After three days of breaking bread, drinking good Canadian beer and endless playtime for Augustine in the nearby water park and backyard hot tub with Tracy and Leanne, we struggled to re-pack all our gear and hit the road – but we did, surprisingly.
Tracy and Leanne have carved out a little slice of paradise in the little suburban neighborhood above the railway and semi-industrial zone. Their hearts are as big as their smiles and their stories filled with enough Canadian idioms to fill a milk truck. On top of all that, they’ve got kids they’ve imbued with dreams and artisan whimsies to charm the socks off you. We’ll miss them!
With a slow start, finishing washing clothes and a breakfast of eggs, salad and bacon things didn’t start rolling until 11:20AM. It was freaking hot – which is a big theme most of the way to Vancouver. It doesn’t help either that Ance and I are quite possibly the laziest cyclist on the planet . We seem to find ourselves sweating our eyes out during the hottest parts of the day far too often.
While huffing it up the hill to and past Stoner (35km outside of Prince George, and yes, unfortunate name) a man yells out to us from the nearby bushy embankment: “little hot for a bike ride ain’t it? We’ve got cold water and shade, come take a break eh?” Though we didn’t even see the guy, it was around 35 C (95 F) and we’d already polished off most of our water already.
Pulling in, Joe greeted us with a cold hose of fresh water, offering smokes to me, candy to Augustine and pulled out pictures of his own kids to show off to Ance. Joe’s mother, a self-proclaimed 83 year old good Indian, then came out and told us to stay the night, she had an extra bedroom, just moved to Stoner (5 years earlier) from Manitoba – “a place so cold it’d freeze the snot in your pretty little nose,” she told me in a serious confidential tone.
A bit awkwardly, Joe had invited us to lunch and enjoy the shade of their house as they all were preparing to leave to town. They poured out chips and cookies and told us to enjoy their house while they were away. While they were preparing to leave Ance was asked to slip into the house to help Joe’s mother button up her blouse – she’d sown mukluks her whole life and Joe suffered from frost bite on both hands. What they did when Ance wasn’t around is a curiosity.
The day continued with a hellish heat with slow 3km-5km climbs with intermittent gifts of downhill glides. We snagged some freezes in Hixon and biked to a pull out where we walked a couple hundred meters to a low bush blueberry patch to go to war for and listened to thunder storms cracking and rolling in the surrounding hills the whole night through.
Hixon to Outside Quesnel – Pioneer Park (July 31st 2014)
Oatmeal with fresh blueberries to start the day along with a lingering feeling of being slapped and wrapped in a wet sloppy blanket of dew that mingled on our skin, sleeping bags, tent fabric, you name it.
After 10 mins on the road Augustine’s tread finally bellied up. The left/right dragging motion that naturally occurs with the trailer had worn down to a paper thin encasement that met its final day.
Getting back on the road we were met with backwind and gleeful even cadence. After hitting up Cinema (funky free little campsite marking something of a community) for a popsicle we then were hit it some slow hot stingers. Ended up stopping at an oasis rest stop with a little pond where we swam and day dreamed away the hours in the shade until 5:30PM.
After a couple of good climbs in the dropping evening temperature, met a wonderful 15km drop into Quesnel, were we found cold yogurt and ate in the shade of the grocery store parking lot. We continued out of the mess that is South Quesnel (a stripped landscape with every Canadian box store you can imagine and every tree ram rodded with concrete in the process). Approaching a long day at 9PM Ance randomly said we should turn off a side road, where we magically found Pioneer Park. It turned out to me an unmarked and hidden community park just above Dragon Lake.
We pulled into the deserted park and decided on lucky site seven to crash and dream.
Pioneer Park to McLeesy Lake Community Hall (August 1st 2014)
Took an early swim in Dragon Lake and due to the location were forced to filter some lake water to drink for the first part of the day – a water bottle full of an earthy slightly moldy mixture is thirst quenching.
The day mostly turned out to be a “Fix-Ance’s-Flats” day. About 30 seconds after loading the bikes noticed the back was flat. Swapped out quick and rolled out, 45 mins later Ance is flat again. Went all ninja on the inside tread to find the pokie bastard – nothing. Patched and threw tube back in. One hour later, flat. Was able to pump up and limp into Fort Alexandria historic/restaurant log cabin. We stuffed ourselves with greasy fries and a thick vanilla milkshake while looking for the tube killer.
Attempted another patch, I think my greasy french fry hands botched the job, opted for new tube before l lost my mind on the cafe porch. Easy rolling for a couple kilometers before a 5.25km climb of around 300m.
Hopped in the lake to douse the sweat off, did up some popcorn and got some local information about camping at the local community hall on the south side of the lake – “no one’s going to kick you outta there and it should be pretty quite” a 50ish looking man advised.
