All trips must start somewhere. This particular one was brewing for quite some time. Ever since my neighbour Jonah King moved to Victoria for a job this summer, I have been itching to visit him and do some exploring. With the ferry costs being so exorbitantly high I knew that this would be a car-less trip, but what to do? All the big mountains on the island are up north!
After many late night Fatmap viewings and perusing Gaia, I finally devised a plan that would incorporate biking, hiking, mountain top camping, and swimming. With the Canada Day long weekend approaching this would be the perfect opportunity to be able to pull off such a trip. With a rough plan in place, and the addition of Jonah’s roommate Max Therrien, an avid cyclist (he designs bike lanes for a living for fucks sakes) the plan was set in motion.
The original plan was to head to Victoria Friday after work, but my company was feeling gracious, and they decided to let me have the day off. This meant that I could get on an earlier ferry and hopefully skip some of the commotion of the later sailings.
I woke at 7:00 but due to my comfy bed hugging me tight it took a whole 30 minutes to get out. I had barely wrestled out of its soft grasp when I realised that I had to be at Waterfront in an hour to manage to catch the 11:00 sailing. You see, in an absolutely big brained move, BC Ferries decided that one of their ferries would be under maintenance for longer than expected and some sailings, namely the 12:00 sailing, would be cancelled. Not wanting to have to wait at the terminal for the 1:00 sailing and with stern words written on their website that all foot passengers must check in no less than 30 minutes before the scheduled time of departure, I had to hustle.
The drive into downtown (thx mom) was quick but due to difficulties reattaching my wheel to my bike I was severely behind schedule. From Waterfront I took the SkyTrain down to Bridgeport station where I disembarked and got into line for the 620 bus that would take me down to the ferry. The whole bus ride down was quick, but I was still sweating that I was going to miss my window to get the ticket. In the end I managed to snag one with only 4 minutes to spare. I boarded the ferry and headed straight to the vending machine where I copped a fresh can of Spinnakers soda. I sipped my soda on the upper deck while enjoying the views.
Once docked at Swartz Bay I made my way out of the ferry and out towards the Lochside trail, a 29 km biking route connecting Victoria to the ferry terminal. The scenery is an eclectic mix of highways, suburbs, farmland, and strip malls. The Lochside trail is quite pleasant and ranges from fully separated paved and gravel trails, to slow side streets and bicycle gutters. All in all, I almost got flattened by a car only once – not bad.
Already close to Victoria I decided to stray off the Lochside trail in order to summit Mount Douglas, which has a paved road almost to the summit. It was a gruelling climb but with some encouragement from friendly people hiking up I managed to make it. I soaked in the views for a while until I decided it was time to bomb down and check out UVIC, which had some very comfortable red chairs.
I reconnected with Jonah who had just finished work and we opted to meet on the summit of nearby Mount Tolmie. A little more huffing and puffing later and I was finally reunited with my friend who was less than thrilled about having to bike up this steep hill. We rode together back down to his basement suite – conveniently located right in downtown Victoria where I met Max in person for the first time. We ate some dinner, joked around, and watched some fireworks from the nearby baseball game. By the time we got back I was pooped and ready to hit the hay. Jonah’s classy couch was an amazing place to rest, and I was out cold as soon as my head hit the pillow.
Saturday (Canada Day)
I woke up to Jonah making a ruckus in the kitchen as he prepared an elaborate crepe breakfast to hold us through a morning’s ride. After downing the required calories for a day in the saddle, we double-checked our tire pressures, packing lists, and snack accessibility, before setting off at 9:15am through downtown Victoria. The big bags received inquisitive looks from fellow cyclists as we blasted along the E&N Trail in a disjointed paceline before joining the trail of choice for the rest of the trip, the Galloping Goose.
We maintained a strong pace along the remainder of the paved Goose, motivated by cooler temps and off-key singing. The introduction of gravel at kilometre ~15 put a damper to our breakneck speeds as the bumpy terrain exaggerated the weights on our back. It was at this point we realised why most bike packers opt for bike storage; 30lbs of glamping kit translates into uncomfortable direct derriere pressure. Our behinds were burning within a few minutes of light pedalling, the chamois shorts doing little to mitigate the added weight.
An hour and a half later, bottoms red, we reached Sooke in search of sustenance. A&W seemed like the obvious choice given the mouthwatering ads I’ve been seeing everywhere about their new frozen root beer. Unfortunately for me they were completely out of frozen root beer (the horror) and I had to settle for frozen lemonade instead.
Our hunger satiated and morale once again high, we joined up with the GG once again and set off towards the Potholes. A short while later we reached the Sooke Potholes Regional Park and set our sights on the closest beach around; Crescent Beach. The water was crisp, and perfectly blue. We faffed around, swimming, lounging, and consuming copious amounts of fruit gummies and maple cookies. These gummies made me happy, but nothing brought me more joy than the fact that after 50 km of raw dogging my seat, we were finally done using our bikes for the day.
