Day 10 – July 22nd – Rest Day – Tofino – 0 kms
Another beautiful day, just perfect for wandering around this very touristy town and taking in some of the sights, sounds and scenery. A picnic lunch in the waterfront park and a generally a very lazy day watching kayakers and other eco-tourists embarking on the diverse array of activities that are available to all who wish to explore the wilderness areas and islands of nearby Clayoquot Sound.
Oh, and the final stage of the Tour de France in the evening – perfect!
The photo of the sunset was taken from just in front of the hostel where I stayed.
Did I mention that it was in a scenic location?
Day 11 – July 23rd – Tofino to Ucluelet by bike,
then to Port Alberni by boat 42 kms on the bike
I cooked up a breakfast in the hostel kitchen and settled down in the dining room to eat and gaze out over the harbour. Well, I’m really glad that I was gazing out, because my memory of that morning will always include the Grey Whale that decided to surface in the harbour that morning. I saw the gush of water from his breather hole, then the huge tail flipped up and submerged – what a sight – and then he was gone!
Otherwise, the return trip to Ucluelet yielded no new items of interest, other than it was a much nicer ride for that last 8 kms into Ucluelet that when I had ridden in the rain a couple of days previously. In truth, this day was turning out to be a scorcher, and I was really looking forward to the return trip to Port Alberni – but not on the bike! I’d booked a space with Lady Rose Charters, who run two working packet freighters up and down the Alberni Inlet through Barkley Sound. My vessel for this trip was the, which is a bigger boat than the MV Lady Rose for whom the charters are named. Both the boats are slightly over 100 feet long and quite aged. The Lady Rose began life in Scotland and the Francis Barkley in Norway Both boats were sailed across the Atlantic to reach Canada albeit fifty years apart!
I arrived in Ucluelet quite early so I had time for lunch before catching the boat at 2:00 p.m. There’s a nice fish and chip shop close to the Government wharf, so that’s what I decided on. When I finished, I rode the bike down the wharf readying for the boats arrival and trying to find some shade – boy, that sun was hot!. While I waiting, a young lady cyclist also arrived and parked her bike close to the wharf. I struck up a conversation and discovered that this was her first bicycle tour. She was absolutely thrilled with her new pursuit as she had ridden all the way out from Nanaimo and was feeling pretty pleased with herself. She also been camping and was taking the boat back to Port Alberni. The boat arrived at about 12:30 p.m. and after the passengers disembarked, the deck hand let us load our bikes onto the main deck, which was convenient as we could then walk around for a little while before the boat’s departure.
Soon it was time to leave and there was quite a crowd of people on board. This cruise was to be a highlight of this trip as the conditions were perfect on the water – the only bad part was trying to find shade on the boat – it really was a hot day and even the breeze off the ocean wasn’t cooling things down much. Before long we were in Barkley Sound navigating around small Islands and guess what? We saw another Grey Whale – fantastic, but I just wasn’t quick enough with the camera! Still, I couldn’t get over seeing two in one day! I kept my eyes peeled for more, but it wasn’t to be. However, the 70 some kilometre trip was well worth the $30.00 fare for a five-hour cruise – and where else can you go whale-watching for that price!
After leaving Barkley Sound, the boat then meandered up the 40 kilometre fiord that is named the Alberni Inlet. We made a few stops to pick up more passengers and cargo from some remote locations that are not serviced by roads, arriving in Port Alberni at about 6:50 p.m.
My young lady acquaintance was going to try to catch a bus back to Nanaimo at 7:00 p.m., so that she could connect with a ferry back to Vancouver. She didn’t have much time to get to the bus depot and I told her that I doubted if the bus would take her bike without it being boxed or packed. I told her that I myself had booked a room at the hostel, as I knew that we’d arrive fairly late. Luckily the hostel wasn’t too far a ride in the still very hot evening. I found out later that a temperature record had been broken in Port Alberni that day – something like 38°C; that’s 100°F! No wonder I felt scorched all day!
