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International Selkirk Loop Tour

By Debbie Macdonald

10 women, 2 countries, 4 days

Discovering the Northwest’s long lakes

Spokane, Wash., Sept. 17–21—It was February when I got the e-mail, the subject reading “Harley Invite—Idaho Ride.” It was like a dream come true. I was invited by Harley (which was partnering with the Idaho Tourism Department to sponsor the ride) to join up with nine other female journalists on a special ride on the newest Harley-Davidson models through the International Selkirk Loop in northeast Washington, northern Idaho and southeast British Columbia in late September. Now, you have to realize that at the time I had not been able to ride for months due to a knee injury. By September, the surgery would be well behind me. How could I respond with anything less than “Count me in!”?

The International Selkirk Loop, North America’s only multi-country scenic loop, is a 280-mile riding tour, winding its way through Idaho, Washington, Montana and British Columbia, while encircling the Selkirk Mountain Range. Along the route there are over 400 additional miles of what they call, “Super Side Trips.” It has also been designated as one of the top 10 scenic destinations in the Northern Rockies.

I arrived just in time to join the group for a tour of Davenport Hotel in downtown Spokane, Washington, our first night’s accommodations, with historian Tom McArthur. The hotel was built in 1914 by famed northwest architect Kirkland Cutter for owner Louis Davenport. At the time, the hotel boasted the first air-conditioning and the creation of the famous Crab Louis salad, named after the owner.

Later we took a walk to Riverfront Park, site of the 1974 World’s Fair, where all went for a ride on the 100-year-old Looff Carrousel and the Skyride, an enclosed gondola that soars above the falls of the Spokane River. The sightseeing gave us a great opportunity to get acquainted with all our riders—Genevieve Schmitt, Anne Tattersall, Michaela Fischer, Pam Collins, Margie Siegal, Michelle Baird, Randy Twells, Susan Swan and Sheryl Bussard. (Check out our bios at www.visitidaho.org/cruisingtheloop.)

Finally, a stretch limo took us to Gonzaga University, home of the Bing Crosby Collection and Bing Crosby’s boyhood home. The Crosby house, which is now part of the university, was opened for us and we were treated to a “Christmas” dinner with all the trimmings, including a DVD of White Christmas. After finishing with a wonderful dessert and champagne, I was ready to retire to my luxurious room to prepare myself for the next four days of riding.

Day one: Water, water everywhere
Our first day of riding would stretch 217 miles, from Spokane to Bonners Ferry, Idaho. Our breakfast meeting came early at 7 a.m., when we all gathered to go over the day’s ride with a wonderful breakfast that I was too nervous to enjoy. Diane Norton took the reins of the meeting and would be our ride leader. Diane works for the Idaho Division of Tourism. This ride is her baby and she took care of us like only a loving mother could. Our bikes were lined up and ready for us in the parking lot. I nabbed a silver 2010 Street Glide for the duration. Our luggage was loaded into the chase van to be driven by ISL Director Carol Graham. Todd Canavan, a Harley-Davidson distribution center employee, would also be following in a pick-up to keep all the bikes in working order. Jen Gruber from H-D Corporate Communications would be along for the ride, too, with an extra bike, just in case.

On a trip of this type, it’s always nice to have someone leading who knows the roads. We were fortunate to have Barb Faraca and Val Nadalet, road captains for the Spokane River H.O.G. chapter, taking the lead to Newport, Washington. The Newport Chamber of Commerce Visitors Center in Centennial Plaza made for a nice pit stop. We also checked out the “Big Wheel,” a 16-foot steam-driven sawmill that welcomes travelers to this historic town. We had not even reached our lunch stop and it seemed like we were already behind, with a photo stop along the Pend Oreille River and 30-mile-long Lake Pend Oreille, the largest lake in Idaho. As we rode through pastures and meadows with mountains, lakes and river views at every turn, I could not believe how well-maintained these two-lane roads were.

It was a shame that by the time we got to Sandpoint we did not have time to do much else other than find a place to sit and have lunch. I opted for the Coldwater Creek Wine Bar. The second half of the day’s ride made up for it, though, as it took us once again by Lake Pend Oreille. A quick gas stop in Clark Fork provided enough time to see the suspension bridge at Kootenai Falls. Then it was on to Bonners Ferry, along the banks of the Kootenai River.

