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Vancouver to Shuswap Road Trip

Houseboating with your best girlfriends is great. Getting there is even better.

I’ll be flying soon, though not on a plane: free-falling through the air like the world’s least elegant bird, the fear that I’ll shed my bathing suit upon impact with Shuswap Lake just a dim whine in the back of my sun-soaked brain. Am I afraid of heights? Of course. Am I little too old for this? Probably. Will I be jumping off the roof of a houseboat anyway because someone had a little too much rosé and dared me to? You bet. It’s summer. That’s how it works.

But there are miles to go before we boat, as a sexier, parallel-universe version of Robert Frost would have said. Now my thighs are poking out of cutoffs I haven’t worn in years, sticky and fusing to the leather car seat even this early in the day, but all is right with the world because I’m on the road with two girlfriends. We’ve all got too much to do to just take off for a week—articles to file, meetings to run, children to tame—but we’re doing it anyway: summer waits for no (wo)man.

Of course, there are delays: the Tetris-like challenge of fitting our luggage into the trunk, turning back to pick up a friend’s obnoxious but seemingly necessary neon-green multi-seat inner tube, and a pre-freeway stop at the too-hip café Nelson the Seagull for icy flasks of cold-brewed coffee. But then, we’re off.

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The plan is to traverse Highway 1 from Vancouver and hop up the winding Coquihalla Highway to the sprawling shores and reaching arms of Shuswap, where our rental houseboat awaits. It’s the perfect compromise—”camping light” for those of us who hate the concept: a fully stocked floating cabin with all-natural, 360-degree waterfront views for the tree-hugger in attendance. Plus, there’s a waterslide. Everybody wins. We speed along, with Graceland playing a little too loudly, because what else could we possibly listen to as big-box stores give way to corn fields and I try to sneak my maybe-a-little-dirty flip-flop feet up on the dashboard while the driver isn’t looking.

On our way, the Sparkes Corn Barn, a little green square of a store in Chilliwack just off exit 119, offers up farm-fresh sweet corn through a drive-through window; it’s a detour, but necessary for our plan to grill the kernels over a beach campfire later that night. I tuck bags of Triplesweet Jubilee cobs at my feet, because the back seat is jammed with spare blankets, suitcases and one unapologetic overpacker. The air in Chilliwack is pungent, but cool, slipping in through the window. Silky strands of corn silk poke out through the tops of husks and tickle my knees. My seat is being kicked and I feel nothing but a swell of love.
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Finally, Hope. Someone makes the requisite joke about finding Hope. She is ignored. We are more concerned with breakfast, so into Owl Street Café we go. Free-range eggs? I’m impressed. We butter fresh slices of warm bread and steal bites of golden Belgian crepes smothered in juicy, locally grown strawberries from each other’s plates.

The Coquihalla is no secret backroad, but it’s an adventure all the same. The highway stretches around the bend forever: the only evidence that we’re moving forward is the slightly craggy hilltops that gradually replace the lush green ones. Gossip is exchanged idly, in between the flips of magazine pages and attempts to take photos of the odd roadside deer from inside a moving car. This highway hypnosis is lulling me into a perfect state of laziness. We are going somewhere in particular to do nothing in particular and life is good.

The best parts of road trips, though, are usually found off the road. Luckily, our driver has a complete disregard for efficiency and will happily leave the highway with little to no prompting. Of course we should stop to sip micro-brewed Belgium Peppered Ale at Kamloops’s Noble Pig Brewhouse. Of course we should visit Banana Island Park, where we’ll be confused by the lack of bananas but delighted by the surplus of nesting bald eagles. Of course we should walk through a forest described by multiple sources as “enchanted,” through rock chasms and over fairy-tale bridges to see the beautiful Margaret Falls. Of course we’ll think about sneaking into the cave hidden behind the thundering water, and then remember that drowning isn’t part of vacation fun and decide against it.

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Though there’s a full kitchen awaiting us on the houseboat, I prefer to leave baking to the experts, so our last pit stop will be at the Shuswap Pie Company to stock up on supplies. We grab savoury pies (sausage, apple and sage; curried veggie) that will make for simple, satisfying suppers should we get too comfortable lounging in the on-board hot tub to cook, and fuel up for the last stretch with a slice of blueberry-peach (or lemon-buttermilk, or both).

We pull in to Twin Anchors four hours later than planned. Nobody seems to mind. We’re 500 kilometres from home, work and family, about to trade the open road for the open waters. Hello, summer. Thanks for having us. wl

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