in 2015.

Photo courtesy Darrin Metcalf/Facebook.

We had pulled out the day before the fire reached the area. From our new site at Cultus Lake, we watched news stories and worried about our fellow campers. Zach and Beth-Rose were devastated. They were upset the pikas were losing their homes.

The little rodents are funny to watch, but my kids may be even more devastated to learn they aren’t actually pikas. They’re called Columbian Ground Squirrels!

By Martin Pot (Martybugs at en.wikipedia)

So anyway…

The fire was massive and fast. Thirty homes were lost, livestock was killed, and people were evacuated with no warning. Campers evacuated along the river, many still in their bathing suits. A few people who tried driving out with their trailers got caught on the entrance road and fled their vehicles.

Photo courtesy Global News

A few days later we learned the campground had been hit but not destroyed. The fire was so fast, it fed mainly on the dry deadfall from the ponderosa pines. So the ground burnt quickly and charred many of the trees. There were just a few areas where the trees had ignited and burned to the ground. But outside the campsite was a different story.

Our First Look

Nevertheless, we were shocked to see the devastation as we drove into the park. Our first look at the fire damage was almost overwhelming.

What had been a beautiful, verdant forest was reduced to standing black trees, the remaining branches twisted and curled into odd shapes. The forest floor was filled with new green undergrowth, reminding us of the resilience of Nature. From our campsite, we could look through the remaining trees to the nearby ridge, also bare of trees.

Sadly, the moron who started this fire was never caught. There were rumours of a video of someone tossing a cigarette from a car, but it was never found. 30 homes destroyed and people’s lives upended because of a brain-dead idiot.

On With The Summer Road Trip!

But we are here for the river. And on our first full day, that’s where we head, with our flotation devices and our sunscreen.

A float down a lazy river is one of those sublime pastimes. On a sunny summer day, it’s just about the perfect activity. I could do this for days on end and not concern myself with the rest of the world. But for this afternoon, it’s enough.

The nearby village of Rock Creek doesn’t have a lot of services, but they do have a very nice little coffee shop. The Rock Creek Trading Post roasts their own coffee, and it’s delicious!

For the two summers we came here back in 2014-2015, we made it a habit to stop in daily for coffee and milkshakes. So we were excited to get back to see if it still delivered. And it did! I had the best Americano I’ve had in years. If you’re ever passing through Rock Creek, stop in and give them your business. It is so worth it.

Rock Creek Trading Post- A nice spot to stop on a summer road trip
A pretty little spot to enjoy a morning coffee. This is where I sat while publishing my last post.

Night Time Photo Shoot

After our first float down the river, we enjoyed a simple camping supper and sat around the propane fire. We talked about the wildfire, and the terrible damage done to the valley. It’s nice to see the Provincial Park Service has put up a few interpretive signs around the campground, explaining the impacts fires have on the ecosystem. But it would be nicer to have some interpretive walks or ranger talks for more visitors to understand the role wildfires play on the forest habitat. Not many Provincial Parks are located in a recent wildfire zone, so this would be a great educational opportunity.

Zachary and I decided to take a walk in the woods and take some nighttime photos of the burnt forest. Walking along the trail, surrounded by the skeletons of tall pines, lent an eerie atmosphere. The sky to the west was still a grey-blue, while the black trees created an otherworldly scene.

And so the days passed, floating on the river; daily runs to Rock Creek for coffee, milkshakes, and ice; and relaxed, leisurely evenings around the fire. I’m almost sorry it’s been 8 years since we’ve done this. Thank goodness we’ve also had other epic camping trips in that time!

Friday morning arrived, and it was time to pack up and head for home. The weather was getting warmer as each day passed, and this day’s high was forecast at 36 C! It was going to be a hot drive.

Summer Road Trip Means Traffic. And More Traffic

For our route back we chose a familiar path. We drove north to Kelowna, and then west toward the Coquihalla Highway. This saved us from the tortuous, winding path we arrived on.