Done faffing about, we pushed our bikes back up to the Goose and subsequently the Peden Lake trailhead. Stashing our bikes deep in the brush we set off up, up and away, our heavy packs finally having a purpose. The trail up was quite flat and the 800m of elevation gain felt easier than it should. Even the bugs weren’t too bad. Well, I guess I should say that the bugs weren’t too bad for Max and I.
For some reason they had a particular vendetta against Jonah who would let out an ouch or grunt whenever he would get bit. Even the wasps joined in with a wasp finding Jonah’s quad to be the perfect place to plant its stinger. Fun fact: Jonah is allergic to wasps (not deathly luckily) and his quad was nice and swollen for the rest of the trip.
We made a pit stop by Peden Lake to refill our water bottles and to add another entry to the skinny-dipping challenge. Max was at first resistant to the idea, but we quickly convinced him (consensually) to drop his boxers and join us. The water was warm and so we had no objection to wasting some more time faffing around.
The rest of the way up to the summit was tiring but the views from the top made it worth it. We set up camp, ate some grub, and watched the fireworks over Victoria. Now those astute readers may be wondering “how are you able to camp up there? I thought that Sea to Sea Regional Park had a strict no camping policy”. Well astute reader you will be happy to hear that there is an environmental loophole in the form of a small square right on the summit of Empress Mountain not being in the park. Therefore, camping on the summit is perfectly legal. Morally smug, we drifted off to bed.
I woke up groggy and confused. My sleep had not been the best because Jonah decided to imitate the soft, gentle purr of a jet engine at opportune moments throughout the night. It is truly shocking the decibels this man can generate from his face whilst not being disturbed himself. We cooked up some delicious and scrumptious food (plain oatmeal), packed up camp and started heading down.
On our way down we met two grown ass men racing their remote control cars up the rugged trail. “Vrmm vrmm” one of them exclaims, almost smashing my shins with his car. Not long after we connected up with the Sooke flowline trail which was just an abandoned water pipe. Max and myself were enthralled (we are both civil engineers) by this beautiful concrete pipe. “Wow, it’s so big and girthy” I shriek. “Just imagine how much water this thing could transport”. “One of the seven wonders of the modern world” Max responds.
We made our way back down to the Goose and had a well deserved rest in the outhouse to deposit some payload. It was very peaceful except for the fact that a little tick decided to bury its head into my thigh. Like I get it I love thighs as much as the next person but c’mon now, why me? Luckily, I felt him taking a nibble which shot me into a manic craze. I rushed into the outhouse (where Jonah was currently stationed) and slathered on some hand sanitizer onto my thigh. The tic was seemingly a lightweight and let go of his grasp a little which allowed me to pull him out using tweezers. No lyme disease thankfully but I feel like I am going to be tick paranoid for the rest of my life.
The rest of the day was spent enjoying the potholes and swimming and cliff jumping in the crystal clear water. The original plan was to ride out towards Port Renfrew and camp on one of the beaches there but just lounging around seemed much more fun that riding for another full day. In the end we settled for Spring Salmon Place campground which was just a few clicks further up the Galloping G.
We set up camp and booked it back down towards Sooke. All that swimming had made the boys ravenous for more food. Eyes bigger than stomachs, we ended up buying a full on charcuterie board of food including two types of cheese and even an extravagant spicy raspberry spread. Of course no charcuterie board would be complete without wine or in our case a 2L bottle of 7% Growers. Rucksacks stuffed, we biked back to our tents in order to enjoy this feast.
And, what a feast it was. It was divided up into first dinner and second dinner with a halftime swim and sneaky skinny dip clearing out some more space in our bloated bellies. The food put me in a coma that even Jonah’s blaring snore couldn’t shake me out of.
The final day was mostly uneventful. We sped back towards Victoria at a blistering 25 km/h where we loaded up on a gigantic lunch back at Jonah’s place. The boys then escorted me back up the Lochside trail and to the ferry. We said our goodbyes and parted ways. This was an amazing trip, and I will always cherish it in my memory as one of the top trips I’ve ever done. The laughs, the smiles, the perseverance all culminating to make a perfect tri- wait a second. I forgot to mention how the entire trip was ruined, all due to BC ferries making a grave mistake…..
You see this long bike ride back had stirred within me a want; a need so primal that only one thing could satiate me. My mouth drooling, I make my way up to the coastal cafe. My eyes darting around, searching for the soft serve machine. “Soft serve I need soft serve” I growl at one of the employees, my back hunched, contorting into a position so perverse I cannot describe here. “I am sorry sir this sailing does not offer soft serve. There are ice cream bars upstairs at the Arbutus coffee bar if you would like”.
You stupid wrench, can’t you see that I am CRAVING soft serve. I need to stack ungodly amounts of ice cream into my paper cup. Enough to give the Burj Khalifa a run for its money.
“SOFT SERVE SOFT SERVE” I start chanting. The riled-up crowd joins in. “SOFT SERVE SOFT SERVE”. I raise my pitchfork and beckon the roaring mass to the bridge. “Chief Steward will pay for this; his crimes will not go unanswered” I proclaim to the bloodthirsty crowd. “WE RIDE AT DUSK”.