The city of Vancouver and the province of British Columbia have topped many lists of the world’s best places to live. Vancouverites are a spoiled bunch: parklands and forested areas abound within the city limits; sun-seekers fill up the beaches up to seven months a year; and when the weather turns cold, there is passable skiing 15 minutes from the downtown core, and world-class schussing but an hour and a half away.
Unfortunately, while it’s a blessing to many who choose to base themselves in Vancouver, the city’s proximity to outdoor escape can also double as a curse. We’re never forced to depart from the urban confines of our green concrete jungle, and as a result, we leave many stones unturned on the sprawling network of BC back roads.
A few years back I was alarmed to learn my girlfriend, Becca, had never seen Duffey Lake Road, the
northernmost branch of Highway 99 (known as the Sea-to-Sky Highway) and possibly one of the most picturesque sections of road in this province. I was determined to take her through this mountainous maze of lakes and alpine meadows, and I decided that it must be done by motorcycle. This stroke of genius, while almost flawless, arrived with only one problem: while our fleet has matured (Becca rides as well now), the Suzuki GSX-R Streetfighter I owned at the time was decidedly unwilling to carry two people cross-country for more than an hour or two, and would not do at all.
A few phone calls and emails produced a well-fettled 2006 Triumph Tiger 955i, washed, fueled, and rarin’ to go, the perfect steed for a spirited weekend tour for two.
Saturday morning dawned bright and beautiful, and Becca and I set off up Sea-to-Sky on our way to Squamish and beyond. There was just enough traffic to let you slow down and really take in the scenery, and as oceans turned to mountains and we blew through Whistler, we began to look forward to emptier roads and more rural sights.
For those not in the know, the real introduction to Duffey Lake Road comes in the form of a 21-kilometre stretch of 13% gradient, a hill known to cause brake fires on the way down and engine fires on the way up. On a bike, however, as with many troublesome sections of road, it’s a pleasure and a jaunt, and the Tiger’s 110 horsepower was more than enough to fling us and our overnight luggage up the hill in style. Once on the plateau, the vistas only grew more spectacular: while Mt. Currie casts a menacing shadow over Pemberton, it’s merely an introductory monolith to the pass between the Pemberton icecap and Chilcotin Plateau. The Cayoosh, Marriott Basin, and Joffre Lakes regions seem to push their peaks toward the sky in an effort to better one another and raise travelling eyebrows around every bend.
A hundred kilometres north of Pemberton, the mighty Fraser River runs right past Lillooet, and has carved itself a canyon worthy of respect. This is where the mountains turn to shale slopes and dusty plains, and where you’ll find Seton Lake, doing double duty as a beacon of changing geography and one of British Columbia’s answers to Lake Louise. A 24-km-long boomerang of aquamarine glory, it’s terminated at its eastern end by a perfectly situated highway rest stop that rejuvenates anyone road-tripping in either direction.
Continuing up Highway 99 toward Cache Creek, you motor on confidently through a growing number of fast sweepers interspersed with 20-km/h hairpin corners that put a smile on any rider’s face. Sometimes it’s a task to keep one’s eyes on the road, as the lush, river-fed farmlands and the red-hued mountains collide under the sun in an iridescent display of nature’s palette. All of a sudden you’re at a T-junction: it’s 97 North to Prince George or South to Cache Creek and eventually Kamloops. We turned right and flashed through Cache Creek toward the Thompson River Valley; the road and scenery are an uninterrupted pleasure. For those on a one-day schedule, this is where you might turn south and head down Highway 8 and 1 through Ashcroft, Boston Bar, etc., ending up back in Vancouver after a delightful, day-long “Lillooet Loop.”
We had the full weekend, so we carried on.
The ride down Highway 97 into Vernon is a pleasurable introduction to North Okanagan; lakes, ranchland and wineries vie for attention, and it’s clear that BC’s summer vacation hotspot is just around the corner. After a long day we were pleased to arrive at our overnight stop, a friend’s cabin on the Okanagan Lake. Nestled between Vernon and Kelowna, Lake Country is a spectacular reminder that whatever season you find yourself in, the Okanagan is a great place to be. Plenty of opportunity for active pursuits like skiing, sailing, wakeboarding and kite-boarding cycle through year-round; for quieter visitors, wine-tasting, endless beaches and generally gorgeous weather are the going theme.
After a swim in the lake the next morning, we hopped back on the bike for another epic day. The Tiger didn’t miss a beat on the gravelly back roads of Winfield, and plunked us safely on the highway into Kelowna. We blew through the core, got over to Westbank, and hustled down the coast to Penticton. Once free of Sunday traffic and oddly scheduled weekend roadwork, we made good time on the way to Keremeos. The short stint of highway from Skaha Lake to Keremeos is a gem. There are a couple of near-180-degree sweepers that make you want to double back a few times and do them again and again—Ducatis, S1000RRs and any other knee-dropping sportbikes would do well here. Time, however, does not always allow for such frivolities, so we pushed toward Vancouver via the 3A and the Hope–Princeton (although in this case it was the Princeton–Hope). Again, while this region of BC can be done in a day, it really is best to give yourself a few to properly enjoy the abundance of history, wine, good food and natural beauty. Then again, doing it in a day is better than not at all, and we arrived in Princeton after negotiating a flurry of farm country and heart-stopping crosswinds. A stopping suggestion to note: Bromley Rock recreation area is a fantastic little picnic spot, with river swimming and cliff-jumping for the warm-blooded among us.
With Princeton over and done with (complete with the requisite sunny afternoon ice cream treat), we moved on to the twisty glories of Manning Park. Truly a mecca of four-season outdoor recreation, Manning is also a great place to possibly spot some wildlife and definitely ride some exciting roads. As with most main highways and byways in BC, the road is more than well marked, and while speeding is obviously discouraged, “spirited” riding is not.
Admittedly, Manning Park and the enormity of the Hope Slide are sort of the last hurrahs of the weekend’s loop, as the highways join together outside Hope and weekenders take up the procession home toward the big city. Our starting point was 36 hours and just under 1,100 km ago. It was a fantastic way to spend half a weekend.
Before falling into that night, I reflect on the amazing ease by which we accessed these views and experiences, and on the sad reality that many Vancouverites have barely ever ventured outside the city limits with domestic destinations in mind. So if you have your bike licence (if you don’t, get it), buy a bike and go adventuring. A car, bus or bicycle will also do. Either way, whether you were born and raised in Vancouver and have never left or have only lived here a month, you owe it to yourself to see the rest of our beautiful province. BC is waiting for you, and it’s pretty damn spectacular.
Photos courtesy of Theo Birkner