Tour 2014 – Vancouver to Port Hardy

For this part of journey, I spent 10 days from May 7th to May 16th, cycling 590 km.

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The bike was as surprised as I was when I pedaled out of the garage early in the morning. Wobbling under the weight we both made it to North Vancouver and climbed the Taylor Way without issues.

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There was a detour on Highway 1, so I ended up riding the Marine Drive and arrived in Horseshoe Bay for the last cup of decent coffee for a long time to come. While adjusting the straps or whatnot I almost missed the ferry.

Sailing to Langdale

The Langdale ferry was full of screaming high school kids. 5km stretch to Gibson was still as hard as I remembered from a few years ago. Unfortunately the alleged strength of my memory did not help when I chose the wrong turn to climb a steep hill to reach a dead end. Pretending not lost, I casually turned back and made it to Sechelt for a quick lunch at the shore.

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A few kilometers north of town lies the Porpoise Bay Provincial Park. This is the only park that I know has special cyclist tent sites. They charge $11 for a night and it comes with free showers.

The park is next to a clam beach and people come here often to dig for them.

The night was cool and the next day was rainy. I caught the 16:30 sailing of the Earls Cove ferry and made it to Saltery Bay park which is very close to the landing on the other side. There was no one in the campground except an RV. The park was still closed for the season but allowed camping without any services — even garbage bins were locked.

Mermaid Trail sign

I walked the “Mermaid Trail” in the rain and strolled at the rocky shore. Apparently they had sunk a mermaid statue nearby for diving purposes.

Rain continued all night and into the next day. By the time I reached Westview I was wet from head to toe. I locked the bike to the ferry terminal and looked for dry socks and a pair of plastic bags for my feet. I also bought an autobiography of Lawrence Olivier, don’t ask me why.

The rain started to subside as soon as we landed at Comox. At this point I was well aware that “Sunshine Coast” is a misnomer.

Miracle Beach

Miracle Beach was my first stop on Vancouver Island. It has a nice location and the beach is nice too. The showers were modern and clean. I bought a bundle of wet wood and struggled to start the fire. My neighbour, who must be fed up with the smoke, dropped by and gave me a piece of dry pine and the fire was roaring in a couple of minutes. Normally I don’t bother with campfire but it is nice to have some warmth.

Cortes island ferry

The ferry to Prince Rupert was still a week away, so I decided to visit Cortes Island when I reached Campbell River. The first ferry goes to Quadra Island and a second one takes you to Cortes. The park that I wanted to camp in lies at the southern part of the island and the road was so hilly I was tempted to walk the bike a few times. When I arrived at the park there was construction going on; a new shelter was being built and the camp sites looked spanking new. The park warden said he would allow me to camp anyways.

Smelt Bay P. Park

The park is situated next to an ancient shell midden site. It looked like a well maintained garden with tall leafy trees and healthy grass with rolling hills.

Smelt Bay P. Park

The beach was beautiful. This is the only time I swam the entire trip. I stayed one more day and spent my time visiting the local cafe, riding the side roads, sitting at the beach and reading. Park warden gave me a little history: there are three pioneer families — Hansen, Jeffries and Christiansen — who moved here from Cape Scott.

The return trip to Campbell River was quick. I struggled to find a public phone in time to make calls for the mothers day. The highway north of Campbell River was busy with logging trucks. It seemed like the whole island was being clear cut. The weather was cloudy and warm. At this point I wasn’t sure where to camp next. I passed Elk Falls turn, thinking it’s too early in the day. Then I passed a few rest areas where camping is not allowed, but I think I could have stayed if I really needed. On a quiet stretch, a big elk stormed out of the woods into the road and crossed to the other side.

Sayward town campsite

When I reached Sayward exit, it was almost 8pm. There were a few motels at the junction and a small store but no campgrounds. I decided to reach Sayward, not really sure what to find there; my guidebook didn’t talk about the town. The rain started to pick up and after a 10km ride I reached the town centre and pleasantly surprised to find a campground. It was nearing 11pm when I finally retired into my tent.

