We're thrilled to have been included in a lovely story about self-guided bike touring on Vancouver Island in the current Adventure Cyclist. To be featured in a magazine that is published by 'America's bicycle travel experts' is a real honour for us. Below is an excerpt of Irene Middleman Thomas' story - it seems she loves our area as much as we do. Enjoy!
From the magazine:
"The next day, we were off for the second part of our trip, starting with a three- hour drive up to the Campbell River area, passing through the town of Nanaimo (See adventurecycling.org/nanaimo). It was a romantically cloudy day — mountains looming in the mist in all directions, cool and fresh — and just as we arrived at our destination, the sun broke through. In the town of Courtenay, we joined up with Laurel Cronk and Kim Barry, the owners of boutique travel company Island Joy Rides. Irrepressibly enthusiastic and yet oh-so-professional and organized, the two women got us all set up with more Canadian-made bikes, plenty of goodies, map holders, and a very detailed itinerary, complete with sightseeing tips, mileage and kilometer listings, and landmarks. We found it charming that they give each bike a Gulf Island — inspired name. My trusty steed was “Sonora.” The company specializes in all-inclusive, guided cycling trips on Vancouver Island, but they are willing to help with independent trips and to design itineraries. In our case, they even transferred luggage from inn to inn — much easier than using panniers, to be sure. We found Island Joy Rides’ service over and beyond what we expected. Cronk and Barry are impeccable in their service, concern, creativity, and nurturing.
We spent the next two days cycling through dense forests and along the coast, stopping to rest at such gorgeous spots as the First Nations cemetery, filled with totem poles, behind Campbell River’s Discovery Mall; Miracle Beach Provincial Park, with its soft grey sand, small lapping waves, seagulls and tossed driftwood; and the mysterious, exquisitely beautiful Elk Falls Provincial Park, which seemed to be a perfect hiding place for elves and trolls — filled with giant ferns, mist, and towering cedars. The winding paths here tend to get even daily visitors lost — so don’t despair, someone will come to lead you out, unless you’d rather stay in this idyllic spot. Everywhere we drank in the exhilarating salty smell of the sea and the sweet cedar fragrance and felt the cool mist and soft breeze of the ocean on our faces.
There are many lunch spots in the area, and you won’t want to miss a Nanaimo bar. We tried many during our trip! Nanaimo bars are very popular, traditional Canadian bar cookies, first made in Nanaimo. Canadians found it quite amusing that we weren’t familiar with these extremely yummy layered treats, made with butter, more butter, coconut, graham crackers, chocolate and more butter. We soon found them to be essential for cycling.
After that repast, we rode through Seaview Farm and took a break to make friends with its small herd of Highland cattle. They ate grass straight from our hands and let us pet their wet noses. Just as the drizzle was beginning to get stronger, we landed at our inn for the night. Susie’s on the Shore is a beauty of a B&B right on the beach, owned by the fascinating and very sociable Susie and Michael Moscovich. The couple obviously delights in meeting new people and makes special efforts, such as Michael’s penchant for placing unusual herbs on the breakfast plate, asking guests to “guess” what they are, and Susie’s passion of sharing her collection of local art (quite wonderful!). Just a five-minute walk from Susie’s, we dined at Salmon Point Restaurant — a warm, friendly pub right on the water.
Campbell River and the surrounding area are noted for many totem poles from the indigenous First Nations people. We visited the excellent Campbell River Museum, stopped at the Rotary Park along the seafront, and picnicked at the “long- house” park by the town marina. We saw seals lolling on the big rocks offshore, watched raucous seagulls and other birds taunting each other, and enjoyed the pan- orama of colorful boats on the piers, joggers and cyclists on the path, and children play- ing in the sand with their toes. We spent the night at Dolphins Resort, a cozy, yet oh-so-pampering set of 12 cabins in a fishing retreat right on the water. Its fabulous on-site restaurant served the best French toast I’ve ever had. It also featured private hot tubs, divine for after (après) cycling. We loved walking out on the pier and gazing down into the crystal clear water to see many-armed sun stars. In the morning, we were thrilled by some 25 or so dolphins in a straight line, cavorting right offshore.
Our last day was spent on scenic Quadra Island, which we reached by ferry from the Campbell River terminal. We rode around the island all morning, visiting with local artisans in their home studios (don’t feel pressured to buy when visiting — they love to display and chat. Check out Bill Van Orden’s Big Rock Fish Art Studio. Quadra Island is where we encountered the lost local in the bushes and where we had perhaps our most amusing moment on the trip, right after a delicious luncheon at Heriot Bay Inn, a well-kept historical fish- ing retreat on the island’s tip.
We still hadn’t seen any seals, except from afar, and were assured that we would see them on Quadra. So, on our last day, we chose to spend a couple of hours sea kayaking at April Pointe Resort. Indeed, we did see seals, but one was not what we expect- ed. We paddled up slowly to the logs, as quietly as possible. Sure enough, it was a seal, a big one, and it appeared wounded with what seemed to be a large pink gash. “Is it dead?” my fiancée asked worriedly. To our bemusement, just a yard or so away, it lifted its head and opened its sad, big, brown eyes. We saw that it was definitely not dead. In fact, the big boy apparently had confused us for a female seal and was displaying its “interest.” Afterward, we were mesmerized by two other seals jousting some 30 feet away, splashing wildly and jumping from the water.
The week was over, and we reluctantly turned in our bikes to Island Joy Rides, then drove the rental car down to the ferry terminal at Nanaimo, Duke Point station, and settled in for the one-hour, 40-minute ride. Many seals and dolphins cavorted around us as we approached Tsawwassen terminal, giving us our last joyful wildlife sighting on Vancouver Island. I still have a frozen Nanaimo bar at home waiting for a special occasion, and I’ll never think of blackberries as just another fruit again."
Irene Middleman Thomas loves to explore by bicycle, and one of her favorite destinations is Canada. Based in Colorado, she writes about travel, food, and lifestyles for publications all over the U.S. and Canada.