Friday, August 26, 2005

On the Isle of Paradise

Three days on Vancouver Island whizzed by pretty fast. (Funny how this happens a lot during traveling.) Since there was many things I wanted to do while there, I broke each day down into a separate area of concentration.

Monday was the Victoria Day. I got a lazy start on the day, and headed on the Galloping Goose Trail from Recyclistas (where I was staying) into the city. Okay, before I go on, I should clarify things to those who don't know what I'm talking about:
Recyclistas is this totally cool bike shop run by Ryan and Milenko. They're two ex-Winnipegers via Tucson. In fact while in Tucson they worked at Bicas, the really cool bike shop there (which I frequented regularly while in town in Feb). They based Recyclistas off of the Bicas model. They do the full line of repairs, sell used bikes, teach bike maintenance, and sponsor bicycle culture (like the video screening!)
The Galloping Goose is a rails-to-trails path that extends from the Sooke Potholes (in the west) to downtown Victoria (in the east). The total length of the trail is 55km. Recyclistas is at the intersection of the Goose and the Lochside, another rails-to-trails path extending northward to the Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal 30km to the north. Recyclistas is at the 4km (2 1/2mi) milepost from downtown.

In Victoria I cruised around the pretty-but-small downtown. I stopped in Legends Comics, and had a conversation with owner and minicomix artist/record label owner Gareth. Gareth has put out a big collection of his daily comix over the past year, you should definitely check it out if you get a chance. Gareth was also optimistic about comix (and comix stores) in general, and it was nice hearing such positive words coming from a store owner. After that, I buzzed down to the Inner Harbour which was choked with tourists. I knew that I would run into this, being here at the height of high season, but it's still nauseating. I high-tailed it over to Beacon Hill Park, Victoria's crown jewel of a city park. Even though it's two blocks from the waterfront, there was nary a tourist there, which goes to show you the limited range most tourists have. (Don't want to stray too far from the tour bus, do ya!) From there I cruised down to the seaside. Victoria lies on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and directly across the water you can see the Olympic mountains in Washington State. Port Angeles is only 30 miles across the water! (Can't even get away from America being outside of it!) The rest of the day was spent bummin' around like that.

Tuesday was my Galloping Goose Adventure Day. After another lazy start, I headed west on the Goose around 11:30am, determined to get all the way to the end.

I really like the Goose. There are some issues with it, as there are with any multi-use trail. But unlike many others, this trail actually is useful in daily commuting, ensuring a quick 15 minute ride from Recyclistas to downtown sans auto traffic. Any other route into town would go over hills using busy streets. And we'll get to the beauty aspect soon.

The first 15km on the trail from Recyclistas is fairly typical of a multi-use path, passing through mostly suburban residential areas. There are parts that go through nice countryside, and there's a great view of the Portage Inlet after two klicks from Recyclistas. But there's still ugly subdivisions and strip malls to be seen. As the 20km post closes in, there is less and less civilization. And once you get to 20km, it becomes total countryside. There's few other trail users to be seen, and the path passes by active farms and woods.

By 30km woodlands take over, and you barely hear any auto traffic. There was a great spot around this point that had a rocky overlook where you can see the sea (about a mile away), but this time when I stopped, I was confronted with a backhoe. Damn. Can't I have my special spot in nature without "progress and civilization" ruining it? Do dreamhouses have to take precedence over wilderness?

After fuming over that shit, I headed on. Luckily in a few klicks I came upon Matheson Lake Park, where I took a skinny-dip last year. I decided I should try the lake again, but this time with a swimsuit. The water was great, and I spent a half-hour refreshing myself. Unlike the last time I was out here (in Aug 04, when the weather was a lot cooler and greyer), there was people around, so I didn't have the lake in solitude.

