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Seattle Bicycle Tour

Seattle Bicycle Tour

September 18th, 2007  · stk

Day 2 - Salt Spring Island to Victoria (34.7 Miles)

3h 42m ride time – 9.4 mph avg - 40.0 mph max


We left the Garden Faire Campground reasonably early in the morning, after a completely unsatisfying and restless sleep. Like Alex, we were keyed up and excited to be on a bicycle adventure again. Even after she eventually settled, we found sleep elusive. For Scott, part of the problem was cramping legs and despite taking vitamin "I", his legs continued to cramp and ache, through the night.

We cycled downhill, along Rainbow Road, after exiting the campground, at about 8:30 AM. The morning was cool, but sunny. Heading back to Ganges, we noticed a very nice-looking school, along the way. Scott stopped to take pictures of brightly colored fish (wooden artwork) which adorned the chain-link fence that surrounded the school yard.

We had barely left the town of Ganges when we encountered a huge and unexpected hill. We climbed - and climbed - and climbed - hunkered down in our lowest gear, moving at only about 4-5 miles per hour. The clothes that we wore to ward off the morning chill, soon came off. We were drenched with sweat and it wasn't even 9 AM.

The hill wasn't the worst of it though, as the traffic was simply horrid. Cars buzzed by, trucks buzzed by ... and the shoulder of the road was narrow enough to be considered 'non-existent'. What was up with all of this traffic? Where were these people GOING? Was this "rush hour"? For a quiet island, it sure seemed like a disproportionate number of vehicles were passing us.

As we climbed, we caught glimpses of Ganges harbour. It was blanketed in a rapidly-moving, patchy and wispy fog clouds. The views from the road were rare and most of our concentration went to pedaling uphill and trying to keep a straight line.

Finally, we quit climbing and we were riding along a rural route, which was still quite hilly. We enjoyed the brief downhill runs, the flats and slugged up a bunch of shorter climbs. Traffic had died down considerably and the road became the more peaceful island route we had expected to find. The sun was shining and riding became quite pleasant.

We passed many homes, ranches and farms. The road was lined with trees, in places and we had long since lost sight of the ocean. We had penetrated the center portion of the Island.

Eventually, we descended down a long downhill slope, gathering speed quickly and holding it for many minutes. We had the road to ourselves and the ride out of the mountains was exhilarating. Eventually, we leveled out in a farming valley. We saw many cows and fields, some filled with crops of corn and other vegetables. Nearing Fulford Harbour and closer to the coast, we became engulfed in light fog. Visibility dropped, but we could see far enough ahead and behind that we weren't too concerned about safety.

Through the fog, we heard the call of a fog horn, which repeated a number of times. We assumed that it was the ferry boat and it sounded like it was leaving the harbor, but it was difficult to tell, as the sky and water blended into a grey mist, not far from shore.

"Darn, we missed the ferry," we both thought.

We wondered how long it was between sailings. We were fairly certain that there was only one boat servicing Fulford Harbour and Swartz Bay.

Nearing the harbor, a road sign indicated the ferry terminal was 800 meters ahead. Unfortunately, much of those 800 meters were uphill. :| We climbed and as we cresting the hilltop, there was a huge line-up of cars. Cycling downhill, we passed many a car, all the way to the harbor and out onto the small ferry terminal.

We recognized many that had passed us on the roadway, much earlier. Suddenly, it made sense! That's what all the traffic was on the roadway! Cars were racing to the ferry terminal, trying to catch a sailing!

As we scooted past them, on our way to the front of the line, we thought, "There IS an advantage to riding a bicycle! HA!"

We parked next to a couple of motorcycle riders and waited for the ferry to unload. (Apparently, the fog horns we had heard were from the approaching ferry.) It turns out that the fog had done us a favor, causing a ferry delay of more than a half-an-hour. If it weren't for the fog, we would have missed the ferry by only a short while.

We had a wait of less than 10 minutes, before we were loading onto the ferry, with the rest of the walk-on passengers. For this ferry, operators wanted us to walk our bicycles down the (very narrow) pedestrian walkway, instead of either riding or walking down the empty motorway. This caused a bit of a problem, with our full panniers and wide trailer buggy, but we (eventually) managed. (Seems it would have been more expedient and safer, to walk down the wide, empty motorway ... but whatever ... we were just happy to catch the ferry, so we just did as we were told).

