The Yellowhead Route

Posted by Howard on Oct 13, 2010 - 5 comments

On the way home we decided to loop around through Tete Jaune and take Highway 16 down the North Thompson to Kamloops, just for variety. Unfortunately the weather had turned wet and heavy, and low clouds completely obliterated the mountain vistas we’d primed ourselves to see. As a result we probably gave the ground level view of the Robson Valley more attention than we would have, enjoying the dilapidated cold-country ranches with their yards full of rusty logging machinery.

McBride was a bright spot. When I went through 25 years ago it had struck me as the quintessential backwoods town and I’d felt lucky to escape from the redneck-infested hotel bar with my scalp, which at that time was sporting a hairlength that apparently offended local standards. Now the place seemed to have been taken over by a committee of new-agers. There was an ornate welcome arch over the entrance and all the fire hydrants were decorated with cute cartoons. The old railway station had been gussied up and packed full of charming crafts, including a few of our own books. Everything in the little cafeteria was shade-grown and eco-certified. I once again felt subjected to a certain level of local disapproval, but this time because I was wearing several items made from leather and ordered a dish containing meat. How times change.

The gentle virus that infected McBride hadn’t touched other Highway 16 towns to quite the same extent, but you could still see a movement away from the old hard-living logging culture to a mixture that at least admitted other possibilities.

Tete Jaune Cache still has a depressed, back-of-beyond vibe, despite the presence of a swift, slim, emerald-green version of the Fraser River which seems to be running backward--up the BC map instead of down--but Valemount, Blue River and Clearwater now put a recreational foot forward, playing on their closeness to major parks and heli-skiing areas with rows of big motels and fast-food joints along the highway. The North Thompson is not one of the more inspiring routes in the province, a dark, narrow-gutted valley notable for times the road crosses the river—there must be twenty serious bridges. Just before Kamloops the valley widens into a more expansive and fertile vista just before merging with the South Thompson but has recently been overrun with condo developments.

Before launching ourselves into the rain-sodden Coquihalla, which I recall as a kind of overlong water-slide with far too many muck-spewing semis, we decided to take a break in Kamloops and have lunch with another nonagenarian, my step-mother in-law Mary, who occupies a high-end retirement home overlooking the confluence of the two Thompsons. The place was fitted out like a 5-star resort, and I couldn’t help noticing most of its occupants were about 10 years younger and a good deal more fit than my two sidekicks. We felt a lot of eyes upon us in the dining hall as other diners sized up Edith and Munga as new neighbours, possibly for the special care area. Our table-mates were astounded when word it came out that we were just taking a break from on a whirlwind car tour of the province, after which Munga and Edith would be returning to single-handedly manage their rancherie up the coast. “You guys are amazing!” we heard more than once. That alone would made trip worthwhile for them. But there was more than that. It is really important to get out of our ruts, whichever part of the province we call home, and look around once in awhile just to see what we have here. Munga put it best. “I’m glad I saw all that one more time. It really is the greatest place in the world.” Coming from him, it sounded alright.