June 27 - Parksville to Victoria, BC: The Longest Day

"Now, folks, tomorrow promises to be a challenge. It's 85-90 miles, but the thing is, we've got two ferries and some steep hills in between them." Alf was going over the logistics for the ride last night. He was trying to be realistic, but he set off a fire storm. Everyone started poring over maps and ferry schedules.

Jim, working from an incredibly detailed map of Victoria, quickly figured out how to get through town to the Selkirk Guest House, our lodgings for the next two nights. Greg and Steve pondered the wisdom of alternate routes, avoiding one or both ferries, or taking the scenic route through the Saanich peninsula. Those who were still able to add and subtract were trying desperately to perform advanced calculus to ensure they would or would not make it to the first or the second ferry too early or late. Louise, Helen and Sam were trying to figure out which route to drive, when to serve lunch, and where.

Through a massive group effort, we concluded that no one could make the 9:30 ferry out of Crofton; supreme effort might result in hitting the 11 AM run, but that would leave only 60 minutes to ride the 13.2 hilly miles to Fulford Harbor for the next ferry. On the other hand, if we tried for the noon Crofton, we would then have 90 minutes to make the 2:05 at Fulford. And how long would the 28 miles into Victoria take?

In the end we all agreed: leave at 7 AM, hope for the best, and let the day's ride just flow. And Louise would be ready with lunch in Crofton at 10:30, stay till the last dog died, then head inland to the Selkirk. Whew!

Greg pounced at 6 AM, and soon was meandering along the back roads of Vancouver Island, looking for the alternate ferry. He showed up at Crofton about 10:30. The slower riders jumped out like rabbits around 6:30, with a few stragglers leaving at quarter to seven - I was the last to leave, quickly catching up with Margaret and Tom, who promptly dropped us on the first little hill.

We caught up with Pat and John, who had found a couple riding with light panniers, and slowed down to talk. We would keep passing these two throughout the morning. Soon, we saw Jim turning off the main road, down into Nanaimo, looking for the scenic route (and a bakery, no doubt). He met up with Pat at the other end of town, and they cruised into Crofton about 10:30. John ended up in the same maze as Greg, but had a harder time coming out.

At the junction with the new bypass around Nanaimo, we came across all the other riders, now clotted together in a convention of confusion. The road wasn't on the map or the guidebook, so they were just about to head down into town. I managed to convince them the road was indeed on a map, just shown as "scheduled completion Fall 1997". So off we all went in several pelotons up the hill. Near the top, large shards of glass littered the shoulder. Mars and Dave (who are not small men), rose up and started waving their arms around, to indicate that a safe route through the mess was hopeless. Mumbling something about "what a raggedy pace line", I took off to the traffic light, where my tire promptly went flat. Everyone passed, laughing at my comuppance. Luckily, Margaret stayed to help with the repair. Wanting to catch the pack, I neglected the first rule of tire changing: always find the source of the leak, so you can fix the tire as well as the tube.

Calculating the distance and time, we figured we still had plenty of time to make the 11 AM ferry, "if nothing else goes wrong". We passed the tourists again, this time listening to their story. Turns out they are doing the "Victoria - Port Hardy - Victoria" Randonneur. This is a 1000K ride, for which one qualifies by successfully completing a series of successively longer rides: 200, 300, 400, then 600K, following an arcane set of "rules" (actually more like fetishes), which require the entire route be ridden (thus no ferry), that all gear and food be brought with you (no stopping at bakeries), and that cards be signed at various checkpoints. Finishing this ultra-marathon series qualifies one for the grand-mama of them all, the Paris-Brest-Paris ride, which has been going on for much of this century.

A bit later, a lad zooms by on a mountain bike, pack on his back, pedaling madly in his top gear (probably 46/13). He passed us going up a hill, then we flew by in tandem on the way down. At a rest area, we met up with him - he was headed pretty much the same way, and we would see him again several times more during our travails.

Which began again quite presently. Margaret dropped from view up a shallow hill. Looking back, I saw her stopped completely, wrestling with her bike. By the time I got there, she had the front wheel off, working on her flat. Just them, a caravan of BAB support stopped up ahead. Louise brought cookies, Helen brought a pump, and Vicki brought a new tire. We were back on the road in about 15 minutes, starting out in a light mist off the mountains.

