The Mighty Viking

Conquering those things we must, one story at a time

Posts Tagged ‘Ride Report’

The following is a ride report for August of 2012, from Departure Bay, Nanaimo BC, to Lillooet, BC:

The ferry from Departure Bay in Nanaimo to Horseshoe Bay on the mainland is an exercise in transition. From the quiet, intimate inlets, channels of the Island and rocky coastlines to majestic fjords the change in attitude is also one of scale. Vancouver Island does have its mountain peaks. But these colossal mountains that jut skyward from the water’s edge into the unknown gets the blood pumping, knowing I’m going to be lost somewhere in those crags soon. Every time I pull into Horseshoe Bay, there is a point where I always have the same thought. The bay is tucked into a little cove, you don’t see it until just shortly before arrival. I always think to myself, “what a great place to tuck a little pirate cove!”. And then I laugh a little because I remember I said the same thing last time.

When I pulled off the ferry, I could see a long line of cars stretching eastward. And it reminded me of the last time I was in a city, a few days ago. It was with some relief that I realized that I was taking a left, not a right, and would be going first west, then north.

The ride from Horseshoe Bay to Whistler is on a highway called the “Sea to Sky highway”. It’s name is well-earned. It also has borne other names, including the “Killer highway”. The route runs along steep cliffs overlooking Howe Sound, and only recently has had outside barriers added, along with other improvements. Adding to the drama of the ride are several signs warning motorists not to stop in a certain area, as it is an avalanche area. But the view is unbeatable.

Pemberton, BC is something of a gateway. Most people think of Whistler, but few realize that Pemberton, a few miles beyond, is older, and was the place that the Hudson’s Bay men used as a base for establishing themselves in the area. It’s a small, rustic town and the end of the wider highway.

Shortly beyond Pemberton, after a slow, winding cruise through the mountain valley, and past a good-sized lake, things get serious. The road curls around the northern edge of the lake and immediately jumps into a series of switchbacks. In five minutes I felt like I was on top of the world, in six minutes I realized, as I looked at the road ahead of me, I was nowhere near the top. The rain started in on me, like an old friend verbally abusing me by way of welcoming me after a long absense. We laughed together, the rain and I, and I rode through it, over the peak at Joffre lakes, and out from under it by Duffey lakes.

The area around Duffey lake and I go way back. They are gone now, but there used to be a series of small, almost roadside camp sites. So light was the traffic that you could camp there and see only a few cars in an entire day. I feel fortunate to have been there, and carry that memory with me. The sites are gone now, and the traffic is heavier as many folk have heard about this scenic route. But the highway still feels both grandiose and intimate. Grandiose because of the dramatic, sweeping landscape scarred at the top with jagged peaks, filled in between with enormously expansive mountain slopes, and the sense of the dropping chasm through which the river and highway drop out of this mountain pass to the civilization on the other side. Intimate because the highway is a narrow, winding ribbon that carries me close to the streams, crosses them with wooden decked bridges, and hugs the canyon walls. The river that flows from Duffey Lake does not travel back to the sea from where I came, it flows the circuitous route northward down from the pass towards Frasier River Canyon. And when I say it flows, I mean it rages.

The stream, or so its called, runs for at least five miles out of Duffey lake so fast that it is a continuous rapids without a break. By the time the first slower pool is reached, I can already smell the mist rising up from around the next bend, where it begins another frantic drop. The road follows suit, bouncing and winding, the winter’s weather taking a toll on the asphalt as harshly as the terrain rules the grade. It is for several miles a busy time, avoiding the cracks and other hazards. At one point both wheels left the ground when I rounded a corner and sat up just in time to catch air off of an upheaval in the road surface. It was shortly after this that I saw the sign: “Winding Road”, use caution”. Umm…thanks.

The last stretch of descent let me see my destination, the valley in which the town of Lillooet lay. The two sides of the chasm through which I had to pass came together in a “V” at their bottom, like the front sights on a gun. I thought about that idea of the sight, but really, there was nothing in the sight. I rode on, through it, and after a short bit stopped and turned around. There, I realized, was the answer. The sight wasn’t pointed down, it was pointed up, at the mountain crags above. Shoot for the sky, indeed.

I’d like to take a moment to thank the highway department of British Columbia. after climbing mountain peaks, twisting through switchbacks, gazing over the side at gorges hundreds of feet below, listening to the raging streams along which the highway twisted, through mountain passes…yes, 42.7 miles through all of this, they provided the following words of warning, on a sign on the roadside:

Winding Road. Use Caution.

Thanks, BC highway crew, for that timely Public Service Announcement.