Strolling in and exploring Vancouver region and Vancouver Island

08/06/2018 (Date EU format)

As much as I was excited to cross into a new country, and to get to Canada for the first time in my life, I felt relieved to walk out of the ferry with my bicycle, arriving in Victoria. The boat motioning was making me slightly nauseous. I was later told this is one of the only BC ferries to go accross opean ocean- which explains the pitching.

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During the scenic ferry crossing
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Arriving in Victoria
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An unfamiliar sighting- Seaplanes. Welcome to Canada !
I passed the border quickly and easily and set out to ride to Sidney, north of Victoria. There, I was staying with a couple of Warmshowers hosts before taking the ferry in the morning. I was glad kind Al rode with me to the ferry terminal in the morning, as the area is slightly confusing.

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Near Sidney
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My Warmshowers hosts, Frances and Al, who have done a lot of cyclotouring trips in Europe
I was not stopping on Vancouver Island at this point, as I had planned on helping out at a local bird of prey sanctuary south of Vancouver, OWL, for a couple of weeks before cyclotouring in the area. And so the second ferry led me to Tsawwassen (pronounced Toua-ssen/ /təˈwɑːsən/), whose spelling is still hard for me to get.

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View from the ferry
Helping out at OWL was definitely an interesting and enlightening experience- I had done volunteers day’s at farmed animals sanctuaries while I was living in London and since then had wanted to help out at a wildlife sanctuary- OWL was happy to have me for a short period of time and this area of BC has so many birds of prey and owls (and wildlife in general) we don’t see in Europe. I didn’t managed to get a lot of good pictures, but OWL website here has more info, and their Instagram account many more pictures including of my favorite temporary residents: young barn owls and great horned owls. Volunteering there involved cleaning cages, watching some of the birds getting treatment, some handling ( I get to hold a baby barn owl while it got weighted).

There are permanents residents, who can’t be released in the wild due to the extent of their injuries but can live long in captivity and tolerate well the stress to sometimes go out with a specialised educator to be shown to schoolchildren, as a way to educate the public about human actions that can be harmful to wildlife.

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A bald eagle hanging out on a tree near the sanctuary
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Serenity, a snowy owl, permanent resident
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With Flinger, a permanent hawk, that I feed on glove
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With the director of OWL, and Sonsie a permanent bald eagle who thinks I’m too close to his mate !
During that time, first, I was staying in a trailer found on Airbnb for a bit over a week- I had hoped to stay in a cheap camping or RV Park in the area but tent camping is really scarce there, and the few in the areas are ridiculously expensive. There aren’t many budget accommodation options in Greater Vancouver- the area being notorious for its housing crisis and speculation. Anyway, I was happy to have a taste for trailer life, which so far I had not had a go at. The last few days spent at the sanctuary I couchsurfed and also tried out a new network, Hospitality club. Elana, who hosted me, showed me a very nice beach in Delta- with views of Mount Baker, a US mountain, in the background.

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Delta

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At the beach…
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… with Mount Baker in the background
After my time at the sanctuary, I cycled back to the ferry terminal, on the gravel bicycle trail along the Boundary Bay Dyke. It’s a great short ride (15kms+) with beautiful views along the bay.

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IMG_2077[1].JPGThis time I took a ferry to Nanaimo… back on Vancouver Island. I stayed overnight with Warmshowers hosts in Nanaimo before cycling to Cumberland area, via Parksville where I camped in a forested area near the road… There, I was welcomed by a barred owl, my very first sighting in the wild ! She landed on a tree branch very close, staring at me pitching my tent. She was staying still enough that I got my camera out, but obviously she flew away as I was taking it out of its case ! Here is a picture of a couple at OWL, though.

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While feeding barred owls at OWL- One of them is not too happy to have a visitor
In Cumberland I was looking to rock-climb, as there is a big and beautiful crag by the lake there. I was staying with another Warmshowers host, Christie, who introduced me to one of her friends, Shane, going climbing the next day ! And so we did a few easy sport-climbs, in an amazing setting. The pictures I took don’t make it justice, so picture a steep trail to the rocks in a dense forest with the lake below.

