Vancouver Island Bike Trip

That’s right, you read the title correctly, I went on a bike trip. For those of you who don’t know me it might not sound that surprising since I do a lot of adventurous things, but trust me, I am not a biker. So the fact that I went on an 8 day, 160km bike trip last summer (July 2019) was definitely a surprise to me and something that I never thought I would do.

Taking up bike touring was a little bit of a forced hobby, but I ended up enjoying it quite a lot. I’m a girl guide volunteer in my spare time and have been volunteering in a Pathfinder unit (girls ages 12-14) for the past 3 years. The girls in the unit had gone on a short bike trip the year before, so we decided to take things to the next level with an 8 day bike trip around Victoria and Sooke.

Like I said, I’ve never really been a biker. I do own a bike, but it’s not the most ergonomic bike and New West (where I was living at the time) is super hilly, so I hadn’t used it very much. To prepare for the trip, I did weekly spin classes (something I’d already been doing as knee strengthening for hiking) and I started doing weekly bike rides around my neighbourhood. I got pretty into it and then before I knew it, I’d convinced Carolyn to sign up with me for my very first triathlon! I completed the triathlon (750m swim, 10km bike ride, 5km run) about a month before the trip and felt so accomplished.

But that’s all besides the point. Let me tell you about the trip. Our group of 10 girls and 4 leaders met at the Tsawwassen ferry terminal on the Saturday morning of the Canada Day weekend. We walked our bikes onto the ferry and aside from our support vehicle for food and gear, our bikes were our only mode of transportation all week.

On day 1, we rode off the ferry and biked ~24km to Kingswood Camp, which is a girl guide camp next to Elk Lake, about halfway between Sidney and Victoria. It was a really nice day, but we had a lot to learn about group riding and it ended up taking us about 4 hours to get to the camp. The Lochside Trail runs from Sidney all the way to downtown Victoria, so we spent most of the morning on a nice bike trail through Sidney, before exiting the trail to bike to the camp.

We got a little lost on the way to camp, but we eventually made it. There are definitely challenges with group riding as you don’t want to ride too close together or too far apart, and you can’t all cross the street at the same time. So we had a few kinks to work out, but we took our time and had a pretty good ride.

Since this was a trip with 10 teenagers, we kept to a pretty leisurely itinerary and enjoyed the camp facilities on Day 2. Like I said, the camp is right next to Elk lake, so we went on a short ride to explore the surrounding area, doing a total of 11km of riding. On Day 3, we packed up and hit the road again.

Day 3 was Canada Day and we wanted to celebrate with the masses in Victoria, which involved a 13km bike ride into downtown. Unfortunately I had to miss this ride as it was my turn in the support vehicle, but I raced the girls to find parking in downtown Victoria and meet them at the hostel where we were going to spend the night. We had a full 16 person room booked out for ourselves, so we set up base there before going to explore Victoria for the day.

I have to confess that I rarely celebrate Canada Day in the city. We’ve had a long weekend the last 4 years for Canada Day and I have a tendency to skip out of the city for the weekend to hit the mountains, so it was a lot of fun to actually properly celebrate Canada Day. We walked to Parliament from our hostel and caught some of the celebrations. We had a nice dinner at the Spaghetti Factory and caught the fireworks over the harbour.

On Day 4 we left Victoria for our longest biking day. We biked out of the city on the Lochside Trail and picked up the Galloping Goose for the rest of the ride. The weather caught up with us though and it was a wet ride out of Victoria. We rode along the trails in the rain until around noon, when we made it to Langford and found a Tim Horton’s to rest and dry off. It was okay biking in the rain so long as we were moving, but as soon as you stop, it starts to get really cold. It quickly became evident that we were going to have to make some serious changes if we were going to make it to Sooke in one piece.

Fortunately we had a support vehicle and it caught up with us at the Tim Hortons. We had all the pathfinders change into dry clothes, but it was definitely a lesson in preparedness. Some were well prepared with good quick dry clothes and waterproof outerwear, but others had to do a complete change of clothes and shoes. I changed into all dry clothes, but I opted to wear the same shoes because I wanted to have a dry pair when we arrived. Instead, I changed my socks and did the old trick where you line your sneakers with a plastic bag to stop the wet shoes from seeping into your socks. It totally worked.

Fortunately, the rain finally stopped while we were in Tim Horton’s and stayed away for the rest of the ride. So we had a quick bite to eat at Tim’s and then took off again, this time being able to stay dry. The Galloping Goose from Langdale to Sooke was definitely the highlight of the trip for me. Until then, we were mostly riding on side road bike paths or in many cases, just bike lanes. But after Langford, the Goose changes to a wide forested trail for the rest of the ride. We were able to ride long distances without having to worry about any road crossings and the trail was wide enough that the girls could ride two abroad and chat.

