As an artist, I like to really experience the full richness and beauty of the world. One of the best ways to do that is to travel by bicycle. Cycle touring is a great sort of new-age thing to do. It’s healthy, it’s eco-friendly and it’s a wonderful experience that makes you feel great. Here’s an excellent trip that I took, solo, last fall.
Early last September I loaded everything on my bike, and set off from my East Vancouver home. I rode downtown, took a public transit bus to Horseshoe Bay. (All Horseshoe Bay buses have bike racks) and I boarded the ferry for Langdale, on the sunshine coast.
Picture: a painting of Horseshoe Bay that I did a few years ago. There's a larger view of it on my website.
I cycled north to Earl’s Cove, took another small ferry over to Saltery Bay, and camped overnight at the provincial campground there. The Sunshine Coast is quiet and beautiful but I didn’t take any pictures because I’m a blockhead. I didn’t start taking pictures until I got to Powell River, the next day.
(Picture: View across the Strait of Georgia, from just south of Powell River)
I usually cycle 50 to 100 km a day on a trip. That’s plenty, especially on hilly roads with a heavily loaded bike. Besides, I want to experience everything, not just watch it fly by.
At Powell River I waited a couple of hours for the big ferry to Vancouver Island. Powell River’s a lovely town so I had no problem with hanging around there for awhile. I took the ferry across the Strait of Georgia and spent my second night in the beautiful town of Courtenay. (Everything’s beautiful on the West Coast and Vancouver Island.)
Anyhow, on day three I got up, took down my tent, packed my bike and rode into the center of Courtenay to have some brekkie and get my gourmet coffee fix.
Then I rode 60 or 70 km down the coast highway to Parksville, where my sister and brother-in-law live. I love this particular road. It’s the scenic route, not the main highway, and you’re close to the water all the way, so its a flat, easy ride. It’s also gorgeous and you can smell the sea air all the way.
(Pictures: Views to the east, from the Coast Highway between Courtenay and Parksville, on Vancouver Island)
I stayed overnight with my sister in Parksville and in the morning I noticed my bottom bracket bearing was almost shot, so I got a new one from a bike shop and put it in. Then I packed up and rode the 49 km to Port Alberni. This is a hilly ride with a long climb to a summit before you coast down into the town.
On the way there you pass Cathedral Grove, a provincial park with some of the largest, oldest trees on the Island. Its has short hiking paths and is a popular tourist stop. Cameron Lake is another nice stop, a pretty little lake with a nice picnic area adjacent to the highway.
In Port Alberni I camped overnight and got up at 6 am the next morning to catch the Frances Barkley, a fairly large boat that makes regular runs down the Alberni Inlet to Ucluelet, on the west side of the island. It’s a beautiful five hour trip that cost a little over $30 including a $5 surcharge for my bike.
Picture: Port Alberni Harbour
The Frances Barkley
The Barkley carries passengers and freight, and makes stops at little coves and settlements along the way.
We stopped to watch some killer whales at one point. You could see their dorsal fins and their backs breaking the surface of the water, and every few minutes one of them would go deep and then shoot straight up out of the water blowing water out of its blow-hole. Wow! I tried to get a picture, but I wasn’t fast enough. They shoot up without any warning, and it’s only a few seconds before they’ve disappeared under the water again. It’s an especially hard shot to get with a digital camera, because you’ve always got that momentary delay after you press the button.
This fishing boat followed us into the harbour at Ucluelet
There were big sea lions basking on the rocks when we pulled into Ucluelet. I had something to eat, toured around the town for a couple of hours, and then took off for Tofino, about forty km to the north. I passed Pacific Rim Park and Long Beach on the way but I didn’t stop because it was Friday, and I wanted to get to Tofino while there were still some campsites available. Tofino is very popular, and even in September things can fill up on a nice weekend. In fact when I arrived, there were only a couple of tent sites left in the whole town, both of them costing $41 a night with tax. Tofino can be a bit pricey, at times. I had no choice but to grab one, and, to be fair, it was a beautiful spot with top- rate amenities, including free showers and internet access.
A popular viewpoint at Tofino
Waterfront view near my expensive campsite.
McKenzie Beach, Tofino
I stayed in Tofino a couple of days, just toured around, drank coffee, sampled local restaurants, and then I headed back to Pacific Rim Park, and Long Beach.
Long Beach is probably the best place to surf in Canada and is very popular. The water is cold though. You have to wear a wet suit. I stayed overnight in a campground about 4 km away (much more reasonably priced, this time). Then I continued south, camped overnight in Ucluelet which is also a really neat place, and the next day I rode back to Port Alberni. I didn’t get any pictures of Ucluelet because all my batteries were dead. I got the girl in the camp ground office to plug my charger in, and charge one set of them up, overnight.
The 100 km ride from Tofino/Ucluelet back to Port Alberni is challenging. You climb to a high summit almost exactly at the half way point, and I wound up pushing my bike at least as much as I actually rode it. Most of the way up to the summit the road is narrow and has little or no paved shoulder area. Quite often you have to pull over to let a logging truck or string of vehicles pass. Near the top it is very windy, with very narrow hairpin turns. Beautiful country, though. On the other side of the summit the road gets wider and has a good marked shoulder area to ride in. Besides it’s mostly downhill, so its a breeze. In the last 20 km or so you pass by scenic Sproat Lake, where I stopped for lunch and took some pictures.
Sproat Lake, Lunch Stop
Relaxing at Arrowvale Campground, Port Alberni