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North America 2004

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Journal for 5-June-2004 : Lillooet

What an incredible day! It started with a whopping great pile of home made waffles, which was probably just as well given the climb ahead.

Yesterday's warm sunny weather was gone, replaced with heavy clouds and light spitting rain.

First 10ks pretty easy going, and very pleasant cycling through flat farmland next to the Lillooet River, which seems to have little to do with the town of the same name we were heading for.

The main climb of the day started with some seriously steep pinches, often over 10% grade. For nearly an hour we stuggled up this nightmare of a climb until we saw a sign suggesting we'd just come 5ks of 15% grades. Now, this was a tough climb, but not that tough (in hindsight!). For starters, we'd only come 3.5ks. We know this because when making these long slow climbs we are constantly staring at our bike computers like a kid in the back season constantly asking “are we there yet?”. And secondly, even with a full load of food we were able to negotiate this switchback monster hill without killing ourselves.

After the first few Ks the grade eased off a bit. So much so we could now speak to each other, and see the (mostly) untouched pine forests lining the slopes our road was creeping up. In fact, apart from the occasional rain, mosquitoes and our knowledge of how high and how steep the rest of the climb ahead was, I'd have said it quite enjoyable.

The last 4ks of the climb really kicked, back to 10% grade. We made it right to the top without stopping though. Well almost. At the very impressive Joffre Lakes park area we stopped for photo of the lovely (but very cold) Lower Joffre Lake and to use the toilet facilities. We passed on the attractive option of hiking 5ks (each way) to the upper lakes and the glaciers that feed them.

Over the summit (a measly 1100m above the base) the cycling was a dream. We gently twisted and wound down the gentle valley carved out by Cayoosh Ck (or perhaps it's ancestral glacier) toward Duffey Lake. The surrounding mountains were unbelievably fantastic. They reached right to and through the sky, with just enough showing below the cloud line to see they were snow covered. In fact the gullies (more like crevasses) were filled with ice, making it look like the mountains were inverted cones dripping with ice cream.

The fun continued as we swept down this beautiful green valley. Even the rain stopped and the sun broke through in short bursts. These seemed to coincide perfectly with the equally occasional short upgrades. It was going cold to hot and sweaty with nothing in between.

We rocketed past Duffey Lake, with just a few more upward pinches to negotiate. Even though the lake told us we were on the level (on average), it still felt like we were belting downhill.

Passed the runners in the “Whisler 100”, a non-stop relay foot race from Lillooet to Whistler, a mere 100 miles. Chatted with some also into cycle touring, who rolled their eyes then politely said nothing on learning of our proposed route.

We found a track across a small wooden bridge and a spot for lunch. It started to rain. We also found in the undergrowth nearby the frame of an never completed cabin, where we were able to erect our fly and stay reasonably dry while at great speed we scoffed down our unappetising lunch.

After another blissful 25ks roller-coasting downhill adjacent the white water of the gushing Cayoosh Ck, we passed a sign: “Lillooet 20km”. At our current rate we'd be there in half an hour. Half an hour later we'd barely come 2ks. The road shot upwards again, then down, then up with ridiculous steepness, all choreographed to the tune of a thunderous gusty head/cross/tail/Oh-shit-I-can't-steer wind blasting through this now almighty canyon.

The road no longer seemed to be the correct scale. The river seemed almost a kilometre down the hill. And I mean “down” the hill (it probably was), and the canyon edges flew up to the snow line and beyond where the eye can see. It was just a-bloody-maizing! It was un-bloody-believable! I don't know what was more unbelievable, that a road like this exists, or that we were physically capable of rising it.

We passed another lone runner on the road. This kid had no competitor's number, just a pole with a thousand Indian feathers attached. Mum, Dad, and an extended family entourage soon followed, in an SUV convey of course.

The final massive descent was equally mind blowing, if also a huge waste of altitude and brakepad rubber. Camera film could probably be thrown into that mix, as fantastic as the scenery was, it was as difficult to photograph as it was to find a place safe enough stop and attempt it.

We reached Lillooet at 5pm, just in time to buy our next sixteen lunches at the supermarket, and order Chineese take-out for 7. Shopping when hungry is not a good idea!

We have learned the hard way that Chinese food at small country towns is seldom a good idea. This seems especially so in New Zealand. The script used to convey the order to the chef is a good measure of the Chineeseness of the prospective meal, and I was disturbed that our Chop Suey order was inscribed “CS”. (Naturally I know how to write this correctly in Chinese characters – just not type it into a keyboard :-)). Anyway, I could not have been more wrong. The food was excellent, though admittedly I was so hungry on arrival I'd have happily eaten a dead horse's bottom.

Lillooet is an old gold rush town filled with old, and old style wooden buildings. Too small to be Wal-Marted (only 600 odd people live here, probably working in the huge sawmill just down the valley), the town retains it's old west architectural feel, without looking like a fake.

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