(continued from Part 2: Four corners of the Haida Gwaii by bicycle)
Ferries provide access all the way down British Columbia’s otherwise inaccessible coast. From the Haida Gwaii, this was the peaceful expressway to access southern British Columbia without making a huge diversion inland. Port Hardy, at the northern tip of Vancouver Island, was the port of arrival for the push to southern Vancouver Island and ultimately Vancouver, and it was also where my cycling partner hopped on a bus leaving me to ride solo again. This time however, I was rolling into familiar territory with plenty of friendly faces on the horizon.
Vancouver Island is much bigger than the island designation in its name tends to lead people to believe. In fact, the island is about the size of the Netherlands, and here I was, setting out to pedal entirely across it. The first 230km were a challenging bit of wild road: while beautiful, it was narrow with limited visibility – for a cyclist with a fully loaded bike, this was a nerve-wracking experience in trying to stay alive and to avoid getting clipped by vehicles speeding by. Beyond this, one crosses an invisible line at Campbell River which delineated the beginning of my gradual return to civilization as I ultimately pointed my bicycle towards my urban destination.
Separating Vancouver Island and the mainland of British Columbia is an island-dotted area known as the Salish Sea, and this is where my meandering path through to Vancouver would take me. Between water hopping on the ferries and rolling on the packed earth, bike touring was a great way to see this part of country even amidst the challenging weather. After many weeks of wilderness, this final leg felt like a victory lap: full of fresh food, drink, and many pit stops with old friends (and new ones who reached out to host me on Instagram) along the way.
The Inside Passage from Prince Rupert to Port Hardy is a beautiful, full day journey with BC Ferries.
Dark depths below a bright surface hint at the abundant life these waters hold.
The aptly named Northern Expedition returns south. This route covers so much ground, yet there are very few signs of human activity along its route. It really feels like an expedition amongst predominantly untamed wilderness.
Arriving in Port Hardy to the friendliest parents of a friend of a friend. Good company and merriment around a plentiful bounty of food that Bob served up was such a treat!
It’s always nice when the locals are happy to show you around (and when you can help out in little ways to show your appreciation for their generosity, like taking their four-legged companions for a walk).
It’s safe to say that I was well fed and rested as I continued south from the northern tip of Vancouver Island – certainly more so that I had been in a long while.
Day one on this leg of the journey was a beautiful North Vancouver Island day; one of many unseasonably so, but for which a bicycle tourist such as myself was very grateful. One important thing I did learn in my time spent in Port Hardy however was that there was a massive late summer storm on its way. Mindful of this, I was pushing pretty hard to cover the northern ribbon of road that ran ~300km through otherwise wilderness and logging industry.
Around mid-afternoon every day the search for a place to call home for the night would begin – however that was now shifting earlier, since coming south meant there were suddenly much fewer daylight hours to work with. Sometimes a camp site came in the form of signage off the main road, venturing away from the paved arteries to strike a wilderness camp, or in this case following hand drawn directions from a small town pub to guide me through the labyrinth of North Vancouver Island’s logging roads.
Arriving late after a few wrong turns on the unmarked roads, I finally arrived at what I thought was Woss Lake. This camp site, along with most of them this far north on the island, had been set up by a local logging company and was unmaintained (and also free to stay at). With this rustic but functional setup, I foraged some labrador leaves in the bushes near camp and was looking forward to a warm pot of tea, which was plenty luxurious for me.
At sunrise, my suspicions were confirmed that I had indeed found beautiful Woss Lake.
Almost all of the old growth forest had been previously harvested, but the second growth was doing well.
Another beautiful, rustic campground set up by a logging company was discovered through some more word of mouth. This day was a shorter ride than that previous because the mountain passes the road crossed over were wearing me down and the next camp was a long ways ahead for those of us relying on pedal power.
Lingering old growth…
…mirrored by a weathered carving of an old man’s face in a tree moved far from its original roots.
