17 July 2015

A short tour on Vancouver Island

If our (obviously millions of) readers will forgive us for an astronomical jump in time and place with little to no explanation, we'd like to tell the story of a recent four day tour on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Finding ourselves in Vancouver with some free time, we decided to take advantage and go for what we thought would be a fun, relaxed tour to ease us back into things after a long time off the bike. But, as we learned over and over again, things are never that simple in Canada... Still, we managed to enjoy ourselves in the hot BC summer, and it felt great to be back on the bikes, even if for only a few days.

After a long cycle to Horseshoe Bay to the north of Vancouver, we board a ferry over to the island. The views aren't as  spectacular as they could be because of the haze in the air from several wildfires nearby.

After a quick stop in the supermarket once on the island, we head out of Nanaimo in the evening light, first attempting to ride the section of the Trans-Canada Trail here but diverting to the quiet paved road after discovering stairs and other undesirable elements on the trail. 

Around 8:30pm we arrive at a locked gate across the road, with a sign indicating that the road will reopen in the morning. Unsure of how seriously these things are taken, we decide to camp just before the gate. It´s our first hint that, in Canada, just because a road appears on the map doesn't mean you can ride it.

Early the next morning, we come across yet another locked gate, showing no signs of opening soon. We speak to a couple of workers who are nearby and they eventually agree to let us pass, as long as we don't tell anyone they saw us! Apparently most of the back roads in the area are actually private and can be closed any time the logging companies see fit, such as now due to the high risk of fires. On the other hand, we are guaranteed traffic free riding for the rest of the day!

It's hot out there, but luckily there are still some flowing creeks for refilling the water bottles. We have about a 600m climb ahead of us.
As we head up the climb, we keep seeing plenty of what we are pretty sure is bear poop along the road. Then, just before the summit, we get confirmation - a small black bear on the side of the road, which luckily bolts as soon as he sees us. We're relieved to have our first bear sighting out of the way, and hoping not to see too many more

Finally, we crest the top of the pass and enjoy the steep descent down the other side, making as much noise as possible to scare away any other lurking bears.

At dusk, we pull off down a disused dirt track and find an ideal spot to pitch the tent. No need for the rainfly as it´s bone dry these days. 
Having camped without much water, we pedal a few kilometers in the morning to Gordon Bay Provincial Park, where we stop to cook breakfast with a view and take a cleansing dip in the cool waters. 

At only 9am, we can tell the day is going to be a hot one. 

Fortunately for us, much of the day is spent on the Cowichan Valley trail, a disused railway which offers plenty of shade. 

We also get to cross the impressive Kinsel Trestle.

We are unceremoniously dumped at the end of the Cowichan Valley trail, having not found any water en route. We stop at a house to ask for water and it turns out we have stumbled upon Don and Lora, two hardcore mountain bikers who share stories of their trips to ride all over the US and Canada. They offer us a place to stay for the night and some delicious blueberry waffles and bacon in the morning!
We are also able to replace Lucy's small chain ring, which had been acting up after we changed the rest of the drivetrain. We had been carrying the new one around Vancouver Island but didn't have the tools to fix it. No problem, Don has a dream workshop with all tools necessary! 
We also learn from Don and Lora that our planned route towards Victoria goes through a restricted zone, where access is very controlled. Together we determine our best course of action - to take the busy highway a few kilometers north and catch the Mill Bay Ferry across to the Saanitch Peninsula. It means a pretty low-mileage day, and some stressful time on one of the busiest roads we´ve ridden in quite a while. Fortunately we have the positive vibes of Don and Lora to accompany us!

On the Saanitch peninsula we make our way to our warmshowers hosts Frances and Al, who live right on the water. The haze is still lingering but even so it's a beautiful spot.

Another goodbye in the morning and we are off to catch the ferry back from Swartz Bay to Tsawwassen on the mainland.

From Tsawwassen, it's a half day's ride back to Vancouver. While waiting for the shuttle to take us across a tunnel that is closed to cyclists (yes such things do exist in these civilised parts of the world), we meet Louis and have the pleasure of riding with him the rest of the way to Vancouver. He's come from the Pacific Coast trail and is headed east across Canada now. It's been a long time since we've gotten to hang out and compare notes with other cycle tourists -- we missed it and it makes us want to get back on the bikes!