The Road to Port Renfrew

Bicycle Touring 

1,268 words 

The Road to Port Renfrew Lures the Adventurous

Bicyclists in Victoria and its environs have long enjoyed recreational riding
on a network of quiet streets and urban trails. The more adventurous explored
old abandoned rail lines, sharing them with the occasional walker and horse
rider.

Unfortunately with the growing popularity of bicycling (there are now more
bikes than cars and trucks combined in North America), and the advent of
political correctness, the urban cycling scene has changed radically. 

Sensing a popular vote-catcher bureaucrats and politicos, whose backsides
hadn't seen a bicycle seat since grade school, moved smoothly onto the scene
and the adventure disappeared.

Budgets were struck; the trails were brushed out, widened, leveled, and paved.
Ribbon cutting photo-ops became the order of the day and, for the brave, the
fun went out of it.

The up-side of all these changes has been the opportunity for greater numbers
to safely develop a love of the cycle, and an increased skill and confidence
in its operation. Longer rides became an inevitable result, followed by
experimentation with the overnight or weekend tours.

For those of you who are ready for it, here is a favorite four-day adventure
of mine that will challenge and reward you. For this one do your homework:
More Island Adventures, Volume 2 by Richard Blier; and maps by Davenport Maps,
The BC Ministry of Forests, Guide to Forest Land of Southern Vancouver Island,
and Peterson's Field Guide to Western Birds are of invaluable help.

Make a break-of-dawn start from anywhere in Victoria and head to the ferry
departure at Brentwood. My favorite route passes Saanich Commonwealth Place
on Elk Lake Road.

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 north
and west to Oldfield Road, to Keating Cross Road, and via West Saanich Road,
on to Brentwood Bay.

The little ferry crosses the stunningly beautiful Saanich Inlet to Mill Bay
every hour or so. Back on land, take the road along the shore into the Village
of Mill Bay. From there Mill Bay Road to Shawnigan Lake is a 6-kilometer,
gentle-up-and-down paved road, past horse farms, and hobby farms. 

Ride the road west along the north side of the lake to the junction with the
Shawnigan Lake West Road. Keep straight on and you are on the beginning of the
Renfrew Road. 

Six kms from here the pavement ends and the balance of the distance to Port
Renfrew is well maintained, good gravel surface with only a couple of rough
sections, and fairly well signed. When in doubt go straight ahead. There will
be some fairly long grades of around 8% leading to truly spectacular views
and you'll get there with reasonable effort if you have the proper gearing
and the right size tires on your bike. 

The road skirts the south side of Koksilah River Provincial Park, and the
riverside picnic sites on the right are a good place to stop for lunch. 

Back on the bike, there are 21 kilometers to what was once one of the real
treats of the trip; the Bedspring Suspension Bridge over Williams Creek. It
was an engineering marvel, tethered by steel cables into rock on either side
of the creek. 

The bridge gave yeoman service for decades before being retired to a life of
carrying you and me safely across Williams Creek. 

It is gone now due to a bureaucratic Gordian Knot created by the provincial
government, and compounded by a foreign-owned timber company fearful of
liability.

Where the old road to the Bedspring Bridge goes straight ahead, make a sharp
right and follow the Fleet Main Line for about 14 kilometres to the Lens Main,
and left (south) for another 12 to the Renfrew Road near Pixie Lake. 

At the junction stay left and it is a downhill for two kilometres to 
the Forest Service recreation site on the San Juan River at the Black
Suspension Bridge, this will have been a 80 plus kilometer day. 

There are a half-dozen shaded riverside campsites. Remember to hoist your food
bags (including all toiletries) on a line at least 4 meters above ground as a
bear precaution. The campsites are user-maintained so make yours a pristine
presence 'leave only footprints, take only memories.'

After a hearty meal, encamped among impossibly tall trees, the river waits
to sing you a woodland lullaby.
         
Across the bridge is the climb to start your day, but before long comes
continuous descent as you roll the last 19 km into Port Renfrew. The Wildwave
Cafe at the Port Renfrew Hotel serves consistently good food in cyclist-sized
portions, so you might wish to delay breakfast. Chefs Sean and Clint specialize
in the bounty of the sea.

It's possible to store your panniers with Mike the hotel manager while you
cycle the three-and-a-half kilometers to the marvels of Botanical Beach. The
tidepools are rich with intertidal marine life, but please do not disturb or
remove these fascinating and delicate organisms.

If you decide to overnight in Port Renfrew the hotel offers high-season rooms
for under $30.00 or quiet campsites for $10-12. 

There are 63 kilometers of hilly pavement separating you from Sooke, so an
early start is recommended. Along the way the views of Juan De Fuca Strait are
breathtaking. Jordan River, at the 38-kilometer point has free campsites on
the beach, courtesy of Western Forest Products. From these campsites the
sunsets are spectacular. 

In Sooke, on of my favorite destinations is the delightful Bed and Breakfast
on Belvista Place owned by friends Joe and Pauline Cziraky. Their rooms
overlook Sooke Harbour, there is a Jacuzzi, and in the evening swans swim in
to be fed. They will even ferry your tired bones the 7 kms east to the
Seventeen Mile House to be pampered over dinner by cyclist/owner Noni.

For those who wish the ultimate experience in dining, and luxurious 
ccommodation, there is the Sooke Harbour House. They have just completed an
expansion and renovation that preserves and enhances the qualities that has
brought them international renown.

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. Their wine list is extensive and favors the best of British
Columbia wines

Whatever your choice, sleep well, breakfast hearty, and allow for a
late-morning start home on the flat, scenic Galloping Goose Trail. There is
an abundance of wildlife along the way so ride with your senses on full-alert.

With a couple of exceptions, this is an easy 4 hour, 43-kilometre trip that
will cross Roche Cove Regional Park, past Matheson Lake. It is the old rail
line so there are only gradual grades and gentle turns, interspersed with
breaks where the trestles haven't 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,
to connect back home on the City's recreational riding network of quiet
streets and urban trails.

A satisfying end to a great adventure....

Terry Connellan is a veteran long distance cycle tourer who
occasionally shares his adventures with readers. With more than 90,000
kilometers of bicycle touring behind him, he has just completed his 18th summer
of seeing the world from the back of a bike.

                                                         


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