‘Tis the season to go bike touring!

I haven’t written in a while. Unfortunately the excuse this time is not because I’ve been spending every spare hour stuck to a piece of granite. Probably more realistically it’s because whenever I’ve had time to be sat in front of my computer I have felt too guilty to do anything but push out resumes and search for career furthering employment.

Despite a very good end to the season with climbing in Squamish happening for me until late October it feels like things are pretty much over with a damp and cold beginning to the November month. Thankfully, despite a burning desire to always eek more out of the season, I feel satisfied to put it to bed knowing I made far more of the climbing here than I had anticipated. Arriving at the tail end of summer and unsure I could find stoked partners to rally to get out as much as I wanted to, I had gingerly pledged just to put my efforts into getting set up in my life here in Van, meeting some new people and hopefully putting in some ground work days finding new partners and getting to know the rock a bit to build up a net work and a tick list for next summer. Thanks to a steady stream of psyched new (and old) friends I feel I more than did this and that I actually progressed on new rock and new styles.

Some of the many highlights have been my introductory day back to the bluffs and some uber classics with Paul and Ian, trying out new multi-pitches on the papoose with Em, epic-ing on 5.9 wide cracks with Ross, developing slab technique with Emily, discovering the pleasures of bouldering with Paul, Lenny and Sheena, Em and I and Howser the dog touring the bluffs again, daft adventures with Jen and giving her an ‘exciting’ belay for my first 5.11a (albeit reputedly soft touch!) and more recently learning aid techniques with Baz at Sully’s and stepping up on hooks for the first time.

(Attempting a really fun V4 at the Grandwall boulders – photo credit to Lenny)

(Howser waiting patiently whilst Em and I climbed in the Bluffs)

Sully’s was a couple of weeks ago now and at high a point of frustration over the remembrance day long weekend (working when my friends who all have proper jobs were planning trips) lead me to vent by planning my own, solo, adventure to Vancouver island. I had some new gear to test out (new marmot plasma 15 down sleeping back and ExPed UL 9 synmat) and since it seemed depressingly unlikely that my shop hours would coincide with any of my friends cool trips for the coming weeks I decided to take advantage of a Sunday/Monday break from work and go touring on my bike.

I’d only been to the Island once before when Beth, Rosie and I went over to do the Cape Scott trail over five years ago. I have never been to Victoria even and felt there was much exploring to be done. Plus since I didn’t fancy succumbing to (what I expect will become an unfortunate reality of Vancouver based cycling) having to head up the sea-to-skye highway to get in some decent mileage away from traffic lighted roads – I decided I’d give the Island a go to see if I couldn’t find a nice wee loop.

It took a while to work out where to go for a few reasons: I had never been to the island before (well once along time ago – we’ve discussed that) and didn’t know the roads, I realised that the roads on the map that look like small wee roads that would be fun to ride in Scotland may not be the same kettle of fish, I hadn’t cycled more than commuting distance for a while let alone toured so I was cautious to keep a modest mileage, I needed to find somewhere I could camp along the loop.

(Route maps)

I decided upon a route starting in Victoria that took me out west and toward Sooke. It looked like I could find somewhere low key to camp if I followed the River up North past a place called the Pot-holes and on the map it looked like I could even find a way to loop back on some tiny wee roads that winded down past a couple of lakes. Lovely!

The only problem was that the Ferry doesn’t actually land in Victoria. The Route is Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay….and Swartz bay is a good 20miles from Victoria. It wasn’t even that I was un-keen to ride this extra distance it was just that the route I would have to cycle didn’t look too appealing-with lots of junctions and stops and starts if I wanted to avoid the main highway. I decided since the nights drew in at about 5pm (and since I would be landing on the island at around 11am if I caught the 9am ferry) to save time and hop on the handy bus that departs from the ferry terminal to Downtown Victoria (#70 or #72).