It was 4 or 5pm by the time we rolled into Sooke and found the camp that would be our home for the next 3 nights, Milne Creek Camp. Kingswood was cool, but I loved Milne Creek. It’s this old timey lodge right on the river. It’s 100 years old and has these little hammock beds that you fold down from the wall. The old porch has been converted into a sun room where we would eat our meals and it had a great view looking out over the river. From the sun room we saw so much wildlife. I saw 3 bears, a bunch of kingfishers, and at least a dozen deer throughout the 3 nights.

The rest of the evening was pretty much devoted to drying out our clothes. In total we had biked 44km. Day 5 was a more relaxing day for me. Half of the group got up early to go kayaking, but I was in the second group, so we had a bit of a lie-in and then a lazy morning. In the afternoon we went out to Sooke for ice cream and spent some time playing games in the field before returning back to our humble abode for a campfire (indoors).

Day 6 was much more eventful as it was my turn to go kayaking. We hired a 3rd party to take us out kayaking for 3 hours in the Sooke Basin. The first group hadn’t made it too far out as it was too windy to cross the basin, but while it was still windy when we went, they deemed it had calmed down enough for us to cross the basin. I’m not sure I agree with that assessment as it was rough crossing the basin in open water, but we saw some sea stars and cucumbers along the shoreline and then kayaked around sacred first nations islands where we saw a bunch of seals sunbathing themselves.

In the afternoon, we visited the Sooke museum and farmers market. We tried some tasty treats at the market and then spent a fair bit of time at Sooke karaoke night at the market! The girls had been planning their own Karaoke night for the evening and were thrilled to discover a full fledged karaoke machine at the market, so we had fun watching them all sing the latest Jonas Brother’s songs. We finished with a trip to the community pool to take the opportunity to shower as our cozy accommodations were sadly lacking any way of bathing.

Day 7 was our last full day and the route was a bit of a repeat of Day 4. Fortunately though, the rain stayed away this time. The girls biked another 44km back to Kingswood Camp, but I was on support vehicle duty again. I did meet them several times throughout the day though. We met for a picnic lunch in Langdale, and then again for an ice cream break closer to Kingswood. We had a bit of a party on the last night. We had technical biking shirts for all the girls, so we dressed up and made some virgin margarita’s to celebrate all the distance we biked!

Day 8 was our last day and it was a bit of a flurry as we biked another 24km back to the ferry terminal. We stopped again for ice cream along the way and arrived at the terminal just in time to catch our ferry back to Vancouver. In all, the girls biked 160km over the course of the week. It was a totally new experience for me and something I don’t think I ever would have done on my own. I can’t see myself taking up biking as my main form of adventuring, but it certainly made for a great trip and experience!

The Rest of my BC Summer

I shared an earlier post about the first half of my summer in BC, so here’s one for the second half of what has truly been an awesome summer!

Seth and I did a lot of camping in July in August. In hindsight, we probably would have preferred to do a little less camping and a little more hiking, but we still had a good time. Unfortunately, we got rained out on our first two camping trips. It only rained about 2-3 times during the entire month of July and it just happened to coincide with our camping trips! We were able to salvage some of our camping trip to Cultus Lake with an early morning hike of Teapot Hill. It’s named for an old teapot that was found at the top of the hill and if you hike there now, people have hidden dozens of teapots all along the trail, which makes for a fun scavenger hunt on the way up.

View from Teapot Hill

We had better luck in August and spent a weekend camping at Alice Lake Provincial Park near Squamish. We bought a rubber dinghy earlier this year and we finally got to take it out for a spin at Alice Lake. Alice Lake was much smaller compared to the other lakes we’ve camped at, but it was one of my favourites because it’s too small for motorized boats, so there’s no boat traffic at all. Our main motivation for staying at Alice Lake though was to cut off some of the drive to Joffre Lakes Provincial Park, which is a hike that has been recommended to me by pretty much every avid hiker I talked to throughout the summer.

Alice Lake

Joffre Lakes is located outside Pemberton, which is a three hour drive from Vancouver, and features three alpine lakes nestled under Matier Glacier. It’s an 11km roundtrip hike up into the mountains, which seemed like a walk in the park compared to our 20km hike to Garibaldi Lake. We both loved Garibaldi Lake, which ends at a beautiful glacial lake, but has a long 7km trek up continuous switchbacks to get to the view. I loved Joffre Lakes because the entire hike is incredibly scenic, not just at the end.