The hostel was nice and clean, but I had an upstairs room and no air-conditioning, so it was a cooker in there. Luckily there was a large fan so I set that in the window to try to force some hot air out. After showering, I went to forage at the nearby market for food; outside the hostel was the young lady’s bike that I met on the boat – I guessed that she had missed her bus and decided to try the hostel that I told her about. Unfortunately, I didn’t see her again, as when I got back her bike was gone, probably put away in the storage room where mine was and no sign of her. I had a cup of tea in the dining room with two or three other residents and then went to my room to lie down. I found out later that the hostel caters to some long stay residents as well as travellers. I stripped off and lay as still as possible to keep cool, but it was still a fitful night’s sleep that I had.
Day 12 – July 24th – Port Alberni to Chemainus –130 kms
I was awake bright and early this morning as I wanted to beat the heat on the ride back over the Hump immediately out of Port Alberni. So I packed up the few things that I had taken off the bike and went to get my bike out of the storage room. Sure enough, there was the young lady’s bike from yesterday. Well I didn’t hang around to see her as I wanted to hit the road before that sun got too high. I opted for the fast breakfast at a nearby McDonald’s and then off up the hill. the Hump is not as steep going east, but it is a longer ride on the lesser grade. There was a nice little tailwind blowing, so it wasn’t long before I was cruising past those big Douglas Fir trees in Cathedral Grove. Over the past few days the road contractors had painted the lines on the highway and the paving job looked almost complete.
As I neared Parksville, I had to pass through the village of Coombs – a very eclectic place with a cafe that sports some goats on the roof! I had made really good time to Parksville, so I figured a second breakfast was in order before I hit the road south. Lots of restaurant choices in Parksville, a very popular tourist area with some nice stretches of beach that are home to an annual sandcastle building competition and many RV, camping and motel facilities, including the very popular Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park.
After filling my face, I set off south on Highway 19A for a short while before veering off left onto Northwest Bay Road, that is a nice quiet ride through the Nanoose Bay area. I rejoined the Highway after about 10 kms and then rode off left again onto Lantzville Road, which is also a nice respite from the highway. I rejoined the highway once again on the outskirts of Nanaimo and avoided downtown Nanaimo by riding the Nanaimo Parkway. There is a bike path adjacent to the Parkway, but it is much hillier than the road – and the road has a very nice, wide, paved shoulder. After the Parkway there are no real viable options for highway alternatives, so the rest of the way to Ladysmith is best ridden on the main road which is a busy route, but has a good paved shoulder. I had a lunch stop at Ladysmith after which I turned left onto Chemainus Road for the remainder of the ride into Chemainus.
Lots of quaint sights along the back roads of this area and one has to keep their eyes peeled to not miss some of the finer highlights. Chemainus is known as the “Little Town that Did,” as in when the sawmill closed down in the 1980’s, a revitalisation program spurned local artists into painting large murals on the downtown buildings depicting the town and area’s history.
The weather, although not as hot as the previous day, was taking a toll on me, so I stopped at the tourist information centre to check on campgrounds in the area. There I met a couple of German cycle tourers who were eventually heading down to Victoria. After a quick chat with them, I went hunting for ice creams and cold drinks before heading out of town a short distance to the Chemainus Gardens Campground – at the top of a steep hill – as usual! But there was a pub at the bottom of the hill – bonus! After setting up camp, a quick shower and a stroll to pub for a couple of cold beverages seemed to be the order of the day!
Day 13 – July 25th – Chemainus to Saltspring Island – 41 kms
A short ride was planned for this day, which also included another ferry ride. I figured on stopping in Crofton for breakfast, so I just made do with a banana and some coffee before setting off.
Once I rode back down the hill from the campground. I rejoined Chemainus Road heading south. After a few kilometres, I turned left onto Crofton Road which takes one directly to the town past the huge pulp mill there. On a weekday, Crofton Road is not a good road to ride, as there are no shoulders and there are usually scores of logging trucks hightailing back and forth to the mill along this little back road, but it was a Sunday morning when I rode, so I was fortunate that I had the road to myself.
The BC Ferry to Vesuvius had just left when I arrived at the dock, so I wandered over to a nice looking cafe for a breakfast while I waited for the next boat. The sun was out again, so it was a delicious “Al Fresco” meal on the patio of the cafe – wonderful! The ferry arrived in short time and I was off for the twenty-minute sail over to Vesuvius on Saltspring Island.
