In 2016 I got into biking in a big way. I started riding my bike to get groceries and I even tried a few long rides of 80+ km. These rides were all done on my 1993 hard tail mountain bike. Certainly not carbon fibre but it got me places.
Fast forward to late August and I’m thinking of a cool thing to do with the kids for the September long weekend. For those of you who aren’t from BC landing a camping spot on the long weekend is a bit like winning the lottery. Seriously, always booked up and I wasn’t that organized.
We had been biking around town all summer and I had done a couple of long 80 km rides on my mountain bike. I felt ready to try a bike vacation. I already had the chariot stroller attachment from a friend so I had no excuse, right?
So I started researching the Gulf Islands. I read and read and read some more. Originally the plan was Saturna Island (supposedly flat) and Galiano Island all in one weekend.
This plan changed to include only doing Saturna Island. I’ve since done another Island trip and I don’t recommend doing more than one island on a weekend. I’d equate it to rushing around Europe trying to see as many countries as possible when really it’s more enjoyable to enjoy 1 or 2 countries.
I had a bigger concern though. And that was the logistics of a trip like this that I’d never done in the past. I wanted to do it cheaply and I also wanted to make sure the trip was safe for everyone.
Where do I park and how do I get the kids and me to the terminal? I thought about dropping them off with the bikes and stroller, going to park, and then taking the shuttle. Then I thought they were too young to leave them at the ferry terminal by themselves.
Then I debated if we do the bike ride down highway 17. I got onto google and confirmed there was a bike lane. I was still a little nervous but decided we could do it. Keep in mind they are in elementary school and still getting better at riding.
So we set out early from the house at about 6 AM. We found a neighbourhood in Tsawwassen without parking signs and left the car for the weekend. We loaded up the bike trailer and jumped on the bikes. (Edit: I’ve since learned that the streets are well patrolled by enforcement officers and we got lucky not to be towed. I recommend using the long term lot for $12/day.)
Okay, ready? Then the rain started. I guess at that point I was starting to have doubts about these plans. Never show your fear though. I’ve learned with my kids if I don’t react they usually don’t either. So we set out for the 5 km ride. It turned out to be not too bad. We had lights on the bikes and the road was quiet that early and everyone gave us a full lane.
When we got to the terminal we met a bunch of other bikers and sort of created a bike tribe waiting for the ferry.
The ferry rides were beautiful but it was a long trip from Tsawwassen Terminal to Saturna Island with one transfer (830 – 1 PM).
Oh, and biking was pretty easy thus far. I had to ride down a big hill with the trailer and that was easy. The flats were also relatively easy. The trailer had at least 100 lbs but probably closer to 130 with all three backpacks and food for the weekend.
When we landed at Saturna Island around 1 pm the sun was out and all was good in the world again weather wise. So we start biking for the National campground. Holy shit! Biking uphill with 130 lbs was much harder than I thought it would be but I persevered. It was basically full energy just to move the pedals. The kids were loving it. They just biked ahead and laughed at me.
We got to the halfway point at the General Store. I grabbed a 6 pack and we filled up all our water bottles because there was no water at the campground. We headed to the campground ready for the weekend.
The campground was about another 8 km or so with several hills. Eventually the road turned to gravel and we went down a pretty long dirt trail downhill into the campground. Unfortunately, the rest of the bikers beat us to the best spots but we had a good spot in the overflow. Turns out there were several huge apple trees as it was once an orchard.
It turned out that the deer liked our spot as well and although I told my daughter not to feed them kids don’t always listen so the deer were soon eating apples.
The campground was really nice. It had about 10 spots that were right on the water and then the overflow area. We had access to the waterfront so every meal was prepared with the water view. And the price for this waterfront view?
$5/night and $0/night for kids
The next day we set out for a hike on the other side of the Island minus all the stuff. What a relief for me! It turned out the Island was all hills which wasn’t that big of a deal without the trailer.
We ditched our bikes at the top of this one paved hill and decided to walk. No joke it was a green run skiing, bordering on a blue run. It was a good call. Our hike ended up being a bust because the trail was closed. That was disappointing but we ended up spending a couple hours just hanging out at a park and beach.
That night we had our fill of spaghetti, played cards by the waterfront, talked to the other bikers and enjoyed our neighbours the deer.
I felt a great sense of satisfaction after completing this trip. The logistics were modestly challenging. I had doubts that I pushed deep inside and persevered. I felt like I was building confidence and it turns out our trips did get more complex (hiking the SCT and JDF).
I would recommend this trip to anyone is modestly good biking condition. Don’t be intimidated by the logistics. It’s doable and the National Campground is spectacular, albeit with zero ammenities!
When we arrived back at Tsawwassen we met a biker coming off the ferry. He showed us a safer route back that included riding on the east side of the highway on the opposite side of a barrier from traffic. It was a nice relief not to think about cars and the kids. I’ll use this route next time and yield to bikers headed the opposite direction.