Pacific Marine Circle Route Bike Tour

Ruckle Provincial Park

Ruckle Provincial Park

After a few setbacks, Mary’s annual cycling trip finally got officially underway on Monday, June 27th. We only had a rough idea of where to go and no maps or GPS, so simply started riding after landing in Victoria, BC on the 8:15am Coho ferry from Port Angeles, WA. Was a gorgeous morning and once we’d had a delicious breakfast at Cafe Molé and stopped at MEC for a Gaz canister we headed north on the Lochside Trail.

The Capitol Regional District in BC is a fabulous place to cycle, with many route options right in the heart of the city. In minutes we were on a traffic free rail trail, meandering through the urban core and up the Saanich Peninsula. We decided to head to Ruckle Provincial Park on Saltspring Island, and the trail led us all the way to the ferry terminal at Schwartz Bay for the trip to Fulford Harbor. There’s a small store and the Rock Salt Cafe where we had a beer and found out we had no real options for provisions, ummm. The ride to Ruckle is only about 6 miles with a few good climbs…this island is not flat!

Traveling with no plan or reservations at campgrounds, we simply let the universe provide what we needed. Found a nice campsite at Ruckle in the trees overlooking the passage south of Saltspring. This was technically our second day of riding (the first between PT and PA) and getting used to loaded bikes again was an adjustment, hence an early dinner and much needed sleep. Opted to stay Tuesday as well, and moved to a beautiful site right on the water’s edge. We hiked the wooded trails to the Heritage Farm to see the turkeys and old farmstead and bought dried apples at the farmstand (there are many of these on the island). A whole afternoon spent watching ferries along Haro Strait and soaking up some much needed sunshine. As we were a fair distance from Ganges we met a nice couple (Nicole and Jeff from Toronto) who were heading to town and graciously offered to pick up items for us, which was very sweet!

On Wednesday we rode northwest to Ganges on the hilly Stewart Road shortcut for supplies and enjoyed breakfast at Barb’s Buns before riding to Vesuvius and the small ferry to Crofton. At the little terminal we met Lisa and Mark (a BC Ferries mechanic) who provided some good routes and camping options ahead and then met an interesting fellow out on a day ride who actually owns a marina on Cannery Row in San Francisco. Near the Crofton landing we grabbed sandwiches and info to find the Pacific Marine Circle Route near Duncan and hopefully an available camp spot further on. Was a hot, shadeless climb on busy Highway 18 and only a small break under some trees on the shoulder for fresh cherries to cool us down. Two helpful girls at the water sport tube rental shop in the town of Lake Cowichan told us about a regional park on the lake and there we found a nice hike/bike campsite and even free wifi. Our first and only shower of the whole trip too!

Thursday we headed mainly downhill to Port Renfrew on a very quiet stretch of winding, remote road that had only recently been paved. Easily the least traffic we’d had and lovely trees all around…except through the huge  Cowichan Valley burn area from 2015 which devastated a portion of the forest there. We stopped to see the massive Harris Creek Sitka Spruce just off the road. As we rode toward the turnoff for Port Renfrew we saw signs for the “Tall Tree Music Festival” that another cyclist had told us about. We contemplated heading there but it was a few miles up a very steep gravel forest road, so we navigated to the Pacheedaht (“Children of the Sea Foam”) tribal campground after heading to the general store for foodstuffs. The onshore wind was very strong, so it was nice to camp in the trees. Our RV neighbors generously gave us camp chairs to use as they had done a fair bit of cycle touring and knew how nice it was to have a place to sit when there’s no picnic table! We made our way to the Indian BBQ spot at the house across the street and enjoyed bannock (fry bread) burgers while sitting on the beach overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Woke up early Friday morning to a very wet July 1st Canada Day. After a quick snack and coffee we packed up damp tents and headed along the West Coast Road (Highway 14) to China Beach Provincial Park hoping to find a campsite on this holiday weekend. Nearly a 10km crawl out of Port Renfrew made for slow going, but there was little traffic and mysterious fog and no view of Juan de Fuca Strait. Within a few hours the rain ceased but the road was constantly undulating. Mary climbs like a goat and patiently waited at the top of most hills as Khojana Wala and I plodded along. Some thrilling descents and an occasional view through clouds eventually found us arriving at China Beach Campground. It was full so we chatted with Nick the jovial camp host who said we could camp in the gravel overflow lot. Not ideal, but after some scoping we found a better spot on a closed road in the park he said we could use. After setting up a tent and making pea soup for lunch we hiked down to the beach and napped in the sand against a drift log. As we hiked back we decided to take a walk through the camp and lo and behold, there was an open campsite! #43…Mary stayed to hold it as I ran over to Nick and Andy the camp staffer who said someone just left it for some reason and that it was ours. A perfect spot with not only a picnic table but a whole bundle of wood too! We setup and I went to ask Nick about the closest place to buy provisions. Seems that was Sooke, too far away to ride in the evening and he took pity on us and gave us a bottle of wine to enjoy with dinner – what a character. He got to calling us Maria and Jack and we couldn’t have asked for a better Canada Day! The big family camped next to us sang “O Canada” and the sun reappeared for a dry evening spent in front of a fire (though starting it was a struggle). Enjoyed watching three college kids nearby wearing light stick emblazoned clothes in the dark doing jigs around the fire. Finally bagged it around midnight with all the happy Canadians doing the same.

Saturday morning was beautiful and we didn’t know where we might spend our last night. We headed toward French Beach and met Petra, one of the park volunteers who gave us bike maps and suggested we go to Sooke Potholes Park along the Galloping Goose Trail. The road got hillier and busier as we made our way to Sooke, but eventually found our way to the trail and rode the gravel path to the park. Having missed the grocery store on the way in, we first found a bike campsite (there are four pads and a shelter for cycle tourists), then Mary found a better tent site above the river. We pitched tents and then rode all the way back to Sooke for dinner and snacks. Two hours later we were making dinner and biked to the camp host for wood and a loaner hatchet. Enjoyed a massively huge Canadian beer and beef stew. It felt good to be dry and we slept well.

Sunday morning dawned bright and we had the pleasure of riding the traffic free Galloping Goose Trail all the way to Victoria. It wound its way through the trees and up and down some steep gullies will we got close to the city where it became paved and eventually connected with the Lochside Trail we had previously rode a week earlier. After buying Coho ferry tickets we sat on the patio of the Steamship Grill and had salad, fish and chips and beers while looking over the sunny Victoria skyline and harbor. We celebrated what turned out to be a fantastic, unplanned, relaxed and randomly magical bike trip – wishing it was longer for sure. All the Canadians we met were simply wonderful…such a great country!

Must thank Mary for spearheading the trip and that we were able to make it happen! Total distance was about 275 miles including the stretch between PT and PA. Recommend going counter-clockwise for cyclists along the Pacific Marine Circle Route (the suggested driving route goes in reverse), for this busy weekend especially we were nearly always going the opposite direction of most travelers and that helped avoid most traffic. Though 25c tires work well enough, riding 50c was better for the gravel trails and navigating campground roads. High five for this trip!

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About Jon Muellner

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