Tent Touring in British Columbia
Reprinted from British Car … #84: April-May 2000
By Cam Russell
Diversity is the only word that would describe the Victoria DMG Club's 1999 summer driving tour of British Columbia. Our group of assorted British car nuts drove just over one thousand miles in six days through settings that included winding coastal roads, mountain passes through alpine meadows, dry sagebrush cattle grazing country, forested lakesides, rich farming valleys and more than a few friendly small towns.
Our trip, organized by long time members Roger and Marie Burgess, was proposed to allow us to see some of our own area's scenery and drive some good paved winding roads not so far from home (previous tours had taken us to lake Tahoe and Monterey, California). No expensive hotels or fancy restaurants for us; we camped out all but one night, and ate most meals around our own campfire.
Diversity was also present in the tourers themselves; we ranged in age from mid-sixties to early teens with vocations as different as furniture making and pre‑school teaching. Our tour included a diverse range of cars. We drove an MGA, six MGBs, ranking in age from 1967 to 19713, and an MGTD which for some reason wasn't quite as quick up the hills as the well-tuned MGC GT . Nor, as we found out, does a 1959 Riley One Point Five knife through the air as well as a mid-seventies Lotus Elite.
We traveled from 120 to 280 miles each day, a relaxed pace that allowed plenty of time for both the journey and for relaxed meals and lingering visits to a number of interesting sites: a silver mining ghost town, a restored paddle wheeler, a very out-of-the-way British car parts yard and machine shop, a hidden waterfall and a historic fruit orchard.
The tour began in Victoria on Vancouver Island. We took the ferry from Nanaimo through the picturesque Gulf Islands to Horseshoe Bay and the "Sea-to-Sky" highway, a fabulous; sports-car road that hugs the side of Howe Sound, a deep coastal fjord, then steadily climbs to the ski resort town of Whistler at 8,000 feet. We camped a few miles further on at Nairn Falls Campground alongside the Green River. This first day saw the only mechanical failure on the entire trip. A snapped throttle return spring on the Riley was repaired in less than two minutes using a spare in the glove box.
The second day included the toughest climb of the trip: a stretch of road between Pemberton and Lillooet offers drivers a thrilling switchback rise through some incredible alpine meadows to the summit. In Lillooet we happily discovered a family-run European style bakery and deli adjacent to the tidy picnic-tabled city park. We camped that night at the historic Dot Ranch, where stage coaches between Calgary and Vancouver overnighted in the 1830s.
Friday's drive continued through the rolling hills of cattle grazing country in the Nicola Valley. As we climbed into the Monashee mountain range we drove into a heavy mist, but as we crested the summit and descended into Needles, the weather cleared. Front the east side of the lake we wound along a great two-lane road to a campground near Nakusp. Once tents had been erected and dinners set to simmer, the heavens opened and the group spent most of the evening in the cooking shelter telling British car stories and playing silly games.
Saturday was quite rainy but, as the shortest day of the trip was quite tolerable, especially since we ended up in the town of Nelson and an indoors stay at the Heritage Inn where hot showers. hot dinners and warn dry beds were welcomed with great enthusiasm.
Sunday our journey took us back west through Castlegar and Grand Forks. The sun came out and began drying the tops and tonneaus that had been soaked the. previous day.
We had a great lunch stop in the small town of Greenwood There we had to ask some of the locals why Greenwood some 250 miles from the ocean, had business like "Fisk's Marine Supply" and "San Juan Salmon Cannery." It turned out that the movie Snow Falling on Cedars had just been filmed there and the signs were left over props. The local folks we spoke with excitedly explained what parts they had played as extras.
We continued west through the apricot anal peach orchard towns of Osoyoos and Keremeos. By late afternoon the skies had grayed again and some of the group chose to motel it, while the hard-core decided that one last night of tenting wouldn't kill them.
The final day of the tour took us west over the Hope-Princeton mountain pass, one of the more renowned passes in British Columbia. The climb out of Princeton was enjoyed greatly by the MGC GT and the Lotus as they were able to stretch their mechanical legs. From Hope we crossed the Fraser River and continued through the dairy farmland of the Fraser Valley toward the ferry and home to Victoria.
Although the weather could have been better, the camaraderie of touring in a group and the absence of mechanical difficulties of any kind more than compensated. Touring with a string of unusual cars - especially British ones! - generates a huge amount of interest at each stop. There can be no better way to meet interesting, and sometimes unusual, people, view spectacular scenery and experience some of the world's best driving roads. All of which you can do on a shoestring budget, if you can "tent it" a few nights during your tour!
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