Canada finale: Whistler whistle-stop
We were looking forward to the final two nights of our trip in Whistler; Mike had a date with a bike and I would be catching up with a friend. The only thing standing in our way was a 700km drive and some unforeseen events.
After being deposited back in Kaslo it was mid-morning by the time we got going. In our favour it was a glorious fine day and we fluked the timing of the ferry back across Upper Arrow Lake. For much of the day there wasn’t anything else to be done but enjoy the passing BC scenery as the kms silently counted down.
One main stop was planned in Kamloops at the BC Wildlife Park. By the time we arrived it was late in the day but we didn’t have long anyway so ripped around. The highlight was the grizzlies, Dawson & Knute, who came here in 2011 as orphaned sibling cubs from the Yukon and who today were spending a lazy afternoon in the sun.
Of the three resident black bears we only saw one at the rear of the enclosure, he didn’t heed our requests to come closer for better photos. Didn’t understand the accent perhaps. We had hoped the kermode bear would be out and about as it is elusive to see in the wild. Turns out it is elusive to see in the wildlife park too.
Other creatures were more obliging.
An hour further along the Trans-Canada at the odd little place of Cache Creek our plans took a literal left-turn. Here, the most direct way to Whistler is to head right (north) and join highway 99. However, on account of a landslip traffic was being rerouted so we had to follow a long south-then-north diversion until we could join highway 99 further east. On an already long day this would add another hour. Given the vastness of Canada I guess we’re lucky that’s all it was.
There was a silver lining because this route took us past a derelict drag strip and the impressive sight of massively long trains on either side of a canyon we drove through. We were hustling now though so no photo stops, which pained me.
By the time we were on 99 it was dark, with two hours left to drive. The road was narrow and winding and the only ambient light was that provided by our mediocre headlights. That, with the risk that wildlife could wander onto the road at any time, saw my weariness tempered by nervous tension.
We were tootling along just fine until half an hour out from Whistler when I watched from the passenger seat as we rounded a corner and drove into a big pot hole with enough force to cut the tyre and bend the rim. We limped along to a safe(ish) place to stop and there in the pitch blackness of god-knows-where with scarcely any other traffic we pondered our predicament. There was nowt else for it but to replace the tyre, illuminated by cellphone torch using the last few percent of my battery and keeping a keen ear out for potential noise in the undergrowth.
We avoided getting eaten and Mike did a great job getting us underway again, travelling more slowly now on account of the space-saver tyre. We finally got into Whistler before midnight, much too late to see my friend.
The next morning we finally caught up with Angela and her son who had travelled across from Winnipeg. I last saw her in 2004 so today for me would be more about catching up with her than exploring Whistler. Mike on the other hand ate breakfast with us then took off to get his adventures underway. Like the takeover of Whistler by the snow fraternity in winter, so too the mountain bikers in summer. Later we walked up to see what all the fuss is about and managed to catch Mike on his lunch break.
There was one priority for our final half-day: the Peak 2 Peak gondola which connects the two mountains. The weather was packing in so we hoped views from above would oblige. We retraced steps from yesterday through the cobblestoned village up to the chairlifts. You can use the gondolas as a gateway to the many walking trails up on the mountains, or you can take the lazier option like us.
Up on the mountain it was freezing and began to snow. From memory, within another week they’d had a decent pre-winter dumping.
We jumped over to the Peak 2 Peak gondola that would take us the 4.4km to Blackcomb. I’m not a fan of heights but am generally fine with this sort of thing and that was the case here, despite being more than 400m above the valley.
Mike and I set out for a quick walk. We still had a goal of seeing a marmot, but it was not to be. With flights to catch that night we couldn’t faff around for too long so there was a lot that would have to go unexplored. Still, mountains are a happy place for me and this had been really enjoyable.
Back down in the village we found the car but before heading for Vancouver we shot into the adjoining village of Creekside. Mike lived here for a ski season many moons ago, cleaning condos to fund his snowboarding frivolities. We found his apartment building and naturally I forced him to stand outside it for a photo.
The drive was painless until reaching the city; getting across to the airport was painful. But this gave me more time in Ange’s company – it was a long way for her to come for a couple of days and I really appreciated it.
So that night we all flew back to our respective homes. It was the end of an incredible trip for Mike and I and cemented a shared understanding that Canada is somewhere we could return to far more frequently. In fact only in the last day or so as he watched online clips about this year’s opening day of the Whistler mountain bike park, his comment that he’s only got a few more good years left for such undertakings sounded faintly like an idea was being hatched. 😀