I’ve taken this route many times, as Ruckle Park, at Beaver Point on Saltspring Island is one of my favourite destinations. Once off the ferry there is the usual hill up from the dock to ride followed by the twisty, rolling narrow roads that are so consistent throughout all the Gulf Islands. Saltspring was the first of the Gulf Islands to be settled (first by Black Americans and then shortly after, by Europeans) and now is the largest and most populated of all the Gulf Islands. Saltspring is renowned for its diverse mix of artisans that have made this island their home. Various crafts and artwork are available at the many studios dotted throughout the island. During the summer months, tourism boosts the population of all the islands dramatically. Also in the summer, the BC Ferries that ply the waters between the islands, mainland and Vancouver Island, are usually filled to capacity with vehicle traffic during peak periods. But it is very rare that space cannot be found for foot passengers or a cyclists.
The village of Ganges was my next stop for supplies and a snack. Ganges is the largest commercial centre on the island and the last chance for stocking up with food if one is cycling out to Beaver Point for the night. The harbour there is always a hive of activity with boats and seaplanes vying for position on the briny – a good spot to watch all the action is the waterfront park – which, snack-in-hand, I did!
Immediately on leaving, there is a steep hill to negotiate when riding south from Ganges, but instead of riding the entire hill and contending with the constant traffic of the Fulford – Ganges road, I usually turn left onto Beddis Road about a quarter of the way up the hill. Beddis is a narrow back road with low traffic volume and is a much more pleasant route than the main road – some nice views over Long Harbour provide some nice eye-candy. Nearing the end of Beddis, I turn right onto Cusheon Lake Road and then shortly after, left onto Stewart Road. Stewart has a short steep section that is not paved, but it is usually hard packed and not too much of a struggle. The pavement returns at the top of the hill and there is a fabulous ride down hill to Beaver Point Road – which comes up rather abruptly at speed! Turning left onto Beaver Point Road takes one all the way to the campground at Ruckle Park.
Before life as a Provincial Park, Ruckle was a large farm, and a portion of the area still is a working sheep farm. On occasion one can pick up fresh eggs and other goodies at the farm stand that is located about halfway between the park gate and campground area. 95% of the seventy-odd campsites at the park are for walk-in campers and cyclists. But being mainly waterfront camping in such a fabulous location, makes this a busy park, especially at weekends in the summer. Many of the sites are large though and sharing a site is often possible. Being Sunday afternoon, there weren’t too many campers when I arrived and I had a good pick of the waterfront sites. There were some other cyclists camped there too, so I figured on visiting with them later on that evening.
There are no showers at Ruckle and only a hand pump for water, which usually needs filtering or boiling before drinking. After setting up camp, I heated some water and cleaned up readying myself for some R&R watching the boats and marine life that were constantly evident from my perch on the rocks. This was my last day of this trip and I enjoyed the solitude while I reflected over an excellent two weeks on tour. I couldn’t have asked for better weather – as I only had that one soggy ride out to Ucluelet. And the lack of biting bugs everywhere was also a bonus; once again, I was only bothered on one occasion! From my site I could see the ferry dock at Swartz Bay where I would be heading in the morning – so close, yet so far away for one more night!
Day 14 – July 26th – Saltspring Island to Sidney – 15 kms
After a short stiff climb out of the park it was just a short 10 Km ride from Ruckle to my last ferry ride of the trip leaving from Fulford Harbour. Just as I was leaving the park, I spotted one of the many deer that frequent the area, but are difficult to encounter – I did manage to snap a quick photo of one of the elusive animals before it dashed off back into the bush. I skipped breakfast at the camp, opting for a restaurant meal at Fulford while I waited for the next boat. Fulford is a small village offering some amenities, but nothing like the scale of Ganges. Nevertheless, it has a very pleasant cafe that is also a gathering place for the travellers and villagers of this area. Fully satiated, I embarked on the thirty-five minute sail to Swartz Bay. Sidney, my home town is an easy 5 Km ride from Swartz Bay, so it wasn’t a too tiring a ride to my final stop of this day!