I got up at 3 a.m. to drive into work. It's my day off.
So why would I do that? Because the driver of the first bus that leaves in the morning offered me a trip up to Whistler. I haven't been up there for about 7 years, and so haven't seen the new highway. I also want to see what changes have been made for the Olympics. I want to drive the route up there to see the drop-off points for the workforce crew, the order they are in, how far apart they are, and other details so that I can be better informed when I am asked questions by the workforce because, so far, I haven't been able to answer hardly any.
My car gives me a lot of trouble on the way in. Ever since I had the new alternator installed, as soon as it warms up it starts to feel like it will stall, even when on the highway going 100km per hour. It usually only lasts five minutes or so then all is fine for the rest of the trip. This time it starts almost straight away and doesn't stop for most of the drive in. It's stressing me out hugely as I just can't afford to get it fixed and I don't want to miss any work.
I get there alright and the bus is pulling up to it's spot as I get out of my van. We leave about ten minutes later with only one other passenger, a woman in her late 50's - I would guess - who is a RN and applied to volunteer with the medical department but is working in print media. Go figure.
It's dark the whole drive up, but the driver - Patrick - gives a running commentary on the points of interest along the way. I listen attentively and it's a good thing because later I will need to remember what he's saying but I don't know that right now.
It's about a two hour trip and it's still dark when we arrive. Patric takes our passenger to the last stop. As we turn into the road that runs along the back of the new part of Whistler village, the trees lining the road are completely lit up with tiny blue LED lights and it looks like a fairy land. I try to take a photo but it doesn't turn out. I need to be on a tripod or at least leaning the camera against a solid object that isn't moving.
Once we drop off our passenger at the Whistler Village stop, we head back where we came from but this time Patrick turns into the other three stops; the media center, Whistler Creekside, and the last one, the Athlete's Village. Only we can't see the village because it's behind a bank of trees but there's a huge tent set up behind a security checkpoint. The buses for the athletes must drive into the tent and stop where bomb sniffing dogs and their handlers will go over each vehicle with a fine tooth comb. Once cleared, then they can continue on to pick up the athletes and transport them to their venue.
On the way back down the highway the sun is rising and the Tantalus Mountain Range is lit up pink. Patrick pulls over to a lookout point so I can get out and take some pictures. While we are there, an RCMP SUV pulls up to check on us. Apparently, any bus or vehicle that stops they come over to check out now that all security is beefed up for the games. There are RCMP all over the place. Even one on every street corner.
When we stop later for a doughnut and hot chocolate at Tim Horton's, there are at least 20 RCMP in there and I joke with them about the stereotype of cops and doughnut shops is true. We ask where they are from. Some are from Langley, some are from Ontario, and others from Alberta.
Patrick told us on the way up that there is a pod of whales in Howe Sound at the moment so now I am on the lookout for them. I spot something in the water far below and watch it for a bit but it doesn't move so I assume it's a log. I mention it to Patrick and he looks over and says that it is a whale. What I thought was a branch is it's fin. I am squinting at it, trying to make it out when suddenly it disappears under the water. Yep. A whale. We also see a few bald eagles in the trees at the side of the road near a small river. Apparently there have been a few black bears on the sandbar just up a short way from the bridge we drive over but there aren't any around today.
I ask Patrick about the trouble I am having with my car and he thinks it might be something as simple as low transmission fluid. I tell him I just had the oil changed and asked them to check all of the fluid levels and specifically that one and they said it was fine. But he tells me that unless they checked while the vehicle was running and in drive, you can't tell if it's low. Well I know they didn't do that as I was sitting in the car the whole time. So I need to do that as soon as I can.
When we get back to BCIT, Olga joins us and we turn around to make the trip back up to Whistler with a new group - three women and one young man. This time we are going to Whistler Olympic Park which is on the south side about thirteen miles from Whistler Village. It is full daylight now as it is 10 a.m. and the sky is blue with a few clouds. As we drive along, Patrick tells me that I will now give the guided tour that he gave me earlier. So I try to recall everything he said and remember most of it as we pass the mine at Britannia Beach, which used to be the largest copper mine in the British Commonwealth, and as well mined some gold, and is now a museum; Shannon Falls, the second highest water fall in North America (or so Patrick said but when I check later at home, it's the third highest falls in B.C.); and The Stawamus Chief, the second largest rock and the largest granite rock-face in North America (or so said my ex).
It's a beautiful drive up in the daylight but so painfully free of any snow, at all, anywhere but on the highest peaks. Usually at this time of year, the snow is piled ten feet high at the side of the road where the plows have cleared it off. I know it's nothing we can do anything about, but it's kind of embarrassing. The whole world will be watching and there's no snow. In fact, I heard on the news yesterday that it's the warmest January on record since they started keeping records. There isn't any snow at the side of the road until we get to Whistler proper and then it's not anywhere close to what is normal.
We turn off at the road to WOP, the acronym we use all the time at BCIT, and before too long we pull into the large parking lot. There's another issue with the warm weather. A few of the huge areas they cleared for parking is so soft and wet, the buses get stuck. This is because they fully expected the ground to be frozen, as it should be in January. So now they are frantically trucking in gravel to fill and firm the soil in the last few days before the games start. So between trucking in gravel, and trucking in snow from Manning Park (a five hour trip, one way) to Cypress and then heli-lifting it to the runs, we must be going seriously over budget even more than anticipated. It's not cheap to rent those massive helicopters day in and day out. It's a nightmare, really. There's no other word for it.
There's a group of bus drivers just arrived on two buses along with the big boss from our post down at BCIT. He's brought a bunch of out-of-town divers up to learn the route and how the drop off and pick up will work in this huge lot. He is surprised to see me step off the bus and seems impressed that I would take a day off to come up here and learn the route.
When we head back I get a good look at the Peak to Peak Gondola that connects Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. It's really, really high up. My daughter rode it with her husband a few weeks ago and she said that when she looked down, she was terrified as they were hundreds of feet in the air. It looks terrifying from way down here. But I'd like to come back and ride it some day.