I grew up in rural Michigan but Oregon has been my home for over 12 years. I love it here: its stunning diversity and natural landscapes are second to none. And I’m always out digging around in remote corners, unearthing new gems. It’s a great place to call home and I can’t imagine getting sick of it. But sometimes something more exotic calls. An island in the Pacific Ocean. A different country. New, strange customs. Complete lack of sarcasm and deferential politeness. Mountains that make Hood look like a play structure at the daycare down the street. Tim Hortons. Yes, Canada was calling my name.
Many, if not most of the backcountry trips I take throughout Oregon involve a certain level of cat herding. There’s always a lot of people who really want to come and then 95% of them cancel last minute. There’s varying schedules and skill levels and last minute weather considerations. There’s navigation and communication. Weeks if not months of emails and opinions. It’s all a natural part of doing awesome things with awesome people, but I was looking for some solitude, or at least a non-existent itinerary. And my custom Toyota 4X4 RV project was finally getting to the reliable-enough-for-a-few-thousand-miles stage. I contacted some dear friends up north, asked around about mountain bike trails, and loaded up on gas and coffee.
The stress free nature of traveling alone served me well—I was the last vehicle to board several ferries, slipping through as the gates closed behind me. The truck ran great, cruising along at 75mph down the freeway passing cars 20 years younger. The first night on the road I found myself riding new trails with some old buddies in Victoria, sipping wine out of stainless tumblers on a small lake, and tucking into the guest bed of a good friend’s house overlooking Cowichan Bay. I had only been in Canada six hours and fell asleep totally happy.
The following 12 days flew by incredibly quick. There was so much to see and do. I rode Partridge Hills, Tzouhalem, Maple Mountain, Hornby Island, Upper Campbell Lake, Cumberland, Mount Seymour, and even a quick zip in Bellingham. I’m embarrassed to admit Canada’s trail systems blow Oregon’s out of the water. While Oregon has a gorgeous and varied countryside, its mountain bike trails just don’t stack up to British Columbia. We still have a few of the best trails in North America, yes, but overall Canada has been able to prioritize multi-modal outdoor recreation while Oregon’s development has stagnated.
Tangent aside, the riding was great. Purpose-built climb trails serpentined through loamy forests depositing you at incredible island vistas before you realized you had climbed 1,000 meters. The descents would get rowdy: steep rock faces and technical switchbacks hugging cliff edges and diving through Arbutus stands. Hopping a short double ferry I arrived on Hornby Island, a tiny hippy enclave in the middle of the Straight of Georgia. I hiked around Helliwell Park in the morning fog surrounded by an eagle convocation and imagined I was the only person left on earth. I met some other travellers drinking beer on a driftwood-jammed bay and joined them for a few tall tales as I popped the top of my camper for the night. Soon I arrived at my northernmost point: Strathcona Lodge deep in the interior of Vancouver Island. Here a badass friend who had just finished guiding bike trips through Africa and China had taken up residency in a cabin on the lakeshore as the program director for an outdoor school. The first busloads of students had yet to arrive so we spent the days lazing in the sun on gravel bars, taking saunas on the beach, and jumping off the dock under the starry sky.
It was a hard place to leave but time to start wrapping up the trip. I snuck in a few more mountain bike days at Cumberland and Mount Seymour on Vancouver’s North Shore and then went on a unexpected overnight north with a new friend to Joffre Lakes—one of the stunning areas I first got a glimpse of last summer. Eventually and wearily I made it back home to Portland. Slowly re-organizing gear and poring through photos—I realized I had packed in nearly twice as many experiences as I thought possible. This long-overdue adventure was just what my soul had been craving.
If you want to see even more photos, check out my full album on Flickr.
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