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Category: Canada (2005, world trip)
Canadian Pacific Railway

This morning we woke to grey, frosty skies having expected more of yesterday’s sunshine. We left Lake Louise hoping to make it as close as possible to Vancouver, if not into Vancouver itself. The weather report was still looking good so we knew that unless some freak weather moved in we should have a good journey.

We headed through Kicking Horse Pass and through the valley of the same name working towards Field. All around us were low clouds shrouding snow covered mountains with white and frosty trees lining the road. For the first metre or two up each tree you could see the impact the traffic has as the snow was a dusty, dirty brown colour rather than sparkling white.

Having had warnings that Roger’s Pass in the Glacier National Park could be slippery and a bit tricky we found the road open and clear all the way. The main knack to driving here is not to get lulled into going too fast. There are long, slow downhill sections where if you pick up too much speed you will not stand a chance of slowing down to get round the inevitable corner. There were often signs for big trucks to stop and check their brakes and some of them were crawling downhill almost as slowly as they would crawl up hill.

With the roads being clear, rather than heading west on the Trans Canada to Kamloops we decided to go down the route 97 and into the Okanagan valley. I think we had both expected that as with the land to the east of the Rockies, once out of them we would be back onto flat open land. Not so. We found ourselves going “up hill and down dale” for most of the day, except for when we were in the valley itself.

This area has rich and fertile land and is a key area for growing fruit. Along with Niagara in Ontario, it is also a wine producing region. There was not much evidence of this agriculture today but there were signs of its other attraction – tourism. Along the beaches on the Okanagan Lake are many wharves and jetties and signs in one of the towns we passed declared it to be the house boat capital of Canada. With its comparatively favourable climate it is also home to many retired people.

The beauty of the valley was disturbed when we got to Kelowna, yet another sprawling town. We had initially planned to stop here for the night but as there were a couple of hours of daylight left we opted to push on and see how far we could get. A little way out of town on route 97C big signs were up warning of dense fog on the road ahead. As permanent signs it is obviously a year round feature and when they say dense here they really do mean dense.

Had we known what this next stretch was going to be like we probably would have stayed in Kelowna and headed out in the morning. As we climbed up through Trepanier Provincial Park the fog came up and in parts it was difficult to see more than twenty metres ahead of us. That did not slow down other drivers on the road who carried on as if there was clear visibility, including the big HGV’s. Either they knew the road really well or they were just stark raving bonkers.

For a while the higher we climbed the denser the fog got but then all of a sudden it started to clear. Soon we were above the fog and driving in beautiful evening sunshine. It was just that time when the sun is getting ready to set and it is sort of dark and light at the same time. To our right and below us the valley stretched out, full of fog. It was quite a surreal sight to see. The sun lifted our spirits and we threw away our doubts about getting to Vancouver tonight, even though it was still a couple of hours drive away.

We had though been lulled into a false expectation of a great sunset. As we reached the summit and started our descent we were soon back into fog but this time it was also mixed with night time dark and it was pretty unpleasant going. It felt like a long time before we made it to Merritt, the junction with the main toll motorway heading to Vancouver. Much as we both wanted to push on, I think we had both had enough of driving in bad conditions and we decided to stop in Merritt for the night.

As a small place it was not listed in our guide books but inevitably near the main road junction there were a spattering of hotels to choose from. We drove on a little following the signs for downtown, which seemed to take us away from where all the lights were. The downtown was pretty quiet but the Coldwater Creek Hotel beckoned from the corner. It is an old three or four storey wooden building with balconies all around, the type you see the ladies of the night plying their trade from in Western films. The temptation was too great and we went to see if they had a room.

Inside was an anonymous looking café and, on the other side of the hotel a huge bar with more TV screens inside it than customers. They did have a room free but we both started to second guess what we would see when we opened the door. There was just something about the place that made us think that in the UK it would be some sort of hostel for people down on their luck. The room itself was spacious and had a kitchenette and bathroom but it had certainly seen better days and we decided not to stay.

Instead we opted for the Econo Lodge Motel a bit further up the road. Although not a patch on last night’s Lake Louise Inn, it was cheap and cheerful and had a comfy bed and was perfectly suited to what we needed. It sounds like we made a good call stopping here as the people at Reception confirmed that the road from here to Vancouver is also prone to heavy fog. We hopped over the road to get a bottle of vino, ordered a take out and settled in for a night’s battling over where we go next.

Our plan is to go to Indonesia but the UK, Canada, Australia and the US have all issued travel warnings advising against non essential travel. For me that rules it out but Stef’s urge to go makes it a more difficult call for him. He has been emailing people and chatting to people on line about it, all of whom say how great a time they had when they were there but none of whom refer at all to the current security position.