Cumberland is a great little town, with a lot to do outdoors: rock-climbing, a lot of MTB trails in the forest which I very quickly sampled, the lake for swimming, kayaking, paddle-boarding and boating, and so on. A great community feel as well, and an interesting history as a lot of Chinese and Japanese immigrants settled there at the beginning of the 20th century, mainly to mine coal.

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Some old buildings which used to be some of the Chinese migrants shops in the town centre at the beginning of the 20th century
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Murals…
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Town centre
Shane also let me know there was a climber’s campout the following weekend- and while I had initially planned on staying a few days in Cumberland area before going to Quadra Island I decided to head out the very next day to Quadra, during the week where most people were working and the crag not so busy, and to be back in time for the campout. Here are a few pictures on the road to Campbell’s river, where I was going to catch yet another ferry.

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Along the coast
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According to the local aboriginal legend, this painted boulder was a bear changed into stone as he could not jump far enough from an island to the shore.
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Crossing the 50th Parallel just before Campbell’s river
On the 10 minutes long ferry crossing to Quadra Island the atmosphere was very relaxed. It was a sunny day too.

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Arriving on Quadra Island
On Quadra I stayed with Warmshowers hosts as well, and also at one of the campgrounds near Heriot Bay. My hosts showed me around the Island, including a Native village. A few totems poles as usual are present near the centre but also a decaying pole on the side. For First nations people it symbolise the return to earth and permanent cycle of life. We also visited Sam and Andrea, who own an independent, custom bicycle building company on Quadra Island, Naked Bicycles. There is a good biking community, and some nice singletrack trails on Quadra.

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Naked Bicycles
The island has a remote feel, as well as beautiful views along the coast.

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Sampling a singletrack on Quadra

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With Nevil, my Warmshowers host
In Quadra, I met a fellow climber I had connected with via a Facebook group, Paul, a Scot on working holiday. It was nice meeting a fellow European and, although I had met some Brits established in BC along the road, it was nice to hang out with someone from the UK for a while again. Paul also introduced me to Quadra’s Main Lake, which was a prefect temperature to swim in at that time of the year.

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A nice view from the crag (again!)
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Paul rappelling down a sport-climb we just did
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Quadra’s main Lake
While I was excited to go attend the climber’s campout, I regretted a bit missing Quadra’s day, which was the Saturday. My host told me that people parade in traditional costumes, and it apparently features “pole dancing”: a tall pole is greased with Vaseline and money is put at several heights on the pole, which children try to go grab, sliding on the pole !!! Not your usual pole dancing…

Speaking of the climbers campout… It was a great weekend spent hanging out around campfires and Comox Lake, watching children (young and old) participating in crate stacking competitions, and also helping with building trails to the crags and scrubbing off some of the moss on routes who needed it…

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While scrubbing off a route with a bunch of other people, all rappelling from the top.
After the campout, that’s were my travels plans got a little bit…convoluted, but it all worked out great as I saw different things I would not have seen had I kept going on the bike. I had decided to go visit Tofino, on the west coast of Vancouver Island. It had been described as really pretty and worth seeing to me. As I had heard various reports of the road going there not being very cyclist friendly (no shoulder most of the time), even from cyclists, I was dreading a case of having to fight off cars to stay in the lane if the road was busy as well as not looking forward to cycle a 150km hilly and so not-so-nice road there, and then back again (the road to Tofino only goes to Tofino and Ucluelet, it’s a dead-end). So I decided to ditch my bike for a few days, leaving it in the good care of a Couchsurfing host in Cumberland.

Unexpectedly, I stopped in Parksville, on the way, with Paul who had originally planned to drive there too. We stopped at one of his friend met through Couchsurfing overnight, which was great as it was very interesting talking to Michael, and he also showed me some really nice waterfalls and old growth forest near Qualicum beach, as well as a genuine Buddhist sanctuary built on the impulse of a local and a visiting lama. In the end, Paul couldn’t make it to Tofino that time but I got very lucky hitchiking there.

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Downstream Little Qualicum Falls
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Lichen on one tree in the old-growth forest
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Michael with a friendly cat at the buddhist sanctuary
I did the round-trip pretty much hitchiking, aside from a rideshare I found for a good part of the way back, and an expensive bus I took between Tofino and near Greenpoint campground. A lady gave me a 100km+ lift in her caravan. It was an interesting experience to hitchike as well, I felt safe and met a few kind and interesting Canadians. Tofino, as expected, is quite expensive as it is quite touristy. I freecamped one night and stayed at Greenpoint campground, on the outskirts of Tofino the other (nice, but expensive if you are only by yourself, as campgrounds in Canada annoyingly often charge per site rather than per person). I strolled around town and hiked on the rainforest trail near the campground.

