These days, a favourite road is like an old friend you can still shake hands with. Coming up through the hairpin turns north of Pemberton, B.C., the steering wheel waves its hello. “Welcome back,” the road says. “I’ve missed you.” The feeling is mutual.
Right now, I should be driving the Duffey Lake road with my dad in our ’67 MGB, but I haven’t seen my parents for months. We’ve stayed apart until now, communicating only by phone and video. With British Columbia reporting few new cases of COVID-19 and the province gradually beginning to open up, I’m finally heading home for a visit, with letters from their grandkids riding shotgun.
There are two ways to make the drive: one direct, the other long but familiar. Travelling between communities is still not recommended, but that’s the beauty of travel by car. You’re sensibly isolated, experiencing the scenery but apart from it. Stay in the car, hands touching only steering wheel and stereo, and a single tank of fuel will take me there and back again with minimal risk to others.
I’ve had to pass up my favourite coffee stop and pack my own lunch, but otherwise everything feels reassuringly normal. I lived a little further along this road, in Lillooet, about two hours north of Whistler in the southwest of British Columbia, when I was in grade school. It was gravel then, and I remember bouncing along the washboard in our old Land Rover.
Now, as then, there is no cell service. When I stop along the way at the Duffey Lake boat ramp, the scene is tranquil, the mountains impassive. I’ve brought dozens of cars up here, from a solo flight in a Mazda MX-5 to a thrilling day with my eldest daughter in a McLaren 570. Today, it’s a Genesis G70, its driving characteristics as companionable to good roads as BMW’s best sport sedans.
The experience is always the same: drive, rest, recharge in silence, repeat. I drink the last of the coffee I brought with me as the shadows retreat across the icy lake. Time for moving on.
Like many of you, I am a sandwich. On one side, my young children. On the other, my parents. Before physical distancing, a visit from my folks meant a much-needed chance for me to catch up on work or take a break while they took care of the kids.
But about five years ago, dad and I started doing road trips together in the MGB. I’d heard about Classic Car Adventures, a company that specializes in budget-friendly tours, and their Spring Thaw three-day group drive, intended for cars from 1979 and earlier. We’d restored the MGB together when I was in my early teens, but it had only done short hops since then. Travelling more than 1,000 kilometres over a weekend would be a grand adventure.
It was. On the last day of that first trip, the little ’B came humming down Duffey Lake Road with a borrowed mechanical fuel pump duct taped to its valve cover and countless other little jury-rigged fixes. Dad and I were grinning like idiots, and the mountains seemed to reflect the laughter.
At the top of that same hill, I smile at the memory. I learned a lot from my father on that trip. The MGB does theoretically have a radio, but it hasn’t actually functioned since the mid-1970s. There’s nothing to do in the cabin but talk to each other – chats that usually begin with, “What’s that making a weird noise now? Is it serious? Are we going to break down again?” And, “Oh Lord, here we go again.”
Yet there’s also time to talk about more important stuff. My father’s childhood memories, not all of them happy. Our family’s peripatetic early life in British Columbia, travelling wherever Dad could find teaching jobs. What it was like to raise children then. What the challenges are now.
This year, spring came and went, and the trip was pushed back. Time seemed frozen in place. The kids were home constantly, which was great but all-encompassing. I missed the yearly chance to reconnect with my father.
As the road forks right, back down toward the small town of Lytton, I reflect on the cruelty of this pandemic. For the most part, the young are spared, but the oldest among us are the most vulnerable. When we lose them, we also lose their accumulated wisdom. I’m lucky that I can still call up my old man whenever I need to. Lucky, but worried. That constancy seems threatened these days.
The sign ahead says Lytton, Cache Creek and Hope. For the last destination, there’s 163 kilometres to go. The tunnels of the Fraser Canyon beckon. I last drove through here with Dad in an Audi R8. Mom had packed sandwiches. We sat on the banks of the river in companionable silence, the sound of that V10 still echoing in our ears.
At last, here’s Hope. My dad taught here for a time, before I was born. He made good and lasting friends, some of whom are gone now. Perched at the tail end of the Fraser Valley, Hope’s where people often stop to fill up before their summer road trip into the mountains of the Kootenays or the lakes of the Shuswap region, or into the Prairies and beyond. A lot of those summer plans are on hold now.
Half an hour later, I’m pulling up at my parents’ country place in Ryder Lake. It feels weird to hold my distance, not to hug them as soon as I see them. We sit and chat for a while. Dad and I look over the work he’s been doing on the MGB. He pulled it apart over the winter, and with all the downtime, has been piecing it back together exactingly. After a while, it’s time for me to head back home to my own family.
A few days later, Dad calls me up. The MGB is together and running for the first time since the fall of last year. It’s ready to go, when we are.
How soon? That much is unclear. But the road is still out there, waiting for my father and me. May we have years yet in which to travel it together. I miss those drives. But there’s hope.
Stay on top of all our Drive stories. We have a Drive newsletter covering car reviews, innovative new cars and the ups and downs of everyday driving. Sign up for the weekly Drive newsletter, delivered to your inbox for free. Follow us on Instagram, @globedrive.