All great trips start with a single idea, and we had been thinking about this one for quite some time. Although we have visited most of the southern Gulf Islands, many of them several times, we had yet to explore the northern Gulf Islands. They are a bit farther away and more complicated to get to from Vancouver. In addition, a weekend, or even a long weekend is not enough time to do a decent bike tour there.
The stars finally aligned in early September when we decided to take off for ten days. While it didn’t make sense to fly anywhere, combined with the fact that we don’t have a car and that it’s been such an amazing summer in Vancouver we decided to stay local.
The first and probably only hurdle on this trip was leaving Vancouver. We were aiming for the 12:50 ferry from Horseshoe Bay, so not exactly an early start. Since we’ve already biked to Horseshoe Bay a few times in the past we really had no desire to do it again with the trailer since the road is quite narrow, with many blind corners. So we opted to take the bus from downtown. The problem though was that due to a movie filming, Georgia street was closed!
We finally made it to Horseshoe Bay and managed to get on our ferry, which was already boarding. The ferry was packed and since we didn’t have time to buy food in Horseshoe Bay like we had planned, we were stuck with ferry food, which we ate of course by the Kids Zone.
We headed for the bike trail that promised to lead us through Nanaimo, avoiding the main road. However just as we started riding we noticed this sweet and familiar smell all around us. We immediately realized what it was – blackberries! So we had to make our first stop, about 500 meters after we finally started riding. That was our first blackberry stop of many. In Vancouver it wasn’t a great blackberry summer and most of them had dried out early. In this area though, it seemed that the blackberries were just at their peak.
We arrived to our Warmshowers hosts a bit dehydrated after a hot and sweaty ride. Bob and Dorothy greeted us at the entrance of their home like old friends and with fresh homemade pizza that just came out of the oven. Our trip was definitely off to a good start!
After a good night’s sleep we were finally ready to embrace the first long day of cycling. We arranged to meet our friends Jan & Warrick at the Qualicum Bay First Nation Campground, a distance of over 50km, so we knew we had to make it there. Luckily most of the ride was flat and very scenic. We managed to leave Nanaimo on quiet roads and then had to ride a short distance on the big highway, about five km or so. That was the only section on the entire trip where we cycled on a major road. The shoulders were wide though and those five kilometers passed quickly.
We managed to ride about 30 kilometers before lunch and were ready for a long break when we reached Qualicum Beach. It was the perfect spot since we could have lunch, swim, play in the sand, and have ice cream all together.
Then we carried on and when a red van pulled over in front of us we knew Jan & Warrick had found us. After quick hugs and hellos we sent most of our gear with them in the van and carried on to the campground a bit lighter, not before yet another blackberry stop.
It being a long weekend the campground was almost full but Jan and Warrick managed to score an ocean view spot and Jan spoiled us with elk stew.
Our neighbours at the campground, who stayed in a cozy camper, were from Calgary and were in awe of all this beauty, calling it paradise, and reminding us once again how lucky we are to live so close to it all. Over breakfast we looked over at Hornby & Denman and the Sunshine Coast, awaiting us, and we were excited to start another day.
Hornby & Denman
We arrived to Buckley Bay and made a quick stop at the fish shop to get supplies for lunch. The ferry to Denman runs on cables and Neil was very excited to see those cables ferrying us the whole ten minutes to the other side. We decided to head first to Hornby Island, and we cycled along the ocean making another swim stop at a nice beach, which involved going down a steep gravel hill. Of course more blackberries were consumed on the beach and later on Hornby.
After our nice swim break it took a while to push the bikes back up to the road and we thought we’d barely make it to the ferry to Hornby. However the ferry was running late due to large volume on the other side. It was a bit hard to believe because when we finally boarded the ferry there were only two other cars crossing with us.
On the other side though it was indeed a different story. When we cycled up the typical “Gulf Islands ferry hill” there was a huge lineup of at least 200 cars waiting to cross so we were happy we were going against the traffic.
We cycled to the campground at Tribune Bay where we set up camp for two nights. We weren’t too impressed with the campground and the over priced rates they were charging, but the location was convenient, right by the ‘heart’ of the island and by a beautiful beach. In the morning we woke up to smoky skies which made the lighting very strange. It didn’t stop our neighbours from having a fire that evening despite the complete fire ban in the area.
We checked out a few beaches that day and Neil had fun riding his bike on the beach at Tribune Bay, which was like a natural amusement park. At Whaling Station Bay Beach we managed to see many whales far away which was neat.
Our next stop was back on Denman Island where we set up camp for one night at Fillongley provincial campground. It was a far cry from the campground in Hornby which was huge and still had lots of people. Fillongley only had ten spots and most of them were empty. We spent another afternoon swimming and playing in the sand, and later on took a trip to a farm we saw on the way. We enjoyed fruit and local apple juice on the farm, but then something very strange happened – it started to rain!
When we left Vancouver it was so incredibly hot and since we hardly saw a drop of rain the entire summer we really didn’t think of that possibility. We did bring our rain jackets, but it was more of an afterthought, and we completely forgot about the windows for the trailer and the tarp. Luckily the owner of the farm, Larry, was quite the handyman and when Gili asked him about a tarp he immediately gave us a big piece of plastic and some string.
