If you’ve ever driven the Sea To Sky highway from Vancouver to Whistler, you’re a lucky infidel. After driving to Tofino on Vancouver Island, and driving up the West Coast of Australia, it’s the third most beautiful drive I’ve ever done. My boyfriend (let’s call him James) and I used to drive up there a couple times a week, back in my mid-twenties. We’d stop at every BC Park. Places like Brandywine falls:
and Porteau Cove:
We loved hiking up there and exploring what lay just outside our city limits. We felt lucky to have this in our backyard, and hit those trails any time we could.
One such time, James’ best friend and his new girlfriend were visiting us from Ottawa. They were hippies. Not like the mild hippie tendencies I had, myself… no, these two were bona fide hippies. Not only did they sport dreadlocks and smoke pot like it was an endurance sport, but these creatures used a crystal as a deodorant. My guys, these two humans smelled like a decomposing onion patch grown in night soil. These were hippies more than the mud-covered, bell-bottomed, tripped-out Vietnam war objectors at Woodstock were. As such, everywhere we planned to go with them, we went exorbitantly late.
This trip up the Sea to Sky was no exception. We were taking camping gear, hoping to find a spot to set up overnight, something we needed daylight to do. James and I waited and waited as Erika and Mark scrambled to find all of their belongings. This proved to be particularly difficult for them, as they slowed down every two minutes to crack a joke or smoke a bowl or shovel trail mix in their cotton-mouthed yap factories. We were not impressed. We knew if we were going to find a campsite with enough daylight left to set up, we wouldn’t have a whole lot of time to stop along the way at Provincial Parks unless we left 10 minutes ago.
Alas, we waited patiently. Then, we waited some more.
With everything finally crammed into my golden, 1991 Ford Taurus lovingly nicknamed the “Lunch Buffet,” we got on the road about two hours late. Within minutes, we hit Vancouver traffic and inch along in the sticky summer air, exhaust fumes fighting to be sniffed over our hairy, hippie B.O. bombs in the back seat. James and I, enthusiastically regular bathers, exchange pained glances and suck it up through the city.
Finally, we hit Stanley Park, and while we’re still moving at a crawl, the air outside of our car at least smelled like cedar and douglas fir, now. We’d gotten through the worst of it.
Snaking our way through West Vancouver, we see the turn-off and find ourselves on Highway 99, otherwise known as the Sea to Sky Highway. Immediately, Erika sees a place she wants to stop.
“Cypress Bowl Its name contains bowl! We have to stop there,” She giggled.
“There’s a lookout up the road we can hit. Cypress is a bit of a detour and we’re low on time.” James explained.
“But it’s called Cypress Bowl!” She exclaimed, little bursts of pot smoke escaping her mouth as she giggled and spoke.
“Get it? Bowl?” Mark laughed at this horrible pun. It seemed to feed Erika’s giggling because soon they were both completely melting down in the back seat in a puddle of hysterical laughter. I glanced at James and shrugged.
When the giggling finally subsided, Mark cleared his throat and announced, “Executive decision! We’re going to Cypress… Bowl!” and back to the meltdown.
James and I were both computer nerds. We thought logically and could plan our time effectively. We learned to code in our spare time and fewer sounds on earth were as lovely as the clack, clack, clack of a keyboard. We were used to doing things efficiently, on time and being able to pack as much into a day like this as possible. With Erika and Mark, this was near impossible. It was going on two o’clock in the afternoon and we were still just near Cypress.
I took the turnoff so I didn’t have to hear any more bowl jokes. I was naive to think they would stop, though. We spent the next hour in a grassy field that is one of our most famous ski destinations… in the winter. In the summer, it’s just grass. Of course, Erika and Mark thought this was even funnier.
“Look! There’s grass in the bowl!” They howled over and over and over again. “I’m smoking grass in a bowl in grass in a bowl!” Clouds of smoke swirled above their heads.
I leaned against the Lunch Buffet and glanced at James, lifting my eyebrows.
“I’m sorry.” He mouthed.
“It’s not your fault.” I pecked him on the cheek.
No less than an hour later, we were back on the road. At every turn-off, Erika had reason to stop.
Lion’s Bay because she was a leo; Porteau Cove because she spoke French; Brandywine Falls because she loved to “drink brandy and wine until I fall!”
When we finally neared Whistler, dusk was falling. We had to find a campsite now or we would lose all light to set up. Erika had other plans.
“We have to stop at Whistler! That’s like the jewel of this drive, isn’t it?”
“Sure, if you’re filthy rich and like people who start and end every sentence with, ‘bruh’.” James perfectly expressed our shared disgust of what Whistler had become.
“But I love to whistle!” She winked at Mark and tried to whistle, with no success.
“We have to find a campsite before dark.” James said matter-of-factly.
“Awww, what a party pooper!” She whined.
“Party pooper!” Mark echoed. Soon, they were chanting “party pooper” in the back seat of my car, that I had been driving all day because not one of the other 3 adults in their mid-twenties had their driver’s license.
“Fuck! Whatever!” I exclaimed and turned back to Whistler. We spent two hours, well past dusk, sitting in the village while Mark and Erika literally frolicked on the brick mall, laughing and imitating passers-by.
