The Mighty Viking

Conquering those things we must, one story at a time

Ride report: Horseshoe Bay to Hope, BC

The early summer breeze blew crisp across my face this morning as I stood at the bow of a ferry. Two days had passed camping on the island, and now, with the landing at Horseshoe Bay wheeling into sight, I anticipated a day of riding across the southern-most highway of British Columbia. But to get to that highway, I had to cross through Vancouver, and the wide Frazier valley. The ferry landing at Horseshoe Bay, on the west side of Vancouver, was my starting point.



The deep fjord in which this small harbor hides pushes the earth out from its depths into spectacular mountains.  Snow caps could be seen in the background. The languid leisure of the ferry crossing shook itself into the excitement of navigating the offloading ramps, which swept

neatly onto the highway that hugs the edge of the fjord, curving around the mountain’s foot, and bringing the city into view. There is a sense of being welcomed to the city, and indeed, that is another ride, down from Lillooet, and Pemberton, and Whistler.  I join the parade as it enters the city, blending with the late commuters, and soon a bridge carries me over from the forested hillsides into the vast expanse of industry and humanity.


I immediately want out.


It’s not that Vancouver is a bad city, but it is – well – a city, and a big one. A constant whirl of lights and sounds, people, and things constantly in motion, threatening to sweep you away if you don’t keep moving. By prior planning, I chose to take the less traveled highway 7, but it requires a few miles of city street driving. The road where it leaves the city is well-worth it. I take the plunge, and begin working on survival.


There begins, after quite some time, to be a sense of change in the pace, and the density if traffic and industry. A short break, another town, a few technical curves, and suddenly, I realized I’d drifted out into a wide flat valley, with no city in sight. It didn’t fade, didn’t stretch and thin and gradually disappear. There was just Town, Curves to distract me, and poof! it was gone. And in the sudden drifting spin of my head freshly ejected at the bottom of a rapids, I hear myself saying, “yeah, and a good riddance too!”.


The Frazier valley is as much a fjord as the ferry landing at Horseshoe Bay, but without any of the deep water.  The bottom of it is wide and flat, the hills jutting up suddenly, sharply, and majestically into tall mountains that line its edges.  The road swoops and swings along the northern bank of the Frazier River.  As soon as the city is left behind, the dairy farms start, then the sawmills show up, and then, finally, the breeze that had blown crisply at my back on the ferry drifted into an afternoon languor. I settled into a relaxed pace, and picked my way through a half dozen small communities that embraced the spirit of this lazy summer afternoon. Nothing ahead seems important enough to rush to. Not even farm tractors turning onto the road with their loads of manure could disturb my peace.


And so it is with a good long ride, if one thing can’t tempt you out if your comfort zone, something else will. As I eased up this wide valley, skirting along its edge, I become aware of the southern edge of the valley, closing northward. Rounding a corner, I saw directly in my path, still miles away, a peak jutting up from the valley floor from the other edge. It stood up in one continuous, straight slope from the valley floor, covered in evergreens, until its altitude and slope could no longer hold sufficient air and soil, and it left living trees behind. Even further up, the rocky slag was covered with snow, and finally, that snow disappeared into a soft cap of clouds.  This whole scene was still far off, but even with the scale of distance, it commanded my attention, and I had to fight to remain aware of the road.


The road wound and twisted, but gradually its intent emerged. This peak constantly crossed my bow, and grew both in size, and my mind’s awareness. In twenty miles it transformed from a distant warning to an impenetrable wall. I could think of nothing else but enormity. But then, abruptly and at the last minute, the road turned north, and the valley’s northward rise shows itself.  This mountain instantly transformed from barrier to gatepost, behind which the other peaks began to impose their presence on either side. Instead of one single iconic peak, I was suddenly in the midst of a herd of mountains, and the movement up the valley began to seem as if they ran with me up this narrowing valley like wild horses. I felt their energy, the thirst to remain wild, and separate from the world of humanity below. I subconsciously rode a little faster, pulled up the subtle grade of the narrowing valley by the instinct to race, for the pure joy of the wind pushed across my face.



Narrow inlets appeared between peaks, gateways to secret spots tucked into the wilderness above. It was always “above”. I hear a phrase from my childhood, man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward”.  I smiled at the irony of my instinct to rush faster tow

ards it. I gripped the throttle tighter, focused for a moment listening to the angry roar of the machine beneath me.



For a short space the highway flattened out, the road gathering itself for its impending leap upward. The hills to my north fell back, and I raced headlong across an expanse of the open land. A bulge of a hill lies alone in the middle of this flat section of valley, and the road was pushed up against this hill where the river’s tail snakes across the valley floor. I crossed the expanse to the hill, feeling the thundering hooves vibrating the earth. At the bottom of the small hill, I felt myself lifted, and my ride transformed from a wild horse to a Pegasus, freed from the earth, hooves weightlessly pawing the air.  For the space of a few hundred yards this sense of lifting off continued, until the hill’s far side let me back down to the earth. Like a yearling mythical colt who has just experimented with its first flight, the thunderous clamour of the horse’s gallop returned. I felt the weight return to my feet, to my saddle, my body settling back to its familiar position.  I ran earthbound once again with the wild mountains, horses in their own way. But that brief moment forever changed me. This moment is the one that I cling to, the memory that there is something more than mindless racing across the land. There will be a time, and a place, where I will soar again. When you learn to crawl, you move to walking. When you learn to walk, you reach forward to running. When you’ve learned to walk, running is the next step. And now, when I perfect running, I will soar. I can only imagine what comes next, but I can hardly wait to find out.




For the moment, though, I raced onward. The canyon narrowed yet further, and the sides of this valley felt like sweaty equine bodies stampeding forward, urging me to abandon my purposes, to let go and just run. We galloped together, but begin to watch for an escape, a way out of this dead-end run. We jostled, these mountain peaks and I, fighting instinctively for position, but the drive to run still first in our mind. Looking left, looking right, the river flooded out broadly across nearly the whole breadth of the valley. This stampede is all but over, and for the moment, no outlet yet appeared.  Mountains of a different sort appeared. As tall as these other mountains have been, the ones coming into view are taller, towering over everything – everything. These are the Lords of this place, the keepers of the secrets of the wilderness. They are steeper yet than those that I suddenly realize now lie behind me, stubbornly pawing the air but stopped in reverence to this new landscape. T

hese are steeper.  And wilder. And eagles fly in their midst.



I crossed over the bridge into Hope, my heart still pumping the excitement of the run through my being. I breathed the excitement down, slowly, as I eased reverently up the main street, and into the presence of these giants looming over me, nodding their solemn welcome.


I stop for a rest, and to collect my thoughts from this past couple hours, and feel a familiar nudge behind me. Turning back to look down at the valley, the languorous wind nuzzles me like a young colt, freshened and ready for the evening. While I was distracted by the peaks before me, it too joined in the race, kicking up its own heels, running up these slopes with the abandon of wild things. I smiled a sense of kinship, and rested. In a short time I will enter the temple of the Wilderness, and I should be at my best.



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