Day 7 – July 19th – Qualicum Beach to Port Alberni – 55 kms
Well, for the first time this trip, I awoke to grey clouds which looked like they might drop some moisture on today’s ride. So instead of cooking my own breakfast, I packed up quickly and rode the few kilometres into the town of Qualicum Beach and took the restaurant option. I dawdled a bit over the meal and read a newspaper, as I knew that once again I only had short ride planned for the day. I’m really spoiling myself on this trip, as usually I’m pounding the pedals for 100 kms or more when touring, but I did plan to take it a lot easier this time out and be more of a tourist at all my daily destinations.
After breakfast, I headed out onto Highway 4A, which would connect to Highway 4 after about 7 kms. About one kilometre out of town I felt my first raindrop of the trip, and after a few minutes, I had to stop and put on my rain gear and pannier covers. It rained quite heavily then for about the next half-hour, but at least the ambient temperature was still warm so it wasn’t a too unpleasant ride, with a light tailwind from the south-east. This section of Highway 4 to Port Alberni has a good shoulders, and that’s just as well as it quite a busy road with many transport, logging trucks and RV’s plying the route to Port Alberni and the west coast of the Vancouver Island.
Cameron Lake opens up some scenic views about 9 kms west of the Highway 4 & 4A junction. Riding alongside the lakeshore was a nice treat and even the rain stopped by the time I was halfway along the lake. I stopped to take of my rain gear and noticed that across the lake (about one kilometre) I could see a couple of fair-sized railway trestles on the lakeshore. I know that the E&N passenger railway used to travel to Port Alberni and there was freight service out to the mill there until the new mill owners – Norske – decided that it was cheaper to run logging trucks – hence the increased truck traffic on the highway! (“Cheaper” being relative – I’m sure that taxpayers footing the bill for the increased road maintenance that large trucks create is not factored in the equation!). I don’t know if there’ll ever be rail service out to Port Alberni again, but if the rails ever get pulled then it would sure make a nice rail-trail! There is one train still running in Port Alberni, it is a restored steam locomotive, the train runs a few times a week carrying tourists back and forth from Harbour Quay along the waterfront to the McLean Mill – about 8 kms.
The next scenic part of the ride was through the Cathedral Grove area of MacMillan Provincial Park where some massive specimens of Douglas Firs line each side of the road. Recent road works have widened this section of Highway 4 and it is much improved for all users. Although, it is not unusual to see scores of parked cars on the edge of road left by the many the visitors who tramp through the bush trails to see some of the biggest trees on the island. At the western end of the park, there was a protest camp set-up when I rode through – apparently the Provincial Government want to cut down a whole bunch of trees to make a parking lot for visitors to see other trees??? No, doesn’t make sense to me either!
After the park, there is Port Alberni Summit to ride – known locally as “The Hump!” At 375 metres, it is not too high but quite steep in places. Once again road construction has improved this section of road too. In fact, the actual paving was completed when I rode through, but line painting was not done yet.Hence, on the steepest part of the climb, there is now a passing lane, but this was not in use yet, so the inside lane was “coned” off. This proved to be a bonus for me, as I could ride that empty lane without worrying about traffic behind me. This was nice, as I was sweating buckets due to the ever-increasing humidity of the day. Further along near the summit, I encountered the dreaded rumble strips, but in most cases the shoulder was wide enough to be able to avoid them. The only problem was some areas where the shoulders hadn’t been swept, leaving gravel and debris to contend with.
Once over the summit it started raining again, so I wasn’t “wide open” for the downhill all the way into Port Alberni. I stopped at the tourist information centre on the way in to check the weather forecast and found out that thunderstorms were expected later in the evening – not surprising really, as it was damn humid! That changed my plans of riding out to Sproat Lake for camping and instead I went off searching for a motel – with air conditioning – did I mention that it was humid? I found a reasonable place at the top of a longish hill and was glad to stop there and crank up that cold air once in my room. There were some stores nearby within walking distance, so I picked up some food and a “beverage,” then headed back to watch a stage of the Tour de France on TV – which conveniently had just started!
The sky opened up not too long after this and it started pouring rain, so no sight-seeing for this day. There was some thunder and lightning later on too, which made me even more pleased with my choice of abode for the night. The rain was very welcome to forestry crews who had been battling hundreds of forest fires for weeks on end due to an exceptionally dry summer in BC. Of course, the caveat is that the lightning could start more fires!
Day 8 – July 20th – Port Alberni to Ucluelet – 103 kms
In the morning, the humidity level had decreased considerably, but the skies still held some rain clouds. I set out a bit earlier on this day as I was expecting a more challenging ride out to the west coast, so I figured that I’d better find somewhere for a fill of pancakes to fuel me up before leaving town. Leaving a motel is much easier that packing a tent up – quite civilised really!
The first few kilometres out on the Pacific Rim Highway (still Highway 4) from Port Alberni are nothing special, but soon after a bit of climbing Sproat Lake appears with frequent scenic vistas along its twenty kilometre length. Sproat Lake is home to the Mars Water Bombers that are well used all over the Province supporting the efforts of the forestry fire-fighters. This part of the highway still has a good shoulders to ride on and is not as busy as yesterday’s ride, although I found there to be numerous RV’s travelling in both directions.
