TOUR DE LONG BEACH:
Tuesday: Our seven-day bicycle tour across Vancouver Island begins by cycling through Delta's fertile farmlands and over Tsawwassen's causeway to the Nanaimo ferry. Twin totems with outstretched arms welcome the five of us: Fred, Mike, Doug, Don and me to Duke Point.
The ferry-load of vehicles roars past and it's a quiet ride along the highway. Entering Nanaimo's Parkway Trail, we spin through riots of wildflowers and under shady evergreens. After stops to snack on wild blackberries, there's an invigorating swim in Colliery Dam's reservoir. Proceeding refreshed along this woodsy bikeway, a deer leaps from some brush ahead. A trailside pub above Brannen Lake rewards our initial jaunt. We bivouac at a local Eden-like campground.
Wednesday: Atop Island Highway's ample shoulders, we loop through Nanoose Bay, Parksville and up along Coombs' roadside attractions. Passing Butterfly World and the Parrot Refuge, I stop at Wooden Shoe. At this Dutch import shop I get some special licorice to share. Just beyond, behind a multi-coloured castle, monumental stone goddesses, native spirits and winsome animals fill a plaza. Fengy's Boutique borders this display. Inside this shop, we roam wonderstruck among other intricately carved camphor sculptures and breathe in their woody perfume. A sign explains that these figures last for centuries resisting hungry insects. I learn one well-crafted old man statue costs $80,000!
At landmark Old Country Market, legendary goats graze on the sod roof while we lick ice cream cones below. Wheeling into Coombs Country Campground, we set up tents before hopping into the pool and spa.
Thursday: Westward ho! Pedaling through farmlands and forest along Cameron Lake, Cathedral Grove makes a perfect rest stop. Beneath eight-century old Douglas Firs, we snack on nuts and fruit before remounting. Then one by one we grind up to Port Alberni Summit and then freewheel together down into the bustling town. Our motel provides another refreshing pool.
Friday: Coasting to the dock, we board the Francis Barkley for a restful early morning cruise to Ucluelet. Breakfasting in the galley, we study Alberni Inlet's steep sloped mountains carved by glaciers. Secluded cottages border this long, deep waterway. Our packet freighter stops only for deliveries to a floating post office and a resort to drop-off and pick-up kayakers.
A cold fogbank covering the coastline lifts in Ucluelet, enabling a sunny pedal to Pacific Rim National Park. At Green Point, rangers direct us to walk-in campsites amid firs, ferns and salmonberries. A site is designated for fellow cyclist Fred and his spouse, who arrives by car and bestows blueberry pies on our appreciative group.
Basking in golden sunshine, all stroll the wide, wondrous beach. Outcrops of black rock embrace tidal pools teeming with life. Shorebirds strut, poking long bills in the sand for squirmy tidbits. That night, we attend a park program on bears, wolves and cougars. Learning about black bears' hyper-sense of smell, every conceivable edible is stowed in camp lockers.
Saturday: Mike and I rise early to tackle Port Alberni highway. The jolly jaunt to Kennedy Lake ends at the overhead sign ominously flashing. There's now twelve-kilometers of blind curves, tenuous shoulders and steep grades. Reaching the summit, an exhilarating descent rewards our efforts! Lunch is ready at a pull-off, thanks to Doug and Don, who hitched a lift there with Fred.
Reenergized, we skirt countless evergreens and Kennedy River to Sproat Lake. Stopping amid 'trailer'-made grocery and liquor stores, I ask a well-dressed lady about camping prospects. As hotel site manager, she invites us to tent on their lakeshore. Arriving later, the owner takes us all on a speedboat tour past East Bay cottages and local petroglyphs. Approaching Sproat Lake's famed water-bomber, he tells us how it scoops water and effectively targets with infrared.
Sunday: After a peaceful pedal along Somass River, we breakfast in Port Alberni, grind back over the 'Hump' and coast blissfully into Cathedral Grove. Pushing onward, we soon return to our Coombs campground. Two other pals, Bill and Jesse greet us with a large box. "In removing this road hazard," Bill explains, "I found it contained fifty bags of potato chips!" After lots of crunching, munching and splashing at the pool, we dine at a local wood-oven pizzeria.
Monday: A bakery breakfast replaces camp oatmeal. Remounted, we see two deer munch seedlings in a fenced nursery on the edge of Coombs. I grin considering how well they've eluded island cougars. Then, with wind at our backs, we sail along the Island Highway to Duke Point. Aboard the Tsawwassen Ferry, there's chat about our extraordinary experiences and ideas for next year's tour.
IF YOU GO:
" B.C Ferries Schedules: www.bcferries.com
" Jingle Pots Campgrounds: www.jinglepotrv.ca or 250-758-1614
" Alberni Inlet Packet Freighter: www.ladyrosemarine.com or 250-723-8313
" Coombs Camp Reservations: www.coombscampground.com or 250-248-9371
" Sproat Lake Landing: www.sproatlakelanding.ca/
PHOTOS: by Rick Millikan
1. Nanaimo Parkway Trail stretches 20 paved kilometers along the Island Highway.
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