Onward westward. Another klick down the Goose afforded some great views of the lake, and then (Dave) Roche Cove Park, the first visible inlet of the Sooke Basin. Shortly after going over a couple steep embankments, the Basin came into full view, seawater shimmering under the clear blue sky. A few kilometres more the path crossed over Sooke Road and headed inland, aiming northward for the Sooke River Valley. There was houses along the trail, the first seen in 20-some kilometres. At the 44km post I stopped for a bit. Onward was the last 11kms of the trail, dead-ending in wilderness. A few more klicks down the way was the Sooke Potholes, an area i wanted to visit. The landscape changed now to a dense Doug Fir forest lining the sides of the valley, and I really felt out in the sticks (despite being only a few miles from a town). This is what it must have looked like before the white man fucked it all up, I thought. Here the trail went over two rebuilt high trestles that must have been almost 100 feet off the ground!

At 48km I reached the Potholes and was eager to see what all the hub-bub was about, bub. The Potholes are a series of waterfalls falling into deep pools, all surrounded by the steep walls of the valley. It was beautiful. It reminded me of places like Eagle Creek in the Columbia Gorge, if Eagle Creek was a succession of falls-pools. And the Potholes was a hot spot for swimming, something I was wanting to do here. I quickly decided the actual "potholes" were not going to be for me, too deep with swift currents and steep rocky walls. I went to find a more appropriate hole. After a couple false starts of swimming spots filled with either families skipping rocks into the water, or dudes with mullets skipping rocks, I finally found a good one and spent a half-hour in its cleansing icy-cool waters.

By that time it was about 6:15pm, and I was left with two options: ride the last 7km to the end of the Galloping Goose or turn around. It would be cool to "complete" the trail, but the trail ends literally in the wilderness. There used to be a town (named Leechtown) at the end of the line, but nothing remains except a grassy field. Ghost towns are cool, but the further I rode that way, the further I had to ride back. From the potholes it would be a 16km round trip to the end of the trail, plus another 6km to reach the town of Sooke where I could catch a bus back to Victoria.

But I had to satisfy my curiosity somehow and so I started towards "the end of the line". The scenery was beautiful, seemingly unspoiled forests with mountains on the other side of the valley. But at the 51km post I realized that it was going to be more of the same, so I turned around and headed to Sooke.

Sooke is a small town, situated between the urbanity of Victoria and the wilderness that encompasses the rest of Vancouver Island. Tuesday night found the kids out in full force, hanging out in the coffee shop and the strip malls. Nothing to do, I figured. Don't these kids realize what spectacular nature they are surrounded in, of the type that other folks would kill for? Of course not, I thought. Hell, I was sixteen once, and remembered how bad I wanted to get away from Southbury, Connecticut. It's got to be the same here. I mulled it over while obtaining food and beverage from corporate fast-food outlets, and waited for the bus to whiz me back to Victoria.

The bus whizzed me back to town in little under an hour, zipping through the scenery that I biked casually through hours earlier. Back at Recyclistas I found the dudes busily working on bicycles. I chatted with them for a bit, and then called it a day. And a good day it was.

Wednesday was supposed to be the Salt Spring Island Day. Salt Spring is an island in the Gulf Island Archipelago, which is located in the Strait of Georgia on the eastside of Vancouver Island (between island and mainland). The Gulf Islands become the San Juan Islands on the Washington side of the line. Salt Spring is supposed to be this beautiful place filled with forests and artists (a bit hippie, though), and has a great campsite overlooking the water. But I got yet another lazy start on the day (funny how that goes when you're on "vacation") and I needed to do a couple things in Victoria before I left the island. And I got talking with Ryan about Salt Spring, and he told me how the isle gets choked with touristos over the summer (the population triples), crowding the island roads with traffic. It didn't sound like that good of an idea after all, at least for the summer. As the day wore, I decided that I would just head to Vancouver that night instead of Thursday morning.

I packed up my stuff and gave the Recyclistas dudes a gift: a flyer for the shop that I had drawn in the days that I had been on-island. When I get to a scanner, I will upload it for y'all to see. And at 3:15pm I headed north on the Lochside Trail to the ferries.


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