After returning from several years living in Japan and France I suddenly realized how dependent I had become on public transportation. Prior to globetrotting I had always owned a car. I also realized how woefully inadequate the transportation alternatives are in Vancouver. Of course, a bicycle is fine for running most errands around town. The problem cropped-up when I tried to resume my outback-bent lifestyle. In Japan many trailheads are easily accessible by train or bus. In fact, rail companies publish impressive booklets detailing hiking trails and other recreational opportunities along their lines. By contrast, the underlying assumption here in western Canada, has been that everybody has a car. When I first contacted the Maverick Coachlines to find out what kinds of activities were accessible along their routes, a staff member declared that they were not a public transportation company. At BC Rail the reception was icy, as if invaders from a far-flung galaxy were wasting the 1-800 service. BC Car-Free garnered a lot of media interest when it first came out, more out of disbelief than anything else.

That was 2000. Fast forward to 2020 and both Maverick Coachlines and BC Rail are ancient history. So is Pacific Coach Lines and Greyhound too, in western Canada. Yet in their places are a myriad of shuttles: ParkBus has a regular shuttle to Golden Ears Provincial Park, Joffre Lakes, Garibaldi Provincial Park and even Cypress Provincial Park in North Vancouver. LIVV Adventures connects Joffre Lakes, Garibaldi Lake and Black Tusk and the Stawamus Chief near Squamish. No car needed. Websites routinely include directions by transit. Hard as it is to believe that never happened at the turn of the century. Nowadays, TransLink is even onboard with directions for recreational riders.

At the time, very few guidebooks even paid lip service to public transportation. Even in those situations where heading out on one bus and returning by another one makes perfect sense, most guidebook authors told their readers to arrange to have a car left at both ends of the trail instead. Clearly some changes to the traditional mind set were in order.

BC Car-Free is ideal for those who have been thinking about getting into the outdoor thing but don't know where to start. Newcomers to the Vancouver area will find BC Car-Free the perfect introduction to all that coastal British Columbia has to offer. For budget travelers, BC Car-Free fills a much-needed gap, enabling visitors to explore the oft-touted wonders of the province without the expense, worry and danger of driving in a strange, foreign land.

When I first started this project of course I did a literature search and was startled to find that many guidebook authors, encouraged by their publishers no doubt, purposefully tried to include as little information as possible. Their motivation was not laziness per se, but rather a desire to extend the shelf life of their books. After all a completely empty book would never go out of date. Here is an illuminating quote from one of these books:

"Descano Bay is the Gabriola terminus for ferries from downtown Nanaimo; schedules are available on BC ferries, or at the Infocentre in Nanaimo. Check telephone directories or inquire at local outlets for information on the air transportation and water taxis to the island, and taxis and bicycle rentals on Gabriola."

Gems like this are sprinkled throughout this particular book which is by no means atypical. The reason we purchase a guidebook is so we can have just that kind of information at our fingertips in advance without riffling through telephone directories or contacting local outlets. While not very useful for the reader such an approach makes great sense to both publisher and author since the book will not require updating very often.

BC Car-Free will require frequent updating. In fact I have no doubt that some parts of the book will be out-of-date by the time it rolls off the press. Phone numbers change, businesses fail, prices go steadily up. But the point of creating this book is to provide a kind of one-stop shopping for information so readers can quickly make plans, get an idea of how much their trip is going to cost, develop a clear picture of the kind of services which will be available, phone ahead for reservations and jump on the bus.

The other cardinal sin many guide book writers fall heir to is what I called the turn-left-at-the-next-sword-fern syndrome. Too often writers over-describe the route creating not a clear picture but confusion in the reader’s mind. The truth of the matter is most people use a guide book to get to the trailhead and then just follow the dotted line. Nobody looks for the next sword fern from which to turn left. I must admit that I’m somewhat guilty of this sin too but I have tried to minimize it. I give you everything you need to get to the trailhead and quickly walk you through a route which suited me at the time. When it comes to multi-day backpacking or kayaking or canoeing trips then it becomes necessary to make decisions about route, camping and so on that fit your schedule.

Determined to avoid the headaches and expense of owning a car, I set out to find out just what could be undertaken without one. This book, then, is the fruit that effort.

We live in a time where owning a car is an expense many people just do not want to contend with. More and more people — especially the enlightened young — are choosing, for financial, environmental or lifestyle reasons, to forego the dinosaur. I, for example, can work one day less a week, without a car to support. I have 52 three-day weekends every year!