Looks better in daylight

The town looked better in daylight. There were no stores. There was a business centre with closed doors. The next morning I had a $3 shower at the recreation centre and went to the little library which was open two days a week. Internet was slow but I was able to check a few things.

Log booms in Sayward

Seeing the sun coming out for a full day, I decided to stay for another night and went for a walk. At the end of the road there was Kelsey Bay, with an RV campground and a government dock. When I was there, a tanker came in and unloaded fish through a pipe to a fishery boat. I also went for hiking to a small river delta called the Salmon River estuary.

Woss Lake Camp

Leaving Sayward felt like leaving home. The road to Woss was not as steep as the guide book led me to believe. The “charming” Woss town was nothing but a convenience store. I bought some food and asked for directions to the campground. The access road was rough. I stopped for a minute to take a look around just before a logging truck came rolling in a dust cloud from the direction I was supposed to go. The campground was beside a lake and quite primitive with pit toilets and water from the lake. On the lake there were ducks with white breast and dark backs, couldn’t make out what they were exactly.

On the way to Port McNeil

The traffic rest of the way to Port McNeill was normal. I had a bit of headwind but it brought good weather, so no complaints. At lunch I made a sandwich with leftover humus chips, cheddar cheese and honey — excellent. The visitor centre at Port McNeill was well decorated. They let me access the private wi-fi. I decided to visit Alert Bay and went to the ferry landing.

Alert Bay

After a few hours a small ferry carried us over to Cormorant Island. I reached the “Camping & Ecology Park” few minutes after landing. There was nobody except me at the campground. I picked site 13 for luck and soon the manager showed up and told me there was no showers and  no bathroom. Apparently there was a vandalism a few days ago and the shower/bathroom building was damaged. After a couple of minutes chatting, he decided to unofficially allow me to the building, removed the barriers and left me a pile of dry wood for free and also told me that I can stay for free because of the inconvenience.

After he left I made dinner, built a fire and went to the building to take a shower. The building was warm inside but when I turned the taps, there was no water. I searched in vain for a valve to let the water flow. The manager was out of reach. I had mixed feelings.

Alert Bay Drug Store

The next morning I went to explore the town until noon ferry to the main island. There was no one around except cars trying to catch the 9am ferry. I went to U’mista Cultural Centre which I had visited a few years ago. The displays were renovated and had a bit more stuff to exhibit. Due to a recent break-in, the security was a bit tight too. Every time I walked or moved, something beeped and let me know that they are aware of me.

Eagles at Alert Bay

I walked around the remains of the residential school to take pictures and went up and down the front street to soak in the morning sun. I ran into the camp manager and mentioned that there was no water at the camp. He apologized and said the town had probably cut the water after vandalism. The noon ferry carried me back over to the main island and I went to the market to stock up before heading north.

Quatse River

After a quick ride I arrived at the Quatse River Campground, the last stop before Port Hardy. It had laundry, showers and internet. A salmon hatchery was next door.

Entering Port Hardy

By noon next day I was in Port Hardy. The visitor centre was closed and there was little movement around. I went to “Captain Hardy’s” for a nice fish&chips — the same restaurant I went two years ago during my kayaking trip. The evening ferry to Prince Rupert was located at the Bear Cove, which was another 8km away. I followed the Hardy Bay road which passes through the marina, a nice stretch of road.

Sailing to Prince Rupert

It started to rain as we waited for the sailing hour. The ferry is very modern with its big cafeteria and comfortable lounge area. Even though there are cabins, there is no need if all you need is to sleep through the night. People who are travelling to the communities along the coast usually spend the night awake watching TV. That night I ended up watching a movie named “Grudge Fight”. If you come across it, avoid seeing it at all cost. Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro is boxing; it’s a mix of tragedy and comedy.