Vancouver Island and Sunshine Coast Circle Tour
Location: British Columbia, Canada
The Route, at a glance...
Sidney, Vancouver, Sechelt, Powell River,
Comox, Parksville, Mill Bay, Sidney
NOTE: The images on this 1997 tour were taken pre-digital cameras. Photos appearing here were all scanned with somewhat primitive technology at the time resulting with images of poor resolution.
There is a detailed update (2015) of this route at Vancouver Island/Sunshine Coast Loop
June 22nd to June 25th, 1997 - 385 Kms
Day 1, 87 Kms.
This route passes through downtown Vancouver, BC and some cycling restrictions apply. Check out this link to the British Columbia Ministry of Transportation’s site listing cycling restrictions in Vancouver and the rest of BC, together with other information regarding access to bridges and tunnels.
My friend Doug, was my riding partner for this trip and we had arranged to meet up at my home in Sidney, BC. We set off early to catch the 7:00 a.m. BC Ferry sailing to Tsawwassen, on the BC mainland, and begin our "Circle Tour."
At the ferry terminal we purchased the "CirclePac" option which includes the two ferry crossings to and from Vancouver Island and the two trips to and from the Sechelt Peninsula. Purchasing the "CirclePac" is 15% cheaper than paying the individual fares at each terminal and more convenient (this option is available to motorists also).
The ride on Highway 17 from Tsawwassen was a breeze, with sunshine and the wind blowing behind us! At times it felt as if we didn’t have to pedal, but I pitied anyone having to ride in the opposite direction. Our first stop would be the outside the Town and Country Inn at the junction of Highways 17 & 99, where we had to wait for the shuttle van to take us through the George Massey tunnel. The shuttle van is a free service and runs frequently in the summer months; the schedules are available at this link to the BC Ministry of Highways - Massey Tunnel site.
The shuttle van utilises a trailer for the bikes, and panniers etc. do not have to be removed.
[Two more options exist for crossing the Fraser River at this locale...
(a) The Alex Fraser Bridge, but that involves a detour of approximately 18 Kms and...
(b) Public Transit, the buses running from the ferry terminal at Tsawwassen have racks to accommodate two bikes, but all panniers have to be removed.]
The van deposited us at the north end of the tunnel, adjacent to Highway 99. The highway is restricted for bicycles and required us to take an alternative route through Richmond and Vancouver. [Particulars of the route through Richmond and Vancouver are detailed in the travelogue of my Western BC tour, albeit in a north to south direction, but the route is almost identical when riding south to north.] Once through downtown Vancouver, we had the hairy ride across the Lions Gate Bridge to negotiate (major renovations in 2002 have improved the bridge for cycling), after which we turned left onto SW Marine.
We had planned to take SW Marine all the way to the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal, but we saw a bike route sign and turned right. What a bike route! Through residential areas, up a mountain, it seemed like. We fought our way up some nasty little hills and through a wooded narrow path and wondered "Where the hell are we?" Then we passed a couple walking a dog, so we stopped to enquire as to the locale! After some dialogue with them, we figured out that we were close to the Upper Levels Highway - Highway 99 - and that cycling was allowed on that section of 99. So, just up another short hill, then after crossing a small bridge, we found the on-ramp. A good shoulder on the highway was our reward, all the way to the ferry dock. While waiting for the ferry to Langdale the sun disappeared and the rain drops started!
The Sunshine Coast eh? At Langdale we donned our raingear and, after waiting for the ferry traffic to subside, we started up the long hill from the ferry terminal on Highway 101. The trouble with raingear is that is doesn’t mix with hills. The hills make me sweat profusely and the raingear keeps all my moisture in, so I end up being just as wet inside as outside!
Doug hadn’t toured for quite a few years and his Marinoni bike was only a 12 speed, resulting in him spending much of the climb out of the saddle, thinking of earlier touring days when 12 were enough! How age makes us appreciate that Granny gear! At the top of the hill we had a breather and then continued on. The road was relatively quiet, as traffic seemed to pass us in convoys timed to ferry arrivals. It had almost stopped raining when we reached the village of Sechelt, so we dispensed with our rain attire and headed to the local grocery store to buy our food for the evening.