Our second night found us staying at the Northside School Bed & Breakfast, situated on a hill overlooking downtown Bonners Ferry. Owners Ruth and Gene Perry certainly made us feel welcome. The pool and hot tub quickly melted away the miles of the day’s ride. A glass of wine while sitting in the little library area helped get us ready for our short walk to town for dinner at Papa Byrd’s Bistro, where owners Tracy and Mark Truesdell treated us to a meal consisting of small bites of many of their signature dishes paired with local red and white wines, topped off with four bites of each of their homemade desserts.

Day two: Canadian curves and hospitality
The 203 miles of riding on our second day would take us from Bonners Ferry to Nelson, British Columbia, but not before breakfast in the dining room of our B&B. Served by Ruth, her homemade quiche and scones with clotted cream and fresh fruit (including local huckleberries) started the day just right. With the weather a bit cooler this morning, I tried to not pay attention to the forecast of rain, but decided to start out wearing my all-weather gear—just in case—which turned out to be a smart move.

This would also be our first border crossing into Canada, so at breakfast we made sure we had all the proper paperwork: passports, insurance and bike registrations. Our route took us through Creston, a large, beautiful agricultural area with abundant fruit trees and flowers. We made a quick stop at the Columbia Brewery, home of Kokanee Beer, and although it was too early for a beer break, we did stop to take a group photo in front of the statue of Sasquatch.

Then it was on to Crawford Bay. This ride is touted as the best motorcycle road in Canada, with 270 curves. The road winds along the 90-mile-long Kootenay Lake, with many beautiful homes along its shore, including the Glass House, a must-see made of over 500,000 empty embalming fluid bottles. Yes, you read that right—can you guess the home was owned by a mortician? If the construction of the house is not enough, then the view of the lake will knock your riding boots off. When not stopping to take in the views, you’ll want to visit the many artisans who live and sell their wares along this route. Luckily, we got the chance to stop and shop in Crawford Bay at shops featuring enameling, pottery, weaving, jewelry, blacksmithing and broom-making. (Believe it or not, Harry Potter’s broom was made here.) As we prepared to get back on the bikes we could see that the clouds were starting to move in and it would be a wet ride to the ferry crossing.

As luck would have it, the ferry across Kootenay Bay to Balfour was unloading as we arrived, so we did not have to spend much time standing in the rain before we were able to ride the bikes on board. The ferry runs daily about every hour and it’s free. The 30-minute crossing would give us enough time to have a much-needed lunch break of drinks and sandwiches as we sat in the lounge area eating, talking and taking in more of the beauty of the area.

The rain subsided for a while, allowing us to enjoy the ride to Kaslo. This restored heritage village is the home of the S.S. Moyie, the world’s oldest intact passenger sternwheeler, beautifully restored to the way it looked in the 1890s. A trip aboard allowed us to go into the Pilot House and blow the whistle.

For me, the next part of the route, from Kaslo to New Denver, was some of the best riding and most beautiful scenery, despite the roads being a little wet from the rain. It was just a joy to be riding, but as we came around a really tight lefthand turn, my joy turned into panic as we saw one of our riders down. Luckily, it was a slow get-off into the gravel on the side of the road. The rider was a bit bruised, so she opted to go in the chase van while the bike was loaded onto the truck.

One last scenic stop looked down on Slocan Lake and across to Valhalla Provincial Park. The rain clouds made the lake look like glass, very calm and beautiful, with the light showing off the majesty of the mountains and the water. Unfortunately, those clouds also meant rain again, which eventually turned into a downpour. The road came down off the mountain with some long sweeper turns that would have been fun if it were not for the high wind that was hitting us from the side. It was a slow and careful ride out of the mountains. All of us were more than happy to finally arrive at the Hume Hotel in downtown Nelson, British Columbia.

The Hume, built in 1898, still holds the charm of that bygone era. The library lounge is a nostalgic reminder of what it was like then, down to the restored fireplace, wood floor, and original key rack in the lobby. The room was comfortable and roomy, but all I cared about at that point was a tub full of hot water to soak away the chill of the rain.

