The Road To Alaska Begins
After our last Goal Zero marketing event for the season wrapped up in Kirkland, Washington, we spent a couple of days in Bellingham before officially embarking on our trip to Alaska. We built the truck with Alaska in mind, so we finally get to put her to the test (we’ll be there until November). It didn’t take long to get used to converting miles to kilometers and quickly assessing bridge heights in meters. Some must-do stops are planned along the way so we can absorb as much of British Columbia as possible while moving systematically in the right direction & spending the bulk of summer in Alaska.
BC is rich with its own beauty and adventure, and we’ve been eager to absorb its history and recreation while not straying too far from our main route. So far, much of the trip is proving to rollout pretty organically as we meet new families and friends along the road, taking their local recommendations and exploring without expectation and according to the weather. Temperatures have been in the 30’s & 40’s at night to high 60’s by day. We’ve had a few days of rain, but it’s been mostly good traveling weather. Luckily, due to work in Alaska this October, there’s comfort in knowing we can take our time. Our trip planning strategy has been pretty simple:
1. We’re using the MilePost to calculate our route and find visitors centers/recreation along the way. We opted against getting phones in Canada, so we are without phone or data service much of the time, but most of the Canadian visitors centers in each town we pass have wifi and plenty of detailed maps/info to help us out. And the people are soooooo friendly! (Note: Many of the visitors centers also have potty dump and RV water fill-up stations as well so they’re quite the all-in-one stop!) Google Voice allows us make free internet calls when we are on wifi.
2. We try to plan to be in bigger towns for their Friday or Saturday farmers markets. Currently, we’re in Smithers, BC where we met the proprietors of Old Iron Farm & Apiary at the local market here. Their family farm produces honey as well as pastured heritage pork, fed with locally grown grain. They kindly extended an invitation for us to be a part of their farm-family on our travels and we have been spending the last few days trying our hand at farm life. Summer farmers markets in Canada have been a cool place for us to get local knowledge, provision with local staples & meet new friends.
3. We download trail maps to GPS apps so that we can feel safe and confident trail running, hiking and mountain biking even when we’re in unfamiliar territory. Apps like Trail Forks, All Trails, Hiking Project and Gaia GPS have been invaluable in backcountry route planning.
4. For many people, travel is about exploring the edges and finding solitude. For us, however, part of our mission is to explore cool towns, meet fascinating people, and also for Bethany to be able to continue working from the road. So you’re more likely to find us in cities than out in the backcountry once it gets dark (which is doesn’t really this season the further north you go!) When we do need a place to camp and want our own piece of paradise, we use apps like Ultimate CG Canada (which, in addition to regular campgrounds and provincial parks, lists free forest service campgrounds and dispersed camping) and Google Maps to seek out the spot. There’s a ton of logging roads criss-crossing the province so it’s never tough to find a backroad to call home for the night. We haven’t paid for a campsite yet.
We started from Bellingham and thought we might stay a bit in Vancouver before heading onward via the Sea to Sky Highway. Unfortunately, our timing was bad and we hit rush hour at just the wrong time in Vancouver due to a bad traffic accident near the border. So we got through Vancouver as quickly as possible and will have to make it a separate trip (along with Vancouver Island). Next time :).
The Sea to Sky Highway was captivating as the mountains sprung up from Horseshoe Bay and Howe Sound. Many people make the drive straight through there to Whistler, but we think you’ll find the areas around Squamish to be destinations in their own right. From the Sea to Sky Corridor, we headed north on Highway 97 (the Cariboo Highway) just north of Cache Creek. Opting to do the Cassiar Highway instead of the Al-Can highway, we next headed west on Highway 16 in Prince George to where we are currently based out of in Smithers. Making a similar trip? Here’s a few nuggets from the trip thus far:
– Trail run Larrabee State Park…or anywhere here, really. The waterfront paths on the Bay connect downtown to a huge system of trails at Larrabee/Chuckanut, or there’s popular trails at Lake Padden Park. If we had more time, we would have explored Mt. Baker and the surrounding area. Bellingham is a great gateway to lots of Washington adventures.
