Sunshine Coast Bike Tour, Comox to Denman Island

By Jane Mountain | May 4, 2015

Hardly anyone camps in a tent anymore. These days, when I show up at a campground and start unfolding my tent, I’m an anomaly. Everyone else is decked out in their fancy RVs looking pityingly upon the poor girl who couldn’t bring her TV, microwave, and refrigerator camping with her.

I'm happy if I have my bowl of granola when I'm camping.

I’m happy if I have my bowl of granola when I’m camping.

Tonight, as I lie just a few hundred meters from the ocean, I can’t hear the waves crashing on the shore because the RV across the way from me is running a generator so loud it’s drowning out all other sound.

I’ll reserve judgement on this new-fangled pastime, where you bring all the comforts of home out into nature, but can we at least call it something other than camping?

The Amazing Race (to Denman Island)

Today’s little ride took me around the Courtenay Estuary, which is beautiful but was a bit hard to see due to the heavy traffic on the narrow winding road and the rain splattering down.

The Courtenay River Estuary, at Royston.

The Courtenay River Estuary, at Royston.

The rain and the traffic cleared up before I got very far and I was soon riding The Oceanside Route, which is the old highway rebranded to make a scenic driving route along the east coast of Central Vancouver Island.

On the few occasions when the highway emerges from the trees onto the true coast, it certainly is scenic. With the sun glittering on the blue water, long rocky beaches, and a seemingly endless ring of mountains in the distance, it’s a hard view to beat.

Sparkling morning beach and a heron.

Sparkling morning beach and a heron.

Not having kept track of how far I’d gone, I was surprised when I spotted a ferry just pulling away from a dock in the distance. I was planning on catching that ferry to Denman Island.

“Oh well,” I thought to myself, “I missed that one. I wonder when the next will be.”

A few minutes later I looked up again and realized the ferry wasn’t pulling out, it was pulling in. I was about 3 km from the terminal, and by my estimate, the ferry was about 5 minutes from docking.

The race was on.

I pushed Skaar up into high gear and took off as fast as my slightly tired legs could carry me. The wind was trying to push me back towards Comox, but I fought bravely on. I watched as the ferry got closer and closer to the shore. I pedalled harder and harder, giving myself a pep talk to end all pep talks.

A row of trees sprouted up to block my view of the ferry. Cars that had just disembarked from the ferry started zipping past the other way around the same moment as I passed the sign saying “Ferry 600m”.

“C’mon Jane. You biked 16,000km around the world! You can make it a measly 600m!”

My legs begged to differ.

Out of breath and steam, I pulled up to the ticket booth and handed over my credit card just as cars started boarding. Since this is a tiny ferry, boarding takes all of three minutes and I rolled right on behind the cars, without a second to spare.

That can only mean one thing: a giant hill right off the ferry.

That can only mean one thing: a giant hill right off the ferry.

Doing Denman

It takes about 10 minutes to cross from Vancouver Island over to the tiny Denman Island, with a population of about 1,000 and a downtown core that is limited to an adorable library, an eco clothing store, a general store, and a single restaurant. Denman is a typical laid-back BC island community, home to artists and artisans, hobby farmers and retirees.

The central island is mostly trees and winding country roads with bucolic acreages dotted around.

The forest is filled with little pink flowers on Denman Island.

The forest is filled with little pink flowers on Denman Island.

Of course, the island is ringed by some of the most stunning views in the world.

Sunshine Coast Bike Tour Denman Island

The Denman Island Guesthouse Bistro is one of the few restaurants open on Denman at this time of year. As I pulled up, a whole gang of cyclists was arriving from the opposite side of the island. They were a cycling club in from Calgary and have been doing the same route as me this week. I assume they have a support vehicle with them, since most of them were on road bikes and no one carried more than a small pannier.

The key practical joke on a group bike tour seems to be hiding rocks and spare pieces of rebar into each other’s saddle bags. They should try carrying full camping gear and a year’s worth of clothing.

The camaraderie among the gang made me feel lonely and a little isolated and I half wished I could tag along with them to their B&B or hotel.

Once they had all left the tiny bistro though, everyone left behind breathed a sigh of relief, and I realized why I travel independently. A group disturbs the natural order of things in a place like this and I much prefer to pass through without making too many waves.

After lunch, I toured the guesthouse, which offers dorms, private rooms, and camping in the scrubby yard out back. The heritage home is a quintessentially creaky old farmhouse, and I’m sure, in summer when it is bustling with guests, it’s a charming and quirky place to stay.

This being low season, the empty, dark house was a little creepy and I couldn’t imagine sleeping here by myself tonight. Especially since there was always the chance that one other creepy guest would show up, and then I’d have the beginnings of a horror movie on my hands.

I am now comfortably situated inside my little tent at Fillongley Provincial Park. That noisy RV generator has finally been turned off and I am listening to the waves rolling onto the shore and the wind whistling through the tops of the tall pine trees.

Though I am wearing almost every item of clothing I brought to guard against another cold night, I am much happier to be out here instead of in a creaky old mansion on the other side of the island.  

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  1. Comment by Jane

    Jane May 5, 2015 at 10:03 am

    It’s pretty amazing and perfect if you like a quiet and isolated spot. Just wait until you read my Hornby Island post :).

  2. Comment by 600sqfeet

    600sqfeet May 4, 2015 at 6:10 pm

    Denman Island sounds perfect.

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