I put my hand up to block the dust devil that kicked up on the shoulder of the road. It swirled around, sucking up dried pine needles and gum wrappers, tossing them in the air in a kind of frantic dance. I looked up the road as far as the next switchback. “I sure hope that’s the top”, I mumbled. I’d been fighting this terrible crosswind for a couple of hours now, the day was growing old, and still, the summit was nowhere in sight. There was a stream that ran down through a crack in the rocks, and I drank greedily, and filled my water bottles, wiped the sweat from my brow then continued on. I’d given up trying to ride; the hill was just too steep, and for the last six or eight kilometers, I had been pushing my loaded-down bike up Cayoosh Pass. By the time I reached the next switchback, rain had begun to fall, then, the wind came out of the north, slowing my upward progress to a crawl. At this rate, it would take till midnight to reach the top. My legs were shaking, and my arms were sore. I was beat. A truck roared past and doused me with road slush. That’s it, I thought, time to quit for the day. I looked around for some place to camp. I peered at the road ahead. It wound up the flank of a high ridge through dense forest. On one side of the road, a steep, wooded bluff climbed into the clouds, on the other side, a cliff plummeted down hundreds of feet to Joffre Creek; I could hear its roar echoing through the woods. Up ahead, a dozen meters, I spotted a small turnout. The trees closed in tight around a gravel patch just big enough for one car; it looked like my tent would fit. I reached the turnout and, struggling with the wind, finally got my camp set up, then, I climbed into my sleeping bag. It wasn’t the best of camps. The place where I lay was pitched and rocky and just a few meters from the pavement. Plus, there was the whole thing with the bears. I’d been warned back in Pemberton to keep an eye out.
And it had all started out so well. The first two and a half days of riding through damp, green Western Canadian evergreen forests had been extremely pleasant. I had ridden out of Vancouver early on the morning of June 18. I’d 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, 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.
By late morning, I reached Pemberton, the last town for one hundred kilometers, and I rolled along beside milky lake Lillooet through a deep forest. Streams 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.
That had been many hours before, and now I awoke to stillness; the storm had passed.
I glanced at my watch, it was two a.m., I emerged from my tent 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 velvet blackness, and I could almost count the stars.
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