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All's well that ends Wells

Beneath my helmet, my eyes constantly scan the rocky and muddy trail ahead as the powerful four-wheeler chugs forward.

Beneath my helmet, my eyes constantly scan the rocky and muddy trail ahead as the powerful four-wheeler chugs forward.

Following a row of ATVs in single file going northbound, my hands have a firm grip on the steering wheel as my right foot shifts from the accelerator pedal to the brake below on the Can-Am Commander XT.

The terrain varies from easy, flat sections of forestry service roads, to single tracks of steep climbs and descents, veering left and right.

My passenger, Frank Muhle of Quesnel, the owner of the Commander XT - a side-by-side quad - laughs as I apologize for going over a bump on a route known as the Coq, a little too fast.

The quads, 25 in all, splash through muddy puddles in single file. Some shallow, others deep.

It's an adrenaline rush.

Every now and again after successfully manoeuvering through a difficult technical section of boulders, fallen logs, and hairpin turns, I take the time to relax and loosen my grasp on the wheel.

To breathe in the fresh air and take in the stunning vistas beneath the bluebird sky. To take in the lush green forest stands on the mountains and colourful meadows below from a high point on the trail, or glimpse at a sparkling lake through the trees.

The lure of ATV riding was now beginning to make sense.

It's the annual Prince George to Wells, B.C. ATV ride, a three-day excursion through the backcountry from July 25 to 27.

Organized by the Prince George ATV Club, the trip that includes a two-night stay in the District of Wells, just west of historic Barkerville, (and 74-kilometres east of Quesnel) attracted 25 ATV operators, including 10 women, as well as four passengers which included this Prince George Citizen reporter.

Participants spent the entire day on July 25 travelling the 154-kilometre PG to Wells route that's accessed southeast of Prince George at the headquarters of the PG ATV Club and the PG Snowmobile Club on Scott Road, just off of Buckhorn Road.

July 26 featured an all-day ride in and around Yanks Peak east of Wells and Barkerville and the entire group returned to Prince George on the same 154-km route on July 27.

"It's been a ride that's been going on forever. It goes way back," said PG ATV president George Hohnisch, who's riding his own quad.

"It is such a beautiful weekend for a three-day trip," added Randy Ellenchuk, a PG ATV club director as well as vice-president of the Tabor Mountain Recreation Society. "Whether winter or summer, it's phenomenal. There's excellent hospitality [in Wells] and it really is a fantastic destination."

At 8:30 a.m. on Friday, July 25, participants begin to gather outside the clubhouse. ATVs are loaded with extra orange jerry cans of fuel, food coolers, and backpacks for the three-day trip. Some even have chain saws to deal with unexpected hazards on the trail, such as fallen trees or washed out areas.

While the forecast calls for sunshine with temperatures hovering in the high 20 degree Celsius range, everyone is clad in layers - waterproof rain pants over jeans, fleece and rain jackets over top of long-sleeve shirts.

One of the riders is 73-year-old Sam Thompson from Armstrong travelled the furthest to go on the ride. He met several PG ATV club enthusiasts during rides in Coalmont, Three Valley Gap and Summerland earlier in July.

"I travel around with my quad camping alone and it's great to see new country and trails I've never been on before," said Thompson, who spent 50 years touring his motorcycle around Ireland and Australia.

After his wife died, Thompson made the move from Australia two years ago to Armstrong to be closer to his son. He decided on a life of hitching his travel trailer and quad to his truck and touring different parts of the province. "I made a big change," he said. "I'm out exploring and being on an adventure. I don't hunt or fish, but I see bears, moose and deer [while on my ATV]."

Other riders are retired foresters and tradesmen from Prince George and Quesnel, as well as nursing instructors from UNBC.

The Prince George ATV Club is the largest in the province, boasting 198 members from around the region.

"We promote responsible riding," said Hohnisch. "We're not out there to rip up the environment. We pack in and pack out [our garbage, supplies] and also promote safety."

Mud-bogging and riding on non-designated trails is not allowed.

Hohnisch has spent the last couple years working with the Tabor Mountain Recreation Society, Recreation Sites and Trails B.C. and other branches of the provincial government improving and maintaining the trails to give not only ATV users, but other off-road users such as snowmobilers and horseback riders easier access to enjoy the backcountry.

With funding from Recreation Sites and Trails B.C., Western Economic Diversification Canada, the Regional District of Fraser Fort-George, trails were brushed back, drainage was improved, signage was installed, bridges were built to improve the trail system.

With the help of government funding, the PG to Wells connecting route was built in co-operation with the Wells Wheels ATV Club, the Wells Snowmobile Club, the PG ATV Club and the Prince George Snowmobile Club.

"It's definitely a worthwhile project," said Hohnisch. "It employs people and assists Wells in its economy. The snowmobilers come across in the winter. The Wells groups grooms the trails as far north as they can and Prince George grooms the trails as far south as they can."

Friday morning after a safety briefing, the group splits into two, heads out onto the route going eastbound. Yours truly is a passenger in Muhle's side-by-side, soaking up the atmosphere.

