The morning of Sunday December 2nd I was finally back on the road for part 2 of my ride to the Arctic Circle and beyond. With a deadline to catch a ferry from the north of Vancouver Island to Prince Rupert the following Saturday, I was eager to get on the road. The previous four days had been hectic, getting the Dummy ready, putting the final touches on the kit, and saying goodbye. I only managed 4 hours sleep on Saturday night.
A number of people agreed to ride part of the way with me and we all met at Market Crossing in south Burnaby before proceeding over the Queensborough and then Alex Fraser Bridges to Tsawwassen. Some people also came to see me off. It was nice to have surprise visits from James, Erin and Brian. Seth, Michael, Don and Rick accompanied me to the ferry, while Peter, Paula, Michelle and Dennis came all the way to Nanaimo.
The day started off overcast with sunny breaks (about as perfect a day as one could expect this time of year). We took the ferry from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay and then rode to the Mill Bay Ferry to reduce the number of kilometers and avoid the Malahat. I had a little knee pain early, which now always sets off alarm bells, but it did not seem to persist. Both Peter and Dennis tried out the Dummy, Peter for a few hundred meters and Dennis for several km. In fact, he was off like a shot and we only caught up to him again as we neared the Mill Bay ferry.
Then the rains started and we pulled into Duncan completely soaked. While we were eating dinner at the hotel, the police showed up to serve a warrant to one of the hotel guests. The nonchalance with which the clerk grabbed the keys and took the officer to the person’s room made me think that this was a regular occurrence at this place. Meanwhile, Michelle lost her wallet. She says it made an emotional day, more weighty. Luckily it was turned in the next day, just a bit lighter, lacking a few bills.
The next day we had a relatively short distance to Peter’s brother’s place in Nanaimo so we took back roads to make it longer and enjoy riding through some idyllic country. It was another rainy day, however, the scenery through Crofton and Chemainus to Ladysmith did not disappoint. Thanks to Kevin for putting up a bunch of dripping wet cyclists for the night.
From Nanaimo I was on my own. Michelle, Peter and Paula headed back to Vancouver and I had a reasonably long way to go to get to Courtenay. On Peter’s advice, I decided to take the old island highway and very much glad I did. The riding was fantastic with lots of nice small towns and limited hills. After struggling a bit for the first few days I felt like I hit my stride as I rolled into Courtenay full of energy.
The route from Courtenay to Campbell River was relatively short and dry. I got into Campbell River early with the sun shining. I took a closer look at the bulge in my front tire. It had been a persistent worry since about halfway through the first day, sending a slight bump with every revolution of the wheel. It looked worse than the last time I checked and I decided to take advantage of the sunny weather and replace it with my spare. That leaves me with no spare until I pick up my stashed tires in Whitehorse.
Leaving Campbell River, I was not expecting to see any civilization until Woss. The road turned inland and the hills began in earnest. But, just as my stomach started to rumble at the top of a hill, I came across Sue’s Place restaurant. Sue bought me lunch but would not let me take her picture. Delicious.
I rode past Sayward and well into the night but I did not manage to cover half the distance to Port McNeill (I was hoping to do 120 of the 200 to McNeill). I consoled myself for my lack of progress with the notion that I was at a high altitude and that most of the climbing was done (I was so very wrong). I found a rest stop and set up my tent for the first time this trip. I decided that even though it was December there might be bears about so I left my food away from the tent. That just invited a smaller critter to chew through my pannier and have its fill of bread.
I was up early to get a jump on the day and get to Port McNeill before too late. I awoke to ice on my tent and snow all around, the first snow of the trip.
I later learned that the the local ski hill had 11 feet of fresh powder for opening day. Fortunately, at lower elevations the precipitation fell mostly as rain. My hope of few hills and lower elevations were to be dashed. And almost immediately it was back to dragging the Dummy up and up. At the end of the day the altimeter read the total elevation gain as nearly 1,000 meters.
I rolled into Port McNeill and the Bike Shed shortly after 6:00, 11 hours after setting out. My host for the evening was Ryan, the mechanic at the Bike Shed. I was greeted at the door with an offer of warm food and cold beer. He also wanted to put the Dummy up on the stand to have a look. It got a thorough cleaning and complete check over. The wheels were true and remained well tensioned (thanks Seth), something that is a constant concern for me, given the number of hubs, rims and spokes that I go through. Ryan added a new cable and housing for the rear derailleur, and a fancy one at that: with a Gore-Tex sheath to keep the water out. The next morning as I was leaving the bike shop I broke the chain in the parking lot. Ryan quickly fixed that and had me on my way.
When I am on a new road on a bike I always look forward to stopping at points of interest and reading the vignettes. On the ride up the Island I got to see a couple superlatives, and not the type one might normally see in towns on the prairies, like the biggest Easter egg or the Canada goose statue, or some other human made big something-or-other. The first was a picture of the world’s largest non-nuclear explosion with a view to the place where it happened (Seymour Narrows – Ripple Rock). The explosion was set off to clear a shipping lane. A tunnel was drilled from nearby land to two underwater pinnacles, the tallest of which at low tide was a mere 3 meters below the surface and had claimed numerous vessels and lives. 1,400 tons of explosives were placed in the tunnels.
The second was the world’s largest burl, found on a spruce tree harvested near Port McNeill (circumference of 45 feet).
My island ride came to an end as I arrived in Port Hardy. It was four hours before the ferry was set to depart. I went to town to find some food and then backtracked the 8 km to the ferry. From here I headed north.