The ride from Fulford Harbour to Swartz Bay was largely uneventful, mostly because it was foggy and our only views were into a horizonless grey. Alex did have fun though, when we were leaving and they announced that they were going to sound the horn.

Dad expected the loud 'ooh-gah' of the fog horn and warned the Oop, "You better put your hands over your ears."

"Why?" she asked.

Too late! OOOHH-GAHHH! went the foghorn and the Oop clapped her hands to her ears and let out a high-pitched scream, which could barely be heard above the noise of the foghorn.

Dad and the Oop didn't stay on-deck too long, as wind and the cold fog drove them to shelter. They did, however, explore every nook and cranny of the ferry we were on - the Skeena Queen. Used to the large BC Ferries that service Tswwassen, Departure Bay, Horseshoe Bay and Swartz Bay, they had fun riding and exploring the smaller ferries. They all seem so different. The Skeena Queen is larger than the Crofton-Vesuvius ferry (Howe Sound Queen). The Howe Sound Queen holds 70 vehicles and 330 passengers, has a crew of six and only one small passenger lounge. In contrast, the Skeena Queen holds 100 vehicles and 600 passengers, has a crew of seven and four passenger lounges. (The Oop and Dad explored all four)!

Ferry Land

With over 27,000 kilometers of coastline and 6,000 islands and islets, western British Columbia requires many passenger and vehicle ferries to move people, material and vehicles. BC Ferries, a Provincial-run company, is the largest of the ferry operators in the region, but by no means the only one. BC Ferries has a fleet of 36 vessels servicing up to 47 ports of call, along the BC coastline.

Ferry enthusiast John Hammersmark has put together a comprehensive list of B.C. Ferry Operators and has an assortment of other information on his GeoCities website, an excellent resource for learning more.

For some photos of various B.C. Ferries, head here or here.

Finally, the fog lifted and we could see our approach to Swartz Bay terminal. While we felt like we were on a reasonably large ferry, it was dwarfed by one of the larger Tswwassen ferries, which was already docked. Our ship swung into the southernmost berth and we were the first to disembark. We followed a local cyclist commuter around the perimeter of the loading lanes and out the back side of the ferry terminal.

We'd cycled through the Swartz Bay ferry terminal twice before, but each time, we'd taken the main exit, which was soon choked with off-loading vehicles. It was nice to learn about this perimeter bike lane and 'back-exit'. We'll have to remember that for next time!

We followed the road up a small hill, skirting the backside of the ferry terminal, to an intersection. There was a bunch of construction - it appeared they're in the midst of expanding the ferry terminal. We encountered flagmen at the intersection. We turned left and swung down a short run toward a boat marina, then left the road and caught the start to the Lochside Regional Trail.

The Lochside trail is a 'rails-to-trails' conversion and it connects with another regional trail the (Galloping Goose Trail). We've ridden both before and know that they provide an excellent, mostly paved and mostly dedicated bike pathway, all the way into downtown Victoria (about 35-kilometers - or 22-miles - away).

It was quite a bit sunnier in Swartz Bay and the nearby coastal town of Sidney (pop. 11,000). Thankfully, it wasn't a cold day, but there was a quartering headwind that we pushed into, which slowed our forward progress.

We stopped in Sidney for lunch, at one of the trendy, touristy coffee/sandwich shops just off the main drag (Beacon Avenue), which heads straight through town and ends at the government wharf and fish market. We contemplated sitting outside at one of the many sidewalk tables, but not wanting to catch a chill, we opted to eat inside.

The coffee shop had a warm and cozy atmosphere, with reading books on the shelves and comfortable throw pillows at a long window-box table arrangement. We sat ourselves down at a window table and immediately felt warm, flushed from cycling and the wind.

Sidney is a very pretty coastal town, brightly colored and kept very clean. There are lots of tourist shops, flower pots, colorful banners and shiny people. Unfortunately, prices were commensurate with tourism and a croissant ham sandwich with either a shrimp bisque or chicken chowder soup (+ kids sandwich) was over $20 CAD. However, we must say that both the sandwich and the soup were delicious and did much to warm our weary bones.

