Just Me and My Bike: A Gulf Island Adventure
I’ll admit it, I recently had a bit of an existential crisis.
Nothing major, just a healthy dose of questioning the direction of my life, considering dropping out of university to pursue an organic agriculture internship, slowly talking myself out of it, and then reaching the conclusion that what I really need is to balance my academic lifestyle with more challenging and exciting outdoor adventures.
So, in the wake of this minor personal crisis, I made the spontaneous decision to take myself on a solo bike tour/camping trip to Salt Spring Island. I think it’s true that the very best, and the very worst, ideas are born in spontaneity. This adventure was perhaps a little bit of both.
*I owe a massive thank-you to the many people who helped make this happen against all odds. I’m going to try to give a shout out to all of them throughout this story!
Friday, 9:30am – Capping off what had been a long week of confusion and self-doubt, I meet a wonderful friend of mine, Claire (thank-you #1), early in the morning for a walk through Mystic Vale, a wander along the beach, and then some coffee at our favourite spot on campus.
Over a steaming hot cup of dark roast, our quirky and light-hearted conversation brings me a new-found sense of clarity and enlightenment. I remind myself; “Life is good, and everybody’s trying…” (words that I often repeat when I’m at a loss for any other logical advice) “…let’s go on an adventure.”
Friday, 5:00pm – After a very enjoyable day of work, I walk home under clear blue skies with the early evening sun still shining brightly through the trees, and the skeleton of a plan begins to rapidly take shape in my mind. By the time I reach my front door, it’s a definite go.
I’m going to leave early the next morning, bike 30km along the Lochside trail to the Swartz Bay ferry terminal, hop on the 11:00am boat to Salt Spring Island, stop at Mt. Maxwell for a day hike to the summit, then continue biking another 10km to Ruckle Provincial Park where I’ll pitch my tent for the night. I’ll pack it up the next morning, bike back to the ferry, and be in Victoria again by early evening for our weekly roommate dinner. What could possibly go wrong?!
Friday, 6:00pm – My roommate, Megan (thank-you #2), and I collectively manage to rig up my bike with a bunch of camping gear haphazardly piled into a basket on the back, then she drives me downtown to MEC to buy my own camp stove for the journey.
Friday, 11:00pm – After a successful trip to MEC (and a vegan buffet dinner at Green Cuisine plus a couple of casual drinks at Canoe) we’re back home! I throw together some food to take with me the next morning, pack some extra socks, a headlight, my new camp stove, etc. into a back pack, and call it a night.
Saturday, 8:30am – Two pieces of sourdough toast with peanut butter and banana, then I’m on my way! The biking is slow going with all of the added weight on back, and I’m vaguely aware of the fact that the air in my back tire is pretty low and I probably should’ve pumped it up before I left. But, it’s a beautiful, crisp morning and there’s not much that could dampen my spirits.
Saturday, 9:15am – No less than 10km from UVic, I bike over a *very* small speed bump and the entire basket of camping gear explodes off the back of my bike. The two screws that’d been barely holding it in place are long gone.
The basket is dragging on the ground, and I have no bike repair tools or extra screws. It takes me less than a minute to accept that it’s game over. My biggest concern becomes trying to figure out how I’m going to get my bike onto a city bus back to UVic.
A moment later, a posse of four power-walking moms stride around the corner (thank-you #3)… “Oh my goodness!” “What’s going on here?!” “Are you OK?” “Let us help you!” Next thing I know, they’ve reattached the basket using my bike lock wrapped around the seat post, and are cheering me on my way. Well, I guess I can’t quit yet.
Saturday, 9:45am – The basket may be fixed, but the back tire of my bike is seriously low on air. I begin flagging down other cyclists passing me on the trail until I eventually find two women with a spare tire pump (thank-you #4).
They give me a hand pumping up the tire, I thank them profusely, and get back to biking. At this point, I’m going to be cutting it close with only an hour to bike the remaining 20km to make the 11:00am ferry. It’s go time.
Saturday, 10:50am – I made it. Just in time.
Saturday, 11:30am – I arrive on Salt Spring Island, and celebrate my unlikely success with some spectacular food from the one and only Morningside Vegan Bakery (thank-you #5) in Fulford Harbour. Feeling optimistic and re-energized, I set off for the nearby Mt. Maxwell.
