Brenna and I drive from Boise to Sandpoint, Idaho, to join my brothers for the ride across the northern border into Canada.
Jeremy and Joel are standing at the end of Joel’s driveway like two pins on a map when Brenna and I come wearily down the country road to his house north of Sandpoint, Idaho, saving us the trouble of slowing to peer at mailboxes for a name or house number.
We have been on the road for eleven hours, motorcycle trailer in tow. It was supposed to be closer to nine from Boise but an accident near Riggins¹ and construction had us parked on the highway for a while. We’re really glad to be here.
I am thrilled to have my little daughter Brenna along for our twelfth annual Abbott Brother Ride. I’ve long had an idea the kids might join our annual trip as a kind of rite of passage.
Her and I hit up REI last week to be sure she had plenty of layers to add under and over her regular motorcycle gear in case it’s cold or wet. Hopefully they won’t be needed.
We couldn’t find a feasible Canadian route with much dirt riding so Jeremy has rented something more practical than his TW for the highway miles. We’re lucky to have Into the Horizon Adventure Motorcycle Tours¹ based in Boise with a fleet of top tier adventure bikes for rent. Owners Lance and Ellen (who Brenna and I rode with earlier this year) were very accomodating.
After a welcome night of rest and reunion and a morning tour of Joel’s business in Sandpoint, we’re ready to get on the road. Jeremy begins with a few laps around Joel’s property to get a feel for the Africa Twin and its dual clutch transmission.
Joel’s house is only an hour’s ride from the Canadian border. We wend our way among thick evergreen forests and occluded cabins until the port of entry comes into view.
She can’t see it but my face beams when I hear Brenna say in the intercom, “I’m so excited!”
“Do you need our helmets off?” I ask as we pull to a stop in front of the Canadian border agent.
“No,” he answers, “just put your visors up.”
He asks our destination and whether we have weapons or alcohol (“no” and “yes”) then we’re on our way.
Brenna and I pull ahead into Canada and stop while Jeremy and Joel come through. I switch the motorcycle display to kilometers as we’re waiting. I explain the reason to Brenna before suggesting, “see what other things you can find that are different” — a little game for the highway.
After another twenty minutes or so of riding, we turn from the highway along Yahk River to follow forest roads some forty miles through mountains east to the Kootenay River. I hoped to get us on a little dirt.
The initial climb from river ravine is a bit narrow on golf ball-sized gravel. The road eventually levels off into a gravel expressway. With the screen counting kilometers, we see triple digits as we fly through the trees until we descend back to asphalt where Brenna and I stop and snack at Kookanusa Marina while awaiting my brothers.
“Do you want some jerky?” I ask nonchalantly as I pop open the top case. Brenna has been dying to get into it since she saw it at home a couple days ago. She grabs a few big hunks and settles atop a yellow painted fence where she can watch both marina and road.
“How’d that bike do?” I ask when Jeremy arrives. That was his first stint with it off asphalt.
“Great!” he answers.
Reunited, we cross the bridge over the reservoir then turn onto Crowsnest Highway. The ride along the Elk River is idyllic.
I am glad to see a gas station as we enter Fernie. An earlier spot I’d marked on the map for possible gas, Elko, didn’t appear to actually have any stations.
After a few false starts with the card readers on the gas pumps marked by exasperated laughter, we figure out what they want and get our tanks filled.
We spend a minute inside looking for beer to have beside the evening fire before remembering that Canada only sells beer in liquor stores. Brenna gets what she wants, though.
The highway onward from Fernie to Coleman takes us over Crowsnest Pass. We cross over and curve around bright blue lakes pooled at the feet of iron monoliths, their steep faces rising to jagged edges among the clouds. It’s hard to keep my eyes on the road.
We turn north at the town of Coleman onto Provincial Highway 40. Though having the designation “highway,” this is another gravel road, albeit often wide enough for four cars. It takes us into thickly forested hills and mountains, perhaps thirty miles until we see the Racehorse Creek Campground sign.
We circle around a few times before agreeing on a spot with creek access but away from anyone else. As usual, it’s all business as we negotiate tent spots then set up.
“We will definitely go check it out,” I assure Brenna. She is upset that we couldn’t get a spot right next to a neat creek confluence and little bridge to a hiking trail. But we’re only about fifty yards away.
Since we don’t carry water, the next order of business is to pump some from the creek to use for dinner and morning coffee. Brenna wants to try pumping so we walk together to the water’s edge.
“That’s hard,” she observes after a few push-pulls on the blue handle.
“How about you hold that,” I reply, pointing to the end pressed to the mouth of the water bag, “and I’ll finish pumping.”
“Can I cut with the saw?” Brenna asks as we’re getting settled in around the fire with drinks and JetBoiled dinners.
“For sure,” I answer, happy that she likes trying things. She cuts several pieces of wood for our little pile, keeping at it long after the one cut I expected.
Jeremy strings up his usual lantern to supplement the light of the flames holding our gaze. We all sit at the same half-reclined angle allowed by our folding chairs, like reflections of one another, talking as darkness presses in until it’s just us and this fire, the same fire we’ve always sat around, wherever we are, burning our dad’s cabinet shop scraps as kids, fallen limbs at our mom’s farm, camping by rivers, and someday the center of our kids’ reminiscence.
“They’re leggings!” Brenna insists each time I inadvertently call her new base layer long or thermal underwear. I still think she’s walking around in underwear. But it’s fine.
We all slept well enough and have had a lazy morning as we believe these trips require. While my brothers and I are packing up, Brenna has been carving something in the picnic table. We caught sight of a “B” and began making guesses.
Are you writing “Brenna”?
“Nope,” she says.
And on it goes
Finally I notice she’s finished carving. “Can we see it?” I ask.
“I guess,” she answers reluctantly.
We walk over and look. She carved “Brother Ride 2019”! How cool. I thought she was writing something for herself.
We are packed and ready to go but before we do, we’re having a look at the place where Vicary Creek enters Racehorse Creek, a wide pool of clear water interrupted by angled, moss adorned stones.
“You said we could walk by the creek” Brenna insists after I tell her it’s time to turn back.
“Not to follow the whole trail, though,” I try to explain. “We’ll have a lot more time to explore tomorrow.”
She would like to play here indefinitely. I can relate. But I also know we have several hours yet to ride today. And tomorrow, with hardly any riding scheduled, should allow lots of walking around.
As I work to herd Brenna back towards the motorcycle, Jeremy is standing on rocks at the edge of the confluence, remarking on all the fish he can see.
In four or five hours, we should be to the campsite we reserved in Banff. I’m excited to see it with time to explore on foot. It looks like a beautiful day ahead.