I rode out of Vancouver early on the morning of June 18. I pedaled across the Lions Gate Bridge then north to Squamish where I spent the night at a rock-climbing camp. I reached Whistler late the next afternoon and had a big dinner then camped a few kilometers north on the Soo River. My legs felt good and I was starting to sense the rhythm of the road. I’d been eating well, too, and hadn’t had so much as a jellybean.
It was late morning now of the third day. I’d just passed through Pemberton, the last town for 100 kilometers, and I rolled along beside milky lake Lillooet through a deep forest. Creeks tumbled down past the road to feed a raging torrent that the highway followed up the mountain. I rounded the next corner and there it was: Cayoosh Pass. I was looking at a ten percent grade that climbed the ridge with no end in sight. I was able to ride part way up but soon had to get off and push. Luckily there was no shortage of cool mountain streams trickling out of the rocks and I’d stop at every one and drink my fill. It had been warm, but by late the afternoon, the wind picked up and it began to rain. I had been at it for three or four hours and the inclement weather was an excellent excuse for quitting, so I found a spot off the road in a small clearing among a thicket of young fir trees, and set about establishing camp. The wind was really howling now and I wrestled with the fly and finally got it on and my tent pegged down. I ate a can of cold black beans and then zipped my sleeping bag over my head.
Around two a.m. I emerged from my cocoon to stretch. It was a clear night and the Big Dipper pivoted around Polaris like a spoke in a wheel, the plane of the Milky Way shone vividly against the velvet blackness and I could almost count the stars.
I awoke again around 5:00 a.m. and was on the road by 5:30. As it turned out, I was only five kilometers from the summit, which I reached in an hour. I zipped down the other side in perfect weather gliding through bright open meadows and past rugged snowcapped peaks. At one point, I watched a young buck, the velvet still on his horns, graze in a glade near some woods. He seemed indifferent to my presence.
It took most of the day, but I finally arrived in the small gold rush town of Lillooet where I set up my tent at a campground right on the Frasier River. Today, Lillooet is a sleepy little village but it wasn’t always that way. During the gold rush of 1858-9 it laid claim to the title ‘The Biggest City West of Chicago and North of San Francisco’. There’s a plaque in town that marks Lillooet as the Mile 0 point of the Cariboo Highway, which follows the route of the old gold rush trail. The town sits in a gorge at the confluence of several valleys with streams that feed into the Frasier River, a wide, swift torrent that tumbles along in a hurry to reach the sea. The country has a dry and barren, and somehow prehistoric, feel to it and I found it strangely beautiful.