Paranoia On The 1
by Jeff Lewis

We hoped to leave Vancouver effortlessly, making a smooth transition eastward from Highway 91 to Highway 99A/1A and finally to Highway 1—the Trans-Canada Highway—which would take us out of town.  I get lost easily, however, even within miles of home, on streets I’ve navigated hundreds of times, so I’d tempered my hope with a conservative estimate that it could take about half an hour to reach the 1, which was about four miles from our hotel, as the crow flies.  I didn’t consider several key factors when making this estimate, though:

  1. Vancouver doesn’t have full-fledged highways running through downtown.  The highways abruptly become surface streets, with only a passing nod to their highway status.
  2. The highway numbering scheme is bedeviled.  From the north, the 99 turns into the 1, then the 1A, back to the 99, and if you aren’t paying close attention, deposits you at the airport.
  3. Our maps included unnamed highway branches, so that for our
    trip out of town, our route was:  91 to the ? to the 99A/1A to the ?A to the 1.
  4. I didn’t look at the map carefully.  I relied heavily on providence to maneuver us through Vancouver.

Within minutes of setting out from our hotel, the street signs implied that we were on our way to Seattle.  We didn’t want to go to Seattle, so we opted for the unspecific highway branch that didn’t lead to Seattle.  This presented us with several navigational choices that we botched.  The result was a series of large loop-de-loops, with our route bouncing back and forth between what we thought were the Second Narrows Bridge on the Burrard Inlet and the Pattullo Bridge on the Fraser River, about six miles apart.  It took us a little while to discern that these were not two bridges, but in fact were both the Pattullo Bridge.  This realization came from the lucky chance that we’d gone so far off course that we’d strayed onto a detailed tourist map that showed the names of a few surface streets.  Eventually, we more or less righted ourselves and found Highway 1A, which paralleled the Trans-Canada Highway.  Unfortunately, the 1A took us through 25 miles of strip malls before finally connecting with the 1.

This two-hour journey from our hotel to the Trans-Canada Highway irreparably damaged my confidence in Canadian street signs and my ability to decipher them.  For the next 800 miles of our trip through southern British Columbia, each highway split made me cower.  Should we take the 3 or the 3A?  How does the 33 fit into all of this?  I see the 97C; whither the A or B?

Added to this was an unease, caused by hundreds of miles of winding, two-lane mountain roads, with thick trees right up to the shoulder.  At one point, while we were hemmed in by a trailer in front and a car passing to our left, a pretty cow elk bounced up to the side of the road, poised for a dash into traffic.  As anyone who’s read Car and Driver knows, Honda Accords do not perform well in head-on collisions with elk.  With their long legs and massive bodies, elk are designed—through natural selection—to deliver a punishing blow to the windshield of a mid-sized sedan.  Behavioralists currently debate the meaning of this phenomenon.  Is it a predatory act or are they emulating Victorian suffragettes?  Or perhaps they’re just stupid.  Personally, I just worried over the end result, but in my case a simple tap on the horn sent the cow elk bounding back into the woods.  Still, I remained concerned about the rest, still lurking, waiting to pounce.

Topping off my paranoia, twice we saw drivers make passes on blind turns.  I do not like this passing technique.  I prefer not to see headlights in my lane when I round a bend.  I love my Canadian cousins to the north, but wish they’d show more patience in their F-150s and will happily get used to their highway numbering scheme if they give me that.

Copyright Jeff Lewis, 2004