– In Squamish, we met the proprietors of ROAM West Coast, adventure guides specializing in weekend trips and backcountry bbq’s departing weekly from Vancouver. Carmen and Ron cued us in to some of the area’s best hiking, paddling….and beer.
-Be sure to visit Backcountry Brewing. With mountain views, great pub food and a beer list to drool over, it’s probably the best little brewery in the area.
– Hike to the peaks of Stawamus Chief. The Chief is one of North America’s largest granite monoliths and a classic hike in the Sea to Sky Corridor.
It’s steep and there’s a good bit of scrambling, but it is so worth it. Hint: Don’t go on a weekend (it’s crowded with Vancouverites escaping the city).
– Paddle or Kiteboard from the Squamish Spit. But go early! Once that wind picks up, there’s no turning back. We paddled (Bethany on prone and Martin on an inflatable SUP) the Sound with Carmen and Ron and even saw a few seals!
– We had already done Whistler on an earlier trip so we skipped this time in favor of continuing the journey. Lots of hiking & world class mountain biking here though! With such a harsh winter, much of the hiking was still under snow, but we did find one snowless hike out to Cheakamus Lake. It was a nice, easy 9 mile out & back – totally trail-runnable – along Cheakamus Creek and the lake with mountain views.
– Nairn Falls Provincial Park – Just a touristy spot to stretch the legs, but a worthy one at that. It’s merely a mile hike to the rather impressive falls just south of Pemberton.
– Visitors Center: Has wifi, potty dump, potable water…and a view.
– Community Center/Library: Great place to catch up on work for the day.
– Grab coffee and a treat at Blackbird Café – The people here are so refreshingly kind, it’s worth making a stop here to make some local acquaintances. You’ll find Blackbird to have a gorgeous mountain backdrop and some mighty fine coffee & bread in a quaint downtown setting.
– Check out their Saturday farmers market downtown.
– Joffre Lakes Provincial Park – a short distance from Pemberton. This bucket list destination is sure to inspire instagram envy if you get there on a sunny day (which we did not, unfortunately).
Nevertheless, the roughly 3 mile uphill hike to 3 turquoise blue alpine lakes surrounded by glaciers defines what makes this part of BC so special.
Lillooet to Williams Lake
– Lillooet is Mile 0 on the Cariboo Wagon Road, which is considered one of the lasting legacies of the days of the Caribou Gold Rush. You’ll notice many of the towns thereafter have names like 50 Mile House, 93 Mile House, etc. as these are roadhouses named for their distance from Lillooet during its mining history. After Lillooet, the landscape gets much more desert-like and less dramatic, so we took advantage and busted out some mileage.
– Williams Lake was quite an industrial logging town, but we found all of the services we needed there, including transmission fluid for the truck.
– Stayed with new friends on their large property outside of town. He sells heavy duty bumpers and accessories for overland vehicles and gave us a nice back road route to take as we continued on.
– Costco with diesel! Well worth the stop.
– Visitors Center: Has potable water, a potty dump and free wifi
– Great farmers market with some of the best bread from Rustica as well as responsible meat we can support: Pork from Old Iron Farms & Apiary (where we’ve been playing farm hands for the last couple of days) and beef from W Diamond Ranch. We are seriously selective about where our meat comes from and these families do it right.
– Perk up at Two Sisters Café where they serve organic coffee and locally sourced café treats
– MTB: Bluff Recreation Trails (They were still a little soggy and full of mosquitos but it was great we could ride right from town)
Luckily, some fellow hikers cued us in to the “real” hike and we turned back to make the scramble to get closer to the base of one of the falls. We were rewarded with a nice glacial cold-water shower!
Once we’re done getting our hands dirty on the farm, we will be heading for the Cassiar Highway (37) as it meanders north to meet up with the Al-Can Highway, which goes through part of the Yukon and into Alaska. Have something we should do or see along the way? Tell us about it in the comments below.