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The oldest tree in Tofino
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A beautiful Native Art gallery
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Ocean views from the town
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Near Greenpoint campground
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As much as I enjoyed having a different experience, I did miss my bicycle quickly as it would have really helped to have it to go in between downtown Tofino and some of the short hiking trails along the coast. I also happened to meet a young quebecois cyclotourist in Tofino, himself in conversation with some other quebecoises living in the area. I never got his name. Let’s call him “Le cycliste”. As part of a there and back cross-country trip, Le cycliste had cycled into Tofino but was staying a week, wildcamping around. It was interesting comparing experiences. In the end the road to Tofino didn’t seem busy during the week when I got there and back (end of May), and Le cycliste didn’t find the road was any trouble cycling. I think he had the right idea about staying a week though, as it’s a long way there and back to the next town.

After getting back to Cumberland, and getting my bike back, I took the ferry to Powell River where the rain started pouring. After a long stop in a library I cycled to a free recreational camp nearby. East Lake camp felt, and was, quite remote. Beautiful setting by the lake (unfortunately, it was way to cold and rainy to want to swim) and nice fire pit. I did hear some bears groans during the night- thankfully they stayed at a distance. As there is only one spot, Lois lake nearby might be a better alternative if it’s busy when the weather is good. The lake is probably nicer to swim in there too.

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East lake rec site
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Welcome to the country of giant slugs…
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Enjoying getting lost on a muddy trail to get back to the main road
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Cycling the Sunshine Coast when it’s not so sunny…
I cycled on the road to Langdale, from where I was taking the ferry to Earl’s Cove. A few hummingbirds welcomed me.

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After stopping overnight in a quirky village on the coast near the ferry I joined the Sunshine Coast Bikepacking trail route. At the beginning, it gently starts up a steep gravel road before getting on a fairly technical singletrack. 10 kilometers later, not having seen a soul, given the threatening weather and after a few occurrences of pushing my bike up steep, slippery uphills and a gnarly singletrack descent with a loaded bike I gave up and cycled the road to Sechelt.

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A beautiful lake by the gravel road
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Views just before a big singletrack descent
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A Nature centre just off the trail where I had lunch and gave up
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Arriving in Sechelt as the weather gets nasty
In Sechelt I stayed at a nice hiker/biker campground (15 CAD) there. I then tried again to follow the singletrack bikepacking route- for which I definitely don’t recommend a loaded bicycle. I got to see some really nice singletracks trails and forest close to Sechelt though, before the route got me on a forest service gravel road, before joining a remote and high up and again, gnarly singletrack. At that point, having to partially unload and reload the bicycle to pass a tricky section I gave up following the bikepacking route again, but this time, after a hike/drag-a-bike-under-fallen-logs-on-a-unmaintened-trail-going-to-the-forestry-road, as an alternative decided to rejoin a gravel forestry road below which was going all the way to Gibsons as well, final destination of the bikepacking route.

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Road and MTB cyclists alike drying their gear at the campground.

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Follow the arrow for the airport !
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A bridge in the trail section nearish Sechelt
I didn’t take any picture from the first time I got on a forestry road- I started to push a lot, and then was glad to make it out of there back the other forestry road to Gibsons, on which I met some locals who pointed me out on the direction of a cabin near MTB trails at the other end of the road to spend the night.

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At the end of the forestry road to Gibsons- passing singletracks trails starting from there. it’s a MTB biker paradise there!
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The famous cabin
Arriving at the cabin, it turned out someone had already pitched their tent inside- but no trace of anyone around. A little bit intimidated, I still camped nearby by a creek as there weren’t a lot of suitable spots around. The following day, rejoining a paved road to go into town got tricky again- think a very steep and gravelly trail to hike-a-loaded-bike down. It took me something like 2 hours to do a few kilometers, putting the bike in front of me perpendicularly to the slope and advancing slowly, coming back up again to pick up my stashed panniers along the way.

