Day One: Victoria to Galiano Island
“Pardon me, sir, but open flames are not allowed in the parking area.” I looked up from my bubbling pot of pasta into the friendly face of the ferry official. “You can purchase a fine dinner at the restaurant if you like.” He smiled and indicated a near-by building.
I turned off my stove and stood up. “I’m sorry,” I said sheepishly, I’ll put it away.”
The ferryman smiled, “Oh think nothing of it, eh?” He tipped his hat — no really — he actually tipped his hat — and walked off. Had this occurred in the U.S.A., I wouldn’t have been treated with such courtesy. They’d have thrown a net over me and beat me with saps in the Medulla oblongata so that I’d see double for months. But this wasn’t the U.S.A., it was the Schwartz Bay Ferry Terminal on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.
I’d caught the hi-speed ferry out of Seattle early that morning and arrived in Victoria about 11 AM. It was a rare sunny winter day and though the temperature hovered in the low 50’s the lack of wind and rain made it perfect cycling weather.
After clearing customs in Victoria I set out to find the Lochside Trail. I knew the general direction but it took me a few wrong turns before I finally found it and was on my way to Schwartz Bay a mere 24 miles away. At about 2 miles I came to the intersection of the Lochside Trail and the Galloping Goose trail. The Galloping Goose heads west while the Lochside heads north.
The LochsideTrail is a gem. It’s mostly a paved bicycle/pedestrian thoroughfare with a few detours along surface streets. One stretch is hard packed dirt through farmland that includes a delightful interlude past a fragrant hog farm. At one spot a creative homeowner has set up a whimsical vignette around wildly painted furniture.
It’s fast and flat the whole way and other than a few miles where it parallels a freeway it’s quiet and rural or suburban. In a little more than 2 hours I was at the Schwartz Bay ferry terminal. Compared to even the biggest Washington State Ferry terminal, the Schwartz Bay facility is huge. I rolled my loaded bicycle into the ticket office where I studied a map of the ferry routes. I had no definite destination in mind, in fact I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to take another ferry. I’d spotted a couple of likely wild camping spots along the way and was thinking about heading back and setting up at one of them.
But it was only 2 PM and I really wasn’t ready to settle in for the night so I closed my eyes and stuck my finger on the map. When I looked I saw I was pointing to the middle of the ocean so I chose the ferry to Galiano Island as it was the next ferry to depart.
Even so I had a 1 and a half hour wait so I found the proper slip and not having eaten since breakfast decided to fix some spaghetti. I set my stove up in the alcove of a service building and was cooking happily away when I was busted by the ferry guy. I must’ve looked like a bum but the official was a courteous as could be. I dumped my half-cooked dinner in a trashcan and waited out the ferry in a bar.
Most BC ferries are modern, monstrous affairs resembling those huge cruise ships you see docking in Seattle and Miami. But the ferry I was on was a little old tug that looked more like the African Queen than the Queen Mary. Old and rusty it might have been but what it lacked in modern conveniences (no bar) it more than made up for in charm and interesting passengers.
“Where are you touring?” a lady asked me. She was petite, in her 60s, fit with gray hair and intelligent gray eyes set in a sharp, expressive face. She’d noticed my helmet and cycling kit and had come over to sit across from me.
“Galiano Island,” I replied.
“Are you camping.”
“I plan to.”
She made a thoughtful face. “Have you been to the island before?”
“Well,” she said, “you might want to check out the resort. It’s awfully nice.”
“Where is it?” I asked.
“You can’t miss it,” she said. “Turn left as soon as you get off the ferry.”
As we talked she told me about some of her bicycle touring adventures. “We started out to ride around the world. Made it half-way across China then my husband decided he wanted to come home.” She got a wistful look. “If there’s one regret in my life it’s that we didn’t see it through.”
I’d told her about my plans to ride around the world and she was encouraging. “Oh please do it,” she said happily clapping her hands together in a way that was like praying, “it will change your life for the better!”
We chatted on about this and that and soon it was time for me to disembark. It was only 5 PM, but the big mercury vapor floods at the dock were already winking on. By the time I was back on shore the light had gone completely and I had to turn on my headlight. A light rain had begun to fall and the temperature dropped into the low 40’s. I knew the campground was about 5 miles away but I wasn’t sure where it was. In the dark and the rain it might be hard to find.
At least that was the excuse I used. I took the first left and rolled down a hill through the gates of the Galiano Inn and Spa. I parked my bike in the rack and went up to the front desk. It was warm and dry and beautifully Asian modern. The young temptress at the desk greeted me with a winning smile. “Okay,” I said to myself, “if it’s less than 200 bucks, I’m going for it.”
“One hundred and seventy dollars a night,” she said, “and we have a vacancy.”
I looked past her out the window into the cold dark drizzle, then reached for my credit card.
The room was bright and cozy with a real fireplace and a view of the ocean. I settled into the Jacuzzi, then dressed for dinner in my best highway child outfit, had a nice meal and a bottle of good wine, took a stroll to familiarize myself with the grounds in case I needed to make a quick getaway, then returned to my room where I dozed off to a crackling log fire.
To be continued. Tomorrow: I am forced to wave the Canadian flag.