The hike starts at the first lake and then hikes through a boulder field up to the middle lake. The middle lake provides a great view of the Matier Glacier and there’s a beautiful waterfall flowing down from the upper lake. When you reach the upper lake, you can look straight across to the glacier. If you continue around the lake, you can actually camp on a huge rock located right under the glacier and you get a great view of the rest of the mountain range. It was a great hike, but it’s definitely worth it to get there early in the day, because everybody else loves this hike too. Parking was insane off the side of the highway and the crowds of people on the trail were at times a little overwhelming. Otherwise, I would highly recommend this hike!

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Some of other highlights of my summer included a Vancouver Canadians baseball game, the annual Celebration of Light, and of course, more hiking. The Vancouver Canadians are the Toronto Blue Jays affiliate team for the Northwest Minor League. We found a great groupon and both attended a game for just $14! They play in Nat Bailey Stadium, which is just a bunch of bleachers behind home base, but it felt very old school and we had a blast.

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The Celebration of Light is an annual fireworks competition that takes place over English Bay in late July. Every year two other countries compete with Canada to put off the best fireworks show. We decided to go watch Brazil’s fireworks display, which consisted of a 30 minute show choreographed to music. There were all kinds of activities beforehand and we had fun watching some Brazilian samba dancing, Capoeira (a Brazilian martial art), and the SkyHawks, an awesome Canadian parachute stunt team. The fireworks display was amazing and next year we’ll have to try and catch Canada’s contribution.

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I did a few shorter hikes during the summer as well. I joined Karen and Grant on the North Shore for a day hike up to Dog Mountain, which had a great view of the city. And I made a trip out to Squamish and hiked along Brohm Lake, which also had a great view of the some of the snow capped and glacier covered mountains.

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We ended off the summer with a trip to Vancouver Island for the first time since we’ve moved to Vancouver (and embarrassingly, my first time ever). The main purpose of the trip was to visit Victoria, but we camped outside the city in Goldstream Provincial Park to save money on a hotel. We didn’t spend too much time at the campsite, except to sleep, but we did do a nice roundtrip hike of the park. Goldstream River is named for the gold that was panned from the river during the gold rush and over the weekend we learned more than I thought there was to know about the gold rush.

The Goldstream hike takes you past an old goldmine cave that you can crawl into and up to an old railway trestle that crosses a huge gorge. It’s abandoned now, so you can walk along to the middle of trestle, which offers a pretty terrifying view down to the river at the bottom. We stopped at a few waterfalls along the way, the most notable of which is the very tall Niagara Falls. It’s a thin stream of water that flows down from the mountains, but it’s so named because the waterfall is actually taller than Niagara Falls! We finished the hike with a walk along the river which is very popular in the fall when thousands of salmon crowd the river to spawn.

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Victoria was a very nice city. It reminded me a little bit of St. John’s because everything in Victoria is much older than in Vancouver and many of the buildings were built in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. We spent the morning at the Royal BC Museum, which had a great exhibit on about the gold rush, as well as their permanent exhibits about BC’s European and First Nations history, as well as BC’s natural history. My knowledge about BC’s history is a little lacking, so I definitely learned a lot.

We continued our education in the afternoon with a walking tour of Victoria. Our tour guide was excellent and we learned all about Victoria’s story – the many people that have passed through the city and the history of many of the buildings around the inner harbour. We always knew that New Westminster was the former capital of BC and that Victoria was the former capital of Vancouver Island, but our favourite story was when we learned how Victoria stole the title of BC’s capital from New Westminster.

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On the day of the vote for the capital, the Victoria delegation took the man who was going to give an impassioned speech in favour of New Westminster out for breakfast. They knew he had a weakness for gin, so they graciously supplied him with gin throughout breakfast until he was so drunk that when we got up to give his speech, he ended up stumbling through the first page 3 times before being taken away for drunkenness. Without his strong plea for New Westminster, Victoria was able to steal the vote and secure itself as the BC capital! Seth loved the story because it seems like the kind of half-brained plot you’d see fail in a movie, not actually succeed in real life.

Victoria has so many attractions that we had a hard time fitting them all in. We spent an evening at beautiful Butchart Gardens and a morning at the Butterfly Gardens. We drove to the top of Mount Douglas for a great view of the gulf islands and did a little hike up Bear Mountain for a nice view of Vancouver Island. We finished the trip with a stop at Sea Ciderhouse to sample some local made cider and go on a tour of the ciderhouse. It was a gorgeous day and we enjoyed a flight of cider outside on the deck before catching the ferry back to Vancouver. Even the ferry was a thrill and we saw an orca mama and baby duo swimming in front of the ferry on the way back!

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After a long, hot, and dry summer, fall is finally catching up with us. It was still quite warm in September, but there’s definitely a chill in the air and we finally got some rain to fill up our reservoirs. Apparently it’s a super el-nino year, so we’re expecting another mild winter. I’d love to have snow to go skiing, but if we don’t get any, we’ll probably just continue our tour of BC’s wilderness by hiking!

Much love,
Maria