He was right about being able to camp but the quite thing was a bit off. We happened upon McLeese Lake community hall rec area on the weekend that quite possibly the largest Canadian family was having a reunion. Augustine found a friend and celebrating family members waved at us while we walked the grounds like relatives.
McLeese Lake to Chimney Lake (August 2nd 2014)
Finally found the tube serial killer – little piece of wire from trucker tire. After a great drop out of McLeese Lake with huge picturesque views of vaulting and rolling farm land hit an 8km slog outside of Williams Lake with a 7% grade 15 min glide into town.
Took a break at a children’s water park/playground. Hid in the shade avoiding the 32C+ (90F+) heat. Augustine got to scream and run around with some local kids, loving every second.
Resupplied the food bag and stopped at local bike shop. Got some local information about skipping out on Highway 97 and hitting up Dog Creek road to camp on Chimney Lake. Great ride but totally exhausted. After around a 10km of a good climb up of around 320m blew it all in a short 9% drop to turn off to the lake with more climbing.
Showed up at campsite on east side of lake around 9:30PM, shoved food in mouthes and drifted off to sleep under a starry sloppy moist night.
Woke twice. Once to the sound of snorting and sniffing outside of the tent that I swore was a bear. The second to the sound of strange shuffling sounds in the grass early in the morning with intermittent honking. Poked my head out to find one goose leading around 15 other geese through the grass with no particular destination in mind, something like a mindless goose waltz.
Chimney Lake to Lac La Hache – Gravel Pit (August 3rd 2014)
Late start due to lazy hangover from long hours yesterday. My bear turned out to be a neighbor camper’s pug pup interested in our sweaty arm pits. Made concoction of apples sautéed in butter with sugar and cinnamon mixed with the half a gallon bag of oatmeal cookie crumbs that were kicking around for awhile.
Stopped at farm house to grab some water and say hello. Katie invited us in and chatted about her family, showed us her collection of local pressed grass and gave Augustine a freezy. “Where’s your van?” she asked in passing.
Luckily, the gravel road we began to travel turned off back to the main highway on Enterprise Road otherwise the 50-60km to Lac La Hache would have been a pretty long haul. As it stood, we did about 15-20km on the rugged gravel road (for our bikes) and crossed the San Jose River back onto Highway 97.
Ance milked out of a teenager attended at a gas station/store/pub/restaurant/inn in Lac La Hache a place to pitch a tent for free for the evening – a local spot for youth to have bon fires and be general hellions. While looking for the spot we asked a local in passing if we were heading in the right direction: “yeah, the gravel pit its back there, no one will bother you back there. You could have a fire, whatever the hell you want. Kill each other and nobody’d care.” “Not planning on it!” Ance chimed back.
Found the spot with a healthy population of ants, setup camp and headed down to the lake for an evening swim. Dinner, story time and peaceful gravel pit sleep – actually pretty nice for a gravel pit.
Lac La Hache to Horse Lake (August 4th 2014)
Slow and short day. Rolled into 100 Mile House at 30C+ (85F+) with a bucket of sweat and a hankering for shade. Stopped in at our very first visitor center on this trip. Heard a wide array of ridiculous comments and questions I thought only Alaskan tourist ask. One of the most entertaining:
Visitor: “We haven’t seen much wild life on our trip, where can we find some?”
Attendant: “Well, bears and the like stick a bit away from the road usually, out in the wild.”
Visitor: “Oh, really? How do we get there?”
We were almost as bad and asked were we could find shade and cold water. We got directed to centennial park, where we ate lunch, napped in the shade and dunked in the water all day until the heat died down a bit.
Before heading out of town, hit the store to snag some birthday supplies for Ance’s 26th birthday. We figured we could make a sort of pancake layered cake out of Betty Crocker’s boxes with Nutella.
Instead of taking the highway, took a jaunt on a side paved road that skims Horse and Green Lake that all the locals call the scenic route to 70 Mile house. Ended up stopping at a house to ask for directions to Lone Butte, as we hit a bunch of roads that in no way showed up on our map. Augustine, being apparently ridiculously cute and possibly looking like her parents are insane, got another popsicle. We got directions to a public access road with a small grassy spot: “no one is going to care if you camp down there.”
Spent the evening with locals that were taking turns tubing on Horse Lake. Augustine chased around Savanna until the sunset – a girl her same age. We chatted with the parents and uncles about our trip. They ended up giving us half a pizza they’d brought and wishing us well around 10:30PM – “it’ll either give you energy or the runs,” was the departing comment about the pizza.
Horse Lake to Green Lake (August 5th 2014)
Ance’s birthday! Maybe did 25km today – hard workers.
