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September 2021 with Lena
The Douglas Lake Ranch is a pretty expanse that extends as far as the eye can see. Founded in 1886 it is not without controversy even to this day. It does however appear to be a very slick operation which is more environmentally friendly than the overgrazed range to the East and West. To go is to be transported back to a wilder more free time where the fences were less and the cows roamed free. Half way across the ranch is the company town of Douglas Lake. It is picture perfect with a well stocked store and a post office that would be right at home in a western movie. Cheekily one of its two streets is called 111th Street perhaps a nod to great ambitions. The ranch itself continues to expand and currently sits at just under 5,000 kilometres of grazing land if you include crown grazing land they have the rights to. In fact it is this crown grazing land that is not as cared for as well. This was also an early tactic of the ranch. They allowed there cattle to overgraze the surrounding area allowing them to purchase the land from neighbours cheap when their cattle starved from lack of grass. The company town was in marked contrast to the Indian Reserve and their poorly stocked store a mere eight kilometres back down the lake.
We stayed the first night at the Salmon Lake Resort campground as our tailwind was getting colder and the day was coming to a close. The days here in late September get noticeably shorter each week leaving less and less riding time as the month progresses. We were the only tent at the campground so we took the best spot nestled in the trees. The wind was howling as we played a giant game of Jenga made out of 2×4 cutoffs and an equally huge game of connect 4 constructed out of plywood. It was one of those rare times when I won against Lena. The elderly RVer’s generally kept to themselves and talked about fishing. A few commented how crazy we were to tent in the cold . Little did they know this was the least crazy part of the trip.
Come morning our water bottles were almost frozen through and a heavy frost had settled on our tent and bikes. Seems like the old folks were right. The day however quickly warmed as we headed into the heart of the now mostly extinguished White Rock Lake fire. The fire had burnt indiscriminately through the forest leaving the occasional patch of green. Fire fighters had cut big swathes of the forest along the road and bunched up the logs to prevent it jumping the road. This for the most part seemed ineffective. The occasional bunch of logs still smoked and we could still see the shimmering heat in places. As we reached Monte Lake and the highway, we realized the road we had been traversing was closed.
The village of Monte Lake had been reportedly destroyed in the fire but the occasional building remained. It seems the fire fighters had saved a good chunk of it including the little take-away restaurant where we happily ate vegetarian curries next to the constant stream of truckers who stopped for lunch. Even the trees next to the picnic tables we ate at were burnt on one side. The picnic tables were perfect as was the grass beneath our feet and the flowers on each side.
By the second day we reached Kamloops which Lena noted had no redeeming features except for the landscape around it. She considers it the second worst Canadian city she has visited so far. The town itself is noisy with trains, industry and the Trans-Canada highway. The new pipeline badly scars the hillside and a massive smoke stack of a pulp mill discharges its stink. It was with relief we peddled steeply up into the Lac du Bois provincial park. The badlands style landscape was stunning in the light of the setting sun. Our iron steeds grudgingly inching up the super steep Tranquille-Criss Creek Road to a basic campsite next to a canyon where a sign warns people are only allowed to use a shovel or a pan to search for gold in the river below. It truly feels like the wild west. To Lena’s credit she didn’t walk the bike once up the endless steep hill despite her threatening to. Even the pickup trucks seemed to struggle to get to the top but not Lena. I am so super proud of my girl.
Above the grasslands is parched forest which soon turned to a burnt mess. A very different image than the news portrayed. Here the fire also burnt willy-nilly destroying one house and the occasional car while leaving the neighbours untouched. The fire had burnt through not as recently here as nothing was still smoking and grass had already grown an inch or so in the fields and beneath some of the forest. In some spots the fire had been so hot it looked like life would never return. Here my eyes began to itch and my throat grew sore. Only Lena had noticed her throat hurting when we went through the burn near Monte Lake. We turned onto the Criss Creek FSR into an area completely devastated. Even the forest sounded different; or more clearly it was dead silent while our voices echoed past the now naked trees. Some of the trees looked like alien species their now barkless form clearly showing the circular holes of pine beetles. The whole scene felt bleak the naked trees allowing us to see clear through the forest. Water bombers had been active here and frequently we could see where water from them had washed across the road moving small logs and rocks with it. Often it left the road a muddy mess while seemingly doing nothing to help the dead burnt forest. In this mud we only ever saw a couple vehicle tracks. Few had come this way since the fire had been extinguished.
As we descended into the valley that is marked by the Deadmen-Vidette Road the burnt out area miraculously stopped on the hill top leaving a green farming community punctuated by Monument Valley rock formations and hoodoos. Each valley we descended into felt totally different then the next. It was here we decided to go home early not wanting to face the coming rain or more burnt out forest. So we headed west on a tiny little road signed as the evacuation route to Ashcroft. A road so quiet we were chased by more dogs than we saw cars. The night was spent camping on a buried gas pipeline above a lake. It was the only flat tree free spot for miles.
In the morning we headed into Cache Creek for some truly terrible food at the Hungry Herbie’s Drive-In. While atmospheric we prefer the quality of A&W which is ubiquitous across BC. It probably didn’t help that we were the first and last customers of the day. Their kitchen flooded out half way through preparing our meal forcing them to shut off power and close the place early. At least the bathrooms were quiet and clean if dark from the lack of light. From there we rode the ever changing scenery of Highway 99 into Lillooet. We stopped for lunch in Marble Canyon with its unique calcium lake mounds and white crumbling chalk faced cliffs. A bit of a geographically oddity, the area started life as a Pacific Island chain which is now dispersed around the globe. It is a marked difference from the granite of nearby mountains. From here we descended into the Fraser canyon which is completely geographically different and even more beautiful with a Grand Canyon feel. We ended the day cycling up the stinky spawning streams of the Seton Dam. Enough fish had made it back this year to give the place a good stink which thankfully didn’t impart any taste to the drinking water we so desperately needed. We set up camp at the completely free Seton Dam campground sponsored by BC hydro. Much nicer than your average provincial campground, it was very full despite the large closed sign at the entrance.
Only the Duffy lay ahead. A road renowned by backcountry skiers searching for powder. The road switchbacks high until settling down at 1200 meters before into Mount Currie and Pemberton. Before Joffrey Lakes the traffic is light and polite, making it a pleasure to ride. After it is a busy 13 km descent cumulating in steep switchbacks. The grades are high enough to keep trucks and large RV’s away but it does bring hordes of motorbikes often loud and obnoxious in the otherwise quiet wilderness. This 100 km stretch of highway has zero communities and almost no houses. It is a wonder it was even paved. Past Mount Currie and into Whistler the road is busy and a chore to cycle. The Nairn Falls campground was full despite the weekend rain but the park operators were able to squeeze us in to a canceled reservation. The best part was they gave us a prime river site.
I am so proud of Lena who less than a year ago complained that the Burrard Street Bridge was too tough for her. Even on the Duffy she rode well and did not complain.
Total 507km – over 5 days
Bus to Merritt with Ebus
Cycle Hwy 5A to Douglas Lake Road
Join the Grasslands Circuit from km 62-128
Join the Lac de Bois Circuit from km 0-48
Exit via the FSR to Cache Creek
Ride Hwy 97 to Ride Hwy 99
Over the Duffy (Hwy 99) to Whistler
Bus from Whistler to Vancouver with Epic Rides
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