And now for something a little different – one of the very occasional cycle trip reports. Four years ago we planned to take part in the annual Slow Food Cycle Sunday festival in Pemberton. Nearby forest fires led to the event being cancelled as the valley was under an evacuation watch, and having to evacuate a couple of thousand cyclists as well as residents would be just too big a job to carry out safely. So we hiked up to Place Glacier instead :-)
We drove up to Whistler on Saturday, biked the Valley Trail into town in search of gelato and a long-sleeved layer for me (since I’d forgotten mine). From there we headed to Nairn Falls to camp for the night. Chatting with the rest of the group that evening we finalized our plans for an early start and once all the beer had run out, we retired to our tents on a calm, warm evening. Due to the campfire ban it was a pleasure to smell the dry warmth of the interior forest, rather than the smoke from all the fires. I set my alarm for 6:45 am and crawled into my sleeping bag liner, bunched up my pillow and fell into a (rare) comfortable sleep, the sound of the Green River soothing in the distance.
I awoke and checked the time: 6:44 am – Ha! I closed my eyes until my alarm went off and then crawled out and began stuffing away our sleeping gear. Maria stirred soon after and did the same. By 7:30 am the car was packed, and we decided that our best breakfast option would be from a Pemberton coffee shop. We set off ahead of the others and after grabbing coffee at the Mount Currie Coffee Co., we parked up at the registration site and unloaded our bikes.
We were really looking forward to the day, and it would be the longest ride I’d had in many years and Maria’s longest, well, ever. The morning was cool and cloudy, but not so cool that I needed my long-sleeved layer after all. We signed our waivers, picked up a map, made a donation to the event and pocketed a fridge magnet. Then it was off to the first stop.
One of the appeals of this ride is simply the ruler-flat nature of the Pemberton Valley floor. The riding was relaxed and easy and everyone could find their own pace and rhythm. The group split for the first few km as the others were faster than us, and we took our time wending our way up the valley. One of the advantages to setting off this early was that the road was quiet with very few riders out so far. Just before we crossed Miller Creek, a volunteer at a strategic water stop counted us as 45 and 46. I had no idea just how many riders we would expect to see (and was staggered by how many we encountered later), but riding the quiet road was a pleasure.
In a couple of places the road passed close to the creek and we passed through patches of icy-cold air where mist hung low over the water. Bracing :-) Not to mention that the mist was really atmospheric. In the dull early light, I figured it would be best to keep a rear light flashing so car drivers would spot us easily, especially on the deserted roads. We saw no other cyclists until we got to our first stop at Pemberton Valley Coffee. Here we parked our bikes with about a dozen others and chatted with the owner of the company, even getting a personal tour of the roasting facilities in her utility room :-) Having just finished our morning coffee, we promised we’d call in again for our afternoon caffeine top-up.
Back on the road, we pedalled our way along the road (including a luxurious, freshly paved section) to our next stop, where we called in at the Simply Delicious Bakery (10 km). Here we picked up some baked goodies and some jars of maple-flavoured spreads and sauces. Maria called the others to see where they were and it turned out that we’d cycled right past them as they’d stopped off at one of the first stops! They were close by and we agreed to meet at PemBee Gardens, a short way back down the road towards Pemberton.
PemBee Gardens didn’t have much in the way of stuff to sample, but it was a pleasant stop with a nice garden to look at and some farm animals to admire. A familiar-looking green vine caught my eye: hops :-) I took a deep sniff to try and catch that wonderful aroma, but didn’t get much. Maybe they weren’t quite ripe? I dunno. Anyhoo, setting off again we cycled further up the road as a group, calling in at a place familiar to us from the Vancouver Farmers’ Market: Icecap Organics. We added a few fresh items to the pannier on Maria’s bike, and sized up a Steak and Stout pie from Pete’s Pies. Delicious! Pete (a fellow Brit) was making special versions for the Slow Food Cycle event, flatter than usual (more like a pasty) which them easier to eat from a paper bag. Did I mention it was delicious? That was the first stop on our extended lunch session. Paul bought a gluten-free lasagne from one of the other stalls, and he seemed to enjoy that at least as much as we enjoyed our pie.
