This was the question plaguing us as Matt trudged through maps on google from the comfort of our hotel. We’d made it this far- but what route would we take next in order to head towards Vancouver?
Looking at our options, none were obviously the right one. We’d had plenty of advice from people we’d met both online and on route as to which would be best…but unfortunately it was frequently conflicting or contradictory and only served to further our uncertainty. With no prior experience, we couldn’t make an informed decision and as such, relied instead upon the combination of recommendations, mileages and he gradient analysis maps from Map My Ride.
There were a number of things we needed to consider:
- How busy were the roads? – Especially with the trailer in tow, the volume of traffic and, indeed, the type of traffic (for example, if there are a high number of large trucks, which produce an inevitable tailwind as they fly past) can be dangerous to us. We prefer the quietest option wherever possible!
- Speed of the highway – some smaller highways will have a lower speed limit of 80/90, whereas the larger and busy highways are normally around 110. More speed=more tailwinds and greater danger for us. Again, the slower the better!
- Shoulder – to prevent us putting ourselves at risk by being forced onto the road with the main traffic, a large shoulder is usually a must.
- HILLS – of course given the terrain we’re covering out here in the ‘great white north’, hills are an inevitable and actually sometimes welcome aspect of the landscape. However, if we can avoid extreme gradients which add not only to our time on the road but also to the ‘pain’ factor (especially for Matt, towing the trailer and Theo- no light weight, to say the least!) then we will look to do so. Very steep hills, or very long hills, are best avoided if we can, and so also contribute to the decision-making process.
- Distance between towns – following on from my ‘Space’ post, we try to look for the smallest distance between towns where possible. This just means we have slightly shorter days and therefore Theo doesn’t have to spend quite so long in the trailer. If we can arrive at a campsite early(ish) and set up, it gives us time to play with him, cook a proper meal and do some blogging and relaxing! Rather than arriving late in the evening and all-but collapsing in exhaustion…
- Recommendation – we try to take on board the advice and tips of those who know the area a lot better than we do and act accordingly. Personal experience and recommendation, we find, tends to carry a great deal more weight than google!
Combining the above, we concluded that the Trans Canadian Highway (Highway 1), which was recommended by most as the best route for us, was slightly less hilly (although an analysis on Map My Ride showed us there were still a fair few hills- unavoidable, of course!) and had the best shoulder. It also had slightly less space between towns and due to it’s status as the ‘main’ highway, would have more services and facilities on route. However, it was also the busiest highway with high volumes of traffic and large trucks were part and parcel of the route. It was also a longer route, and would therefore take us longer.
The 5 and the ‘old’ 5 (5A) were fairly similar. Both were quieter (the 5A more so) and slightly more direct, but with longer between towns. Both had reasonable hills involved and although they had shoulders, these were reputedly smaller and not as well-maintained.
Finally, following a few conversations with locals and a few more recommendations, we decided upon the 5A. Our deciding factor in the end was that not only was it quieter, it was also a great deal more scenic. We decided that we hadn’t come all this way to pass by the amazing sights that Canada has to offer on a huge concrete highway- and if there was an opportunity to take in more of the world around us, we’d take it.
We were aiming towards Merritt but after a late start (reluctance to leave the comfort of the hotel on my part, I’m afraid…) we faced a struggle to fit in the required miles for the day. The route begun by continuing Kamloops’ legacy with some difficult, steep hills- the kind that cause your legs to scream in protest and your lungs burn, until you feel your body simply can’t take it any more. It was a tricky beginning, especially as we were still feeling the pain from our previous day’s endeavors- but eventually we received the brilliant reward of a 11% gradient downhill which we sailed down! Brilliant.
The rest of the 5A was rolling hills- up and down, with a few challenges but many rewards alongside, and following some truly beautiful lakes- Shurnway Lake, Trapp Lake, Richie Lake, Napier Lake, Tullee Lake, Stump Lake, Nicola Lake! Best of all were some incredible houses and cabins, built to overlook the water – huge open plan log cabins complete with pure glass to the rear to take advantage of the views, and everything from private jettys and hottubs to private tennis courts! A real-life ‘Grand Designs’ catalogue of homes – perhaps I’m nosy, but I love to see what people have built, how they use the space…and to dream and lust over as we sailed past. I was lucky enough to beg the hospitality of one couple by Stump Lake and therefore saw inside one of the houses in question- truly spectacular, with its own indoor heated pool in the basement, private gym and most importantly, floor-to-ceiling windows that flooded the house with light and views of the clear blue lake. What an amazing place to live.
The mountains had been replaced by hills and not a hint of snow remained- more grassland, farms and woodland than forests in this region- but stunning nonetheless. Matt in particular really enjoyed the ride and kept me motivated even as pain threatened to hold me back. There was literally nothing else along route- the odd farmhouse in the distance and of course, clusters of settlements around the larger lakes, but nothing more. Canadian ‘space’ at its best.
It took us two days to reach Merritt- the first night, exhaustion claimed us and we stayed in an RV park overlooking Nicola Lake before undertaking the further 22 miles to Merritt the following day and rewarding ourselves with a half day off. Although the shoulder of the 5A was questionable or small at points, the quietness of the road combined with the views as we went made it a worthwhile choice and we felt satisfied that we had made the correct decision. There were large logging trucks and commercial vehicles at points, but undoubtedly fewer than we would have come across on the two larger highways- and due to the lower volume of traffic in general, there was never any problem in these larger vehicles pulling across to the other side of the road to give us a wide berth. I’d definitely recommend it to other cyclists in future!
Next step: to head to Hope.
Miles today: Day 12 (Kamloops to Nicola Lake) : 42 miles
Day 13 (Nicola Lake to Merritt) 22 miles
Total Miles to date: 332