Salt Spring Island: Mini-Vacation in (our) Style

Camping at Ruckle Provincial Park

My birthday was coming up and all I really wanted was to wake up in our tent by the ocean. I remembered years ago that we spent my birthday weekend on Salt Spring Island and how magical the place was. We camped at Ruckle Provincial Park twice and it’s definitely one of my favourite campgrounds. With the huge space there you never feel it’s overcrowded even when the campground is completely full. Of course there is the extra advantage that it’s a walk-in campground, so no need to worry about cars, hearing generators and car doors slamming. One can just enjoy the sounds of the ocean and the occasional ferry passing by.

Leaving our place on the bikes!

Since my birthday was on Monday I had to convince Gili to take the day off which wasn’t too hard to do. In any case I didn’t feel it was worth the trip just for one night. Since we don’t have a car (which is fantastic, by the way) and Neil is really into trains these days, we decided to make it into a self propelled trip of sorts.

We left our place on our bikes riding only 3.5 km to Cambie SkyTrain Station. From there we caught the SkyTrain to Neil’s delight. We had to think of a strategy of how to get in and out of the train fast with the two bikes and trailer. On the way out a nice man helped with taking my bike out while I took the trailer.

On the SkyTrain

We made sure to arrive early enough to catch the bus to the Tsawwassen ferry terminal but when we got there, there was already a long lineup of people and four people with bikes in front of us. That was not good news since each bus can take only two bikes and we knew that there were two buses which would allow us to get to the ferry to Salt Spring Island on time. We quickly realized there was another option – catching a bus to Tsawwassen Mills, a huge mall that opened not long ago, and then bike a few kilometers from there to the ferry terminal. So we went over to our new bus stop just to realize that there was a guy with a bike already waiting. There was another bus not long after but we started to be very stressed for time. So eventually we managed to get on the bus with our bikes and the trailer and then rode pretty fast to the ferry terminal. Neil fell asleep just on time, and we arrived with a few minutes to spare only to discover that the ferry was running late, of course.

Hurrying up on the way to Tsawwassen ferry terminal

We were waiting to board the ferry with a sleeping Neil and we could finally relax, the mini vacation could finally start! The ferry to Salt Spring was a bit smaller than the ferries to Vancouver Island which also meant the Kids Zone was smaller and less fun. The things you care about once you have kids…

Then, finally on Salt Spring Island, we started riding. Our first stop was the market in Ganges which wasn’t hard to miss with the amount of traffic and cars everywhere. I know that the kids’ singer Raffi who lives on Salt Spring sometimes performs there, and Neil is a big fan, and he was actually there earlier that day, but by the time we arrived he had already left, so we didn’t tell Neil what we had narrowly missed. We found the market quite touristy, and not much of a “farmers’ market”. Luckily we found some excellent ice cream and a nice playground so the stop was worth it.

Pesto dinner!

I remembered Salt Spring as being hilly and I wasn’t mistaken with the hill leaving Ganges being the very steepest. After that it was a roller coaster ride till the campground. From a good few kilometers before we reached Ruckle Provincial Park there were already big signs saying “Campground Full”. It shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise I guess, but I remembered that when we were there for my birthday weekend years back finding a spot wasn’t a problem. Of course then it was a grey and chilly weekend (and summer in general) and now with the beautiful summer we are having, we later found out that the campground has been full every weekend from Friday morning. I was worried, but Gili ensured me that everything was going to be fine, and of course he was right.

After some mechanical problems with my bike I finally managed to catch up with Gili and Neil just before the campground. The trails leading to the campground are all forested and then we came out to the beautiful place known as Ruckle Provincial Park. Indeed we didn’t see any open sites, although some sites were just taken with a few chairs or a table cloth and not with tents. We quickly found one of the rangers and he ensured us that we could stay there for the night in an overflow site and then move in the morning to a proper site. Their policy is not to refuse cyclists, especially with kids. He opened an overflow site for us (there is tons of space in the campground) but was very apologetic that we wouldn’t be getting a table. At this point a table was the last thing I cared about and I was just happy that we could stay there.

Enjoying the tidal pools and sunset

Then things got even better. We took our time before setting up the tent and we just looked at the ocean and took in all the events of the day while Neil kept himself busy by jumping off a rock about 30 times. Just as we were getting ready to settle down a couple showed up and told us that the site behind us was now free since they had saved it for their friends who decided not to come in the end. It was a perfect site, a bit elevated and further away from other sites, with lots of space and lots of shade. Just perfect. Thank you people who decided to stay home and saved us also the hassle of changing sites the next day.

For dinner we had a special treat – gnocchi with homemade pesto from our basil at home that Gili had made in advance. After dinner we went to check out the tidal pools and watch the purple sunset. In the middle of the night Neil woke up crying and I was grateful our site was a bit isolated from the rest. We figured his tummy was hurting and eventually gave him some Tylenol and he calmed down until the next time he woke up crying. It’s very unusual for him to wake up like that, especially in the tent which he loves, so something was definitely bothering him.

Neil participated in a guided program about tide pools

In the morning he seemed fine but we did try to encourage him to poo as we figured that was the problem (or part of it). We joined a guided program, led by a naturalist, about the tidal pools. There were a few programs, one of them was about snakes which I decided to skip… Neil really enjoyed the program and the little game and even though he probably understood very little, he still sat quietly and listened to the ranger. Then there was the interactive section of actually going to explore the tidal pools and we learned a few new things.

Neil did a lot of this during our stay at Ruckle Provincial Park

By noon Neil was really tired and after demanding to eat the mangoes which Gili had carried he fell asleep for about two hours. Since we’ve had Neil we’ve really learned to appreciate this special time also known as nap time. It was time to relax, read and even doze off a little bit ourselves. For the rest of day we didn’t do much except checking out the other side of the campground and the tide pools over there, doing a lot of ferry watching (the ferries pass very close to shore) and having dinner. We all couldn’t finish our dinner, I guess our capacity is different on days we ride and on days we don’t do much.

Tent party!

The night was peaceful without Neil waking up crying and he even slept in, and in the morning of my birthday I indeed woke up in the tent in a beautiful place by the side of the ocean with my two loved ones. Gili even brought a few balloons so we had a tent party to much of Neil’s delight. Then we had a leisurely breakfast before packing up and heading out.

We made a stop at Salt Spring Island Cheese for some tastings and a very delicious buffalo milk ice cream that we shared among the three of us. We bought some cheese and headed to the nearby Weston lake for a quick swim and lunch. The water there was a lot warmer than the ocean and it was very refreshing. Since there isn’t really a public shore to this lake we found a small boat ramp to go swimming from. Then a family from a nearby house came out and started chatting with us. It turned out that they were renting that lakeshore house through Airbnb for a week for $300 a night! We were pretty happy with our accommodation at Ruckle with a tag price of $20 per night and an ocean view.

Magical lake with lilies

Then we rode quickly to the Fulford ferry terminal – this time to the one with the ferries to Victoria. The ride was a lot shorter and less steep and Neil was asleep in no time. We managed to catch the ferry and easily connected with the ferry from Victoria to Tsawwassen. Luckily for us on the bigger ferries between the Island and the mainland there is a much better Kids Zone…

Catching the bus was easy this time since there weren’t any other cyclists wanting to get on the bus, then the SkyTrain and back to Cambie Station. We debated if we should eat out but we all felt like getting home so Gili made a delicious pasta dinner which we ate on our roof overlooking the sunset. I can easily say that it was an awesome birthday weekend (+Monday).

Sharing an ice cream is always fun (for some of us at least)

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