Wednesday, 10 June 2015

From Sea to Sky, Paid for in Sweat!

Location: Lillooet, BC, Canada
We'd changed our minds again with regards to our route & decided we did want to head north, up to the Yukon. Our new northerly aim was Watson Lake and we'd heard that although it was unlikely to be bitterly cold, we would likely go through areas with no amenities so would need to carry more food to see us through. We made the decision to upgrade our sleeping arrangements and reluctantly forked out for a new double sleeping bag from Big Agnes. This meant we could unburden ourselves of two cheap sleeping bags, our duvet & fleece, our spare PJs, and a few other bits of useless stuff and free up space for food. We left Sara & Hamish's a little later than intended and enjoyed a leisurely ride around the Sea Wall and over the Lions Gate Bridge. Descending from the bridge another cyclist asked where we were heading and suggested that riding along the Upper Levels Highway might be easier than going along Marine Drive and since we'd already cycles along Marine Drive when we first landed on the mainland we thought the highway was a good bet. She reassured us it was well signposted and gave us directions. It wasn't well signed, at least we didn't spot anything guiding us and after a monstrous climb in the increasing heat we realised our error as we approached the sign for Grouse Mountain.

We'd rode 3 miles up a hill for no reason and at the sign I was worried I might pass out. I think I may have given myself mild concussion from my altercation with the scaffolding the day before as I'd been suffering from headaches and queasiness since. The mega climb did not help. We rested for maybe 15 minutes and then got back on our way. The highway to Horseshoe Bay was nothing special, but the Sea to Sky Highway, the 99, that heads north from there to Whistler and beyond is beautiful. The road winds along the coastal inlet towards Squamish and across the water the mountains tower above. We stopped for lunch in Lions Bay and experienced some steep little hills, as you often get near the coast. We'd been warned that the highway wasn't much fun for riding, but we didn't find it too bad; there was shoulder for the most part and the drivers were courteous enough. 

We made it to Squamish about 4pm, set up camp under The Chief and the took a nap. The heat and excursion of the day had wiped me right out and I was feeling pretty ropey. I felt a little better after an hour of sleep and we moseyed into town to get some groceries. Freshly baked pies were on offer and we bought a family sized one of the blueberry variety. We had wanted to walk up the Chief, but I wasn't up to it and after dinner, blueberry pie and stashing all our food and toiletries in the bear-proof food caches we went to bed.

We ate the rest of the pie for breakfast and headed for the Visitor Centre to get maps and info. Then to the bike shop for a spare chain and the phone shop to get our SIM card sorted. The latter didn't open until 10am so we weren't on the road until nearly 11am. We'd spotted three Korean touring cyclists in town and came across them again just down the road. We stopped to check they were ok and ended up being given a Hahoi-tal mask each for good luck. They must work as we noticed we had a very welcome tailwind for the first time in ages. We stopped for lunch at a viewpoint overlooking the Tantalus Mountains that had been suggested to us by Cliff, another cyclist I'd been chatting to while Tom sorted the phone out.

It was incredibly hot and although the terrain wasn't so tough we were wilting a bit in the midday sun.  On the outskirts of Whistler, where we going to have another break from the heat a motorcyclist had stopped by the side of the road and offered to cook us dinner and show us somewhere to camp in town, 'on the down low'. Although our aim for the day was Nairn Falls Provincial Park, about another 18 miles, we were both happy to accept the kind offer and give up for the day though it would man a longer day tomorrow.  Timmy gave us cold beer, showers and cooked us some seriously delicious noodles and rice.  He's a seasoned tourer and knows The Hunger that can grip you on a bike tour and fed us to bursting, no easy feat! After hours sat around chatting at his place he rode us to a secluded spot on the edge of a park at the edge of Whistler and wished us goodnight. It was late by the time we got to bed, nearly 11pm, and when I awoke at just after 5am and it was already light I woke Tom and we were on the move before 6am.  We made breakfast at a picnic table in Alpine Meadows and rather wondrously the cafe we were outside opened at 6:30 and we got coffees and used the bathroom.

It was great to be on the road so early as it was still cool and we made short work of the mostly downhill miles to Pemberton.  The mountains and lakes were beautiful in the clear morning sunlight and the roads fairly quiet. We knew we had a long climb out of Pemberton,  but it took its time to arrive and although we'd hoped to get most of it done before lunchtime we ended up climbing in the heat of the day. It felt steep and there was a particularly rough switchback when I unclipped a foot and fought hard against the urge to get off and push. I stayed pedalling, telling myself that even though it felt steep it probably wasn't that bad in reality as there had been no warning signs so it wasn't any worse than Teton Pass and I'd managed that so 'just keep pedalling'. After passing a runaway truck escape lane it flattened out a little and I looked at the signs on the other side of the road warning the trucks of the descent - 15%. 15% holy fricking moly!!!!! I yelled after Tom and we both felt proud that we'd both managed to pedal up such a grade. Seriously, this is a major achievement in my books.

But we weren't at the summit, not even close, we pedalled on and on and on. The sun got hotter, we got more and more drenched in sweat. And the hill just kept going. There would be brief, blissful moments when we'd ride past creeks rushing below the road and the air would be cooled momentarily and we would relish this minor respite. We had no idea where the top was, so when we arrived at Joffre Lakes Park we decided to stop for lunch and have a break in the shade. We spent an hour chatting, eating, sitting and cooling down.  Tom hung his shirt out to dry. We met a British couple who were touring around the US and Canada by car for 2 months who had been to most of the same places as us. I asked a couple of cars that I had seen come down the hill how far we were from the top and got two totally differing accounts: 1) its maybe 300 metres to the top and 2) there is no summit, it just goes up and down for miles. The pair offering account 2 also filled up one of our water bottles.

We set off up the hill desperately hoping for account 1 to be right.  And it certainly looked right.  After a short climb we started to descend for the first time in about 4 hours of riding. Hallelujah! We stopped to chat to a couple of motor-bikers who also gave us some water and told us it was mostly downhill to Seton Dam Campsite.  This was very welcome news and we zipped down some 13% descents at probably the fastest we've ever gone on the bikes. But sadly it wasn't all downhill. In some respects the assessment that there was no summit and it was up and down was right. We had a few more sections of 13% climbs and were dripping with sweat again. The scenery was stunning though - giant snow-capped mountains reared up all around, you could hear the roar of big rivers carving their way along the floor of the valley and it felt really wild. We thoroughly enjoyed the final downhill into our campsite and arrived tired, achey but proud.


  1. The photographs are truly stunning...and the blueberry pie sounded delish...Mr P

    1. Sophie is getting a dab hand with the camera now and yeh we really enjoyed the pie as dessert and as breakfast