BC & Alberta, Part 4: Driving the Crowsnest Highway

Driving is something that I absolutely love doing. My dad’s a mechanic with a hobby of car and kart racing, so I grew up at a variety of racetracks. My dad swears that he chose to immigrant to Toronto because 1. My mother’s family was here and 2. So was Mosport Park (now named Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, but it will always be Mosport in my heart).

I first drove a go-kart when I was eight, and even then my dad said I was a natural driver. I got my license at sixteen but then stupidly let it expire before upgrading it because I didn’t own a car or regularly have access to one. A few years ago I finally got it back, and now I’m a fully licensed adult once more, with the ability to drive highways and rent cars. And this is exactly what I planned to do when Shannon and I were in our initial stages of trip planning a few months ago.

The first time I drove from Vancouver to Alberta I was a passenger and it killed me that I didn’t have control of the wheel while driving along those mountain roads. I jokingly tried to get John, our tour leader, to let me drive. Unfortunately there are things like laws and company policies and fancy jargon that prohibited me from doing so, however. But not this time!

Shannon and I had planned for us to be travelling by car for a good portion of our trip. We were going to be driving east from Vancouver, so I wanted to take a route different from the one I took on my Moose tour. We opted for the Crowsnest Highway to get us to our final destination of our first leg of driving — Slocan, BC.

Before I go into the details of the drive, let me introduce you to someone. Her name is Barbara Black, and she’s a feisty little Mazda 2.

IMG_3722

I miss her already *tear*

By the last day of our trip we had ended up driving an approximate total of 2,272 kilometers. That’s slightly less than driving from Toronto to Miami (Shannon, why didn’t we go to Miami?!), and I’m happy and proud to say that I did all the driving myself. Before this trip the longest I’d driven in one stretch was maybe four hours. Now, I can say I can do nine to ten hours. Yeah, that’s right. Adult.

Here’s the route we ending up taking and the breakdown of each leg:

route

Vancouver (A) to Slocan (C) via Osoyoos (B). Slocan to Banff (D). Banff to Kelowna (F) via Golden (E). Kelowna to Whistler (G). Whistler to Vancouver (final ending point H).

The Crowsnest Highway stems off the Trans-Canada Highway, beginning its western end in Hope, BC. We drove the Crowsnest and one of its offshoots from Hope to Slocan, a tiny little town with a population of 298 people. I describe it as being in the ass crack of a mountain range because there’s no cell phone reception. Some internet companies don’t even serve the area. If you want to get away from society, you go to Slocan.

Shannon has a good friend, Heather, who lives in Slocan, so we added the tiny town to our itinerary. In all honesty, we probably wouldn’t have gone to BC if it wasn’t for Heather. Heather is currently nine months pregnant with her second daughter, and Shannon hadn’t seen Heather’s first daughter in nearly two years. They were overdue for some time together.

The drive from Vancouver to Slocan was approximately nine hours, so we planned on stopping in Osoyoos for a mid-point rest stop. Being in Osoyoos felt like being in the desert; the drive into Osoyoos felt like driving through savanna; and the heat kept me constantly looking for a cool beverage and some shade. It was nuts. I’d never before experienced that sort of climate within Canadian borders. They deserve every bit of their claim to being “the hottest place in Canada”, because even in September, it was HOT.

After sweating off our lunch just by walking back to the car, we booked it back to the highway to continue our journey to Slocan.

The Crowsnest is one beautiful piece of road to drive. There are mountains with sheer drop-offs, lake views, windy roads…everything someone who loves to drive could ask for. I’m not going to say how fast I drove, but more than once on the trip Shannon felt the need to say “You are your father’s daughter”. Ha. Dad was always good in the corners of the track; my favourite part of driving through the mountains are the curves and bends in the road. Guess this apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

We made it to Slocan on time. Actually, correction, we were maybe fifteen minutes behind schedule. We were driving north along Highway 6 which was supposed to take us into town. We saw the “Slocan 1 km” sign, then the “Entering Slocan” sign. We had a mountainside to our right and a drop-off to our left, so for a good five minutes we continued along the route, saying “Where the eff is this place?!”. Then we passed the “Leaving Slocan” sign. I wasn’t joking when I said it was a small town, but at this point it seemed non-existent.

The view from Highway 6

The view from Highway 6

I did a U-turn as soon as the mountain road let me and we backtracked another five minutes. We eventually saw a turnoff (a dirt road, hidden by pine trees), made our way down the hill and to our relief found the tiny town and the only gas station it had. With no cell phone reception we entered the station store and asked to use their phone. It was obvious that we weren’t locals, so the lady behind the counter, who apparently “knows everyone in town” tried to help us get directions to Heather’s house. In a town with a population smaller than most high schools, everyone knows everyone!

Thankfully we got through to Heather on her home phone and were met at the gas station by her brother. We got chaperoned in style to Heather’s beautiful mountain home and thus ended our first full day of driving in BC. Heather, her boyfriend and her brother cooked an amazing dinner, and we relaxed on the deck looking up at the insanely clear, star-filled sky.

I unfortunately don’t have any footage from driving the Crowsnest, but I found this video on YouTube that pretty much sums it up. 1. Must. Get. A. GoPro. 2. I want a motorcycle even more so now.

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