BC Cycle Tour Day 1: Hardest day’s cycling in years – Whistler to Lillooet

Kevin MayneMy thanks to the campervan driver with the German accent who provided the photo of the tour, probably without realising.

Many cyclists will have experienced a day like this. Exhilarating scenery. Amazing experiences. The satisfaction of taking on a ride that is on your limit. But it was hard, very hard, and at the end I was pretty much on my limit. This was always going to be me longest ride with the hardest profile but it was also the proof of whether I had taken too much risk arranging to ride across British Columbia on a heavy knobbly tyred bike I bought for $129 from a bike recycler.British Columbia

Yes it would have been a much easier day on my Dawes Super Galaxy with lighter weight, narrow wheels and lower gears. Yes it is a pretty daft idea going on tour with extras like a laptop in the bags.

Whistler Green LakeBut it could not have been a better day. As I say so many times it is always about the ride. And this was a special one. I have written up the day as a diary with photos, I hope they capture something of the ride, enjoy wonderful British Columbia. They had better be good – I haven’t carried this laptop for nothing!


It was with some trepidation that I left the cosy cyclist friendly atmosphere of Alta Vista Chalet to head north to Llllooet.

I am I knew I had about 85m/135km with a really tough climb Train and waterfallsen route which I had estimated at around 10km and 10% average gradient from my research on Bikely.com. (acknowledgement below)  The unknowns were how I would cope after two hard days mountain biking in Whistler and whether the gears on the recycled Raleigh were really low enough for the very relaxed attitude I had to luggage weight when I left Vancouver.

The first signs were great.  Gaps appeared in the clouds over Green Lake at last and the first 30 miles were downhill and then flat through Pemberton to the foot of the main climb. En route the road followed the tumbling river and the longest slowest train I have ever seen.

Sign near Pemberton British ColumbiaI dropped nicely along the main road which has an excellent hard shoulder for cycling down to Pemberton where I decided on an early coffee. There is a reason for that:

I have to say the road from Pemberton to Lillooet Lake (nowhere near Lillooet town!) was an absolute delight. The road became really quiet and rolled gently along the valley floor which was verdant with woodlands, fields and wild flowers. There was a real mixture of houses, some almost imitating an English country garden, while other landscapes could only be North American.

Garden near Pemberton British Columbia

British Columbia

Then Lillooet Lake itself provided some amazing views.

British Columbia

All a bit too easy because I knew somewhere along the lakeside the climb was due to start. Before I left the chalet I had said to the guys that my hope was that the hill wasn’t a constant 10% for the whole 10km, that it would offer some respite through the bends and contours of the hill.


Without warning the road left the lakeside and reared up at about 10% straight away. I was bobbing in and out of the saddle almost straight away and really struggling. Instantly I was analysing that I was certainly over-geared and definitely over-laden, just as I had feared. There were extended periods of out of the saddle easing over the cranks to keep the bike moving at just 4pmh/6kmph.British Columbia

I fell into the cyclist’s trick of playing mind games to accompany myself up the climb. Maybe a sip of water if I can just get round the next bend. Maybe lunch halfway up?  It was hot and hard, stopping for the odd photo was one of my psychological treats.

Fortunately the gradient did ease off after about 2 miles and started to offer some variety in gradient so there were periods of sitting pedalling and others of out of the saddle heave. I was making steady progress with the mind games so the climb was probably going to take something over an hour. I was feeling tired but relieved as I neared the top and this lovely waterfall came right down to the road edge and the flowers were increasingly abundant.Kevin Mayne's bike in British Columbia

Duffey Lake RoadI hadn’t bargained on two things. Firstly I really hadn’t studied the route profile in intimate detail – and it turned out it was a 13km climb, not 10, and the last km was a horrible final flog up which made a big dent in my reserves. Secondly I had focussed so much on the climb that I wasn’t really conscious of the 69km on the summit sign to Lillooet – I knew it was mostly downhill so it didn’t really matter. Well it did, because scattered along that 69km was another 600metres of climbing that I hadn’t really got my head round.

Duffey Lake Road British ColumbiaBut before that the summit which provided some great views, and I guess the sign that would have helped the most at the bottom!

I guess it is symptomatic of the range of roads of Canada that what would be a significant landmark in many countries gave the most unremarkable welcome – no summit or altitude sign, no group of skinny men in lycra having their photo taken. It even has a nondescript name “Duffey Lake Road”.

Heading for home.

The first descent to Duffey Lake was a beautiful setting for a late lunch.

British Columbia

After the lunch break there were some amazing descents and overall the road was pretty much downhill as it tracked the river that fell steeply away. However the highway engineers seemed to have different ideas as the road wound up and down the valley sides rather than follow the river contour. This reached its extreme on the final few km before Lillooet where the road rose really steeply up and away from river which had carved out a steep gorge below. I couldn’t help but wish for the sort of Swiss engineer who would have blasted a downhill path through the rocks quicker than you can say Emmental. However it was not to be and I arrived at the top absolutely finished – my longest day in the saddle for a very long time and nothing left.

British Columbia Duffey Lake Road

River – down left. Road – Up right!

Things were enlivened a bit on the 13% descent, I did hit about 40mph/60kmph but I really didn’t fancy leaning the luggage over on the hairpins on this bike.

And finally to dropping to Lillooet on the banks of the Fraser River, already large here and running all the way back to the sea at Vancouver.

Time to collapse in a heap, to recover and reflect. And who’d have thought it? An excellent Greek restaurant in the middle of nowhere? (or at least in the middle of town 200 metres from my motel!) The food and the two glasses of locally produced red wine went down a treat.

I slept very well.

Route profile credit:

There is very little on line material about cycle touring in this area. I got my information from Bikely.com and in particular the routes put up by user nozza who has done much of the same route I am riding. The image below is a screen copy of nozza’s route – please visit the site for more information and or some of the other great routes this user has done. Thank you very, very much!