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Photos: Holland Gidney & Dave Campbell

Bicycle Ferry Brevet Tour Mashup Weekend
by Holland Gidney

When touring, the more ferries you can take the better; a 3-ferry day is the best but 3 ferries over 2 days comes pretty close. With this in mind, Dave Campbell and I did a “mashup” of touring and randonneuring this past weekend when we combined the 3 Ferries Loop with the Coastal Inspiration 200, resulting in 350km+ of riding in 48 hours.

We left Victoria just after 3pm on Friday and made our way to Brentwood Bay, with plenty of time to have a snack and then catch the 4:45pm ferry over to Mill Bay. (The previous day, we’d done a post-dinner ride up to the Broadmead Thrifty Foods to purchase discounted prepaid ferry tickets.) From Mill Bay to Ladysmith, it’s about a 3-hour ride so we had a parking lot picnic outside the Mill Bay Thrifty Foods before following Google Maps directions to Ladysmith.

After a lovely evening ride through Cowichan Bay and along Dave’s-new-favourite-road, Richard’s Trail, we arrived in Ladysmith around 9pm and set up our tent under an apple tree. Our Warm Showers hosts had gone camping themselves but we had their permission to still camp in their yard. Our makeshift free campsite was conveniently just across the highway from a Dairy Queen which meant we had access to a washroom and to ice cream for dessert. It was a bit noisy with the highway so close but we slept pretty soundly after cycling 90km that day.

The next morning, we set off just after 5:30am to get to the ride start 10km down the road - despite a flat tire (Holland) and stopping for coffee and baked goods at Utopia Bakery in Chemainus (conveniently open at 6am!), we got to the ride start at the Horseshoe Bay Inn with *just* enough time to sign in, grab out control cards & route sheets, pump up our tires properly, and scarf down delicious homemade pumpkin muffins provided by ride organizer Graham Fishlock.

The ride itself started off a bit quicker than we’d intended but we had a lot of fun for the 20 minutes (!) we were able to hang onto the pack whose pace was being set by Craig Lylack. We were left to our own devices just after we hit the highway and slowed down to a more manageable pace along lovely Somenos Road. The highway out to Lake Cowichan is not a favourite but at least this time there wasn’t rain, a headwind, or lots of traffic. In any case, it was a speedy stretch and we had the company of various cyclists along the way (Phil, Michael, Mike & Brynne, Rob, and others) as we pacelined west to the first control. Even though Graham had recommended the Country Grocer, we chose to avoid the crowds and visit the gas station with the sketchy bathroom (no lock, half-broken sink) instead.

Just like the Renfrew Ramble Takes a Wrong Turn 600 of a few weeks ago, the Coastal Inspiration 200 route follows part of the Tourism BC-branded “Pacific Marine Circle Route,” incorporating a lovely, now-paved logging road that allows you to travel pleasantly from Lake Cowichan to Port Renfrew, the location of Control #2. This stretch is 63 kilometres long, so it’s nice when you have a riding companion or two to help the time pass as you work your way up to about 1,200 feet and then begin the 35 km “downhill” to near-sea-level Port Renfrew.

In Port Renfrew, after getting our control cards signed by Jim Runkel, we went inside to find coffee (Holland) and free food (Dave). With amazing foresight, Graham had arranged for the Coastal Kitchen Café to provide all riders with a complimentary strawberry-banana smoothie and bowl of carrot-ginger soup (or $5 off whatever else you wanted to order). Almost everyone stopped to enjoy a snack here and it provided a welcome break (and much needed caffeine replenishment) before hopping back on our bikes for the return trip to Chemainus, with 107km remaining to ride.

We couldn’t have asked for better weather for the ride but by mid-day it was pretty warm and we were running low on water so it was excellent that Graham had arranged for John to man an “unofficial” stopping point at the top of the pass. We’d skipped stopping on our way to Port Renfrew but it was a mandatory off-bike break on the way back. The water (and watermelon!) John provided meant that we were able to ride the remainder of the way to Chemainus without stopping again. The ~50km along Cowichan Lake Road and Somenos Road dragged somewhat but when Phil and Rob caught up to us just as we were about to turn onto the Island Highway, we found some energy reserves and were able to stick on Rob’s wheel as he pulled us down the highway at 45 km/hour. Needless to say, that stretch z-i-p-p-e-d by and gave us the momentum to finish off strong, finishing in tandem (pun intended) with the tandem of birthday girl Brynne and her stoker, Mike. Ultimately, the ride was 210km, which led to some grumbling about “bonus miles,” but that evaporated as soon as our server brought us cold drinks.

Of course, our day involved more than just 210km. After replenishing a caloric deficit with burgers, beer, and cider at the Horseshow Bay Inn, Dave and I spun slowly to Crofton and caught the 7:40pm ferry over to Salt Spring Island, which is not known for being flat. Riding into Ganges from Vesuvius only involves a few minor hills but the climb out of Ganges and then up to our host’s new house halfway up Mount Maxwell nearly killed us (elevation gain was half of what we’d already done – twice – during the brevet). But the views were worth it, as was the fun, mostly downhill ride to Fulford Harbour the next day, made easily by a very solid night’s sleep.

On Sunday morning, we caught the 11:50 am ferry to Swartz Bay and then followed the Lochside Trail back to town, arriving home around 3pm – almost exactly 48 hours after we’d left on our first-ever mashup tour. Thanks to Graham Fishlock for the (coastal) inspiration!

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June 9, 2014