We stopped at the tourist information booth and Rachel picked up a free "Sidney by the Sea" and Saanich Peninsula map, which covered the area from Swartz Bay to Victoria, depicting the Lochside and Galloping Goose trails, as well as Victoria city streets. This would be all we needed in the way of a map, for the Vancouver Island portion of our journey.

Back on the Lochside Regional Trail, we were cycling out of Sidney along some very nice seaside residential areas. We laughed that half a million dollars wouldn't buy much, but wouldn't such views of ocean be wonderful out from our living room window?!

When we entered central Saanich, the path turned to hard-packed gravel and the surroundings became more farm-like. Cows, fields, crops and even hogs, could be seen from the trail. Many sections of the trail were hemmed in by trees, which cut off the views, but also helped to knock down the stiff headwind, against which, we were still struggling. Boy ... those winds can really sap your strength and slow you down. Frustrating.

Finally, we got into a more suburban area, crossing a number of wooden bridges. Eventually, we connected with the Galloping Goose Trail. Now, we were passing through a highly urban zone. The trail was still largely a dedicated bike path, following drainages. We passed the back side of many industrial-looking buildings and crossed a number of busy streets. Before we knew it, we were nearing Victoria Harbour. The bike path dropped us off at the west end of a metal-grated draw-bridge. We cycled across the bridge and BOOM ... we were right in the heart of downtown Victoria (pop. 78,000), one block off of Government Street and two stones throws from the Empress Hotel. What a GREAT bicycle route into town!

In downtown Victoria, we stopped at MEC, to exchange Rachel's front pannier rack, for one that would fit. (Apparently, she had been erroneously given a rack for a bike with a front suspension). The MEC sales lady actually came out, to verify that the replacement rack was going to fit properly on Rachel's bicycle.

Scott waited by our bikes and gear. All manner of eclectic people walked by, as Victoria seems to be populated by a young, free-spirited, liberal crowd. They must be doing something right, as the bike racks were overflowing with bicycles and several people had a difficult time finding a place to park their bikes. The pedestrians provided a never-ending supply of people to watch, which Scott enjoyed, but after only a few minutes, he was approached by a pan-handler. This was a reminder of why we moved to the country and why Scott isn't really a lover of big cities.

After Rachel packed her new rack in her bags, we debated grabbing the 3 PM Blackball Ferry "MV Coho" to the United States. The ferry terminal is located right in Victoria Harbour, just a few blocks from where we were and it was only about 2 PM, so we had plenty of time to catch it. We opted, instead, to slow our trip down and enjoy visiting with Sarah, Oliver and Cinder, whom we'd called the night before. They'd be disappointed at our change of plans and 'What's the rush ... we're on vacation'.

Traveling to Oak Bay meant negotiating downtown Victoria traffic, but soon we found ourselves on a spoke route, out of the downtown core, that had a marked bike lane. There were only a couple of hills on our 5-kilometer journey and after those, and a couple of turns, we were knocking on the door of our hosts.

We had a very nice afternoon with Sarah and Oliver. After we parked our bikes in the backyard, unloaded our gear and took a tour of the turn-of-the-century home (it was Scott's first visit), we went for a walk to a neighborhood park. This allowed Alex to let off some steam and play with Oliver, a 10-year-old boy, whom Alex thinks the world of. (Come to think of it, Alex thinks the world of most older kids).

It was a several-block walk to the park and we enjoyed looking at the Craftsman style homes, laid out on grid-like streets, in the Oak Bay neighborhood. The streets were wide and lined with trees. Sarah told us that an arborist planted different flowering trees on each parallel street. He designed it so that each street's trees would bloom at different times of the year, providing a moving show of color, in springtime. Sarah's street was lined with chestnut trees and Oliver delighted in cracking open the shells and extracting the chestnuts inside.

Back at Sarah's house, we showered, had BBQ burgers dinner and then Cinder (Sarah's mom) supervised cookie-making with Alex and Oliver. She was really good with the kids and they had a wonderful time mixing the flower, sugar and other ingredients. Rachel took a few photos, while Scott was in the basement, installing Rachel's front pannier.

Because it was a school night for Oliver (and because we were exhausted from our day of cycling and battling headwinds), we all went to bed at a reasonably early hour. Alex slept on a mattress on the floor, while Scott and Rachel shared a queen-sized futon bed, not far away.


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