We cycled on to Porpoise Bay Provincial Park where we had planned to camp for the night. It is a beautiful park and was almost deserted when we arrived, but for two young ladies who were also cycle-touring. After pitching our tents, the rain drops started again; fortunately there was a covered cookhouse area where we organised our meal, out of reach of the inclement weather. After dinner, we noticed some bear alert warnings posted in the park. So, before retiring, we hung our foodstuffs and smellies from an appropriate tree branch, rather than temp fate and the unwelcome hot breath of a visiting bruin, searching through our possessions.
Day 2, 90 Kms.
No bears, and the rain had stopped when we woke up. But after getting dressed and a visit to the washroom, the downpour started! We un-pegged our tents, picked them up (advantage of a free standing tent), and made for the large covered area of the cookhouse where we disassembled the tents and packed up the rest of our gear to keep it dry. Off we went to Sechelt and had breakfast at the local McD’s, where we arrived thoroughly soaked.
Fortunately, the rain stopped by the time we had finished breakfast, and we set out north for a scenic ride on Highway 101, to the ferry terminal at Earl’s Cove. We arrived at the ferry terminal to discover that the ferry had just left, leaving us with plenty of time to fill our faces at the conveniently located cafe at the terminal. After a hot lunch we were joined at the terminal by a few other cyclists; some touring and some others just out for a ride.
The ferry deposited us at Saltery Bay and we continued on the second section of the Sunshine Coast. A German couple, also with loaded bikes that we talked to at Earl's Cove, seemed to be in a hurry to get somewhere, as they went flying past us, leg muscles straining and sweat dripping. They looked as if they were out for a workout not touring! I guess they had something to prove! We on the other hand, took things a little easier and enjoyed the scenery. The road was relatively quiet, and once again, the bulk of traffic came in waves from the ferry. A couple of good hills to climb along the route and then soon we were riding alongside the ocean to Powell River. We made our way to the municipal campsite, on the waterfront, at Willingdon Beach at the north end of town.
It was Doug’s birthday, so after pitching our tents and a shower, we used that for an excuse to walk into town for pizza and beer, yummy!I don’t know if it was the birthday, or the bike and lack of gears thereof, but Doug’s back was starting to trouble him that evening and I assumed that the damp weather wasn’t helping his predicament much either.
Day 3, 86 Kms.
The next morning we awoke to no rain, hooray! We packed up quickly and decided to have breakfast on the ferry trip to Little River in Comox on Vancouver Island. Back on Vancouver Island, we pedalled from Little River to join Highway 19 at Courtenay. Highway 19 (now19A) has good shoulders and, for the most part, runs ocean-side from there to Nanaimo; it's a very pleasant and scenic ride with minimal traffic. The "old highway" is especially so now that the new Inland Highway (now 19) takes the bulk of the traffic, and is the preferred choice of motorists and truckers.
No rain, but we had to contend with a moderate headwind all the way south to Parksville. Our destination was Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park, just south of the town. Rathtrevor has a hiker/biker area and it was almost deserted but for two other occupants. We had picked up groceries while passing through town and, after lighting a small fire, we had a nice relaxing meal followed by a ramble on the beach. After coffee and brandy, I was all set for bed; I thought that I’d read for a while, but the Sandman took over!
Day 4, 105 Kms.
The night’s rest did not alleviate Doug’s lower back pain, so he was hard pushed to get going the next morning. Our original plan, was to head for Saltspring Island from Parksville, then camp for one more night before returning to Sidney. However, in view of Doug’s problem, we decided that it was wiser to ride a little longer and press on to Mill Bay. From Mill Bay we could catch a ferry across the Saanich Inlet to Brentwood Bay (Doug’s home town). We stopped at Buckley Bay for a quick lunch and basked in the warm sunshine that had developed. Continuing on to Nanaimo, we rode on the new Nanaimo by-pass, which was much more pleasant than riding through the city with it's innumerable traffic lights and heavy traffic. After Nanaimo, Highway 19 changes designation to Trans Canada, Highway 1.
Some clouds started appearing, but luckily the rains held off for the rest of the day and the ride was quite pleasant; for me at least... Doug soldiered through.
We arrived at Mill Bay just as the ferry was pulling into the dock, and after a 25 minute sail, we arrived in Brentwood Bay. From there, we parted company and I continued home, on the back roads of the Saanich Peninsula, to Sidney.
It was unfortunate that we had to cut the trip a day short, but someone was looking out for us. On the evening that we returned home, a massive thunderstorm hit our area, with a deluge of rain... We, of course, were tucked into our nice warm beds at home!