Well, I should rather say “Auf Wiedersehen” British Columbia since that is the province of Canada I really fell in love with. British Columbia (B.C.) is situated between the Pacific Ocean and the Rocky Mountains and offers such wide diversity in ecosystems, which became more apparent to me during the Banff to Vancouver segment of my trip. Lying on the western side, the coastal region features rough terrain including deep, mountainous fjords and thousands of islands. Its flora and weather are heavily dictated by the Pacific Ocean. It receives a lot of precipitation and as a result, it boasts fascinating rain forests and glaciers. Tucked away from the coastline, the inner region is only moderately influenced by the Pacific Ocean, hence, its terrain varies from dry inland forests and a number of semi-arid valleys and canyons in the Central and Southern Interior to boreal forests and subarctic prairies in the Northern Interior.
After the long traverse from Prince Rupert to Banff, I had to cross B.C. a second time because I wanted to get back to the west coast and indulge in some serious city life in Vancouver. Ever since I had left Singapore in late May, I haven’t had any satisfyingly authentic Asian food. So with Vancouver’s large Asian population, what better place would be there to get rid of that craving?
After a couple of rest days in the mountain town of Golden, I continued my journey to Revelstoke on August 18. I felt fully charged and strong climbing up Rogers Pass (1,330 m) located right in the center of Glacier National Park. It is surrounded by the Selkirk mountains renowned for ski mountaineering, hiking and mountain climbing ever since the region became accessible through the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1886. Due to this region’s extreme terrain with many serious avalanches in the winter time and the complexity of its discovery and construction, Rogers Pass is labeled as a National Historic Site of Canada.
Upon reaching the top of the pass, it was just pure fun to cruise down into Mt Revelstoke National Park and eventually into the town of Revelstoke. Like Golden, Revelstoke is another famous mountain town well known for having the longest vertical descent of any ski resort in North America. It frequently hosts events such as the Free-Skiing World Tour and various Red Bull events. I could have spent a lot more time in Revelstoke. It felt cosy and had good vibes, not to mention the amazing mountains surrounding the village, but I was determined to move on with my journey after only 2 nights and get to Vancouver.
The next three days I tried to bend my cranks to travel from the Rockies to the coastal mountains as quickly as possible. There were a lot of hills but no serious climbs from Salmon Arm to Kamloops, and further on to Cache Creek. However, I faced the most serious head winds on this trip thus far. In Kamloops, I experienced an enormous dust storm with head and side winds of up to 50 km/h. Believe me, such riding conditions suck big time. Your energy output basically dissipates immediately. Unlike under normal conditions where you climb a hill and somewhat recover your effort enjoying a downhill, head winds drain your body and the mental pain kicks in. In such situations, it is tough to distract yourself or to draw anything positive out of the situation. I stopped more often than usual to buy M&Ms, orange juice, or a juicy cinnamon bun or just took a few minutes to let my legs rest. These breaks can only offer short-term happiness but they work well to bridge the seemingly infinite time of discomfort.
Nevertheless, these days again brought me through some very impressive scenery with very dry and desert-like terrain, that turned more and more rugged the closer I got to Lillooet on August 23. The town of Lillooet is hidden at the crossings of deep gorges sheltered by the Coastal Mountains and thus, only receives a little over 300mm of precipitation per year.
Interestingly, Lillooet has a long growing season and once had prolific market gardens and orchard produce. Often called one of “Canada’s Hot Spot” in the summer, the area is presently experiencing the emergence of a new industry: wine production. I passed a modern and highly awarded vineyard named Fort Berens Winery close to the bridge when crossing the Fraser River. It looked very inviting, but a glass of wine would have knocked me out at the end of my 115 km stage. It goes without saying, I decided to bypass the vineyard and continued biking.
The days before reaching Lillooet had been quite exhausting. I considered taking a day off to recover my legs but somehow I felt something driving me to Whistler, the world-famous resort town north of Vancouver. So I continued on the next day, embarking on a 130 km stage leaving the arid zone and climbing up to Duffey Lake until finally descending again into a forested, alpine region. Deserts are certainly fascinating but for an inexplicable reason, I have always felt most comfortable and happiest in an environment where forest, rocky peaks and lakes meet. Duffey Lake was such a spot. And, man, I deserved that view. The road out of Lillooet climbed as if there was no tomorrow. It was by far the steepest road on my trip to far. I was in first gear most of the time and I could feel for about one hour that my thighs hardened. Eventually, I made it and, luckily, I was able to recover quite well while riding though some mixed topography later on.