Woke early with Ance to watch the sunrise. Augustine woke early as well and was miss pestering grumpy pants for the rest of the morning. Couldn’t tell if it was wrong-side of the bed syndrome or she’s growing before our eye’s, testing boundaries and discovering her own freedom as a living being – perhaps both. She’s a happy kid with the graces of her mother and the periodic moodiness of her father.
Great drop into the Green Lake area after a good 10km or so of pretty steady uphill – given the heat, the hills seemed steeper. Pulled into a multi-functional establishment (the Horse Lodge, an Inn, General Store, Restaurant, Campground, RV park) hoping to find eggs and beer for Ance’s birthday. They had neither.
Continued onto the north end of Green Lake and had a few good swims. After 10 or 15 mins in the sun it became unbearable without any breeze, there’s nothing to do but semi-drown yourself in the beautiful alkali rich waters of Green Lake.
Since we didn’t find the proper supplied for the birthday celebration we were prepping up for a bit of a slog to 70 Mile house, where we’d been told that for sure we’d find eggs and beer. Eggs and beer basically became the mantra of the day.
A mild mannered woman ended up stopping and chatting with us with a hint of a British accent. Diane ended up inviting us over to her families land just 500meters away to celebrate Ance’s birthday: “Well, I spoke to my husband and you know, we have cold beer and eggs and you are more than welcome to stay.”
We ended up celebrating Ance’s 26th with Diane, her husband Stewart, their friends Kathy and Bill and Stewart’s father, Frank. They offered up what can only be described a lakeside paradise. Augustine almost immediately stole a foam noodle and began swimming in the water, while Diane began mixing birthday drinks for everyone.
Ance and Diane baked a cake which Frank diligently found a massive birthday candle for: “I didn’t find birthday candles, but I found this!” A giant blue votive candle is the only way to bring in your 26th.
While devouring our Betty Crocker Nutella enriched cake, Frank told us a bit about his family immigrating to BC in the early 1900s and getting the land we sat on that night in the late 30s/early 40s. Ance mentioned that while putting the cake in the oven, she saw pictures of Frank on the wall, “he looks like a real flesh-and-blood cowboy.”
Green Lake to 99/97 Junction (August 6th 2014)
Diane ended up playing the grandma role all morning – blowing bubbles and playing with Play-doh to Augustine’s whimsy. In the short time we got to spend with Diane and Stewart, Kathy and Bill and Frank, we got a sense of lives lived, hard work wrought and adventures just beginning for a bunch of open hearted, kind people entering/in retirement.
We have to give a big thanks to Diane for tripping across the vagrant family and bringing us in on Ance’s birthday, it was a wonderful time and we’re indebted to her and everyone’s generosity. The last thing Augustine wanted to do was leave, if that says anything.
After farewells, greeted with a gentle 20km rolling hills that were almost the perfect distance apart to maintain a clipping pace. We were coming off the plateau we’d managed to get atop pretty much since Prince George by dropping into Clinton and down to 99/97 Junction.
While in Clinton grabbing some snacks and shade an old man accosted us. “Hey you kiddies, you can come over to my place. You can have the whole upstairs to yourselves.” Ernie turned out to be an open hearted lonely man who liked his drink, a house full of heaps of memories and projects in process or forgotten. His leather artistry and oft repeated phrases of kindness seemed to keep him afloat in a lake of a broken hopes and dreams. He told us stories until evening cooled and we said a goodbye to yet another character along the journey.
After a short hill out of Clinton. There was basically a 25km downhill drop to the 99/97 Junction. Met up with two cyclist we’d briefly spoken with earlier in the day in Clinton – Zach and Chuck. A humorous pair living in Portland who took a flight to Anchorage, cycled to Fairbanks onto Haines and ferried into Prince Rupert. We swapped cycle touring stories of blown tires, big hills and beautiful views, trash talking truckers all the while.
Augustine fell asleep with her head and pillow outside the tent, I assume listening to her parents and these strangers talk into darkness.
99/97 Junction to BC Hydro Campsite outside Lillooet (August 7th 2014)
There are, I believe, few landscapes on this earth quite like that in and out of Lillooet. All those adjectives to help me put in perspective the area – epic, wondrous, freaking hot – don’t capture the vastness and sheer confounding nature of the bare jutting mountainous cliff faces that loom in a Canadian desert.
We stopped several times throughout the day to swim and dunk ourselves in creek water (that we could find) to avoid heat stroke. After stopping in Fountain Flats we got some local information about free campsite just outside Lillooet – a BC Hydro maintained campsite near Seaton Lake. After a brief climb, did an insane slow drop that overlooked Lillooet in the setting sun light.