Taylor Arm rest area is about 37 kms west of Port Alberni and was a good place for a pit-stop and a snack. It was also a good place to don my rain gear – yes, it started raining again! Not too far after the rest area the nice shoulder disappears and the climb to Sutton Pass begins. Sutton Pass is winding climb with little protection from passing traffic – not much fun in the rain either, but at 250 metres it is not too long of a grind. At the summit of Sutton Pass the rain stopped, so I had a decent ride down the other side – in fact the road was drying out even before the end of my descent. After Sutton Pass the road is generally winding and undulating, but also very scenic in many areas. There are some deep gorges along the Kennedy River in this area with many spectacular views available.
It started raining on me again in this area – by the end of the day I had my rain gear on and off many times, it was just one of those days full of heavy rain showers! Not too much further along past the gorge is the second steep climb on this route; known as “Hydro Hill,” the posted grade is 18%, but less than one kilometre in length. After that climb there are a few more rolls and then down the 18% at the other side. Kennedy Lake, the largest lake on Vancouver Island, is visible after this and the Provincial Park there is now only for day use, no camping allowed, but a good place for a rest stop and snack.
From the park it is about ten more kilometres to the Tofino – Ucluelet junction. I wasn’t due at the hostel in Tofino until the next day, so I elected to visit Ucluelet first, even though I was to return there in a couple of days. Ucluelet is 8 kms south from the junction and there is a very hilly bike path adjacent for the whole distance – I say hilly, but the path is no hillier than the road which follows the same grades. The bike path is nicely paved though and a welcome relief from the traffic of the road.
By the time that I reached the town, it was pouring rain so I took refuge at a covered picnic table adjacent to a gas station. There was hot coffee available so I stopped and sat there for a while weighing up my options. Ucluelet is a busy place, which means that the hotels/motels would be expensive and at that time of year, probably booked up. So I looked up at the sky and it actually seemed to be clearing a bit, so I decided to try my luck at the campground in town when the rain backed off. I managed to get a site, but at $23.00 for a soggy bit of dirt, I felt somewhat ripped off! As I’ve said many times before though, “beggars can’t be choosers,” so I made do and managed to erect the tent before the next squall hit. Well, to be expected though, as this is known as the “We(s)t Coast!” But at least the showers were hot and free at the campground and very welcome after sweating in my rain gear for most of the day. After that I ventured into town to the waterfront pub at the marina, had a meal there and watched another stage of the Tour de France on their TV, good timing again! I also got to see the weather forecast and the rains were to stop later that night followed by a few more days of hot, sunny weather – even on the west coast – Yay!
After dinner, the rains had eased again, so I wandered around and rubber-necked a bit, enjoying the eclectic mix of people who make up this west coast village that grew up from the logging and fishing industries and now caters to numerous visitors and eco-tourists.
Day 9 – July 21st – Ucluelet to Tofino – 43 kms
I woke up to blue skies, but the overnight rains had left my tent wet and I was in a shady spot where no sun would hit for a while. So I packed up the wet tent and figured on stopping at Long Beach later to dry it out. There was a convenient cafe close by to the campground, so with only a short ride planned, I hopped in there for a leisurely breakfast and a read of the newspaper.
Back along the hilly bike path I rode and was soon back at the junction where construction of a new information centre was being completed. Not too far north from the junction is the boundary of the 30 Km Long Beach unit of Pacific Rim National Park. Although, this is a national park, there are many resorts dotted along this stretch of coastline, but none are visible from the highway. There are also campgrounds, both private and federal. These campgrounds are extremely busy in the summer, and advance bookings are recommended for anywhere along this coast. Unlike the hilly ride to Ucluelet, the road to Tofino is relatively flat, with just a few minor hills. There is also a decent shoulder to ride on with a short section of bike path when one nears Tofino.
Green Point Campground is the largest campground in the park and is probably the most popular. I had a quick ride through part of it and it looked pretty full to me. A few kilometres north of Green Point are access areas to parking lots and the beaches. Long Beach is a favourite spot for surfers and windsurfers to test their metal in the cool surf of the Pacific Northwest.
The sun was shining brightly by the time that I arrived at Long Beach, so I wheeled my bike onto the beach and dragged out my wet tent and laid it out to dry while I wandered around and enjoyed the sun, sand and surf.
Thoroughly relaxed, I repacked my bike and set off for the final few kilometres to Tofino. I’d pre-booked at the hostel there for two nights, so the next day was to be a rest day for me. The hostel – Whalers on the Point Guesthouse – is a fairly new, very attractive wood structure on a beautiful waterfront location at the end of Tofino’s main street. The dining room overlooks the harbour and the facilities are very clean and excellent overall. All in all, a good choice for my day off! After settling in and locking my bike up in their garage, I wandered into town to forage for food and drink. And seeing as how the sun was cranking out some serious heat, a couple of ice-creams were in the forecast too!
Later, after a visit to the grocery store, I cooked up a meal in the well-appointed kitchen and met some interesting travellers. I checked out the TV room and there was a couple of guys watching – of all things – that day’s stage of the Tour de France; how fortuitous!…