‘Okay, time to go!” I finally declared, standing up. I began to walk toward the car. I hoped they were following me, but if they weren’t, I was fully prepared to leave without them at this point.
I climbed into my car and waited. A moment later, James hopped in.
“Are they coming?” I asked him.
“I dunno. I don’t really care at this point.”
“Me neither.” I started the engine. Slowly backing out of my parking spot, I turned my wheels and as the car came around, we saw them. Stumbling towards our car, laughing and oblivious, they opened the back doors and climbed in.
It was pitch dark now, and we had little choice but to hit a Provincial Park to find camping. James let me know there was one just past Whistler on the way to Pemberton.
“Garibaldi. It’s coming up here.” He pointed to our right. Sure enough, there was a BC Parks sign indicating a turnoff in 500 meters. I signalled that I was turning, and neared the entrance to the parking lot.
“It’s closed” Erika said.
“Closed.” She pointed to a yellow sign, plastered over another.
Temporarily closed. Bear in area.
“Who cares?” Mark asked. “There are bears at every campsite across Canada. This just means there was a sighting.”
He had a point.
“The park staff are obviously not here. There are no other vehicles. I say we stop,” James’s voice of reason. I needed no further convincing. I just wanted to not be driving for a little while, maybe crack a beer.
“I’m in.” I pulled into a parking spot.
Somehow, we managed to erect two tents in the pitch dark, but it was gruelling. We had two flashlights, but one burned out on us while we put together one tent, and the other was dull and useless. We stumbled our way through it as it became more and more difficult with each beer we opened. When It was completed, I unfolded my camping chair, took a seat and let out a sigh.
“Finally.” I sipped my beer.
“Shhh! Did you hear that?” We all turned to look in the direction Erika’s voice had come from.
“No. Where are you?” Mark waved his arms around in front of himself, feeling for his girlfriend.
“Hear what?” I heard James ask from behind me.
“Nothing… I think. I just heard some sticks cracking over there.” None of us could see where she was pointing.
“Probably just the bear.” Mark laughed.
“Oh, shit. thanks for reminding me.” A pang of fear shot through my body. I told myself to relax and sipped my beer. I was suddenly aware of every little sound in the forest behind me.
“Bears don’t come out at night, anyway.” From the direction of her voice, I assumed Erika was sitting now.
“Uhh. Yeah they do. Their night vision is amazing.” I could barely make Mark out near the fire pit. He was stacking kindling over a pile of crumpled newspaper. “They detect movement better than a lot of other animals, too.”
“Come on, Mark. Is this really the best time to be telling us this?” The first serious thing Erika had said all day. Then I heard her gasp and shift in her chair.
“What is it?” I asked, rising to my feet.
“I thought I heard something.”
“You guys are paranoid. Here, have another beer.” James’ outstretched arm appeared in front of me, holding a beer. I took it.
“Oh, come on, like you’re not the least bit-”
We all heard it that time. A large stick snapping in the woods. Jumping, we scrambled to find each other.
“If that was a bear, we’d hear more, right?” I reasoned, trying to calm myself.
I felt James’ hand on my shoulder. “Totally. There’s no way that’s a bear.”
“Probably a deer.” Mark went back to trying to start the fire.
“I hear breathing,” Erika said, dead still next to me.
“What do you mean?”
“I hear breathing. Not human. Behind us.” She refused to move. I strained to hear what she was talking about. All of us were silent, trying to hear what she described.
Suddenly the screeching whine of my car alarm rang out into the forest. Every one of us screamed.
“What the fuck? I thought we were alone?” The car was parked in the parking lot, a couple of hundred meters away. If anyone had pulled in, we would have seen their lights. Whoever or whatever set off the alarm was already in the park when we got here, and our car had been the only one in the lot.
As all of this began to sink in, panic took over.
“We have to leave.” Mark was pacing.
“Let’s just go. We can come back for our gear tomorrow.”
“But whatever is here is near the car. How do we leave?” Erika was crying now.
“I don’t know. We make a run for it I guess.” It was my only suggestion.
“To the car?”
“I have the beer. Let’s do this.” I heard James grab the cooler. When we were all together, we counted down from 3 and booked it.
“Where the fuck is Erika?” Mark looked around, his forehead wrinkling with concern. he put his window down and yelled into the dark abyss, “Erika?”
“What the fuck? Where is the car?” We heard her shriek from the complete opposite direction.
“Here! Over here! Run!” I turned on the headlights so she could spot us. She finally came into view, running in her ankle-length tie-dyed skirt and Birkenstocks. I fired up the engine.
“Hurrry!” Mark yelled.
I began to pull out as she grabbed the car door, swung it open and climbed in, slamming it behind her.
“Go! Go! Go!” She screamed. “Let’s get the fuck out of here!”
The tires squealed as I tore out of the parking lot and back onto the road.
They were odorous hippies. We were computer nerds. They wasted time. We liked to use it efficiently. They smoked pot. We drank beer. I think you’ll find though, that none of your differences matter when you’re being threatened by a phantom bear in the deep, dark woods.
That, my friends, is how I managed to narrowly escape being mauled by a bear… maybe.