Backroads – Sun Peaks to Whistler

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

(Robert Frost)

The road we need to take from Sun Peaks to Whistler is closed due to the ongoing wildfires.  Google tells us that the fastest option is to take a highway straight to Vancouver, and then another highway up the mountain.  We’ve done both these sections at different times and know that the highway to Vancouver is, in fact, very fast, particularly when the traffic in all four lanes completely ignores the 120km/hr speed limit. Or – we can try to skirt around the fires using a combination of lesser roads.

We choose option two.  Sure, it will be slower, and we’ll be driving through a lot of smoke, and there’s a chance we’ll be back to square one if they close any more roads, but hey, why not?  So, a leisurely breakfast, one more stroll around Sun Peaks and it’ll be time to hit the road.  It’s a bit sad to see the streets of this pretty little ski resort town almost empty of the human life and noise that marks mid-summer in Canada, but it’s just one more impact of the fires on the local economy.

… Time to go.  The GPS doesn’t understand our amended plan, so we’ll have to feed it in little steps.  “Enter your destination.”  No worries.  I’ve downloaded the address for Tim Hortons’ coffee at Kamloops and confidently enter it into the machine.  We’re off.  Here’s Kamloops, and here’s, er, here’s, um, an empty field?  Stupid GPS.  Ah, look, there’s a sign over there near the road we just left.

We have to follow the big highway for an adrenaline pumping half hour or so, then at last it’s time to turn onto Highway 8.  What a contrast.  Highway 8 is one of those forgotten roads that connects two places that most people don’t even notice as they whiz by on the way to somewhere else.  Wiki says that “Highway 8 was first numbered in 1953, and very little about the highway has changed since that year.” For once, Wiki is correct.  The road is narrow.  It’s slow.  It winds around barren hills, following the course of the Nicola River.  But, even with all the smoke, we feel a bit connected to the lives of the people who try to eke out a living in this harsh place.

At a spot on the map called Spence’s Bridge, we leave Highway 8 for a short stretch of Highway 1.  To my surprise, this section of Highway 1 is also a bit of a forgotten road, and is way smaller than its bigger cousin to the south.  We’re rolling along enjoying what we can see of the parched countryside when, all of a sudden, a massive train bursts around a smoky bend.  It’s the famous Rocky Mountaineer heading east on its journey to Jasper.  We pull over to admire the train which Wayne and Cathy nearly booked for this same trip, and get a shock – it’s nearly empty!  Carriage after carriage rolls by, with only the occasional view of passengers enjoying their luxury rail experience.  We surmise that even the famous train suffers when the country burns.

Next stop Lytton, another little town that we suspect few people have heard of, and even fewer have visited.  It’s time for a late lunch, and here’s one of those great little places you find in small towns – run by the locals, for the locals.  The young guy serving and older lady cooking are obviously struggling to keep up with orders.  The guy says – “It’s been crazy all day with the other roads all closed.”  No worries, take your time, we need a break from the road anyway.

Back in the car for the last leg along Highways 12 and 99.  Nanette and I have driven the road between Lillooet and Whistler once before, and remember it as a lovely road winding down through the mountains beside rushing streams and pretty lakes.  We’re doing it in reverse today, and the smoke is only just starting to clear, and we’ve been driving for a long time, but it still doesn’t disappoint.   Like the earlier sections, it’s slow and windy, with lots of sharp bends that probably wouldn’t have been such a problem if I had slowed down a little more in the 60 km/hr zones, but, to our great surprise, we hear ourselves saying “we must come back and do this again someday, when there’s no fires”.  I guess there’s no better recommendation a road can have.

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