July 3, 2014: Victoria – Port Renfrew, ~105km
I hadn’t slept much the previous night. My bike was packed and sitting in the garage. I had been ready to go for the better part of two weeks, but now, on the morning of departure, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had forgotten something. Bear spray? Check. Water purification chemicals? Check. Bug spray? Check…etc. No, I wasn’t missing anything essential. Perhaps others who have gone on extended travels can relate? It’s as if the mind knows what the body is about to endure, and it sends its pleas the only way it knows how: by instilling doubt.
It was 6:00am, and, after a quick breakfast and an understated goodbye, I was off. Or rather, we were off. I had invited my dad to join me for a portion of the trip, and he was going to accompany me as far as Thetis Island via Port Renfrew. I was grateful for the company.
We slowly made our way south-west on Highway 14, the West Coast Road. The weather was sunny and brisk, and, aside from the rush hour traffic, it was a pleasant ride. Dad wanted to make it to Jordan River by noon, and so we only stopped briefly in Sooke.
Past Sooke, the traffic diminished significantly, and the hills became a bit steeper and a bit longer. Though we were following the coast, the ocean was obstructed for the most part by a thin veil of trees. Occasionally, the road would dip down to sea level, and we would pass hamlets overlooking wild, rocky beaches. This wasn’t the first time I had ridden by these roadside villages, and, though I don’t often think about retirement, I couldn’t help but imagine myself living out the rest of my days in one of the quaint little cottages. But this was no time to be thinking about a sedentary life…
There was supposed to be a restaurant in Jordan River, and, as we neared the coastal settlement, dad reminded me of this more and more frequently. Even road signs indicated as such. Once we arrived, we discovered that there was indeed a restaurant. A closed restaurant. After finding a rest area in the lee of an outcropping of trees next to the ocean, we settled for one of my finer creations: pasta with peanut butter. Not exactly a five course meal, but it was a good chance to see if the stove was working properly (it was), and an even better chance to see just how far I could stretch my dad’s taste buds.
On towards Port Renfrew the road became wilder, with long, steep grades, blind corners, and reckless drivers. There was a mild yet not insignificant headwind to boot. We persevered, and were rewarded with a long, winding downhill into Port Renfrew. With huge grins on our faces, we stumbled towards a restaurant down by the marina. This one was open!
Since Port Renfrew was an active fishing community during the summer as well as a gateway to the West Coast Trail, the restaurant patronage was an eclectic mix, from sun-kissed fisherman regaling one another with tales of “the one that got away” to grimy hikers bonding over ups and downs shared on the trail.
One particular table stood out. Sitting at it were four young, male hikers who had all “assumed the position” and were fastidiously staring into their phones. During the entire duration our visits at the restaurant overlapped, they didn’t say one word to each other. Dad suggested that this was probably because they had been spending every night for the past week or so in each others’ company and were probably out of things to say. While that may be the case, I still found the sight a bit depressing, but perhaps that was because of its ubiquitousness in our culture.
With contented, full bellies, we headed towards the fishing lodge where we were to spend the night. The lodge caretaker was a kindly old fisherman/hunter who gave us some moose pepperoni along with the keys to our shack. We started to doze as the Wimbledon semi-final match broadcast through the CRT sitting atop the fridge, and, after briefly going over what the next leg had in store for us, we called it a night.
July 4, 2014: Port Renfrew – Thetis Island, ~100km
Another early morning. Today’s ride took us across Vancouver Island via a recently paved yet still active logging access road. We knew that the hills would be, on average, more difficult than those of yesterday, and, having a ferry to catch at 5:00pm, we didn’t want to cut things to closely. I really don’t like having hard deadlines like this, but we were heading to a camp/resort on Thetis Island, one which served dinner at 6:00pm.
The first 15km were surprisingly flat, given that we were heading inland fairly directly. It was a beautiful and effortless way to start the day. On the right, through the trees, we could make out ponds and marshlands. Aside from birdsong, there was hardly a sound, though the occasional vehicle that passed by seemed to be travelling at about twice the posted speed limit.
Once we connected with the access road, the terrain changed abruptly and we were soon climbing some good grades. Even though this was still an active logging road, there was the occasional campsite along the side. Lizard Lake, for example. After about 25km of ups and downs (predominantly ups) culminating in a wicked set of switchbacks, we hit what we presumed to be the “summit” of this road. After a short break, we continued on. Turns out we were correct with our presumption, and we were able to sit back and coast for a change as the road brought us lower and lower.
The views also opened up. We were able to take in huge vistas of mountainous Vancouver Island forest. As was to be expected, given the nature of this road, there were also vast clearcut wastelands. This was pretty unsightly, but there were saplings jutting up between the rows of dead stumps, an indication that there was at least some mind for sustainability behind the seemingly excessive destruction.
There had only been a light covering of clouds for most of the morning, but by the time we stopped for lunch in Lake Cowichan, rain looked inevitable. After a quick lunch, we continued down the road towards Highway 19, the main island highway. By the time we reached it, the rain was now coming down in earnest. It wasn’t a big deal, because this final stretch of the ride was easy compared to the hilly terrain of earlier. We soon arrived in Chemainus and relaxed with a couple of subpar Americanos (I can’t believe I wrote that. I never used to be able to tell the difference between certain types of coffee. Now, I have an opinion).
A short ferry ride later, we were being served dinner. We made it!
Somehow, I managed to find the energy to play floor hockey for several hours with many old friends from my dad’s church. Spending time with this community was in many ways like putting on an old shoe. This church and its congregation had been a regular part of my life for many years. However, I hadn’t been religious for many years, and so the old shoe had a few barbs in it. Regardless, it was a pleasure to spend time with so many genuinely kind and supportive people, and I was sad that I wasn’t able to stay for the entire weekend.
Tomorrow, I would head out on my own.