Freedom Road

From green woods to ice blue glaciers, jagged rocky mountains and alpine lakes and meadows, flying from Vancouver to Williams Lake was one of the most spectacular flights I've ever taken. Where we were landing was set to be my "town" for the next four months, despite it being three hours away from my residence.

The Stampede Capital of British Columbia, Williams Lake is in central interior of BC in the Cariboo region.

While sitting in the airport waiting for my ride, I received a message to look out for two 'unruly guys'. About 10 minutes later they arrived and I jumped in a massive red pick-up truck brimming with eskies full of 10 days of food for eight people. When I say jump....I mean jump! 

For some reason, I had not pictured Cowboy Country for where I was heading. In town, the standard uniform is stetsons and boots. On the walls of the Save On Shopping Centre were paintings of cowboys riding and outfitters. The centre of town is the Stampede Grounds. Truly the Wild, Wild West of Canada. 

After we loaded up on some last minute goodies and I bought half the beauty department, unsure of how much access I would have in the coming months, we hit Highway 20, otherwise known as Freedom Road, a 452 kilometre highway stretching from Williams Lake to Bella Coola.

I would be turning off halfway along this stretch. Until 1953, Highway 20 ended at Anahim Lake, 137 km from Bella Coola. Officials considered the terrain too difficult and refused to extend it, leaving Bella Coola inaccessible by road. Locals didn't like that, and in true Chilcotin pioneering spirit decided they would go ahead and build it anyway. Working from opposite ends with two bulldozers dangling precariously on 1,000 foot cliffs, and supplies bought on credit, locals completed the road. 

Our three-hour drive took us along the Fraser Canyon walls, crossing the mighty Fraser River, we drive past a number of small First Nations towns and through the Chilcotin plateaus and grasslands and fields of burnt-out woods.

I figure there must have been a fire there within the last few months, based on how the aftermath of a bushfire looks back home. Until I was told the fire came through 13 years ago. It looked like it happened last week. In the Cariboo and Chilcotin, trees and plant life only get a small period of growth as the winters are so brutal, so recovery time is rather shortened. A new appreciation dawned on me on how much a fire could devastate a landscape for decades here in Canada. 

On the home stretch to Chilko 

On the home stretch to Chilko 

Alpine meadows are besides us, the Chilko River edges in and out, and we keep heading towards the foot of the mountains. 

As Phil, the owner of The Chilko Experience puts it, 'Driving to Chilko is like driving three and a half sides of a square".

Just before hitting Tatla Lake, where our doctor's surgery and general store is, we turn off Freedom Road and take a left hand turn heading south and drive 80km on a gravel roadfor another 1.5 hour with more backwards, downhill and left-hand turns to the Chilko Valley, next to lakes, mountains capes and above marshlands, we hit the gates of The Chilko Experience Wilderness Resort.