The beauty of a trip that is relatively unplanned, is that when you turn up somewhere and feel at home you can simply decide to stay longer. This happened to us in Whistler. We arrived, checked into our hotel, and within an hour had decided we needed longer than one night to explore. But in our account of our Zartusacan road trip we haven’t quite got to Whistler yet, so let’s go back to Jasper and go from there…
The Athabasca Glacier, Columbia Icefield.
After a great day exploring the Columbia Icefield, it was time to continue our journey. We headed out of Jasper and pretty much immediately the border from Alberta into British Columbia, changing time zone for the last time before we headed home and signalling the last province of our journey. Our plan was to stop and see as much amazing scenery as possible in the last couple of weeks of our trip – just like the previous eight weeks then!
Our first stop of the day was at Mount Robson, a beautiful picture postcard snow-capped mountain. There are lots of walks here but instead we headed into the café to get breakfast, and although we were sure we could smell maple syrup we couldn’t see any pancakes on the menu which would be the traditional accompaniment. Confused and a little disappointed (we do like our pancakes!), we grabbed a cup of tea and sat with a view of the mountain, realising as we sipped that we were drinking Canadian Maple Tea – the smell was the tea not pancakes after all! Not bad, Canada!
Next was a little mountain town called Valemount, which reminded us of Austria or Switzerland. We stopped at a Swiss Bakery we saw signposted along the road (this one) and had a fantastic tuna salad with freshly baked bread – it was lovely to relax on the veranda of an Alpine looking house, surrounded by mountains, soaking up the atmosphere.
The North Thompson River.
Some of our best views on this road trip came about because we spotted a sign to somewhere that sounded cool, or fancied a break and so simply took the next turning off the road. We were lucky to stumble across beautiful beaches, rivers, waterfalls, canyons, cafes and all sorts. But it wasn’t always so successful. We turned down a road signposted “Little Hell’s Gate” (who wouldn’t?!), and after three or four kilometres of rocky track we eventually reached the viewpoint. Rather unimpressive from the tiny parking area, and with lots of aggressive mosquito for company. You can’t win them all.
The road at Lillooet. Simply stunning.
They say (who, I’m not sure, just “they”) that Kamloops is the hottest place in Canada thanks to its location in a valley between some impressive mountains. Reaching 35.5 degrees Celsius, it was quite different to our previous day on the glacier. We stayed in a motel on the outskirts of the town and walked in to find dinner. The following morning, we decided we’d head into Whistler and spend the afternoon and the night there; we love a good mountain resort and this one is pretty famous. The road in is famous, too, the 99 is designated the “Sea to Sky Highway”, a beautiful winding road to ride.
Squamish. Beautiful even with the cloud.
As we wound our way through mountain valleys we spotted a Western town set with a trading post called Dead Horse. Signs suggested it was a museum so we stopped for a nose, but the car park was covered in “no trespassing” and “keep out” signs, which was a bit odd as it seemed to be a decent parking lot. There was no sign of the promised trading post and the “strictly no photography” signs were the final put-off.
Mountain goat in Dead Horse.
We arrived in Whistler and checked into the Blackcomb Lodge, a typical ski hotel. We had to pay to park the bikes here for what I think must have been only the second time on the trip; most of the town is pedestrianised and the parking is underground out of sight. We wandered to the main square and Olympic Plaza and quite honestly fell in love with the town. It had a nice relaxed vibe and we could definitely see ourselves holidaying here. We decided one night wasn’t enough, and so returned to the hotel to book in for another night; not as easy as you might think – not because the hotel was full but because the manager seemed to think it was too difficult, but thankfully the lady on the check in desk took over our request and sorted us out.
Olympic Rings in Whistler.
I must give a special mention to Splitz Grill, a Subway style burger joint with super tasty food served from an open kitchen. If you’re in Whistler, go there!
The following day we had such a nice day off the bikes. The sun was shining, so we spent the day mooching around the shops (outdoorsy stores, my favourite!) and sitting in the sunshine listening to the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra rehearse Peter and the Wolf for their summer concert the next day. We had our first taste of the traditional Canadian street food dish Poutine; chips, cheese curds and gravy – way too good. Possibly, no, probably my favourite day off the bikes of the whole trip – it was bliss.
We could have easily spent another few days in Whistler but there were so many other places left on our list that we couldn’t stay forever. We would very much like to go back some time to make the most of the mountains and associated activities on offer.