Close to Home

“Where is your next big trip?” is a frequently-asked question. “We haven’t decided yet” is the honest answer. Meanwhile, there are adventures to be had close to home. Here are three day-expeditions we accomplished this week: a 50-km cycle across historic rail trestles on the Cowichan Valley Trail, a 16-km paddle-portage-pub loop that starts at our doorstep, and a 16-km backwoods hike we call the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Can you see why our blog is titled BootsBoatsBikes? (BTW, that is not our dog in the photo above—friendly though.)

Cowichan Valley Trail

Fall leaves littered the Trail

Kinsol Trestle, the highest wooden rail trestle in Canada, is the star attraction, but the whole 50-km trail from the south end of Shawnigan Lake to Lake Cowichan is picturesque and lightly-used, even on a sunny Sunday.

The Cowichan Valley Trail, part of the Trans Canada Trail route on southern Vancouver Island, provides for easy cycling on a mostly-gravel, multi-use path. There are rocks and bumps in a few sections, but nothing a hybrid bike can’t handle.

Shaun provided our shuttle, we his

If you have a friend, the 50-km trail can be a one-way ride; thanks, Shaun, for driving our car to the Lake Cowichan end.

Along the trail cyclists travel across eight historic rail trestles, several of which have been restored. High above the Koksilah River, the mighty Kinsol Trestle has survived floods, fires, abandonment, and politics and was officially re-opened in 2011 after a major rehabilitation project.

Kinsol Trestle

Aren’t rail-trails wonderful? In fact, the rails-to-trails movement could be considered a public health initiative, just like vaccines and smoke-free spaces.

Farm scene along the Trail

Since the movement began in the 1960s, thousands of abandoned railways have been recycled into trails. Because railway lines have minimal elevation change, rail-trails are mostly level and can be enjoyed by people of all ages and abilities, even slow and wobbly cyclists like us. The Galloping Goose, a 55-km rail-trail that runs past our building, is why we bought bicycles eight years ago.

Le Grand Portage

Portage Inlet

It’s almost a secret: a sixteen-kilometre paddling loop that begins and ends in Victoria Harbour, the gateway to British Columbia and Canada.

Only one group a year complete this loop, a local resident tells us. Yes, there are a few planning considerations: a reversing tidal waterfall, a 750-metre portage, the potential for wind and waves on the ocean stretches. These obstacles can be managed by checking weather, tide, and current conditions.

The reward: an easy day-trip that features a tidal estuary, bird habitat areas, salmon streams, Canada’s west coast Navy, rugged coastline, and a busy-but-beautiful working harbour.

The boats waited patiently while we were at the pub

Six sleek, single kayaks departed from our local dock at noon on October 4. We left half an hour earlier, thinking we might need a head start (our Pakboat canoe has many attributes, but speed is not one of them). As it turned out, we were able to keep up with the group, or were they simply kind enough to relax their paddling pace?

Putting back in at Esquimalt Harbour

Our dock is near the beginning of the Gorge Waterway, a tidal estuary that is home to harbour seals, river otters, great blue herons, and other water birds, plants, and animals. Young salmon live in the Gorge, especially among the eelgrass, until they are ready to head to the open ocean.

After thirty minutes of paddling, we came to the feared Gorge-Tillicum Narrows. This constriction can be a raging 12-knot rapid, but today it was running only two knots, in our direction, so we slipped right through and into Portage Inlet, a basin with eelgrass meadows fed by two salmon streams. At the end of Portage Inlet, it was time to pull our boats across the road and down the paths of Portage Park. Four Mile Brew Pub is conveniently situated mid-portage, so our group made a two-hour stop for lunch and liquid refreshments.

Heading back up the strait, Washington state in the background

Back on the water, we crossed Esquimalt Harbour, then followed the rugged coastline past two lovely parks, Saxe Point and McCauley Point. The roar of a floatplane greeted us as we turned in busy Victoria Harbour. We cruised past the Parliament Buildings, the Empress Hotel, under the under-construction Blue Bridge, past Point Hope Shipyard, and home to our dock at 6:00 p.m.

The good, the bad, and the ugly

This adventure is almost a secret, too, unless you happen to be an ATVer. Doug belongs to the Wednesday Wonderers, a group of rugged individuals who hike every Tuesday, usually in the park-like Sooke Hills. For a change of pace, Doug led the group (eight hikers and one small-but-valiant miniature dachshund) to an area that has suffered from logging and off-road vehicle use. Following are excerpts from his hike report:

From Spectacle Lake Provincial Park, an offshoot path heads north. Signs of ATV-people were visible shortly after we hit the inactive logging road that skirts Oliphant Lake.

Shooting platform with beer cans below

A makeshift platform erected partway up a fir tree was evidence of deer or elk hunters in the recent past. We hikers did not despair at the possibility of unfair poaching. No, we seized the moment to collect beer cans littered about – probably enough to fund the gas that propelled our two Priuses to the parking lot.

Circling Oliphant Lake, we learned that it was dam-created in the early 1900s and served as the water supply for the former Bamberton cement plant.

Although the lake is beautiful, the land surrounding it has been damaged by clear-cut logging and off-road vehicles.

Oliphant Lake

We had our elevenses at a home-grown camp near the outlet of the lake, John Creek, then plowed up a disused logging road to a ridge overlooking the Oliphant Valley. Here we had lunch, admiring the view of Mount Wood and munching sweets.

Carrying on the logging/quad trail, we reached the BC Hydro power line and got the first glimpse of Mount Jeffrey, our next goal. “Let’s go straight up,” was the consensus; we were tired of rutted, rocky logging roads by that time. It wasn’t easy-going over the windfalls and thickets, but we persisted upwards, bushwhacking all the way.

At the top o’ Mt Jeffery

The view at the top was the first reward. Shaun made a peak-bagging offering of chocolate. We learn this chocolate-offering is an Alpine Club tradition – one which our group would not find hard to adopt.

“I enjoyed this hike more than I thought I would,” said Charlie, one of the Wonderers. Mount Jeffrey was conquered, and the group got six hours of physical exercise. There are much prettier hikes on Vancouver Island, but at least this one was not entirely without merit.


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