Nanaimo to Whistler


We did something stupid on our second day in Canada.  It was a quick decision that combined two days into one and resulted in our arrival in Whistler at 11 pm. Forsaking a couch to sleep on in Squamish Brady, Tyler, and I decided at 5:30 that evening to make another 35 miles and another 4,000 feet of gross elevation to the mountain biking mecca of Whistler in anticipation of seeing my parents on the sunny slopes of southern British Columbia. Rachel, our fourth companion on this long, unreasonable adventure was in Vancouver for the next two days, resting some tendinitis in her knees. I don’t think that we’ll be able to make that sort of reactionary decision again on Keys to Freeze. Our mileage just doesn’t allow for it. But that choice resulted in one of my favorite rides of the trip.

We left Nanaimo at 9 am that morning.  Nanaimo is the northern city on Victoria Island. Victoria, the capital of BC, is in the south. These are my thoughts on Victoria.

Waking so late was a real treat. Usually the alarm goes off at 6 and we bustle around in preparation for a 7:30 sendoff. Not today. We had only 40 miles of biking to Squamish, a 30 mile ferry filling in the space between Vancouver Island and the mainland. All in all a breezy 70 miles. I ate a disgusting amount of cereal and drank coffee from the bust of a stormtrooper. Turns out our hosts Jim and Corey are big Star Wars fans.

The ride to the ferry was uneventful. The weather has been sunny and warm for two weeks now. I fear for the rain that is coming, and the mosquitoes that will follow after the bliss that is the dry idyllics of the northwest Pacific.

Ferries are funny things. Like big slow stupid buses. I wonder how much money the BC Ferry made in its one ride from Nanaimo to Horseshoe Bay, the mainland port north of Vancouver. A lot. We were packed in pretty tight. I watched the line fill up at their cafeteria restaurant and wondered how much a soup and sandwich would cost. Too rich for my blood, most like. Most like I’d be eating poptarts and refried beans in the corner, eyeing greedily the turkey club that was being gobbled up by someone who wasn’t even aware of my dirty, smelly presence. A Gollum to a Samwise, make no mistake.

I fall asleep, mouth open, drool spilling onto my chin. I was on the floor sitting cross-legged. My head rested against the seat of my chair. Tyler told me I looked quite absurd … says the guy who is still wearing his helmet on board, sweating through his lycra. We all looked stupid I suppose, especially perhaps bearded Brady, who now looks more pirate than cyclist – maybe that’s why we all get along so well.


Disembarking we rode straight uphill. It was a real bummer. The view was spectacular, though, and made up for it. For twenty miles we rode northwards along Horseshoe Bay, emerald blue waters with a snow-capped mountain range sitting stony in silence behind it. Nice wide shoulders, rolling hills, reasonable traffic … this was Canada? This was magic. We hooted and hollered and shouted “Boys Week! Boys Week!” and bustled on for Squamish.

There were a bunch of hills. We worked hard up them. Canadians, from my experience, take the shortest way up a hill. They believe not in switchbacks. I imagined some red-breasted Mountie astride some ugly donkey looking down on a crew of mismatched conservation corps members, barking in some thick accent “Alright buddies! Up we go now! Straight up you see, eh? What what, chip chop! God save the queen!”

Brady demanded a rest stop at a lake at the top of the hill. We swam and laid about in our wet chamois. From our lake we could see Squamish below. An easy day, come and went.

Then some things happened. Firstly we missed our turn to the host. By about five miles too far. When we did stop it was at a grocery. Tyler and I drank a half gallon of chocolate milk and ate three candy bars each. We were wired hot. Then a tailwind picked up.

The tailwind, more than anything, sent us still north. How rare it is to not be getting your face blasted by prevailing winds. We took advantage and sped towards Whistler.

We were five miles out of town and in the thick of a climb when I realized I was out of water. So was Tyler. Brady, our resident camel, still had a liter of water available. In sharing his water so too was he now waterless. There were still 25 miles to Whistler and no services between us and town.

Our ride grew into a series of near bonks. A bonk is where you have hit a wall and are done riding for the day. They suck. Liken it to a dehydrated hungover lethargy, a thick brown coagulate. Tyler almost bonked from dehydration. He stopped at a river and sat next to it, giardia be damned, drinking unpurified water until he felt the life return to his body. I was shaking at the top of a big climb and swallowed two bananas. If there had been some pornography star watching me from my hilltop they would have asked me for tips. I don’t even think I tasted the potassium. Brady slipped into a deep silence punctuated by grunts.

And so our night progressed. How sobering it is to ride until nine at night and have the sun still in a dusky glow. Darkness comes late here in the north.

We rode until ten, stopping at a gas station for dinner. I ate an expensive sandwich and two ice cream cones. Best meal of the trip.

Weighing our options we decided to roll into downtown Whistler and get an extension on our hotel room that my folks – thank you again Mom & Pops! – had reserved for the next night. That way we could wake up in the morning and not have anywhere to go except the lobby for breakfast. All were willing to shell out a few dollars for a night of comfort. A shower! A bed! Air conditioning! Impossible delights.

So we went. Luxury at its finest. Checking in there was discussion of beers. Out we went, showerless, wearing three day dirty clothes, in search of the hottest bar on the strip.

It all happened at El Furniture Warehouse. The quote of the night was from Sear, who said in reference to my hair that “If it’s a dude that looks like a chick, it’s probably a dude. If it’s a chick that looks like a dude, it’s probably a chick.” When we saw him the next day he didn’t remember us, even after our gem of a conversation.

The bar was, well, fun would be a good way to describe it. The dress code seemed to be bras and butt-crack jean shorts. Guys and girls included. Just kidding. The guys all wore name brand hats and shirts and Billabong shorts. There were a few folks who looked about as homeless as me and Tyler and Brady, but not many. We made enough friends to feel welcome for the night, drank enough beers to be buzzed, and walked just far enough home to realize that we were pretty lucky to be where we were – fifteen hours out from seeing my parents in the world-class ski and mountain biking town of Whistler on a clear night, where the stars shone at last with a rising moon at midnight, the steep mountains looking down on Olympic village and our little bodies with our stupid tan lines skipping along the cobbled paths towards our hotel, singing Zac Brown.