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Lillooet Forest Service Road - Travels Near & Far
Koppenhaver's Selected Travel Journal Entries
Lillooet Forest Service Road

The parking lot of the Pemberton Hotel is directly in-between Grimm’s Deli and the Blackbird Bakery, two competing breakfast locations in this small British Columbian mountain town.  Though Grimm’s has the more complete menu – including the fried potatoes I’m craving – it doesn’t have any customers yet.  Through Blackbird’s window, I see a smiling young lady attending to a customer.  Behind her in the prep area is another smiling young lady.  The customer is smiling too.  Though a bakery will have fewer food choices than a deli, I’m drawn to the happiness, and choose Blackbird’s over Grimm’s. 

Just outside the entrance, written neatly on a chalkboard easel, the happiness is of Blackbird’s is pronounced: “Come Inside, Get More Espresso, Get Less Depresso”.  As I enter, it’s a mix of young & old; French & English.  There’s a gray-haired man sitting at a table, but the bakery staff are all millennials.  The conversation glides easily between English and French, switching even mid-sentence at times.  After placing my order, a steady stream of customers comes rolling in.  In such a small isolated town, and at 6:30 a.m., the popularity of this bakery is perplexing, but also affirms my dining choice.  I note too that everyone seems dressed for the weather, which looks to be a cool wet Pacific-Northwest-type day.  Thankfully, I too am appropriately geared. 

I take my time savoring my fresh blueberry pastry, Americano coffee, and the atmosphere; all of which are outstanding.  I share a long wooden table with the old guy who hasn’t yet ordered anything.  Perhaps he’s here just for the happiness.  The banter in Blackbird’s is cheerful, and just what I needed after a long day of irritating travel yesterday.

I’ve been short-fused lately with humanity.  Yeah, that’s a broad statement, but I just have become less tolerant of my fellow humans’ often trifling exertions.  And on a travel day taking me across the country, which compacted a lot of humans into tight spaces, my annoyance with their exertions has been heightened.  The vastness of British Columbia has come at a good time.  After finishing breakfast, I’m off to explore a beautiful valley where the compactness of humanity will be replaced by magnificent natural splendor. 

Pemberton Meadows and the valley it’s located in are locally famous for a healthy agricultural environment, stunning beauty, and the milky-green Lillooet River flowing dramatically through it.  On its flanks are the iconic Coast Mountains of the Canadian Rockies, some peaks still covered in snow even at the end of summer.  The dramatic nature of this valley is quite attractive to bicyclists, fresh produce seekers, and beauty hunters like me. 

As I enter the valley, I’m immediately impressed, even beyond what I was expecting.  At every bend in the road, I’m presented with a new vantage point of awe.  The mountains are of a scale my mind is just not used to comprehending.  Their height, steepness and ruggedness are almost surreal to someone more accustomed to the smaller, softer Appalachians of my hometown. 

About halfway back into the valley, I turn onto a forest service road and the real drama begins.  It starts by cutting directly across a wide-open farm field whose crop rows point dramatically toward the canyon vertex.  It then crosses over the raging Lillooet River on a single lane haggard bridge and proceeds past a bank of warning signs, the most dramatic of which declares that you’ve enter Grizzly Bear territory.  Other signs point out that the road ahead is subject to landslides, avalanches, debris torrents, logging trucks, floods, and falling rocks.  Bring your rabbit’s foot; a trip down Lillooet Forest Service Road is a bit like walking under a ladder. 

Despite these warnings, the turn onto this gravel road brings a new level of beauty to my Pemberton drive.  As the valley narrows, the beauty is amplified.  The walls are closing in.  The mountains grow higher.  The river flows faster.  The trees are taller.  And the isolation intensifies. 

I stop frequently to photograph the remarkable scenes, but never stray more than twenty yards from my car; the Grizzly warnings have me on high alert.  The sound dampening effect of the thick, wet forest only shortens my tether.  Perhaps I’m overly cautious, but even the plunk of a pinecone dropping from a tree has me thinking it’s a bear sneaking up to maul me. 

When I’ve gone as deep into this valley as I feel my rented car can go, I pull over at a roughed-in side road; really just a path through the woods.  Tacked to a tree is a small hand-written sign with an arrow pointing north up a ravine: Landslide Safe Zone – 500m. Standing by the sign, I realize I’m as far from my home as I’ve ever been while still in North America – over 3,700 kilometers.  The safety of my home is a long way from where I stand deep in the heart of British Columbia, yet I feel quite peaceful. 

I’ll be spending the next five days here in British Columbia, most of which will be quite busily spent amid the compacted humanity of downtown Vancouver.  This visit to the beautiful Pemberton Valley has been a vaccination.  It’s given me a chance to reset before the upcoming urban whirlwind.  I suddenly feel less short-fused and I’m ready to take on humanity’s exertions again.

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