Monday, September 15, 2008

Susan and just got back from a great bike tour of a few Southern Gulf Islands. These bike tours used to be an annual event, but since we adopted Barkley two years ago, we've had to put them on hold. She's almost three now, and STILL hasn't learned to ride a bike. We grew tired of waiting, and bought a bicycle trailer for dogs, which I've nicknamed "The Caboose".

We visited three Southern Gulf Islands:
North Pender, Galliano, and Salt Spring.

Victoria to Sidney

This was definitely the hardest leg of the tour. Firstly, it was the longest -- tied with the last leg. Secondly, it had been two years since we had biked with such a heavy load. Thankfully, there's a really nice semi-paved trail which took us most of the way to the ferry.

Here's the obligatory "bikes-loaded-up-in-the-driveway-before-the-trip" photo...

We loaded most of the camping gear on my bike, and attached the "Caboose" onto Susan's bike. Her's is geared much lower than mine, so it's better suited for pulling 70-pound Bouviers around. We periodically switched bikes, once we realized how much heavier the dog was, compared to our gear.

North Pender Island

We spent our first two nights on North Pender, in Prior Centennial National Park. North Pender is the more populous of the Penders, with a ferry terminal, a small shopping plaza, and a winery. South Pender has several secluded houses, and not much more. We heard that South Pender is beautiful, but the size of the hills on the island limited our travel somewhat, and so we decided to stick with the North island.

This is our site at Prior Centennial Park (Note: the "Caboose" was temporarily switched to my bike. This lasted until we realized how much lower the gearing is on Susan's bike).

Pender is home to a fairly large species of slug...They're everywhere!

We did a fair bit of hiking on Pender, as it has several beautiful trails. The dense forest there is largely made up of redwood cedars and giant ferns. Most of my photos there ended up looking like this:Next it was on to Galliano, but not before a few hours wait at the ferry terminal. The inter-island ferries don't run as often as we expected, and after biking down the very steep hill to the ferry, we were told it would be a few hours. Luckily, the terminal is has an absolutely beautiful view.

A note on ferry food for those not from BC:

When taking a ferry to or from a major ferry terminal, or on board a large ferry in BC, those who forget to eat beforehand, or forget to bring food with them are doomed to dine on FERRY FOOD. This is surely the most terrible food in the world, outside of jail and highschool cafeterias.

The Gulf Islands are a different story, though. It's almost as if they are trying to make up for the awful food at the Victoria and Vancouver terminals. Pender, for example, has a converted Winnebago called "The Stand". It doesn't look like much, but their oyster burger has got to be one of the best things I've ever eaten. I dream about it regularly, now.

Anyhow, enough about the food. The ferry from Pender to Galliano Island was by far the prettiest of the trip. Here's what it looked like:
Unforunately, on BC Ferries, pets have to stay on the car deck (not a very nice place), so Susan and I had to take turns enjoying the view, while the other eatched the dog. The best view we got from down there was just before arriving at port:

Galliano Island

After an absolutely brutal "that was only FIVE KM!?" ride from the ferry to the Montague Harbour campsite, we began to realize why Galliano was so highly reccommended to us. Montague Provincial Park is shared by campers and sailors, as the park boundaries stretch well into the bay, with 30 or so moorings. Our site gave us a wonderful view:

Barkley approves of the view:

The harbour has a lagoon that's full of neat sea life,

and the beaches are made of broken shells.

We went for a long hike to a place called “The Bluffs”. The hike was awesome. It was about an hour and a half through the densest forest I've been in. More giant ferns and redwood cedars. The Bluffs are a giant ridge of cliffs overlooking the ocean. Definitely one of the nicest views of the trip, although it was a bit too bright for picture taking.

We realized that every day of the trip so far was phisically exhausting, and so we decided to take a day of rest. The beaches of Galliano's Montague Harbour were perfect for this, so we sunk some beers in the ocean's icy water, got out our books, and lounged in the sun.

Salt Spring Island

To be honest, we didn't care for Salt Spring. It may be the island of choice for Randy Bachman and Valdi, but it just wasn't our scene. On Salt Spring, everyone's an artist -- that is, everyone who hasn't found another way of proffiting off of the tourists. Of our whole trip, we definitely found the people there to be the least friendly.

We went there last because there was a fall fair and market going on that weekend. Once we got there we were assaulted with "No Dogs" signs -- something that just doesn't exist on Pender or Galliano. Oh well; two out of three ain't bad.

The Last Leg

The ferry back to Victoria leaves Salt Spring from the south end of the island. Unfortunately, we were at the north end. The ride would have meant 25 km over a massive hill (actually part of a mountain). Tired as we were, we decided to take a ferry from the north end, back to Pender Island (which of course meant another delicious oyster burger). The ferry from Pender took us straight home. Thankfully, this was a nice small ferry. We were getting a bit sick of sitting on the car deck of the massive Queen of Nanaimo.

In the big ugly ferries, the ride looked like this:

...but the nice little ferries were much more picturesque:

The ride back from the ferry (about 40 km) was almost as tiring as the first leg of the trip. We were a bit more in shape (or at least used to the constant muscle pain). About half of the three hour trip was in the dark -- the only night riding of the whole trip. It was only Saturday night, and there is a campground near the ferry, but we (or at least I) really needed to sleep indoors on a real bed. Apparently the dog felt the same way, as she headed toward her bed as soon as we got in the door, and stayed there for a long time.

As tiring as it was, we had an amazing time. I hope to do something similar in the North Gulf Islands next year. Thankfully, we've just found a great dog sitter in the city, so the next trip will be a bit easier.