We motored on through Larksville, passing 39 miles, marveling at the new shoulder not mentioned in our guide book when a loud "whoosh" told me I should have inspected my front tire more carefully. A diagonal 2 cm long tear through the sidewall had pinched the tube. Thank goodness Margaret had a second tube with her, and I had some Tyvek for a boot. By now, we were getting to be a pretty good pit crew and were on the road again in less than five minutes.

We turned left after Englishman River, onto a pleasant gladed area quite reminiscent of a ride on my hometown Gig Harbor peninsula. A few short steep hills, and we hit a left turn downhill just like going into the Southworth ferry dock. We got there with 20 minutes to spare.

Wolfing down Louise's meat loaf sandwich and oatmeal cookie, I shared stories with the others. Miraculously, all but John were there, and the ferry hadn't even arrived yet.

This ferry was basically a car deck with a small house on top, room enough for about 20 people. Narrow, steep stairs wound up to this crow's nest. Such steps and bike cleats don't mix well. Tom slipped going up, and Marsden (already wounded from a malicious chain ring attack) fell five steps going down.

Once on top, we scanned the downslope for signs of John. As the ferry motors started idling, then revving, and the deckhands pulled the ropes behind the cars, we saw Louise standing in the road, sandwich bag in hand. Vicki ran down to the ticket booth, money ready should he show up. Just as the dock was lifted off the ferry deck, here comes John whipping around the corner, legs pumping madly, backpack whipping side to side beneath his neck. It looked like he just might make it! If we could get the captain to hold on one more minute, he could grab his food and ticket, then jump the gap ala Steve McQueen onto the rear of the deck.

Alas, this Hollywood finish was not to be. Twelve minutes late already, the captain moved the vessel out at a stately pace, leaving our comrade stranded with all that food.

In 20 minutes, we were on Saltspring Island. Now, this place really looks like Gig Harbor, down to the street fair on hand in the central town of Ganges (I never did find out how it got its name). Sixty-five minutes, 13.2 miles to the next ferry - back home, I usually average 13-14 miles an hour on the hilly rides I take. It seemed hopeless to try, but after the traffic cleared by us on the obligatory post-ferry hill, Steve, Tom, Marsden, Margaret, Rob, Mike, Greg, and I seemed intent on making the effort.

At the top of the first rise we came on a unique sight: Steve walking his bike. I was so shocked I didn't even get a picture of this, but there he was, aiming for the top of the hill, smiling, claiming, "There's a bike shop in this town; I'm just going to roll down there and get my chain fixed". He'd popped a rivet out, and refused our offers of a chain tool and spare link. Just them, a young dude in a blue compact with bike racks on top came to a halt in front of us. He jumped out, wavy blond hair tied in a pony tail, smile on his face. Steve asked, "Is there a bike shop in town?" Guy gets a big grin on his face, and chirps, "I'm it!" Steve rolled down behind him to the shop, got a new link, then strolled around the hippie fair.

The place was mobbed with day-trippers from Vancouver and Victoria, seeking artisans' treasures and perfect espresso. Bikers rolled down the massive hill (actually a cliff) on the South end of town, from the ferry at Fulford harbor, 8 miles away. The fair acted like a piece of velcro, trapping all but the most monomanical of us. Greg and Mike were ahead of Steve, so didn't get caught up in that roadblock. Mike's young legs, MTB gearing, and refreshingly naive attitude drove him up the cliff with ease. Downhill, Greg pulled him into town, where he (Greg) veered off towards the BC Ferry Administration offices, from where he had to walk his bike back up to the real ferry dock. He and Mike pulled in together with plenty of time to spare.

As I rolled through town, and saw the hill, I took my usual "lazy man's approach" to the situation. My theory is this: the sooner I finish the task at hand, the sooner I'll have time to goof off. The task at hand was the hill in front of me, which was a 10 minute barrier that could mean a ninety minute difference to the hot tub and pub. The equation was a no-brainer.

Tom must have had the same thought, because he followed me up the hill, I in my third ring granny, he standing and pumping away on his two-ring Allez. Once on top. we cruised along the plateau, Tom mostly hanging back. After about 10 minutes, he saw me checking my speedometer, and pulled up to ask, "How we doin'?". I leaned over to fiddle with the buttons, to check the time, distance traveled, and temperature (why I wanted that, I can't say). While I was thus engaged, he roared by to the final crest.

