Cycling the Circle

Bicycle Touring 
                                       
1230 words

Cycling the Circle

Someday bicyclists will be able to explore all of Vancouver Island on trails
formed from abandoned rail lines and logging roads. This one-to-two day tour
is one of my favorites and is a preview of things to come.

There is something special about a first-light start from Victoria. The
post-dawn traffic is rare as I wend my way through the early morning air
up, and across the Saanich Peninsula, bound for Brentwood and the ferry to
Mill Bay.

My favorite route passes Saanich Commonwealth Place on Elk Lake Road, and
through Elk/Beaver Lake Regional Park. The earth surface trail that wanders
along the west shore of Beaver and Elk Lakes, goes around the west side of
Bear Hill Regional Park, and then northwards. 

There are wonderful smells from the market gardens and vegetable farms along
the paved route to Oldfield Road, to Keating Cross Road, and then via West
Saanich Road into Brentwood Bay.

The little ferry leaves Brentwood and crosses the stunningly beautiful Saanich
Inlet to Mill Bay every hour or so. Halfway into the trip look back at Brentwood.
That ugly development you see is a reminder of things to come if Bambertonís
"planned" city, on the west side of the inlet, is allowed to proceed. 

Back on land, the road follows the shore into the Village of Mill Bay.
Depending on my progress this might be a good time to stop for a second
breakfast or a late lunch.

It is a high traffic adventure up and across the #1 Highway to the west, and
onto Mill Bay Road bound for Shawnigan Lake. The 6 kilometer, gentle-up-and-down
paved road, passes horse farms, and hobby farms on the way to the top of
Shawnigan Lake.

On the far side of the lake is Shawnigan Lake Park. There are picnic tables,
toilets, a sandy swimming beach, and itís a good stop to recover cycling legs
for the gravel that lies ahead. At the south end of the lake is the junction
of Sooke Lake Road and it is a bit of a "grunt" up the zigzag gravel road for
just under 5 kms.

Ahead you will see Sooke Lake, and the old CN railbed branching off to the
left. Along the rail-trail look for a small waterfall on the left. Here there
is a pipe running drinking water that has an iron taste, but it's hardly
noticeable when you're thirsty.

It is interesting to note that there is no sign of a deleterious effect from
logging in this, the Greater Victoria Water Supply Catchment Area. The only
scarring of the landscape is from the activities of the Water District
employees. 

Up here on the trail, many meters above and away from the lakeshore, the view
is spectacular, green for as far as the eye can see. I sit and dream for a
moment and imagine when this was a ribbon of steel carrying lumber and goods
up and down the island. 

If you listen carefully you may just hear the "chuff," and the whistle, and
the squeal. There, can you hear it? I can.

A wide array of wildlife, flowers, sights and sounds want to make your
acquaintance, so ride with all your senses on "full alert." There is plenty
of bear scat around, and there are cougar in the area. I have a tree-planter's
bell hung on my bike, a referee's whistle in my pocket, and a canister of bear
spray handy in a holster--just to be safe.

On our trip we saw deer, and my birdwatching partner Ellen Tremblay identified
many species, including the booming of Blue Grouse. Take along your copy of
the Peterson Field Guide to Western Birds, and magnify your enjoyment of the
trip.

At the remains of the wooden trestle, pick up the gravel road on the right,
take it past the dam, and further on to the water control station. Just to the
east you can get back on the rail-trail to Leechtown and The Galloping Goose
Trail to Milne's Landing.

North of the Charters and Todd trestles there is a construction zone where
repairs are being made to a collapsed culvert. This is a "pick-up-and-carry"
spot, around the fence and onto the trail again.

Not far along is "Yuens' Folly" one man's unfulfilled dream of massive
proportions. At this point the sight of the falls on the Sooke River are a
photographer's delight, as are the views from the trestles to be crossed on
the way south. There are some great-looking swimming holes just off the road.

You are now on the "improved" section of the trail, and you could hurry home
before dark. However, if it is late in the day, and if you are touring self-
sustained, this might be a good time to pick a quiet spot off the trail to
overnight.

Make yours a pristine presence, zero impact, no fires, take only memories,
leave only footprints, you know the drill. After a good sleep it's only a 4
hour ride home.

I prefer the alternatives that are available for the deserving cyclist. Sooke
has some of the finest tourist accommodation on the Island. Iíd rather spoil
myself shamelessly at one of the areaís bed & breakfasts, and dining rooms.

Just west of the Sooke River Bridge, across the road from the Sooke Regional
Museum, is Belvista B&B at 6397 Belvista Place. Their rooms overlook Sooke
Harbour, there is a Jacuzzi, and in the evening swans swim in to be fed. 

Hosts Joe and Pauline will even ferry our tired bones the 7 kms east to the
Seventeen Mile House to be pampered over dinner by cyclist/owner Noni.

You may wish to continue into town to the ultimate west coast dining
experience at the justifiably famous Sooke Harbour House. In one of their
luxuriously appointed rooms you can Jacuzzi away the day's ride in front of
fireplace or ocean view. There is even a massage available by appointment.

The dining room is internationally rated. The food is locally, organically
grown, complimented by fresh catches from the sea. Vegetables and herbs come
from their garden. The wine list is extensive and favors the best of British
Columbia wines. The experience will leave you smiling for miles to come.

Whatever your choice, sleep late, breakfast hearty, and allow for a noonday
start home on the flat, scenic Galloping Goose Trail. The trail is a credit
to the Capital Regional Districtís Park Planners. With a couple of exceptions,
it is an easy 4 hour, 43-kilometre tour that will cross Roche Cove Regional
Park, past beautiful Matheson Lake.

This is the old rail line so there are only gradual grades and gentle turns,
interspersed with breaks where the trestles havenít been replaced. Here the
trail rider is left to apply partial brakes, slip-slide down the gravel and
trudge up the other side.

The trail, which is shared with hikers and horseriders meanders through
farmland, past the western communities of Langford, Colwood and View Royal,
and on into the heart of the city to Victoriaís Inner Harbour.

When you get home, I want you to keep this adventure a secret. Don't tell
anyone unless, like you and me, they deserve it.


Some technical stuff:

Distance; approximately 100 kilometers.

Riding surface and terrain; gravel and pavement with a few easy
hills. 1 Ĺ plus inch tires recommended.

Degree of difficulty (out of ten); two

The Outdoor Club of Victoria's Hiking Trails 1,
and Richard Blier's comprehensive "Island Adventures" are an
invaluable assist in preparing for this trip.


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