British Columbia

Summer 2004

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May 21, 2004 saw us head off for our second summer of adventure. True to form, it started raining one hour into the drive! A bad omen considering our wet summer last year... then again, BC needed the rain. We thought of getting the BC government to fund our trip providing we could prove the link between our presence and the rain. The first part of our adventure this summer consisted of a loop: from Williams Lake, down to Vancouver, over to Victoria, up through Vancouver Island to Port Hardy, a ferry to Bella Coola and then a drive back east to Williams Lake. We would then head north, out of BC and into the Yukon. Next on the list would be the North West Territories before we dropped south again into Alberta and looped through Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The final leg of our 2004 adventure would be across southern BC which is Part 2 of this BC page)

Part 1: May 22 - June 20, 2004

May 22-25, 2004, Vancouver:   We spent three days in Vancouver seeing the sites and tying up some odds and ends for the next leg of our trip. Norm and Alayne Lovitt, the parents of Carol's friend Corey, were kind enough to provide their house as a base during our time in Vancouver. Norm is a retired Navy Sea King pilot so he and Stephen enjoyed chatting for hours about the finer points of landing a helicopter on a ship and searching for submarines. Vancouver is another big and busy place but differentiates itself with its proximity to the ocean and its beautiful back-drop of mountains (visible through the yellow smog). Of Canada's three major cities, it is probably the nicest in our eyes. Some of the highlights: a harbor tugboat tour, Grandville Island market and the purchase of our new 19 foot Eureka Tunnel Vision tent!

May 26-29, 2004, Victoria:   In some ways Victoria seemed to be a busier city than Vancouver but its beautiful downtown and unique history made it an interesting stop. We were lucky to be able to stay with Carol's friend Anne who lived right downtown which enabled us to walk everywhere and avoid traffic hassles. Highlights included a sea kayak tour of the harbor for Carol and a free (thanks Anne) whale watching tour in a 675 hp ocean-going scarab racing boat for Stephen. If you ever get the chance to go whale watching with 675 hp, jump in and hang on... it is a blast! They were much more respectful of the whales in BC then they were out east. Here you can't run your motor within 100 yards of a whale and a boat free corridor must be left along the shore. The Orcas apparently don't favour the boat free corridor so the strategy is to park the boat in front of the whales, turn of the motor and wait for them to pass under you. It works. We also toured the parliament buildings and took a day to drive up the western coast to do some day hiking in the Juan de Fuca Park. Once past Sooke, which was very congested and busy, things mellowed out and became more relaxed. Our first experience in the rain forest was memorable and we found out that it is called a rain forest for a reason. See Juan de Fuca for more details.

May 29 to June 1, 2004, Pacific Rim National Park:   From Victoria we headed Tofino way and into the Pacific Rim National Park. By luck we ended up heading south to Ucluelet rather than north to Tofino. Ucluelet is much less over run with tourist joints so you can get around town and down to the ocean without fighting all the resorts. I suspect that this is changing but for our time it made Ucluelet much more relaxing and accessible. We blew our budget here and went on the full-out sea kayaking tour which comprised of a 45 minute zodiac ride (with the kayaks) into the Broken Island group and then about 5 hours or so of paddling before catching the zodiac back. Two Scottish writers doing a travel write-up accompanied us so the kayaking company pulled out all the stops and we got the best guide (who was O.K. but not spectacular) and brand new kayaks. It was interesting but not as spell binding as we had hoped... it was really a lot like canoeing around an interesting lake (something we are pretty used to) so the fun factor was rather lower than expected. Still, the sea life was new and fascinating with lots of California sea lions, seals, Grey whales, crabs and starfish. Later in the week we checked out Long Beach and its tough Canadian surfers. Canadian surfers need wetsuits. California surfers don't. California sea lions seem happy enough without wetsuits despite being in decidedly colder Canadian waters.

