Sunday, September 20, 2009
Check out BC Highway 99
I have found a highway that is worth driving just for the sake of driving it. Best of all, it connects spectacular scenery with more spectacular scenery without ever repeating itself, and a one-day round trip begins and ends in a great city.
Highway 99 runs north from Washington into BC near Vancouver, slices through Vancouver and then heads north towards Whistler, site of the winter Olympics in a few months. The portion of the road between West Vancouver and Whistler is called the Sea to Sky Highway, and it is true to its name. It winds along the cliffs that look west onto the Pacific Ocean, and the myriad islands and inlets are a feast for the eyes.
On Saturday morning we were treated to a collection of British cars wending their way north, including an old Rolls Royce Silver Ghost, an MG TC, a TR3, some sort of old Jag two-seater, a stunning Bentley Continental convertible, a somewhat lecherous looking Jensen Interceptor and a variety of MGBs and MGBGTs. We had the roof down in the 320ce and were pretty comfy compared to all except perhaps the couple in the Bentley.
The road turns inland and continues to climb (Sea to Sky, remember) and we stopped for a bite in Whistler, a mountain resort with big-league skiing and golf. We then left most of the crowd behind as we pressed north towards Pemberton. The mountains along the west coast scrape the moisture from the Pacific winds and the road winds past lakes and rivers and mossy mixed forests. Pemberton sits in a fairly wide valley, and then beyond Pemberton the road follows the Birkenhead river for a while and starts to climb. Expect 20 mph switchbacks and hiking trails and occasional places to pull over to park for a picnic. The last 20 miles or so have a few 13% downhill grades, several single lane bridges and to-die-for views, small and large, from exuberant little creeks to a finishing vista near Lillooet that is like driving in a piece of the Grand Canyon.
Once you reach Lillooet the countryside opens up, and it looks as if it is covered in suede; dry, open, deeply carved by the Fraser River and its tributaries. If you are pressed for time, turn south from Lillooet on Highway 12 and make your way back towards Vancouver, or take a longer way around and head up to Cache Creek first.
Either way, the return trip is completely different from the outbound route. You will be in rugged, dry upland terrain, with sage brush, gullies and spectacular views. For my wife and me, our destination this trip was in the opposite direction from Vancouver, and we pressed north and east to Highway 5 then onwards into the dusk, heading to Alberta.
The cabrio was a treat; we motored roof-down through a couple of rain showers with the front side windows up, and the wind deflector, and kept dry except for some drips from the top of the windows. This is a touring car not a sports car, and it plugged along through the canyons of Highway 99 east of Lillooet, but was happier at speed, whether the roof was down or up.
Highway 99 is worth driving just for the fun of it. Take a day, ideally in May, June or September (avoiding tourists in July/Aug and the likelihood of snow the rest of the year!), start in Vancouver and head north along the coast. Return via the Fraser Valley. We would go a day out of our way, just for the drive. There are no other roads that I would say that about.
(Note for visitors from Benzworld. We started in Edmonton, went to Calgary, Richmond BC, then home. 4 days on the road, 1650 miles/2600 km). 1992 320ce cabrio.