Islands by bike (PDF 990 KBytes)
Slow the pace with a bicycle tour of B.C.'s Gulf Islands
Parliament, Perennials and Pedal Power
Victoria, "the cycle capital of Canada"
By Paula Steele
Swoosh. That was the only sound giving them away.
In a flurry of spandex, a blur of colour and a rhythmic clicking of gears; five finely toned speed-cyclists brushed past me towards the highway in mechanical synchronicity. Me? I am not a cyclist. I am a bike rider. I would be choosing the road less traveled.
I warily eyed the vehicle that was to be my main mode of transportation for the next five days. Victoria was recently declared the "Cycle Capital of Canada". My friend and I were here to discover why.
DAY ONE: FERRIES, SIDNEY & SOUTH
Half of the fun of a visit to Victoria is getting there. I always enjoy BC Ferries as they offer a pleasurable trip through a feast of forested islands. The main appeal of this journey is the scenery: a constantly changing vista of mountains, wildlife and passing ships.
Disembarking off the ferry in Swartz Bay, we spotted the well-marked bike path with a sign welcoming us to the "Cycle Capital of Canada". Following the map on the sign, we cycled 6 kilometers to the seaside town of Sidney, located on Vancouver Island’s Saanich Peninsula. Surrounded on three sides by the sea, Sidney began as a farming settlement in 1858. Today, with its proximity to the picturesque islands of southwest British Columbia and northwest Washington State, this is a popular destination as well as an important midway point on the connection between Vancouver and Victoria. Sidney is an ideal launching-point for wilderness recreation and sightseeing in the islands, beaches and parks nearby. The town is small enough to explore on foot and promotes museums with interactive learning as well as unique shops and markets. Lovers of good bookstores could spend days browsing here.
The Lochside Trail, a 27-kilometre route connecting Sidney to Victoria, is a natural way to cycle to British Columbia’s capital city. The trail travels along coastal roadways, between farms, under canopies of trees and through ocean-view communities. Riding along, we shared the path with walkers, joggers -- even horseback riders. At Mattick’s Farm, we stopped for locally grown veggies and fresh apple pie. When you are traveling by bike, stopping to "fill up" the gas tank is the best part of the trip. At Royal Oak Drive, we left Lochside Trail in search of the new Seaside-Touring Route that would follow the coastline and lead us directly to our inn in the village of Oak Bay.
DAY TWO: VICTORIA AND OAK BAY
After awakening to the blessing of a sunrise over Mount Baker, we reluctantly left our plush rooms (with their own resident stuffed teddy-bears!) and were off to check out Canada’s cycling capital. Overflowing flower boxes and green parkways allow Victoria to live up to its reputation as "the city of gardens." We wended our way through Oak Bay on our way to the treasures of Victoria’s inner harbour. Oak Bay boasts quiet seaside marinas, meandering coastal roads and a town core that has been called "more British that the British". Stop at the Blethering Place for afternoon tea or visit the Tudor Sweet Shop for a more decadent treat. In downtown Victoria, I felt like a chameleon. Alternating between road riding and walking our bikes, we blended in with pedestrians and car traffic alike. Parking? No parkade line-ups and daily fees for cyclists. In Victoria, bike racks abound. You can ride along the harbour marina, tour the Parliament buildings, and shop along Government Street or picnic among the rose gardens of Beacon Hill Park. Heading home that night, we felt a sense of belonging as we traveled alongside Canada’s highest percent of city cycle-commuters.
DAY THREE: COWICHAN WINE TOURS
Oh, my aching bones. Or was it my muscles? With a sigh of relief, I settled into the tour van for a forty minute drive to the Cowichan Valley. Cycling between the farms was optional. I was tempted, but I willed myself to get back on my bike. The word Cowichan is a native word meaning "land warmed by sun" and today the valley certainly lives up to its name.
Our first stop was a 24-year-old organic farm selling slow foods (the opposite of fast food, an international movement very much embraced by Cowichan’s food purveyors). We sampled peas and grapes off the vine and then collected fresh garden vegetables for our noon meal. At the Godfrey-Brownell vineyards, eagerly awaited cheeses, bread, garden salad greens, tomatoes and an assortment of half-full wine glasses cluttered the table. The wine was rich and flavorful as it trickled slowly over our taste buds. Slow cycling, slow food and the slow savoring of our midday meal suited me just fine. Our Inn's guide loaded us back into the van for a leisurely ride "home".