June 2-4, 2004, Qualicum/Comox:  Traversing back east across the island we arrived in the Qualicum/Comox area where we stayed at the Qaulicum First Nations' campground. This is a beautiful and spacious campground made all the nicer by the two days of sun we experienced and the long rocky beaches which contrast with the rugged and distant mountains of the mainland. A trip to Denman Island offered a picnic and a chance to watch the oyster farmers at work. Some asking around provided a public beach (ie. those not under the control of oyster licenses) where Carol and I wasted no time collecting a solid feed of oysters. It was not quite as fun as our spontaneous clamming operation in Newfoundland (BC is a busier place and has oyster licenses to worry about) but we had amazing feasts two nights running! And free is always good. Time was also spent at Horne Lake Provincial Parks where we did a self-guided tour of some caves. Caves are amazing things and the self-guided tours available in several spots on Vancouver Island are even more amazing. No roped off boardwalks, lights or tour guides - just a damp, dark and musty cave. Bring your flashlights and go!

June 4-5, 2004, Strathcona Provincial Park:   Strathcona Park (on Highway 28 towards Gold River) is a big park and a nice one. True to BC park standards there are minimal services (ie. no showers, three manual water pumps, etc.) which is O.K. by us. The country is very rugged and despite the snow peaked mountains it reminded us of shield country. There is a lot of outdoor stuff to do here and we would love to return some day and spend more time. Strathcona Park provided the dubious highlight of requiring one hour to completely unpack and then repack the truck to deal with not one, not two but three mice. Two of them eventually did a flying leap off the rear tailgate and the third... who knows but he was gone. Carol wisely set our two traps (purchased after similar issues but of a lesser degree last year) and in the morning had stopped two in their tracks. My question is how do they get up into the capped truck box? I can't even understand how they get up onto the bumper (which they do) let alone into the closed box. I would have loved to have known as it kept me awake at night trying to out-smart the mice.

June 6, 2004: Gold River to Cape Scott:   This was a both a great day and a long one. The plan was simple enough... drive from Gold River to Woss via logging roads. By the time it was over though we had done a self guided tour of the Upana caves, seen Luna the dog-like killer whale, traveled 63 km of logging roads in the pouring rain, made it to Part Hardy, driven another 62 km of logging roads to Cape Scott, watched a mother bear and THREE cubs from the safety of the truck (thankfully) and set up camp. The Upana caves are fantastic. Discovered by loggers in the 1970s and located 16 km or so from Gold River along logging roads they are truly self-service. There is only a little sign announcing their presence, a tiny parking lot hacked into the bush and no tourist fan-fare. We had thankfully picked up a 50 cent brochure from the reluctantly open gas station and it provided an excellent guide to the water worn limestone (turned marble) caves. It is something else to be by yourselves squeezing though tight little holes two stories underground! You really have to go to appreciate it - someday we would love to go back better equipped. Luna was another story. Despite signs not to feed or pet him and a description of plans to re-unite him with his pod, people all rushed down to pet him when he was in the harbor. He had basically been converted to a big underwater dog who just rolled around begging for a pet. Maybe he is happy... they are obviously intelligent animals but my understanding is that young males are desperately needed in their pods after so many were removed to those disasters we call marine theme parks.

June 7 to 9, 2004: Cape Scott:   This trip really started yesterday during our late drive in along somewhat rough roads. Highlights were mom bear and her three cubs who refused to yield the right of way on the narrow road. Carol eventually pointed out that she was far from stressed by our presence as she (and the cubs) continued munching away only moving along when they felt like it. I passed somewhat nervously with her only three feet from my door. The second highlight was the San Josef Heritage Park which is a unique collection of manicured and treed lots surrounded by pieces of the owner's (Doug's) life. Interesting and engaging Doug provided us rather unorganized travelers with all kinds of help from park maps to water. It is a great place to stay before starting on the Cape Scott hike. The hike itself was excellent but a challenge for rain wimps Stephen and Carol. The history of the area is amazing. Settlement attempts where made in the late 1800s and early 1900s but in both cases weather and lack of transportation beat back the settlers. The remains of miles and miles of corduroy road, dykes and fences are awe-inspiring and leave you with a deep appreciation of the difficult lives lived. The trail was wet, muddy and seldom sunny and we are glad to have done it but not itching to go back. Details are at the Cape Scott link.

