Why Didn’t I Do This Before? – Exploring Vancouver Island by Bike

Life is a wonderful adventure. The more you nudge outside of your comfort zone, the more you think, “Why didn’t I do this before?”.

Our three-day bike trip was spectacular in every way imaginable, and it never rained on us. We brought rain gear, waterproof gloves, spats, and hand warmers expecting the worst. Somehow the clouds always parted, and we got sunshine and warm weather.

I did weeks of research on biking in this area as I had never been. I plotted the waypoints on my GPS until my eyes turned red – I tried to figure out the logistics late into the night. As such, all three bike rides went without a hitch.

A fellow cyclist recommended we stay in the Best Western hotel in Chemainus – not Duncan. That advice was wonderful as the hotel had a hot tub, swimming pool and all you can eat buffet breakfast. The rooms were quiet, spacious with a living room, dining area and full kitchen. It was also a stones throw from a cute town, a tasty Thai restaurant and live theatre (I heard it costs $200 per person including dinner!).

Day 1 Cowichan Valley Trail (CVT) Crossover bike ride 80 km

We left one car in Duncan at 10 am and biked gently uphill for 14.5 km on bullet proof gravel. We descended to Cowichan Lake, the largest freshwater lake on the island. We had lunch on a picnic table next to the lake and WC.

From there, we continued downhill to see the Trestle bridges — Holt and Kinsol. The west sun was shining on the 7-degree curved Kinsol trestle and gave it a golden glow (a great photographer’s moment!). It is one of the world’s largest wood trestle bridges – beautiful and an engineering wonder. Construction started in 1909 by local farmers with a structural engineer. It went into disuse in 1979 but is now restored for recreational proposes.

Along the way, we saw a herd of 20 magnificent elk running away from us. Nothing short of wow!

We passed by black and white horned goats and work horses that were clearing the trail from fallen trees. We had 10 fallen trees on the trail and lifting the bikes over and under was a challenge. Big thanks to Mark for the heavy lifting!

We passed a very strong toxic smell and I had no idea what it was. A dog walker said the CVT closed the previous week due to a forest fire, and we were lucky that it had reopened.

We biked down to Shawnigan lake at about 5 pm (65 km). Then on the road for 15 km, which was a relief after biking on the bumpy gravel road for 40 km. We reached our other car at exactly 5:57 pm at the Park and Ride on Hwy 1. Even though we were tired (no e-bikes on this ride), everyone was happy and thrilled with the crossover.

We looked forward to a well-deserved hot tub waiting for us back at the hotel.

Day 2 Chemainus to Ladysmith along the CVT

Chemainus is a town with 52 murals. You can follow the painted footsteps to see these works of art. The architecture is whimsical and colourful. The style is hard to figure out – Russian influence?

This is a 30 km return trip between the ocean’s edge and verdant farm land on the well-marked CVT. Along the way, we stopped at a Hectic’s Bike hospital and hostel. One can stay overnight if their bike needs a full transplant. Accommodations cost $55 for 26″ wheels and $40 for 20″ wheels.

In Ladysmith we had lunch at the transfer beach amphitheatre overlooking the ocean. This black beach was an industrial park and the locals transformed it to a park. The name Ladysmith derives from the Boer war when the siege of the town Ladysmith, in South Africa, ended. The town founder, Dunsmuir, named it in honour of this South African town.

From there we biked into town and to the 49th parallel! First Avenue has the famous Old Town Bakery – it won the island competition for the best cinnamon bun. The lineup goes out the door and people drive from Victoria to get these sweet buns.

The town has Edwardian and Boomtown architecture with false fronts and cornices. The lucky Sanskrit swastika – meaning good luck – is in the 1913 Traveler’s Hotel brick work.

In the late afternoon, we went to Crofton to walk the boardwalk. We discovered a beautiful black sandy beach, a result of toxic sludge left over from the mining days. The glass slivers can irritate the skin.

Photo by Ye Chu

Day 3 Loop around Duncan and the totem poles along the CVT

Another dry day for our 10 km bike ride that took 1.75 hours to do. It had a lot of twists and turns – I discovered my group could only remember two directional instructions before they got lost! We had to go slow as I looked up each way point on my GPS.

Duncan is known for its plethora of totem poles which some chose to tour while I went to Cowichan Bay. I had heard it was quaint with many shops and restaurants. When we arrived, the town was packed with tourists. We could hear a cacophony of barking and went to the end of the street to figure out where it was coming from. We saw 300+/- Stellar and California Sea lions on the Marina dock. We heard from locals that they come here from California every year for 6 weeks to feed on the salmon. They bark all night and locals cannot sleep. A 2000 pound Stellar will jump onto a moored boat and another will follow. With 4000 pounds on a small boat, the boat will tip over and be destroyed. They are both a delight and a curse for the locals.

All in all, Vancouver Island is a gem of a place to explore… “why didn’t I do this before?”.

Steller sea lions have a distinctive, low frequency roar. Male sea lions seen here use sound to communicate with each other or to defend their territory. (Photo by Eric Marshall via www.cowichanestuary.ca).

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