It was so unimpressive and ordinary I won’t waste your time with a slew of slanderous descriptions. Although, I think a touring cyclist should probably go through the area, its a treat.
BC Hydro Sick Days (August 8th / 9th 2014)
Ended up staying two days at the BC Hydro free campground. I seemed to have gotten strep throat again, had to go in and see the doctor to get antibiotics. The nice nurses at the Lillooet hospital scheduled me in with the local clinic so we’d only pay $60 instead of $720 at the hospital. The clinic doctor hooked me up with some free antibiotics as well, I love you Canada.
While I was sleeping and hating on swallowing anything, Ance and Augustine hit up the public library in Lillooet and played around in the nearby creek. I was pretty much down for the count for an entire day.
BC Hydro to 40km towards Duffy Lake (August 10th 2014)
Big climbing day. Around 10km of 6% to 10% then 13%, took around 1 hour and 30 mins to get 6km. We then hit a plateau like area (still progressively uphill) between the towering and steadily greener mountains than just outside Lillooet.
During the day came across a few gems. After making it up the steepest and one of the biggest sections of the day, we sat overlooking a steep cliff into the valley below with rugged looking peaks forming walls all around us.
While resting, an SUV pulls up with “LashDiva” splashed in black and pink pulls up. A woman gets out in a LashDiva t-shirt and pink pants, snaps some pictures of the peaks, takes a selfie and jumps back in her sponsored car. It all seemed so incongruent with the place and our hard fought climb its really stuck in my mind.
At the same stop a man walked up with a camera hanging around his neck: “you guys biked all the way up here with a little one? I couldn’t even get myself up here. Our bikes are safely strapped to the back of our camper. Where they should be!”
We took a lot of stops throughout the day owing to the heat and the incline. Found a nice campsite by the river off a 4X4 trail. As we were wrapping up dinner a hefty black bear crashed through the sticks and across the trail we’d come on about 20ft away – he probably smelled our delicious vegetarian refried beans.
I then made a bear piñata in the trees and slept terribly, waking to every insignificant sound to Bruce Lee a black bear. To top it off, three or four shrews/mice found it fascinating to sneak under our rainfly and climb all over the tent webbing the whole night through. Ance and Augustine slept like baby angles on holiday.
Near Duffy Lake to 6km Outside Pemberton (August 11th 2014)
Steady rollies for about two hours until a huge drop into Pemberton valley, reaching up to a 15% grade drop. We flew. After hitting the valley, kept steady cadence for the final 15km into Pemberton. Stole a shower from the local REC center. A local told us about a free place to setup camp just outside of town.
The site turned out to be a sandy paradise near the glacier fed Green River with no bugs. We celebrated a nice couple of days of hard work with cold Canadian beer and fried potatoes. Augustine wiggled sand in her toes until dark.
Green River Sandy Beach to Railway Pullout near Squamish (August 12th 2014)
Late morning with an 8AM wakeup call. Steady uphill with short downhill breaks all the way to Whistler. We’d never been in a ski/outdoor resort town before and the experience really threw us. Not only were we out of place in the ritzy Whistler surroundings, but the place itself left a bit of a bad sauce in our mouthes – though Augustine did enjoy the playground.
We don’t mean to hate, but Whistler is a tinsel veneer of a real town. Its become, probably only heightened following the 2010 Olympics, a show of a place, not a place to live but to look at – a TV commercial stuck on selling the idea of skin deep European/Swedish authenticity. The surrounding scenery though, beautiful!
We hightailed it out of Whistler pretty quickly for an easy glide to just outside Squamish. Found a pullout between the road and railway tracks to squat for the night. Overcast skies cast a thin wrap of dampness over all our gear – welcome back to the coast!
Squamish to North Vancouver (August 13th 2014)
Easy ride into the town of Squamish. Stopped at the local pubic library where Augustine got to join in on children’s’ story hour with songs and giggles. We contacted a North Vancoverian couple – Gary and Michelle who found un in Lillooet and offered up their place to stay when we got their [I am typing from their home right now!].
A bit of a slog for the rest of the day with fairly large climbs of 150m to 200m then plunging drops to do it all over again. Rained on us for most of the day until we started rolling into West Vancouver where we took a side road to find Michelle and Gary’s place. It seems that nearly all of West Vancouver is populated with Porches, Land Rovers and multi-million dollar mansions, still green neighborhoods overlooking English Bay and downtown Vancouver.
We got some great escorts after hitting North Vancouver who brought us to our host’s house. Then Michelle opened her door and offered a camper to sleep in, a hot shower and a place to wash our clothes. Better than the Hilton. We figure we’ll poke around Vancouver for a few days, catch a ferry over to the Island and then its on to America!
The Latvian Alaskan Family