Thursday, September 28, 2017

Biking Vancouver Island: A Photo Journal

Vancouver Island, which lies in the southwest corner of British Columbia, is a paradise of old-growth forests, mountains, oceans, lakes, and rivers. It is a marvelous place for Bathing in the Forest, something I've come to appreciate more-and-more with time.

I first fell in love with Vancouver Island when I backpacked the rugged West Coast Trail in 2010.

My brother (BJ) and me, standing in front of Tsusiat Falls on the West Coast Trail in 2010.

I fell even more in love with Vancouver Island when I spent three weeks Exploring Vancouver Island by car in 2014.

Striking a pose at San Josef Bay in 2014.

And so when I had a few days free after housesitting on Salt Spring Island for a little bike trip, Vancouver Island tugged at my heartstrings.

Let's start at the beginning, on Salt Spring Island...

You may recall that I spent a month Housesitting on Salt Spring Island earlier this year. Lucky me found myself housesitting again on Salt Spring Island, this time for three weeks in August and September. It was the same awesome housesit and the same awesome kitty. Only this time, I had lovely weather -- no ice and no freezing temperatures.

I did my yoga on the deck every morning...

My personal outdoor yoga studio, which overlooked Fulford Harbor.

...and spent many hours reading aside the salty water.

I gobbled up all 900 pages of this fantastic novel while on Salt Spring.

Before I move on to the bike ride, I first want to share the photo below. I came across this pile of snakes as I was riding my bike on Salt Spring.  Given the sliminess and all the little squigglies, I'm guessing the big snake had just given birth. But, given that the snakes were in the middle of the road, it's also possible that the birth was shortly followed by a car-squishing death of the newly born babies.

I count at least eight baby snakes in this photo.
How many do you count?

Regardless of the events that had unfolded, this was a wonderful eyes-on biology lesson for me. I had always thought snakes gave birth via eggs. But apparently that isn't entirely true. The all-wise Google informed me that while some snakes lay eggs, others give birth to live young, while even others carry eggs internally until the eggs hatch and are born live. Yowsers! What did I learn? There is some crazy shit in nature!

Ok, back to the bike ride...

When my housesit ended, I took a 25-minute ferry ride from Salt Spring Island west to Vancouver Island to begin my cycling adventure.

The first order of business was finding a route to cycle. On my road trip through Vancouver Island a few years back, we used the Backroad Mapbook to navigate the numerous active and decommissioned logging and forest service roads that sprawl across the island's backcountry. The mapbook was a marvelous resource that teased me with years of exploratory options.

Unfortunately, the Mapbook wouldn't be too helpful on this trip. I had brought Shirley, my Surly LHT touring bike, with me. She was sporting her 1.5" tires, and so was somewhat limited in her off-road capabilities. If she had been wearing her big girl panties, I would have scouted out my own off-road route using the Backroad Mapbook. But since she wasn't properly equipped for rugged logging and forest service roads, I thought it best to stick to pavement and well-maintained trails.

In poking around on Crazy Guy on a Bike for route inspiration, I came across a fantastic website called Backroads Bike Touring. Created by Gregg Strong, a cyclist whose touring resume includes impressive international routes such as the Karakoram highway and the Indian Himalayas, the site includes a wealth of information about cycling touring on Vancouver Island. As a resident of the island, Gregg has published tons of information about routes that are both off-road- and pavement-friendly. Having read through the details of his suggested skinny-tire-friendly routes, I decided on the Cowichan Kinsol Port Renfrew Loop.

Below is a map of Vancouver Island and its surrounding region. You can see Vancouver Island's size (the island is ginormous!) and location with respect to Seattle (my homebase) and Salt Spring Island (where I housesat). You can also see the Cowichan Kinsol Port Renfrew Loop, which is the route I biked.

An overview of Vancouver Island and the surrounding region.
I biked the loop shown in blue.

The loop I cycled was 160-miles in length and had just under 11,000 feet of climbing. I rode the loop clockwise, starting in Duncan, heading south to Sooke, west to Port Renfrew, north to Lake Cowichan, and then back circling back to my starting point. I had originally thought I would casually ride the loop and tack on some side trips, for a 5-day/4-night trip. But the friend I stayed with before and after the trip, John, offered some non-biking alternative plans that it made it enticing for me to do the loop in 3-days/2-nights instead.

The Cowichan Kinsol Port Renfrew Loop.
Duncan, my starting and ending point, is at the top-right corner of the loop.

Here's a photo journal of my bike trip:

The first morning, I rode the few miles from John's house to join
up with the Cowichan Valley Trail, a 75 mile-long multi-use trail.
The trail passes over the wooden Kinsol Trestle.
Measuring 617 feet long and 144 feet high,
Kinsol is one of the highest rail trestles in the world.

 Just south of the trestle is this sign.
I wouldn't be surprised if the mentioned dog is a menacing chihuahua. 

The brand spanking new Sooke Hills Wilderness Trail is, hands-down,
the most beautifully groomed trail I have ever ridden.
Though the surface is pristine,
numerous steep 16% grades made for a challenging ride.
With nearly all my load on the back of the bicycle, I sometimes struggled to throw
enough weight over the front of my bike,
causing my front wheel to occasionally do a wheelie on the ascents. Not fun.

