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I’ve travelled the highway through the Fraser Canyon since I was a boy sitting with my brothers in the backseat of our family car. Summer vacations included trips to Williams Lake to visit relatives. Sometimes we’d go as far as Barkerville for a taste of the Gold Rush. Always stopping to enjoy the views, or the historic sites, or to fret over the steam escaping from the engine.

I used to hitchhike the route to visit my parents and younger siblings after they moved to Williams Lake. On one trip back, I sat on the floor in the rear of some guy’s VW Van – very stoned – tossed from side to side and certain that we were in imminent peril of careening down the cliff into the river. For me, that was more terrifying than another ride when the driver pulled out a knife and suddenly thrust the blade into the dashboard – leaving the handle vibrating like a divining rod. I politely asked to get out at the next town. Odd behaviour, but I was pretty sure he would have slipped it through my ribs if he’d meant to murder me. The good old days.

Sometimes I would take the bus, reading and chain smoking among the back seats. As a teenager I owned a car, but not one I’d trust to go that distance. I didn’t own a car again until I was in my fifties, though I was occasionally a passenger along the route up the canyon. I few weeks before selling the only car I ever bought new (and the last one I’ll ever own) I drove the Fraser Canyon myself for the first time.

Yesterday, I was tasked with going only partway down that highway - Boston Bar to Hope. About 70 kilometres. An easy day, if you measure only the distance. I enjoyed some nice shade in the morning from trees that, suddenly, become firs rather than Ponderosa Pine. Tall with thick trunks.  But it was quickly apparent that this stretch presented a few interesting challenges.

From the highway there are splendid views of the river but it wasn’t really possible to appreciate the scenery unless I could find a safe place to stop and dismount. The highway required that I keep my wits about me. Sometimes the shoulder was a sufficient width. Other times... oh shit! Sometimes the surface was good. Sometimes fair. Sometimes murderous.

There is a good bit of up and down. Ultimately, more down than up. But I couldn’t allow myself to gain much speed on the descents because the variations in the width and the condition of the shoulder were so unexpectedly variable.

Then came the tunnels. Seven of them.

I am pleased to report that every tunnel has one raised sidewalk, about a metre wide, for cyclists to pass through. In the two longest ones there is even a button you can press to alert motorists to your presence, though I did not notice anyone reducing speed.

Cars seemed to shoot through like bullets from the barrel of a rifle. Transports roared past and the turbulence in their wake was sufficiently strong that I stopped and pressed myself against the wall to avoid staggering under the force.

It would be reckless for any cyclist not to dismount and walk on the sidewalk. And cycling the thin strip of grit on the level of the lane would be suicidal. The reverberations of the traffic noise was unsettling. And if you were briefly spared traffic, the intense, relentless buzz of the lights was a hundred times more torturous than the shrill chorus of crickets that robbed me of some sleep the night before.

I took a break at Spuzzum. It was hot by then. Even in the shade where I sat enjoying an ice cream cone.

Between Spuzzum and Yale the highway had recently been.... repaired is the wrong word. Patched up a little might be the better description. Extreme weather eventually leaves cracks in asphalt. Along some sections of the Trans Canada, the cracks are filled with a rubbery substances. For bicycles, the rubber is as slick as ice. But here, the cracks in the highway are filled with a mixture of sand and fine grained gravel blended with oil. For the lane, it actually seemed like an effective (albeit temporary) solution.

But the shoulder for some twenty or more kilometres was thickly strewn with the excess sand and gravel – swept there by passing traffic and wind. Given this slippery surface, it was safer to cycle on the edge of the lane with frequent glances into my mirror. Traffic was relatively light but whenever I encountered vehicles (especially trucks or RV’s) approaching from both directions I was forced onto the precarious shoulder where I was either halted or reduced to a crawl.

Beyond Yale is a long flattish section through the valley. But by then, I caught a headwind and was struggling. The wind settled enough for me to tackle the longest, steepest hill of the day, just northwest of Hope before Lake of the Woods. My clothes were quickly soaked with sweat. I had to stop partway up to swap my dripping headband with a fresh dry one and wash off the sweat stinging my eyes.

A brief rest at the top of that ascent to enjoy the view of the lake. The wind was arriving in sudden gusts. The long steep hill down the other side afforded no shoulder at all so I did what cyclists call“taking the lane”. That is, I occupied the centre of the single lane down and obliged cars to either tuck in behind me or go around via the opposing lane. Sometimes the boldest move is the safest.

At the bottom of the hill a sudden crosswind struck me and nearly pushed me completely off the road. For a kilometre I was buffeted by more powerful winds and frequently had to stop just to keep upright. I surmised the wind was somehow accelerating through a narrow passage down the valley. It was most fierce just before the bridge back over the Fraser River and into town. Surprisingly, once on the bridge, the wind settled and I coasted into Hope, found some air conditioning at Starbucks, and wrote this account over coffee.

I had originally intended to head to Chilliwack today. My birthplace, though I’ve never actually lived there. But I could not arrange for camping anywhere. So I’m heading for Mission along Highway 7.

Tomorrow – Vancouver.

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Aug 28, 2022

Hitchhiker: Aren’t you worried I could be a psychopath?

Driver: Not really. The odds of two psychopaths being in the same car are astronomical.

Hitchhiker: … 😳

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