Sunshine Coast Bike Trip, Nanaimo to Vancouver

Lots of coast, little sunshine

The last couple of days, while getting ready for my solo Sunshine Coast bike trip, I’ve been worried that I had some sort of weird flu. This morning I figured out what’s to blame.


Before any big trip (or even a small trip, as it turns out) I get nervous. Not just a little butterfly action going in my stomach, either. It’s raw anxiety, making my shoulders ache and my breathing shallow. The nerves are not about the trip, either. I get anxious about getting everything organized, packed, and planned beforehand.

For me, getting myself motivated and out the door is the hardest part of travel.

Sure enough, the moment I locked the door behind me this morning, my nerves fluttered away and I was relaxed and thrilled to be on my way.

Pleasant Surprises

It was clear and cold this morning and grinding up the first small hill of the day, with all that extra weight on the back of the bike, was the perfect way to get warm. My legs were soon burning with the effort and the heat of the morning sun drove the chill from my bones.

I hadn’t been looking forward to starting off in the forecasted thunder showers, so the bright sunshine was a great surprise.

At the ferry terminal, which is a whole 4km from home, another nice surprise awaited me. When I bought my ticket, there were a set of complicated instructions as to where I should go and what I should do with my bike. I understood every word, due to being fluent in the local language.

BC Ferries and a beautiful blue sky.

BC Ferries and a beautiful blue sky.

Having almost exclusively bike toured in non-English speaking countries so far, it was an odd feeling to not be totally confused about what was happening.

BC Ferries Welcomes You Aboard

Taking the ferry is a highlight for many travellers to British Columbia. It’s exciting to climb aboard and gaze out the windows at the deep blue sea, ringed by mountains and islands in every direction.

I’ve been on these ferries at least a hundred times, but the beauty never gets old.

Anybody see any whales yet?

Anybody see any whales yet?

The ferry has a full cafeteria, which serves hot food like burgers, sandwiches, soups and fries; standard Western Canadian food. There’s no fine dining on the ferry, like we saw on the Finland to Sweden ferry, but it’s a huge cut above the self-serve pot noodle we ate on the Hainan ferry in China, or the greasy, expensive meals we spotted on the ferry between Italy and Croatia.

Traveller’s tip: You don’t need to join the long line for food that forms right when you get on the ferry. Wait 30-45 minutes and you can walk right up and be served. If it’s an early ferry and you’re trying to get breakfast, be warned, breakfast ends at 11am.

Vegan tip: There is usually one vegan sandwich available, something with veggies and hummus. But I try to pack my own food, since this sandwich is overpriced, underwhelming, and often sold out.

Shopaholic tip: Certain members of my family (hi Mom) love shopping at the gift shop. They do stock a selection of high-quality rain and outdoor jackets that are usually on sale. If you’ve been duped by the BC weather, this is a great place to pick up an extra layer.

The Finery of West Vancouver

Leaving the ferry, I twisted my way along the streets of Horseshoe Bay, a village nestled between the mountains and the sea. The services here cater mostly to ferry passengers these days, but some folks do live here, enjoying a quiet community just 20 minutes from the buzz of Vancouver.

Usually, the Sunshine Coast bike route doesn’t involve a trip to Vancouver. I could have just hopped directly on another ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Langdale. But I’ve always wanted to try the ride from the ferry to Vancouver, and I am overdue on a visit to my friends, so I’m taking a little detour.

Marine Drive, the scenic route from Horseshoe Bay to Vancouver, winds its way up and down along the bluffs of West Vancouver. This is some of the most expensive real estate in North America. The Hollywood Hills are a bargain compared to Marine Drive.

You pay extra for the stunning ocean view.

The view from a West Vancouver home.

The view from a West Vancouver home.

In case you’ve got $3 to 5 million burning a hole in your pocket, there are lots of houses for sale up here. I present my real estate find of the week.

In case you're looking for a new mansion to buy.

In case you’re looking for a new mansion to buy.

In reality, I would never want to own one of these places – can you imagine the upkeep? – but I’d be happy to house-sit if anyone’s looking.

With sleety rain pelting down around me and unseasonably cold weather freezing my hands, I had to give up on rubbernecking the lives of the rich and richer and just concentrate on riding.

Eventually, I left the chi-chi residential roads and emerged onto the busy commercial streets of West Vancouver. Dozens of cute cafes and restaurants called to me as I zipped along Marine Drive, but since this is a budget tour, I snubbed them all.

We’ve Got Spirit

Around the place where West Van becomes North Van, a new bike trail has taken shape. It’s called Spirit Trail, and if you don’t get lost like I did, it will whisk you along the scenic shores and beaches of Dundarave and Ambleside.

Ambleside Beach with some seriously threatening clouds overhead.

Ambleside Beach with some seriously threatening clouds overhead.

This allows you to avoid the chaos created by Park Royal Mall and Lions Gate Bridge. I managed to get myself stuck in the bridge traffic and the mall traffic. I’m glad I get another stab at this route on my way back.

Lions Gate Bridge looks pretty from a distance, but up close it's a snarly mess of traffic.

Lions Gate Bridge looks pretty from a distance, but up close it’s a snarly mess of traffic.

The Spirit Trail continues to Lonsdale Quay Market (and far beyond) where you can shop for trinkets, clothes, and Native American art, or graze the fruit and veggie stands and get a more substantial meal at the food court.

The SeaBus also departs from Lonsdale and that’s where I was headed.

Vancouver’s SeaBus is a 15-minute ride across Vancouver Harbor, between Lonsdale and downtown. It’s commonly used by commuters and tourists and is a nice warm place to hide from the rain.

Bike on the SeaBus hiding from the rain.

Bike on the SeaBus hiding from the rain.

Traveller’s tip: Taking a bike on the SeaBus is common practice and doesn’t cost any extra. The passenger charge for the SeaBus is currently $4 one way. If you are doing a day cycle around Vancouver (or a bike tour) this is an excellent alternative to the potentially perilous Lions Gate Bridge.

The SeaBus arrived in downtown Vancouver, and after a quick pedal through Gastown, one of Vancouver’s most touristy districts and also home to my favourite Vancouver building…

The thin edge of the wedge in Vancouver's Gastown.

The thin edge of the wedge in Vancouver’s Gastown.

…past East Hastings, one of Vancouver’s most down-and-out areas, and around False Creek, one of my favourite places to bike or walk in the city…

Science World overlooking False Creek in Vancouver.

Science World overlooking false creek in Vancouver.

…I was making my last mildly tiring hill climb of the day. Finally, I arrived at my home away from home, where by best friends’ have lived for years.

On a day like today, when hands and feet are numb and the clouds are getting thicker and darker overhead, it’s a great comfort to finish the day sitting in front of the fire with a warm cup of tea in hand.  

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  1. Comment by Andrea

    Andrea April 27, 2015 at 11:40 am

    Love having reports from you back on the bike!

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane April 28, 2015 at 9:26 pm

      Thanks Andrea. I’m going to try to keep up, though I’m already a day behind. More campgrounds should have WiFi :).

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