Interestingly, Dick’s Fish and Chips here in Campbell River was the first seafood I was able to find on the bike tour thusfar! The restaurants on the Haida Gwaii, few as the were, were unable to serve local fish because of a lack of legal food inspection.
Like the eagle I moved from one territory to the next, walking amongst the urban…
…and then retreating to the wilderness…
…appreciating modern-day luxuries next to natural wonders that have drawn us in for ages, like a simple campfire.
With everyone constantly talking about the impending heavy rain (beginning in a day or so at this point), I was getting a bit nervous about what I would do to shelter from the weather. All signs pointed to this storm being a big one that harboured pent up energy from the normal rains that had mysteriously not come this year. At the last minute, I finally made the decision to head over to Quadra Island to strike a good camp to wait out the storm for a few days.
The nature of things is that everything eventually wears out. Ever since a particularly gruelling day climbing out of stormy and muddy Rennell Sound on the Haida Gwaii a couple weeks earlier, my bike had been making noisy pleas for attention. Like is sometimes the case with a crying baby however, it was hard to figure out exactly what was wrong and what she needed. It turned out that bike shops were far and few between where I’d been riding and only here on Quadra Island, thousands of kilometers away from the first squeak, did I finally catch wind of a fellow who could look over my bike. A friendly chat with a barista pointed me towards a second pair of eyes who could help me out and, one quick phone call to his friend later, I was off on the side roads seeking out a place called “Naked Bicycles.”
It turns out that Sam Whittingham operates his not-so-ordinary bike shop, Naked Bicycles, out of an old family home on the island and is a world renowned frame builder rather than an ordinary shop. Despite my somewhat odd request, he was happy to take a closer look at some of my bike issues. We swapped stories along the way, as he was no stranger to bike touring himself and totally understood the situation I was in. We never did find the source of the problem though.
Farewell clear sky.
With camp set up and preparations made, the sun dipped below the horizon and I enjoyed the calm before the storm.
On the west coast, some people run for shelter when the weather comes in, while others grab their surfboards and head for the water.
With nowhere to warm up or dry off, I chose shelter this time around. Catching up on my note taking, many pages of my homemade notebook were filled to the sound of wind and rain swirling all around me. When the relentless weather felt like it would never end, advice tucked away from a fortune cookie reminded me, “You do not have to worry about the future.”
Ripped from limbs, fresh forest deadfall covers the forest floor in a beautiful contrast of life and decay.
The storm ended up living up to its hype and broke records by dumping as much rain in 24 hours as this wet part of the world usually receives in an entire year. Grateful for high ground and my hammock-tent being off the forest floor itself, I sheltered beneath this small tarp and poncho for four full days.
Between storm clouds I dashed south when I saw a window in the weather, making it on to the ferry – still though, it was raining when I disembarked in Powell River. Wet and worn out, I checked into the first and only motel of the entire trip. This room might not look like much to you, but after six weeks on the road I tell you it was absolutely luxurious to my weary body.
Hungry, and probably looking more than a little wild, on check-in I inquired about recommendations for food and drink in the area. The lady gave me some great advice and palmed me a can of Coors Light to help me settle in while I cleaned up in my room. Now, I am a homebrewer and usually not one to reach for light beers, but this thoughtful gift really hit the spot on this day.
Needless to say, it wasn’t too long before I found myself across town at the local craft brewery: Townsite Brewing. This was more my style.
Onwards from Powell River, the road wound through the ups and downs of the Sunshine Coast. Though it’s part of the mainland, this entire area is wedged between steep mountains and the sea; so much so that you cannot access it except by ferry which isolates it from the rest of the world like an island.
As such, life here revolves around the edge of the Salish Sea.
Turbulent weather was the story over and over again as I wound my way along the coast…
…which only amplified the gratitude I had for friends who opened their doors to me on my way south.
Finally, the sun shone down on the Sunshine Coast and everyone emerged to enjoy its warmth.
