I just moved to Vancouver from Montreal. Like any good Easterner transplanted onto the West Coast, this meant that I was about to go full outdoorsy. Step one? Join the VOC! Step two? Sign up for a trip. I had every intention of my first trip being Rock Party but then I saw a trip that tickled my fancy: Self-Propelled(ish) Bike Tour to Mount Elphinstone hosted by Gabrielle Booth and Jacob Grossbard. Sounded harmless. I signed up and excitedly awaited the pre-trip meeting.
At the pre-trip I met the other participants: Julia Ramos Bujalil, Charlotte Scholten, and Kristin Gage. After repeatedly expressing my concerns about having practically never camped before, everyone assured me that all would be fine. With this, and a very necessary trip to MEC, I was ready to rock n’ roll.
We decide to meet at Grounds for Coffee on Alma at precisely 7am, their opening time. We each grab a piping hot cinnamon bun (i.e. bike trip fuel) and henceforth it is proclaimed that all self-propelled VOC trips shall begin at Grounds for Coffee – first cinnamon roll, then we roll.
The unfinished cinnamon rolls are meticulously secured to Jacob’s rear rack for future consumption.
We are lucky to have perfect weather for the ride up to Horseshoe Bay. We catch the ferry with time to spare and enjoy a scenic crossing of Howe Sound. Soon we are at what we thought was the trailhead to Mount Elphinstone. It turns out we are still 3km from the official trailhead. Of course we didn’t know this at the time, so we stash our bikes in the thorny brush and start on our merry way. After about 45 minutes, things start to go uphill (topographically, certainly not emotionally). During a particularly gruelling section, Julia exclaims “why do I keep choosing to spend my weekends like this?”, which I think is a very valid question and gives me what to think about so as not to think about my quivering calf muscles. This brings me to…
Lesson 1: Life is hard no matter what, so it might as well be hard with a view.
Speaking of views… Having expected a six hour round trip, we are surprised that we still haven’t reached the summit after three hours. It quickly becomes clear to us that we have way underestimated the length of this hike. However, we decide to forge on, and after another very uphill hour, we finally make it to the beautiful view we had worked so hard for…
Exhausted and overwhelmed by the shear beauty of this vista, we all, in silent agreement, lay down and take a good old summit nap.
Rising from our slumber, we decide that it’s high time for a group shot. Somebody has the brilliant idea that we should spell out VOC with our bodies. Easy stuff!
YAK? Hold on let’s try again…
Wait, where’s Jacob? (He forgot to set the delay on his camera so he just took a photo and then ran over and posed for ten seconds for absolutely no reason).
After a combined 45 minutes of pure faff, we finally gather our wits and begin our descent. As though Mother Nature hadn’t slapped us in the face hard enough by obscuring our summit view, about 20 minutes into the descent the fog lifts and the skies clear. Unfortunately for us, there is literally nowhere else to get a view on the way down (see Lesson 2). Like any normal people who just hiked 20 km up and down a 1200 m elevation, we hop back on our bikes to get to our campsite, which was another two hours away. Unfortunately, the hike took much longer than expected and we only have about an hour of daylight left.
As though things weren’t bad enough already, the first 25 minutes of the ride are purely uphill on highway 101 between Langdale and Gibsons. I can confidently say that I have never biked so hard in my life. Neither have I ever swerved back and forth across three lanes of highway in order to fight the incline. To congratulate us on our ascent, Mother Nature showers us with literal showers (see Lesson 2). Exhausted and wet, we stop in at a Subway in Gibsons to fill up on water and go over our game plan. The campsite was still an hour and a half away and the last rays of sunlight are just vanishing beneath the horizon. In addition to all this, the rain has really set in now and the rest of the ride would be on the shoulder of highway 101. Yikes. We decide to cut our losses and find the nearest possible place to pitch our tents. Thanks to Google Maps we find a picnic area in Roberts Creek, only about 30 minutes away.
The next 30 minutes are probably some of the most harrowing of my life. Lined up like ducklings on the foot-wide shoulder of highway 101, bike lights ablaze, we slowly make our way to our final destination. For those 30 minutes, reality consisted of nothing but rain, darkness, cars flying by, and staying in a straight line.
We make it to the picnic ground without incident and, by the light of a few headlamps, set up our camp a few meters away from the sign that read “camping prohibited.” We fill our bellies and promptly fall asleep to the sound of rain and waves crashing (though we couldn’t see them).
In the morning, the picturesqueness of our campground is revealed to us along with the source of the crashing waves that lulled us to sleep – the shore of the strait of Georgia. Now I’m not about to recommend an illegal campsite… but as far as they go, this one is pretty sweet.
Other than confused looks from some early-rising locals, nobody was concerned by our less-than-legal campground. We pack up our gear and laboriously strap everything back onto our bikes, prompting Gabrielle to drop some serious wisdom that was not only a lesson for me, but should be a lesson to all VOCers:
Lesson 3: “There always be faff on bike trips, ’cause bikes always be faffin’” – Gabrielle Booth
We stop for breakfast at the Gumboot Cafe, where we fuel up with coffee, dhal soup, and of course, another cinnamon roll. The Gumboot is incredibly cute and we highly recommend it to any VOCers travelling along the sunshine coast. Here we are shimmying and shaking the chills out as we prepare to get back on our bikes and head toward the ferry.
The ride back to Vancouver goes very smoothly, other than the fact that it rained the entire time and that my sleeping pad fell off my bike while crossing the Lions Gate Bridge. Luckily, Kristin was behind me and grabbed it. Unfortunately, due to the wind, rain, and cars, I couldn’t hear her yelling my name and she had to cross half the bridge with my sleeping pad on her handlebars (thank you again!).
Lesson 4: Strap down all your gear as though they were cinnamon buns.
Having crossed the LGB and the Burrard, one by one we break off to our respective finish lines to dry off and take well-needed showers and have a well-deserved rest.
Thank you for reading and thanks to my trip buddies for a very memorable first VOC trip! I’m already looking forward to the next one.