Sunday, June 24, 2012

Salt Spring: Maybe the best ride I've ever done

It's been a typical late-June Vancouver weekend, I'm exhausted, but there are some people waiting to hear how the Salt Spring/Velo Village (those would both look better as single words, but I'm not going to quibble with typographical conventions here) ride went. A few words first, then a few pictures.

Background: as a prelude to the Velo City conference in Vancouver this week, some people I never got to meet organized a mini-conference on rural cycling on Salt Spring. The highlight was a first-time ever bicycle-only ferry from Swartz Bay (north of Victoria) to Fulford Harbour, at the south end of Salt Spring, followed by a 15km ride on the second route to Ganges, with no northbound car traffic to deal with.

I haven't been to the Gulf Islands a lot, but everytime I've been there I realized it would have been nice to cycle, but you have to deal with a combination of narrow roads, steep hills, plenty of curves, and, of course, cars. The shoulders are thin or non-existent. So when I heard about the ride, I realized it was a great opportunity to truly enjoy one of the islands.

But June weather in this part of the world can be unpredictable,  and this year's was unusually wet. The weather forecast wasn't looking good, with "rain" on Friday, and "showers" on Saturday. When they say "rain", they're talking about the kind Ken Kesey described so well in the opening chapter of Sometimes A Great Notion. You want to get a towel and sit in front of a hot air register after reading that chapter.

But on Friday the next day's forecast for Vancouver and Victoria was just showers, and light showers and sun for Salt Spring. I called Heather at the must-see must-buy-everything Salt Spring Bakery, to see what was happening there. "It's raining right now". Obviously that meant the rain would pass, so I asked her to save me one loaf of Apricot-Almond, and one of whatever she was making with ginger, booked my Velo Village ride ticket, and figured out how to fit everything else in for the weekend.

Another thing about June in Vancouver, is a lot of big events happen then, under some assumption that everyone leaves town in July and August. Some people do, but the exodus is miniscule compared to places like Toronto or Montreal, to name the places I'm familiar with (when I lived in Ottawa everyone was either starting out or had young families and not at the cottage-buying stage of life; don't know if they are now).  So among the things going on this weekend were also the annual MadSkillz juggling and-other-stuff festival, Maker Faire, Greek Day (lemon-lamb souvlaki...), the jazz festival, a family birthday celebration. Plus the usual other things to do every weekend.  But this bike ride might be a once-in-a-lifetime event.

So I went to sleep Friday night listening to heavy rain, woke up around 5 AM (before the alarm -- how did that happen?) listening to incessant drizzle, got everything in the car, and headed to Tsawassen, and saw a few dozen cyclists pulling gear out of cars in the parking lot and getting ready. Did I mention that about 5 miles before the parking lot my wipers started complaining that they had nothing to do?  One of the best sounds you can hear when setting out on a ride.

Enough words, here are some pictures…

My attempt at capturing pure fog

Normally there are mountains in that background, gives you a better idea of the weather we were looking at.

Check-in for the bike ferry

Best ferry waiting line ever


Entertainment provided by the Fabulous Flakes

All that space…

Getting ready to ride

First hill out of Fulford

Locals singing, dancing, and drumming at the first Encouragement Station

Bike art, one of about 100 scattered over the island

Toughing it up the main hill

And getting closer to the top

Island forest bliss

This hill was nothing compare to the previous one

Salt Spring's answer to Slugging

Red Sara and Lori K, with unidentified happy guy behind them.

90 minutes to go up (with stops), maybe 10 minutes to get to Ganges. Here's the bike park.

It's Salt Spring. Custom goat cheese at the market

Custom chocolate

Ghost artbike on the way back
 A perfect day for riding. I learned that I can deal with big island hills way more easily than I can deal with cars. And did you notice what's not in the pictures (not that I realized it when I was taking them): hardly anyone was wearing the full boat cycling gear. Some cycle shorts, but the only other synthetics were typically for dealing with rain, not resistance. Most of the people were out for a fun, relaxing, enjoyable ride (given a few steep hills). And got it.

I don't know when Salt Spring, or any of the other Gulf Islands will be running a ride like this. But does want to do the Chilly Hilly next year outside Seattle?


Tib said...

Sounds like you had a good time!
Are we on for Tuesday around 8 PM somewhere downtown?

Carmen said...

I loved the ride and the ferry and my time on Salt Spring - where i camped at Duck Creek Farm, camping for cyclists! it is wonderful:

I have to say though, that after a few days riding around the island, all those gaily painted bikes started to pale for me. The fact is that Salt Spring is as grim a carmageddon as any island i've ever biked on (and they are ALL hilly, being as they are, the tops of submerged mountains). The town of Ganges, with a traffic triangle as its central focus, is a planning disaster. They should be ashamed of the mess that town is, and if they don't start seriously addressing it I'm not interested in lip service to "bikeability".

After the bike horde left i saw many more bikes as roadside decoration than i saw bikes being ridden for transportation. Knowing that those bikes would be someone's proud ride in the city, yet would simply rust there on the Island, made me sad.

Everyone loves bikes and everyone loves seeing people on bikes - as long as those people aren't them.

Sorry for the rant, and no disrespect to the organizers of the superb velo-village conference, but as a pro-cycling community Salt Spring doesn't cut it.

Eric Promislow said...

Totally agree. That's why it took something like Saturday's ride to allow cyclists a chance to properly enjoy an island ride, and why I dropped several other activities to take part in it.

And I had always just taken that main intersection in downtown Ganges for granted, but you're right. It's as bad for pedestrians as it is for cyclists.