Bike Tour in Canada, Eh?

It’s been a while since I went on an extended bike tour. Most of my trips last summer were a single night, and the one longer trip I had planned was cancelled because of wildfire smoke. So when my friend Gabby proposed the idea of a trip over the 4th of July holiday weekend to Canada, I jumped at it.

Matchy matchy on the Kinsol Tressel

Matchy matchy on the Kinsol Tressel

Our rough plan (emphasis on rough, as we’ll get back to that) was to do a 3 or 4 day loop around Vancouver Island, starting on Wednesday and returning on Saturday or Sunday. Our planning parameters for the trip:

  • Fairly mellow in terms of both mileage and elevation gain

  • Include the Kinsol Trestle

  • Take advantage of the awesome trail network in British Columbia

Turns out, you can’t really google routes using those search terms. We found a few loops on RidewithGPS that looked promising, got some intel from friends who had ridden up here before, and came up with a draft plan for our trip. We knew there were multiple camping options and plenty of food and water supply opportunities throughout the ride, so we didn’t plan any of those in advance.

Here’s the route we ended up doing, which ended up being 124ish miles and around 4500 feet of climbing. I 100% recommend this route - the roads, trails and ferries were absolutely lovely and I would totally ride it again.

I would NOT recommend any of the places we slept at. I’ll explain more later and provide some alternative camping ideas, but they were all a little bit off in one way or another.

Day 0: Seattle to Port Angeles

No bikes were ridden on this day. Our original plan was to take the Bainbridge ferry from Seattle, drive to Port Angeles and catch the Blackball Ferry to Victoria. But traffic the day before July 4th sucks, so we got a later start than we wanted and didn’t get to Port Angeles until almost 9pm. Thanks to a friendly Warm Showers host just off the Olympic Discovery Trail, we had a cute cabin to sleep in before our 8am ferry to Canada. (Feel free to message me for the Warm Showers details.)

Day 1: Victoria to Salt Springs

We took the early ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria, BC. This was my first time on this ferry and it’s really easy with a bike! Roll it on to the front of the boat, tie it up to the rack and voila, you’re done! Lots of other folks had the same idea - we met families on bike, other bike tourers, and casual riders going for a day ride in Canada.

The bike racks on the Black Ball Ferry to Victoria

The bike racks on the Black Ball Ferry to Victoria

Once in Victoria, our first stop was Broad Street Cycles. We needed to figure out a more solid plan for our tour. I met these guys a few years ago at Single Speed Cyclocross Worlds, hosted in Victoria and remember how friendly and welcoming they were. Turns out they remember me too! We bought a map, got a recommendation for breakfast and by noon were on our way…to breakfast.

After fueling up, we finally started pedaling, riding out of town on the Lochside Regional Trail. This flat, rail trail led us out of Victoria through beautiful, rolling wetlands, across bridges and into farmland where we shared the trail with horses and tractors.

The Lochside Regional Trail

The Lochside Regional Trail

We followed the trail all the way through Saanich and Sidney to the ferry terminal in Swartz Bay, where we just barely caught the ferry to Salt Spring Island. (p.s. Thank you to the kind soul who slowed down his own ride to guide us to the correct route, even turning around to make sure we made the right turn. Friendly Canadian encounter #1 of the trip.)

BC Ferries! Just like ours but no indoor space.

BC Ferries! Just like ours but no indoor space.

We were warned on the ferry to Salt Spring that the island was hilly and that proved to be true. But honestly, I didn’t find it to be overwhelmingly so. It felt a bit like Vashon or Bainbridge - a few big hills, but mostly rolling, rural farmland. Riding on Salt Spring was lovely - all the cars that passed us gave us plenty of space.

We enjoyed a short break at Cider Works before making our way to Ganges (the largest village on Salt Spring), where we found dinner and attempted to scout a place to camp. We were given some advice from some locals about a beach that is “great to camp on”, so feeling adventurous, we decided to camp there. Since this particular camping spot may or may not have been 100% legal, we spent the evening at the community theater production’s Shakespeare in the Park and eventually made our way towards the beach.

On our way to the beach, we realized we needed to fill up water bottles so we stopped at a pub. One thing led to another and soon it was way past dark. And we still didn’t have a place to sleep. All sorts of wise decision making happening at this point, but hey, at least there were 3 of us together.

We soldiered on with our plan to camp on the beach, riding another few kilometers from the pub to the spot we were told about. You can see on RidewithGPS the spur to Long Harbour. When we arrived, it was dark and I thought it looked promising. The spot seemed to be in the woods and looked safe enough to camp. My buddies had different ideas and wanted to leave, but it was nearly midnight and we made the decision to camp at the street end park. Not on the beach because the tide was up, and probably not a legal place to camp. When the sun rose, we realized there were houses about 100 yards from our campsite. Oops.

