Saturday 24th October: Clinton to Lillooet
Despite having reached the Clinton Valley and the promise of warmer weather, we survived our coldest night of camping yet as the mercury tumbled to -4°C (24°F.) A frosty morning meant an early start. There’s nothing quite like attacking a hill on a bike to warm the blood! We also had a 76 mile day ahead of us in order to camp in the (relative) warmth of Lillooet. Camping here would give us the best chance of conquering the infamous mountain switchbacks, on the Lillooet to Pemberton road, in one day.
After an ascent out of Clinton, we got on some nice, fast downhills towards the cut-off for highway 99 and the trip through the mountains towards Whistler. The early part of the 99 was beautiful – a change in landscape from the rugged, wintery terrain of central BC to rolling green fields, quaint farmhouses and autumnal colours as we neared more coastal climes. We had some fun downhills as we followed the railway towards Lillooet, though, a long, tiring day was to have a sting in the tail with some really tough climbs getting into Lillooet.
Thankfully we reached our destination before dark and knocked on the door of Fr Bob Haggerty (a friend of Michael from William’s Lake) who kindly welcomed us in. Michael had suggested we speak to Fr Bob as he’d likely put us up in the church hall which, not having to take down tents and re-pack bikes, would allow us to get an earlier start for what promised to be a testing day ahead. We cooked up a nice meal and had a great chat with Fr Bob which centred around the recent Canadian election and Irish history and emigres. He talked at length about a fascinating band of Irishmen who’d been sentenced to death, on charges of sedition, by the British courts in the 19th century. After having their sentences reduced and escaping a life living as convicts in Australia, they went on to do great things in North American politics. One of these men, Thomas Francis Meagher, would crop up in a later conversation with Margo and Chris in Vancouver (see Thanksgiving the Americas post) as he was a distant relative of Margo’s! As it transpired Fr Bob opened the doors, not to the church hall but to the church itself. I couldn’t help but think we needed all the prayers we could get for what lay ahead tomorrow and were therefore sleeping in the right place! Having spent many nights guerrilla camping by the roadside, others in the lovely homes of many a warm showers host, one night on a school bus and another in an airstream caravan, this was certainly the most unexpected accommodation we’d encountered!
Sunday 25th October: The day of reckoning – Lillooet to Pemberton
Meg and I had been deliberating since the offset on whether or not to take this route as we’d been warned of the arduous climbs but that we’d be rewarded with incredible scenery. The day started well – an early start, hearty breakfast and on the road ready to attack the mountains. Then, after just two minutes of riding, I heard the sickening ping of another spoke blowing on my back wheel. Today of all days! After muttering an expletive or four, the initial frustration subsided and I resolved to getting the bike roadworthy again. By this time, I’d become a bit of an expert at the rear wheel spoke change and so was back on the road soon enough to try to catch up with Meg who had gone on ahead to get a head start on the mountains.
The climbs out of Lillooet were ridiculously steep. The sort where, if we lost momentum in our pedalling, we’d have rolled back down the hill! I remember being happy just to get a ‘break’ on a steep incline as opposed to the sheer cliffs we were scaling at times. My legs were really heavy and the pain in my IT band, which had been giving me trouble for the past week, began to intensify. I’d never cycled such steep climbs and, with four full panniers, it felt like I was towing a caravan! It seemed like I was stopping every two minutes to wipe away sweat, re-hydrate and to show some mercy to my leg muscles. As I was beginning to wonder if I’d be able to reach Pemberton before nightfall, a car overtook me and, with a toot of the horn, gave me a thumbs up. This did wonders for my spirits and I began to focus on positive thoughts to help me overcome these mountains. The Mary’s Meals mug I have attached to my handlebars is a great aid to help me focus. I began to wonder how arduous it must be to walk for hours, in desert heat, in search of clean drinking water. Or to sit through a school day, unable to concentrate, because your stomach is so sore from hunger. These thoughts certainly put my current travails into perspective.
After a quick lunch before getting back on the saddle, the hills continued. Shortly after refilling my water bottles at a gloriously fresh mountain spring, I reached the picturesque Duffy Lake. Knowing that the downhill stretch to Pemberton wasn’t too far off, I began to think that I was going to make it. At this, the adrenaline started pumping and I finally began to actually enjoy the beautiful scenery. By now, however, my knee was really feeling the strain on the uphill. Then, rounding a corner on what would prove to be our last steep ascent, the beautiful, snow-capped peak of Mt Currie revealed itself and, as it did so, the choral crescendo at the end of The Rolling Stones, “You can’t always get what you want” was playing on my playlist. I laughed out loud at how ridiculously apt this piece of music was for the moment! It gave me a real lift and all thoughts of pain subsided as the hills began to roll more gently toward the descent to Pemberton.
The descent down to the town of Pemberton was every bit as steep as the morning’s ascent– fun but a little scary! I finally caught up with Meg while we were stopped at roadworks. We were almost beating the cars downhill and, by the time we got to the bottom, we could actually smell the burning from our disc brakes! From the bottom of the mountain we had a nice easy ride into Pemberton and a most welcome of Warm Showers with Anna and Nikki.
Monday 26th October: Destination Whistler!
I’d been looking forward to this day since we first decided we’d attack Highway 99. As a Scotsman travelling a long way from home, I don’t have too many opportunities to bump into many friends en route. However, in the ski resort of Whistler, I had two friendly faces ready to welcome us! A good friend from my time living in Birmingham, England had offered to put us up for a couple of days. The thought of getting a couple of beers, and a long overdue catch up with Tony, was what had spurred me on through my IT band troubles of the last week. Not only that, but the manager of the local Irish pub just happened to be a childhood friend from my hometown, Gordon Auld! Gordon very kindly shouted us lunch and what was probably the hardest-earned pint of Guinness in my life! It was so surreal to see a childhood friend so far from home and we had a great laugh about old times.
Tony arrived a little later after his shift, at the Four Seasons hotel, for another nostalgia session. We’d played football together in what was a great football club in Birmingham with an even better social scene. We’d spent many a Saturday night at the Junction bar in Harborne and it was just like turning back the clock. Tony was a fantastic host during our break in Whistler, as were his housemates Sean, Eddie and Dean – all very welcoming! Before leaving Whistler, Tony set us up with a training session at his hotel with their resident fitness guru, ultra runner Paul Romero. Paul gave us some great tips for the road (as well as giving me a bit of a dressing down for the state of my back!) and some contacts along the coast of his native California. We had a great session with Paul and enjoyed a superb breakfast, at the Four Seasons, courtesy of Tony. We did feel a bit out of place sitting at the breakfast table with our oil-stained, fluorescent yellow cycle jerseys while the big wigs from the company, who were there for a conference, shared the restaurant with us! As we left Whistler, Tony remarked how great it was to meet up with someone, after five years, and to just pick up where we left off as if we’d seen each other yesterday. I couldn’t agree more!