I am standing up pedalling. I have to pull the handlebars with all my power to make any progress. I am on my way up the first hill after the ferry to Fulford Habour, where we are starting a 5 day bike trip to Cowichan River. It is just a small hill and I know that there is much bigger hills to come. "I am not going to make" is all I can think - until I notice a weird sound coming from the chariot. I stop to take a look and realize that the breaks are on. Everything feels a lot lighter all of a sudden.
I discovered the Cowichan Valley trail a couple of years back, and I wanted to bike the trail ever since. This spring I put together a bike loop, send out an email to assess interest and managed to gather a few interested families. The final loop ended up being around 175km and 2000 m of elevation (link to mapmyride). We planned for 5 days on the road. The final crew was Scott, Sandra and their two kids (1.5 and 4.5 years old), Chris, Krystil and their daughter (1 year old), Christian, F (2.5 years old) and I.
Day 1: Tsawwassen to Salt Spring
F and I started the first day by riding from Tsawwassan to the ferry terminal by ourselves. We hoped to catch the 9am ferry to Swartz Bay with Scott and Sandra. Chris and Krystil was going to take the ferry to Long Habour in the afternoon, and Christian in the evening after work. F and I arrived at the ferry terminal with a casual 30 min to spare. We boarded the ferry without Scott and Sandra in sight and figured they probably missed it, which was very disappointing to F that had been talking about biking with the other kids all week. Luckily they just made it.
In Swartz Bay we took the ferry to Fulford Habour and then the biking began. This is where I had the chariot break incident. After undoing the break I found the hills duable despite the massive amount of stuff attached to my bike; I only had to walk up one hill. We made a few stops for fruit, but otherwise went straight for the Garden Faire Campground. A very cute campground with lots of neat little details. We were at the three small walk-in site, which was great for the kids, cause they could play between the site without getting disturbed by cars.
After setting up camp we biked to a to Twinflower Way to visit local train enthusiast Philip and his model trains. This was way more challenging that the first part of the day, there were a lot of uphills both ways and I ended up walking several times despite having left all the camping gear behind. Philip rewarded us with a show of all the trains and let the two older kids drive the trains. We also visited the family's guinea pigs, chickens, goat and sheep, which all the kids enjoyed. In the evening we went shopping in town and decided to also have dinner there since a good rain shower had started. Back at the campsite there was time for a little play before bedtime.
Day 2: Salt Spring to Cowichan River Provincial Park
On the second day things became a lot lighter for me as Christian took over the chariot. After a short pedal and a ferry trip we arrived in Crofton, where we stocked up on groceries. Chris and Krystil quickly took of and we did not see them until camp. We leap frogged with Scott and Sandra until we hit the start of the trail. Here our pace slowed and we enjoyed riding on the canopy covered trail together. We had a nice long break on the trail as well. The trail slowly gain elevation, so slowly that you can't see it, but you feel it especial when it all of a sudden flattens out and it feels like you are flying. The Cowichan river campground is right by the river and require a 120 m decent right before arrival. I would have enjoyed it if it wasn't for the fact that I knew we needed to accent the same hill twice on the following days.
The campsite had easy access to the Cowichan River, and after setting up tents we went down to have a look. The beach was rocky, so the kids quickly started moving rocks around, while we all took turns swimming. It sure felt good to wash off the last two days of sweat and sunscreen. The kids slowly got use to the water and by the end of the hour they had all been under in one way or another. Christian and the two bigger kids then spend a while working on a small dam to increase flow to a little pool on the shore. It was hard to convince them that it was time to go back to camp. Before bedtime we managed to have a fire and a few s'mores.
Day 3: Day trip to Lake Cowichan
We had booked the campground at Cowichan River for two night, so the third day was very flexible. At first F had decided to stay at the campground to play in the water all day, but when she realized that everyone else was going biking she wanted to come too. We all followed the trail, after gaining the 120 m of elevation to get out of the campsite, to Lake Cowichan. Before linking up with the southern part of the trail we stopped to explore Skutz Falls - a beautiful fall with lots of little pools to explore around it. Back on the trail things became pretty bumpy, the southern trail is definitely less well maintain than the northern part. It is bumpy and a lot narrower, but still totally fine for our city bikes. At the lake we all met up for lunch in Saywell Park, where the kids checked out a few trains and other machines. After a couple of hours we went to the grocery store before starting the pedal back to the campsite. We stocked up on luxury items like veggies, fruit and yogurt - that sure is different than backcountry camping. After dinner Christian, F and I went down for another swim. It took awhile for F to get into the somewhat cold water, but once she was in she did not want to come out.
Day 4: Cowichan River Provincial Park to Bamberton Provincial Park
Day 4 was our big day, so we all got up early and was on the bikes before 9am. After ascending the large hill again we got to cross the first large trestle. It was pretty cool. The trail on the south side of the river quickly became pretty narrow, bumpy and muddy. As Christian said: "Perfect conditions for a single speed road bike towing a chariot". I must admit though that I had a lot of fun. The kids were amazing, they either slept or just wanted to go, so we made it to our lunch spot just before the Kinsol Trestle by 11.30am. A family had set out a table and chairs and sold cold drinks and freezes to cyclists. It was like a little paradise. All the kids loved the homemade rocking horse and little chairs. After lunch we spend awhile at the Kinsol Trestle, which is pretty impressive. Quickly after the trestle we were back on the road with mixed feelings. It felt good to be able to maintain a higher speed while using less energy, but we quickly came to miss having no cars around. Things were feeling pretty good though, so good that we didn't notice we had missed a turn in Shawnigan Lake for 4.5km of very hill road. I got suspicious when I notice that we were still biking close to the lake, and a quick check of the map confirmed that we would have to backtrack the hilliest part of the day... oh well. Despite our detour we arrived at Mill Bay at 3.30pm, and we rewarded ourselves with ice creme at Rusticana Coffee Shop, which had a great little garden for the kids to play in. Eventually we went shopping and headed to the campsite. It turned out that there was a 100+ meter accent just before the campsite and the only thing I could think about on the way up was how we would have to loss that elevation again before arriving at the campsite. It turned out that the campsite was located high above the water, so only little descent was needed. At camp we enjoyed dinner and another fire. The kids all had a bath in a small bin brought by Chris and Krystil.
Day 5: Bamberton Provincial Park to Tsawwassen
On our last morning Christian and Sandra took the kids to the beach while Scott and I packed up the camp. Despite the fact that it looks like Bamberton Provincial Park is right next to the ocean, it is still ~1 km and 100 m of elevation away - a reasonable walk for little kids. Just as we were about to join them at the beach they return and Sandra declared that they had a ferry to catch, so we quickly said by as they raced out of the campground. We had originally intended to stay for a bit longer, but F was devastated that the others left without us, so in the end we raced to the ferry at Mill Bay as well. We just made it. In Brentwood Bay we had a snack and a more calm farewell, before everyone else headed for Swartz Bay. We had dinner plans with friends in Sannichton that afternoon, so we biked to Elk Lake for an afternoon of swimming. This was a great little addition to the trip. The lake was a nice temperature and F played in the water for a good hour. The dinner visit was with our good friends, Steve and Aisling, which we haven't seen since our Yukon trip last year. It was a short, but great visit. We arrived back at our house at 11pm that night. Good thing only Christian had to work Tuesday morning.