Back on the road for all of a couple of minutes before we pulled off again. Now it was getting busier and we had to choose carefully where to park our bikes. Rootdown Organics was the next stop where we sampled more fine fare, this time a sandwich from Alta Bistro based in Whistler. Our next stop was a place that Steve had been wanting to get to “early” as it had a reputation for being extremely popular: Pemberton Meadows Natural Beef at 16 km. The bicycle parking here was even more crowded and we ended up leaning our bikes together (hoping they wouldn’t keel over) on the grass verge. Most people just dumped their bikes in a gap.
And so we joined the long line for the famous burgers… Steve and I held our place in the queue while the others sat on some straw bales. We met one of our fellow hikers/cyclists from Wanderung and chatted with him. Finally we reached the burger bar itself and placed our orders. They had a pretty good production line going and it wasn’t long before we had our burgers in hand. I’d say they were good, but not amazing. Maybe it’s because there wasn’t much else to put on the burger? But they satisfied our appetites for a bit longer, and soon it was time to move on to our final stop.
Another kilometre up the road, and the numbers were thinning out a bit again. The road was quiet enough for me to try some trick photography. Well not exactly trick photography, but trying to get photos of the rest of the group on their bikes, while I was still on mine. I even snapped a couple of selfies (not something I normally do) just to try and get Maria in the background. They nearly worked too…
And so we reached our turnaround point: Bandit Farms at 17 km from Pemberton. We considered trying their pork bratwurst but the lineup was so long, and we were still pretty full from our earlier stops, that we gave it a miss. Instead we wandered over to admire a trio of piglets of various colour. Some small kids were feeding them grass through the fence, which seemed dodgy to me, but all fingers escaped unharmed. In another nearby paddock were a dozen or so fowl wandering back and forth. The farm had signs up with the names of the various species of ducks and geese but I must admit I could only identify the mallards and Muscovy duck.
We collected everyone together again and set off on the leisurely ride back in to Pemberton. By now the roads were really quite busy, with dozens if not hundreds of cyclists. I have to admit I began to lose patience with some of the behaviour with some groups of cyclists merrily taking up more than their fair share of the road, while others would whip in between us, racing past with little margin for error. It took some of my relaxed mood away, as I felt had to be more vigilant than before. Perhaps we should bring the bikes back on a different weekend and just cycle the road for fun. That sounds like a plan for another time.
We decided to call in at Helmers on the way back, another name we knew from the market. We bought some potatoes – of course – and contemplated the gelato while being entertained by the misadventures of a cute duckling. Unfortunately, none of the gelato flavours appealed to us (plus we’d gorged on gelato yesterday) and so it was time to head to the next stop (Across the Creek) where we lined up for a drink from the Pemberton Distillery. Wait, what? Pemberton has a distillery? Well, apparently so and it is doing quite well with its vodka and gin. After quite a while (it made the burger line up seem short) we picked up our drink and on my first sip, I promptly handed it to Maria. Yuck. No, I really can’t get into gin – it was foul to my taste buds. With that disposed of, we braved the hordes of cyclists on the road to get back to our bikes and set off once more.
Here we lost the others again as we pulled off to get our afternoon caffeine fix at Pemberton Valley Coffee. Good timing too as they emptied the coffee pot into our cups. We sat and nursed our coffee while watching a fearless young kid (aged about 7?) ride his bike over a plastic playground slide. A budding mountain biker there, for sure.
We set off into the bike traffic once more and pedalled our way down to Bradner Farm (at 3.5 km) which we had skipped on the way up. We sampled a slice from an enormous courgette, which was so surprisingly tasty I now wonder why people bother to cook (i.e. overcook!) it. We declined the offer to purchase said marrow-sized vegetable and spent the last of our change on some shortbread and a cupcake.
Now all we had left to do was to make the last few kilometres in to Pemberton. My saddle was making its discomfort levels known, and I was getting fatigued from dealing with the hordes of other cyclists. But it wasn’t too long before we were back at the car and dismantling the bikes to get them in the back. I was hoping that we’d all meet up for some food before the 3-hour drive back to Vancouver but alas the others had already buggered off! Oh well, I guess we’ll take things at our pace then, so we sat back and enjoyed a steady drive home.
Despite the thousands of cyclists clogging the road, I have to say it was good fun and I’d do it again. I think I would also like to just cycle that road for its own sake on a quieter day as it’s such easy riding and such a beautiful valley.
Distance: 35 km
Elevation gain: 5 m?