On the same day at kilometer 100, I arrived in Pemberton, a town just north of Whistler. I was craving for sugar, which due to the ongoing exercise, happens pretty much on a daily basis. When I saw McD’s golden arches, I couldn’t resist and had to get me a large strawberry milkshake. Large in North America means at least 800ml. Well, no big deal for me at that point to gulp it. What I didn’t know was that soon I was going to get the bill for that indulgence. I had another 30 km to bike before reaching Whistler and I was absolutely not aware that these were mostly uphill. It felt like I had a liquid brick in my stomach while the temperature gauge was hitting 30 deg C. My body was yet to really absorb the milkshake (which apparently takes a much longer time than water) and so I felt extremely thirsty. Shortly, I ran out of water. There was not a single stream or creek around. My mouth started to grow a carpet. It felt so terrible that for a few seconds, I actually considered turning around and hydrate myself in Pemberton. But no way, I was going to drop all the vertical meters I already climbed up. At this point, I only had 15 km to go to Whistler. All of a sudden, I heard a creek and I knew I would be satisfied soon. I filtered two liters of water and gulped half of it. It was such a relief! You will never know how good a bottle of ordinary (well, in this case, creek) water tastes unless you have suffered for a while without any liquid within reach.
Now, a word of advice for the cyclists among you: Don’t trust Google Maps’ elevation data. The profile as well as the vertical meters shown in cycling mode are rubbish. I would have expected that they have a sophisticated database drawing the input from highly accurate satellite data but for a number of times Google Maps has misled me. I should seriously think about going back to traditional (hardcopy) topographical maps.
In the evening of August 24, I eventually arrived at the campground in Whistler. Happily hydrated, I already pictured myself cooking a massive dinner but was soon confronted with a full campground and a heartless receptionist. This dude told me the next campground was “only” 20 mins. down the valley. Right, 20 mins by car which would have been more than an hour for me. Even though I told him I was on a bike, he said they were not allowed to make exceptions. This was the first time I was turned down at a campground. I had always believed (and was told so as well) that there is some sort of code of honour not to turn down cyclists and hikers, but obviously we are just a minority in a world of motorised travel; even more so in a hyper-commercialized place like Whistler.
From such an unfortunate incident, things turned absolutely perfect when 10 mins. later I found out about the Alpine Lodge. It was an awesome hostel and was only a 5 min bike ride from that notorious campground. Things happen for a reason, I can only say. The Alpine Lodge’s bunk bed rate was extremely reasonable, marginally more than the campsite but you get a whole lot more. It was super clean and I met a bunch of really nice people. Jeff, the owner, happened to be a ski and motorcycle enthusiast and lived in Japan for 11 years. So we had a lot of stuff to talk about.
Whistler was quite an experience. I knew a lot about its world-class ski resort and its significance during the 2010 Winter Olympics. I was also aware of the world-leading MTB downhill scene, but I was actually overwhelmed by its size and by how many international tourists are attracted to this mountain town during the summer time. People come to Whistler to spend their entire summer vacation dashing down the trails or flying through the air in one of the many bike parks.
On August 27, I reached my next stop, Squamish. A motorcyclist, named Tony, and I had met up north a month ago, and now he invited me to join him and his girlfriend Carolyn to spend a night at a cabin in the mountains around Squamish, which was only a 2.5 hour ride from Whistler. After lunch, we took off in Tony’s 4WD and climbed up the gravel road. It became more and more rugged resulting in a pretty good shake which was fun. When we arrived at 5,000 ft, I was stunned by the views. You could see the ocean, rugged peaks and glaciers, and alpine meadows all at the same time. I had a really good time up there. Thanks again, Tony and Carolyn!
The following day, I finally embarked on my last stage to Vancouver, where I am at right now taking a break off the saddle. At this point, I can say that reaching Vancouver was a milestone for me. It is not only the final location before moving on into the U.S. but also a very visible shift from wilderness into a much more populated region.
For those who are keen, I have gathered a few random facts collected over the trip so far:
- Time on the road: 10 weeks
- Distance traveled: 4,750 km
- Vertical climb: approx. 50,000 m
- Flat tires: 3 – In Vancouver I replaced the Schwalbe Smart Sam Plus (27.5 x 2.25) rubber with a new set of Schwalbe Marathon Mondial tires (27.5 x 2.0) which are a lot more road friendly and which will hopefully increase the intervals between future flats. The nobby tires were comfortable and helpful on the gravel roads in the north. I do expect mostly paved roads for a while though.
- Chain: After 4000km I replaced the chain since I could see significant lengthening which required adjusting the chain tension about every 1200 km. That’s not uncommon considering the load on my bike and the hilly terrain. The Shimano HG71 is definitely a reliable and economic solution.
- I bought a pair of jeans in Vancouver. I knew I lost weight but I was surprised to see that my waist size shrank by 3 inches. The last time I was that skinny was in 10th grade I think 🙂