June 10, 2004: Discovery Coast Passage from Port Harding to Bella Coola: We spent the day on the ferry from Vancouver Island to Bella Coola. The ferry was great and as is typical of BC it was a friendly place. It is the only ferry we had been on where you were allowed on the bridge. Stephen had fun learning about navigation and the ship's technical specifications. Each voyage leaves a little extra time for unforeseen weather but it is often used to cruise around looking for whales. We would be sailing along, someone would spot a whale and a moment latter the ferry would be reversing and doing donuts. It was pretty fun... a ferry that did donuts! They even entertained us with crew members playing the guitar and singing! There were a lot of Europeans on the boat and they seemed to love all the land and space we have that we take for granted. We are lucky.

June 12, 2004: Bella Coola and Highway 20: The north Bentinck arm, wedged between plunging mountains, just ends and gives way to a flat valley between steep-sided mountains. It is here that Bella Coola is found. Its great views and interesting native history make this a place to come back and visit in future years. Bella Coola has a small but excellent museum as well as some really good petroglyphs a short walk up Thorsen Creek. One of the highlights of the area is "the hill" which links Bella Coola to the Interior Plateau above. It was constructed by locals sometime in the 1950s after the government told them that it would cost too much and could not be done. It is a fascinating piece of road that at times is little more than a single lane carefully scratched out of the sand/rock slides which fall away below hundreds of feet to the valley floor. It is not particularly windy but its fascination lies in the way it clings to nothing. Once up on the plateau, the scenery changes dramatically to dry, flat, sandy country-side (covered with scrawny trees) as far as the eye can see. This drive was a real treat.

June 13-14, 2004: Chilko Lake: We left highway 20 at Tatla Lake Road and headed in along washboard service roads to Chilco Lake. It was the end of a long day and the gravel roads seemed more washboardy and rougher than they probably were. None-the-less, we were disappointed to get in only to find a huge lodge complete with airplane landing strip at the end of the lake. BC seems a bit more populated in the bush then we are used to. Any place with a bit of a view has some sort of lodge build there. The funny thing, as pointed out to us by a couple from Holland, is that the lodges are all owned by Germans! The next day we were off to Williams Lake. We had been wet (on Vancouver Island), cold (in the Cariboo) and were tired of cramming all our gear into our little truck. We were looking forward to a break and regroup.

June 14-17, 2004: Williams Lake: We arrived in Williams Lake via one of the roughest roads taken to date... 80 km took 4 hours and 20 minutes! The road was smooth enough but covered in small round rocks that vibrated the hell out the truck at any more than 20 km/hr. We stayed with Laura and Shawn - it is hard to explain how nice it was to stay in a real house after living out of a small pick-up for four weeks. We really appreciated it. My sister Kate purchased a 5' x 8' utility trailer for us which is absolutely perfect for our needs. It has a two foot box and even comes with a sealed (and rather heavy) lid. We spent our time visiting with Shawn and Laura and re-organizing our system. The later included cleaning the trailer, re-packing the bearings, fixing the lights and re-sealing a couple of spots. It was a bit stressful making such a major change half-way through our adventure but everything worked out. The camper got sold and we had a nice tent, a portable propane fridge and a new utility trailer. Many thanks to Shawn and Laura for lending us their house and tools and to Kate for sourcing a trailer for us! We were set to go again.

June 18-20, 2004: Stewart Cassiar Highway: The plan was to head to the Yukon to meet a friend and do a canoe trip on the Teslin River. This had unfortunately let us in for some long days of driving and left us a bit short on time to explore. Perhaps this was a good thing as it did keep us moving through a spectacular area that might otherwise have stalled us. Heading west on Highway 16 past Prince George was not too exciting but by the time we reached Smithers and the Stewart Cassiar Highway things were getting pretty spectacular. We were really surprised around Smithers how temperate everything looked with all the lush green valleys and deciduous trees. Despite being pressed for time we did manage to see some 100 year old totems in Kitiwanga, walk up Battle Hill, canoe the lake at the base of the Bear Glacier on Highway 37A, visit Driftwood Canyon Provincial Park to look for fossils (which people have all picked through despite signs saying not too) and visit the ghost town of Cassiar (awesome). This is a definite spot to return to - we haven't even touched the Hazeltons, the Spatsizi Wilderness Park or the Mount Edziza Park. The provincial parks in this area are some of the nicer ones we have been to in BC, all sitting on beautiful lakes.