Yet as a society we routinely oppose the establishment of intelligent public transit alternatives in our neighbourhoods, preferring to send noxious, chronic lung-disease-causing fumes to our neighbours up the Fraser Valley than to make the transition to communal modes of getting around. We complain about road rage, gridlock, crowded highways, unused commuter lanes and then we dash out to buy bigger, better, faster sports-utility vehicles. More than half a million cars hit the tarmac daily in the Lower Mainland. That’s more than one car per household. On any statutory holiday expect the local news crews to be out eliciting inevitable comments from travellers stuck in ferry line-ups. Such trite tirades are rendered moot if we consider that every one of those stalled at ferry terminals would have boarded in a timely fashion had they left their dogma at home in the garage. Unlike most of the rest of the world, we are stuck in a time warp dating back to the 1950s.

This book is dedicated to and written for those who do not want to sit around complaining about the high cost of gasoline or auto insurance at dinner parties, do not want to spend their Thursday afternoons getting a brake job, who dislike parking fines, speeding tickets and tow trucks with equal ardour.

Put another way, for every $100 Canadians spent on retail purchases in 1999, $35 of that was spent on their cars, $8 on home furnishings and electronics, $10 on clothing and $20 on food. Obviously getting rid of the dinosaur can be economically liberating.

Finally this book is a message. There is a growing constituency which believes we already have enough pavement, we just need to start using it better.

The End

All the guide books tell you to boil, filter and chemically treat all water and I will too just to cover my butt in the event of liability issues. I always disregard this good advice, drinking directly from the stream, and thus far have never been sick. If you choose to enjoy the taste of unadulterated stream water too then you did so of your own volition. If the water made you sick then it’s your fault and not the fault of this book or the bear which crapped upstream.

Whatever your choice is get your water from clear running brooks not from lakes or ponds. Water from snow pack is better than water from glaciers. The latter contains too much clay. Carry lots of water, at least 40 litres, whenever kayaking as good water can be surprisingly hard to find on the wet coast of Canada. A green algae bloom in tide pools or wet patches trickling across a beach does not mean something horrible died in the water. It just means the water is brackish. Freshwater will be found up the slope.


Giardia cysts can exist under the most pristine, wilderness conditions. Clear running water is not a sure sign that it is drinkable.

Illustration by Manami Kimura

If your source of water is at a popular camping spot then go upstream away from the camp to get your drinking water. Take great pains to clean yourself and your dishes or clothing well away from the bank of any water body or the water will become polluted. Leftover food does not belong in the water. If fires are allowed and it is safe to do so, burn it. Try to avoid using soaps or detergents but when you must only use the biodegradable kind available from outdoor stores.

Fevered Beavers

Beavers have gotten a bad rap, taking most of the blame for spreading a disease that can just as easily be passed into the water system by deer, muskrats, raccoons, coyotes and squirrels. Indeed any mammal including domestic pets, livestock and humans are guilty of carrying the protozoan parasite into the backcountry.

Giardia lambia, as the microbe is called, enters the environment in hardy cyst form where it can survive for weeks at a time. Giardia cysts can exist under the most pristine, wilderness conditions. Clear running water is not a sure sign that it is drinkable. Ingestation of a single cyst is enough to cause infection in humans. The hard, capsule-like shell dissolves, releasing the infectious form of the parasite which multiplies exponentially.

Full-blown giardiasis may take from 5 to 25 days to manifest itself though symptoms typically appear within 10 days. The giardia protozoa latch themselves on to the intestinal tract, severely impairing the body's ability to absorb nutrients and water. Food and water pass straight through the digestive system instead, appearing as the principal symptom of giardiasis, diarrhea. Infection usually lasts for around two weeks and is usually treated with antibiotics though some individuals may never show symptoms at all and others recover without treatment. Giardiasis has been known to persist for months on end in those with weakened immune systems.

The best treatment of course is prevention and prevention typically means water purification. The surest method of water treatment is boiling. Five minutes at a steady boil will destroy every living organism in the water. Additional time is needed at higher elevations. Boiled water can be bland and dull tasting. Shaking oxygen back into it will help improve the taste.

Expensive, heavy filters are available which claim to strain out giardia lambia. Studies have shown however that not all filters are effective. In order to effectively purify water the filter porousness must be no bigger than 0.2 microns. Such fine filters are hard to pump but produce great tasting water. Chlorine-based water treatments are not effective against giardia cysts. Iodine treatments fare better but studies have shown that a typical 20 minute treatment is not enough to eliminate all cysts. Eight hours is the minimum required for effective iodine treatment. Iodized water tastes horrible however and in rare cases may cause thyroid problems.

The End

Notable Quotes is a wonderful collection of 94 outdoor adventures you can enjoy using public transportation.

-- the Common Reader; Common Ground Magazine