Saturday, 12:30pm – A short and leisurely ride later, I’m at the base of the mountain, where I lock my bike up to a guard rail and (somewhat sketchily) pile most of my gear into a tree nearby so that I don’t have to hike with too much unnecessary weight. Worries of theft/animals eating all my food aside, I set off up the mountain.
Saturday, 2:00pm – Soon enough, I reach the summit of Mt. Maxwell, where I’m rewarded with a spectacular, sunny view of the surrounding Gulf Islands and the Olympic Mountains in the distance.
Well worth the climb. While hanging out trying to get a decent panorama photo, I strike up a conversation with a young couple who are also out hiking (thank-you #6). We have a great conversation about craft beer, I tell them about my day’s adventures, and they mention that they’re planning to camp at Ruckle Park that night as well. They give me their cell phone number, in case I run into more trouble later on and need someone to help pull me out of a ditch somewhere.
a) My gear and food are still there. Yay!
b) The back tire of my bike is definitely 100% flat. Uh-oh.
Saturday, 3:35pm – Right on cue, a very nice man walks by (thank-you #7), heading towards his car in the parking lot. Likely noting the distress on my face, he asks if I need help with anything…
I inquire about a bike pump (which I’m now realizing I should definitely invest in for future adventures) and although he doesn’t have one on hand, he does have a bike rack on his car and offers me a ride in to Ganges where there’s a bike shop that should be able to fix it up for me. I can’t say no to that, and take him up on the offer.
Saturday, 4:00pm – He drops me off in Ganges, and I arrive at the bike shop… just in time to see them flipping the door sign to ‘Closed.’ As I clearly look like a sorry sight at this point, the man inside opens the door and asks me what I’m looking for.
I point to the bike, with its very flat tire and makeshift basket of gear being held on to the back with my lock, and he kindly invites me in (thank-you #8). It turns out that the bike maintenance guy also studied Geography and ES at UVic “way back in the day.”
Saturday, 5:15pm – After some serious bicycle lifesaving, including a new back rack, a handful of zip ties, a replaced inner tube, and some extra air in the tires, I’m back in business. At this point, I’m a solid 30km in the opposite direction from Ruckle and the sun is setting quickly, so I’m planning to find somewhere close to Ganges where I can pack it in for the night.
Just as I’m loading everything back on to my bike to leave, the bike guy asks me if I’m still going to make it to Ruckle. When I tell him that I’m not, he tries (unsuccessfully) to hide the disappointment on his face.
Saturday, 5:18pm – I debate for a couple of minutes, weighing my options, and then laughingly pull the bike lights out of my backpack (Salt Spring gets very dark after sunset because there’s no street lights) and set off in the direction of Ruckle. I figure that way too many people are invested in this adventure for me to back down now. On my way heading out of town, I ride past the bike guy on his walk home from work, and he flashes me an enthusiastic peace sign. Here goes nothing…
Saturday, 7:15pm – A couple of hours of legitimately very enjoyable (but also very hilly and very dark) biking later, I cruise past the entrance sign of Ruckle Provincial Park. SUCCESS!
Saturday, 8:30pm – With my tent pitched, and hot tea simmering over my new camp stove (using water borrowed from another family of campers because I didn’t realize that the water taps are all turned off in the winter… thank-you #9), I give my parents a call back in Nova Scotia. I let them know that I’m on Salt Spring Island, in the forest alone, but that it’s been a fabulous day and they definitely don’t need to worry about me. Ahh, the beautiful freedom of being a 19 year-old living 7000km from home.
Sunday, 7:00am – I wake up in the morning to this:
And I have no doubt that it’s going to be another great day.
Luckily, the rest of my adventure went (mostly) according to plan. I made it back to Victoria with plenty of stories to tell and Morningside cookies in hand, just in time to have Sunday dinner with my roommates.
So, the moral of the story?
Always go on adventures, especially alone and under-prepared. Never underestimate the potential kindness of strangers. Laugh at yourself in the face of total disaster. And it’s probably a good idea to carry a bike pump.