Day 1 Mileage: 43ish miles, 69 km

Day 2: Salt Spring Island to Chemanis to Duncan

After not a great night of sleep, we woke up and tore down our tents as quickly as possible. Heaven forbid the neighbors come down for the Friday morning walk and discover three bike tourists camping on their street end! (In all seriousness though, this experience gave me a lot more empathy to our unhoused neighbors who don’t have a safe place to sleep. I felt a lot of anxiety not knowing if somebody was going to come down in the middle of the night and harass us for setting up camp where we weren’t supposed to.)

After a quick breakfast of coffee and oatmeal we set off for the ferry back to mainland Vancouver Island, via the Vesuvius Ferry. Our plan for today was to ride to Chemanis, check out the Mural Capital of Canada, then backtrack a bit and setup camp at Bright Angel Regional Park. We all agreed that we wanted to sleep in an authorized campground.

We got off the ferry in Crofton and from there it was a nice 12 km ride into Chemanis. This part of the ride reminded me a lot of the Olympic Peninsula, albeit with much nicer drivers. The entire weekend I only had one close pass from a driver - the rest of the time every car gave us a wide berth and slowed way down when passing, definitely a welcome change from riding in the states.

Chemanis is a super cute historic town with a ton of murals. It definitely earned the name “The Mural Capital of Canada.” I failed and didn’t take any photos of the mural though. Next time.

In Chemanis, we met a local photographer and cyclist who told us about The BC Bike Race, who’s opening ceremonies were happening just down the road from our route. We detoured from our plan to go to Bright Angel park to see the opening ceremonies where a group from the Cowichan Tribe welcomed the race with a ceremonial dance, which was really cool to see.

BC Bike Race!

BC Bike Race!

At this point, we were still about 2 hours of riding from our intended campsite and were getting hangry. Again, prioritizing fun over a beautiful campsite, we pulled out the magical space device (google) and found a closer campsite. Our first attempt was a bust when we were told that no tents were allowed, but got lucky at the Riverside Cabins.

Cabins are a generous term for this property - it was more of a trailer park than a cabin, but it met our needs for the night: Water, bathrooms, a place for our tents. We had some interesting conversations with neighbors and were woken up by the sweet sounds of children playing on motorized hot wheels and drunken yelling (what’s the sarcasm emoji?) There was a lovely river flowing through camp that provided a great spot for a morning meditation and cool off.

Morning meditation by the river

Morning meditation by the river

By far the best part of Day 2 was Richards Trail - a backroad between Crofton and Maple Bay. If you go to this part of the world, you need to ride this road.

Richard’s Trail Road

Richard’s Trail Road

Day 2 Mileage: 32ish miles


Day 3: Duncan to Victoria

One of the themes throughout the trip was overly friendly Canadians insisting they knew what was best for us. A prime example of this was the beginning of Day 3 starting with our aggressively friendly campsite neighbors insisting that we take a “shortcut” over a railroad trestle to get to town. It was clear that none of these people had ever taken a bike on this route, as there were huge, tire-sucking gaps between the railroad ties (with a 30 foot drop underneath) and the route was definitely not rideable. Perhaps when walking it was a shortcut, but it likely added a solid 30 minutes to our start out of town.

Gabby makes the best of the railroad trestle situation

Gabby makes the best of the railroad trestle situation

We made the best of the situation and raised our spirits (and cell-phone batteries) with a visit to Tim Horton’s before starting our riding for the day. The plan was to find the Great Trail, ride it to the Kinsol Trestle, bop over to the Mill Bay Ferry and then head into Victoria where we’d hang out for the evening. As with the rest of our trip, it didn’t quite go to plan and everything takes just a bit longer than you expect.

We had a bit of a climb out of Duncan to find the Great Trail, which isn’t fully connected yet. Once we did find it, the riding was excellent. Varying grades of gravel - from chunky rocks to smooth asphalt grade gravel, but overall it was really lovely to ride. I’m really excited to go up and explore it more. So many wildflowers in bloom next to the trail too! Truly a lovely riding experience!

Riding on the Great Trail

Riding on the Great Trail

The Kinsol Trestle is a must see of this area as well. It looked like there were some trail heads close to the trestle, so you could take a more direct route, but what’s the fun in that?

After the trestle, we took the least hilly route back to Victoria possible. As we understood it, we could have taken the Trans-Canada trail the entire way, however, the trail has some steep sections that we weren’t mentally or physically ready to tackle. Instead, we opted for the Mill Bay ferry into Saanich, and then took the Lochside Trail back into Victoria.

