Sunshine Valley RV Resort, Canada - Polarsteps
We woke up at Silver Lake and had a sunny start, filtered some lake water for our coffee and breakfast (no water at the campground), took off and unravelled the remainder of the elevation gains we'd made up Silver Skagit Road. We stopped at the edge of Hope at a super cute cafe/laundromat and had some hot drinks outside while we waited for a load of our soggy clothes to wash and dry. Getting onto the Crowsnest Highway was exciting (Kini wore this t-shirt for the occasion- see photos- which they already owned prior to this trip). All of our navigation in and around Vancouver has involved pages and pages of route notes, twists and turns onto side roads, and frequent Google Maps checks to make sure we're on track. We'll have a few detours off the highway, one of which will take us onto the Kettle Valley Rail Trail a little later on, but for the most part getting on the Crowsnest means much simpler navigation all the way to Alberta; we're on this route all the way to Kini's hometown of Lethbridge.
The 8km stretch we were trying to avoid by taking Silver Skagit, it turns out, is open to bicycles and has signs that say so; we're guessing this is new since Silver Skagit washed away in the fall. There was a generous shoulder on the road, and it didn't take us long to get through it; that stretch ended at the point where the Coquihalla traffic left us to head north.
We'd been warned about the climb out of Hope, and it was warning-worthy; it took hours of slow grinding in our lowest gears and lots of breaks on the pull-outs. At a point we hit swithchbacks where each bend looked like it would be the last one, but they kept going. We started in warm sunshine, but at one point during the climb the sky opened up and drenched us, and we hit the top of the climb soaked and then descended into Sunshine Valley in cold mountain air.
We were planning to head to the edge of E.C. Manning Park and try to camp in the woods there, but on our way through Sunshine Valley we came to a sign for an RV resort that advertised hot tubs, and in the field behind it I could see that someone else was tenting there.
As a general rule, we're trying to avoid paying for somewhere to sleep as much as possible. Despite the cross-Canada route being pretty well traversed by bike travellers every year, the Canadian park system hasn't really caught on to our existence and, in contrast to the hiker-biker system down the American Pacific coast, where you can almost always show up and pay $5-$10 to pitch a tent in a hiker/biker site where you share space and picnic tables with everyone else without a car, in most Canadian provincial parks our only option is to pay the $35-$40+ fee for an entire vehicle site. If we did this every night, we'd essentially be paying $1000/month rent for a legal place to pitch a tent, possibly sandwiched in with a lot of other people, and access to basic pit toilets, and we would completely blow the budget for the trip. We'll spring for it sometimes-- needing a home base to recover from shingles was a reason to make an exception-- but otherwise we're doing a lot of ducking into the woods, or sitting in the day-use area of a park until it's almost dark, setting up for the night, and setting an early-morning alarm to pack up again.
Cold and wet and with spaghetti legs from hours of climbing, though, the words "hot tub" flipped a switch in my brain and I talked Kini into stopping "just to check" what they would charge for a tent site, feeling pretty willing to flex on our budgetary limits. We chatted with the staff in the registration office and they offered us a $10/night tenting fee, an unofficial hiker/biker rate. Finding out we could stay here felt like the best thing that had ever happened. The hot tub is big and outdoors and has jacuzzi jets. The camp store has cold beers. Our RV neighbours are amazing and had us over for coffee this morning. In every direction is a view of the mountains. We're staying an extra night and resting our legs; from here we'll be heading up Allison Pass, the first of our six summits before the prairies. The weather forecast is promising-ish.
On average this trip has honestly been pretty hard so far; I'm glad we've done this before and know how much better it can get, because I might have otherwise concluded that bike travel is terrible and bailed by now. As much as we're still heading into a challenging time-- mountains mountains mountains-- it's starting to feel better in the hours the sun comes out, in our growing command of our fully loaded bikes (they feel a little lighter every day; more like we're riding them, less like they're riding us), in a well-placed cafe/laundromat or $10 hot tub camping, and in the changing landscape; we've definitely arrived somewhere different from where we started now, and we're on our way.
