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Vancouver Island Chapter 2

Victoria, VanIsl, to Nanaimo, VanIsl

Plants; my happy place

From Victoria, I headed back north along bike paths past small open farms and through beautiful forests with dense canopies and thick mossy undergrowth. My main destination that day was Butchart Garden, in Brentwood Bay. David Sorrentino, who I met during this trip in Salida, CO, made the recommendation and it was a great one!

Since arriving to the island, it appeared its defining flora consisted of hydrangeas, sweet pea and every variety of berry. They were everywhere! And they were all in full bloom; it was absolutely stunning!

After leisurely strolling through the gardens twice over, I rode a short distance to a small campground located on a hobby farm. For an extra $10, the woman who owned the place would serve breakfast al fresco using eggs from the farm and other local ingredients. Deal! And what a treat to emerge from my tent with the morning sun and eat a hot home-cooked breakfast right in the field.

The shaft

With a full belly I rode to the Brentwood Bay ferry terminal and ferried over to Mill Bay. From there, I patched together rural back roads to a famous wooden trestle that is now part of a multiuse trail.

From the trestle I rode along the shores of Shawnigan Lake and stopped at a restaurant called The Lakehouse for lunch. I wasn't in a hurry, which was good because I had to wait off the effect of not one—but two—shafts.

The Shaft is a Victoria tradition: a shooter consisting of vodka, Irish cream, coffee liqueur and cold brewed coffee, served over ice, and consumed in its entirety as fast as possible through a straw.

I did actually consume it in its entirety as fast as possible through a straw... but that's mostly because I was hot from biking and thirsty as all heck. The shaft was icy and refreshing. And boozy. Really boozy. This is one drink I'll be making at home with my homemade cold brew!

That afternoon I continued riding north toward Croften, where I'd camp on the shore and catch a morning ferry out to the Gulf Island of Salt Spring.


In the morning, I hopped one of the earlier ferries, motivated by the thought of a hot breakfast in the picturesque seaside town of Ganges, on Salt Spring.

I got an outside table at a quirky little place literally built around a tree, called The Treehouse Cafe. At the table right in front of me, there was a guy also eating breakfast on his own. We were at separate tables, but directly facing each other.

He squinted at me through the morning sun and I made some dumb comment about it. Something like, "Oh I see you've found the sun."

That's me; great with words. The brilliantest.

Anyway, he smiled and we got to talking about my bike which was leaning against some rocks. He asked where I was going next and I said I was slowly making my way to a town called Tofino, on the west side of Vancouver Island.

He said, "That's where I live; I'm working here on Salt Spring for a couple weeks so my place is empty. You're welcome to stay there."

I think I just stared at him waiting for him to say, "...just kidding." But he didn't renege. He wrote his name, Saoirse, and info in my little moleskine, and we stayed in touch as I continued traveling and my plans came into focus.

Literally, if the picture of the cafe would have included about two extra feet to the right, Saoirse would have been in the picture! Doh-

Ruckle Provincial Park

From Ganges I rode to the southern tip of the island, to Ruckle Provincial Park, where there was a first-come first-served campground with walk-in sites right on the water.

It was absolutely stunning. I could have easily spent a week at that campsite.

By noon, my tent was set up. I did nothing all day. It was fantastic. I literally bounced between sitting on a piece of driftwood by the water and reading a book, and napping in my tent with the doors open and a strong breeze pulling through.

Place and history

The book I was reading is called Five Little Indians, by Cree Canadian writer Michelle Good.

When I spent time between Banff and Jasper last fall, Canada was reeling from the recent discovery of an unmarked mass grave of children who died while in the care of an Indian Residential School in Kamloops. For nearly a hundred years across Canada, indigenous children were forcibly removed from their homes and brought to residential schools run by the government and the Roman Catholic Church.

Families were not allowed contact with their children—often for years—while the children experienced forced assimilation and many experienced physical and emotional abuse.

