Vancouver Island – Part III
I woke early, the night not providing much respite from the heat of the day before. I wasn’t in much of a rush as I had ridden most of my miles the day before, but in my efforts to avoid the heat, I packed up and headed out – waving a goodbye to my new friend Dave. He had offered for me to camp in his yard, if I needed to, when I got to the Nanaimo in few days. We were headed in different directions – him to the east, myself to the west, eventually. But first I had a boat to catch.
I rode towards Bamfield, riding gravel and loving every minute of it. This was the last bit of gravel on this trip and, albeit the past two days had been hard, I had loved the remoteness and knew that there would be more gravel roads in my future (though ideally on a fat(ter) bike!). With time to kill, I turned towards Pachena Beach, which marks the northern end of the West Coast trail. The park service worker told me she had seen a whale earlier that morning in the bay, so I eagerly rode down to the beach, searching out the hard-packed sand and rode up and down, looking for whales and watching the backpackers take off down the coast.
Leaving the beach, I hit paved roads and sailed into Bamfield. From here, I was catching a ferry up to Port Alberni, in order to ride west out to Ucluelet and Tofino. Bamfield itself didn’t appear to be much of a town, and upon arriving at the crossroads of town, I saw a cafe and grocery store. I was plenty stocked with food, but stopped at the cafe. There I met Don who entertained me for an hour with stories of boarding school, life in Vancouver, living on the streets and then moving back to the First Nations land. He was a character, for sure, and he had as much trouble buying my story that I had ridden there from Victoria as I did for all his stories. And he had the whitest, straightest teeth I had seen in awhile.
Having gotten caught up in his stories and drinking a beer (I mean, you gotta drink the local brews), I almost missed my ferry. By the time I made it down to the dock, the few passengers were aboard and they were unloading supplies and mail. Turns out that the (name of boat?) makes 3 trips a week, delivering mail, supplies, and tourists to West Bamfield (the nicer part of town that is only accessible by boat). Passengers like me, making a one way trip to Port Alberni, were rare – and my route mixed with my bike was subject to many conversations. The ride was 4-ish hours and the boat served food and beer, but I carried food already…. so I drank beer.
And all the tourists freaked me out. My plan was to leave Port Alberni and ride out to Uclulet/Tofino. All the tourists had been out that way and all of them made couldn’t believe I was going to ride out on ‘that’ road.
“There’s no shoulder!”
“One of the hills is 18%!”
“It’s so unsafe!”
“Be careful out there!”
Now do you know why I drank so many beers?
We arrived in the heat of the afternoon and I pedaled out of town nursing a hangover brought on by the heat and too little water. But it was hot…
On my way out of town, I passed a farmers market and pulled over for a lemonade, a big bag of cherries and sour cream and onion chips. The chips and lemonade were gone immediately and I ate half the bag of cherries, hiding in whatever shade I could find. I was a mess and I had no problem with it.
My ride to the campsite wasn’t far – well, at least in miles. However, when I arrived, I was deeply concerned to see a sign that the campground was full. No, no, no, I can’t ride any further!
I was in the land of people, paved roads and houses – bushcrashing just wasn’t as easy/safe/feasible.
After a lap around the campground with no host in sight, I asked a guy if he knew where the host was – and told him I was looking for a site for the night. It was close to 7, I was exhausted and did not look forward to riding further down the road. The guy took pity on me (it could have been the tears welling up in my eyes) and told me he and his buddies had two sites. They were partying in one, sleeping in the other – and he let me set up my tent in the corner of his site. I told him I would be no problem, and out at dawn, and profusely thanked him – and moved in before he could change his mind.
It wasn’t one of the better nights I have ever had — too hot to eat, but needing to eat, no breeze, people partying, gravel of the RV lot and stress about the next day’s ride all kept sleep at bay, and it felt like as soon as I drifted off, my alarm went off at 4:30.
By 5:30, I was on the road. At least it was cool and I was eager to beat the traffic on this one route out to Tofino, the place to surf and hang out. It was a only 40 or 50 miles out to the the coast, so not too bad, but the hills…. oh the hills. I pushed my bike up a fair number of them. I swore a whole bunch. And I gloriously sailed down the other side of all of them! There was no traffic, they were doing construction on a big section and let me go through solo and I hit 40 mph headed down the 18% hill that I was so thankful I hadn’t ridden up.
(er, so I thought — until on the way back, I saw the same sign on the other side! Which means…. holy shitballs — I ‘rode’ up an 18% hill. Ok… so I might have ridden for a minute, stopped for 3, ridden for another minute, stopped… you get the picture!)
I was pretty thrilled to get out to the west coast – from here my days were easy and I was chilling on the beach.
And, it turns out that the road wasn’t all that bad.