A side note about where we are: we've learned in the last couple of days that the Hope-Princeton highway that we're riding was built by hand by interred Japanese-Canadians, and also that the Sunshine Valley used to be Tashme, the largest of many internment camps in BC during and following the Second World War; the exact spot we're camped on was home to rows and rows of tarpaper shacks where people lived in close quarters and inhumane conditions. There's an incredibly good by-donation museum built into some of the remaining structures down the road; Ryan, who runs it, is incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about educating people about this history.
This day began beautifully; it was the first night tenting where there wasn't any rain and the lake we woke up to was just so serene. I also awoke to a song bird singing right above my head, beside our tent. It was also the first time on this trip using our water filter and purification drops to have clean, safe water for tea/coffee and some water for later. We stopped at this super cute cafe , " The Owl Street Cafe" for a cocoa, to get our bearings and do a load of laundry. The cafe was decked out with all sorts of owl decor, had a woodsy vibe, played country music, and had episodes of "Matlock" playing on a tv in a hipster sort of way. Our drinks were served in mismatched,homey mugs. Even the cocoa just had brown sprinkles, not rainbow, which really stuck out to me as such a deliberate choice.
It was so exciting to see the sign to Highway #3, it is this route from here on out for a while. I also grew up travelling to so many places along this highway; across the prairies, through the foothills and to the mountains. I especially have such fond memories of the Crowsnest Pass and always have wanted to live there. It has such a unique feeling to it.
We made our way out of Hope and stopped on the side of the higway where the #5 and #3 split to have lunch, seeing most of the vehicles taking the #5 felt positive ( less to deal with). It was here where someone yelled "hi"
and waved, then slowly raised thier camera (like a sunrise) from behind the car door and recorded us. I found this hilarious because it wasnt personal or for any reason other than our bikes. People just typically havent seen this before. I know we made it onto thier social media that day.
We then spent a few hours slowly cycling up a steep, consistent gradient. It was hard; we stopped for plenty of breaks to catch our breath and slow our heart rates. We are not in a race and we dont need injuries. It started to rain again and steam was just billowing off of us as we rode. We saw Hope Slide, the second largest recorded slide in "Canada", the largest being Frank, AB ( do me a favorite and listen to the song The Rural Alberta Advantage). It was after Hope Slide where we started to go downhill, it felt amazing.
We were on a flat straight away riding past Sunshine Valley ( which feels very much like Twin Peaks) when Sara mentioned the RV park having a tenting site. I was super skeptical it was going to be affordable but Sara was thinking otherwise. So we turned around and hit up the office. It seems that the nicest people work here and gave us a full on site (with water and electric) for just 10$ a night, with access to an outdoor hot tub and pool! Plus, one of the hosts, Shari, has been extra sweet by inviting us for coffee and has offered to make us breakfast today. My heart feels full from this kindness.
As Sara mentioned we visited a small museum dedicated to the history of Japanese-Canadians being forced into internment camps during WW2. Being from Southern Alberta, where there were also camps, I knew of the history of Japanese families being forced from their homes to work in the sugar beet fields, having red circles painted on the back of clothes and that everthing was taken away and not returned. My grandmother's maid of honour, Betty, and her family had endured this. My great-grandparents on that side were German and Italian, both countries Canada was at war with as well at that time, yet they were not seen as threats to national security because they were white.
I learned so much more today; the 100 mile exclusion zone and the "options" given during internment and after the war was over are just a couple of examples.The RV campground is located where the internment camp Tashme was (the largest, most isolated camp in BC). We are tenting where rows of small, uninsulated, tar paper shacks ( which housed atleast 7 people, usually 2 families) stood. We are freely visiting an area where people could not leave; looking around at the same landscape and walking where they walked .We are travelling along a section of highway built by the forced manual labour of Japanese- Canadians
I cant express how important it feels is to know this history, to know the truth. If we, especially white canadians,want to have our friendly, kind reputation we need to own up to these horrific, disturbing, racists truths that this country was created from and continues to function upon. This isn't a thing of the past; hate and violence against asians and those of asian descent has skyrocked in the last few years. Being in this museum and seeing what having one's freedom actually taken way on this land looks like (one example of this in our canadian history) had the deep upset I feel toward the "freedom convoy"/ the ideology of being "oppressed" by temporary health mandates rise within me. Just look at these two examples side by side and dare tell me they are the same.
🚲 Bike Jaunt 🚲
Sunshine Valley RV Resort