But Kelowna is a city that’s grown up fast, and the traffic was slow and plodding. I couldn’t wait to leave it behind. It’s never been my favourite place…

By midafternoon we were on the Trans Canada Highway in the Fraser Valley. Our goal was the Horseshoe Bay Ferry Terminal, and the (hopefully!) 8:30 PM ferry to Nanaimo. But that was not to be…

Just west of Chilliwack the traffic started slowing down. We were bumper to bumper and moving in fits and starts. Even at the speed limit, we were more than 90 minutes from the ferry terminal.

Heather was checking the ferry conditions on her phone. It wasn’t looking good. The ferry website was showing all the ferries for the evening almost full. There was a good chance we wouldn’t be catching a ferry before tomorrow morning. And Zach and I have to work. Crap!

We reached Abbotsford and the traffic moved a little faster. But that was just because the highway widened briefly to 3 lanes, teasing us. It would very soon reduce back to 2 lanes, and everyone would come to a screeching halt. And that’s when the car came up on our right side, gesturing to us. Our trailer door is swinging open! Time to find an exit and fix the damn door. So much for catching a ferry tonight…

It Pays To Be Flexible On A Summer Road Trip

And so I took the next exit and pulled into a parking lot. I had locked the trailer door, the memory of my flying cooler still fresh. But that didn’t seem to matter. There was the trailer door, still locked, swinging freely, with the cooler perched tauntingly in the open door. Somehow a combination of the heat, and the movement of the trailer caused the door latch to work free of the door frame. I’m gonna have to look into that.

Meanwhile, it occurs to me that the road we just exited onto was the same road we took to get to the highway when we started our summer road trip 5 days ago. That road brought us from the Tsawwassen ferry terminal. Were the ferries also full there? Would we possibly have a better chance of getting home tonight if we went to that terminal instead?

Once again, Heather pulled out her trusty iPhone and searched. There’s a ferry at 8:15 that appears to have some space left. If not, we might be able to get on at 10:45, the last sailing of the night. And so we pivot and choose not to get back onto the slow moving highway. It really does pay to be flexible!

And so we make a beeline to the Tsawassen ferry terminal, along the back roads of Aldergrove, BC, with a glimmer of hope that we won’t be spending the night in a parking lot.


Finally, after many turns and twists, we arrive at the ferry terminal. The 5:45 ferry is only just beginning to load. It’s running close to 90 minutes behind schedule! The ferry attendant tells us there could be a wait for the 10:45. So we’re still looking at the possibility of not getting home tonight. But the 10:45 ferry is the same one as the 5:45, which is loading now, 90 minutes behind schedule. Let’s do the math together.

A ferry has no possible way of making up a 90 minute delay. Once a ferry route is behind schedule, it almost never picks up any time, let alone 90 fricken’ minutes. So if we end up on the 10:45, it’s pretty likely we won’t be pulling away from the dock before 12:15 AM. That puts us at the Duke Point terminal at 2:15 AM! CRAP!

The 5:45 finally sails, and the 8:15 arrives almost on time. Question is, could we get on it? Cars begin to load, and the lanes to both sides of us empty. But what about us!?

Finally our lane begins to move. We inch closer to the ramp, but we’re still a ways back. Seems like we might get on?

And then we’re near the front, and the attendant is directing us toward the ramp. Hurray! We’re on! There’s only one other over-height vehicle put on behind us. And about 4 cars after that means we’re awfully close to not being on this ferry.

Breathe In

But we are on it, and I can relax. We’re only a two hour sail and a 20 minute drive from home. Zach and I can actually get a decent night’s sleep before getting up for work in the morning.

And so ends our summer road trip to the West Kootenays and the Kettle Valley Recreation Area. As much as I enjoy road trips, this one was a little stressful. In my younger days, road trips were relaxing, almost therapeutic. Ferries and windy roads and stressed out puppies make for a different experience.

And just in case reading about my summer road trip has caused you some stress, here’s a video from our Kettle River floats to reduce your blood pressure. Everybody take a deep breath…and release!

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[…] I wrote about in this recent post, we were just 24 hours ahead of a surprise, fast-moving fire that blew through the Kettle River […]

11 months ago

Gotta love the summer ferry gamble. Will there be room for your car? I’ve been second to last car on. And stopped two cars from making it on.

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