Some of us planned to meet in the lobby for a walk around town before dinner, but the rain told us we needed to go to the bar instead, and we didn’t get to see much of the historic town of Nelson. A short walk in the rain for dinner did not prepare us for yet another feast, this time at the All Seasons Cafe. It’s a trendy little place with a menu that utilizes the best of the area’s local ingredients, along with a superb wine list. The food was divine, and with the addition of a bottle (or two) of wine, they practically had to roll me back to the Hume. I had just enough energy to make it back to my room before I was face-down for the night.

Day three: Highway Nirvana
Today would take us to Colville, Washington—170 miles. Unexpectedly, this would be the best day and ride of the entire trip.

We got to sleep in a bit since the mileage was less than the other days, so we took advantage with a nice breakfast in the hotel restaurant. Then it was back on the bikes for the border crossing back into the U.S.

I am sure that everyone sorts through their own personal “perfect day of riding” checklist while on the road. This final day will be added to my list of best days of riding, ever. We had the best weather, the best roads, the best people to ride with, the best scenery, great bikes to ride—I don’t know what else I could add to the list but it felt like this day had it all!

When riding with a group you kind of find your place in the pack and stay there. Mostly I rode in the back of the pack, which is fine, since I don’t like to have a lot of riders behind me. I’m not of big fan of formation riding, and although I do ride staggered, I keep my distance from the rider in front and try to keep my own line while riding. But this would be the last full day of riding, so as we were leaving Salmo, about 10 miles from the U.S. border on a really nice road with great sweepers and a perfect surface, the bike was calling out to me. I hooked it in the passing lane and took off ahead of everyone to the border crossing.

It was so nice to have no one in front of or behind me, and I put some throttle into it, taking the bike through its paces (if only for 10 miles). It was a freeing sensation and one I was not going to let go of, if I could help it, for the rest of the day. I reached the border crossing and waited to see if anyone else wanted to get away from the pack and put some speed on. I knew I would have a few takers.

The rest of the ride went by in a blur of road-hugging turns and hitting some top speeds on the straights—it was fun to not have to be held back by the group. I was really getting into the feel of this road when all too soon we arrived in Melaline Falls, which is literally out in the middle of nowhere. On this beautiful Sunday afternoon, only Cathy’s Restaurant was open, where we sat down for a hearty lunch, then got back on the road to find that elusive photo op. No sooner had we turned onto Highway 20 (which would eventually lead us to our night’s rest in Colville), than we found our perfect pullout facing an endless meadow with an old barn surrounded by trees, all framed by a beautiful view of the distant mountains.

The ride to Colville was another blur of good road. By that time I felt I had found my road and my ride. We rolled into Colville, one of Washington’s oldest cities, known for its historical preservation and the Keller House museum. We wound our way through town to find the Comfort Inn, which conveniently was right next to a supermarket. With a bottle of wine in hand, I spent a leisurely hour in the hot tub, and then padded off to my room to get ready for dinner.

Lovitt is a beautiful 1908 farmhouse converted into a restaurant by award-winning chef Norman Six and his wife Kristen. Priding themselves on using fresh local ingredients, with some right out of their garden, they make everything from scratch, including the crackers and rolls. They even smoke their own meats. Neither the food nor the ambiance could have been better, and to top it all off, we were treated with an Irish dance performance by three lovely young ladies.

Day four: Can’t we do it again?
As this was our shortest day, just 115 miles, and a few of us would be leaving for the airport upon arrival in Spokane, it was somewhat anti-climactic. The ride from Colville to Newport was another beautiful journey through fields and mountains. Our stop in Newport, where we had started out, was also a reminder that this wonderful trip was coming to an end. Thanks to Kathleen and Kathy from Lady Riders of Spokane, who stopped by to lead the way, we opted to circumvent some roadwork and took the quickest way back, our first ride on a freeway the entire trip. I sure missed those back roads after a few awful miles in traffic to Spokane. We got to the hotel and said our goodbyes, watched the bikes getting loaded up to go back to the distribution center and then I was off the airport with barely enough room in my bags to fit all the mementos I had accumulated on the ride. Soon I was on the plane home, but couldn’t shake the memories… Hadn’t I just been riding a motorcycle through some of the most beautiful country I’d ever experienced? (www.selkirkloop.org)

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