Vancouver Island Again
We were back on Vancouver Island for just another day and after getting off the ferry at Buckley Bay we made another stop at the fish shop since the salmon there was so good. We stopped in Royston for lunch and then since there was a trail we could take for a km or so Neil rode his balance bike with us. Of course at that point it started raining again but that didn’t bother Neil at all. Since one km was not enough for him to ride we let him go down a hill. Neil is an excellent biker and he hardly ever falls, but of course there is always this one exception…
Neil rode down the hill very fast, but then instead of stopping he decided to turn back on to the trail we had come from. The trail however turned to gravel and Neil crashed head first. We ran over to him and the first thing I noticed was blood – there was so much blood coming from his mouth. A quick check revealed that he didn’t lose or broke any teeth which was really good. He cried for a good ten minutes. The moment we said that we’ll be biking to Comox and find some ice cream he agreed to go back into the trailer. The injuries were minor, a cut on his lip and chin, but a lip injury brings out a lot of blood for sure.
It rained for the rest of the day and we were happy we had arranged Warmshowers hosts for that night. Jack and Jessie live on the outskirts of Comox in a beautiful house overlooking the ocean. Jack was already busy preparing dinner when we arrived which included fresh red snapper. Since Neil needed to burn more energy Gili took him for a ride in the woods and luckily the accident didn’t traumatize him, he was very happy to get back on the bike.
The Sunshine Coast
We had another ferry to catch and we had to make sure we’d be there on time for the 10am departure. Before we left Jessie treated us to a delicious smoothie so we had enough energy to cycle the ten kilometers to Little River Ferry Terminal. It was an hour and a half ferry ride in a beautiful new ferry and soon enough we were in Powell River. A few minutes after we started cycling we stopped to admire some totem poles and a couple in a pickup truck offered us some watermelon. They also gave us an excellent tip to check out Palm Beach, which wasn’t marked on our map but was one of the most beautiful beaches we visited.
After a hilly ride we arrived to Saltery Bay Campground which was almost deserted . We took a stroll while Neil rode his bike to the cove at the end of the campground and we enjoyed some last rays of sunshine, but the next morning we woke up to rain.
We rode downhill to the ferry terminal to catch the 9:25am ferry. Ferry ride number seven for us, to Earls Cove, was beautiful but it felt a bit gloomy with the rain and all.
We found shelter in the Cove Cafe, at the ferry terminal, thinking what to do over hot chocolate that Neil enjoyed more than us (it was low quality). Gili had noticed a sign outside saying something about clean affordable accommodation so we inquired about it. At first it seemed like a no go, but then a woman came out from the kitchen saying that there was a whole apartment upstairs where we could stay for $60. It was a huge place with four bedrooms and exactly when we needed. It was so strange because other than the restaurant and the ferry terminal there was nothing in the area, and yet we’d found the perfect place to stay on that rainy day. I love how things just work out like this on cycling trips.
We had lunch at the restaurant and then Neil took a long nap. Neil and Gili spent most of the afternoon in the sandbox making endless sand castles. Then another random thing happened – we met our friends Jamie and Shuvi who were cycling from Haida Gwaii back to Vancouver. A few months ago we gave Jamie lots of advice about cycle touring and she claimed we inspired them to go on this trip so it was funny to run into them in this out of the way place.
The next day was sunny again, and we knew we had a long day ahead of us, to reach Sechelt. It was also the hilliest day. When it was time for lunch we took a detour to
the Secret Cove Marina, and ate our regular bread and cheese. We sat by the ocean watching the boats, and Neil practiced more stone skipping and bucket filling. Of course Gili found a nearby blackberry bush, the Sunshine Coast did not disappoint us and we continued eating many blackberries along the way.
We made very good time to Sechelt over almost 60 km so we stopped on the beach once more before we headed to our Warmshowers hosts Valerie and Pier. They are a young couple from Quebec who live in a small apartment in the heart of Sechelt and made us feel right at home. They also made an amazing dinner for us with vegetables that they grew themselves. We were also very impressed with their canning operation, there’s no doubt they are going to eat well throughout the winter too.
Before dinner Gili took Neil for a short ride and they passed an ambulance station. The paramedics were very friendly and let Neil see the station, turned on the ambulance lights just for him, gave him a sticker and he got a photo with one of them. He was a happy boy since ambulances are one of his favourite things in the world. He doesn’t quite get it yet that they usually involve bad circumstances.
Our final day (or half a day) of riding was the busiest traffic-wise. The last stretch, descending to the ferry terminal was very scenic and steep. We definitely chose the right direction to do this loop.
While boarding the ferry there was another cyclist there and Gili told me he thinks it’s Jeff, one of our cycling gurus. I didn’t think it was possible but a quick chat with him revealed that it was indeed him! We’ve followed his trip reports on Crazy Guy on a Bike through BC and the Yukon, Baja California and parts of our Central America trip. We spent the entire ferry ride chatting with him and having lunch, luckily Neil didn’t ask about the Kids Zone. The last and final ferry ride, number eight in total, was very scenic with beautiful sunny skies.
We took the bus from Horseshoe Bay to downtown and stopped at Rain or Shine for ice cream. I think all self propelled trips should end at an ice cream shop and if it’s as good as Rain or Shine all the better.
While we knew our trip was coming to an end it also seemed like it ended a bit abruptly. On most of our trips there is an adjustment period where we need to box the bikes and catch a flight, so by the time we get home the trip is a distant memory and we’re glad to be back. This time it felt like we were home too soon. However, it just made us wonder, where would the next adventure take us?