The night before when discussing the trip with a friend – an Islander in fact – he mentioned to me about the Lochside Regional trail and the Galloping Goose trail. I had seen things on the internet whilst researching cycling on the island about the Galloping Goose trail but wasn’t sure of the terrain and if it would be suitable for touring but I hadn’t realized a cycle-able trail went all the way from the Swartz Bay ferry terminal, down to Victoria and out to Sooke!

Unfortunately my friends info had come a little too late as I was prepared with maps and head-set on my original route, although I did do a bit of further internet research to try and find out where the Lochside started and went. I was disappointed to find reasonably terrible maps and info on the trails and expected it would be signposted off the ferry or easy to find. Since this was not the case and my confusion off the Ferry compounded my original intentions to hit the road route I’d planned – upon my return I tried to create a map from internet directions (http://www.crd.bc.ca/parks/documents/lochside_trail_guide.pdf  – bottom of page 5) to work out where you would go from the Ferry terminal, so that hopefully others don’t have a similar experience.

(Map of start of Lochside trail from Swartz Bay ferry terminal)

Although the road route was pretty traffic heavy and not particularly scenic leaving Victoria, I found it really interesting to journey out of the urban and gradually hit the countryside in a new place. The vernacular was much more British than I expected and certain subliminal triggers reminded me of home. This was slightly bizarre juxtaposed with riding along a North American scaled ‘highway’.

After just a few hours of pedaling I had hit the sooke river and was ascending the hill toward my roughly anticipated camping spot. I leisurely pottered around the river looking at the new scenery and vaguely spotting potential wild camping spots which happily seemed in abundance. I plodded on settled with the knowledge I could always pick up a tent spot back down the road if the opportunities became less fruitful the more I continued.

The road thinned and further paired back until it was nearly a track when I realised the galloping goose trail was running just parallel to me. I picked this up, again pleased that wild camping seemed like an easy option and flirted with the idea of continuing the extra 15k to Leechtown. About 5k into this idea I realised it was getting dark, the spitting rain had turned into a hammering poor and luckily enough I spotted what looked to be a cooking shelter affiliated with a campsite.

I rolled in to the campsite to find it had shut down for winter – not a soul there – thankfully basic facilities (toilet huts and shelter) still open. Taking on the impending downpour I realized I’d hit jackpot being able to pee and cook my dinner in the dry (not at the same time – obviously!).

One thing I’ve noticed since living in Canada is its peoples general reluctance to ‘bend’ rules or rebel against authority even on the most minor issues. For a country so well-endowed with wild environments and intimidating expanses of mountain playgrounds in harsh conditions I have never met such a bunch of cotton wool covered pansies! Sorry -thats probably kind of harsh (not to mention severely generalized) – but coming from living in Scotland (and probably more understandably Glasgow) where ‘Awright ya wee Baw-bag’ is a term of endearment and gale force winds and white-outs can be considered good winter climbing conditions I find this perhaps heightens my awareness of the paradoxically safe playing – belay testing – trail marking – helmet wearing Canadians. Anyway – rant over. My point being with such well behaved peers in mind I opted to pitch my tent on the outskirts of the conveniently groomed tent bays smuggled in behind some trees, just in case some adventure-less park ranger were to play stickler to the ‘closure’ rules pinned to the gates of the Sooke pot holes regional park and turf me out on his/hers gate keeping rounds at ‘9pm prompt’.

(My backwater camping spot, pretty picturesque even with a washed out grey November background)

I pitched my tent immediately, before the rain got worse and the last of light drew in and trekked back up to the shelter where I was able to luxuriously hang wet waterproofs out to dry and fire up the stove to cook my dinner of Ramen noodles followed by hot chocolate.

I’d managed to eak out an hour or two cooking and washing up but finally at about 7.30pm I succumbed to the fact that all that was left to do was cosy on down in my tent inside my new sleeping bag, listen to the horrible weather outside and read my book. Pure Bliss!!

My new gear was more than up to the mild temperatures that the night dished out and my neg 9 down sleeping bag coupled with an R value of 6 from my sleeping mat left me sleeping nearly naked to be at a comfortably cool temperature! Success in lightweight/warm/comfortable sleeping gear had been achieved!