June 18-20, 2004: Stewart Cassiar Highway: As Highway 37 is a northern road it invited the inevitable comparisons to our trip up Highway 389 through Quebec into Labrador... they are very different:
Highway 37   Highway 389
Spectacular mountains and valleys   More mellow older mountains and plateau
Lush green (southern bit)   Glacial till
Lots of coniferous and deciduous (southern bit)   Scrawny coniferous only
85% paved   Rough gravel
Lots of tourists   Nobody
Lots of history   Nothing
So-so remote feeling   End of the earth feeling

And... the best thing so far about our travels in British Columbia... NO BUGS. There was the odd mosquito here and there but nothing like the swampy shield. We don't know why as there were areas wet enough and warm enough and we cringed in anticipation at certain campsites expecting to be eaten alive but nothing. And we were happy that way! The Stewart-Cassiar Highway (#37) ends in the Yukon. If you are following chronologically you might want to link to the Yukon page.

Part 2: September 5 - September 8, 2004

As you can see from the dates above, south-eastern British Columbia really didn't get the chance it deserved. The continueing wet weather and the impending finale to our 2 year Cross-Canada Adventure made it a challenge for these two wet and travel weary adventurers to stay focused on exploring the province. We basically just drove through southern BC on our way back to Williams Lake... our sense of adventure had essentially been all used up!

September 5, 2004: Cranbrook: We left Bow Valley Provincial Park in Calgary and took Highway 22 south into British Columbia, driving past the Frank Slide, through the Crow's Nest Pass, Sparwood and Fernie... all very beautiful and spectacular places. For some time, Carol had had it in her mind to treat ourselves to a rare hotel and a meal so we booked a room in Cranbrook. The hotel was O.K. but the town and the restaurant were both on the rough side and as they left our expectations unmeet we both felt grumpy. To top it off, it was the first night in a long time that it didn't rain! So much for treating ourselves!

September 6, 2004: Nelson: In terms of human habitat, the Kootenays seem to be British Columbia's Muskokas (in Ontario) in that they are extremely beautiful but are very busy and built up with a a sort of cottage industry. Of course, the land in BC is much steeper but it only makes the built up effect worse as everything is wedged into what little flat land there is. The lakes here are also not very interesting with many being big reservoir-type things created when the hydro dams were built. The fresh fruit, however, was fantastic. After the prairie's complete lack of fresh fruits and vegetables (this really surprised us... but what do we know about the prairies) we were happy to see numerous fruit stands full of locally grown goodies dotting British Columbia's southern landscape and we availed ourselves to the goods... so much better than that hard-as-rock, grown in California stuff. We also did a great hike up to beautiful Kokanee Lake (the source of Kokanee Beer)? The drive alone up to the trail-head was worth the effort. Watch out though for the killer porcupines that eat car tires. People that do overnight hikes put mesh screening around their cars for protection! This was the first place in the entire country we had seen this but they did have warning signs! Kokanee Creek Provincial Campground was also very nice. It would be a nice spot to return to and do a longer hike up to the Kokanee Glacier itself.

September 7, 2004: Yard Creek Provincial Park: Our last night on the road! And it was nice (although of course it rained during the night and into the early morning). One final time we put up the tent, one final time we made dinner, did the dishes and set up our beds. Sadness. Carol built a fire to mark to occasion (ironically one of the few we built the entire journey) and we sat around reflecting on the best and worst of the trip and our favorite places. The next morning we packed up and did the last days drive of our 18 month journey!

September 12 - 14, 2004: Bowron Lakes: Although our two year Cross-Canada tour was officially over, Carol and I had previously arranged to do the Bowron Lake chain with friends at the end of our journey. In hind-sight this wasn't the best move as we were really enjoying settling in to our new home and, as things were, we were only in Williams Lake a few days before we once again found ourselves out in the cold and wet! For details of the trip see our Bowron Lakes link.

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