Rare days like these were an absolute dream for bicycle touring.
A seal that had kept an eye on me as I kept an eye on him. It is a dream of mine to one day live near the Salish Sea and be able to toss some snorkelling gear into my bike basket, pedal down to the nearby coast, put my camera in a waterproof housing, and go duck diving in the water with friendly locals like this harbour seal.
Arriving at Horseshoe Bay, steps away from being back on the mainland proper.
Fading light as I reentered the urban wilderness.
A brilliant Vancouver sunset welcomes me.
One of the things I love about the west coast is that I am not the only one embracing the active living lifestyle.
Arriving to friends, live music, and good times is another. This talented musician is Joline Baylis, and her parents happen to also be the lovely hosts that took care of me earlier in Port Hardy.
With the daily chores of camp and travel behind me, I was reacquainted with my old friend known as “free time” and finally able to begin some much-needed processing of what I had experienced during the bike tour. Despite naturally being someone who is recharged by time in nature, as I mentioned in a Pecha Kucha talk I recently gave, amidst the work involved with travelling this way there was little time for photography, writing, and contemplation on the road. The luxury of these higher pursuits is only available once your base survival needs are met and on the road it took a lot of energy to merely ensure that.
A Vancouver nightscape.
Every once in a while one comes upon an obstacle on the road which a bike can’t pass. I’ve thrown my bike and myself into the back of a truck many times to get beyond construction zones, but this was the first time I’d been forced to strap my bike to the front of a bus because of a major bicycle infrastructure choke point: to reach the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal to access Victoria from Vancouver, you need to go through the George Massey Tunnel to get past the mighty Fraser River. No bikes are allowed and there is no alternative bike route without adding ~50km to bypass to an eastern bridge.
Leaving unneeded supplies back in Vancouver, the ride was light and swift to visit some friends in and around Sooke on Vancouver island. After so much training with a heavy load, pedalling never felt so easy. Here on the Galloping Goose trail – an old rail line converted into a walking/cycling trail – summer’s last days had already passed and autumn’s first leaves had fallen.
An old friend introduces me to his fresh little boy and takes us both on his favourite trail to Mystic Beach. This area is the beginning of a larger multi-day trail known as the Juan de Fuca trail, and hiking it in its entirety has since been added to my bucket list.
“Just park with the others out front.”
Exploring the tidal pools of Botanical Beach at the other end of the Juan de Fuca trail with another friend.
On trips like these, there comes a point where you know in your heart that it is time to mark the end of it. This familiar view is the last ferry ride on this bicycle tour – the last of ten in total!
Waiting at a bus stop in the middle of absolute nowhere, because there weren’t enough bike carriers on the last two buses at the ferry terminal to accommodate all the cyclists. I gave up my spot in line so that a couple could travel together, and was now wondering if that was the wisest choice. Improvising, I had arrived at this remote bus stop here trying to find an alternative route back to Vancouver and the train that would ultimately take me back to Winnipeg. After an hour sitting on the side of the road, there was still no bus to help me get through the tunnel.
Almost there (the bus did eventually come).
There. Though at this point I feel a bit like I imagine this carved stump might feel: a piece of the wild out of place amidst the urban bustle around me.
Heading back east, familiar Jasper mountain peaks from two months previous were now dusted with snow. They served as a physical reminder of the time that has passed since we last crossed paths.
Two days later, as the sun setsto the west far behind the train, it silhouetted a grain elevator and prairie landscape that I had missed. On Quadra Island I stumbled upon a memorial for someone who perished in a nearby shipwreck, and there was a sign that read, “Only take from this place nourishment for the soul, consolation for the heart, and inspiration for the mind.” This sentiment sums up what I brought home with me from this bike tour well. Back in familiar environs, I share the stories and their lessons of experience – I hope you find in them nourishment for the soul, consolation for the heart, and inspiration for the mind.
Previous: Part 2: Four corners of the Haida Gwaii by bicycle.