Cycling Across Canada: Kamloops to Vancouver & 10 Lessons Learned

cycling across canada

Isobel Duxfield, an adventurous soul, has been pedaling her bicycle across continents for about 7 months now. From the rugged terrain of south-east Turkey to the picturesque landscapes of Europe, the winding roads of the UK, and now the vast expanse of Canada, her journey has been nothing short of extraordinary.

Isobel’s fascination with cycling began during her time pursuing a Master’s degree in Gender Studies at Cambridge University. Observing the gendered dynamics within local cycling communities sparked her curiosity, leading her to delve into the world of women’s cycling clubs for her thesis.

After spending years advocating for sustainable mobility with Polis in Brussels, Isobel decided it was time to experience firsthand what she had been writing about. With nothing but four panniers and a heart full of curiosity, she embarked on her cycling odyssey.

Isobel has been documenting the Canadian leg of her trip and will be sharing it with us, to share with you! It contains stories of the people she’s met along the way and the communities striving to promote active travel across Canada. In this second installment she shares her experiences traveling from Kamloops to Vancouver and the top 10 things she has learned cycling across Canada in the off-season.

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Kamloops to Vancouver: BC at its best, traffic at its worst, but a fantastic cycle

The final leg of my journey took me from Kamloops to Vancouver, passing through Cache Creek, Lillooet, Hope, Abbotsford and finally into the big city itself.

For those of you looking at a map right now, you may indeed be puzzled. This route appears to be a significant detour from the direct highway(s) which travel from Kamloops towards the west coast, and you would be correct, it is- but stay with me, there is method in the madness. 

Along this section I met many incredible, generous and interesting people. In Kamloops I was hosted by a member of the BCCC, a wonderful guy who coordinates community bike mechanic programmes, and who cooked the most audacious, but delicious, Mac & Cheese. I also stayed in somebody’s converted barn (the most stereotypical Canadian experience I could have wished for), as well as slept in a bookstore, whose kind-hearted owner allowed me to spread my sleeping bag on the floor. I was treated to lakeside barbecues, bonfires, kayaking, and a ride on a quad bike- which I very nearly crashed…

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What was the route?

Taking the Highway 1 to Cache Creek, followed by 99 to Lillooet, before heading down towards Lytton, rejoining Highway 1 to Hope, is a fantastic journey through some of British Columbia’s most dramatic and diverse landscape. Admittedly, it is more mountainous than the alternative, and at many points my legs did not appreciate the additional mileage and elevation- but it was worth the effort. 

From Hope, I took the highway 7 for approximately 30km, before crossing towards Chilliwack, Abbotsford and into Vancouver- where, under the blistering sun, I must have looked a bit worse for wear!

What is the terrain like?

Ok, so I will not lie, this section did involve far more elevation than I had bargained for. I had been treated to a relatively flat cruise from Calgary (in comparison to cycling in Turkey, Greece and the Alps that is), and had been lulled into a false sense of security.

”What had I worried about?” I laughed to myself. “This is easy.”

As I trundled slowly up towards Lillooet, I realised my judgement may have been too hasty. Nonetheless, taking it slow and steady, I soon found my rhythm, and surrounded by incredible mountains, forests and rivers, I did not regret the detour.

From Cache Creek to Lillooet you climb through a calm valley, home to many First Nations communities, before winding down the other side into the town, which is nestled alongside the Fraser River, at the foot of several stunning mountains.

The next section is slightly more undulating, and the perpetual up and down wiped me out. By Lytton, a village which was destroyed by forest fire and is now being rebuilt, I was exhausted. The headwind was ferocious and I could barely pedal downhill, let alone uphill!

Nonetheless, the views from the road down to Hope more than made up for my fatigue. Following Highway 1 (which does get moderately busy with traffic on certain sections), enormous forested mountains loomed above me, cascades cut through the rocky hillside and the (now wide and deep) Fraser River meandered through the gulley below. While the Icefields Parkway had been jaw dropping, this was a green beauty, nothing like I had ever experienced before.  

From Hope, it is flat (or relatively), and if you have the wind behind you (which unfortunately I did not), you can cruise along towards Vancouver.

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What’s the traffic like?

Leaving Kamloops demands careful planning to avoid the traffic. It is impossible to avoid using the major highway for at least a few kilometers in order to access the smaller highway 1 (despite what your GPS might say). My advice is to follow Hillside Drive, then cut onto the main highway for about a kilometre before you reach the exit. Although the road down to Cache Creek is undoubtedly busy, the large hard shoulder makes it suitable for cycling.

The section from here to Lillooet and Lytton is far calmer, and, particularly if you are cycling in peak tourist season, I thoroughly recommend. 

Rejoining highway 1 the traffic picks up again, however, as long as you take it slowly and carefully, I found the drivers to be incredibly respectful of distance. 

Of course, the nearer one comes to Vancouver, the more traffic is encountered. As is the case with any major city, entering by bicycle is a complex, and often scary process. The new bike routes which have been marked along many sections from Abbotsford mean that despite heavy traffic, there is somewhat a sense of security. Nonetheless, vigilance is definitely required; white lines painted on the road and a few bike signs every few kilometres will not prevent one of the (many) large trucks from ploughing into you. I witnessed two collisions on this section, which reminded me of my vulnerability.

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Abbotsford- a detour for the bike lanes!

Approaching Vancouver, I in fact tested out two separate routes (because I am a bit weird and had too much time on my hands).

From Hope, the most direct route into Vancouver was straight along Highway 7, a calm(ish) road with a medium-sized hard shoulder, passing through Mission and Maple Ridge. However, this section, although boasting a few bike paths, is dominated by large periods on very busy roads. 