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…Halfway there ! The picture doesn’t show nearly how steep this is.
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Back to civilization
Once in Gibsons I cycled to the ferry landing- taking a last (and free!) crossing over to Horseshoe Bay. Once there, I cycled 30 hilly but quite scenic kilometers to West Vancouver. It was then time to cycle across Lions Gate to Stanley Park, and downtown Vancouver.

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Lions Gate bridge
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View on Stanley Park from the bridge. It is crazy to think that in what is now a very touristy city park, as recently as in the 1930s there were native people still living there in longhouses.
I had been in Vancouver while staying in Delta for a couple of short day trips, mainly using the 8th floors central public library with amazing computers facilities and restocking on camping supplies, but this time I was staying near downtown with a Warmshowers host for a couple of days. This allowed me to regroup and organize bike repairs soon to be done as well as visit the very interesting and impressive Anthropology museum, which April, my Couchsurfing host near the US border, and an artist, had recommended.

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A modern sculpture by a Native artist at the Anthropology museum
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There are a lot of well-presented and introduced Native Canadians totems and artefacts at the Museum, as well as Native Art from other areas of the globe.
It also gave me one more occasion to be surprised by the city itself. “Downtown Vancouver”, by Stanley Park, is full of luxury office and residential buildings. The restaurants, nightlife and attractions aren’t downtown but in the neighbouring parts of town.

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Skyscrapers views from Stanley Park
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Along Stanley Park promenade
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Totems at Stanley Park
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Also in downtown Vancouver…
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After stopping in Vancouver, it was time to head up to Squamish, where a lot of climbing awaits. As you can see, I got to see a lot of different sides of this part of BC, and had quite an adventure. It was a rewarding experience and I’m happy I took the time to slow down through this part of BC.

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With my Warmshowers host in Vancouver, Brendan
Cycling community wise, while I was in Cumberland, sadly, I learned of the death of Holger Hagenbusch and another cyclist travelling with him at that time. I had met Holger very briefly in Bahia de Los Angeles while riding the Divide, along with the other tourers he was travelling for a while with then. While so far long-distance tourists have been fairly safe in Mexico, this is deeply unsettling as it seem both cyclists have been murdered in a botched robbery, and both were well-seasoned world tourers.

Tips on Vancouver region:

  • No Frills is one of the cheapest supermarket in Vancouver area. It sometimes has amazing bargains on Tahini, Cliff bars, fruits and good prices on staples compared to the usual fares. Unfortunately it is only present around Vancouver center, surprisingly in Port Alberni on V. Island and some other sparse locations. Save-on-Foods is the next best, present almost everywhere but only really worth it if you have a loyalty card. Fortunately, I got it easily and seems generally O.K. to get.
  •  This couple’s blog article has good tips on how to find some good free camps in BC. Googling “Recreational camps BC” will also send you to the official BC website and you can find recreational camps all on a map, with the fee indicated if there is one. Note that some of the free camps are only accessible via kayak unfortunately.
  • For bikepacking-inclined cyclists, someone set up a bikepacking route across Vancouver Island, mainly on logging roads (gravel/dirt). Ask locals about routes closures though as it might be difficult to go through if some of these roads are closed for whatever reason. Also be careful about resupply.
  • If you want to find partners and information to rock-climb in the area there are plenty of Facebook groups, almost for each crag/small town. Failing that I would try Mountain project, or word-of-mouth with locals/hanging at local climbing gyms if there are in the area, though I haven’t been myself to any yet. Saltspring Island seems to have a surprisingly cheap one. Nanaimo has one which seems O.K. but I haven’t had an occasion to go there. Also if you are staying a while it is worth checking out the BCMC website or ACC  for meets and events. Also trying to contact local crag trail access/building associations and volunteering a day/ participate in a campout if there is one could be a great way to meet fellow climbers.
  • Trailforks is a popular, comprehensive, and easy to use app to find MTB trails around BC. Difficulty and elevation shown.
  • If you are looking to cycle accross BC but are not prepared to cycle everything, POPARIDE is a popular carshare app in Canada where you pay a compensation to the driver based on mileage. Also look for Facebook local rideshare groups, and if you are planning to get a lift with your bike, make sure to clarify with the person giving you a lift that there is space for it. Trains are not very well developed in the area- very expensive and take a long time to get you there.

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