DAY FOUR: SOOKE REGION
Cycle touring is not for the feint of heart. Or is it? Packing a set of evening clothes and a credit card, we set off along the Galloping Goose Trail for Sooke, BC, a winding route that is about 55 kilometers from Victoria into the Sooke Region.
The warm and genuine community of 11,000 people is situated between a wild, towering rainforest and the dramatic Pacific Ocean. Sooke offers visitors the untamed but comfortable experience that Vancouver Island’s far west coast is famous for -- and, thankfully, you can skip the 300-plus kilometers cycle to Tofino.
That evening and the next morning at Mrs. Lewer’s B&B, the china cups, fresh flower garnishes and decadent breakfast made us feel delightfully pampered. However, it was the availability of a washer and dryer and self-serve snacks that in particular made us bike riders feel right at home.
In my room, I looked at the mirror in disbelief. Was that me? Flat, helmet hair, red, glowing cheeks, and grease-streaked hands? Then, I made true eye contact with the reflection and grinned. I had cycled over 150 kilometers on my bicycle in just five days-and loved it! Sadly, this tour was nearing its end, but the peaceful trails and easy access to further cycling adventures had indeed proved Victoria to be "the cycle capital of Canada." The islands were already calling me back.
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Victoria, B.C.-Canada's Bicycle Capital
By Rick Millikan
Victoria, British Columbia, located on the southwestern tip of Vancouver Island, offers visitors many enticements and makes a perfect cycling destination. An inviting, vibrant British heritage resonates in its Tudor architecture, bag pipers, double-decker buses, pubs, prim gardens and proper afternoon teas. Though less known, a natural wilderness thrives in an extensive park system, beckoning Island hikers and bikers, as well as attracting adventure tourists. Over 10% of Victorians gear up daily to cycle into their beautiful city. Many visitors now saddle up to pedal into Canada's Bicycle Capital.
Cycling here is far from a wild idea. It’s quite sensible. Tourists love to vacation in Victoria, but dislike those round tripping ferry hassles. Bicycle travel is a very manageable, economical, and enjoyable alternative! Whether you’re embarking at the B.C Tsawwassen or the Washington State Anacortes ferry, there’s no stressful "Can we get on this time?" line up. Cyclists are assured passage on the first available ferry; as well as board the ferry first. Think of the implications!
After your enjoyable trip across the sparkling Strait of Georgia, pedalers disembark immediately upon Vancouver Island and soon merge onto a well-signed bicycle route to the Lochside trail. Commuter trains once chugged along this Lochside’s 35 kms / 22 miles; passengers were charged 3 cents a mile from Victoria and 5 cents a mile return. Now it’s a free and easy trail over the graded rail bed. Cyclists can count on two to three spectacular hours of healthy exercise on this former railway and scenic trail-way into historic downtown Victoria.
Should you want to pedal one way only, bus service accommodates both you and your bike to Victoria or back to Swartz Bay. If in a rush, the fast route remains Pat Bay Highway’s wide shoulder. Cycling time to Victoria on this route can average just over an hour.
Most cyclists choose Lochside trail. The paved miles into and out of Sidney skirt the water’s edge, with a backdrop of islands and the snow capped Olympic Mountains. Whimsical driftwood sculptures wave you on and into the next community, Saanich. Soon, Lochside becomes a gravel trail that parallels the main highway, but continues as a country road through coastal farmlands and forests. As a road, traffic is light to non-existent. As it once more becomes an unmotored “green way”, opportunities abound to hear bird songs, sight deer, and sniff woodsy fragrances. Park interpretive boards offer inquisitive tourists both historical and natural science information. Rebuilt trestles pass panoramically over lakes.
Every tourist appreciates a beautiful rest stop. What could be more refreshing than a quick dip on a hot day? Take a short northern detour to the right at Royal Oak, over the Pat Highway and soon you arrive at Beaver Lake Park. This is a great place for a swim or picnic. Although the main trail encounters several busy urban intersections, traffic signals make the crossings safe and easy.
At the Island Highway junction, the Trans Canada Trail forks northward. This Pacific section, better known as the Galloping Goose, extends 64 kms / 40 miles to Leechtown, a ghost mining town. This manicured trail passes by Thetis Lake Park, which offers camping alternatives to Victoria’s fancier digs as well as idyllic swimming. Many cyclists travel to Km 54 to take unforgettable dips in Sooke Potholes. The forest campsites above the burbling river allows a thorough immersion in super natural B. C.