After a good nights sleep (despite a few woken moments making sure I couldn’t hear bears or pedantic Rangers outside!) I awoke to more rain. Breakfasting and watering from the adjacent river under the relative comfort of the shelter allowed me to ponder the days route.

(Campground Selfie! Warming up my muscles for the day with a hot brew at breakfast under the shelter.)

Doubtful that the wee roads I’d seen on the map were actually ride-able and unwilling to risk a real epic in the persisting precipitation I decided to settle the intrigue I had for the Galloping goose trail. I also subsided to the fact that since the tame gradients and traffic free characteristics of the galloping goose trail would probably make way for a reasonably fast average mph and they would unlikely tire out even a weary and unfit touring cyclist like myself, I could probably go for broke and cycle all the way back to Swartz bay without having to catch a bus in Victoria. Stoked on this idea I suited up in all my best rain defending gear – geeky contact lense protecting cycling glasses et al – and hit the trail.

It was evident even a short while in that all though the GG trail was very scenic and indeed – I was knocking off the Km’s pretty fast – I was also getting pretty wet and pretty gunged up fast. Lots of the trail had turned to mushy muddy puddles and without mudguards things were getting gunked up pretty bad. I actually found this quite fulfilling – if I couldn’t get my kicks from enduring punishingly steep gradients over long distances a good old child-like mud-covered experience would do as a substitute.

Psyche was high for about 80% of the way into Victoria as even through grey skies the occasional glimpses of quaint harbours and sea views were awe-inspiring enough to keep me positive through the cold hard rain and mud spraying constantly in my face.

The galloping Goose took me along sections of trail solo for Kms with not another being in-site, sections where I raced school kids on cross-country running training, sections where I accompanied dog walkers and twee sections across timber boardwalks and road-crossings.

(A blurry photo of my soggy steed on a nice wee bridge along the GGT)

As I approached Victoria, hungry (from a reluctance to stop in the rain to eat regularly enough) cold from the inevitability of wet socks and gloves (no matter how technically good/waterproof during 3 hours of hitting raindrops at an average of 17mph and then the wet ground spewing moisture back up at you – the barriers don’t stand much of a chance) and pretty miserable I was trying to find away to convince myself that continuing to Swartz Bay was a good idea.

Often in times like these – times of suffering a bit – no matter how severe the relative stimulus of this suffering – I often think of my climbing Idol – Steph Davis – to try to muster the fight to persevere. I think back to Stephs book where she is describing her efforts in Patagonia and attempts to summit the Torre Egger – a life long ambition of hers. A cold and shivering night hunkered down in a storm in a thin bivi bag is endured by Davis and despite the suffering it all seems water off a ducks back since she has a dream to pursue and being hardy to these conditions is a vital skill to achieving this dream.

As I cycled on with my ice-block hands and feet, barely able to squeeze the brakes, continuing to be pounded with the rain, I thought to myself – ‘Steph would carry on to Swartz bay, I want to be as tough as Steph and this is a way of pushing myself towards that’. I jolted back out of Idol druelling world and continued straight on to Victoria at the sign for the Lochside trail up to Swartz bay – laughing to myself ‘…but Steph never had the lure of a warm coffee shop and the pull of an egg-nog latte as a get out clause to Patagonia’s hostile storms’.

I blundered into Starbucks in Victoria thankful that the polite Barista lady seemed unconcerned that I just dripped half of the pacific ocean on her hardwood floor and as I awaited my hot beverage and calorie intense snack I proceeded to strip naked in their washrooms, ringing my underwear out in the sink and changing into my luxuriously – only slightly damp – spare cloths.

Happy that bailing was the right thing to do I continued on to the last legs of my journey on a dry bus and ferry back to Vancouver, satisfied with my mini break and first bike adventure on Canadian turf, this reinforced how good an option cycle touring can be as a solo pursuit to evade the depressing pangs when adventures with friends just dont align for one reason or another. I am now super psyched for more and in anticipation of winter outdoor activities as soon as the shoulder season ends!


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