My love affair with the Cariboo region of British Columbia began on August 23, 2007. But before explaining the how’s and why’s, we need to back up by two years…
Every second or third weekend in August starting in 2005, I would drive up to Prince George with my lacrosse team (the Vancouver Burrards) to compete in the annual Alcan Cup tournament. For the first two years, we would depart the Lower Mainland in the dark expanse of night, at around midnight, rendezvous at someone’s house, and our convoy of half a dozen cars would then make the drive up through the Fraser and Thompson Canyons in complete darkness.
Usually by the time we reached the highlands around Mount Begbie, just south of 100 Mile House, the sun would start to peek above the horizon and we’d finally see some daylight emerge during the following hour. By half past six o’clock in the morning, we would have reached Williams Lake, daylight, and a greasy yet most-welcomed breakfast pit-stop at Denny’s.
On these first two trips north, in 2005 and 2006, I thought little about the trip and its sights and scenery – after all, half the journey was done at night – and focused more about simply getting there.
Preparing for these road-trips was a lot like anticipating Christmas morning when you were a little kid – where adrenaline and excitement kept us awake, and one hoped that all that adrenaline (paired with coffee) would keep you awake long enough until daylight and arrival in the Spruce City. Most of us had only a few hours of sleep at best before leaving. Typically I would work a full day, come home and then spend the evening doing laundry and packing. I’d be lucky if I got a two-hour nap in before I had to load up the car and hit the road.
My teammate Jeremy rode shotgun these first two years – and while I drove, it was his job to entertain and keep me awake with his conversation as well as play DJ with my car’s CD deck. He would bring with him a home-made CD he burned especially for the trip. One year it was half an hour of epic “morale speeches” from sports and movies, things like Vince Lombardi Super Bowl quotes and soundbites from Full Metal Jacket to get us pumped up for game time.
But along with the official trip CD, Jeremy would also entertain me with his impressive knowledge of the Fraser Canyon. We’d drive through this-or-that tunnel north of Yale, and he could recount the history of it and any interesting historical tid-bits. In later years, the history buff I am would buy an out-dated travel book to the Fraser Canyon – and realise Jeremy actually could relate a lot of accurate knowledge about our driving route.
Then in 2007, less of us were driving and more flying north. Admittedly the 800-kilometres drive had now worn out more than a few souls. So our road trip convoys became a thing of the past as only a handful of us drove up as a group that year. Jeremy couldn’t make the trip, so this time around my teammate Cam and myself were car-pooling together.
Not committed to leaving and sticking with the convoy, Cam and I decided on a sudden whim to leave town a few hours later so that we reached Hope right around dawn at 5:00am and then didn’t have to drive as much in the pitch black. In previous years, six hours or so of driving along the un-lit Trans-Canada #1 and Cariboo #97 highways took a toll on one’s eyes as you strained to concentrate on the winding road and avoid any wildlife which may happen to wander on to the otherwise dark highway.
So with us now entering the Canyon in the early morning light, for the first time on our road-trips north were we able to actually take in and appreciate the scenery passing by us. Towns, settlements, buildings, and business signs which we had only known previously as lonesome dots of lights in the vast darkness of night, or on our road map, their identity now became apparent. It’s amazing how different places can look and your bearings change when you don’t drive the long distances in the pitch black.
But it wasn’t until we began the stretch of highway from Lytton to Cache Creek – the Thompson River canyon – that the location’s beauty really struck home with me. Already in awe of the stark rawness of the mountain scenery and scrubland which begins as soon as you leave Lytton and head along the Thompson River, I was coming around a bend on the Trans-Canada, somewhere north of Spences Bridge when suddenly the whole valley was illuminated by the bright dawn of the sun in a cloudless sky. It was, quite frankly, the most incredibly beautiful sunrise I have witnessed. It was a zen moment – and if I were a more religious person, I would have said God himself was looking down from one of those mountains that morning.
In subsequent trips north, I would often try to time and co-ordinate my route so that dawn would occur at the same time and location – but I have yet been able to replicate what I saw that early morning of August 23, 2007. That was the day that the lure of the British Columbia Interior, the Cariboo, and the beauty of my province, would start to draw me in.
You, mighty Thompson River, had me at ‘sunrise’…