If you’d like to cycle there first class, Island Adventure Tours offers the gourmet “Goose” guided tour alternative. After a leisurely 4-hour (40-kms/25 miles from Victoria) ride through forests, farmlands, and wilderness parks and over trestle bridges, cyclists arrive at Sooke Harbor for a 6-course feast and a stay at a waterfront Bed & Breakfast. Leechtown, a historic ghost town is explored the next day. There’s also ample time to swim and enjoy the enticing deep clear pools of Sooke Potholes. A second night’s stay at the B&B includes a fabulous dinner at the 17 Mile Pub, noted for its local seafood. After breakfast at Coopers Cove, it’s back to Victoria.
From the “Goose” junction, the trail into Victoria bridges the Island Highway. Because the trail travels over and tunnels under major traffic arteries, cyclists enjoy two car-free carefree miles into Victoria’s heart and soul. In fact, cyclists enjoy a peaceful, picturesque route through parkland, over the Selkirk trestles, and along the Gorge waterway into Victoria’s inner harbor. Although the trail ends at the Johnson Street Bridge, the adventure continues.
Bicycles readily access Victoria’s sights and charms. The Tourist Bureau’s mini-pamphlet “Cycling Victoria, Wheel Fun Loops” recommends four planned rides starting at the Legislative Buildings. These quiet scenic routes connect cyclists to Victoria’s primo sites and destinations. Vacationers could also map out their own perfect tour de Victoria. What’s your cup of tea? Why not start at the elegant Empress Hotel? The scenic inner city is very comfortably cycled. Slowly circle the Parliament Buildings reflecting on its majestic architecture, proceed to China Town, then hit the trail for the historically entertaining Point Elice Home, and conclude your day visiting Esquimalt’s Anne Hathaway House in a reconstructed Elizabethan England.
Another day could be planned for a jaunt to Beacon Hill Park’s extensive gardens and delightful petting zoo, the nearby Lieutenant Governor’s Mansion and public gardens; Victoria Art Gallery and the incredible Craigdarroch Castle. Craigdarroch Castle has dominated Victoria’s skyline for over a hundred years. Modeled after the Scottish Belmoral Castle, this coal baron’s mansion was presented to his wife Joan. Now visitors can experience Robert Dunsmuir’s fairy tale castle almost completely restored to its original condition and furnishings. Extending the bicycle ride to nearby Oak Bay would warrant a perfect pub for a pint of ale or an inn for a spot of tea.
Victoria admirably accommodates two-wheel visitors. Many Hotels, B & Bs and Motels manage all the adventuring cyclists’ needs and security concerns. Centrally located Executive House Hotel offers a relaxing spa, convenient bicycle storage, and has provided Exec Treks, which included several choice Island cycling tours.
The Oak Bay Beach Hotel extends special considerations to cyclists and furnishes truly unique services. Solid bike racks welcome cyclists at the entrance to the Oak Bay Beach Hotel. Comfortably visit the antique-rich lounge. Imbibe at the famous “Snug” pub. Enjoy an afternoon tea service. Hotel guests are offered complimentary use of mountain bikes to explore Victoria. Moreover, the Oak Bay Beach Hotel provides an exhilarating array of Island cycling tours, as well as ocean adventures.
Touring cyclists could consider alternate return routes. The new, well-signed Seaside Route is such an option. It twists along the spectacular shoreline from Beacon Hill Park through scenic Oak Bay, the Uplands, and Cordova Bay, then climbs through residential Gordon Head into the evergreen forests of Mt. Douglas. By continuing down Royal Oak from Mt. Douglas cyclists soon arrive at the Lochside junction and return to the more comfortably graded and peaceful Lochside trail.
Though I love Paris, Canada has an equally lovable city, Victoria. Have you heard our cycling song? “I love Victoria in the spring time and the summer. I love Victoria in the fall. And how, oh how do I love Victoria? Cycling there…any time at all!”
Photography by Chris Millikan
Supported Tours from Victoria:
Island Adventure Tours
Bicycle Friendly Accommodations:
Executive House Hotel
Oak Bay Beach Hotel
Midway Break along the Lochside Trail
Adrienne's Tea Garden
Robert Ullman's Washington to Alaska trip - via Vancouver Island. http://www.prostar.com/web/alaska/aktrip_2.htm