British Columbia

…continued from The Canadian Rockies: Descent to Jasper

Whistler Peak2Peak Gondola

I couldn’t sleep for long on the train – partially because the seat was uncomfortable, and partly because the scenery outside was so damn interesting. I woke up somewhere around Boston Bar, a small mountain town in the middle of nowhere, marking where I had originally intended to get out and keep touring. It follows canyon roads northward along the mighty Fraser River for about a days’ worth of riding before my route would turn westward towards Duffey Lake Road and one bastard of a mountain pass, finally bringing me to Whistler on the other side.

But I scrapped that idea for now and decided to relax in Vancouver for a couple days instead. Cause I earned it. I still wanted to get up to Whistler, which was easy to do with a commercial shuttle system. I found one that would transport me and my bike, roundtrip for $35. This would situate me pretty well for a good 120k downhill ride back to Vancouver the next day.

That Friday, I left in a shuttle full of mountain bikers and backpackers for the resort. When we arrived at mid-morning, the village was full of people, though probably nowhere near as many as the winter. I took a lift up to the summit of Jasper Peak, the start of the Peak2Peak Gondola. When I reached the top, I spent an hour hiking the trail system along the ridgeline, only to see the landscape fade all at once as smoke came up from the valley floor to the north.

Wildfires raged all across the American and Canadian northwest that summer, marking an uncharacteristically dry season. The report was that today was one of the better days, though I wasn’t sure for how long. I decided to head back to the summit lodge and board the Peak2Peak.

Normally a ski lift that carries people to the other mountain 2.7 miles across, this gondola is insane. It departed and flew terrifyingly high above the ground, which became more and more distant until it was a mere carpet of tiny trees, split in half by a thin, glimmering creek. To the east, the canyon floor climbed upward to the edges of higher mountains and the feet of their glaciers, marking even bigger country onward. Up ahead, Blackcomb Mountain slowly approached. We passed another support tower as countless other lifts flew by on the opposite cable. The car finally made a smooth landing on the other side.

From there, you can take a lift back down to the base lodge, or go back to the other mountain again. I went back and forth three times, mounting my camera on the glass to get my sweet footage. At one point, the lift attendant saw me in line with my camera and suction mount, and quickly ran into the tram with Windex and paper towels, just so I could get a better picture. Which was supremely cool of him.

Near the end of the day, southerly wind picked up, blowing all of the smoke back to wherever it came from. The evening was all clear. I rode my bike southward to the edge of town, feeling like I want to come back again in the cold season. Especially now that I’m familiar with the shuttle system and nearby hostel. There are options that don’t have to involve renting a car or a cabin, or any of that nonsense.

I’ve been out for almost three weeks. Time to get back to my gear in Vancouver and head back home.

Sea to Sky Highway

0.0km – Leaving at 5am under a cloudy canopy. Every day until now has been sunny with or without the added burden of wildfire smoke. But for the most part, the weather has held up pretty well. The air feels damp and poised to rain at any second.
7.6km – The highway is quiet. Light rounds of drizzle have already started. Not sure how I feel about this.
10.5km – I made it to Brandywine Falls at an early hour. This place will probably have a ton of people later today. With nobody else around I had time to set up the tripod for a good shot of the waterfall.
25.7km – Back on the road and on an unexpected climb along the side of Mt. Garibaldi. A fast river went along the right for a while and eventually veered away into what looked like a whitewater canyon. Some of this is 7%. This seriously better be it.
33.6km – At Tantalus Overlook, looking out ahead over the Squamish River Valley, which is walled in by the descending ridge of Cloudburst Mountain just ahead, and then Mt. Tantalus farther off. Eventually, they reach the mouth of Howe Sound and the town of Squamish where I plan to eat.
40.7km – A smooth descent to the valley floor and sea level with plenty of shoulder. Bring it.
46.6km – I’m craving a McDonald’s breakfast, but Tim Horton’s will have to do. A teenage girl noticed my bike and asked about it. Two other men wanted to make small talk about my tour. One of them had a cruiser bike that his daughter had just got him. I hope he sticks with it. Opportunities for adventure are far and wide.