The Sooke Wilderness Trail has some fancy-schmancy river crossings...

...and some fancy schmancy gates, too.
This is the mostest awesomest brilliantest bike gate I've ever seen.
This gate has "hips" that easily accommodate loaded bikes.

 I met my first pavement of the route in the southeast corner of the loop,
on Humpback Road. The road is narrow and winding.
Signs instruct cars to sound their horns to signal their presence to oncoming traffic.

One advantage of traveling by bicycle is up-front-and-personal sign viewage.
The sign has been edited to read: "Sound Horn if your horny."
(The typo is a good indication that I am not the vandal.)

This signage along Sooke Road made me feel as though I was
back in The States, deep in redneck country.

There are plenty of stealth camping opportunities along the route.
Just off the well-known Galloping Goose trail,
this lovely, carpeted spot was home for one night.

A closure of the Todd Creek Trestle, along the Galloping Goose Trail,
warranted a 30-minute hike'n'bike detour through the surrounding woods.
There is one hellaciously steep, bare, dirt section along the detour.
A few four-letter words (ok, more like a lot) were required to push my bike up the incline.

I took a ten-mile roundtrip detour to visit Sooke Potholes Provincial Park.
The park is known for a series of deep pools along the Sooke River.
As I visited the park early in the morning, I had the whole place to myself!

The graffiti on the walls above the river was quite colorful.

I was enraptured by the morning dew that had settled on the leaves.
I took lots of photos similar to this one.

As I left the Provincial Park, I enjoyed this view of an old red barn,
with geese in the foreground. Canadian geese in Canada, oh my!

I chuckled when I rode past this sign, along the West Coast Road;
40 km/h (25 mi/h) seems pretty speedy when there are children on the highway!

Shirley, my Surly LHT, became all giddy when we passed a sign
announcing a town that shared her name.

I stopped at the Regional Park in Jordan River for a lunch break.
The oceanside view is glorious.

I particularly appreciated the zen art on the picnic table.

This is the view riding along the Strait of Juan de Fuca,
looking out across the strait towards the Olympic Mountains in Washington state.

The clouds and colors from the San Juan Bridge, just past Port Renfrew, were spectacular.

This image from Fairy Lake foreshadowed the beauty and solitude
I was about to experience riding along the remote Pacific Marine road.

All in all, the ride was a great mix of pavement and off-road trails, and a great mix of forests and water. The traffic on the paved roads was light, and the drivers were respectful. There was a plethora of stealth camping opportunities. Suffice it to say, I bathed in the forest for three endless days and wallowed in my solo adventure bliss. This trip was a great reminder that a bicycle adventure need neither be epic in length nor far away in distance to be enjoyable.

I'll leave you with a small-world story from my bike trip: On the first day of the trip, just before I started along the Sooke Hills Wilderness Trail, I met two sisters at a trailhead. They, like me, were visiting the area for a few days and had just biked along the Cowichan Valley Trail. On the last day of the trip, as I stopped for a break at the Glenora Trailhead Park, just a few miles shy from returning to Duncan, I saw the same two sisters! What a small world! We chatted again, swapping stories about our respective bike trips.

The next time I visit Vancouver Island, Shirley will be wearing her big girl panties, and we will begin to trace the many lines in the Backroads Mapbook. I know there is still plenty to love about Vancouver Island.


  1. Hey Sarah, nice pics and story. Thx!

    1. Thanks, Gregg. And thanks for the inspiration to ride this loop!

  2. letsee 160 miles, 11000 feet of climbing and four letter words?? I would say you and Shirley BOTH had your big girl panties on!! Great ride, great pics.

    And I had no idea snakes didn't lay eggs!! You are an inspiration as always!

    1. Thanks, kid. Glad to know I wasn't the only one who didn't know about snake birth. 😀

    2. You know, I thought about you on my ride to the beach. I started wondering two things. 1) how did you decide on house sitting as a way to supplement your income after escaping corporate life, and 2) how did you go about getting your first customers? I'm assuming most would want references....

      These are just some of the things that my mind pondered this weekend :)

    3. Such a random ponderment! :)

      1) When I returned from my cross-country bike trip a few years ago, I had no place to live. I thought up ways that I could live inexpensively and without a long-term commitment, and housesitting came to mind!

      Housesitting doesn't supplement my income, per say, as I don't charge to housesit. It does, however, save on the expense side, as I don't have to pay for living expenses.

      2) My first housesit was for a friend who went biking overseas for a few months. I used his reference as a leverage, and the rest is history!

  3. One must NEVER assume! I just thought you did charge but I VERY much see the mutual win win! You have the place to live at no charge but groceries and they have the peace of mind of a safe house and pets at no charge! LOVE this!

    And I was going to bet it was a friend. I am so happy this has worked so well!

    And very true, the ponder hit about mile 40 and didn't pop out again until I saw the road kill Turkey vulture...

    1. One can always rely on vultures to break one's train of thought. 😀


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