The alternative option traverses Chilliwack and Abbotsford, making use of established bike routes, where signage and separated lanes provide a bit more safety. This is not the case across the entire route, and many sections have narrow passing places, where bike lanes appear and disappear like a bad conjuring trick; nonetheless, it is a wonderful opportunity to snake across the flat plains- a terrain which after the previous few days’ climbing, my legs thoroughly enjoyed.

Heading from Calgary to Canmore (battling against vicious headwinds), snaking into Banff and Lake Louise, before turning up towards the Icefields Parkway and over to Jasper and Mount Robson, I was passed by a few other tourists in camper vans, who honked encouraging, but I had the roads virtually to myself. 

Reaching Vancouver

Entering Vancouver was like emerging into a cycling nirvana. For anybody who has been here, you will know this is not hyperbole. Having barely seen another cyclist for almost two weeks, suddenly I was surrounded by them. Taking the Greenway into the city centre, I passed through block after block which had been transformed into cycle friendly streets, with bike lanes, ‘slow streets’, shared bicycle hire, and more. 

By this point, my gear cable had snapped and I was perhaps not ‘loving life’ (to put it crudely), but the city was buzzing with life, music and laughter, the sun was shining, and I had arrived in one piece.

So, I have finally reached Vancouver, but the journey is not over yet- find me pedalling around BC on a mission to see as much of Canada as I can!

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10 things I learned cycling across Canada in off-season

I have just completed a solo cycling tour from Calgary to Vancouver, winding up through the Icefields Parkway, up to Mount Robson and snaking down through Kamloops, Lillooet, Hope, Abbotsford and finally into Vancouver. 

As somebody accustomed to cycling in Europe, where information and advice on routes is easy to come by (in fact, perhaps there are too many people trying to tell you how to cycle), understanding what to expect from Canada was complex. I could only find a handful of people who had crossed from East to West, and when they had done so, it was during the summer months.

I had so many questions:

  • What would the weather be like at higher altitudes? 
  • Would all the roads be open and passable? 
  • Where would I stay if all the campgrounds were closed?

Having now completed the journey, I need not have fretted. Cycling in Canada proved (relatively) straightforward, and people were welcoming and helpful, providing valuable support across the trip. 

However, it was a learning curve. I had to adapt what I thought I knew about cycle touring to a new environment, where everything (compared to Europe) is…BIG. Mountains, wildlife, roads, distances between towns; touring in Canada was a larger beast to grapple with. 

So here is some advice for anybody who wants to try it out. While it may seem daunting at first, I encourage anybody, and everybody to give it a go.

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Don’t be afraid of highways, but be ready for them- Highways can be intimidating for Europeans not accustomed to cycling on highways. But actually many are very calm, and cars are respectful of distance. This said, avoid some of the major routes. From Kamloops I took a large detour to Lillooet as the road is much smaller with far less traffic- but be prepared for a lot of ascent on this route!

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Navigate the hard shoulder carefully- The wide hard shoulders which line most highways are great for cycling. However, before the end of May they have not been swept clear of the grit which accumulates during winter. As a result, you are stuck between rumble strips and small stones, confined to a 3cm strip, which, when going downhill makes for precarious cycling. The Yellowhead Highway from Jasper to Mount Robson is where this is a particular challenge.

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Wear sunglasses- These are of course essential for keeping the sun out of your eyes, but in the spring months they also protect from flying debris which are frequently catapulted up from large trucks passing by. Mine were in fact cracked by a rock which spun up onto the lenses- a very near miss!

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Look for accommodation ahead of time- campgrounds are closed until the start of May, meaning longer distances between places to stay. There are however many hostels open, which (by Canadian standards) are not too expensive. For those on a tight budget, I also advise using Couchsurfing and Warmshowers.  

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Travelling by airplane- Taking your bike on the plane, as I did to Calgary, requires careful planning. There are a number of rules which differ according to the airline, so ensure you get all the correct information from your carrier beforehand. However, as a general rule of thumb; box it carefully- which you can find free from any local bike shop- wrap it in plastic and your clothes, use a spacer in the disk brakes, store the bolts safely and carefully, labelling them clearly for the reconstruction process on the other side. In addition, make sure you have a multi tool and 15mm spanner for putting the pedals back on, and ensure you get a bike shop to loosen the pedals beforehand, as they have a larger tool for removing them. 

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Pack water and food for several hours or days- As I found, there are big distances between stops where you can refuel, and many are closed before May. Ensure you are carrying enough water and food to last for several days, particularly in the Icefields area and some sections of the Yellowhead Highway.

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Dress for all weathers- this sounds basic, but on the Icefields Parkway I was in 5 layers, with my water frozen in the bottle, yet, by Kamloops it was 20 degrees and I was wearing shorts and slapping on factor 50 sunscreen. Canadian weather is crazy, so be prepared for everything…sometimes in one day!

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When approaching big cities check out where the cycle paths are- Often online maps will not direct you via the safest and calmest route, and instead you may find yourself on a major highway. In the rain and snow, this can be incredibly dangerous. Indeed, around Calgary, Chilliwack and Abbotsford I had to ignore my mapping software and take a route which had been advised by local cyclists I met along the way.

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Wear visible clothing- In poor weather, it is difficult for drivers to see cyclists, therefore adorning a hi-viz jacket or draping your baggage in colourful cloth is a useful way to be seen. The brighter the better!

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Talk to people – It’s only by engaging in conversation that you learn about the interesting places to see, and which roads are the best for cyclists. I adapted my route as I went along when receiving excellent advice from people I met at gas stations, cafes and hostels.

If you’d like to learn more about her experiences traveling from Calgary, through Icefields Parkway and the Yellowhead Highway, you can read them here.

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