Sunshine Coast Bike Tour, Denman Island to Nanaimo

It's a long way home

My camping mattress has started leaking air, turning last night’s sleep into an uncomfortably cold marathon of tossing and turning. Before I woke up this morning, I already knew I wanted to sleep in my own bed tonight. Since it’s about 90km from here to Nanaimo, I had to mentally prepare myself for a longer day of cycling than I have done in almost a year.

(Can you believe it’s been a year since we were cycling in Indonesia?)

Once you’ve reached a certain level of fitness, going longer distances on a bike is a mental exercise. It’s all about trying to keep yourself from boredom and distraction long enough to get where you’re going in a relatively enjoyable manner.

Your body is totally capable of doing what you ask of it, it’s your mind that gives out.

Bike Touring Vancouver Island

One Last Ferry to Home

My first hurdle was to catch the 9am ferry back to Vancouver Island. With a little less than an hour to pack up an entire camp and ride across the island, I knew I was going to be cutting it very close. I shoved everything into its proper bag, put the tent away still dripping with dew, skipped breakfast, and pedalled off as fast as I could.

Since I was crossing directly through the middle of the island, the first half of the ride was all up. There were more hills than I remembered and my body violently protested against being thrown into such aggressive action before being fueled with food and coffee.

Finally, I reached the top of the island and could give my bike the reins. Trusty Skaar flew down the hillside and screeched around the corners to the dock, where I saw the ferry coming slowly towards shore.

Huh? I can’t be that early.

In some confusion, I checked the posted timetable, only to discover that the ferry didn’t leave until 9:40am. This was a piece of good luck since if it had really gone at 9, I would have missed it by more than 10 minutes.

I dug out my stash of homemade granola bars and hungrily tucked in as I watched the ferry approach. I was well into demolishing my second bar when I noticed a blooming patch of mould covering the entire square. Gross.

Note to self: Homemade granola bars don’t keep for long when exposed to the elements.

Fortunately, right in Buckley Bay, where the ferry docks on the mainland, there is a little shop called Weinberg’s Good Food. They serve decent coffee and a nice selection of baked goods, groceries, artisanal food products, and cute eco gifts.

Weinbergs is a great place to stop when you're near Denman Island.

Weinbergs is a great place to stop when you’re coming or going from Denman Island.

Quite a find for such a secluded corner of Vancouver Island.

Related: Hidden Gems: Saison Market Vineyard, Duncan, BC, Canada

As I sat out in the sun enjoying my latte, a woman in her 20s started asking me about my bike trip. She has always wanted to do one, so I was happy to fill her in on the details and heartily encouraged her to get out there and try it.

I told her something I had only realized myself recently:

“The hardest part of travel is getting yourself packed and out the door.”

Somehow, her enthusiasm for my trip made me appreciate the whole thing a little more.

The Charms of Qualicum and Parksville

I followed the Coastal Route south, enjoying the ocean scenery and the sound of birds singing in the trees.

Boats in Fanny Bay, Vancouver Island.

Boats in Fanny Bay, Vancouver Island.

The cloudless sky made such a difference to my mood.

The sea lions were happy to see the sun, too.

The sea lions were happy to see the sun, too.

I got to Qualicum Beach, about 40km away, in time for a late lunch. Though I was half-starved by the time I arrived, I couldn’t take my eyes off the sandy crescent beach.

Sunshine Coast Bike Tour Qualicum

Eventually, the beauty of the beach released me, and I rode on to Lefty’s, one of the local’s favourite restaurants (there is another branch in Parksville). Lefty’s has a casual pub atmosphere and serves hearty burgers, sandwiches, and salads. It also has the benefit of being right near the Qualicum-Parksville bike trail.

This little trail takes you off the Coastal Route, winding its way through the countryside and the subdivisions of Qualicum Beach. After a week of ocean views, I was glad for the change.

If you’ve never experienced the picture-perfect planned subdivisions of Canada, this is a great place to see them in all their disturbing perfection. They are artistic renderings come to life, with every lawn clipped to exactly a quarter of an inch and every happy family sporting 2.5 kids, a dog, and a shiny new SUV.

Since I have read too many Stephen King novels, I am naturally suspicious of such perfection, but I’m sure the people who live here like it just fine. I couldn’t help but wonder what the people we met in Cambodia, who live in a bamboo hut with no water or electricity, would make of these idyllic little streets.

Riding the Highway

Just between Parksville and Nanaimo (at Nanoose Bay), there is a pass where the old highway and the new highway become one. There is really no option for cyclists but to join the rest of the traffic squeezing through the hills. For the most part there is a wide shoulder, but having cars and trucks whip by at 90 km per hour is never fun, especially not when you’re crawling up a long incline on a heavily loaded bike.

It seemed to take forever to get to the Woodgrove Shopping Centre, which marked the beginning of the end of my ride.

The last few kilometres to home were all on familiar streets and almost all downhill. I rolled into the driveway at around 5:30pm, completely exhausted.

When I opened the front door, everything looked different than I had left it. It is cleaner and roomier, and there are so many more right angles than I remembered.

I pulled off my cycling gear, dumped my filthy clothes in the laundry room, poured myself a tall gin and tonic and collapsed on the couch.

It is so good to be home.  

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