Our departure from Vancouver was originally meant to mark the beginning of our ‘second leg’ and the start of our southbound ride following the Pacific coast, but on recommendation of many (and due in part to the wonderful offer of accommodation!) we decided to extend the Canadian portion of our trip by heading over to Victoria. In order to do so, we needed to undertake quite an epic journey comprising of a multitude of public forms of transport and a few rides that would truly taste our navigation skills- well, needless to say, it wasn’t really our proudest day.
We started off in true ‘toddlerontour’-style by failing to pull ourselves together quickly and efficiently enough in the morning and leaving 20 minutes later than originally planned. Twenty minutes, why, that’s nothing surely? But as the day wore on, we came to realize that twenty minutes could indeed make all the difference! Our first stop was to head downtown and catch the Skytrain from Vancouver across to Richmond and actually, it went surprisingly smoothly. As a city, Vancouver takes cyclists into careful consideration and we found cycle routes- both on and off road- to be plentiful, spacious and well-linked. The Skytrain itself provides more than sufficient space for a few bicycles and the flat, level platform (and no gap!!) meant we could literally roll on and roll off the train with little difficulty. Admittedly, the trailer added a slight complication into the mix and the logistics of managing two bikes and the trailer in a lift to the platform required some thought- but somehow, we managed it. My only frustration with the SkyTrain was the somewhat irritating insistence upon management of displaying the “GO CANNUCKS GO!!” message upon it’s platform screens between showing expected train times: we ended up missing a train because we couldn’t actually determine whether it was the correct one, due to this infuriating message. I’m all for supporting the home team- until it interferes with basic needs, such as knowing where the train that is standing at the platform is actually headed!
It was upon our arrival in Richmond that things started to slowly but surely head downhill.
Our navigational skills as a couple are, I must confess, questionable. We’ve been lucky in that Canada is mainly linked by one or two main highways and as such, the majority of the time, we are just following one road and need to pay little attention to changing direction or where to head at intersections. However, the route from Richmond to the point at which we were to catch the shuttle bus through the George Massey tunnel (which doens’t allow bicycles) required several changes of direction, roads and so forth. Matt had helpfully taken a high-def photograph of a map displaying the route but unfortunately once our map-reading skills were put to the test, we failed: miserably. At one point Matt mis-read the map to take us completely the wrong direction along a certain road, adding an additional 15 minutes onto our journey…add this to the other smaller, minor hiccups and somehow we had managed to extend the 30minute, 5mile ride into a 12mile, 1hr fiasco. Tempers were frayed especially as hunger set in; my frustration and agitation at Matt for his lack of navigation only fueled his impatience and anger, and in truth, things were pretty grim. As time slipped from us and I admitted defeat at having missed our planned shuttle bus, I begged Matt to stop so we could grab some food: refusing to give in, he pushed us on until we rolled up to the shuttle bus station and saw that we had indeed missed our chance- the 11am bus had long gone. And what’s worse? the buses run every hour, on the hour…except from midday. We had almost 2 hours to wait until the next one. Epic fail numero un.
We managed to grab some food and sat waiting (im)patiently as the driver of the shuttle bus sat in the vehicle in question just metres away from where we sat. When he finally pulled alongside and we managed to throw our belongings onto the bus, it took longer than anticipated to pass through the tunnel and re-load our bikes: it was at this point that I realized we had just 40minutes to cycle the 40minutes to the ferry port. We were pushing it. A lot.
We followed the highway all the way and I pushed myself harder and faster than I have since the Coquihalla. I raced that bike as fast as I could manage in spite of the weight I carried, flying along the shoulder of the highway with determination and aggressive drive. Unfortunately I left Matt, struggling under the weight of the trailer, in my wake- and had to slow down and stop several times in order to allow him to catch up! I checked my watch compulsively as I kept watching the miles tick away in front of me- could we make it? Just?
The long stretch out towards the ferry port was frustrating. I could see the ferry ahead of me, waiting, loading up- I pushed harder, faster, hoping by some stroke of luck that we could just climb on board. It was less than a mile away- we HAD to make it. After all this work and after all this bad luck, we had to make it. I checked my watch. 2.58pm. The ferry was leaving in 2 minutes: we were too late. As I reached the ticket booth, it sailed off without us- all that speed, the fight to make it in time!- wasted. We had another hour to wait until the next ferry, and accepted the fact that we now wouldn’t make it to Victoria until the evening.
One advantage to boarding the ferry by bike, however, was that we were in fact the first on and the first off. We cycled on ahead of all the waiting traffic and secured our bikes below deck before heading up to the kids play area to relax a while after our race against time to reach that ferry port. As we set sail, we left behind the grey skies of Vancouver and headed into pure sunshine and blue skies over perfectly still waters. The icy breeze on deck was actually incredibly invigorating and the views were really something- as we passed the various islands and coastline along the way, I felt a real sense of calm at last. I’ve been longing to get onto the water since we arrived in Canada: and there’s something so peaceful and relaxing about it, something that truly re-aligns your mindset just from being around water. I understood, finally, why families can chose to take to the water to travel- I had always perceived it to be slightly claustrophobic, perhaps, to be enclosed in such a small space for long periods of time- but at that point it seemed to me it would feel exactly the opposite. So much openness, space and freedom. True escapism in it’s purest form. I love being on the water.
Once we docked at Sidney, it was mostly smooth-sailing as we headed towards Victoria. The clearly marked signs guided us to the Lochside Trail which would bring us right to the city, at which point we were to meet our host Lisa, who would guide us to her house from there. One thing I can say with absolute confidence: Victoria and the surrounding area, without a doubt, have the best facilities for cyclists I believe I’ve ever come across. The cycle paths were wonderfully maintained, traffic-free, flat and followed the most beautiful scenery. It was peaceful and easy riding, a perfect end to our slightly less-than-perfect day of traveling. We sailed thrugh woodland and farmland; over rivers and along the coast; through beautiful housing estates and skipped past the busy highways and heavy volumes of traffic. The route was almost entirely flat and stretched the length of the distance we needed to cover and more: yet our still-limited fitness and “excess” weight slowed us down considerably and it took us almost 2hours to complete the journey. As we edged towards Victoria one of our lovely hosts, Lisa, cycled out to meet us and guide us the rest of the way- after our long day, the sight was so incredibly welcome, it completely turned the day on it;s head to the best possible conclusion! We were to stay with Lisa, her husband Dwayne and son Luke, who had undertaken a year of travelling around the world themselves a few years ago and are keen cyclists also. We’re so incredibly lucky that our travels have introduced us to so many incredible people!
And so concluded our day of rather testing travel -with a glass of red wine and the hockey game!- but if anything can be deduced from today, it’s that us and public forms of transport, well…don’t mix. I am more confidant than ever in our decision to opt for our bikes as the primary from- and to be in control of our own schedules and times with no dependance on anyone or anything else. We’re rubbish timekeepers; I don’t doubt that if we were to depend solely on buses, trains and ferries, we’d make a true dogs ear of it.
The navigation thing, well, we can’t escape. But perhaps I’ll take control of it in future…