51.7km – Arrived at Squamish, a busy town halfway between Whistler and Vancouver. It resides below the thundering, stoic massif of the Stawamus Chief, a huge monolith on the edge of town. It looked as though an enormous hill giant tore it out of the bedrock higher up and slammed it next to the town, saying “This land is mine, you shitheads!” The faint profile of a paraglider can be seen turning slowly about in the high wind. Damn.
The best place to see it is at the end of an industrial corridor just across the river, where a public beach resides. On such a cloudy morning, nobody else was out, and I once again had my space and camera gear to myself.
54.2km – Back on the highway. The fjord opens to my right with numerous islands and mountains fading into the haze. At sea level, there isn’t much climbing left. It’s all smooth from here. Right?
70.8km – Porteau Cove – A great view of the inlet with Anvil Island standing in the middle of the sound. The mountains far off are fading rapidly behind a wall of rain. Time to hurry up and eat and get moving.
72.0km – Light rain and already drenched, but at least it’s warm. My life could be a lot worse right now.
75.4km – It’s a full on downpour and it’s getting in my eyes unless I use my sunglasses, and then I can’t see. To add to the stress, there’s a huge traffic backup. Not sure why. But at least I can pass them on the shoulder.
76.7km – The backup is still going.
81.9km – The backup is STILL going! What the fuck is going on?
83.0km – Officers guided us around an alternative route. They weren’t at liberty to say what happened. Some kind of accident.
83.1km – Just passed the scene. No wreckage at this point, but plenty of police cars and officers assessing the situation.
83.4km – Back on the open highway. Enough with the rain!!!

91.7km – The road splits from the highway. I can take a winding road further down the ridge towards the shore, or stay up here on the highway. Not sure which is better on a bike. Sticking with the highway.
92.9km – This better be the last climb on this highway, I swear.
98.4km – So the highway route was a mistake. Looking past ramp after ramp not to get run over, and the sound barrier is reverberating all of the noise. I’m going to have a pounding headache if I stay out here any longer. And it’s STILL raining. My exit is what, 10km?
108.0km – Got to my exit. Looking for the bike path to take over the bridge to downtown Vancouver.
109.4km – Dammit, where is it??
110.2km – Climbing the Lion’s Gate Bridge, with Vancouver Harbour below and the foggy spires of the city ahead. I’ll be more than glad to clean up and dry off.
114.0km – Made it at 5:30. I’m soaking wet and my bike shoes smell like cat piss, but I’m here. It’s a beautiful ride when the rain isn’t getting all up in my style. But I know they needed it, so I can’t really complain. Too bad though that it didn’t happen on one of my off days. Why can’t I just have blue skies, daffodils, and Simpsons clouds like 100% of the time? Get on that, nature.

Post-trip Dinner – Mowing down a chicken burrito at a taqueria in downtown. Watching people outside. Not a lot of grown men have a mullet and zubas these days, but when they do, it’s the real deal.

Vancouver Food Cart Fest

It was done. The bike tour, the hiking and boating in Juneau, Banff, Jasper, Whistler, Vancouver and everything in between. The continental west by train, foot, bicycle, and raft. I got through it all. By the numbers and without a scratch. There was one more thing left to do on my last day before heading home.

I love street food, and if there’s one thing I love more than a good food truck, it’s a lot of them together. In numbers, they can turn any food desert into a culinary oasis – any empty parking lot into a smorgasbord of options. Vancouver has a lot of food trucks along their busy streets, and every Sunday in the warm season, they converge in the Olympic Village south of downtown for their weekly Food Cart Fest.

My flight wasn’t scheduled to leave until later that evening. So I convinced Annika, a German drinking friend from the hostel, to join me at the fest. She was backpacking around Canada and the states, hoping to find a WWOOF farm or something similar for work and further travel. I figured she would be up for it, and she didn’t disappoint.

We got there in the early afternoon as clouds hung low over the city, bringing light showers with them. It didn’t bother people; we all wanted to eat. After making a few rounds to see what we wanted, we got Korean Bulgogi tacos from a truck called Disco Cheetah. We also tried some jerk chicken sliders from a Caribbean BBQ truck, but were honestly bland by comparison to a Jamaican grill I frequent here in Chicago, Jerk 312, who sets the bar pretty high.

Happy and satisfied, we walked back to downtown and wished each other luck in our adventures.

I packed up my gear and memories and boarded an overnight Chicago bound flight, wondering if I’ll ever find the right balance between city and country, civilization and solitude, adventure and urban comfort. The wild cities of the world, versus the wild itself. I want it all. I may never entirely find it, but Vancouver is pretty damn close.

Thanks for reading. This story begins on a big river in Juneau, Alaska.