Descent Into Hell

The next time I have a choice between the longer, flatter, and better known road and the shorter, steeper, and lesser known road, I should pick the former.

I left the Chasm mid-morning, drove into Cache Creek where I gassed up without incident, and then double-backed to the junction to the 99 Sea to Sky highway.

For days I had been debating whether or not to take this road. Everything I’d heard about it told me that I was a difficult but rewarding road that could be done by RV. It was also the most direct route to the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal.

I made a lot of bad decisions that morning, the most unforgivable of which was not trusting my gut feeling. I have an uncanny sense of intuition and it’s always when I ignore it that I get into the worst trouble. As it was, I drove down to the town of Lillooet, before which the 99 turns into the town and continues on while there is also the option of continuing straight and doubling back to Cache Creek.

The drive from Cache Creek to Lillooet was hard. I averaged 20km an hour down short hills and around hairpin turns in low gear. Mistake number one was assuming that I was in a situation similar to the Cassiar and that things would improve.

Mistake number two was not taking a longer lunch at the viewpoint before the start of a steep section known locally as the Duffy. Had I done so, I would have hit that 13km stretch with cold brakes. As it was, they were already warm from over one hundred kilometres of pumping.

Otherwise, I did what I needed to do, gearing down with the occasional bit of pumping, but I was picking up speed. Someone was pushing me to go faster (idiots!) so I tried to pull over to let him pass and this is when I discovered that my brakes felt mushy; there is no other way to describe it. It was too late to use the emergency brake to stop at that tiny turn off, but there was a sign promising a runaway lane a short distance later, so I decided to just pump the brakes to there.

Someone was parked in the runaway lane. I just hope that this person was in the throes of his or her own emergency. Otherwise, they owe me four thousand dollars.

My brakes were barely responding by this point and the next runaway lane was more than one kilometre ahead, with two more sharp turns. I was geared down and pumping was no longer working. Material damage no longer mattered. I did the only thing that worked, keeping my foot on the brake, and that slowed me down enough to get around the turns safely. I knew I was staring at death right in the face, but there was no time to panic or have a breakdown. I kept my composure and did what I needed to do to get off that road alive.

I just about flew into the runway lane where I landed with a loud bang I’m sure was a brake-related component failing. There was a lot of smoke and I quickly got the toad out of the way. A couple pulled in behind me and I thought that they were there to check up on me, but I quickly realised that they were completely oblivious to the fact that I was not there by choice.

The echoing boom of an exploding tire finally made them conscious of the fact that all was not well with me. We could see licks of flames under Miranda, so I ran for the fire extinguisher while the man ran for a jug of water he had in his car. We got the fire out with those and I emptied the grey tank into a bucket to further cool down the burning tire.

They stayed with me for a good half hour, until I felt sure that the crisis had passed and that there would be no more fires. They then followed me into the nearby town of Pemberton to make sure my toad was okay.

Nothing other than the Petro-Canada seemed to be open in town since it was Thanksgiving. I resigned myself to spending a very long night on the mountain.

Returning to Miranda, I came to my senses and realised that I was blocking a runaway lane! This was absolutely unacceptable to me, even if I was in the midst of a genuine emergency. There was a short spur off the lane, long enough to tuck Miranda into, so I got back behind the wheel and used the emergency brake to jockey her into position.

It was early, only about four o’clock by that point, and I had rarely felt so alone and vulnerable in my life. On a whim, I picked up my cell phone and found that there was service! Without even thinking about it, I called my mother.

It was about seven when I finally went into shock. Even though it wasn’t the least bit cold, I could not warm myself up, so I finally conceded defeat and crawled under as many covers as I could.

Followed the second longest night of my life.

I got up at 7:30 the next morning without having slept a wink and tried to decide how best to proceed in getting myself safely off that mountain. I decided that since I had cell service I would try to call for help rather than driving back into town. Roadside assistance wanted to send me a tow truck from Whistler for a 150$ premium so I decided to go my own route and try to find someone local. Thing was, my GPS had only one local auto place in memory.

Mr. Napa guy who picked up thank you. When I asked if they offered towing, he said no, but that he could give me a few numbers. What sort of vehicle did I have? Oh, a motorhome? Then that brought the choices to only one, Off Road Hooker. Have him bring you to Olemotors. Both will take good care of you.

I called Off Road Hooker (love the name, btw!) and was promised help within twenty minutes! It wound up being closer to an hour, but still! I hadn’t made breakfast yet figuring that I would do so after everything was settled as I would surely have hours to kill.

The driver hooked up Miranda very easily, to my surprise. I thought that she was badly positioned for towing, but he had no problem getting her out of there. I was complimented on the fact that I’d tucked her out of the laneway. The driver told me to follow him and I said that I wanted to go to Olemotors. He smiled and said “Ole’s waiting for you, spoke to him on my way here.”

Olemotors is located in the industrial park about 6km shy of Pemberton proper. There, I was told that it would be a few hours before Miranda could be looked at an an estimate given. I was advised to back her up against the fence where there are 15A electrical hookups and was also given instructions for getting to a nearby coffee shop offering wi-fi.

At first, I was annoyed that I had to move Miranda myself and I didn’t have much fun manoeuvring the rig into place with just the emergency brake, but being behind the wheel did give me back a much needed feeling of control.

A few hours were killed at the coffee shop and then I came home. The following is soooo embarrassing, but too funny not to share. I had no sooner sat down on the toilet than my house started moving!!!!!!!!!!!! The mechanic was driving Miranda into a service bay without realising I was home! I think he had a heart attack when I came out the front door as soon as we were parked.

I was invited to sit in a warm break room while the damage was evaluated. I think that took all of twenty minutes. The diagnosis was that I needed a complete brake job, but the good news was that I had managed to spare my bearings. I was chastised for not gearing down and I indignantly stood up for myself. The Duffy is a menace, plain and simple!

The evaluation done, Ole called to get quotes for parts and I parked myself for the night, then went out to the coffee shop for a bit more internet checking and some dinner.

The evening was quiet and at about six Ole knocked on the door to let me know he was leaving and to give me his home number in case I needed anything. The last worker on site left at 8 and also came by to let me know he was leaving and locking the gate behind him.

Feeling very safe, I went to bed and slept well.

beginning (or end) of the Sea to Sky highway near Cache Creek

beginning (or end) of the Sea to Sky highway near Cache Creek





Entering Lillooet. My fate is sealed.

Entering Lillooet. My fate is sealed.


lunch break

lunch break

lunch break

lunch break

lunch break...

lunch break…

That tiny yellow sign is the only warning about this menace of a road. Shame on the BC ministry of transport!

That tiny yellow sign is the only warning about this menace of a road. Shame on the BC ministry of transport!

This view from the garage made me gasp every time I stepped out the front door.

This view from the garage made me gasp every time I stepped out the front door.

This is where I spent my two nights in Pemberton. Might not look like much, but it was level, quiet, and dark; had power; and was safe. I'd call that a haven.

This is where I spent my two nights in Pemberton. Might not look like much, but it was level, quiet, and dark; had power; and was safe. I’d call that a haven.