We finished up our tour with a stay in a hostel downtown Victoria and caught the Black Ball back to Port Angeles early Sunday morning.

Day 3 Mileage: 41ish

Overall, the bike riding was excellent and I would recommend our route 100%. I would not recommend any of our sleeping choices, but there are plenty of other camping/hotel options and with a bit more foresight, all of the issues we ran into could easily be avoided.

We did it! Back in Victoria by sunset!

We did it! Back in Victoria by sunset!

A Day in Chicago by Bike

Last weekend I traveled to Chicago to celebrate my nephew's 2nd birthday. Technically, I landed at O'Hare but spent most of the weekend in Great Lakes, Illinois (about 40 miles north of the city) where my sister lives. 

Women and Children First

 

Our weekend was full of toddler fun: the Betty Brin Children's Museum in Milwaukee, family swim time, rainbow cupcakes, and toddler music class. As has happened previously on trips to visit them, I reach my limit of suburb time after about 3 days. I need the energy, diversity, and craziness that a city brings. So on Saturday March 17th (yep, St. Patrick's Day), I took the train into Chicago for a day in the city.

The previous time I was in Chicago I explored the city by Divvy bike. This worked out pretty well, as Chicago has a good density of stations. Planning to do the same this time, I reached out to "Bike Twitter" for recommendations on must sees, eats, and dos in the Windy City. 

I was surprised by a message from Elsbeth Cool, the owner of Four Star Family Cyclery. She offered me one of her fleet bikes to ride for the day, a Tern Vektron.  She told me she was just off the blue train line in Logan Park, and being the transit savvy person I am, I figured "No problem. I'll just transfer and be there shortly!" 

Elsbeth Cool

If only it was so easy. l spent the majority of the train ride trying to figure out how to transfer from the UP-N to the Blue L line, a feat which is apparently impossible. I asked 4 people on the train how to do it- none of them knew. Eventually I decided I would get off at the closest stop to Logan Park and make my way from there.

Getting off the train I was suddenly awash in a sea of St. Patrick's Day revelers. St. Patrick's Day in Chicago is a BIG deal. Oh shit. My sister was right - going to the city today was a big mistake and I'm going to have to deal with drunks all day. 

Quickly enough, however, the throngs caught their Ubers and Lyfts and were on their way to Wrigleyville or Downtown Chicago for the real party, and I was left to my own. Thankfully, in Chicago, the Transit App works incredibly well and has train, bus, bike, and carshare integrated. I discovered that a Divvy station was less than a block away, which I could then ride to Logan Park!

I've been seriously spoiled by the free-floating bike share model in Seattle and forgot how annoying it is to redock at a specific station every 30 minutes. I slowly and deliberately made my way to Logan Park, with the help of Google Maps. (Hat tip- the bike directions on Google are usually pretty spot on!) I found another Divvy station a few blocks from Elsbeth's house, dropped the bike, and walked to her place.

She opened Four Star Family Cyclery out of her basement last summer and business has been humming along steadily ever since! She works to get families on bikes that a practical alternative to traveling by car, which usually means electric cargo and family bikes! 

I was loaned a Tern Vektron for the day, which is a super cool folding electric bike. While Chicago is super flat compared to Seattle, having the electric assist meant I could get further and explore more with less effort. Winning!

Ukrainian Village

I set off with the intention to explore a few different neighborhoods, including Wicker Park, Ukrainian Village, and Logan Square. I slowly made my way throughout the neighborhoods, stopping for photos, an occasional beer, and one really good baked potato at The Shelby. Seriously, if you're ever in Chicago, check out their baked potatoes. 

As far as bike lanes go and feeling safe on the road, Chicago wasn't the best. Many of the bike lanes on the major streets are solidly in the door zone (as with every other city), however, Elsbeth gave me a great tip to ride a block or two over from the main street and I would find quiet residential streets. She was 100% spot on and I spent most of my time on side streets. 

During my day, I stopped at many businesses, but two of them I want to briefly highlight.

The first is BFF Bikes, a neighborhood bike shop that I've followed on social media for years. They're a full service bike shop, but with a focus on women's specific apparel and bikes. When I rolled by on Saturday afternoon, they were in the middle of their 4th Anniversary Party with treats and a solid crew hanging out inside. I was warmly welcomed and had a great chat with some local riders and the owner. If you're in Chicago, I'd encourage you to swing by their shop.

