British Columbia 99

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B.C.'s 99

It's time to ride it

Canada's Highway 99, the road that stretches from the border of the US south of Vancouver, to the northern reaches of the Cariboo Range near Cache Creek.

Over the years it's morphed and grown up as it's needed to in the places where it's had to. With the 2010 Olympics the road took on its latest set of changes making a section of it a world class roadway by Canada's standards.

We'll divide the road up into sections and discuss each one as we go. We begin with entry into Canada at the US border.

US to West Vancouver – There's not much to write home about on this first leg. In fact, there are those of us who would prefer to skip it all together, entering into Canada at Sumas and using Canada 1 to reach West Vancouver. Riding 99 north from the border means an arduous trip through Vancouver's city streets to Lion's Bridge.

But there are a few virtues. You could snap a picture at the Peace Arch, then zip out to White Rock for a touristy style lunch. As you near Vancouver, you could take a tour at the Trev Deeley motorcycle museum, pull into Vancouver early evening and camp out at the local cosmopolitan hotel of your choice. In the morning head over Lion's Bridge and begin the next leg.

West Vancouver to Whistler – Known as the Sea to Sky Highway this road had another name from the past – the death highway. Snugged in on the coastal cliffs, the road previously had very few passing options, leading impatient drivers to the wrong side of the road to make illegal passes over the double yellow line. The Olympics changed that.

In order for B.C. to host the Olympics right, the roadway had to be widened to three lanes wherever possible. The end result is a much friendlier road where slowbies can keep right and the rest of us can glide by. In 2009 the 200 million dollar facelift was completed with all new pavement from here to Whistler. Nice pavement. Your suspension will hardly notice the road.

But remember – all pavement fails and when it does road crews will simply patch it making for uneven surfaces. The point here is if there was ever a time to ride this pavement – the time is now! There are few places in the Northwest where you can ride pavement as smooth as a baby's bottom for this long.

From West Vancouver you wind your way through the Lion's Bay corners as you ride toward Squamish. If it's a nice day and you're looking for a scenic stop for lunch, ride up to the Lion's Bay Café and Store and enjoy the views out to Horseshoe Bay.

Past here, much of the road is rated at 80 km/h. During our summer ride, most drivers were running it at 100 km/h including semis. And it's totally doable. In fact most corners could be had at this rate or higher.

Have you heard about Canada's new speeding law? Anything 40 km over the posted speed limit means an officer can elect to impound your bike for up to 7 days. If an extended stay in Canada isn't possible for you, keep the new law in mind before you pull the throttle back too far.

At Squamish you'll ride inland and head for Whistler. If you're using a GPS you may notice at times the road is off to your left or right – at least your GPS says so. During the road widening project, sections got moved to allow for new bridge structures, working out the tight kinks and getting around steep walls of rock.

Someone driving slow in front of you? Don't worry, it won't be long before a passing lane shows up. A far cry from the days of old (and as you'll soon see, you can live those days again).

Alas we reach our next destination – Whistler. Grab a $70 lodge room at the Whistler Village Inn and a $40 steak at the sheik Araxi in the village. You deserve it.

Whistler to Lillooet Lake – we now return you to the last generation of road construction. This one does alright with passing zones, but the surface is several years old and gets its share of patches here and there making for a bumpy ride at times. There are several sweet corners along this stretch that are a bit tighter than the previous section.

Lillooet Lake to Lillooet - So you wanna know what the road was like in the days of old. The stretch of 99 from here to Lillooet will be the last to get any major changes done to it. You begin with a series tighties as you wind your way up in elevation. It sounds like fun, but the likelihood of getting stuck behind a motor home or tour bus is good on any nice day. So you get trapped for kilometers at a time. There may be a pullout or two along the way, but will they use it? Sometimes yes and sometimes no.

When you reach to higher elevation, the road surface deteriorates into a series of patches and tar snakes that steal any performance it may have offered by virtue of its original engineering. The good news – this section of road is on the list for a full repave job soon.

Lillooet to Cache Creek – In the summer of 2010 this section of road along the Fraser River Canyon was repaved and is now in excellent condition. Several passing lanes were built in and it's likely telling the story of what the previous section may look like after it gets its big repair. In the final 20 km you're riding through the Marble Canyon area, a scenic area loaded with a nice collection of twisties.

At Cache Creek you're offered the chance to take the easy way back to the Border via Canada 1, or reverse you're route and run it in the other direction.

Like all major roads at any given time, Canada 99 is a road that is in various levels of transition. With new road building techniques and attention to the volume of traffic this highway gets now, Canada's 99 is getting better with each major repair. For a taste of where it's been and where it's going, there may be no better time than now to ride it!

Patrique Tomez'/Summer 10

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