Pointing down, I saw him about 400 yards ahead. "No way he's gonna drop me this time!" I thought, as I went down into maximum aero position: butt up behind the saddle, elbows tucked in tight, fingers pointing straight forward behind the brake levers, teeth clattering on the computer. I hit bottom, leaned right and drove my outside foot down hard into the left turn. The speed read 50.7 mph. I hadn't gained an inch.

But at least he hadn't dropped me (maybe that's because he rode the whole way down sitting upright with hands back of the hoods!). I moved my arms to the aero bars, kept it in top gear, and hammered around the corners and over the roller coaster to the coast. I finally caught him near the ferry admin turn-off. Saying "I don't think I can make it up this last hill", I saw him soar over this last little hillock, rolling into the waiting ferry cars parked below, finishing about 60 yards in front. Greg and Mike (especially Mike) waited there grinning, immensely pleased with themselves to be first in line.

We hopped on the ferry, and discussed the rest of the route.

"So, what do you guys want to do?" Tom asked. "Cruise it; just roll on into Victoria on the main route, no pressure, no stress? Hum? OK?" He got our acquiescence quickly. We realized we were at least 90 minutes ahead of everyone else, and thus would have the hot tub all to ourselves.

By this time, the sun was fully out, and the Saanich peninsula's reputation as Canada's banana belt was in full flower. 20 deg. centigrade, blue sky, water on all sides with mountains rising above the sea - a perfect paradise. When we discovered the expected 20 miles was actually 20 km, our pace line fairly hummed. Naturally, once we reached the last rise before the descent into town, Tom took off, ending up (as he said), "two sips" ahead of us at the McKenzie St exit.

We rolled the last few miles on city streets, across the gorge and into the Selkirk Guest House. Found beds, assigned rooms to others still to arrive, and hit the tub.

Well, after two hours of hanging around, no one had shown up yet - not even Steve. Eventually, Sam rolled in with the sag wagon, reporting all was well, that everyone was riding together, following a circuitous route on back roads. While waiting to take a picture of their arrival, I fell asleep in the sun in front of the Guest House.

About 5:45, Tom walked by and said, "I'm gonna go out and sag them. You awake enough to come along?" He seemed worried the riders might be exhausted, cranky, and out of water. We threw everything out of the back seat, in case someone wanted to ride home, and brought along cookies, water, and (most important) a detailed cycling map of Victoria. We shot past the U of Victoria, straight to Oak Bay. Turning left along the water, we saw Alf, Pat, and Jim lunging under an umbrella, sipping drinks and eating pie, with huge animated smiles on all three. I managed to catch them totally unawares for this picture .

They were in a great mood, clearly enjoying themselves, the sun, the route, the company. They told us everyone else had left 20 minutes ago, to follow the water through downtown to our lodgings.

"You mean they're all still together?" I asked, incredulous. They jovially nodded in unison. "Even Steve?!" This brought even more vigorous nodding and smiles.

"You all OK? You need anything?" Tom asked. Just a little water for the rest of the ride was all they'd take.

By now it was after six. This far north and west, the sun sets after 9, so there was still plenty of riding time left, but we pushed on, unbelieving that all was well with our buddies. Five miles later (during which time Tom mistakenly drove in the bike lane - force of habit?), we found them stopped at a bluff in a park, taking pictures of the Strait and the Olympics. Another (almost) surprise photo op: .

These folks, too were smiling and laughing, insisting they were having a great time, They took a little water, some cookies, and insisted they'd be fine. John and Jim had ridden in this area before, and was leading the way, aided by the intrepid Victoria cycling map. I asked Steve, "Is everybody agreeing on the route and the pace?"

"Well ... we're getting a little thin at times. But yeah, we're all staying together."

"Amazing," I said, a bit awed. This was the largest and longest group ride on the whole trip. Made me feel a little sheepish for missing out on this, without question, the most eventful, longest, and overall best day of the trip.

That night, it did not rain.


For a complementary account of the 11 bikers who stayed in Ganges, click here


Miles: 84 or 102 Total: 423/440; Vertical: 3800 feet. Flat tires: Al (2), Margaret, John; Broken chain: Steve; Chain ring Slash: Mars


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