BFF Bikes

The second business is a bookstore called "Women and Children First." I first visited this shop last year on my visit and fell in love. Unabashedly feminist and political, this local bookstore is a gem. With tables dedicated to trans* literature, highlights by authors of color and a welcoming, positive vibe, I think I could spend all day in here. (My undergrad degree is in Women Studies after all. This is my feminist dream come true!)  I browsed for a while and eventually picked up "Tell Me More" by Kelly Corrigan, a mug, and a Black Lives Matter button.

IMG_0227.jpg

From there, I rode back to Elsbeth's place, dropped off the bike, and was on my way back to the train. I think in total I rode somwhere between 15 and 20 miles, but I'm not really sure. The ease of the bike I was loaned along with the flat, grid streets of Chicago made it easy to just keep going. 

I can't wait to go back, hopefully this time with my sister and nephew riding alongside me!

Upcoming Posts! Hong Kong, Setting your own Pace, Gear Reviews and Camping Hacks

I have a goal to be more regular with posting - it turns out people enjoy reading this little blog I've put together. In that spirit, I'm going to attempt to be public about some upcoming posts I've got planned. 

While I'd like to tell you what order they're going to appear in, let's be honest, I'm probably the most disorganized person you'll ever meet and I'm going to write in whatever order I damn well feel like.

So here are a few things that have been percolating in my brain as of late:

  • Hong Kong! I went on a fabulous just-for-funsies trip to Hong Kong in February and I'm dying to show and tell stories and photos from this trip!
  • Setting your own Pace/Riding Your Own Ride.  There's a thing in the thru-hiking community called "Hike Your Own Hike", which basically boils down to do your own thing to ensure self-satisfaction and well-being. Over the past few years, many of my bike camping trips have been solo or with a smaller group, so when I do go on a bigger ride, it's a hard line for me to find between sticking with the group for the shenanigans and riding my own ride. (More on this in the post.)
  • Gear Reviews & Camping Hacks  - How do I eat real food when camping? What heavenly sleep system have I fallen in love with this season? (Seriously, it's dreamy and I absolutely love crawling into at the end of a long day.) Just some tips, tricks, and little things I've picked up along the way of a few seasons of doing this thing.

Ruby Beach, on the Washington Coast where I camped a few weeks ago in the pouring rain, but stayed nice and cozy.

A Swing...and a Near Miss

Call it luck or perhaps good planning, but until this weekend all of my bike camping trips have gone off without a hitch. No major mechanical issues, getting lost, or unexpected difficulties. For the most part, I've known exactly what to expect in terms of ride difficulty, length, and weather and have prepared accordingly.

Well, for some reason, I royally screwed up this trip. And I feel really bad because it wasn't just me at stake this time. I took a bike camping virgin with me! GAHHHHH.

My plan was to ride out to Scenic Beach State Park as a way to test out the route for the upcoming Swift Campout and to take part in Adventure Cycling Association's National Bike Travel Weekend. In a few weeks I'll be leading the Bikery's group on this same ride, and since I've never been to this park, I figured it'd be a good idea to give it a whirl.

Holy hell it's a good thing I did. I missed one crucial turn about 5 miles into our ride which resulted in a whole lot of extra dumb climbing. Overall, the difference in elevation was only about 100ft between the two routes, but if you compare the elevation profiles, the route we took has a bunch of nasty big climbs vs. gentle long climbs.

The route we took: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/9322607

The route we meant to take: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/14232946

My bike felt wonky on the ride out there too, and I can't figure out if it's because the weight was distributed unevenly or I was just carrying too much stuff. My friend's bike wasn't a touring bike I was carrying most of the gear (cooking and sleeping stuff) and he just had a backpack and seat post rack. This, plus the heat made for a very slow going trip.

All the stupid climbing was availed when we pulled into camp and the rangers happily assured us that even though the sign said "Campground Full", the hiker/biker sites were still open. Winning on bikes, yet again!

We quickly set up camp and made the wise decision to not put the rain fly on the tent. With an overnight forecast of 60 degrees and no rain, we both were willing to risk a bit of dew for the rare opportunity to see towering pines and stars from the tent. Definitely a wise choice.

No rain fly, no problem.

The beach area at Scenic Beach is about a 5 minute walk from the campground. We grabbed a snack and a beer and headed down to check it out. The day area here is huge, with tons of picnic tables, bbq grills, and a few volleyball courts. Even though it was being well used, there was still lots of space and it didn't feel crowded. After checking it out, we headed back up to make dinner, eventually coming back down to the beach for the sunset.

 

In the morning, we enjoyed the requisite cup of coffee outside, a quick bowl of outmeal, and then headed out. We had a goal to be on the road before temperatures soared into the 90's, as nobody wants to ride in that.

Unsurprisingly, the ride back to town went a lot faster than the ride into camp. It's funny how riding the intended route works like that.