Understandably, these experiences have had a profound impact on First Nations communities and cultures, many repercussions are still being understood and addressed today.

While visiting the island, which has a strong First Nations heritage dating back nearly 10,000 years in some places, I wanted to try and have a better understanding of its cultural past and present.

Katie and Carolyn

Five Little Indians was recommended to me by Katie. Katie, her Mom Carolyn, and I met at a coffee shop back in Canmore over a shared affinity for carrot cake.

We somehow got to talking and when I mentioned I was considering bikepacking around Vancouver Island, they both lit up. They were from Canmore but had spent a lot of time on Vancouver Island ever since Katie was a kid.

Katie studied Canadian Indigenous History and lived on the island for several years. When I asked what I should see/do, she replied, "how much time do you have!?" She procured a piece of paper with a printed map of Vancouver Island and a pen, and she and her Mom proceeded to create a personalized two week itinerary! Along with some recommendations for bakeries, camping and learning more about First Nations history...

Annnnd back to Ruckle

Here are some more pictures from my time at Ruckle:

Breakfast, part deux

In the morning, I packed up and rode back to Ganges, where—you guessed it—I went back to The Treehouse Cafe for breakfast before strolling around the Ganges Saturday Market!

While waiting for a table, I noticed this cute little elf door:

One thing I found so much fun and unique about the island was that many people and farms have honor system roadside stands, where you can buy anything from fresh flowers, produce, eggs, meat, bread, baked goods, lotions, soaps etc... and they were all decorated so sweetly.

I stopped at one to buy some homemade salve and homemade muesli and granola from another.

Onward to Nanaimo

I took the ferry back to Crofton and headed north again along rural coastal roads to the small seaside town of Ladysmith. There, I got a to-die-for orange poppy seed sweet bun from the popular Old Town Bakery. Then I checked into a motel for the night, as it didn't seem like there were places to camp nearby.

From Ladysmith, I continued north to Nanaimo, where I was staying with my second Warm Showers host, Cheryl!

As I rolled into the town, there seemed to be a festival of some sort going on. There was a crowd gathered by the waterside and someone on a loudspeaker, but I couldn't quite understand what they were talking about. I asked a man standing next to me and he said it was the annual Nanaimo bathtub races!

Omg I thought that was the silliest, most fun thing I'd ever heard! I stayed for a couple hours watching as bathtub after bathtub sped around the corner at the edge of the bay, through a cluster of moored boats whose horns blew and honked at the racers before they finally hit the beach then had to run up a flight of steps and ring a big bell.

The racers wobbled and fell over like drunken sailors on their way to the bell, after sitting on their knees blasting through the surf of the nearly three hour-long course. The crowd went wild with laughter watching them flail around, trying desperately to get to that damn bell... many of the racers joining in the laughter at their own ridiculousness.

What a fun tradition to get to witness.


Cheryl and I connected immediately as cyclists over the absurdity of womens' chamois design. Later, we connected over our love of gardening and wonderful conversation out on her beautiful back deck.

She mentioned that she had hosted someone I knew a couple weeks before... she pointed to a watercolor painting and sure enough, it was painted by the one and only Eritia! What a small world, seriously!

In the morning, Cheryl made pour over coffee and we each had a bowl of her homemade granola topped with warm rhubarb from her garden. Then I caught a taxi and headed to a local bike shop where I picked up a bike box and ultimately disassembled and boxed my bike a second time, in preparation for another bus ride.

This time I was headed straight for Tofino, which is located at the north end of a peninsula on the western side of Vancouver Island, within the Pacific Rim National Park Preserve.

It's quite remote and somewhat difficult to get to (at least when you're traveling by bike). There's only one road that connects it to the rest of the main island, and it's pretty gnarly; twisty turny, narrow, frequent cliffsides, filled with logging trucks and perpetually under construction. Definitely a no-go for cycling.

The bus was nearly an hour late, but eventually I was on my way again...

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