About 10 km in, all riders, in single file, come to a stop. Those of us in the back believe a fallen tree has blocked our path. A closer look reveals two to three-metre wide stretch of the trail is washed out, exposing a culvert and a deep hole which make it temporarily impassable.

Riders up front quickly get to work, using fallen trees and branches to connect the two sides of the trail. Eventually, with some skillful driving, the ATVs traverse the path and we're on our way.

Eventually as we head south, we reach Stony Lake Recreation Site for lunch and a welcome respite. Except for a few campers, we have the beach to ourselves as we take in the vast views of the surrounding forest and sparkling lake under warm, sunny skies.

As we dive into our lunch and snacks, riders begin to introduce ourselves and talk about past excursions. There's a lot of laughter and chatter.

Continually digesting the scenery and the ride, I'm still grinning from ear-to-ear.

Soon, it's back on the trail on what's known as the Coq. The goal is to reach Wells by 4:30 p.m.

We continue southbound on the maze of trails and eventually make it to Wells along Highway 26 where we're greeted by Dianne Andreesen, co-owner of the Hubs Motel, our accommodations for the next two nights.

We're dusty and grimy from the day-long ride and we're all thankful for warm showers and comfy beds.

We're also hungry. Andreesen and her husband also own Big H Halibut & Chips next door. A soft ice cream cone follows across the street at Frog in the Bog Gifts.

Sleep comes not a moment too soon.

Saturday, most of the ATV group is up early around 7 a.m. for breakfast the Northwoods Restaurant and fine-tuning their quads to spend the day riding around Yanks Peak trails, part of the Wells/Barkerville Trails network.

Andreesen provides the group with a tasty snack - a huge bag full of homemade chocolate chip oatmeal cookies.

I choose to spend the day wandering around the historic town of Barkerville where English prospector Billy Barker first discovered gold in 1862. That discovery spearheaded a golden era in B.C. and helped shape the province.

After a day of riding in the mountains, the group returns and most, thanks to a shuttle from the Hubs Motel, go to Barkerville to take in the Theatre Royal live stage show. Others have dinner at the Bear's Paw Cafe and Wells Hotel, just a short walk away.

Besides being a business owner, Andreesen is also past-president of the Wells Wheels ATV Club. She knows the economic benefits of having groups like the PG ATV Club and others visit the area.

"Being a tourism-based community, we rely heavily on outdoor enthusiasts to survive both summer and winter months," she said. "Seeing B.C. by ATV and getting out for a weekend into the backcountry, is becoming increasingly popular; we have more and more riders every year.

"The Wells area has a lot to offer ATVers with our extensive trail systems, and as a business owner I have realized how having an ATV club would be a huge benefit to our Wells economy."

Andreesen added the District of Wells supports any sport that contributes to the economic value of the town and ATVs do that.

Sunday morning arrives under sunny and warm skies. It's hard to believe, but it's time to return to Prince George.

ATVs are packed and loaded with gear.

Andreesen receives hugs for the hospitality and hands out and homemade cookies for the road.

She provides an escort east down Highway 26 to our starting point and we head north along the 401 trail.

An hour later at the junction of the 401 and Coq trails, Muhle allows me to take the wheel of his XT Commander for the first time. I'm a rookie having never driven one before. I'm also tentative at first as we follow along in single file on the Coq trail.

But as I get used to the route and the four-wheeler, I gain more and more confidence as we make our way north for the remaining 130km trek.

After stops again at Stony Lake, Fish Lake and the Yamaha cabin in the Tabor Mountain Recreation area, we finally return to our headquarters on Scott Road.

As ATVs are loaded onto trailers, we peel off a few layers as we wipe dust off our faces. We say our farewells.

"I'm so glad I made the trip," said Thompson. "It's good fellowship and I've had a lot of fun on the ride. I would definitely come back."

I'm still grinning from ear to ear.

If you go:

The PG to Wells trip is held annually every July. However a visitor's map and guide is available from Recreation Sites and Trails B.C. that allows riders to travel it at any time in all four seasons.

Safety first. Helmets are mandatory and must be worn at all times. Riders must have a valid driver's license.

Bring rain gear, (wear rain pants to avoid getting soaked going through large puddles); dust masks (a bandana to cover your mouth and nose will do; goggles also help in keeping dust out of your eyes); emergency equipment, fuel and food as required for the trip.

A GPS is also necessary.

For more information, visit

The District of Wells prides itself on being a destination for art, history and recreation.

Visitors can watch artists and artisans work in their studios and galleries or take in live theatre and concerts at the Sunset Theatre or Barkerville.

Where to stay:

There are a variety of recreation sites that are available for camping on the northern portion of the route.

Hotels and motels are available in Wells: among them the Wells Hotel and the Hubs Motel.

For more information, visit


When riding in a group, try to find out the skill level of participants and adjust your ride accordingly.

Carry a map of the area and go over your route before departing.

Carry out a head count so you can determine if anyone is missing at check points.

Pre-establish check points and ensure all operators are made aware of them.

Always stop at trail intersections to ensure the operator behind you knows which direction to go.

If possible, maintain visual contact with the rider in front of you, but do not tail gate them.